Two small, illuminating things happened today.
I overslept. I’ve had a massive attack of sciatica and have been on the hard-core drugs and my mind and body are rather bashed and exhausted. The oversleeping made me cross. I had not started the day and I was already running late. Small, potent pleasures like walking the dogs and feeding the horses suddenly became beastly chores.
As I was stumping furiously out into the low Scottish gloom, my brother rang up. He wanted to talk about a horse we both love who ran on Saturday. What made the moment particularly thrilling was that The Beloved Cousin is in a syndicate, and she owns a hoof of this bold, bonny fella, and she had taken the whole family to see him run. He was in one of the hottest races of the season. All the stars had come to Ascot to glitter and gleam. The Tin Man was 7-1 for a reason. I adore him, with his kind, determined, handsome face and his determination and his tenacity. I slapped a tenner on him out of loyalty, but I thought he would do well to finish in the first four.
He floated out of the stalls and got into a lovely rhythm and when Tom Queally asked him the question he said yes. He surged past some of the best horses in Europe with the smooth acceleration of a Maserati and kept his dear head in front to the line.
‘The Tin Man,’ said my brother, down the telephone. ‘What about that?’
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘He was mighty.’
And then we were off to the races. We talked about Willie Mullins and we talked about human health and we talked about age and we talked about gratitude. We talked about the family. We were serious and we made jokes.
I snapped the telephone shut and realised that I was no longer cross. The day was saved. All it took was a fond voice and some happy memories. Such a little, ordinary thing, I thought; such a miraculous effect.
Someone sent me flowers yesterday, because I had been under the weather. That was a small thing too, but I found it amazingly touching. They sit on my desk as I write and I think: somebody took the time and thought to do that. It makes me smile.
The second small thing was to do with trying your best. I’m a huge believer in trying, although I don’t always live up to my best.
I’ve got another secret project on the go. The first secret project is no longer secret. It exists in the world. It is a book called The Happy Horse and I published it myself on Amazon because I could not face the doleful meetings with the traditional publishers. (‘You’re writing about a happy what????’) It is now galloping about under its own steam and real people are reading it and enjoying it and leaving kind reviews about it.
Self-publishing is terrifying and liberating at the same time. I have two manuscripts going through the conventional route, and that route is so slow and littered with potholes that I start the secret projects to keep me from running mad. The second secret project is going to go out on Amazon just like its sister. I’ve written a book about horses; now I’m doing one about humans.
The temptation was to press the button as quickly as possible. Apparently, once you exist in the world of the e-book, you have to get as much ‘product’ out there as you can. So I was dashing and rushing and ready to go. I had done my five drafts; I had done my platitude edit. And then I stopped, and took a deep breath, and decided to give it another polish. Do your best, I thought. Just because you have no editor, just because this is not an official, papery book, it does not mean you can fall into the slipshod.
And suddenly my stern eye saw all manner of the slightly second-rate. There were repeated phrases, the worn ones I get so fond of I use them over and over again. There were redundant adjectives. There was, I’m afraid to say, self-indulgence. There was a rather shaming amount of throat-clearing. (If in doubt, cut it out, shouted the joyful critics in my head.) Some of the paragraphing was frankly peculiar.
All the changes I am making are small changes: a word here, a sentence there. Probably, nobody would have noticed hugely if I had let the things stand. But perhaps, like a tiny mouse-scratch in the back of the mind, there would have been the falling sense that this was not quite as good as it could have been.
I don’t want the Dear Readers to have mice in their poor brains.
So I’m going through, a page at a time, looking not for the all right, not for the that will do, not for the just about cuts it. I’m looking for the best.