Jeeves and the Impending Novel

“Jeeves,” I said, “rally round. I have been struck by a not inconsiderable idea.”

“Really, sir? Not the pink tie, sir.”

“Do you think not? Oh, well, you know best. No, my idea is, that I should write a novel.”

And dash it if he didn’t raise an eyebrow a good half inch. I bridled at him.

“I am perfectly capable of writing a novel, Jeeves,” I informed him. “Everybody is doing it these days, and I jolly well think I should have a go, too.”

“As you say, sir, it is certainly a popular pastime, especially in April, or November. What would the purport of your literary endeavours be, sir?”

“Run that by me again, Jeeves, you lost me somewhere in between November and the porpoise.”

“What would you hope to achieve by writing a novel, sir?”

“Well, I thought I could make pots of money at it, and not have to rely on Aunt Agatha for the oofy stuff. And it’s a bit of a hit with the girls, being an author, you know.”

“Indeed, sir. Have you any experience in the writing field, sir?”

“I once wrote a very well-received article for Milady’s Boudoir, entitled What the Well-dressed Young Man is Wearing, but I’ve never tackled anything longer. I was wondering if you had any tips, at all? How big are novels, anyway?”

“Approximately seventy-thousand words is usually considered an optimum, sir.”

“Really? Good lord. That is a lot. Have you any notion of how one sets about it, this novel writing business?”

He smiled the smile of a man who, having just returned from a solo exploration of the Amazon, has been asked if he knew a good place to hire a skiff for a pull up to Windsor.

“I was privileged to be in the service of a quite well-known author at one time, so I do have some intimate knowledge of the process involved.”

“Good-oh. Anyone I would have heard of?”

“Almost certainly not, sir.”

“Oh, well, fire away with the inside gen. I’m all ears.”

“As I understand it, sir, one starts by staring at a blank piece of paper in a typewriter for some hours. Numerous cups of coffee are supplied, and eventually the author, if they are of any repute, will hit upon an idea that isn’t shameless plagiarism. May I ask what genre you were thinking of venturing into, sir?”

“I was thinking of writing a book, not adventuring into jaundice.”

“Genre, sir. The style of book one is intending to write.”

“Well, I hadn’t really thought about it. Give me some examples.”

“Speculative fiction is a very popular field, sir.”

“Isn’t that all about stocks and shares? Sounds jolly dull to me.”

“I believe you are thinking of speculators, sir. Speculative fiction is an imaginative genre which, broadly speaking, breaks down into two categories. Science fiction, and fantasy.”

“Ah. What’s the difference?”

“In science fiction anything unlikely and improbable is attributed to either quantum physics or advanced genetics, whereas in fantasy it is ascribed to magic.”

“I see. Which one do you suggest I go for?”

“I should choose fantasy, sir. In science fiction it is a regrettable necessity to have at least a nodding acquaintance with actual science, but in fantasy it is rather like the lyrics of Mr. Porter’s song, sir. Anything goes.”

“Very well, fantasy it shall be. What do fantasists write about, mainly?”

“Wizards, elves, hitherto humble persons who turn out to be the true king, underdressed female warriors, vampires and werewolves, sir. There are other themes, but one of these usually appears in any fantasy novel. Sometimes all of them at once.”

“And not porpoises with jaundice?”

“Not so far, sir, no.”

“Well, that’s a relief, anyway. Shall I write something about a wizard, then?”

“Perhaps not, sir. If you will take my advice, sir, fantasy is a somewhat crowded and competitive field, and the aspiring author would do well to be distinctive. Perhaps one should begin by making one’s protagonist female.”

“Being female isn’t very distinctive, Jeeves. There are thousands of women, all over the bally place.”

“You would be astonished, sir, at the paucity of female protagonists in the genre.”

“I daresay I would be, if I knew what the deuce all those long words meant.”

“Not many heroines in fantasy, sir.”

“Ah. Why didn’t you say so? So, my book is about a girl.”

He coughed.

“Woman, sir. Use of the diminutive is considered disparaging.”

“I say, do I have to learn all these long words to be a writer?”

“It does not seem to have presented an insurmountable barrier so far, sir.”

“Well, be that as it may, what about this woman? What does she do?”

“Might I suggest that she walks the Earth, sir, seeking the answers to questions only she can answer?”

I whistled.

“That sounds deep, Jeeves. Does she do this alone?”

“No, sir, it would be best to give her a companion, as a foil and also as a little comic relief. The classic tall and short duo is always a winner, sir.”

“This is terrific, Jeeves, we have a plot and characters already. What happens next?”

“First, sir, we lay down a draft.”

“This would be the seventy thousand words you mentioned earlier?”

“Correct, sir.”

“And then we ship it off to the printers and have it bound and on sale at Foyles?”

He gave a shake of his head at such naivety.

“By no means, sir. After that, one edits it.”

“Does one? Which means what?”

“The diligent author will go through the draft, not once, but many times, searching for infelicities, disjoints in the story line, inconsistencies, typographical errors, lapses in grammar and lacunae. The author may choose to send their manuscript to a professional editor at some point, for an objective overview.”

“Is she always called Felicity, the one who goes looking for these objects and joints?”

“Not invariably, sir.”

“Ah. So, having weeded our work for these things, and sent it off to Felicity, what comes next?”

“One queries the novel, sir.”

“You speak balderdash, Jeeves. You can ask a book questions all day, it’ll never answer back. Unless it was an encyclopaedia, of course.”

“No, sir, it means to send the manuscript on a round of publishers and agents, asking if they might be interested in it at all.”

“Oh. And are they?”

“Not very often, sir. It is common for first novels to be rejected, perhaps as much as seventy-six times consecutively.”

“Well, that sounds fairly rotten. How long does all this take, anyway?”

“One might estimate a year to produce the first draft, perhaps another six months to edit it, and then anything up to four or five years before a publisher might option it, sir.”

“Oh. Really? I was thinking I could knock it off in a couple of weeks.”

“I think not, sir.”

“Oh, well, if it’s going to be as dashed hard work as all that, I’ll do something else. Perhaps I shall take up golf, instead.”

“A wise choice, sir. It does not strain the cerebellum to the same extent.”

“Still, that story about the woman walking the Earth sounded jolly exciting, I saw her as very tall, with red hair, rather a striking looking beasel. Somebody ought to write it, anyway.”

“Indeed, sir. Somebody ought to.”

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