Editing — Tallis Steelyard

Obviously as a poet, I do not need an editor. I am the poet, the editor and indeed the calligrapher as well. What is an editor going to tell me, that ‘te dum, te dum dum, te dum’ ought to be ‘te dum, te dum, te dum’?

Will the editor criticise my symbolism, mock my metaphor, aggressively advise against alliteration?

Not while I still have breath in my body!

But when you make the mistake of committing your thoughts to prose then suddenly editors are obligatory, proffering their counsel, making suggestions and marking your fair copy with red squiggles of awesome mystical import.

I sit there with my manuscript on my lap in front of me and the letter on the floor by my side.

“Differentiate characters, describe their faces.”

I raise my eyes to the ceiling. To the world in general I proclaim, “But he’s obviously tall and elegant.”

Shena my lady wife glances over my shoulder. “You mean him?” With this she points at my protagonist’s name on the page.

“Why yes.”

“Well when I read it I saw him as a short stout man, with a silly moustache and prone to flatulence.”

I looked at her with some astonishment. “How on earth could you imagine that?”

She shrugged, “Listen to the way he talks, he’s obviously Boddon the shore-comber. You know the one, he wears a tall silk hat he found twenty years ago on an ebb tide, and it’s falling apart.”

I may well have looked bemused. “I’m afraid the inestimable Boddon has passed me by entirely.”

“Well just do what your editor suggests, or everybody will think it’s him.”

“How many people know him? It’s not as if this work is only going to be read aloud on the Old Esplanade. I had planned to have it circulate rather more widely, to places where rumours of even the redoubtable Boddon have not yet circulated.”

“Just do what your editor suggests like a good boy Tallis.”

I added a sentence to clarify the appearance of the protagonist. He is now slender, of middle height, with a face too thin to be truly regarded as handsome.

I point once more at the letter, “Add more peril, add more setbacks for your characters.”

Shena came back to look over my shoulder, “Seems good advice.”

“Yes but my protagonist is competent. I am not writing about some unpleasantly over muscled halfwit incapable of planning or even noticing the obvious.”

“Do you know Young Barth?”

“Of Barth and Barth?” I was a little confused at this change in tack. Shena had done business with him and his family for many years. Whilst they lend money, they’re mainly interested in shipping and cargoes.

“Yes, that’s the one. Why not make him your protagonist?”

I couldn’t stop myself. “Because he’s unutterably dull; decent but dull. He’s so dull that I could use him to define the very concept of dullness.”

“But impressively competent, plans well ahead and avoids all sorts of perils by so doing.”

I stopped and thought for a moment. I could sense a growing suspicion that Shena was in fact correct in this matter. Still I felt I had to fight my corner.

“I didn’t create a protagonist just to add another unthinking idiot to the pages of literature. Aea alone knows that there are enough of them already.”

She leaned down and pointed to the letter. “Look at this bit here. ‘Need to build her up a bit earlier in the story if she’s going to be a real villain.’ If you make your antagonist impressively competent and capable of planning well ahead, then your protagonist is entitled to face more peril.”

I’m afraid I might have got a little haughty at this point. “I’m not even going to contemplate entering the whole, ‘Villain explaining their over-complicated plan to the hero who is trapped and facing certain death which he cheats through unfeasibly bizarre circumstances.’ I do have some self respect.”

“I know you have dear, as well as an inordinately large number of creditors.”

Bringing this issue into the conversation was, I felt, manifestly unjust. “How can I be expected to produce witty nothings to pacify my creditors when I am engaged in editing?”


She took my pen and wrote on a large piece of paper


“Tallis is editing and therefore may not necessarily respond with his usual degree of celerity. Should you wish to contact him, the recommended method is to repair to



and there purchase a copy of ‘Tallis Steelyard, shower me with gold and other stories.’ Then taking the book in hand, advance upon him cautiously, waving the book to attract attention.”

She looked at her notice with some satisfaction. “I’ll have this placed in the Misanthropes where anybody looking for you will see it.”


via Editing — Tallis Steelyard

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