We're all home sick today. I'm wearing Martin's biggest flannelette shirt. The girls are in their jarmies, watching a strange dubbed Italian live action version of Pinocchio and playing with blocks, building and demolishing towns.
A truck just drove up and parked outside our house. This doesn't happen very often on our little dirt road. Martin and I watched out the window, wondering aloud if he had something for us. Sure enough, the guy walked towards our house with a box. Martin went out and relieved him of it at the front gate, what with me wearing only a shirt and all. 'Let's all sit round the table together and watch Daddy open it!' Fred said. Martin got a knife. Una brough her bowl of chopped up apple. Out of the box were unearthed 12 copies of my new novel, Little Bird. Hello Little Bird, nice to see you out in the world. The girls were not overly excited.
The strange thing about being a writer is that by the time a book comes out you've been finished with it for ages, and the finished product is like a manifestation of the recent, but finished with, past. In the time that Little Bird has been at the printer I've written a whole other novel. Well half of one. Which brings us to...
The Top Secret Super Exciting Collaborative Novel
aka Dear Swoosie
In March one of the Onions asked Kate if she happened to have a spare Girlfriend novel ready to go, as they had a gap early next year. They said they'd need it by late May, early June at the latest. Kate said probably not because a) no ideas and b) she only really has one day a week to write, but if she had a marvellous idea she'd let them know. We had a chat about what she would write about, I told her how much I loved her blog bio, where she says 'I used to tell fortunes that sometimes came true'. In the course of this conversation we said 'hey you know what would be great if I wasn't so busy and you had more time would be to write a Girlfriend together'.
Somehow this turned into 'Hey, let's write a Girlfriend together!'
And in the end it was the perfect project for both of us. The sad thing was delaying the publication date of Only Ever Always AGAIN, but considering I had just taken on three days a week of teaching, I thought that was probably the best decision for the book anyway, it's too complex a novel to be squeezing into one day a week.
As it was, Dear Swoosie practically wrote itself (well, it certainly felt that way when I opened up our Google document to discover a whole new chapter had appeared). We plotted it out within an inch of its life, first with a dead mother and then - because we're sick of dead parents - with a mum who has nicked off to find herself instead. Then we wrote it a chapter each at a time. Concurrently, we also wrote the series of letters that form the heart of the novel, letters the two girls find hidden away in the school attic that were written between best friends in 1989. The letters are heading towards the Winter Formal, the novel culminates in a twenty year reunion for (you guessed it) the Class of 1989. The letters were great to write, easy to squeeze into a spare moment. However the odd affect was that Kate and I hardly spoke to each other or saw each other as we were writing, most of our contact came through the novel. When we wrote a big falling out, we actually had to ring each other and make sure everything was okay between us.Bizarrely, we actually wrote the Winter Formal letters, just as we were about to start writing the Reunion chapters, so the story parallels are even stronger.
The absolutely best thing about writing this novel was how fun it was. When you write for a living, writing can become work. Little Bird ended up being a lot more complicated than I thought it would be and Only Ever Always has proved a huge intellectual struggle. Often when I write part of me is always fantasising about the book I plan to write next, the perfect, unsullied book, the book that has not yet succumbed to the laws of limited possibilities (where, one you write a certain amount, you have closed off a number of options about what the book could have been). But I always loved living in the world of Swoosie. Having someone else live in the world of the novel so completely, someone who knows your characters as well as you do, who brings life and freshness and unpredictability to your world, well, it's more like play than work.
On Tuesday I wrote the last chapter. It was so sad to have it come to an end, but exciting too, because we can't wait to show it to other people and find out if everyone thinks we're as clever and funny as we do.