In the on-going series of making it up while going along, and I’m not referring to parenting, we find ourselves at the acknowledgments. It’s a moment to reflect upon how the seemingly impossible task of writing a novel was accomplished, and who helped, while avoiding being overwhelmed by emotion like a Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars.
As any writer with more than one published novel will know, the acknowledgments is a minefield that makes the previous 80,000 words look like a stroll on an escalator. It’s not exactly learning to play the three suites of Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage on a harmonica, but it feels close. As someone (possibly) once said about maintaining relationships: it’s not what you put in, but what you leave out.
Established etiquette, not to mention the threat of law suits, demands a roll of thanks to the people who have bank-rolled, tolerated, and in one instance even carried the writer out of bars. And it ensures a renewed interest on their part to read at least 2 more pages of a book they hoped to never see again.
Because not quite believing your novel with ever get published means the acknowledgments are a hurried, yet important afterthought. You don’t want your joy at publication ruined by forgetting to thank your wife/husband.
One of the drawbacks of taking years to write a novel is that there are plenty of people who get forgotten. Ex-girlfriends, cab drivers, Scout leaders and that bloke who once foolishly sat next to you on the 44 bus and with whom you shared your first draft, leading to a subsequent retreat from human contact and culminating in a drugs and alcohol addiction that continues untreated to this day. I hear the other passenger also remains traumatised.
Of course the last thing a writer wants is names other than their own on the cover. Even the title is a compromise, unless you’re Jonathan Franzen, who’s recent novel you might be forgiven for thinking is called Jonathan Franzen as opposed to Purity. This is why acknowledgements appear stuffed reluctantly at the end. However, there are few clearer signs of an amateur writer than one who declines to recognise it takes more than one person to write a book.
However, once you start it becomes hard to stop, and avoiding the ‘Gwyneth’ becomes harder. If you find yourself listing family pets then this moment has probably been reached. Unlike a successfully established novelist, it’s inadvisable to thank your fans in your debut novel. The fans are essentially your parents, and Auntie Linda. So, at this stage it’s advisable to thank them by name. I know at least 13 office printers that have been decommissioned as a result of the volume of printing manuscript drafts, but they’ll be forgiving of their absence in the thanks.
The appearance of my 6th form English teacher Mr Blake took me by surprise. Regrettably he has died, so is ignorant to the subtle influence he had on my literary life, probably correctly thinking I spent too much time looking at the girls in class to be appreciating the low pressure weather fronts of Jane Austen. We read so many plays that it grew apparent that the only thing he’d never read was the A-level syllabus, but his passion was clear.
Names I’ve forgotten to thank are waking me at night, and I’m at risk of so many names appearing that I’ll need to do the acknowledgements for the acknowledgements at this rate. Now, where’s that harmonica.
To see who makes the Acknowledgements of the WHSmith Fresh Talent Life Assistance Agency it is available to buy here: