This is a strange update, because it doesn't involve me beating myself up.
It is just to say that, if you are in Dublin, or know someone in Dublin... here's your official invitation to tonight's launch of Connect, in Dubray Books on Grafton Street, 6.30pm.
All are welcome, especially people I still owe postcards to.
We will retreat afterwards to the Duke pub, on Duke Street, just around the corner, and keep the conversation going. If I still owe you a card, yes I will definitely buy you a drink.
Here's the invite:
If you have time, click on the RSVP link on the invite to tell Cormac Kinsella you're coming, so he knows how many crates of wine and water to carry to Dubray Books on his aching back. But if not, no problem, turn up anyway. Bring a friend. And definitely say hello, do not be shy, I really want to meet you in the real world...
About thirty cards that I sent to Las Vegas for reposting last month have been arriving this week, so I feel less guilty than usual. More on that soon. Also, Picador are prepping a PDF, with a big sample from the start of the book just for you lot, all perfectly laid out and edited and polished. (Yes, you'll get even more chapters than in the earlier, rougher draft of the opening that I sent you ages back). Should have that to send you this week.
And if you're in the US; before you ask – I'm sorry, yes, it's still going to be very hard to get the book, even after the UK and Irish publication. Connect doesn't officially come out in the US till August, because it has a different publisher there. Will there be a US launch? I don't know. More news on that as I get it. If there is, I will definitely invite you (and give you more notice than I did this time).
OK, I hope to see some of you in Dubray Books on Grafton Street in Dublin tonight at 6.30pm...
OK, I hurriedly typed and sent the last update from my gate at Tegel airport, after dealing with a family medical crisis in Berlin. That crisis is over. Nobody died. All is well.
With the crisis over, I flew back to Singapore to finish my stint as Nanyang Technological University’s International Writer in Residence. As my splendid wife, Solana Joy, had in the meantime flown to Portland to spend Christmas with her family, this meant I spent Christmas day alone in Changi Airport; an experience which I enjoyed greatly. As I mentioned on Twitter, it was the most JG Ballard-flavoured Christmas I’d ever had (and I like Ballard a lot).
I wrapped up everything in Singapore, and flew back to Berlin a couple of weeks ago. Some postcards actually got written in that time (all whisky-and-coffee-stained), and are going out this week. (Skip to the bottom for those names, if you are impatiently waiting for yours.) But, for those who enjoy getting a look behind the scenes, here is what’s been happening on the writing and publishing side of things, over the past couple of months…
EVERY BREAKDOWN IS A BREAKTHROUGH
I mentioned, last time, that there had been a breakthrough with the novel. Let me expand on that…
OH JESUS CHRIST THIS FUCKING NOVEL.
With every book I’ve written, there has been a tricky scene that everybody (agent, editors, beta readers, God) hates, but which I like. And, in every case, after a lot of arguing, and resistance, I finally see their point, and find a way to rewrite the scene so it doesn’t destabilise the book; and it usually ends up flipping from worst scene to one of the best scenes (sometimes the best), in the book.
In this case it was a scene of violent confrontation that I’d written way too strong – it was too traumatic to read, and it forced a lot of readers to withdraw their emotional consent and bail out of the book. I thought the scene worked; and it DID, as a powerful piece of writing. (Oh boy, was it powerful.) But it didn’t work as a scene, at that point, in this book.
One problem I have as a writer – which can be a virtue – is that I don’t really have a disgust reflex. I can write a difficult scene unblinkingly. Trouble is, some readers really want to blink; and I don’t let them. If too many readers want to blink, then I’ve written the scene too strong for a large audience. Now, in the past, with the Jude novels, say, I’ve been happy to keep the scene full strength, and lose most of my audience. Those were high-ego books: I wanted to please me, not the reader. But Connect is a novel about connection; it’s a novel I wrote in order to connect with people, and so such a scene would defeat the aims of this book.
So I finally found a way to rewrite it that worked dramatically, was plausible psychologically, and didn’t throw half my readers out of the book. Probably the most difficult scene I have ever written. Huge relief to be told that it succeeded.
Which means, after seven years of work (obviously I did a few other things in there, but seven years, on and off), I have finally got the book to the point where it is what the world would consider finished. There is even a printed proof copy (not yet copy-edited, or proofread, or professionally designed and laid out, but nonetheless an actual, printed, rough copy of the book) at my elbow as I type. Here is photographic proof of the existence of both book and elbow:
After I finished that final tricky scene in early December, we realised that, if we moved fast enough, we could send out proofs (what Americans call Advance Reader Copies) in the Christmas book parcel that Picador send to all their writers; so the proof was basically lifted directly from my final typescript, plonked between roughly-designed covers (with a blurb we bashed together in two days), and printed in a week. (It worked as a proof because my neurotic polishing, over innumerable drafts, meant my typescript was pretty clean and largely error-free.)
In January, more of these proofs were sent out to journalists, editors, authors, Theresa May, Messi, the Pope, and so on.
Since that proof was printed, we have copy-edited the book (with a professional copy-editor); picked a final typeface; done the first rough design layout (with a professional designer); perfected the jacket copy, etc. This is a very enjoyable time, much less stressful than when doing the actual editing, where the success of the book is still up in the air. (The artistic success: The commercial success is always up in the air.)
The copy edit was pretty painless; mostly tweaking punctuation, and making some sentences read more clearly. (I did find a bad mistake, all my fault, involving photons behaving impossibly, and rewrote a paragraph.)
At the design stage, we would go back and forth, tweaking it. Ravi, for example, thought the chapter numbers were a bit big, making it look too much like a textbook, so we dropped their size. I wanted to make the epigraphs visually distinct from the body text; but using a different typeface would make the book look rather fussy, so we just tweaked their size, too. We adjusted the inset depth for new lines. Dozens of tiny decisions. This stage is really enjoyable, it's like polishing an old piece of furniture. Bringing up the grain. Carefully scraping off the couple of pieces of dried-in dirt – is that an old prune, good lord – that have been stuck to the back of a leg since World War One. Really getting it to shine…
AND THEN SUDDENLY EVERYTHING SPEEDS UP
With that all done, the layout proofs were couriered to me (because everything is incredibly slow in publishing until suddenly it is incredibly fast.) Over the last ten days, I've been reading the book carefully, noting in red ink any fixes to be made, and couriering it back. So now it’s done. Holy crap. (Well, I think they send me back the amended layout proofs for a last look. But they should be OK, unless a cat wanders across Nick the Layout Guy's keyboard, unnoticed, while Nick is making a cup of tea.)
So I've spent the last while with a printed proof of the final layouts on the table by my other elbow (here is photographic proof of the existence of the final layouts, and my other elbow.)
I like the typeface, it is very clean and modern, but is nonetheless serif, which is a lot easier to read over 400 pages than a sans-serif font. For those who've never had to think about this stuff: Serif fonts have those little squiggles or blobs or lines at the end of each stroke of the letter, and this, for some weird neurological reason, makes them easier to read for hours at a time. A useful attribute for a 470 page book. Sans-serif fonts have very clean lines and curves with no elaboration; they make for great headlines, or titles, or road signs. But, for some odd reason, even though they are very clean and simple, many people get tired reading sans-serif typefaces after more than a few pages. Yes, that explains the "sans" in Comic Sans, and also why you don't want to read a book of it.
Yes I am using "typeface" and "font" interchangeably here. Yes I know they used to mean slightly different things, until Steve Jobs called the typefaces on the first Mac "fonts" and fucked up the distinction, and now people say "font" when they SHOULD say "typeface". Yes I know I am infuriating a handful of people with a background in design. BUT THAT WAR IS OVER AND I'M SORRY BUT YOU LOST.
With proofs out in the world, I am starting to get feedback from real human beings, who were not involved in this tortuous process, and who are encountering the story for the first time, in an uncomplicated way (ie, with no earlier versions in their heads), simply as a book. And the initial feedback, to my immense relief, is really good. I've already got two great jacket quotes from writers I really like, and the shops seem to like it, too. There are wild rumours of possible future window displays in some of the big bookstores in Ireland. We shall see, but it's a good start.
(By the way, if any of you review for a website, or a print publication, or a local radio station, or Vatican TV, or whatever, get in touch – it's just juliangough, at good old gmail dot com – there may be some proof copies left.)
My anxieties about the postcards have been connected pretty strongly to my anxieties about the novel, and my delays on the postcards have definitely been connected (psychologically) to the delays on the novel, so I’m hoping that the fact that I’ve finally finished the book in a way that is fundamentally more final than all the other times I've finally finished the book will drive me on to finally finish the cards before publication on May 3rd. Also the shame. The shame will drive me on. And the threats, and the hurled clods of earth.
I have done a few cards recently, and I am doing more. As ever, it is going more slowly that I had optimistically predicted, because there is something seriously wrong with my brain; but at least it is moving.
These noble, patient souls will get their cards soon (I've written, stamped, and addressed these cards, and will post them to Las Vegas this week, to be reposted from there):
Siobhan Patten, Smoke Couthren, Bill Alexy, Stosh Mintek, Niall Carville, Aimee Jarboe, Emer McMahon, Mark Tottenham, Flora McCloud, Chuck Taggart, Ariel Vardi, Nikki Bowman, Conor Gallagher, Christel Adina, Sean Harvey. Also Robert Zetzsche and PJ King, whose cards I did ages ago and then didn't send for weird, psychologically complex reasons. I'm letting PJ skip the queue because he paid so much for his card that my guilt had become overwhelming. (PJ's card is written in my blood, although he very kindly said I didn't have to write it in my blood. But I felt a deal was a deal.)
I have not sent out the lipstick and bullethole surveys yet, as I have been slower clearing the backlog of whisky and coffee stained cards than I had hoped. (That was the most popular tier.) But the book comes out on May 3rd and I WILL HAVE DONE ALL THE POSTCARDS BY THEN SO HELP ME GOD.
The book is 475 pages, and looks like one of those handsome, fat books you get in airports, written by professional writers who meet their deadlines and know what they are doing. (Deeply misleading, but there you are.) It's my most ambitious book, it's my longest book, it's my best book. It has nearly driven me mad (and it can't have done your sanity much good either).
I think it has been worth it. I hope it has been worth it.
If you can bring yourself to read it, after this hideous ordeal I have put us all through, I hope you will agree.
Neurotic hugs to all of you, except obviously those of you who do not like hugs, and also anyone who is too mad at me for all these delays to accept a hug, which would be entirely understandable,
Well, the smooth, efficient, well-oiled machine that is The Las Vegas Postcards kind of ground to a halt there for a while. A LOOOONG while. The longest yet… And I was doing so well! I had sent out over a hundred unique, deeply neurotic, wildly over-thought postcards! And then (as you may have noticed, especially if you are still waiting for your card), I stopped writing cards, or updating… I’ve just this week started again, but I feel I should explain what happened (and is happening).
SO, WHAT HAPPENED?
I’m tempted to blame it on Trump, as the timings certainly coincide. And he HAS taken over my brain, and destroyed my sleep. I used to obsessively read books; now I wake up at 4am and immediately go on Twitter to see what Trump’s just done. (I suspect the global production of literary fiction has been halved by this presidency.) He is more interesting than fiction. Hell, he is more interesting than LIFE ITSELF. I’d rather read Trump tweets than eat. (At least I’m not alone in my obsession; I sent this tweet a while back; it was retweeted twenty three thousand times, liked thirty thousand times, and viewed well over three million times. Which makes it my most-read piece of fiction, apart from the ending to Minecraft. What a deeply peculiar world.)
But, OK, OK, the real reason is not Trump.
THE REAL REASON
At the start of this year, I finally left my old flat in Berlin; and, indeed, left Germany. I put 30% of what I own on the pavement, outside the flat, for people to take away; put 60% of what I own into storage; and carried the other 10% in suitcases to Limerick City, in Ireland.
And the next few months just evaporated. I was writer in residence at Limerick University, which involved working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life. (A low bar to clear, I’ll admit.) I didn’t HAVE to work that hard, but the work was so absorbing I couldn’t switch off. (I was helping the creative writing students at UL improve their work, giving them editorial feedback, etc. They were terrific, totally committed. Watch out in the future for writers like Donal Minihane and Meghan Helms and… oh, loads of them.) Also, I was doing what is usually a year’s work in one semester, which cranked up the intensity a smidgin. Also I was doing a lot of family stuff (as my parents live nearby), with my wife, brother, parents, daughter, old friends, etc... (Here's a thing I wrote in the Irish Times about Limerick, and why it's become so interesting lately.)
And I was doing a year’s work in one semester because, on July 12th, I had to fly to Singapore to take up my post as writer in residence at Nanyang Technological University, where I’m typing this, and where I will remain till early February 2018. It's ranked the number one university in Asia, and number 11 in the world. (So, ahead of Princeton, Yale, et al.) I will no doubt drag it down a few notches over the next six months, but that's where it's at right now.
This is where I’m working. It’s great…
Plus, on top of the university work this year, I’ve also been doing my long-delayed final edits for Connect (the novel, formerly known as Infinite Ammo, that I went to Las Vegas to research). There have been two rounds of edits, and they have deepened the book enormously. Very happy with it. Publication date is now set for late February.
Don’t worry, I still wake up sweating with guilt about the postcards I haven’t done yet. Except now I wake up in Singapore.
THE GUILTY SECRET IN THE SUITCASE
So, things are looking up. The remaining blank postcards and stamps, which I have dragged around the world for the past year, are now out of my suitcase, and on the living room table in my flat in Nanyang Valley. The guilt level involved in SEEING THEM EVERY MORNING AS I EAT BREAKFAST has now risen to the point where I have begun, once more, to write them, just to get them off the fucking table. It was much easier to ignore them when they were in my suitcase, at the back of a wardrobe, in Limerick; although I did occasionally feel like a Mafia hitman on the run with a dismembered casino owner in my luggage. (“Hey, what’s in the suitcase, Jules?” “NOTHING!”)
WHERE ARE WE AT?
I’m still working on the $25 postcards (coffee & whisky stains). So, if you haven’t received your $25 postcard yet, and you’ve moved house in the last year, just change your address here on Kickstarter, and I’ll send it out to the new address when it’s done. If you haven’t changed address, you’re fine.
Lipstick postcard people will get a survey asking for their addresses when I’ve finished the coffee & whiskey stain cards.
Oh, after a lot of research, I pretty much gave up on whisky stains, as they just aren’t impressive unless you practically dissolve the card in the stuff. (Also, I don’t really drink.) I like my coffee pretty strong, though, so the coffee stains look great.
OK, talk soon, I won’t even apologise for the last delay, it’s so bad it’s inexcusable. I don’t know what is wrong with me. I should be on a locked ward. (Then maybe I’d get them finished.)