Tuesday, 9 August 2005

While I was out of reach of the blogosphere these last few days I was able to get hold of the Guardian, and in Saturday's Review section there was a rather good piece by Blake Morrison on the decline of the editor.

After offering some evidence that there just aren't editors out there like there used to be Morrison comments:
If editing is in decline, that's bad for literature. History suggests that while some authors work alone, more or less unaided, the majority benefit from editors - and that a few are utterly dependent on them.
He then gives the example of Thomas Wolfe (no, not that one) who was so prolix that he was utterly dependent on his editor to be readable at all.

Morrison sees the growth of creative writing courses as a response to the lack of editorial support that authors now endure; these classes are the only opportunity many of us get for any sort of editorial input, either from a tutor or from fellow students. I think that he makes a good point. I personally feel that I would be a lot happier with where I am in my writing if I had a steady dialogue with somebody who is looking at my work from an editorial perspective, and who can tell me why what I think of as a brilliantly sparkling duel of wits between the hero and hs adversary reads more like a bad stand-up comedy performance that does not advance the plot one iota; and who asks why I don't instead put in something to explain how the heroine has ended up in Hampshire when we last saw her in Gloucestershire.

Unfortunately that seems no longer to be an option.
Most of the publishers I've talked to, both young and old, say it's impossible to do such editing today. However diligent you are, the sheer speed at which books have to be pushed through prevents it. These days you have to be an all-rounder, involved with promotion, publicity and sales - all of which are crucial but mean that when a writer is trapped in a wrong book you don't have the time to sit down together and find a way out.
It's a good article. However I am not going to let Morrison off one unnecessary crack which a thoughtful editor might have picked up on. In discussing Edward Garnett's editing of Sons and Lovers, Morrison suggests that Garnett made a misjudgement in cutting a section where Paul Morel secretly tries on Clara's stockings.
The modern reader wants the stockings, and will wonder why Garnett didn't dispense with the Mills & Boon stuff instead ("She gave herself. He held her fast. It was a moment intense almost to agony").
"Mills & Boon stuff"? Has Blake Morrison read any? Or is it just that he thinks that it is acceptable to take a cheap shot at Mills & Boon? That line is not just unnecessary and inappropriate, it is lazy journalism. He should know better.

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