….because that’s what they tell you to do when you are writing – cut the parts you like the best because you may be blind to their failings or including them for the wrong reasons.
The section I’ve eviscerated is the opening of my new novel:
The Watermill appeared to float in an inlet of green light, moored by a slender bridge to the canal embankment on one side, listing into the mill stream on the other. Minna propped the ladder against the wall of the house, steadying its base on the narrow walkway that ran from her front door to the tow path. The tangle of her little island garden seemed a long way below. She didn’t look down, didn’t make the slow plunge into the shade, into the twist and twine of the weeds, the woody creeper, the scuff of grass, into the greenness of it all. Instead, she shoved the secateurs into the pocket of her shorts, tested the lean of the ladder and climbed the first few rungs.She blinked at the clarity of white and blue: white-rendered walls and the neglected, flaking, French blue of the shutters. The wisteria dripped down her window like rain and she fished the secateurs from her pocket and reached for the lowest bough, stretched beyond her reach, grasped the shoot, and then –– there was a detonation: the soft shrapnel of feathers and talons, a grey whirring that sent her rearing back then snapping forward to save herself from falling. A bird exploded from the branches, the sheen of metal in its wings, and for a moment Minna’s head was full of helicopter blades and sniper fire, the long lances of telegraph poles with their endless wires, the shattered apartments – she gripped the ladder – broken tarmac, the sound of boots running, a woman weeping, mortars reeling – she held the ladder till her fingers hurt – a woman screaming, a truck careering, the sound of running, of guns being primed.She was panting, breathing for survival. The secateurs clattered to the ground. She rested her head against the rung, feeling the ridged coolness on her skin. This isn’t me, she whispered, this frightened woman isn’t me. She inched her way back down the ladder and stood on the narrow bridge, holding the iron hand rail, swallowing dry air.
I’ve sweated blood over it, tweaking and polishing endlessly, but my wise and insightful writing mentor thinks that I’m starting the book at the wrong point in the story and so these opening paragraphs (and quite a lot else besides) have to go. It’s difficult medicine to take, bitter as aloes, but it would be far worse to continue steering my narrative in the wrong direction, so I’m going to do a handbrake turn and set to work again.
The moral of this little tale? When you’re writing fiction, nothing is sacred except the story.