An Obituary: A Shawl for Mary Ann
It is with deep regret that I have to announce the demise of ‘A Shawl for Mary Ann’.
The book was born long ago, on the 2nd November 2010. It was an easy birth; the gestation was long but pleasant, a period of exciting research into the history of the Howes family. At birth it had no name, but soon it became ‘The Three Weddings of Benjamin Howes’, a name which initially fitted it well. But as it grew it became apparent that it was suffering from a sexual identity crisis; what had initially appeared to be the story of a man and his young wife became instead the story of a young woman, albeit a story told mainly from the husband’s point of view.
Several times as it grew it tried to find more direction. It was offered to agents when still very young, in 2013. Though they were encouraging they insisted on waiting for it to grow to full length before they would even consider representing it. It was accompanied in its growth by Sue, the writer’s partner, who was a constant companion and critic. Others offered advice and support as it neared completion.
Its writer, like many first-time writers, was not well versed in the process of writing a novel, but had strongly-held views on what was appropriate and what he did not want. Unfortunately his views were not shared by the professionals who came into contact with the book. Although somewhat reluctant to do so, he tried to move towards conformity with their strictures, remodelling the book to fit more closely with their preconceptions, despite feeling some pain in having, he felt, to undermine its individuality. But he was not prepared to mimic the poor writing, weak characterisation and faulty plotlines of many of the books he had read, including some which had mystifyingly won prizes. And try as he might he could not find a way to persuade the book to show its face, as he was repeatedly advised to do, in those first three chapters. It was the kind of book which was a little shy at first and incapable of expressing the brashness needed to compete in the 21st century marketplace. It might, he mused, have been better received in the early 19th century, when it was set, when people had longer concentration spans and less choice of reading material.
After a brief visit to York in September 2022 the writer thought he understood some of the issues he still faced and again re-worked the book, giving the voice of Mary Ann more prominence. At this point it gained a new title, ‘A Shawl for Mary Ann’, to better reflect its true nature and the acceptance of its true sexual identity.
In its new guise it went off to visit several carefully researched agents, bearing various different letters of introduction. Sadly, none was even interested enough to want to look beyond the first three chapters, even with its revitalised direction.
Not being human there is no legal impediment to euthanasia, and so, having accepted that the book must be fundamentally flawed and unpublishable it was decided that the kindest thing – kindest both to the defective book and to its writer, who had by now tended its every need for thirteen largely rewarding but often stressful years – was to put it out of its misery. It has therefore been laid to rest on a USB stick, placed in a cardboard archival box along with other family mementoes to gather dust as it slowly decomposes.
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