Saturday, 25 August 2007

The Art of Reading

A friend of mine, Debbie Sandler (also my boss as director of the Sarah Lawrence programme at Wadham), has been a long time in coming to Pallas and the Centaur. ‘I’m not going to start it while I’m busy,’ she said, apologetically. ‘I want at least a couple of days free.’
I reflected on this after spending two hours with Barbara Reynold’s magnificent book on Dante this morning. It is my aim to spend this bank holiday weekend with it, with occasional breaks to do other things like feed the family and keep the wash cycle going. Let everyone else rush off to swelter on motorways: I’m taking the journey that requires only that you put your feet up, let the mind relax, and the imagination drift back to 1300. . .
The common practice of reading these days, at least in this household, is in bed before going to sleep. This is bad practice. For one thing, you only get about fifteen to twenty minutes reading; for another, it associates reading with falling asleep. This reading in dribs and drabs leads to a dribbling drab, at least so far as comprehension goes.
What does it tell us? That reading is an activity which must always be displaced during busy days by other, more useful things. I am a writer; I have written all my life; I’ve read more books than most – and I have this ingrained guilt about reading as strong as anyone.
My other summer book has been Tom Hodgkinson’s wise, profound and seditious How to be Idle. After the first few pages, I nearly tossed it aside as demonic. Happily, I read on. And now the obsessive, guilt-ridden puritan within is asleep, with a funny little smile on her face.
And I have my feet up on a Saturday morning and am reading.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

End Games

Many people have been asking recently when the third part of The Botticelli Trilogy will appear. Not just those friends I meet in passing, but readers of the other two volumes who bother to phone. There seems to be a bit of heckling going on from the Universe – a cosmic chorus of ‘Why are we waiting?’ There are two answers to the question of when: ‘by Christmas’ and ‘I haven’t finished yet’. It’s quite difficult to know exactly when you have finished a novel. It’s not just a matter of reaching the end: one does that many times over. It’s more a matter of determining which is the final ‘layer’. I think I’m there, but I’ve thought that at least three times this year. Satisfied with my latest version, however, I sent it off to our proof reader, Arthur Farndell, but before David had finished reading it. I also sent it to my agent in California. Now I’m having to contact both, saying, ‘Ooops, sorry, new ending.’ For David didn’t like this ending as much as the previous version, so I’ve spent the last week or so frantically reworking it to include the best of both versions.

So, no bells and whistles, no fireworks, not so much as a thunderstorm to mark this momentous occasion. I do have a bottle of riserva bought at Montepulciano, awaiting a propitious moment. May be we’ll be opening it soon. Meanwhile there is still much to do. It’s an unwieldy narrative that has taken literally years to knock into shape, but David and Arthur both found it difficult to follow, not where we are at any time, but when we are (at any place). So I’ve devised a new kind of chapter heading, and David suggested a contents list, so that will keep me busy for a while. Then there is the cover to design, the essay at the end to finalise, the blurb to write, etc. etc. etc. When is a novel finished? When this fat lady sings. . .