Monday November 30th – Day 26
More rereading, editing and proofreading today. Excising dead wood is a delicate operation and weighing up whether a sentence or paragraph justifies its place in the narrative is a chastening exercise: there’s no ‘no, please no, let’s leave it in, I like it’; it either does add to the narrative or it doesn’t. And if it does deserve its place, quite often you find yourself distilling a paragraph or two into one slim and efficient sentence. Dickens executed this perfectly with his opening line in A Tale Of Two Cities – ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ – which says it all.
As far as the day went? Up at a reasonable hour and just got on with it. There’s nothing remotely romantic about editing and proofreading, they are rather dull but necessary processes and there is no way of hurrying them along. Now and again, you come to a section and realise you haven’t expressed yourself either articulately or accurately, and you have to extract the piece from its place in the narrative and examine it with the same care a jeweller examines a diamond. By the end of your examination, if you don’t think you can polish the piece into something shiny and attractive, you have no alternative but to give it the deep six, a nautical metaphor for exclusion. I remember, while editing an early draft of Mazzeri, I accidentally deleted most of the novel. Yes, I know, it’s difficult to imagine one can do something so asinine, but I managed it. I was alone in the house that day, which was just as well because I recall inventing a whole new language of expletives, and once I’d gotten down off the ceiling, I passed the next few weeks attempting to knit the novel back together from a bird’s nest of strands. Don’t do this. Do anything else, but don’t do this!
I’ve already explained how your villain defines your hero; but how do you write a villain if you’ve never met one. Fortunately – no, not the appropriate adverb, but you know where I’m coming from – I have met a couple of villains. Working in the motor trade for so many years, it was impossible to avoid contact with a few. Yet, the most unassuming of villains, I met in the West Indies. Age twenty-two, I found myself marooned on the island of Bequia, an old whaling station just south of St Vincent in the Grenadines. Okay, Port Elizabeth is a busy harbour, but marooned sounded better. One evening, I was invited to a jump-up, a party, at Princess Margaret Beach. There was punch, there was lobster and breadfruit, there was music and dancing; in fact, there was pretty much everything one could ask for. I was sitting at the bar when a young English woman, a stewardess off a private yacht, sat down next to me. She seemed upset: I consoled her. Nothing physical; just words. All of a sudden, this guy grabbed my hair and pulled my head so far back over my neck I thought it was going to part company from my shoulders. That was when I noticed his eyes and the muscles twitching in his face. I was in serious trouble: he had my full attention. The music stopped, the dancing stopped and one or two even stopped drinking. “That’s my girl,” he hissed. “That’s my hair,” I pointed out, adding, “and you’ve got three seconds to let go of it.” “Or what?” “Or I’m going to kill you,” I replied. Now, there was at that time an enormous guy called, appropriately, Magnus, a Swede off another boat and we got along quite well. God bless him, Magnus was the size of a block of flats and I thought ‘well, if I can’t handle this guy, Magnus will surely come to my rescue’, so I began counting “One.” Nobody moved. “Two.” Nobody moved. All of which left me no alternative but to begin mouthing the word ‘three’ when, to my astonishment, the guy let go, turned and walked out of the bar. Cue, an awful lot of punch. I don’t think I’ve ever been bought so many drinks in my now thankfully extended life. Sometime later, I was leaning at the bar when the Swedish block of flats joined me. “You have some nerve,” Magnus said. I shrugged, nonchalantly, though I couldn’t have spelt it I was so drunk by then. “Not nerve, Magnus, if it all went cocoa-bananas I knew you’d help me out.” “Help you out?” Magnus shook his head. “No way, man, you were all on your own. That was Dutch Bob. He’s wanted by the police for killing a guy in Antigua.”
Ciao. Until tomorrow.