ON RE-EDITING MY FIRST NOVEL
I started to write ‘Alice Alone’ when I was twenty-five and working as a freelance journalist in Buenos Aires. It felt daring – and exposing! – to be trying my hand at fiction, so I deliberately created characters and a situation as far removed from my ‘real’ life as possible. And that is how Alice and her husband, Peter, both in their 50s – old fogies to my then young eyes – were born. I put them in a house in north London, and threw them into a marriage crisis triggered by the departure of their youngest child from the family nest. With no offspring around, the ugly truth of their empty shell of a relationship is laid bare. Trapped by the situation and her own loneliness, Alice takes some shocking steps in her quest to rediscover happiness.
Authors don’t re-read their books, at least not any that I have come across. So, when I picked up Alice Alone to see what edits might be required for a modern audience, it really was thirty-five years since my eyes had travelled over my own words. And wow, was it weird. Like going back in time and meeting someone you used to know, but had half forgotten. A someone who sounded so confident! A someone who thought she knew stuff! What an upstart! But then, every word was familiar too, as were the memories they evoked. Life in Argentina – there was a lot to remember, including the desperate youthful desire to prove myself, by writing a story that would ring true, while keeping the reader guessing…
From that point of view, my aims – during the course of producing eighteen more books – have remained the same. The stories we tell matter. They are both a reflection of the world we live in and a help towards understanding that world. A whippersnapper of a novelist I might have been, but the story of ‘Alice Alone’ contains insights that gave the older me a retrospective shiver of pride. Twenty-five, I might have been, freshly married, naïve, with the world at my feet, but I was already the observer each novelist has to be: taking everything in and trying to make sense of it.
The older me maybe be wiser, but she is also warier than the one who wrote about Alice. There is a fearlessness that goes with naivety. Thirty-five years ago, I thought little about pitfalls, literary or otherwise. I just sat down and typed out a story. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end, with twists to keep the reader guessing. How simple. How easy. How enviable.