Spent the other night watching the Giller prize awards. A wonderful evening of listening to thoughtful, witty, and brilliant authors. An angry young woman, with a book that was “not meant to be an easy read.” (Bravo!) A young man, same. A slightly older man taking on a hugely unpopular subject and daring to put it out there. Men exploring generations and divisions. A woman bringing a lengthy friendship to life. (Look up the short list https://scotiabankgillerprize.ca/the-scotiabank-giller-prize-presents-its-2019-shortlist/. You’ll be glad you did.)
And of course, there was Margaret Atwood, beaming graciously over the crowd of ‘wish they were anywhere near her depths’ people.
Two things about this. First, I don’t imagine I’ll ever be in the running for any writing prize, but I honour like crazy the people who spend years working on their books, suffering through people asking stupid questions (“Got that book done yet? Why not?”), forcing themselves to go through the humiliating experience of getting an agent, a publisher (“This is nice, but not for us…”), living on cast off Kraft Dinner. I admire people who work hard at things. I like when they strive to get it right. I so enjoy reading writers who sieve through their writing until the golden word is the only one left.
This resonates more strongly at present because of this course I’m taking — which is all about ADVERTISING books, dashing out new ones at the rate of ten or more a year, pulling in sack loads of money. Not that there is anything wrong with this. In fact, my bank account wishes I would resign myself to that process.
I’m afraid, though, that I am part of the slow writing movement. I can race through a first draft with the rest of them, but the editing! Endless…Mind you, just watching the Gillers made me want to spend all that time, to check and recheck, just so I can hold my head up around people I respect.
Because, part the second, having spotted Michael Redhill at the gala, I am squashing myself into a tiny hole with embarrassment. He, one of my writing instructors (and a rather good one, no fault to him if I am not Giller material) is a former Giller winner.
(For Bellevue Square. Read it, buy it. https://www.amazon.ca/Bellevue-Square-Michael-Redhill/dp/0385684835 Read his backlist. It is astonishingly good.)
Back before he won the money and was feeling a bit skint, he went looking for editing jobs. When I spotted his note on FB, I thought, hey, perfect opportunity to have my book examined by a real live author, plus say thanks by offering him a wee bit of money. Not even enough to buy a decent bottle of scotch, but I hoped he knew my intentions were good.
And so I sent him my horrible story. One that I still wince about as I sit here, two years later. I know I can never ever meet Mr. Redhill in person. I would absolutely and permanently die of mortification. Cease to be. Curl up like a salt-laden slug and perish. My toes are knotting so hard at the thought, my toenails are slicing through my boots.
That awful story is composting in the depths of my computer now. It’s travelled like a case of gastro through far too many people I respect, and been flushed with extreme prejudice. I tried to get it right. I didn’t.
Michael was (cringe) KIND about it.
In the old days I could burn it, enjoy its fiery death for a moment, but, no. It’s not the same just erasing the disk, clearing the cloud, stomping on the USB key. Nowhere near as much closure. Printing it to burn seems wasteful and environmentally degrading. So it lingers.
I watch the real authors laugh together and I cower and vow to do better. I may never be known or make any money, but when I am done, I would like to be able to stand beside other authors and not evaporate with shame.
So, Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to work I go…