Monday, 10 February 2014

Writing a book in a post-quill world!


A few years ago I read a book by an author who was plying her trade in the 1940s. She used to write by hand. She described posting her latest completed work to her publisher in London. Given that she lived in Africa, the manuscript went by sea - and therefore had to brave the Battle of the Atlantic in order to get to the UK. Sadly, her valiant effort was sunk when the ship carrying it was torpedoed. Of course she only discovered this several months later when the publisher sent a plaintive letter (also be sea) asking when to expect her latest offering. So, it was back to the drawing board, or hopefully, to the carbon copy.

It got me thinking how lucky I am to be writing in a digital, software-rich age. For me, the greatest advantage - aside from always having a saved version and never having to send it off on the high seas - is the ability to shift around chunks of text.
Oh, the joy of being able to say:
You know what?
I think this paragraph here would really sit far better in that chapter there, and then that other chunk of text I've been saving for a rainy day/chapter, will slot beautifully into the vacated space.

In the past, that would have meant a lot of messy cutting and pasting, and arrows going back and forth. And, inevitably, a rewrite/type. But I guess it made you very careful before you put pen to paper. You would want to be absolutely sure you had every aspect of the plot and the characters in their right order and frame of mind before you started. No casual matter of getting started and seeing where the story would take you. That way lay exhausting rewrites.

So... my novel The Housemaid's Daughter is a child of its time: born out of nimble word processing software, hopefully free of spelling mistakes, and beautifully dressed in an elegant, legible font.
I shudder to think how much longer the book would have taken to write (more than the 6 years it did take!) if I'd had to contend with sinking manuscripts, and a jigsaw of alterations...

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