In Hindsight, we ask our favourite authors a very nasty question: what would you change about one of your books? This week's guest is Jon Courtenay Grimwood, the award-winning author of End of the World Blues, the Arabesk trilogy, the Assassini trilogy and the upcoming The Last Banquet. In his response, Mr. Grimwood revisits his debut novel.
My instinctive answer to what would I change about neoAddix is ever having written it. That's dishonest because neoA got me an agent and a publisher and a contract for the sequel, and if I hadn't written it and Lucifer's Dragon, then I wouldn’t have written reMix and redRobe, my breakthrough books, and if I hadn’t written those I'd never have written the Arabesk books and I'm stupidly proud of them. Plus there are a couple of neat bits in Lucifer's Dragon, and I quite like reMix and I'm very fond of redRobe, and one image from the end of that book will stay in my head forever. Added to which, each of my first four books taught me something I used in the next book.
So let's try again.
For writers, everything we do to others, everything others do to us finds its way into our fiction. That also applies to what life does to us and what we do to life. While I was writing neoAddix I lost my job and had a couple of bad blackouts that meant I spent more time than I liked wired up to medical machines, being injected with radiation and fed into CAT scan tubes. (Before that shit I had a pony tail and after it I was cropped. There's only so much washing electrode gel out of your hair one person can stand!)
A lot of the alienation from that period found its way into the novel and with hindsight I'd probably lose the Tetsuo-like fetishisation of machinery, the casual cruelty to Sappho and the blacker bits of the intellectual nihilism. That said, I write what I see in my head, and simply typing this pulls up the hero's name and an image, seen from high above, of Alex crucified on a door behind Waterloo station. That was the first image of him I had and the one that gave me my plot. (Although, as I’ve said before, I only knew neoAddix was SF when what I thought were police Renaults parked at the top of stone steps beside the Seine became hovercraft. Until then I thought it was simply a twisted crime novel.)
So, really, what would I change, other than the circumstances in which I wrote the book?
The minor characters are clunky, the dialogue is occasionally unsayable, the info dumps come with neon signposts, the jargon reads like the glossary for a rejected script from a late 80s B movie, the time line is buggered. The things that happen can't actually have happened at the times they're meant to happen (mind you, I can think of more than one widely acclaimed and relatively recent SF novel of which that's also true). The cover is dreadful - I'm not sure who the blond Russian athlete with spiky hair gesticulating at the sky is meant to be but he's not in the book. I'D CHANGE ALL THOSE, OBVIOUSLY, BUT the thing I'd really change is the edit.
Originally neoAddix was longer. I'm not saying it was better but it was longer. The villainous 800-year-old Sicilian psychopath had lovable traits, the hero was more obviously damaged, my heroine more obviously struggling with her sexuality, the boundaries between good and bad badly blurred. But my then agent sent it to a New York counterpart who called me and said we couldn't have a 800-year-old psycho who loved his great-granddaughter and was nice to kittens. Making that and other changes cut away a fifth of the book and glitched the novel's time line. Very occasionally, I think about going back and doing a director's cut.
Only there's always another novel I want to write first.