With the help of a professional review by the incomparable Gillian Stern - more of this later - I've come to understand that the list of good points about my draft is buried under a steaming pile of fundamental uncertainties (or uncertain fundamentals, depending on your point of view). Genre was one.
My vision was for a crossover between crime and literary fiction, taking the best of both and creating a rich mix of page-turning tension and thought-provoking issues and character studies. What emerged was somewhat closer to the worst of both worlds: an under-developed character living through a sometimes unremarkable and occasionally contrived series of page-pausing set-pieces and longeurs.
This wasn't deliberate. I made some basic errors that made the job of delivering a satisfying story too difficult. Most importantly I devoted too much time and effort to being different.
To play with genre, you need to know the rules. By all means break the rules to serve the story; just make sure that the story is better for it. I know the rules of crime writing, and I wanted to break them. There would be crime without murder (hard but interesting), death without a conscious perpetrator (getting more difficult), a protagonist who was neither police/gumshoe/lawyer/scientist/nosy gardener (this is getting ridiculous), and would rely on the subtleties of the UK's company takeover rules for jeopardy (cue hysterical laughter).
'So, Anthony, on which shelf of Waterstone's would you see your book sitting?' Truthfully? On the shelf marked 'Creative Writing degree dissertations that value ideas over readability'. It's a long and dusty shelf.
I gave myself too many constraints (and we haven't even talked about setting yet ...) and then had to prop up the plot with well-intentioned artifice to make it feel more like the story I'd intended. Putting the eggs into a cake mix after it's been baked doesn't work, I'm told.
And here's the immense value of a good, independent manuscript report.
A clear view of what isn't working. A clear opinion on what is worth saving. The space to make the right decisions, freed from the clutter of all those misjudgments and wrong turnings. Gillian's report helped me see where I needed to simplify, where I needed to raise the stakes, where I needed to let my protagonist live.
There is a lot of work to be done. Giving Stephen Fiske a properly compelling role in life is high on the list, a role that works with the genre rather than against it. Oh yes, and freeing him from all my baggage.