Last night I typed the word ‘eagle’ and then followed it with a full stop. That was it. The end of three month’s work in which I created the fourth draft of my novel. I poured myself a whisky, I stared at the screen, and I felt the ends of my fingers start to itch.
The writing of this novel stretches back to over a year and a half ago, when I started with the simple idea of a boy who comes home to an empty house and finds a box full of money in the attic. Now, Fierce Animals is a work of two halves; a childhood in which Ryan Collins slowly faces up to the fact that his dad is a criminal, and an adulthood in which he returns to the UK for his father’s funeral, becoming re-emerged in the family history he’s fought so hard to escape. In my head, it’s an exploration of loss, a discussion of the trappings of family, and a look at the difficulty of forgiveness. On paper, it is probably none of those things. Not yet.
This is probably why the fingers felt a little itchy after I typed the word eagle. Since I started this edit on February 25th, I’ve waited for the moment when I could sit back in my chair and look upon another completed draft. Tens of thousands of words that have dribbled from my fingertips. I’ve discussed this moment with other writers. It’s been a kind of Holy Grail to me, something that’s kept me going in those moments when I’ve sat in to write instead of going out and spending time with real people; people outside the dysfunctional family I’ve created on my screen.
I expected a surge of relief or a feeling of accomplishment. But while those sensations are there, somewhere at the back of my brain, they aren’t my overarching emotions. Incompletion, maybe. Frustration that what I hope this novel will eventually say is not what it currently says. Annoyance at those oft-repeated phrases in the narrative, those glances that my characters tend to make on every page; their habits of touching people’s knees, holding their hands, kissing their foreheads. Their tendency to cry. Or, in the case of two characters I thought would be important, to disappear almost completely.
The main thing I know at the end of draft four is that there will probably be at the very least another four drafts before my novel is doing any of the things I really want it to. Ernest Hemingway probably said it best when he said ‘the first draft of everything is shit.’ The only thing wrong with that quote is that he didn’t extend it to say the same of the second, the third, and the fourth.
But I think that’s okay. Whether I actually ever become a published novelist or not, writing that word eagle, following it with a full stop, and sitting back in my chair with a whisky has bought me a step closer to it. I’m a little bit further along in my conversion from an amateur writer to a novelist. I just wrote a very long story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It would probably make you laugh a couple of times, too. It might make you cry. So I’ll print it off now and I’ll put it in my drawer for six weeks and try and forget about young Ryan and his troubles, and in six weeks I’ll start again. Draft five. And probably in around four or five months I’ll type a word like eagle, add a full stop, and drink a whisky. And again, I’ll feel a little frustration and a little incompleteness, but hopefully, I might let myself start to feel a little bit excited too.
Probably not, though. That’s not really my style.