Burning the cakes by Jan Needle

I sometimes feel that I'm not very helpful in this blog. Some posts by other people are full of information and suggestions, more likely to be to do with how and what to write than baking scones. I don't know if I'm meant to dispense handy tips from whatever imagined reservoir of expertise I might be supposed to have (non-clumsy sentences being at the end of that list, judging from that one!) But a couple of nights ago I had a revelation, and I'm going to share it with you. Pin back your lug’oles!

Trying to look serious for once
I was sitting in my bed (one of my favourite writing stations) flipping through the Kindle notes I have made on a textbook I've been working from. I made the notes as they occurred to me, and they're all germane to a novel that I have in hand. I knew the novel had several specific points I needed to research more, or to polish up, and as I read the textbook over days and weeks I put in a Kindle bookmark at any point that struck my mind.

I was galvanised by my sudden in-bed revelation. Within seconds (I'm a novelist, remember, so I may be lying) I was at my computer, with the novel I’m working on stuck on the desktop. Selecting a bookmark on my Kindle, I was able to locate a specific place in my MS, do a bit of thinking, and then rewrite.

One sticky bit so dealt with, I went on to the next bookmark. Same deal. Locate it, match it, contemplate, revise. I had about fifty bookmarks, which would have taken me about a month if I tried to track them down from written notes. Genius! Let Mr Kindle's fingers do the walking for you.

Actually, if you've got very nimble fingers, it can be even easier. When you have your novel, or whatever, as a document on your computer, you can send it straight onto your Kindle as an email. You do this by putting it on to your desktop, then sending it as an attachment. To find your Kindle email address go to settings, and it’s there.

 Then you can flip between the annotated textbook (also on your Kindle) and your novel/document, match the notes to the page you want to alter, and Bob's your uncle.

Going to the south of France on holiday? Stupid or neurotic enough to take your work in progress with you? Congenitally incapable of taking lots of luggage, up to and including a laptop? Just stick everything on your Kindle beforehand, and jet out to the sunshine.

That's where the nimble fingers might come in, of course. Doing major rewrites on my Stone Age, bog standard Kindle would not be much fun. But some of them have proper keyboards, I believe. And the capacity’s enormous! It’ll take your manuscript in every draft you’ve ever written, all your notes, all your textbooks, everything. A full-scale writing factory, five inches by four by three-sixteenths or so. Some people, I understand, can even say that in metric. Show-offs.

There is another way for fruitful holidaymaking, naturally. Don't take work with you. When push comes to shove, I think that might be my preferred option. More time for making scones.

While we're on technicalities, incidentally, I've just had a most extraordinary experience. One of my novels, without my knowledge or consent, was sent out to a copy editor trained in America (I can only imagine) pre-publication.

Doing my final read-through, I found my book had been re-punctuated, words had been changed, words the editor found obscure had simply been deleted, and almost every sentence-rhythm had been altered. It was like reading something written by another person, and I was arrogant enough to prefer my own.

Not France, Turkey. But still looking pretty good!
It's a very peculiar feeling. I've written more than fifty novels, dozens of plays, and even Brookside, for God's sake! I also got a first for English grammar as part of my degree. And have sub-edited The Sunday Times, the Guardian and the Telegraph. (Even, viz Brookside, Mr Murdoch's soaraway Sun!!)

Even odder, when I wrote a letter pointing all this out, I felt not only strangely precious, but pompous too.

I think I need that holiday in France!


I found that out about Kindle notes as well and it's very useful when you're doing research and want to check facts on the manuscript. Also, I had a similar experience with an editor once upon a time. She hadn't even used Track Changes, so it was only after the first few pages that I thought 'hold on a minute, I didn't write this!' It's the most extraordinary feeling. It took me ages to do a double read with my original ms and change most of it back. We almost came to blows over a particular line of dialogue that I knew worked perfectly because I'd used it in a play that preceded the novel. (I won.) I figured she had tried to change it into the novel she would have written if she could actually write. A good editor - and many of them are - is beyond price, but a bad one is beyond words.
Sandra Horn said…
Well Jan, that's ruined my Sunday with all that clever techie Kindle stuff! Can't do it. I shall go on being surrounded by scraps of paper piled so high I can't hope to find what I'm looking for, and feeling inadequate. So there.
Any chance you will disseminate your letter to the publisher? I'd love to read it...
Susan Price said…
Sandra, it's very easy. When you find a place in your Kindle text you want to bookmark, just touch the top right-hand screen corner. A blue tab appears. To find all your tabs, touch the top of the screen. More menus appear. One of them is 'Notes.' All your bookmarked places appear, with a little quote from the page to remind you. Touch any note and you'll be taken to that place in the text.

As for editors - why do they do that? They must know it's only going to lead to a punch-up which they're unlikely to win, since they have much less invested in the book than the author. As Catherine says, a good editor is beyond price and I'm always happy to take advice that I can see improves the book - but after I've spent hours carefully choosing a particular word or phrase, I take some convincing that someone else's choice IS actually better than mine.
Lydia Bennet said…
Yes I find the Kindle 'personal documents' very useful for editing manuscripts and carrying stuff about. But what happened about the editor who ruined your novel, who won?
Jan Needle said…
sorry, couldn't reply - i was on a boat.i wasted hours putting the text back to what i'd written (changing the odd thing the editor had actually been good on), then resent it, on the understanding there'd be no more messing about. the publisher got the message, and i trust had a quiet word with the editor. my problem is i'm a softie. i figured the editor might just be down from oxbridge with a great degree and would be upset to realise authors can write as well. possibly a useful free lesson for them. see - i'm a saint, in't i?

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