Liz Fenwick has written very generously here about Jubilee, about pushing herself as a writer, and about the necessity of pressing your skills beyond the point of ‘good’, to reach ‘superb’. She’s no slouch at that, as it happens, landing a two-book deal with Orion (The Cornish House is out in May). At the end of her post, she says: ‘I still don’t think it’s good enough. But that’s a good thing. It keeps me trying harder.’
It is essential to keep upping the bar. When I was a teacher, I knew that my students performed best when they aimed for things just out of their reach – not too far, and not within easy grasp. That way, they’d always be pushing ahead of themselves. We need to do this as writers, taking for granted the immense waste of words this entails (suck it up! I tell myself, as I plough through my first draft, knowing that much of what I write will never see the light of day).
And I do feel, at this point, a sort of confessional urge. Liz, you aren’t the only one to feel it’s not quite there yet, even now, when the cover’s designed, you have the proofs in your hand and the launch party’s booked. I feel constantly dissatisfied with what I produce, although in my case it’s not a wonderful, constructive dissatisfaction – it’s a glowering toxicity. I would hate Liz (or you, dear reader) to look at me, all lovely and published, and think that in some way it was an easy process, or an assumptive one. When I went to York Festival and read out Jubilee, it wasn’t because I thought it was good enough; it was because I wanted to have a go anyway.
So, we should push on (keep swimming, keep swimming), and do the best we can, and then try to better that. I am glowering no less with my second novel than I did with Jubilee. That seems to be the job: glower – and get on with it.