Monday, November 02, 2015

The Back List

How often do you re-read your published books?

There was a wonderful admission from PD James that when she was going to the US to talk to various groups of students who were studying her books, and since it was a long time since they had been published and they would have read them meticulously quite recently, she thought she ought to renew her own acquaintance with them on the flight across. History doesn't relate which book it was, but when she reached the denouement she found that she had misled herself so completely that she got the murderer wrong.

I have to say I have more than once been put on the spot by a reader who has asked a question about a particular character ( not one of the principals) in a book I have written some time before and I have to ask for a resume before I can hope to answer it since it's obviously much fresher in their mind than it is in mine.

To be honest, I can't remember when was the last time I re-read one of my books. I'm not quite sure why: part of it, perhaps, is that having read it at least 193 times before it went to my editor, and at least twice before the hardback publication and again before it went into  paperback, I don't feel it holds any surprises. But the other part, I think, is that once I have started on a new book I just don't want to.

In the first place, when you're writing a series the characters develop, shaped by their experiences. Marjory Fleming in Cold in the Earth is not the same woman as she is in The Third Sin, years later, so it is confusing.

And then there is writer's insecurity. A book that has been published successfully, with readers who love it and a publisher who wants the next book, a book that is on the shelves in bookshops just like a proper book,it looks very different from the book that is still on the computer, the book that still needs to be finished and edited – a flimsy sort of thing.

On the odd occasion when I have re-read one of my books, I've quite often found myself thinking, 'Good gracious, where did that come from?' And then, as I work to pull all the bits of the new one together, it starts me thinking, 'And what if it doesn't come from there again?'

So my books sit there on the shelf, and I like to look at them. But I don't often read them.


Donis Casey said...

I have that problem all the time. By the time a new book comes out I'm already well into the next one, so before I go out and promote, I have to re-read the book just to refresh my memory. And it is very much like reading a book written by someone else entirely!

Vicki Delany said...

I have trouble keeping my series straight, never mind individual books!

Eileen Goudge said...

I can't read my backlist titles with a mental red pencil in hand. I suffer from literary excess, so when I go back and read with a fresh eye, I want to cut a word here, a sentence there. Too late. Sigh.

Aline Templeton said...

Oh Eileen, I do agree. I always have to prise my hands off the keyboard before I send in the ms ('I'm sure that should be a colon not a semi-colon...') so it's torment to read something I can't change for a better phrase!