OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA day late with the blog….and nothing in the pot! Well, something cropped up that has been exercising my attention for the last couple of days.

I’ve been involved in discussions with the editor of an anthology, who had accepted my story Perhaps Tomorrow for publication in next year’s edition…Don’t hold your breath: it won’t be there (though you should be able to read it in my forthcoming collection from Sentinel if all goes to plan.) Things don’t always go to plan, do they?

What I’d missed, actually I hadn’t looked for it, which we’ll get back to, was the House style! Always check out “The House Style”. It’s advice I’ve been given, have passed on, and have frequently overlooked! Let’s face it, we’re always tempted to believe that in our “special case” the story, poem, or whatever will be deemed so irresistible that “The House Style” will be chucked out of the attic window, or locked in the basement for the duration. It probably won’t be.

In this case though, I’d simply not considered “The House Style”, and sent my story off with thoughtless insouciance. The acceptance was nice, but also, potentially more useful, in that it came with the offer of some editorial input.

The input came through, a few notes added down the side of the digital manuscript. All referred to the lack of “speech marks” in my MS.

Those of you who have read/read my stories, will know that speech marks “are a thing of the past for me”. I gave them up several years ago. It has become my House Style to do without them. I got the idea from George Moore’s novel Heloise and Abelard (Doubleday, 1921 – I think). He wasn’t the first I’d encountered who did without them, only the first I’d consciously noticed. James Joyce, of course, doesn’t use them, nor Cormac McCarthy. There are others too.

I had to explain to the editor, who tried to persuade me to relent, saying that “they would make the story ‘stronger’”. Personally, I find them “bloody irritating”, but that’s as may be. Being a reasonable sort of chap – “Ho, ho, ho”, I hear you say – I ran the quandary past a few writing friends. The first, who shall be referred to as “the nameless one”, was circumspect. “How would you feel about translation?”, he said. Translation, like adaptation, is fine… but you’d have to put ‘translated by’ or ‘adapted from’ as the bye-line. I ran this past my editor, mostly because I found it rather amusing…but the editor did a “Queen Victoria”, and wasn’t at all.

So, I asked another writer for an opinion, whom I shall refer to as the “nameless two.” ”Read this,” I said, and after they had, “and tell me if you think it would benefit from ‘speech marks’”. They thought not. The sentence “You don’t use ‘speech marks’” cropped up.

In for a penny, I asked an artist friend of mine what she thought. Okay, we’ll call her “nameless three.” She got almost as upset as I had. She’s a visual artist, and could see that the inclusion of “them” would profoundly alter the reader’s perception of the text, even before a single word was read.

The editor had been busy too… garnering other “nameless ones,” the one I saw concurring with the “stronger” theory, and also putting the finger, or thumb, on the point about “House Styles” I referred to earlier.

This was the comment that made me realise it was my “House Style”, because up till then I’d let myself react by playing the game of giving “my reasons in writing.” I’d explained about George Moore, and how reading his “speech-mark-less” text had been a bit of a struggle, and that I rather liked that – because it made me pay attention, and wanted to go for the same effect; that and the fact that I think “speech marks” rather isolate what’s being said from the narrator telling the tale – as if there really were other people in there who were actually talking, which is “Not What I Want To Do!”

But beyond all that, it struck me, eventually, that though explanations of the ways that writers and other artists work can be interesting and instructive, you don’t have to justify it them anyone but yourself. You do sometimes, however, have to accept the consequences of your beliefs.

My nameless three interlocutor had one other interesting observation to make, one potentially of more use than anything I’ve written above. It was that “when you make something you are going beyond what you know you are doing” – actually that’s me paraphrasing.

I hope this little blog has been worth waiting for.

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