Monday, 11 January 2010

On Delivering

Probably the most satisfying moment for an author - more than seeing the work set in print when the proof comes or even when receiving the first copy - is that of delivery. Hitting the send button. Especially as the final stages of writing - cutting to length, removing repetition, checking references - are so laborious. Ecstasy therefore this morning as my English Literature: A Very Short Introduction wings its way through the ether to Oxford University Press.

Early research for the book was done over a year ago (mentioned in my Writer's Rooms feature in The Guardian), but the writing has been rapid fire in the last few months, including a blissful escape to France alone for a few days, and then, for the final push, taking advantage of the village being snowed in.

An especially satisfying book to write because short! A ludicrous proposition to introduce a subject the size of EngLit in 50,000 words (I pushed them up from the standard 40k for the series by cunningly asking for 60k and splitting the difference...). But the series guidelines are very helpful: "The text should not read like an encyclopedia entry or a textbook; depending on the topic, it may be more comprehensive or more idiosyncratic in its coverage. Don't be afraid to express a point of view or to inject some style into the prose. Focus on issues, details, and context that make the subject interesting; you should draw your reader in with examples and quotations. Give the reader a sense both of your subject's contours and of the debates that shape it." Good principles, which have made for a great series - so many people have said how much they like these little books.

No one will expect 'coverage' from such a thing, but there are bound to be some reviews and reader responses along the lines of "I can't believe that X didn't get a single mention." Among the initial candidates for X are: medieval mystery plays, the Brownings and the Rossettis, H. G. Wells. Over the coming months before publication - scheduled for October - I will try to list as many as I can of my apologies to the shades of the mighty dead whom I have neglected. As far as the living are concerned, I've been very selective. They can look after themselves.

A living author I greatly admire is Richard Powers. I review his latest novel, Generosity, in the latest TLS, but it doesn't have a free access online link to the piece. So instead, here is a picture of the village - well at least the church, which I look out on from my study - covered in snow.