Last week, I delivered a children’s book to my agent which I first conceived more than ten years ago. It had been through several complete versions, one of which a previous agent had actually sent to a publisher, as much as anything in the hope of getting some useful feedback, as she and I agreed that it probably wasn’t quite there, though we couldn’t see what was missing.
It wasn’t quite there, but it didn’t go away, and when I had flu before Christmas, it re-emerged quite unexpectedly, to announce that it was ready.
I had lost all my previous notes and versions, but I knew the story, and this time the planning and writing came easy and complete, like a jigsaw falling into place, all the missing pieces found.
Now, starting work on another new book, I’ve discovered that this story also took root in me more than a decade ago, and the same thing is happening. Where it once felt stuck and abandoned, now it’s emerging fully-formed, and all I’m having to do is write it down.
Last night I dreamt I was at a Scattered Authors conference, talking to other authors about this moment in a piece of work, when the book is inside you, fully-formed, like a shadow book, and your task is to bring it out, not harming or disturbing it, but as whole, which it already is.
You change yourself, your face, your mouth, stretching it wide, until gradually the book emerges out of your mouth, transforming from shadow to solid and real. I demonstrate it. I say how exciting this is, knowing the book is there, then opening yourself up and allowing it to come into the world so that everyone can see what it is.
I thought, ‘What if a life is like a book? Already complete in shadow form, and gradually emerging into the world, a little misshapen in its birthing, perhaps, a few edges knocked off in its early years, but still… when nature is ready, the matter inhabits the shadow.
Then I woke up and saw the book I’d been reading before I fell asleep, ‘In Search of Mind: Essays in Autobiography’ by Jerome Bruner, which begins with his thoughts about whether it is our history which shapes us or our destiny, and I smiled.
I love this layering-up of daytime activity, dreams and ideas. The material, the imaginal and the rational, playing alongside each other; themes and variations, music of the mind.
Have you ever had a book or story that took years between the first spark and the final realisation?