Editing old work, lockdown, and reading Hilary Mantel - WOW! by Enid Richemont

Once again, I go into a novel I wrote aeons ago with the honourable intention of editing. One glaring error of judgement jumps out at me - the quoting of the lyric of an actual song, which if published, would cost me an arm and a leg in legal fees, so I need to take that out, and just convey its feeling without the actual words. And then, as always, I go blank, because at the time, I was writing in a drug-like state, on a high with words - no problem writing them down except a physical one with speed, hand with pen or pencil on paper, then pounding them out on an electric typewriter, errors manually corrected if, indeed, they were even noticed, because I was unstoppable.

That was then, and this is now. After three decades of being rejected, then published - a lot, then going out of print, then experimenting with ebooks etc etc, I'm no longer unstoppable, and that old enchantment has long since faded to reveal a very harsh reality.

There's a very interesting discussion going on at present on ABBA - "A Great Big Blog Adventure", to give it its full credentials, and always a rewarding site to visit, although it does concentrate mainly on writing for children. The current post is around creativity, and especially creativity during the lockdown. One point that was made particularly struck me - that once the creative activity - writing, drawing, painting, whatever, turns into a mainstream job, the writer/artist needs to look for another source of creative satisfaction in order to compensate in some way. Interesting. The main drift of the blog wasn't this, but more about the obsession people have about 'being good enough' acting like a brake to any creative activity, which, important as it is, is not the same thing at all.

People say that you should write with passion and edit in cold blood (I can't remember the actual saying which was much more concise.)  "Kill your Darlings" comes to mind, but my problem with this novel lies much more with meeting the original author. There she is, punch-drunk on words - her first actually published book, a Middle-Grade novel (Walker Books) yet to come - confident, in charge of, and in love with what she was doing (the book's over-written, as many first novels are, and she'd never before done an actual book with real chapters and all that clever stuff, just short stories, but she thought it was great... oh, well.) It's that passion and that confidence I can't deal with, and the fact that she/I had so much to learn. I read a short story once, in which a very troubled and semi-suicidal teenager encounters a wise and sympathetic elderly woman who turns out to be her own future self. I am neither wise nor sympathetic - just envious.

One of my lock-down self-imposed projects was reading Hilary Mantel's final book in her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell: THE MIRROR AND THE LIGHT. I am not a lover of very lengthy novels, and this was very, very lengthy, but somehow reading it on the Kindle made it much more digestable. I recently finished it, and am now suffering withdrawal symptoms. What a feat of imagination and humanity this is! Cromwell is not a likeable man, but such an interesting one. In Mantel's first book, WOLF HALL, we see him with his wife and two little daughters, all three killed by the Plague (his son survived.)

Cromwell came from a peasant background - his dad was a blacksmith, and given to domestic violence and booze - but Thomas rose through a mixture of intelligence and adaptability to become the most powerful man in the land apart from the king, and we can see how important it was for him to hang on to that in spite of the inevitable casualties. Also, I never realised, until I read these books, just how ambivalent religion-wise, Henry was. This was one of our ages of religious extremism, our own Isis, complete with beheadings and burnings. I loved the images of the ageing Henry denying, as we all do, that his physical decline was happening at all, and Cromwell himself suffering possibly from the mysterious "Sweating Sickness", from which he was spared by being executed for political/religious reasons by the king he was so close to. These three books will stay with me for a very long time.


Jan Needle said…
Like you, Enid, I find long books a trial (although I've read Moby Dick a ridiculous number of times), and have only ever watched Wolf Hall on TV (three times) and was knocked out by it. One of her shorter books, Beyond Black, is amazing. As to the Lockdown, I've responded by going slightly potty, and tackling serious subjects in a ridiculous way, under the generic title of Covid Capers. The first one reveals that the great Shakespeare himself was actually a hack reporter who overheard Gloucester being blinded, and wondered if they were having a party ('out, vile jelly!'). The fact that oor Willie couldn't even spell his own name leads me to think Ye Globe might actually have been a lurid forerunner of Ye Sun.

I was a tabloid journo for many years (including, shame shame shame, on the Sun. Never sank as low as the Mail, though, praise be) so I feel his pain. That and having to run away to London after getting his much older girlfriend up ye duffe. We've all been there.

Looking back on old work can be a lot of fun, however, and sometimes quite productive. For me, the golden rule is cut cut cut. That's the tabloid man again, see! So's this shameless plug: Shakespeare - the Truth is out on Kindle now, and costs less that a groat.

Happy lockdown, everybody!
Bill Kirton said…
I do enjoy your blogs, Enid. I don't know how much your 'voice' has changed since those early days, but it's certainly very clear and comforting now. As for those confrontations between the 'moi' of now, and the one of yesteryear, it may sometimes be difficult to reconcile them, but I find their differences as fascinating as their continuities.
Enid Richemont said…
Oh thank you, Bill. I always enjoy reading your blogs, too.
Old work is curious. My very early short stories for magazines so much reflect the attitudes of the day, and from that point of view they are fascinating. Novels or longer fiction are something else, and the people in them never leave me, like very real ghosts.

Jan - will get hold of your scurrilous work on the Bard via Kindle asap.
Ann Turnbull said…
Thank you, Enid, for this interesting post. And you have encouraged me to try reading The Mirror and the Light on Kindle. I've been feeling a bit resistant - but 900+ pages would be too much to hold over a cat on my lap.

how interesting about finding reading a long book on Kindle easier. I've found the opposite. for some years i have been reading long, serious books, in reality. Ordering 2 books to read onKindle I've recently found them very frustrating - and decided I'd use this device to read short light books instead. They suit electronic device reading better - for me. "we are all different" - thankfully...
Shivendra Yadav said…
Great Content, Superhigh-quality and keep it up :)


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