Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The axe, laid aside, is taken up again

In 1951 a five-line paragraph about a jumble sale appeared in a Bradford newspaper and I was paid 1d (one penny) a line for it. That thrill of having work printed has never gone away.

American Ikaros is about Kevin Andrews author of The Flight of Ikaros, described by Patrick Leigh Fermor as “One of the great and lasting books about Greece”. I didn’t write it, Jinks did. I edited it over two years. But what is editing?

Many think it is checking spelling and adding (more likely, taking out) commas. It is of course cutting but it is also deciding not to cut. Jinks chose a structure in which certain chapters stood chronologically outside, and even overlapped, other chapters. Aiming for clarity I was against this; familiarity eventually persuaded me. On the other hand Jinks has an individual tone of voice and cutting ensured it wasn’t obscured.

Editing is an endless dialogue. Here’s part of an email I sent Jinks after receiving my copy: “I tested it by half-closing my eyes, opening it randomly and reading the first passage I encountered - asking whether it could be the work of someone who wrote professionally. It passed this highly subjective test easily.”

I didn’t do this for money, nor because I was attracted by the story which, half-written, arrived as a right old mess. I did it because I knew I could withstand the two-year grind which is something only an editor could appreciate. The half case of burgundy was welcome but not necessary.

MEANWHILE Editing AmIk suggested I should be writing my own stuff. The draft of the novel is 2000 – 3000 words from completion. Then I’ll edit it. Always distrust first efforts as we editors say.

Novel progress 21/4/10. Ch. 21: 0 words. Chs. 1 - 20: 90,849 words. Comments: Final chapter now starts.

11 comments:

Plutarch said...

Looking back it seems to me that I learnt something about writing from editing other people's work. You too?

Sir Hugh said...

Congratulations on seeing this opus finalised. Having had some insights from you along the way, I know this has been a complex task and I admire your stickability and professionalism which has eventually prevailed.

The Crow said...

Congratulations, BB. Writing - good writing - takes a lot out of you as the author, even more so when you edit your own work.

I hope your publishing editor is as good for your novel as you were for your friend.

Barrett Bonden said...

Plutarch: Editing is a state of mind which forces you to doubt and test all prose for several important reasons. I think that's what I've carried over though I have only edited my novel piecemeal for the moment. I have however been conscious of the need to be concise, clear and vivid and this may well be a byproduct.

Sir Hugh: It was a long haul. It became far easier when the forty chapters were finally combined into one giant chapter and Word's search function could be used.

The Crow; Yes it does take a lot out of you but, I suppose, it's what I was put on earth to give. (A bit of faux religiosity, there). Before anyone else gets hold of the MS it's got to be subjected to my editing mode which will demand a quite different attitude. Stuff that's particularly vulnerable are the little literary treasures I worked up as a writer and which now can be seen sweat-stained and worthless. But cutting them out still hurts.

Julia said...

I've heard of Kevin Andrews, but never read The Flight of Ikaros. Do you recommend it?

Editing others' work taught me how to edit my own work. It has become the bone that I look forward to after writing, a powerful incentive.

Barrett Bonden said...

Julia: After two years of KA I was far sharper when it came to editing myself. As I mention, above, I have only edited certain sections of the novel so far but I have gone much deeper, to the point where I have changed both the shape and the meaning of some sentences and paras. I like your idea of revision being "a bone". For one thing it's much easier than writing, for another it is the process whereby the dimly outlined stuff (especially dialogue) moves up several notches. I recall in Harold Nicolson's diaries a point where he had finally finished the draft of his biog of King George V (not a book I'd want to read) and now faced "the delicious work" of revision.

The Flight of Ikaros is worth reading but may be out of print. It's not just a travel book; it is based on his experiences of travelling round Greece during
a civil war. I've just done Abe Books and copies of the Penguin paperback are available from sources as diverse as East Hoathley in Sussex to Bellefonte in Pa.

herhimnbryn said...

I have always admired the work of the 'Editor'. The skill to look at the construction of a piece of work, to hone it and make it shine.

I can recall being taught to do formal precis on subjects at school (not to compare it with editing), but it helped me learn to cut back...less is more.

Barrett Bonden said...

HHB: As I've said in the blog, probably ad nauseam, my education started when I became a tea-boy on the Bradford evening paper and I learnt very little at my expensive public school. However, you've reminded me of the one thing I did learn - doing a précis. In fact the principles are very much at the heart of editing since you can't précis unless you fully understand the piece. It's a hard but worthwhile discipline.

Rouchswalwe said...

After a full week of projects (one involving editing a short academic paper), I have to agree that editing is tough but a good way to flex the brain.

Barrett Bonden said...

HHB: Just kidding. They'll swoon at your feet. Avoid sea urchins, they taste like fat-free petrol. And if you want coffee other than expresso, and there's no filter coffee machine in sight, ask for café allongé. It took me years to discover this, only after saying to an under-employed waiter that France had a coffee problem. Hope the Blue Dog withdrawal symptoms are gone by the halfway point.

herhimnbryn said...

Thanks for the coffee tip!