This week, I finished my page proofs for The House of Birds and Butterflies. This is the very final stage of editing, when I get sent a chunky paper manuscript with the whole book laid out exactly as it’s going to be in the paperback, and I have to read through it a final time. It’s for spotting any typos or grammatical errors, making the final, small changes that will ensure the book is as perfect as possible, and hopefully not spotting a huge continuity error that will send me spiralling into a well of despair, knowing it’s too late to fix it.
Luckily, I didn’t find one of those, and my last changes are in the super-competent hands of the editorial team at HarperFiction. Page proofs are a strange thing: as well as panic-inducing, it’s also a pretty magical stage. I get to see my words laid out as they will be on the page, the beautiful illustrations that will accompany each chapter heading, and read the full book as readers will, (though with considerably less intrigue, as hopefully by now I can remember what’s going to happen . . . )
But the best thing about page proofs is that I now have those fluttering butterflies of excitement in my tummy, knowing that in only a few weeks’ time, the finished paperback will be ready, and in my hands. Holding my paperback is a moment that will never get any less thrilling; this will be number four – four paperbacks, all with my words inside! – and I’m possibly more excited about this one than any of my other book babies, though I’m sure I think that every time.
It’s an ending for me, because my work on the book is done. No more tweaking or fiddling, no more time to wonder whether it’s as romantic or as engaging as I want it to be. Game over. Finito. But of course, it’s also a beginning, because the book will be out of my hands and into readers’: my characters will come alive, people will imagine themselves walking along the trails of Meadowsweet Nature Reserve, and hopefully find themselves getting caught up in Abby’s story.
I can’t wait for The House of Birds and Butterflies to head out into the world in all its papery glory. And for me, time to start again, to think about the next one, to take those few scribbled notes in my notebook and turn them into a synopsis, then chapter outlines, then scenes and chapters and – eventually – a novel. It feels a very long way from that big, chunky manuscript that’s been sitting on my desk, but I know that, somehow, it will get there.