Finishing the first draft of a novel is not necessarily the moment of joy you might expect it to be. On the occasions it has happened to me, I’ve mostly just felt exhausted. Emotional, certainly (especially if the ending turned out contrary to expectation) but in need of a good rest. And knowing that there is still an awful lot of work ahead to wrestle the manuscript into something presentable.
But once the final draft is done, the whole range of emotions come out. I edited the last pages of Gaslight in the early evening yesterday, re-read the concluding sentence, saved the document and shut down the laptop. And that’s it. Three and a half years of work finally completed. I think back to the man that I was when I started in late 2016, how unhappy and unsure he was, and how I thought a nice little novella was on the cards. And if I knew what was going to happen, whether I would have had the mental strength to carry on. I think sometimes it’s better not to know, otherwise the challenge can seem so daunting. Head down, concentrate on only the next step, that was how I tackled it, as the novel took on a life of its own.
The books origins, the struggles to write the words, the dark places the characters trod, once the final draft is done all those become part of its legend. Now I’ve decided its over, and the manuscript is ready to be read, it’s no longer mine. It’s out in the world and I no longer have any control over what happens. It could be despised. Loved. Controversial. People could be outraged by it. But my job is done. The characters can disappear into the sunset and carry on their lives, and I can remain grateful for seeing part of their world for the months they carried me with them.
That kind of sums up the overwhelming feeling I have once a novel is completed. I just feel bereft. A sense of loss. Knowing that for all the heartache it took, we went on a journey together for a long time, had a relationship even, and when it all comes to an end, and you know you will never see or hear from them again, yeah, it’s sad. I often wonder if authors with extensive back catalogues think about characters from old novels going back 40 or 50 years. I’d like to think that they do. That the awe and the thrill stays with you for the rest of your life, along with the privilege and just being grateful for the opportunity.
So, Gaslight is over, in a creative sense at least. What I do with it now is a watch this space. I think I’m going to try as hard as I can to get it published. So for now, I’m going to refrain from leaving a copy in the bibliography. Just until I’ve given it a go. The odds are stacked against me, particularly the length of the novel, which will put a lot off. But in the end I’m proud of this one, and whilst my relationship with the characters is done, hopefully in the future it will just be beginning for others.