There are many stages to finishing a book. But one of the biggest is when you send off ten files that include Acknowledgements, Bibliography and Table of Contents, as well as deathless Introduction (oh! ghost of Gwen Harwood, who used to use that adjective to mock academic prose, do you choose this moment to visit me now? *shudders*) and seven chapters. As I have just done.
The study is a mess of papers; the computer is a mess of files (will back-up as soon as I post this post); there's an enormous pile of ironing in the basket; and a stack of emails to answer, and tasks to complete.
There'll be another round of tightening-up revisions once the copy-editors have been through the manuscript, and Helen and Anne are still working on the thirty photographs and images and permissions, but for now, I've done all I can.
I feel I've run a marathon. I'm dehydrated. I haven't been to the gym for a week. My shoulders ache and my eyes blur. I crash into bed at nights exhausted and lie waking for three more hours. It's partly the sheer masses of detail that have to be mastered: the checking, the refining, the polishing. The redundant commas to be removed: thanks, Romana! But hardest of all is the relinquishing, the letting go of the project and its infinite possibilities. The last few months have been a slow and painful process of letting go of all the other directions this book could have taken.
I feel I'm not writing this very eloquently. But I am also aware of the irony: finish a book, then immediately write something else!
Sometimes people ask me, "have you finished your work?" It's the nature of the academic life that you have never finished. There is always some ongoing project. I'm going to be late with a book review that's due in ten days.
But once a decade or so, I manage it. I have finished. My work here is done.
You're probably dying to know what the last word is. It's "heart".