Friday, April 02, 2004

A useful antidote

Should any of you readers out there have a nephew, niece, son, daughter, or generally young person of your acquaintance, who has expressed a desire to be a writer -- ha! -- then here is a useful antidote that you can administer. Slip it into the young person's drink while s/he is distracted by a video of Britney or something. Buy said person a year's subscription to The Author.

The Author, my friends, is the quarterly journal of the Society of Authors; and you don't have to be a member of the Society to subscribe to the journal. Or at least, lets put it this way: I'm not a member, and I've been subscribing to the journal for years. Although now I come to look at the latest issue, it says nothing whatever about how to subscribe. Neither can I find subscription details on the web site. But you are invited to email the editor for further details.

Anyway, the point I am making is that any one issue of The Author contains enough horror stories to put any normal person off even thinking about a writing career. Not that wannabe writers are normal people, of course. They are, more or less by definition, completely crackers -- people who are constitutionally incapable of looking a fact in the face and recognising it for what it is. But never mind. One can always try. And, in the case of a loved one, trying to protect them from their own foolishness is essential.

Let us take the spring 2004 issue as an example, and extract from it just one story. The novelist Joan Aiken died recently, but shortly before her death she was having a dispute with her American publisher. Joan had written books for thirty years; she has 510 entries on Amazon. And you might think, in your innocence, that a writer with that sort of track record might be assumed to know what she was doing. She might, perhaps, be given credit for having thought about the names of her characters, for instance, and for having a mastery of punctuation.

But no. Not in this case. (And, one might add, in many others.) The publisher had sent Joan's manuscript out to be edited. And the editor had not just pointed out the occasional word misspelt, or omitted -- we all make mistakes like that. No, she had gone through the entire manuscript and 'improved' it. Joan had written 'Hark at the wind,' shivered George. The editor crossed this out and substituted 'Listen to the wind,' said George with a shiver.

It is lucky, I suspect, that there were some three thousand miles of ocean separating the two parties. Should anything of that kind ever happen to me I would be inclined to go round with an iron bar and break the editor's legs. But then I am notorious for not seeing things in perspective and for not having a sense of humour -- at least where those who mess with my prose are concerned.

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