Happy New Year, one and all! Hope Christmas was everything you wished it to be. Was mine? Let's see:
1) Ate too much - tick.
2) Drank too much - tick.
3) Built snowmen - tick.
Yep, not bad, I have to say - apart from the usual seasonal traumas. Firstly, our boiler broke down, during the freeze. Several guests decamped to the nearest hotel whilst I braved it out, regaling my kids with stories of how people never used to have central heating, anyway. Secondly, I almost slipped a disc boxing my husband and son via the new Wii. Thirdly, my daughter and I nearly came to blows when she refused (the cheek of it) to let me hang her New Moon calendar (me? Robsessed? Never!) in my kitchen. Oh, and yes, there was another minor trauma. Anyone remember Wendy Craig in the series Butterflies, and her dreadful cooking?
For dessert, on Christmas Day evening, I got out some cold jam sponge from lunch time. I don’t like traditional Christmas pud, so always serve an alternative as well, with hot custard. After sandwiches for tea, my husband, dad and I all fancied a slice with cold custard, so I divided what was left into three bowls, grabbed the jug of cold sauce and poured it over the top. For a few seconds, I admired the pretty rose-red splodges, circled by pools of buttercup yellow.
I took in two bowls for my husband and dad. Ever the gentleman (and as this story proves, this has its advantages), my dad waited for me to return to the room and collapse on the sofa with my share. Meanwhile, my husband had been tucking in. Dad and I smiled at each other and were about to join him when my dear spouse looked up and pulled a face.
‘Sam,’ he said, ‘did you put hollandaise sauce on this jam pudding?’
Oh dear. The remnants of various sauces from lunch had been close to one another in the fridge and I’d just grabbed the nearest. Cue much shoulder shaking and tears running down cheeks. My husband, bless him, scraped off the sauce, poured on the proper custard and finished his pud. Yuk! Dad, instead, asked for some cold Christmas pud from the fridge. Yet this was no better, it had set hard, and chuckling once more, he announced he couldn’t eat that either – I had to take it back to the kitchen and cut it up with a knife and fork.
So, how does all this relate to writing? Imagine the draft you are submitting is the yummy jam sponge. In essence, it’s all right – the characters, the plot, the basic themes... It’s the other stuff, your style or voice, your editing, the darlings you should have murdered, all of that, the equivalent of a lumpy or bland – or downright nasty! - sauce, that is letting you down.
So what to do? Bin the lot and start something else? As my dad and the rock-hard Christmas pud prove, this is not guaranteed to bring you any more success. Rather, like my husband, you should scrape off the sauce, and try to make it more palatable, more likely to whet an agent's appetite, with something else – be that a little more editing or a major rewrite.
And that’s what I’ll be doing this January, with my present book. I like to think my custard is almost there – maybe not deep enough in colour or sweet enough yet to taste. So, I’ll be scraping it off and blending it to some new recipe, before pouring it on once more.