From the desk of Karen Lord
I forgot to do a proper acknowledgements page for The Best of All Possible Worlds. Last time I was conscientious. I thanked my family and my friends and my writing colleagues who helped and advised me. This time I acknowledged the contribution of a poet and some literary inspirations and news articles, but I forgot to add my agent Sally Harding, my editors Betsy Mitchell, Tricia Narwani and Jo Fletcher, and the Frank Collymore Literary Endowment.
I’ll fix that in future editions and books. I think it’s important for readers to see those pages of names whether or not they stop to read them. Writing is a solo activity for only a certain part of the process and we’d get absolutely nowhere without the support, paid and unpaid, of many other people.
Now that I’ve admitted to you how I messed up the acknowledgments, let me tell you about the dedication page.
There are three names on the dedication page followed by a cryptic “you know why.” I’m going to tell you why. Those three were my best Readers when I was writing my way to a first draft. I’m not being cutesy, capitalising Readers. I’ve used the term Dedicated Readers or Trusted Readers, because they are much more than just readers. In case you haven’t guessed, pre-edit work-in-progress drafts are usually a mess. They are not as pleasant and easy to read as the finished version that emerges from the publication machinery. It takes both guts and insight to be a Reader, to kick through the dross and find the gold.
It also takes intelligence. We discussed postcolonial aspects, psychology and cross-cultural interaction, topics they could handle with ease by virtue of their academic qualifications and/or life experience. Better than anyone else, they understood the importance of backstory, the tiny details that will never be visible on the page but are absolutely necessary in order for writers to hold a coherent and workable world in their heads. If my disbelief isn’t suspended, I don’t expect yours to be.
Persuasion. There were things I didn’t want to do. “Trust us,” they said. “It’ll be fun.” I did and it was. There were things I didn’t think I could do. “Try X and Y and you’ll arrive at Z.” I followed directions and I got there. Graciousness. On some things I would not be moved. My Readers knew how to pick their battles. It was, after all, my story and I had to be comfortable with it. Mutual trust. If I did not have a level of admiration for these people, if I did not believe their opinions to be worthwhile, I would never ask for their input, and I would certainly never risk changing my story based on their suggestions.
One of my Readers died suddenly two years ago. She had a lot of faith in the ability of literature to transform people’s thinking, and we talked a lot about changing the world, one good story at a time. She will never get to see the published work, and that bothers me, but her name is on the book and her stamp is on the story and that will have to be enough. She was a pretty fair writer herself, and my other Readers are also creative –writing poetry, making films. I was more than fortunate in the calibre of my Readers, and I believe the novel reflects that.
So here’s to you – Readers, readers and all those working sight unseen to bring the work from draft to publication to bookshelf. Whether you’re on the dedication page, or implicit in the acknowledgements, I’m very grateful to you, and you know why.