Today I finished rewriting chapter one of my novel. I never imagined it would be chapter one when I began the first draft back in January. If I’d thought that, the words would have frozen in my brain. It’s all from the point of view of Niklas, who is the character I knew least well at the beginning. I wasn’t even sure what he looked like or what he did for a living. It’s only since going to Helsinki a couple of weeks ago that he has really taken shape in my mind.
I’m quite pleased with it now. At first I was very depressed. I told Lanying I felt like giving up. It was too hard.
“So this novel is just a fad, is it?” she asked. She was very angry with me. We have been discussing some of the details together and she is impatient to read a chapter or two.
Well, no, it isn’t a fad, I told her. But it’s hard. She will have to be patient a while longer.
My way of rewriting something is to write it all out again completely, using the original draft as a guide. I know much more about the characters now so the chapter has doubled in length. I’m a bit worried about this but only because it means it will take a lot longer to reach the end than I thought. I am very good at cutting out words if necessary and I would rather have too many than not enough but it means I’ll have to do some more editing in about six months. Maybe some of the original material will prove too flimsy to survive. We’ll see.
It felt very good to print out the finished chapter and put it into a crisp new folder. A dozen errors leapt out at me as I did so and I had to mark it everywhere in red. But I didn’t mind. The feel of the paper brought back many memories. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t spent so many years learning Chinese. I’ll never be able to speak Chinese properly. But when I touched the sheets of paper and ran my eye over the hundreds of familiar English words, I felt excited and at the same time very relaxed, like coming home after an unbearably long time away.
Sometimes I’ve thought there are three novels here. Maybe four. But I particularly want all the strands of my story to cohere and mesh together into one novel because they all belong together.
I have decided not to let Irina’s story overpower the rest of it. I know so much about her that I could write a novel just about her. It was very hard to let go of all that. But the details I learned from Irina were too much of a distraction. To do justice to what she told me I would have to dig much deeper into Estonian and Russian history and drag some new characters into the drama.
Now I am also going to leave Niklas alone for a while and travel to Cologne. I’m a bit sad to be leaving Niklas behind so soon, just when I was getting to know him so well. I’ve discovered a side to him that is really exciting but I will have to come back to that. I really need to spend some time with Greta now.
One of the good things about Greta is that she knows I’m writing about her and doesn’t mind in the least. She is very open and loves to talk about herself, particularly her sex life. The challenge with her is to deepen the depiction of her character and unearth her vulnerable side. That part of her is very well-guarded but it’s there. She’s not nearly as shallow as she pretends.