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Saturday 22 March 2014

Competing with Gary

I have preached the doctrine of cutting out guff but my cry goes unheeded.

Consider this: we spend time reading; we waste time if the words we read are unnecessary. Cutting is the act of a friend.

Sorry about the dirge. I’ve been writing a piece for Joe’s funeral and time and words are becoming interchangeable. My first draft is a jewel. I time it: twelve minute plus. An alarm buzzes.

As well it might. Joe’s daughter, Pippa, says the whole service will last a mere twenty minutes. I cut my jewel by a third, down to eight minutes, which proves the original wasn’t a jewel. The result is better. Not good, just better.

The ghost of Joe sits by my elbow. Throughout our professional lives we’ve rendered prose shorter because in publishing there’s never enough space. Joe’s too gentlemanly to comment since I’m writing about him. But he nods his approval as half a sentence is sliced – the words are already implied and I recognise this on the third read-though. Gotcha!

What I’m writing is not an article; it’s intended to be read aloud. Not one of my strengths. I have a lightish whining voice that doesn’t match my bulk. Frequently my nose sounds blocked. I could write something felicitous and have it ruined by my West Riding origins. 

Joe’s reading Romain Gary’s Gros Calin and I can’t help feeling it’s his polite way of saying my stuff isn’t good enough. Never mind the subject, the writing is technically poor, it doesn’t glide. Start again?

I’m 78 going on a hundred. Once I was paid to write but would anyone pay me now? Forget that, it isn’t the money. Start again.


  1. I've been reading Ray Bradbury's "Zen in the Art of Writing," a good book for me to read.

    What you've written here explains and illustrates the need for writing well, editing even better, than anything else I've ever read. Well, yours and Bradbury's lessons.

    Joe would be pleased, I think, based on what you and he have written in your blogs since I started following you both. What a wonderful friendship the two of you have shared.

  2. A 20 minute service? Perhaps you should go with verse.

  3. I don't remember you having a lightish, whining voice.

  4. Crow: In fact I posited an impossible situation. Joe (even his ghost) could no more sit around while I put together a tribute to him than I could if the roles were reversed. However Joe's ghost has a function here, the opposite of that a bouncer - the aim being to drag people in rather than kick them out. The point about cutting I make is valid and I appreciate your recognition of this.

    I envisage my own tombstone: Finally, the perfect cut.

    MikeM: The point's debatable. Certainly verse is more compact, uses up fewer words. But because of its compactness it needs space (ie, gaps in time) in order to express itself when read aloud. I can gabble my eight-minutes' worth and the general sense (assuming there is any) will be imparted. Gabbled verse may be incoherent.

    In fact I won't be the only one giving tongue. Joe's brother has found a very good English translation of a poem in Spanish Joe particularly liked (Joe spoke Spanish) and that may well provide the beauty that is beyond me.

  5. Lucy: No doubt you were, at the time, appalled by my bulk.

  6. Sorry it's hard, Robbie. Just write from your heart and then cut a chunk out, I guess! Never had to do this particular job, yet, and I don't relish the thought of it. Whatever you say and however you say it will be remembered for its sincerity, so don't worry about it too much. The moment will take care of itself.