At the end of August, as planned, I finished off the book I've been writing, and sent it to the publisher. My contact there has been graciously warm and complimentary in receiving it, and says that their meeting to consider incoming manuscripts is full for September, but they will look at it in October. So, by the end of October I will be able to tell you if they will be publishing it or not.
Before it went to the publisher, it went to the Badger and to Julie Faraway to read. The Badger speed-read it, and gave it the thumbs-up; Julie is reading it slowly and carefully, bookmarking it for comment later. They are an excellent reading team.
I felt relieved when the Badger said the book had come out good. 'Wonderful', he said, and 'Brilliant'.
I was relieved because - like everything I write, I guess - it has little to commend it in the way of plot or action, no dazzling intellect or subtle cunning twists to amaze and confound the reader; it's just a story of the heart. That's all I do. I tell the story of life as I have seen it to be.
I hope the publisher will get what I am saying, and consent to add it to my series, The Hawk & the Dove - it will be the seventh book of that series, if they do. It's about how life can be sweetened (or soured) by the way we talk to one another.
Sometimes publishers have seen where I am coming from, and made it possible for me to tell my stories of the heart, the way I have seen life to be. Not always. My book Spiritual Care of Dying and Bereaved People was published by SPCK who understood, and edited helpfully and respectfully, and with them that book had a long, long run, finding its way into most of the UK's hospices and into ordination training programs. I was so grateful to SPCK.
Then in due course it went out of print and, because people still came looking for it, it seemed right to make an expanded and revised version of it, with three new sections added - one about taking funerals, one about bereavement from other causes than death, and one being the story of my husband Bernard's dying.
The original book had been very personal, coming as it did out of my work (at the time I wrote it) as a hospice chaplain. The sections I added were even more personal, they were stories of my heart about life as I had seen and experienced it to be.
The re-write was commissioned by another English publisher, but when it was completed, something went wrong. There had been an error in the contract that both the publisher and I had overlooked. The commissioned book was to be 35,000 words, a significantly expanded revision of the original with the three new sections. But the original had 45,000 words.
I had written what I understood we had agreed. The publisher had been imagining a short 'how-to' book guiding people through stages of grief - a book to hold in your hand. The manuscript they got was about 70,000 words.
At this point we parted company. The publisher talked about the book in terms of 'product'. I talked about it in terms of 'story'. What I had written, which was the agonising putting on paper of the slow tearing apart of my life and heart and the insights I had found in that, turned out to be too long for the product the editor had in mind. It didn't fit with the other 'how-to' books in the category. It would have too many pages, so cost more to produce, and unbalance the budget a little. She had a suggestion for me. Couldn't I take the story of Bernard dying, divide it up into gobbets (that was the word she used) and distribute them as illustrative material here and there in the text of the original.
Er . . . no.
That book has found a different publisher now, who also requires some re-writing to turn the story of my heart into suitable product, but who at least have not made the mistake of suggesting that I hawk up the story of my husband dying in gobbets.
I sometimes wonder about products, and target markets, and 'building a platform', and all the ways my wise agent tries to coax me into entering the Human Race. But in the end I can find nothing inside me to write but the story of my heart, and life as I have seen it to be so far.
What brought all this to mind was a story my daughter Fi told us about over supper last night. I'll give you a link in a minute. If you follow the link, it takes you to Tim MacCartney's page where you have to select 'The River Man Story' from the list of stories on the left at the top there. The River Man Story is the tale that set me thinking about stories of the heart. Here's the link.