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Editors always – rightly – put the reader top of the tree

By Barbara Henderson

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“A good editor is someone who cares a little less about the author's needs than the reader's,” Dene October said famously.

I’m in a strop.

I’m not proud of it. At the time of writing, the peak of the heatwave has passed and the window swings in the breeze, wide open above my desk. Beside me sits a cup of coffee. I’m still on holiday. I have nothing, I repeat, NOTHING to be ungrateful for, but it’s editing time – when publishers send the manuscript back to the writer (once it’s been accepted for publication) and make suggestions, clarifications and improvements. All this, like teacher’s pen, appears all over the manuscript and in the margins.

The reason for my completely unjustified tantrum is simple: something that I sent off as near damn perfect requires – shock horror! – a little more polishing. Some of the characterisation needs a little elaborating, some of the plot twists need tweaking.

I am incredibly lucky: Anne Glennie, the skilful editor for my new novella Black Water, can see the manuscript’s potential, otherwise the publishers wouldn’t have taken it on. But, thankfully, she also cares a little more about the needs of the reader than mine.

She has plenty to say about the things which she loves, but her suggestions and questions are searching and meticulously thought through. As this is my fourth book and my fourth collaboration with Anne, I’ve come to expect this. "There is a little bit more work to do than I anticipated," the introductory email begins – as it always does. I take a deep breath and immerse myself in her comments, trying to take nothing personally and to think of the reader; always, always the reader first.

"I love being edited," enthused my friend and fellow Highland writer Helen Sedgwick in a recent conversation. Helen’s books are beautifully written, so her comment surprised me. She expanded: "It just means that the book is going to be the very, very best it can be."

Writers (from left) Liz Treacher, Helen Sedgwick and Philip Paris will host a 'meet the author' event in Beauly.
Writers (from left) Liz Treacher, Helen Sedgwick and Philip Paris will host a 'meet the author' event in Beauly.

And in that spirit, I shed my strop like a cloak, wipe my mind of every whinge and whine and get to work.

It’s what writers do, isn’t it?

Incidentally, Helen Sedgwick is going to be part of an interesting and inspiring panel shortly, alongside fellow Highland writers Philip Paris and Liz Treacher. The three authors are joining forces to hold an informal ‘meet the author’ event that offers people the chance to learn more about writing books, and gain insight and advice on a face-to-face basis. Between them they have a wide range of related experience, from writing historical and contemporary fiction to non-fiction and drama, as well as editing, publishing and teaching creative writing.

The event will be held on Saturday, August 10, from 11 am to noon at the Old School Beauly, in the village's High Street.

“People rarely have the opportunity to chat to an author about their writing or even just to understand more about the world of book publishing, so we decided to create an extremely relaxed event where someone could simply walk in off the street and ask a question without feeling awkward in any way,” says Philip. “The Old School Beauly is a fantastic gift shop with an enchanting book section that also has some very comfy chairs – it seemed the ideal place to be!”

Having met them all, I have no doubt that this will be friendly, inspiring and relevant to all who have an interest in writing or publishing. More than enough reason to take a wee trip to Beauly, wherever you are in these parts.

Look out for: Some non-fiction titles this week.

For children, I was impressed by Aberdeen-based American author Kimberlie Hamilton’s Scotland’s Animal Superstars, a bright and accessible round-up of true animal stories past and present. She also has two other recent titles, Rebel Dogs and Rebel Cats, well worth checking out.

Scotland's Animal Superstars
Scotland's Animal Superstars

For writers, take a look at Motivation Matters by Wendy H Jones. It’s a fresh and energetic resource with 366 inventive ways of getting your writing kick-started. Perfect for dipping into.

Motivational Matters
Motivational Matters

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