Finishing New Guinea Moon

Goroka market 1972; photo copyright Brian Wilson
I've written before about the weirdly unfinished process of "finishing" a manuscript. It doesn't seem like three years since I was last in this position -- gulp, I just checked, and it's closer to four years, actually.

New Guinea Moon has been a long time in the writing, and there are many, many versions of it buried in the depths of this laptop. I knew I wanted to write something about PNG in the 1970s, but I wasn't quite sure what. Slowly this story struggled to the surface, took shape, sank and re-emerged. The ending didn't reveal itself until the very last draft, so in some ways, the manuscript that I showed to the Onions was still quite unfinished. They had some helpful suggestions about ways to improve what I'd written, and now I've reached the point where I've revised as best I can, and it's time to send it off again. As late as this morning, under the shower, I thought of a bit to put in - just a few lines, but hopefully it will make this one scene clearer, stronger, better. I don't need to send the manuscript off until the end of the week, so no doubt I'll think of something else to add, or something else to cut. But I will never know exactly what that final alteration will be.

There is still editing to do, of course -- with luck, not major surgery, but tweaks here and there -- a line removed or shifted, a word added or deleted. But there never seems to be a moment, like there is in the movies, when you rule a line under the story and triumphantly write THE END!

Finishing off a book, like beginning to write one, is a strange, dribbly, blurred process. Not unpleasant, but in some ways, oddly dissatisfying. It can be hard to let go, to admit that no amount of tweaking will make your flawed manuscript match the shining ideal you held in your head before you began to write. It's hard to hand it over into the care of others. It's hard to say goodbye.

And weirdly, now that I'm writing this, I can see the parallels between my own mixed feelings about saying goodbye to this novel, and the feelings that led me to want to write it in the first place - my own stubborn attachment to a place where I lived for six years, the place that shaped my childhood and my family's history; and my protagonist, Julie, who also has trouble saying goodbye.

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