Wednesday, July 8, 2015

DOES AN EDITOR NEED AN EDITOR? - my last post (maybe) - but see note below

Interesting question. Like many interesting questions, it has several answers. The short answer is: it depends. The long answer is that it depends on the work, its purpose, and its importance. It also depends on what one means by “editor”.

For example, I don’t often seek advice for any post here before I publish it. When I do, it’s usually because of matters of taste, or with querulous questions like “does it make sense?” when it no longer makes sense to me because I’ve been scrabbling around with it for too long.

An eagle-eyed friend lurks, thank goodness, to pounce on spelling or grammar mistakes – I can be careless. The friend acts as proof-reader. But the blog is important only to me. It’s a personal indulgence, a place for me, as a writer, to experiment. If I make mistakes nobody suffers except me. I have welcomed comments and even criticism from readers but this rarely happened. Hallo-o-o – is anybody out there …?

I am both writer and editor. Both roles are self-assigned: I have no diplomas, attended no courses (but taught many), there are no letters after my name. I write because I want to, and read and even edit other people’s writing because they ask me to do it. But – and it’s a big but – it is necessary to make sure what exactly they are expecting me to do. Editing is a wide field. It can mean simply proof-reading. It can mean checking grammar, sentences, punctuation, characterisation, plot development, internal logic, narrative structure and all the other elements that make a story or a book a cohesive whole. And people can get really ratty if they don’t like, or agree with, the assessment. As Somerset Maugham said, “people ask you for criticism but they only want praise”.

Most of my writing is non-fiction. And it is possible to write like a writer, and then read, with editorial pen in hand, as an editor. But fiction is another matter. And in today’s world of e-books, boutique publishers and do-it-yourselfers, the problem most face is not finding writers to write, printers to print and editors to edit. The problem is quality control.

So, the answer to the question posed above is yes, sometimes editors need editors, especially for something as important as a novel. If I ever get “The Diplomatic Corpse” finished I will be looking for someone to cast a beady and critical eye over it before I send it out into the world. 

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I had decided to discontinue this blog (after 237 posts) and get down to some less self-indulgent writing. The break has been refreshing, but I am changing gear again and might just return to this page - perhaps with a change of focus. As they say - watch this space!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Once upon a time – for about 37 years in fact – I was a book reviewer. This was a dream job for someone who lives and breathes books of all kinds. All that was missing in the amenities department were the sofa and the chocolates. The pay was derisory, and only those who would rather read than eat would contemplate working for a very few dollars and a free copy of a book – and not care. 

Clive James is one of my favourite writers.  Mostly he writes essays (perhaps my favourite non-fiction genre) on a wide variety of topics, and when I was sent “The Revolt of the Pendulum” (Picador) to review, I fell on it with glee.  It is, to quote from the blurb, “part memoir, part conversation, part performance and part state-of-the-nation address”. It’s a real treat.

He puts book reviewers, including himself, in their place, according them what he calls the tiny immortality of termites, and sometimes helps his fellow book reviewers out by reminding them of some small but pertinent detail they have unaccountably forgotten to mention.  Unlike many of us termites, James is also a poet, novelist, essayist, media celebrity, tango dancer and literary journalist. Astonishingly well-read, he is sublimely, unrepentantly opinionated, and he can be forgiven because what he has to say about anything is said with such crackling style and wit that we have to laugh even while questioning our own wishy-washy opinions.

In this book, among other matters, he frets about the decline of literary standards, discusses detective novels as travel books, takes six pages to fillet a single very bad sentence written by a hapless sports reporter, and discusses racing drivers, a bag lady, and the business of being a celebrity.

I’ve been clearing out my bookshelves for months now, preparing for the demolition of the house and my removal to somewhere else as yet unknown but almost certainly with less room than I currently enjoy. Throwing out books – any books – really hurts. But Clive James is safe. He is eminently re-readable and he will be going with me no matter what.