Talking about fiction: Why bother? SfEP conference preview

By Gale Winskill

At the time of writing there are almost eight weeks to go before my 2016 SfEP conference session: Let’s talk about text. As editors we deal with text on a daily basis but we don’t necessarily talk about it. We might mutter exasperatedly to ourselves in the confines of our working space, communicate our thoughts diplomatically (or not) on paper or in emails … but in these days of remote working we rarely discuss the nitty-gritty of a text face to face with another person.

So, much to my surprise, I find that at some point I seem to have agreed to lead a group discussion, masquerading as a live editing session on fiction. Currently in the midst of trying to choose/tweak/finalise my materials for said event, part of me wishes that I hadn’t agreed to talk about anything to do with any sort of text. After all, most of the time not talking about text seems to work just fine, doesn’t it?

conversation-1468159_640And what on earth am I supposed to talk about with regard to editing fiction anyway? After all, it’s a construct, a conceit, a deception. There’s no truth to it, so there’s certainly no benefit in discussing it, is there?

Like the five stages of ‘panic-buying’ – something to do with the financial world apparently – my preparations for the live editing session have gone through similar degrees of doubt and anxiety:

  1. Denial: Agree to do live editing session on fiction and then promptly blank all recollection of this fact from my mind. After all, September is ages away, so there’s no need to worry about it.
  2. Anger: Receive polite request to deliver the session summary during a particularly intense work crisis, wonder why on earth I agreed to do this and get cross with myself for not saying ‘no’. Write something vaguely pertinent together with my fellow group leaders, then bury myself in work and revert to denial.
  3. Bargaining: Eventually read the live editing brief properly and try to convince myself that I can use one text for all three parts of the session, as surely that will be easier! Stare blindly at my author folders and bookshelves for inspiration. None is forthcoming.
  4. Depression: Decide that the subject of fiction is far too large to squeeze into an hour-and-a-half session. Book a last-minute holiday two weeks before my children’s school term finishes at the end of June and flee the country. (I’m just back!)
  5. Acceptance: While away, and on receipt of another gently worded reminder that session materials need to be delivered by a certain date, acknowledge that all of the above is utterly self-indulgent, it’s too late to back out and that working through these various stages is actually my natural default setting. In addition, (most of) my authors are wonderful, generous people who might just grant me permission to do all sorts of unspeakable things to their text without asking too many questions.

So, with another conference deadline looming – one that theoretically means I now have a rough idea of what I might talk about in my session – I have rediscovered three things: that panic, especially when interrupted by a two-week holiday and a pile of good books, is ultimately a great enabler; that the patience and good humour of the conference director are seemingly endless; and that text – even fiction – really does merit talking about.

And how did this final epiphany emerge? Well, the longer I stared at my selected text options, the more I swithered about what ought to be altered, left or queried. And on further study, I found other things that could potentially be marked or considered. Then, on comparing these musings with what I had actually marked on the texts when I edited them properly – years ago in some cases – I discovered that some of my thoughts were now ever so slightly different.

So, does that mean I was wrong back then, or that I am wrong now? What’s the right answer? And if I don’t know, what hope is there for my live editing group? Will they agree or disagree with me, or with one another? Will they even glean the same approximate understanding of the texts?

To be honest, it doesn’t matter. As I have said on many previous occasions, fiction has no one right answer … and the myriad possible interpretations of any fictional text are, therefore, definitely worth talking about for no other reason than they are endlessly fascinating and a great starting point for an interesting blether!

photo_Gale WinskillGale Winskill is an Advanced Professional member of the SfEP who enjoys a challenge. She leaves it up to the reader to decide whether there is any truth or merit to the above text, but admits that there may be a large chunk of fiction in there somewhere … or not. Discuss (preferably in her live editing fiction session).

 

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.
Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Sarah Dronfield.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

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