Somewhere, on a train in Germany, my agent is reading my book.
This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end.
She has to like it. She may have notes. I shall make changes. Then she has to like the changes. Then she will sell it. Then an editor will edit it. Then the subs will have a bash. Then, just as everyone takes a deep breath and thinks it is all over, I will decide I must do a semi-colon edit. After that, there may be a cliché edit. I once did a cliché edit followed by a platitude edit. You can’t beat belt and braces. (See what I did there?)
All this is something over which I have no control.
Actually, that is not quite true. I can control the clichés, when I get to them. What I cannot control are the subjective judgements. I have to do that awful thing: letting go.
People are talking about Europe sliding back into recession. Perhaps, by the time the editors get to thinking about my book, nobody will be buying books any more.
Books are such fragile things. They require time, and engagement. Someone has to want to buy one, find the time to sit down quietly to read, have the mental space to give themselves to the text. In the crazy modern world, it seems a miracle than anyone still reads at all. Yet books are also sturdy things, still there, in all their papery analogue old-school glory, holding their corner against the flashing electronic Johnny-Come-Latelies of the internet and the Kindle.
I sometimes think that writing them is a very odd job indeed.
To take my mind off all this, I go out for a long ride on the red mare. The little Paint comes with, and the two good companions stretch out their dear necks and point their toes and move in time, along the burn, past the hills, through the trees. They adore riding together and it really is one of those moments when the world grows still and makes sense.
A charity sale is going on at an old cowshed near the house. We decide to go and look in the window and see what is going on. Groups of ladies come out and exclaim over the horses. ‘Oh, you are so beautiful,’ they say, first to one and then the other. A small boy is brought out to see the mighty creatures. Several of the women are clearly rather knowledgeable. ‘You ride in rope halters?’ they say, impressed. Then, to the mares: ‘You good clever things.’ (At which point, I practically fall off with pride.)
One exceptionally elegant lady tells us that her son has just ridden in the famous long-distance Mongolian Derby, a thousand kilometres of unforgiving terrain on strange ponies. That really is proper pride, I tell her. She smiles. ‘He is in the Household Cavalry,’ she says. I think of the complex emotions this must produce in a mother. There must be that pride, on many different levels, and perhaps a sliver of astonishment too – that is my boy – and trepidation and fear too. It’s a hell of an office to go to. All this is in her voice, and our eyes meet and some very human sympathy runs between us, as if we are not strangers at all. Horses, I notice, often facilitate this bashing down of barriers. People often tell me amazingly intimate stories as I sit on the red mare, and she drops her head and dozes, and they stroke her strong neck.
More people arrive to see the equines. The mares, who have not had a crowd like this since their sell-out tour to Peoria, are in their element. They blink their eyes and hold out their velvet muzzles to be stroked and impress everyone by standing like dignity on the monument. The Paint filly gets so excited by her adoring public that she goes looking for new humans who will give her more love. ‘It’s not often,’ said one woman, beaming, ‘that you get to see such beautiful big animals up close.’
I write a lot about the beauty, of the red mare in particular, and of her pretty friend; of the thoroughbred in general, which, for my money, is the most ravishing breed ever invented. Most of the time I think it is my own monomania speaking, a hysterical confirmation bias run mad. But there were other people seeing it too. It lit up their faces and made them smile and stand up a little straighter, in the cool Scottish air.
As the tickertape of world news flickers past, filled with the big and the terrifying, here was the very, very small and the very consoling. It was a moment of keen sweetness. It means nothing, and it means everything.
‘Good girl,’ I say, putting my little heroine back in her field. ‘Clever girl.’ I rub her sweet spot and she ducks her head in acknowledgement, and then I let her go and she wanders off, swinging her hips a little as she goes.
Just time for a couple.
This is another of my not-very-good pictures. The light was wrong and the focus a bit off, but I put it here because it shows the dearness of the two friends:
This one is better. Stanley the Manley, with his basilisk stare. He does not really enjoy posing for pictures since it takes up valuable time when he could be hunting for mice or looking for really, really big sticks, so as well as the Scottish sky in those eyes, there is the ruthless gleam of deep reproach: