Andrew Miller


The Land in Winter.

3 July , 2024

I have, as a blogger, clearly failed. Six years since my last post! 2018 feels strangely innocent. Looked at from this side of the river it appears a land at peace, untroubled. Did it feel like that at the time? Probably not. But once again I find myself at the end of a long project - almost the end. The new novel, The Land in Winter, will be published in October. I'm having a to-and-fro with the publishers about the cover. They want something that will work well for the Christmas market; I want something strange and beautiful, slightly uncomfortable, something that rouses curiosity. Would that work for the Christmas market? My fear is 'cosy' - a snowy landscape that presses some nostalgia button. 

They wrote the blurb (the art of extreme compression); I rewrote it; they rewrote the rewrite and we're probably close to agreeing on something. They've given me some smart looking cards to write notes to people who will be receiving the first run of bound proofs. This is a good idea; we're asking favours of people, so a little politeness, a little graciousness, feels correct. As for the manuscript itself (that old thing), I have been 'finishing' it for the best part of year, ever since sending it in to my new editor last August imagining we'd just tidy it up a little, then having a long phone call with him during which it became clear that in his mind at least, there was still a lot of work to be done. For the record, I think he was right. Too much of the book was hidden. I needed to come around to the reader's side and see what she could see - could be expected to see. Much of what I thought was present was - so I learnt, somewhat to my horror - not visible at all. So, a year of rewrites, though always trying to take care not to concrete over the springs and pulses of the original. I seem, temperamentally, to struggle with the direct stating of things, with plainness, as if it offended against some ideal of subtlety. I hope I've got the balance right now. I think you have to write for your best reader, the one who takes the time, the one who notices. Surely nothing more offensive to such a reader than to have the book's meanings presented like a crude caption beneath a painting, something that 'explains' what she was quite capable of deducing.

'Part way between the dream and the interpretation', is my favourite working definition of a novel. The question then, the inevitable question, is how much dream and how much interpretation. I think the tussle between myself and my editor has been exactly this: I wanted more dream, thought the book could bear it; he wanted more interpretation, thought the book required it. We were both right, so the argument was a useful one. It is, of course, very hard for me to know anymore what I've done, what's really there. I have combed through the manuscript so many times I could almost recite all 104,000 words. Can I still go around to the reader's side? Can I have any close sense of what it will be like to be touched by the words for the first time? I don't think so. 

As I type this in the attic workroom of my cottage, a small moth flies crazily at the screen as if it hoped to fly straight through it into some blissful vortex of light, a small mothy apotheosis. A few birds are still singing in the garden, tidying away the purple of the dusk. In the deepening shadows around the desk there is a low wall of books, volumes that in their different ways supported the writing of the The Land in Winter. If I glance down I can see Beckett, Penelope Fitzgerald, Sigmund Freud, an anthology entitled Eight American Poets, Golding's The Spire, Sebald's The Emigrants, Helene Cixous, Wallace Stevens, W. G Hoskins' The Making of the English Landscape. These, during the remainder of the summer, will find their way back to the bookshelves, the space cleared for a new wall to support the new project. Not sure exactly what the new project is yet, though I begin to feel its edge. These next months will be one of those periods - the strangest in the writer's calendar  - when it is almost impossible to explain what you're doing. Hunting something - or calling it. It is (I promise) a form of work but one that can feel very close to nothing. Evoke, invoke, sing, listen. Lots of Keat's 'diligent indolence'. Thimbles of whisky. The readiness to be lost. Whatever you have left of a child's curiosity. Whatever sly instinct you have for truth. 

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