Giving the first draft of a novel to a reader for the first time is always scary. I’ve spent so long mulling it over in my head, talking to my characters on my way to work, scribbling down private notes on my phone mid-conversation, that the thought of someone else sharing it is terrifying. What if they hate it? What if I have done everything totally wrong?
I sent out my first draft, still raw and bloody, to three friends. The language is terrible. The descriptions are actually awful – I’m well aware of it! But as ‘Before I am Buried’ is magic realism, I need to make sure my plot makes sense – that the mythology is interesting and is explained in the right way. I chose my readers carefully – friends I knew could appreciate how terrible first drafts are and could give an initial reaction that I could work with to make the skeleton of the novel stronger, before I go to work on the make-up.
When choosing my readers, I remembered a conversation between a Bloomsbury editor and one of her début novelists that I heard at a conference last year. The author told a story about her initial readings and about how sometimes, the best readings can come from the most unlikely places. In this case her friend, who is obsessed with celebrity gossip and soaps, read the book in a completely different way to her literary friends. She read the characters as though they were real, getting inside their heads and questioning their motives. As a result, she reshaped her characters and brought them to life. I chose my readers to do the same to my plot – readers who live for stories.
My responses are back and are all very useful. Positive on the bones (hurrah!) and negative on the flesh (as expected!). Now begins the task of sewing it all together and animating the corpse.