On Tuesday, the editor-in-chief at Little Brown travelled up to Scotland to give me her verdict on my memoir, and to begin the editing process.
I was quite nervous. There were a few things about the book I felt certain would be a problem. Firstly, the contract had initially asked for 100,000 words. My agent had manage to get that down to 70,000 because the book only covers the period of a year, but in the end I’d only written 55,000. The more I wrote, the shorter the book had become. I was sure that would be a problem.
I also wasn’t sure I’d get away with the ending, which wasn’t a Hollywood ending. And most importantly, to me, I’d been very careful to take Holden Caulfield’s advice, and leave out “all that David Copperfield crap.” Family history, my great-grandparent’s struggle with the bindweed, my mother’s addiction to chewing rubber in the weeks leading up to my birth. In fact, I’d tried to focus as much on possible just on the story of the formation of Belle and Sebastian. I didn’t know if that would go down well. Not enough of how I felt about the smell of lavender rising up from the tenement flat beneath my own, and how I reacted to the wind on Sauchiehall Street on a cold November afternoon.
But I needn’t have worried. When I picked Antonia up from the train station she told me that she liked the book, in advance of us talking about it properly, just to put my mind at rest. Then at home, she said- “I’m not going to ask you for another twenty thousand words or anything.”
She even said that she’d liked the ending.
So now the process of fixing up what needs to be fixed up has begun in earnest. She’s asked me to think about my own perspective on the events described in the book, from my vantage point now as an old man. And to think about certain motivations that drove me to do certain things back then.
I’ll write next time about what has come out of that- and what changes might be made to the book as a result.
My agent, Joanna at Hardman & Swainson finished reading the manuscript of my Belle and Sebastan memoir, here is what she said (minus the swearing):
“I finished reading your memoir over the weekend. I really, really enjoyed it! It’s
funny and full of insights. You really capture the time and there are some truly
wonderful scenes where you sweep us up into the atmosphere, e.g. the gigs, party,
the recording session of Tigermilk. I could really sense the excitement and elation
you all felt there. It’s a joy to read! It’s a good depiction of the other Stuart -
his method of rehearsing with band members separately seems pretty unorthodox, and I
also thought it was interesting to see your own conflict of ending up playing
someone else’s songs, which I didn’t expect.
“On a practical note, it’s about 20k words shorter than contracted. I wonder whether it might be worth thinking about other scenes you could add in. I specifically thought there were more
‘cut away’ scenes you might be able to write – so ones where it’s not all about the
band and the music (although clearly that’s what was dominating your life at the
time), like the one where you went to the beach with Karn. Just things like – did
you ever go back to Alexandria to visit home? What was that like? Things to give it
a broader feel. So that although it all hangs on the hook of B&S it has hints of the
other elements in your life, too. I’m not sure - I’ve just been mulling it over.
“Anyway, well done. It’s a brilliant read which I’m sure people are going to love!”
Tomorrow, my editor is traveling up from London to begin the process of turning the manuscript into a finished book with me. I’ll post about that next time…
When I was doing the last week of redraughting on my manuscript, before I handed it into the publishers, I was in the supermarket and suddenly had the feeling that my editor was looking over my shoulder.
“Shouldn’t you be working?” she seemed to be saying, “What are you doing away from your desk?”
I turned round, wondering if I was overworked and going mad- and then I realized she was staring down at me, from one of the shelves- on the cover of Writing Magazine:
It was quite a surprise, and also a relief to find that I hadn’t turned paranoid from all the long hours with the manuscript. On tuesday, she is coming up to Scotland to let me know what edits need to be done on the book, so I’ll post about that then. In the meantime, my agent has finished reading the book now- so I’ll post some of her comments next time.
When I was unwell, it got to the point where I couldn’t sit at a desk and write anymore- either typing or by hand. I started writing just in my head, and then when my head was full I’d empty it out onto a dictaphone, and then carry on with the next bit in my head.
I found a typing service online, two sisters called Joanna and Lucy, and I’d email my audio files to them and they’d email typed documents back and I’d print them out. I wrote two novels that way, Peacock’s Tail (which is free to read on the Barcelona Review website) and a YA comedy called Jackdaw And The Randoms.
I started writing “In The All Night Cafe” in September 2012, when I was well enough to sit at a desk again. I thought I might do a Kickstarter campaign and publish it myself just for fans, and I began writing it longhand- with the plan of getting the same typing service to type it up for me. But after I’d written a few chapters I couldn’t find them online. I went hunting for the old email address, and when I contacted Joanna it turned out she was a literary agent now. She asked what I was writing and when I told her about the memoir she said she could probably find a publisher for it.
I hadn’t written much, but when I had it up to 10,000 words we wrote a proposal, and Little, Brown offered us a contract. For a book I hadn’t written.
Having only written novels before I couldn’t quite get my head around that. I’d never sent a book out before until it was finished and redraughted three times. The contract with Little, Brown said I had to deliver the book by May 2014, for a release in May 2015. It all seemed like a very long time away- so I got to work.
“In The All Night Cafe” is the seventh book I’ve written, but it’s my first non-fiction one- and I’m still a bit surprised at having done it.
It probably began with me studying for a degree with the Open University. I hadn’t been very well for a long time, and I was stuck at home- so I thought I’d do some Open University courses to pass the time. After doing a lot of reading and writing a lot of essays, I realised that if I did a creative writing course I could probably get some credits for a lot less studying, so I signed up for one.
It was mostly fiction writing, but there was one module in Life Writing, and I wrote a piece based on a visit a journalist had made to my house to interview me about Belle and Sebastian- and about how I couldn’t talk about the things I really wanted to talk about; how he kept guiding the conversation towards gossip and scandal.
I’d struggled to get above 75% in any of my academic writing, but although I’d been getting around 85% for my fiction, I got 92% for my Life Writing. And I’d enjoyed it. So it encouraged me to think about trying it again in the future.
I’d also been keeping a folder on my shelves called “Tigermilk” for a few years, adding notes to it occasionally of memories from that time, of things that had never been documented- mainly because we hadn’t done any Belle and Sebastian interviews at the beginning, when journalists would usually have asked us about that stuff.
So I thought one day it might make a book. It had become a luminous and cherished period of my life. But a few more things had to happen before I got around to actually trying to do it.
I’ll write about those things next time.
The title of my memoir, at the moment, is “In The All Night Café”, with the subtitle- A Memoir Of Belle & Sebastian’s Formative Year.
Most introductory articles on Belle & Sebastian still begin, “Belle & Sebastian formed in an all night café in Glasgow in 1996,” so the title is a reference to that little myth.
I’ve chosen to cover a relatively short period of time in the book. From Winter 1994 until Spring 1996. Just the undocumented and formative period of the band. I thought when I started writing that it all took place within one year, but checking old letters as I went along it’s a bit longer, so I might need a new subtitle now.
The book begins with the moment I decided to learn bass. I’d already been writing songs and leading bands for ten years before that, but my current band had been looking for a bass player for months without success, and it suddenly occurred to me that I could learn bass and give up guitar, because guitarists were much easier to find.
The memoir is really the story of how that decision changed everything for me- and it takes in the first two bands I played in with Stuart Murdoch- “Lisa Helps The Blind” and “Rhode Island”- and ends with the launch party for the first B&S album, “Tigermilk”.
Next time, I’ll write a little bit about how and why I started writing the memoir, and the strange coincidences that led to it finding a publisher.
Today, I handed in the manuscript for my Belle and Sebastian memoir, to the editor at Little Brown. I’m going to keep a blog here about its progress, for anyone who is interested in finding out more about the publishing process. I will be finding a lot of it out for the first time myself; I’ve never worked with an editor before, and I have no idea how much the book will be transformed by the process. I’ve come to understand recently that an editor’s role is a lot like the role of a record producer, and that a lot of what readers attribute to the writer is actually the work of the editor.
Apparently, Raymond Carver’s prose style was as much the creation of his editor as it was of Carver himself. There is a good article about that here:
So, this blog will hopefully give some insight into how the process works, as well as describing what has been involved in writing the book up until this point, how it came to find a publisher, and what the book is about. I hope you’ll find some of it interesting.