Sunday, 25 January 2015

Call Me Big-Headed - by Susan Price

     "In the Ghost World, beyond Iron Wood, lay all that was
Ghost Dance by Susan Price
left of the Northlands; and in that timeless Northlands' forest there is a gyrfalcon. It has been a gyrfalcon so long, it has almost forgotten that it was once a mortal baby, and then a shaman's apprentice and a shaman, and a Czar's black angel.

     And that is the end of this story (says the cat).
     If you thought it tasty, then serve it to others.
     If you thought it sour, sweeten it with your own telling.
     But whether you liked it, or liked it not, let it make its
own way back to me, riding on another's tongue."

This is from the ending of Ghost Dance, the third book in my Ghost World Sequence. I've just finished turning it into a paperback, so now all three books are available as paperbacks again.

I wrote these books a long time ago, and it's been a rather odd experience, going back to them.

When you first begin a book, and the idea is alight in your imagination, it's a wonderful, exciting time. New ideas and images spring into your head, seemingly unplanned, from some other place... They jostle and fight for attention, almost too many to get down on the page.

Then tying the images together and making the plot work becomes difficult and frustrating, a chore...

By the time you've finished rewriting it several times, you're sick of it. There are no longer any surprises in it for you. Passages that were meant to be beautiful seem merely mundane and dull. Surprising revelations are anything but - trite and well-worn. You lose all judgement about the thing.

With conventional publishing, the book may be taken away from you for several months - and then the proofs are suddenly sprung on you. With luck, this is rather cheering. The break from it has renewed your interest. You've forgotten some of the details, so it seems fresher. Your faith in it perks up a little.

By the time it makes it into the shops, you've usually moved on to some other fantastically shining, wonderful new idea, and you've done with the old book. If it gets reviewed well, that's rather nice - if it sells well, even better, because then you have some money to live on while you write - but you're really not that interested by then. Or so I've found.

But let twenty years go by... Then re-reading the book is like reading something written by someone else entirely. I was startled by Ghost Dance. The power of the occult scenes took me aback. I'd forgotten the chill of the descriptions of the dying Northlands. Did I really write this powerful book? - Well, that's my name on the title page.

Call me big-headed if you like. Maybe I am - but I'm being honest about the experience of re-reading this book, which I wrote a long time ago. I suppose it's one advantage of growing older.


    Paperback                                                                                            e-book

                    The Ghost Drum                                                                           The Ghost Drum

                        Ghost Song                                                                                     Ghost Song 

                        Ghost Dance                                                                                   Ghost Dance 




12 comments:

Katherine Roberts said...

Perfectly explains the hatred I have for my own books by the time they reach the shelves... sometimes I find time and distance brings back the original thrill, but with other books it just highlights all the flaws!

The Ghost World books are true classics, and you've a right to be proud of them.

Mari Biella said...

I often find that my feelings about my own books are confused, to say the least, and I’m glad I’m not alone in this! Sometimes I feel immensely proud of them; at other times I see nothing but their flaws. It’s so hard to get anything like an objective view of our own work sometimes. Having said that, I agree with Katherine – you have more reason than most to feel truly proud!

Susan Price said...

Thank you, Katherine and Mari! I'm not just returning the compliment when I say that you've both written books that you will be very proud of - in time, when you can read them as if you'd never come across them before.
Because - not having had the work-load of writing them - I was knocked all of a heap by 'I Am The Great Horse' and 'The Quickening.'

It's a strange thing, though, that we can never see our own books as others do - just as we can never hear our own voice as it sounds to others.

Bill Kirton said...

Just to echo what the others said. The Ghost Drum was inspired, compelling, and the cat is a great conceit. Be big-headed, Susan - you've earned it.

Chris Longmuir said...

I know the feeling. By the time I'm a third of the way into writing a book I'm so convinced it's rubbish it's a wonder I ever finish. I did what you're talking about when I was writing Dead Wood. My husband died when I was just over the halfway mark, and I didn't work on it until a year later, but when I came back to it, the writing I'd thought was rubbish, was actually very good (in my humble opinion). So, as I'm at the 'this is rubbish' stage of my present book, let's hope it works out the same way Dead Wood did!

Enid Richemont said...

Chris - I never knew we had death in common. Can we talk emailwise and privately, please? I'd really like to.

Oh, and that feeling of 'how could I have written this?'is so familiar. I've been working on little texts over the last few years, and my two picturebooks seem to be doing well. I love the discipline of writing to a small wordcount - like poetry, and not easy - but I have Young Adult novels, and novels, some previously published, some not, which I can't deal with. "For Maritsa with Love" is one of my more important ones, which may, or may not, be re-published by Dennis Hamley. In the meantime, I can edit longer stuff, but not really write it.

Susan Price said...

I agree, Enid - short texts for picture books can be like poems and the skill and work required for them is often not appreciated. They're dismissed as 'stuff for kids.' Read some of Sendak's picture book texts - an art-form!

And Chris, yes, I think there's always a point in a book where you despair, think it's rubbish, think you're never going to be able to pull it all together and solve all the problems. I certainly felt that with the third Sterkarm book, which I finished last year. But most of the time, if you grit your teeth and keep going, it does work out.

And Bill - thank you!

Lydia Bennet said...

yes it's quite a complicated relationship we have with our books - you put so much into them, then by the time they come out you doubt them having moved on, then later you often think 'hey this is pretty good!' which is a nice surprise! In your case Sue you've got plenty to be big-headed about so go ahead and start knitting a big hat ;) Good luck with the new versions.

madwippitt said...

Thoroughly enjoyed Ghost Drum ... fabulous ... loved the way it twined like the cat's chain (now there's a good idea! Chain up all cats!) ... now to start on the next two! :-)

Nick Green said...

I love this trilogy, it's like nothing else. Just when you think you're getting used to it, another earth-shattering shock comes out of nowhere and floors you again.

And dark... darker than any children's fiction I've come across - and yet uplifting and full of light for all that. Book 3 is my favourite, with a climax that is still hissing in my brain more than a year on...

I caught a rumour that a fourth book might be on the cards??!

Lee said...

Which of us is the same person we were twenty years ago--or the same writer? So it's not big-headed at all. It's one writer admiring the work of another!

Sandra Horn said...

Oh thank you, Sue! I'm just trying to get past the revisit/despair stage and you've given me fresh impetus.
It's not big-headed to be pleased - very pleased - as pleased as you like - with such mind-blowing stories.