Editing is the best bit of writing because every time you do it you’re making your book better. But before you can start the editing you have to have the raw material to work on. Sorry to state the obvious! Writing doesn’t come easily to me. To get the original story out and onto the page is a slow, hiccupy sometimes painful process. It was when I was thinking about the creation of that first ugly, misshapen draft, that the image of my owl came to mind. In the wild, owls eat the whole of their prey, bones, fur and all. They then regurgitate a pellet of the indigestible part of the diet. So, if you’re rearing a young owl, you have to incorporate some of these elements, to keep this mechanism working.
Timmy lived in our garage; I often watched him, sitting up on a rafter, regurgitating these pellets. It looked very uncomfortable; it looked like it took a great deal of effort; it looked like Timmy would far rather be doing something else as he gagged, retched and eventually brought up a surprisingly large and steaming lump of matter.
It’s only after the horrible process of excavating that first draft out of myself, that the fun begins. It’s only when I read the whole thing through that I realise it’s not as bad as I first thought. But even if it is, the ideas about how to improve it start to flow. And it’s not just the way I’ve expressed myself that can be tidied up. New revelations come to me about the characters and their motivations - why did X say that and Y do this? Flaws in the plotline show up, but also the solutions. The story may even go off in new and surprising directions. All of this is like magic and is deeply rewarding.
After we released Timmy we’d leave his food out in the garden. He’d return every evening to eat. Then he stopped coming. One summer night, a year later, we heard a very loud and very close ‘tu-whitting’ . It sounded just like Timmy. My dad shone a torch onto a full-grown owl sitting in our beech tree. As we watched he flew down and perched on the top of the side door to the garage where Timmy had lived. I believe it was him. It was almost as if he’d come back to tell us he was all right.
And I’ve discovered since, Timmy wasn’t a boy. It’s the girls who go ‘tu-whitt’ and the boys who go ‘tu-whoo’.