An issue presents itself, as I suspected it would: that it might be better to start Killing Hapless Annie in the second chapter as the first chapter starts at the end – or near the end – of the story. It’s a device I tend to like in books and I really don’t mind if, at the beginning, I know the end. Or rather, some of the end, because I don’t yet know what happened on the journey or how I got there! I will, of course, bow to my expert editor and publisher, because they have a much clearer idea of market and also – of course – how it reads for someone else.
So, it might be the difference, then, between these two first paragraphs:
‘Shall we start at the end? Friend; sympathiser; co-conspirator: read on.’
‘The girl is standing on a soft bank in a spring breeze as the laundry blows high above her there in the orchard. The breeze blows cold, but there are currents of warmth about her legs as the day decides whether it will whip or kiss.’
I like the semi colons in the first line; I like its relative economy and the direct address to the reader – which is an important part of its construct; Mr Vaught prefers the third person placing of the second option; he likes the setting and the slight frisson of alarm in the whip or kiss bit. I suspect he also feels that I use too many semi colons. It will be interesting to see what my book group thinks next week. What I learn about editing I will use with all the writing I do now.
Already, the title of the book has been truncated; the chapter headings, rather long and deliberately, ironically formal and slightly archaic, have been snipped. For example, chapter three is currently sitting under, ‘The Fucking Caravan’ where before it had languished under, ‘In which there are scary ordinary things. And a Fucking Caravan.’ I had in mind, all along, the terrifying in the everyday, but I don’t need to exhaust readers with a long chapter heading. And they can work out that the everyday things in the book – the dentist; a ballet teacher; grandmother’s cooking; terminally ill Hazel upstairs on Tyneside with the sound of Countdown piping up the stairs – ‘Please get me some more morphine Terry!’ ‘Hang on pet; I’m trying to decide between vowel and consonant at the minute’ – were terrifying. Well, they might not be everyday for all – but this is how I saw them and how the narrator sees them. The fact that the caravan is ‘Fucking’ also hints quite enough at the horrors within: caravans, as well as places where reside monsters and vampire ladies, can be (quoting the late Angela Carter – on a vampire queen, not a caravan) ‘the place of annihilation.’
So I am snipping and following sensible advice. It’s a bit painful sometimes, but it has to be done.