I’m crocodile green with envy when I learn that my writer friend Steven doesn’t do any revising. He’ a genius! He thinks and thinks about what he’s going to write for days, even weeks, and when he feels it’s ready, he writes the one and only version. The final one. Chapeaux bas!
He writes plays, and I don’t, but that’s no excuse for me to wallow in my river of ideas, diverting myself too often into the more interesting tributaries. Revising, or editing, means that too many of them have to be dammed up, to overflow into the next book if all goes well and they don’t soak away, forgotten. At the moment I’m damming many of them sadly but inevitably.
I’ve just finished reading a rather infuriating novel chosen by my book group. It struck all the right notes learnt at writing courses: show don’t tell (lots of exotic descriptions to set the scene in faraway Ceylon), something left hanging at the end of each chapter; the big questions about why a child was buried in a thicket and the mother in the church cemetery, and the agony of a mother’s love for the twin that was given away because – why the reader is supposed to ask. The trouble is that, if one guesses the ending before it comes, there’s less satisfaction afterwards. How can one care much about the characters? A pure young English woman marries a predictably fascinating widow 20 years older, aged 38. His first wife dies in mysterious circumstances and his interim lover promptly reappears – alluring, rich (she owns a bank no less) and friendly, in a haughty sort of way. The affair is long over, she says, but… The reader is to share the innocent heroine’s anxiety, in spite of their satisfying love scenes, tastefully described with a female readership in mind. Thrown in to stir the mixture is the husband’s frustrated younger sister and, inevitably, the handsome Ceylonese (in early 20th century) artist who has inevitably painted key members of this tea planter’s family. Yes, as one suspects from the start, he is the ‘goodie’, as is the faithful family nurse companion who brought up the handsome husband from childhood. A Mills and Boon plot? I don’t know because I haven’t ever had time to read one, but I suspect it is. Only one in our reading group wasn’t bored by it.
I hope no one in the book I’m editing is a stereotype. Today I spent time with Magnus, slipping back to chapter 2, which is his introduction, from chapter 13, when things are really happening. I suspect the author of The Tea Planter’s Wife felt an affinity for her heroine, as she would have been called in 1911 when the story starts. No one, thank goodness can identify me in my hero, Nicholas. He’s 27, a scientist and a genius who is inventing something that could change the world.