01 June 2016
Read James McCreet's recommended rewrite of a reader's YA SF novel
In this web appendix to Writing Magazine’s ‘Under the Microscope’ feature, author and lecturer James McCreet edits the printed pieces according to his own advice, showing how the changes might work in practice. He says: 'Editing another writer’s work is always a difficult negotiation. There’s the danger of saying things the original author never meant to say, and of imposing the will or voice of the editor. At the same time, it can be fascinating and instructive to see the work through a different lens – ideally, the lens through which a reader would like to see it.
'I offer these edited extracts not as exemplars of perfection, nor as pieces of my own writing. Rather, they’re an attempt to capture what I think the author was trying to say. Consider them provocations. You may disagree. You may see something new. However you respond, you’ll have engaged with the text at a different level.'
Today was going to be different to all other days that week it’s just that no one in the bank knew it at that moment.
Queues in orderly fashions made their way down the roped off lines in due time, like a metronome ticking along minutes and hours of money being checked off and in by people in the local town. A cashier, Maureen, sat and looked at the clock constantly. She played games in her head to count down until lunch. Lunch – that sacred time when you could have thirty (or, if a manager forty five) blessed minutes to yourself. That time when you were the envy of all other staff members; you had that ‘free time’ they all prayed for each minute of the day whilst ticking and stamping, sealing and opening various paperwork until their own moment of pure, unadulterated selfishness in the form of ‘lunch’. Maureen smiled at each customer: she meant it, she was a good worker, but inside she was thinking of what to say to her husband that night. She wanted a divorce. She was thirty two, he didn’t want kids but had neglected to tell her that when they married three years earlier. Her friends told her to get an annulment; he had lied before marriage. She wanted to hate him but she couldn’t - they’d never discussed kids so she couldn’t really hold his choice against him. It just ate away at her, her core that wanted a family, family values, the dinner for four at a kitchen table with a dog mischievously wagging his tail waiting for seconds; the baby crying for milk and the young son or daughter looking constantly on the edge of nervousness like all youngsters do, as though always waiting for bad news. She worked hard and earned decent money; she wanted a life for it. She wanted more than “Lunch Maureen, your turn. Come on hop to it!”
It seemed like an ordinary day at the bank. Queues shuffled down roped-off aisles. Money was paid in; money was taken out. There was an entirely normal sound of subdued transactions, rustling paper and beeping cash machines. No indication whatsoever that anything dramatic was about to happen.
Maureen, a cashier, watched the clock. Lunch never seemed to get closer. Was it too much to ask that time might accelerate and allow her that thirty (or, if a manager, forty-five) minutes to herself? How much more ticking and stamping, printing and inputting could she take? Lunch was her desert island in the open ocean of the day – this day that would soon become so unlike any other.
Still, she smiled at each customer and meant it. She was a good worker. But lunch would be an opportunity to think. She needed time to think. Tonight, she was going to talk to her husband and she had to think what to say. How to say it?
I want a divorce.
She was thirty two. He said he didn’t want kids, but had neglected to tell her that when they’d married three years earlier. Her friends had told her back then to get an annulment because he had lied before marriage. She wanted to hate him but she couldn’t – he hadn’t really lied. And had she raised the subject herself? Was she any less culpable? The clock ticked. All seemed normal.
It just ate away at her – at her her core that wanted a family: family values, the dinner for four at a kitchen table, the dog mischievously wagging his tail waiting for seconds, the baby crying for milk, and the young son or daughter looking constantly on the edge of nervousness as all youngsters do, as if waiting for bad news. Work and money wasn’t enough. She wanted a life, and a family was life. She wanted—
“Lunch, Maureen. Your turn. Come on – hop to it!”