Harper Collins announced a July, 2015 publication of Harper Lee’s second novel after a hiatus of more than 50 years. (And I thought I took a long time to write a book!) It turns out the “new” novel, titled Go Set a Watchman, isn’t a book that took half a century to write but a manuscript written in the 1950’s, recently discovered by the 88-year-old author’s lawyer. (Now here my imagination goes wild and I imagine a hoax or get-rich quick scheme by some unscrupulous agent…)
Word is, Harper Lee actually wrote Go Set a Watchman (already available for pre-order on Kindle) before she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s about a grown-up Scout and “explores the tensions between a local culture and a changing national political agenda; family arguments and love,” according to Amazon. Her editor at the time thought the flashbacks to childhood were the strongest and urged her to re-write the story. To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 and awarded a Pulitzer Prize the following year.
It sounds like Harper Lee’s lawyer has found what we writers all have an abundance of: Shelved manuscripts. First drafts. Rejects. That doesn’t mean Harper Lee’s first novel wasn’t worthy of publication necessarily. We have all written numerous drafts and various iterations of our stories — and we have all been guided or pressured by editors or agents. Harper Lee was no different.
Will the newly discovered old novel be any good? The manuscript when “found” by the lawyer friend, was said to be complete and ready to go — with the exception of some light copy-editing. In any case it should make the venerable author, her agent, publisher, and lawyer a heap of money as it’s sure to be a commercial success and will undoubtedly be optioned for a movie.
Excuse me now, I must go and print out copies of all my shelved manuscripts and keep them with my published ones. Just in case…