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Sunday, 9 October 2016

The Woes of Editing

I’m not a professional editor but I reckon that over the past two decades of writing, I’ve picked up an idea or two on how to structure a sentence, what passes for good grammar and how to spell. Not only that, I’ve got a very good sense of the music inherent in good writing.

I remember my very first first-author tantrum. It was during the edit of my book, Debbie’s Story. I feathered my returned manuscript with Post-It notes, all the places where the editor had changed something and with which I totally disagreed.  ‘This was exactly how it happened’. ‘How can you change that?’ ‘You’re killing off my voice!’ I cried. My voice? As a first-time author what did I know about voice? And how was any editing going to do that? In fact, I knew very little about the role of the editor and cared even less. My beloved, my baby, my perfect manuscript was sacrosanct. As with all newbie author’s my ego was up there with the 747s.

It was only much later, about the time I published my third book that I began to respect the role of the editor. A good editor refines a manuscript, takes the rough stone and cuts and polishes it until it shines. In doing so, the editor allows the author’s voice to be heard above the clamour of awkward paragraphs, mis-spelled words and poor grammar.

I was recently asked to edit the book of a friend. She had written a cheery little thing that I was anxious to see succeed. For a first-time author she had done well except for the usual glitches inherent with first-time writers. I spent days doing what I do best. She hated it. ‘You have ruined my voice’; ‘this wasn’t what I’d written’. She took back the manuscript and changed my editing. Okay, you might say, her privilege.

Yes, maybe. But it saddened me to see what could have been a professional book turned back into that of a first-time amateur. Not only that, it’s hard enough to keep the reputation of self-published books high…

I suppose if I were a professional and had charged her for my services, she would have had more respect for my skill.

Ah well, you live and learn.

Jenny Harrison



Is it offensive to be called a partner?

I know it is neither ethical nor legal to biff an old lady round the chops and, fortunately, few even contemplate it. But yesterday I came close to having my face re-arranged – all on the altar of accurate vocabulary.

I bumped into an acquaintance in the supermarket; in the toiletry aisle actually. She said she was looking for something for her partner. Perhaps I could help her find it?

‘Of course,’ I said, gazing around. ‘Is he or she your business partner or your sex partner?’

She looked puzzled and I repeated my question. Then the penny, as they say, dropped. Her eyes narrowed and took on a menacing glitter and her lips thinned in an aggressive line. I thought I saw her hands ball into fists before she stalked away.

Now, I ask you? What did I do? I was only trying to clarify the situation. She called this unknown person her partner. I didn’t know what sort of relationship she had. Now, in my day (yes, I know things change but they shouldn’t, not when language loses its edge and meaning) in my day a partner was someone you did business with. Today it means someone you do the business with. We used to call that ‘living-in-sin’.

If my acquaintance had been clear that this person was engaged in the morally dubious activity of ‘living-in-sin’ with her then we both would have known where we stood.

Today a husband or a wife is a partner. Murder is homicide. Rape is sexual assault. I find all this modern PC faffing about with words tiring and confusing. It’s just a way of fudging whatever activity you’re describing so that it doesn’t sound unethical or immoral or just plain bad.

Anyway, good on my acquaintance for walking away but not so good on her for allowing herself to be hoodwinked into being a ‘partner’ and not a wife.
Jenny Harrison

New book: Out of Poland: when the best revenge is to have survived
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