I have to submit my book to the publisher at the end of June. So now I need to edit it through to make it ready to be read. The huge task is not to waste this opportunity, having done all this work, to make sure that it really says what I want it to say to the people who read it. Nowadays this also applies to theses and dissertations because they will be free online and even more available to be read than books.
The introduction looked good at the time when it was setting out the approach to help me ground myself for the chapters that were going to come next. But now it doesn’t work because it doesn’t take the reader into the core of what I have now learnt as a result of writing all those chapters. I need something right at the beginning that sets a different sort of scene – not for me, but for readers who haven’t been where I have been, who haven’t lived every moment of the research as I have done, who won’t know what’s coming until I tell them.
For my last book I worked with a co-author. I went to Italy to visit her. We found empty rooms at the university and devoted three or four sessions over three days with a blackboard and bits of paper to scribble on, erase, cut up and move around, with lots of texts in between, until we had it right. This time I don’t have a co-author; but I have to get into the same mentality.
I haven’t much time; but I know the time I need actually isn’t that much. What I mustn’t do is get into the anxiety of thinking about pages and pages and getting overwhelmed by the quantity. Once I get the frame right, it will flow easily.
There are three things that I need – an event I can describe and a clear statement of an issue that emanates from it – the issue that drives the whole book – but also the definition of the intercultural that I have arrived at. I don’t have to wait for others; I can make this definition myself. There are lots of terms and phrases that I have to bring together – all in no more than a few pages. Then I have to show clearly how the theoretical positions that I espouse and create relate directly to this.
The book uses an autoethnography of my time in Iran in the 1970s. But it isn’t supposed to be a history. It’s to help make sense of something that is going on all around me now. So the event at the beginning has to be about now. It needs to show that, by looking at distant places and times, we can get nearer to understanding the nature of the intercultural everywhere.
At last I work it out. A couple of things I noticed while sitting in a café outside in the high street when it wasn’t possible to go inside because of COVID. The interactional impact of COVID even plays a role – disturbing the strata to see how they work. (The value of unexpected direct observation!) Two brief ethnographic accounts seem to capture everything about the book. I have to word and re-word them and refine them further and then list and re-list the points that come out of them. Juxtaposing them does indeed represent all the main things that emerge in the book. I can use this to re-organise the whole first chapter. Thank you my absent co-author for helping me to do this. I didn’t need the blackboard and the pieces of paper; but the voices that created them have done the trick.
The reference to ‘disturbing the strata’ comes from MacDougall, D. (1975), Beyond observational cinema, in Hockings, P. (ed.), Principles of visual anthropology, Mouton, page 121