Since my last report I have been doing lots of further editing and corrections (how did I miss those handful of pesky typos even after re-reading the whole thing twice?). It has also been looked over by an editor and we had a profitable discussion yesterday about some further changes to consider. Some I agree with completely, and they are hopefully straightforward and fairly easy to implement. Others are interesting twists or changes that I am going to think about in more detail before making any radical alterations.
I think my next stage is to get some readers reports, to see how the novel works at an emotional and surface-structural level for a reader. I will include a questionnaire at the end asking about the specific issues and questions I have identified in order to gather a body of feedback before making final decisions on other possible changes. At the end of the day it is the response of readers which dictates the success of any writing project. If you might be interested in reading it let me know! I have three takers already.
Since I'm talking about the novel, here is the opening scene, set during a long, hot, dusty Manchester summer. (Best served with cold lager).
Alex was sitting on the other 'side' of the table from Anne, both of them looking through a window of the Lass O'Gowrie on Charles Street, watching people walking past. People who smiled and looked radiant in the bleaching sunlight.
Neither Anne nor Alex smiled. They looked like they had just been to a funeral.
Alex liked this pub. The signs outside read 'The World Famous Lass O' Gowrie Manchester's original brew house'; 'Fine ales brewed on the premises'; and 'Here was the site of Manchester's oldest pissotière. Last used AD 1896.' Any place that made a combined virtue of function, history, and biological necessity, could not be all bad.
He ran a finger around the inside of his shirt collar, separating it from his sweaty neck.
"Would you like another drink, Anne?"
"No. No thanks, I mean. I should be getting back." She had been hasty with the 'no', as if she was horrified at the thought of staying for another half-hour.
"I thought we were having an evening out together tonight?"
"Oh, well, maybe we can skip it this time?"
The pub was almost empty at the moment. Lifeless, quiet, still. A bit like this relationship, Alex thought. There were a lot of awkward silences this evening.
"Yes, okay. I'm sorry, I'm not good company tonight am I?" he sighed.
"It's not just you, it's... I don't know, it feels different doesn't it?"
"Different from when we first started going out?"
"You're right of course. You'd have to be blind not to notice it. But why? Did I do something wrong? I think of what fun we used to have, and can't think of a single thing that has started to sour it. It drives me potty."
"Ha! So you have noticed it too! I wasn't sure, you're so head-in-the-clouds sometimes, like everything just goes on normally... I didn't know how to mention that we weren't having fun together anymore."
"Well, you have now. It's probably best to be open," Alex said with resignation.
For the first time since entering the pub Anne was smiling. It was not the full-illumination smile Alex used to see. This one started at the mouth right enough, the shapely mouth perched above a small chin that made her look like a pretty doll: but the smile didn't reach those almond eyes he'd been so attracted to four months ago. They certainly weren't sparkling behind her delicate glasses today.
Alex still found her attractive - who wouldn't? - but he wasn't attracted. Crucial distinction. The same brown hair down to her shoulders framed the same face, and her clothes hinted at the same shapely younger body he'd come to know... but he had begun to look at her with more the eye of an art dealer than a lover. A clinical numbness, to which he was no stranger, had seeped in.
And he knew what that meant. Once the numbness settled it was only a matter of time. He knew the signs because he was a serial insensitive, and this was by now a very predictable pattern. He'd hoped, as ever, that this time would be different. But he might as well have wished that the sun would rise blue today.
"Well, I've been thinking too," Anne said. "Perhaps I've been a bit too preoccupied with work, not been putting my heart into this as much as I should. If so I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do this to us, maybe if I stop thinking so much about work..."
"No, no, it isn't you Anne. It's me. Believe me, I didn't want this to happen to us, but relationships and me just don't seem to work out. It's happened before but I hoped it would be different this time, I really did, I like and respect you so much, but it's like there's a timer in my head... and I think the alarm just went off."
"I don't think I understand? What does the alarm signify?"
"The end of whatever was making me happy."
She raised her head, as if surprised, and he noted that a faint flush had appeared on her cheeks and neck. "The end? Is that what you think this is?"
"I've been trying to think of what we can do to salvage things, I didn't mean they were already beyond repair when I raised this."
"I'd do anything for that not to be true, but I think we're past hope." Alex stared at his empty glass, not at her. He couldn't stand to look at her, because if she got upset rather than angry he might relent on the course he'd chosen and set in motion; and the end result would just be that instead of a bit of pain now, there'd be even more hurt for her later. He had become an expert on the issue of damage limitation. "It won't work. I know it won't. It'd be better for both of us to end it now..."
Silence for five whole seconds. Alex didn't dare look up, but his peripheral vision showed the flush taking over more of her face. He still didn't know what her reaction-
"Well you little shit Alex. You stinking little shit. What a loser. You won't even look at me, huh? You'll drop me like this, mumbling pessimism into your glass? Won't even try at making things work? You're like someone who reads a paper and decides we're all doomed, no point doing anything about it. Well if that's your attitude fine mister, you can have your sulks and gloom, if you want rid of me you could just have said so without all this nonsense, I never realised I was going out with a closet fucking nihilist."
- would be.
Okay, anger it was.
That would be better than tears in the long run.
"Somehow I don't think you are."
As she stood up and grabbed her bag to leave Alex looked up.
"I really am, but I hope we can still be friends. See you in the staff-room on Monday?"
"Still be friends? Friends? You really need to grow up, Alex. Seriously. With all your intelligence you still know nothing about people. It is sad. One of the saddest things I know."
She snorted and strode out.
That hadn't gone well.
Alex felt like the shit she'd called him. But try as he might, and sorry as he was, he couldn't shed a tear. Despite the burning day they were all frozen, and all he felt was relief.