Last, but one, run through.
Photo of my desk by me
Last, but one, run through.
Photo of my desk by me
I’m glad I did this. Twenty desks. Three continents. Several notebooks. One laptop. Many sheets of paper. Over the past year or so, I took a photo of every desk I wrote my book on. I started writing on 13 September, 2012 at desk no. 1: our dining room table in Kigali and what constituted the Reuters bureau in Rwanda at the time.
I continued there until the summer of 2013, when I moved to desk no. 2 – our dining room table, at home in south-west France.
As we don’t have Internet access at home, I would occasionally use desk no. 3 at Soho Solo offices in the town of Lombez.
We moved to Dakar, Senegal at the end of August, 2013 and I re-convened in a temporary flat on desk no. 4 – in the bedroom.
However, I mostly worked on desk no. 5 – the dining room table – in the same flat.
While sometimes popping out for Jasmine tea at Time’s Cafe and desk no. 6 in downtown Dakar.
In late September, 2013 I travelled back to Việt Nam. I did some writing at desk no. 7 on the Emirates flight from Dubai to Sài Gòn.
Upon the recommendation of a friend, I based myself in Room 401, VietFace Hotel in Hà Nội. That was desk no. 8.
I wrote at a lot of stalls. Here’s one. Desk no. 9, a favourite tea stall of mine on Lê Văn Hưu street in Hà Nội
I headed south and found myself at desk no. 10 in Room 306, Minh Chau Hotel in Sài Gòn’ District 10.
In truth, there were many Desk no. 11s in Sài Gòn. This one in particular was one I knew well.
A month later, I was back in Dakar. Working on paper. Mostly at home, but sometimes at desk no. 12 – in the reception at King Fahd Hotel in the north of Dakar.
I continued working in Dakar, until January, 2014 when I travelled to the UK for work. By this time I had moved to working entirely on the computer. I edited through two lunchtimes at desk no. 13 in the newsroom at BBC Radio Nottingham.
And, into the night at desk no. 14 in the Jurys Inn Hotel, Room 323. Nottingham.
I continued on trains. Desk no. 15 on the Nottingham to Edinburgh East Coast train
And another. Desk no. 16: Birmingham New Street to Cambridge train
And one more. Desk no. 17: Ipswich to London train
The trip ended with one last blast at desk no. 18: Room 10, St. Simeon Hotel, Gloucester Road, London.
Back on it, during the Iberia flight from Madrid to Dakar, at Desk no. 19
Then, in our new abode in Dakar at Desk no. 20.
And… finally… 90,000 or so words are almost, very nearly, but not quite, edited, done, dusted and soon to be sent to the agent, editor and publisher. Nearly there.
ONWARDS TO VICTORY
I got a lot of work done at this desk in room 306 of Minh Châu Hotel, Hoà Hưng street in District 10, Sài Gòn. There was a TV sitting there when I arrived, but I got that shifted. I spent fifteen nights here in October, 2013. By the time I checked out, I had another 20,000 words of the book written. Minh Châu is an out of the way hotel. It has quite an odd design with an empty shaft down the middle of it and a somewhat higgledy-piggledy rooftop terrace.
Most importantly for me, it was located on the same street I lived on between 2001 – 2006. Indeed, back then, there wasn’t even one hotel on this street. Many of the same cafes, stalls and market traders were still there. Most importantly, the people I knew were still there.
Noodlegirl occasionally asks, “So, how big is this book you’re working on?” When I reply, “It’s between eighty and ninety thousand words, give or take a similie.” She’s none the wiser. Quite right too. Other than journalists, editors and publishers, those numbers are meaningless. “How many pages is that? You know, in a book?” she asks. To which I answer, “I’ve no bloody idea.” So, I decided to show her the stack. “At the moment, it’s this big,” I told her. Taller than an R2D2 Lego mini-figure. Understandable in anyone’s language.
Editing all week. All the way to Christmas. And beyond. I reckon.
Photos by me.
I have set myself a self-imposed Friday 22 November, 2013 deadline to finish the first draft of the book. There are four sections (10,000 words ish) left to edit or re-write. Then I print it out at the man over the road. Edit it again. Once, possibly twice, maybe thrice more. Then, off it goes, to the filleter in NYC. To do the real editing.
@LaurieWoolever oh, it'll thud alright, by Monday night your time. Of that I am absolutely, almost, certainly certain.
— Graham Holliday (@noodlepie) November 19, 2013
After the writing of the draft is done. I conservatively estimate that I have at least two months more editing to do before the boss gets to see it. Feels great to be able to see the finishing line. Still a long way to go tho.
Photo of my desk earlier this week
I have a stack of sheets of paper much like the one above. Possibly two or three hundred pages in all. I’ve thrown away far more than I have kept. I haven’t exactly “kept” any of them. I just haven’t thrown them away yet. Which got me thinking… Why not keep them. Sell them maybe? One day?
A signed book is lazy in comparison. A postcard sent by the author too. How about adding something tangible that the author has worked on, sweated over even or tossed away, screwed up, left in a pile. More than just a window into the process, but a physical part of it, warts and all.
Perhaps you could include a signed book jacket together with one or two original, raw pages going through an edit. A handwritten letter from the author about that page, that edit, that period in the writing process. Bundle it together in a package made by the author and posted to the buyer by mail with old fashioned stamps.
Then I thought, what would I be prepared to pay for something like that? Say a limited offer of one hundred such packages from an author I really liked. $10? $50? $100?
It taps into a similar idea I had around working as a foreign correspondent. About sending a more personal “letter from…”
A physical letter, with stamps, a smeared inky date mark, a handwritten address, a hand written return address on the back. Maybe with an accompanying photograph printed by a local photolab with a handwritten inscription, dated and signed by the correspondent. Posted by hand, by the correspondent, from the country that interests you.
Would you pay for something like that? Once per month? Six times a year? link
I don’t know if either of these ideas could work in practice or what stumbling blocks might exist between idea and execution, but I’ve decided to stop throwing away every piece of edited manuscript. Times are hard for publishers and authors and, hey, you never know.
In addition, I strongly suspect that in the digital era, people desire physical objects endowed with personality, meaning and a sense of time and place.
Meanwhile, picture above, editing in the lobby of the King Fahd Hotel, Dakar yesterday.
Manuscript sample above by John Le Carre. How much would you pay for his pages?
At a tea stall on Lê Văn Hưu street, well south of Hanoi’s Hoàn Kiếm Lake.
Interviewing a Bún chả trader tucked away in a corner on Hàng Trống street in the capital.
On a pew at a Hủ tiếu shack in Saigon’s District 10.
Or over at a stalwart soup kitchen on my old local market in Saigon.
This little notebook has done some travelling and witnessed a fair amount of eating.
I’ll admit I was, once upon a time, an evangelist for “local notebooks”. The flimsy donkey riders I used to buy in Kigali being the most obvious and well used example. So light, so cheap, so flimsy… They’d last a day or two if I was lucky.
Having done the notebook miles; reported from the DR Congo border as refugees fled brutal fighting, trekked down steep valleys to visit a gold mining outfit, walked with coffee farmers through fields on the border of Burundi, traversed over-populated refugee camps in Rwanda, followed a cross-country Presidential election campaign, interviewed hundreds of street sellers in Vietnam and attended innumerable tedious press conferences…
Having used various notebooks during these events, and plenty others, I have long come to the conclusion that by “going local” on the stationary front I was only asking for trouble.
My beloved Donkey Riders, that I used to buy by the ten-pack, all fell apart, unable to take the physical strain. In addition, the Donkey Rider survival rate after a spin cycle in the washing machine was, I learned on several hair tearing out moments, low.
Hence, my conversion to the Moleskine. The world’s most expensive, most pretentious notebook. The kind of notebook that if I see anyone else with, a trigger in my head says “arsehole”. Yet, it’s this solid, durable notebook I now buy, not by the ten-pack, but in fives. Expensive fives.
I’m a complete and unashamed convert. I prefer to buy the red, ruled hard back version. It can take the strain I give it; constant hammering, opening, closing, dropping and getting bashed about. And the pages don’t fall out, the cover doesn’t peel off. The thing just holds together.
Oh, and there above are three more tables that, while I didn’t exactly write my book on these tables, I did take shedloads of notes in these locations and many others like them.
I was thinking of calling this the colouring desk. You see, I had that little lot lying there printed out in Dakar weeks before I took this photo. I was only able to start adding the colour – all those little niggly details you can only get by being somewhere – when I was back in Hanoi. You know, what really lurks behind a tea stall, under a Pho table, in a gutter, up a telegraph pole? Those kinda things. It was in room 401 of the oddly named VietFace Hotel in Hanoi that I began that process. Either on this desk. Or lying on the bed. I also ate things. Things some of my friends were not all that keen on…
In all truth, I was too excited to be going back to Vietnam for the first time since 2006 to get a whole lot of writing done on this Emirates flight. It’s a long jaunt from West Africa to South East Asia. I left Dakar late afternoon on 19 October and landed in Saigon late evening, local time, on 20 October.
Between Senegal and Dubai, I was surrounded on all sides by colour-coordinated pilgrims heading to Saudi Arabia to perform the Haj.
However, this does (just) qualify as a desk I wrote my book on. Even though I’d planned this trip down to what I was going to do each hour of each day, months before I’d even bought the ticket for this journey. Even though I had several sheets of paper with that plan all worked out, with yellow highlighter marks. As the plane started to cross the Bay of Bengal, I felt a little guilty at not being more writerly during the long, long flight, so I got my notebook out.
I did get at least one sentence out of it. Plus, I managed to scrawl half a page of last minute planning notes to myself for the three weeks that lay ahead of me in Hanoi, Saigon and Tay Ninh. The good news is, by the end of the trip, the notebook you see in the picture at the top was completely full. But, more on that soon.