Welcome back – another week has passed, which means I’m another week closer to publishing Thy Fearful Symmetry. For those that don’t know, this is my new novel, a very Glasgow apocalypse, and I’m eschewing traditional publishers to put it into print myself.
Over the last couple of days, I’ve been reading the novel. It’s been a while since I did that – longer than you’d imagine – and the experience has been a huge relief. I still like the book. Better yet, I’m stillproud of the book, and can’t wait to hand it over to you to read.
This doesn’t always happen. Few authors will say so at the time a novel or story becomes available, but it’s not uncommon to be deeply uncomfortable with seeing something in print. What appeared to be a gripping tale when written and revised, can seem a turgid mess when you see it months or years later, trapped on a page. Often, this is a result of hidden time – time which has passed for the author, but not for the reader. While it may only be a matter of months between an author announcing an upcoming publication and it seeing print, there’s often been a much longer period since the author actually finished the story. Even the best tales can spend years finding the right publisher, one who loves it enough to pay to put it into print. Over that time, an author can easily start to misremember what they wrote, and the surprise when they see it again is not always pleasant. That editors and readers might love it is not really the point – the story is no longer what we seemed to remember, and it disappoints. We spend the next few months waiting for somebody to point at it, and highlight its flaws.
That hasn’t been the case with rereading Thy Fearful Symmetry. I’ve been delighted, making myself intimately familiar with these characters again. I sympathise with Clive Huntley, at the same time as I loathe him. I still empathise with Ambrose’s struggle to be better than the role life has cast for him. Inspector Gemmell still makes me smirk. I’m halfway through now, and the apocalypse is making itself known. Watching the cast scurry through the burning streets is a thrill.
The final edit is also a splendid chance to revisit Glasgow. I moved there when I was nineteen, and spent the next fifteen years in residence. Although the novel stops off at various locations through the city, its heart is the West End, where I spent the first six years or so. It’s a beautiful place, wrapped around the University. When I married my wife before leaving Glasgow for India, it was the West End I went back to.
Of course, as an author, I’ve license to reshape the city to meet my needs, and I’ve taken liberties all over the place when it suited. The Church of St Cottier is a major one. The real life equivalent is Cottiers Theatre (and pub, and restaurant), a gorgeous converted church where I’ve performed many times as an actor, and sank more than the occasional beer. In the novel it’s a church again, and I’ve tinkered with the layout to make the grounds a little larger than the crush of the West End allows in reality.
Also, of course, there is no St Cottier. The building is named for Daniel Cottier, the designer who originally decorated the interior (a remarkable but oft-forgotten contemporary of Charles Rennie MacIntosh). I could have picked a ‘proper’ saint to name the building after, I suppose. I didn’t see the need. As with other aspects of the book, the Christian mythology is something I’ve drawn extensively from, but felt no particular need to be constrained by.
Lack of constraint probably defines this novel more than others I’ve written – it’s a wild and stormy ride, starting small and growing into something much more epic. Is it a love letter to Glasgow? Hmmm – I centre the end of the entire world there, rain fire and death down on it, and generally reduce as much of it as I can to rubble in the space of a hundred thousand words. Not a love letter, then. I hope I’ve made it a character, I suppose, a breathing part of the book that you’ll feel like you’ve visited when you reach the end.
By the end of the week, the print-ready draft will be done. I’m also expecting the final version of the cover any day now. All will be in place for lift-off – I may release the Kindle version slightly ahead of the paperback, so as not to be delayed by the proof copy reaching me in India (I’ll need to check and recheck the layout of that before I can approve it).
Next week, I should have pretty pictures for you. We may be even further forward than just that…
Currently reading: The Bloody Red Baron by Kim Newman