There are twenty different things I have wanted to blog about this week, and I have done none of them, because all I can think of is the American edit of the book. So I do apologise for lack of the good meaty stuff.
Sarah and I were ecstatically happy to get an American deal, something that seemed beyond our most crazed dreams. We were lucky enough to be taken up by a great independent publisher, and to have a kind and understanding editor. This week, the marked up manuscript arrived, and I volunteered to do the edit, since Sarah has an entire newspaper to write and a family to look after, and I am the one who is famously anal about the semi-colons. It should have been a straightforward and satisfying week of work. The manuscript was relatively clean, with only one chapter that needed serious reworking to make it understandable to an American audience. And yet it has sent me into a frenzy.
At first I thought I was just taking the thing seriously, as I should. It is my job, after all. But when I found myself getting obscurely grumpy about the fact that sceptical suddenly had to be spelt with a K, I knew that there was more here than met the eye. There is a whole section in Backwards about how one gets furious about Object A when in fact the real cause of one's anger is Object B. I could not really mind that much about cutting a reference to Dame Mary Warnock because she would not play in Peoria, surely? (And that one was not even an editorial decision; I cut poor Dame Mary all on my own. Also Julian Clary and Graham Norton.) I found myself over-reacting in the most intemperate manner when I found sliced carrots in the recipe for Irish Stew had been replaced by grated carrots. 'No, no, no, NO,' I wrote in the margin. 'Grated carrots would be an abomination.' My poor editor, what must she think?
I can't quite work out what Object B is. Even though the work is done, rather more quickly than I expected (I thought I would be bashing away until ten tonight, but it suddenly came together and I have now a blissful free afternoon to listen to Test Match Special and indulge my new and entirely unexpected obsession with The Ashes), my shoulders are still up around my ears with suppressed tension.
I think it is a messy complication of different things. There is probably a dose of raw terror: will our poor little book just sink without trace in the wide open spaces of the vast continent? There is the emotional switch that always comes with any kind of editing, however clever and subtle and gracious the editor is. When you have worked at a manuscript until your brain is about to fall out of your ears, done the eighth and ninth and tenth drafts, lived with it for a year or more, any mark on it can feel like a violation. Even though you are a pro, and you understand this is part of the process, and you know that it will make for a better piece of work, there is a part of you that screams: get off my baby. (I have a horrible feeling that when I use the general You in that sentence, in fact I mean the very specific Me; I am not at all certain that Martin Amis flies into tiny little hissy fit because omelette must be spelt omelet.)
I think too that there is the slight sense of dislocation in being conscious of talking to such a different audience. I like to think I know about America because I watch all the politics programmes on MSNBC, and can recite large chunks of The West Wing off by heart, and have spent my life loving American literature. I believe that, beyond cultural differences, the universal emotions and needs and wants are pretty much the same for all women. I like to think myself a citizen of the world. And yet, doing this edit, I suddenly realise how very British I am. The idioms and history and emotions of this island people are so stitched into me that I cannot tell where they end and I begin. I am steeped in Shakespeare and the BBC and the Romantic poets. I got extremely testy with my poor hapless editor when she wanted to change very heaven to pure heaven; it's from WORDSWORTH, I wrote, pretentiously, in the margin. I suddenly realise that even though the British sometimes startle and surprise me, I know them in a way I can never know the Americans. We all grew up together; we have in-jokes and code words and things that require no explanation. I felt obscurely upset when I had to take out a line about sticky back plastic, because in the US there was no Blue Peter, and no BBC impartiality which meant that references to Sellotape were forbidden. I am afraid that however much I change Inland Revenue to IRS, or BBC to NPR, the American women will not get it, in the way that Sarah and I knew our British readers would.
More tangentially, I realise with stunning force how little Britons figure in the American imagination. It is not that they like us or hate us; it is that, in their eyes, the Brits are Oscar Wilde's Woman of No Importance. The Special Relationship is really only special on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Jingoistic bombast is one of the things that makes me crosser than almost anything except a dangling modifier, so why should this matter to me? It is a plain truth; it does not carry any deep meaning. I think it disturbs me because it stirs the muddy waters of national pride, something which can so easily tip into horrid superiority or chauvinism. But as I have to cut little asides that only my compatriots will understand, I find myself acutely conscious of all the things I love about British life.
I love the sense of humour and the irony and, even in these days of reality television, the understatement. I love Radio Four and fish and chips and our own dear Queen. I love Blue Peter, and memories of collecting milk bottle tops to send to children in Africa (quite what they were going to do with them, no one ever understood). I love Hamlet and rain at Wimbledon and The Two Ronnies. When I listen to the cricket and hear Henry Blofeld call a middle-aged man 'my dear old thing' I want to die with happiness, for absolutely no reason that I can identify. Perhaps it is disconcerting to find that all these things for which I carry such profound fondness almost certainly mean absolutely nothing to a woman living in Duluth.
I can't draw any conclusions from any of this, which drives me a bit mad, because I love a good and complete conclusion. Maybe the conclusion is an echo of the central message of Backwards itself, which is: our psyches are always a little messier and more complicated and unexpected than we think, and there is nothing wrong with that.
And now, my dear old things, it is time for the cricket.