The final book in the trilogy has been more of a struggle, partly because practically all of the plot elements in the first two just ‘came out’ and now they are putting constraints on the final outcome. It’s a bit like a puzzle, with all the pieces there but a couple of wrinkles in how they fit together. It’s all there, now, except for the penultimate chapter which still needs some work. So I go through my days, and holes in the nights, with Paul and Madelin never far away.
The book is first and foremost a spiritual journey, or if you prefer, a chronicle of how Paul learns to lighten up as he makes new friendships and gets out more. The process becomes a positive feedback loop, where the more he learns to relax with people the more people can be relaxed with him. More than one reader has commented that they don’t identify with him and can’t find any empathy with him. But in Flaming Sword he’s still very bitter and going over old memories. In Coals of Fire he still lapses occasionally but he doesn’t use the F word half as much. All his insights have to be repeated, like a spiral, you learn the same thing again but on a higher level. Eventually it sticks, like the muscle memory in taiji.
He doesn’t do interviews, and Top Gear doesn’t exist any more, but I can imagine Paul being persuaded to be the ‘star in a reasonably priced car’, given that Jeremy Clarkson is always very polite and kind to his guests on the show. I also fantasise about his choices on Desert Island Discs as I drive my lovely eight-year-old MX-5 to my taiji classes with the music playing. None of that is in the book of course. In ‘real life’ (funny I should think of it that way), Madelin drives a 4×4 crossover and if either of them ever owned an MX-5 it would be Madelin. But somehow when I’m driving i’m always Paul.
Of course the way things are going, in 20 years’ time we’ll all be in electric driverless cars, probably not personally owned – you just take the nearest one you find on your smartphone, but I’ve not gone into the futuristic thing in great detail. I sort of think that the twenty-year hiatus in our island’s development has allowed us to resume where we left off when the virus hit. It makes it a lot easier to think about, and to make a thought experiment about how we can build a community that really does include everyone without being blighted by secret police.
Anyway, I want to put in a word for my two kind friends, Anne and Kacy, who have been looking at the third book as it exists so far. I’ve had some very valuable feedback, both on the tiny typos and grammatical ambiguities and on the larger plot theme, and I realise that they can never now really enjoy the final version because they’ve seen it under construction. It was a bigger ask than I realised it was, and my thanks to them are truly heartfelt.
I have basically one more wrinkle to iron out. Thank you for waiting.