Monday, 29 June 2009

The edit

Of the many fantasies (which I can admit to) that sustained me during the years of writing The Mango Orchard, one of the most vivid was the one about marking up the final manuscript in the sun, the swimming pool water lapping gently at my feet.

A few days after meeting with Trevor in the Random House offices, this dream is realised when I am invited by my sister, Emma, her boyfriend, Mark, and their daughter, my niece, Sophie, to join them on holiday. They journey in style, from St Pancras, through France and northern and central Spain in a first class train compartment, and arrive in Andalucía relaxed, already in a holiday mood. I follow a few days later on a cheap yet distinctly unpleasant Irish airline.

I establish myself in a sun lounger next to the pool, and in between periodic inquiries from Sophie about why I am spending so long scribbling into a green folder with yellow Post-it notes sticking out of it, I begin to work through Trevor’s comments.

The comments are, as he had said, not as bad as they look. He has deleted superfluous words, and every now and then, circled a sentence or paragraph and written “Do better” next to it. I cross out the superfluous words and try to make the circled paragraphs less deserving of his comments.

There is just one chapter that Trevor thinks needs cutting down. It’s towards the end of the book, about my journey home across the States, and has long been one of my favourites. During that stretch of the trip the stark contrast of being in America after months in Mexico helped to see it all in perspective for the first time, and yet I was still in a foreign land; still a long way from home. I had explained this to Trevor. He was sympathetic but maintained that I could take out several pages and still convey that emotion.

Eventually I realise the real reason I don't want to cut the passage is because of the months I spent researching and drafting. I struggle with the decision for several days. Then I cross out 1,500 words and open a bottle of Albariño.

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