Giving birth to squint-eyed babies, or why you should choose first readers with care

Much on my mind at present, as I get ready for a residency at Cove Park, is the nature of revision. For most novelists, particularly those of us who haven’t got a first novel onto the bookshelves yet, the first readers are our friends and family who get our work hot from the computer, or even read it over our shoulders as we type (if we’re lucky enough to have that degree of support) but that kind of first reader can be a liability. They are like the adoring aunts and uncles who hang over the buggy of your newborn.

“I think the baby squints a bit,” you say.

“No!” they chorus. “Don’t be daft, the baby is perfect! All babies do that, it’s because their lovely little eyes can’t focus properly yet.”

Writing groups are another kind of first reader. They are a bit like your local mother and toddler group. You take your baby along and compare it to the other babies, noting that yours is bigger but theirs might be more coordinated, or have more teeth, or hair, or whatever. “I think the baby squints a bit,” you say.

Half the other parents say yes, it squints like mad, and gaze fondly at their own totally cross-eyed offspring. The other half say no, it doesn’t squint at all, and pat you reassuringly before asking if their own child, which has ears like a pair of louvre doors, is perhaps in need of a bit of corrective surgery. “No,” you say, “he’s lovely as he is.”

But your doubt remains, and you ask your doctor. “Yes,” he says. “Your baby squints.” And that’s what you needed to know, because a squint can be corrected, if you acknowledge that it’s there.

Picking first readers is an important step if you really want to make it as a full time writer. I use a combination of two or three friends, writers one and all, whom I can trust to be painfully honest and complete strangers who read my work in online workshops and have no vested interest in how much my baby squints.

So when I go to Cove Park, I shall be correcting the squint in my baby … and I am grateful to all of those who acknowledged it was there.

And in the baking department? I’ve been making walnut rolls for chilly Easters.