I pondered this for some time; I was staring at the bottom of my empty glass when inspiration struck. I must discuss the matter with Nale Spanchuck. Surely the greatest living editor, at least in his own estimation, would be able tell me what the attributes of a good editor are.
I found him at last, sitting quietly in the back bar at the Misanthropes. He recognised me with a sigh and ordered another bottle and called for an extra glass. This is the sort of behaviour I like to see in literary gentlemen. So as he poured me the first glass he asked, “To what do I owe this unexpected honour?”
“Nale, what makes a good editor?”
He looked at me and said firmly, “What sort of editor?”
This rather flummoxed me. He spotted my confusion and sighed again. “Do you want some inky-fingered scribbler who deals with spelling, punctuation and grammar? Or have you in mind somebody who sits across the table from the writer and tells them to sharpen their pencil because their plot is full of holes, their hero is hackneyed, and their villain is drawn so close to life that she is recognisable and her portrayal is almost certainly actionable.”
“Well both, Nale.”
He grandly ignored me, “Or do you want a real editor, one who commissions, and cozens, lures the great into print and sends the purveyors of illiterate scribblings scurrying back under their stones?”
“That as well, Nale.”
“Then that is the level you should pick first. That person can then acquire other, lesser editors.”
“What sort of person do we want? Obviously somebody well read, erudite, respected; but what else?”
Nale was pacing the room now, carried away with the majesty of his vision, so I poured myself another glass.
“She, or even he, should be a person with a heart of stone. They will be constantly importuned by all sorts of writers, desperately seeking to be published. They must be immune to threats, flattery, hints of influence in high places, the promise of sexual favours, or even of exposure in the next book. The editor must be severe, unapproachable, a terrifying figure, severe, curt, austere, and with a stare that would cause even the most priapismatic statue to wilt. Otherwise writers will make the editor’s life hell.”
I sat silent, shocked by what I’d heard. Surely writers wouldn’t do this sort of thing. I know poets wouldn’t
A poet is gentle
But it is central
To be kind
Nale took pity on me. “But remember, the editor must be a gentle person, capable of cherishing the delicate blossoming of literary merit and picking, tenderly such buds as will open fully and bloom most beautifully, within the pages of their magazine. The editor must be sweet enough to allow the righteous wrath of the scorned to sweep over them, leaving them untouched and unchanged. The editor must be eager to listen, so they hear through the braggadocio and tub-thumping to the small frightened child weeping pathetically within. The editor must be one who the writer will love unconditionally, knowing absolutely that this person truly is their best friend and has their interests at heart.”
I looked at Nale in astonishment. “But Nale, these things are mutually exclusive, how can one person be both?”
He towered over me. “Ah, but an editor must be stark mad.” With that he snatched the bottle out of my hand and fled. I confess that I felt his behaviour was, at the very least, a touch eccentric.
For those who don’t know him, Tallis is a poet, dwelling in that rich and fantastical city of Port Naain. He is perhaps the leading exponent of that genre known as ‘Fantasy comedy of manners.’
For those who want to know more his blog lies open before you.