It has happened to many authors. Too many.
Hemingway lost everything when his wife Hadley mislaid a suitcase carrying the author’s complete collection of unpublished work at a train station. Whoops.
Again, in another train station. (was this a 20th century trend?) The famous author T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) was sprinting to a connecting train and left his manuscript, the ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ behind. About 250,000 words. It was never found, and he had to start afresh.
Closer to home, and NOT at a train station, my editor recently lost a hundred-page book outline/sample she was preparing for her publisher, when her hard drive crashed.
How does one recover from such disasters??
For me it could not possibly have happened at a worse time.
When I retired and left Okinawa for my travels, I whittled all my possessions down to a small carry-on suitcase and daypack for easy train travel. The rest went into storage. Despite the weight and bulk, I took my laptop, and so it went around the world with me, until finally settling in Germany. Every day for the next four years, I would get up each morning to face the blank page on its screen.
All my research and documents were in this laptop. Endless bookmarks of obscure information, research, and links. Hundreds of files. The mishap came only a few weeks before finishing my book.
I had gotten up early that morning. The sun was shining and birds were chirping. I settled down with a cup of tea, ruminating about my plans for the day. I read my email. There was one from my property manager in California. There had been a water leak. Repair work and water bill: $825.00.
I was reeling from this tidbit when the doorbell rang. It was my mail packet from the States, sent to me every three months. A warning bell in my head told me not to open it until after breakfast, but I paid no heed.
Amongst the bank statements was a letter from the bank manager. It informed me that due to lack of activity they were forwarding the contents of my safe deposit box to the State of California by 15 May.
15 May was two months previous.
Reeling once again, and despite warning bells now blasting inside my head, I opened a letter from the Superior Court of California. It said I had missed my jury summons date. I would be fined and incarcerated as soon as humanly possible.
In dismay, I clasped my hand to my forehead, forgetting the teacup clenched in my fingers. The tea spilt onto my hapless laptop. I grabbed a towel to mop it up. The screen went black, but it might have been my vision. I pressed the power button, but it did not respond.
My book was in its final month of immediate tasks needing to be done, and I could not do them. I made several frantic calls to the town computer repair shops. They either did not understand my very bad Deutsch, or they chose NOT to understand my very bad Deutsch (which was lapsing into Deutsch gibberish).
Meanwhile I began to receive emails from my publisher on my tiny iPod, needing many things done at once.
I went to another chair. I sat down. I wept.
When recovered, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to take a train trip to London, where everyone speaks English. So, I took my laptop to a shop that promised me all could be mended.
I dropped it off and came back a few days later to pick it up. The shop apologized and told me it could not be mended. I stared silently at this inanimate object that had been with me the entire four years of my book.
The shop gave me a small box containing the recovered hard drive. They offered to dispose of my laptop. I declined, and carried it all the way back home, along with the new laptop. It was a very heavy load in my small backpack, but writers do not leave a fallen comrade behind.
A month later on my new computer, my book was complete.
I propped the book next to my old computer and took a picture.
Well done, old friend.