On the Vagaries of Memory

Unholy War cover artLast night @LitAgentDrury and I sat down with a big glass of fizzy water each (weekdays. We’re not supposed to drink during weekdays. This is us trying to be healthy. Grump) and watched an episode of Endeavour. What puzzled us both was that we were certain we had seen every single episode from the beginning, and impressive as the new Smart TV is (after I spent a morning trying to plumb it in because it’s so Smart it doesn’t bother with such menial things as instructions), I don’t think it’s capable of playing episodes that haven’t yet been filmed. (Or maybe it is, but without a manual I can’t tell.)

At any rate, we sat there watching with great enjoyment, no clue as to whole the villain would be (other than Drury’s law: it’s always the most famous actor in the place. Except when it isn’t). And at the end, we turned to each other and said at the same time: ‘We have seen it before: I recognised the scene in the post office.’

But that was it: one scene – and not actually what happened, just one particular image. Admittedly it was of an old bloke with two fingers cut off by the raiders, but still, just one scene in 90 minutes of glorious entertainment. It’s true that brain fade moments are not as rare as we might like (during an appointment with my consultant last week I could remember dossil, but not plughole, which is pretty embarrassing) – but this was more: the blanking of a whole storyline, characters, setting . . . And yet earlier in the week, whilst editing David Hair’s magnificent Unholy War (the third part of his Moontide quartet – and if you haven’t yet given Mage’s Blood a go, I have to say there’s a reason for all those starred reviews and comparisons with GRRM and other great writers of fantasy epics – but I digress . . .) At any rate, one of my notes to the author said, ‘You can’t have this because in the first book we had that.’ And after writing that, I thought, perhaps I’m wrong? So I went and checked, and I was right. So I can remember a pathetic little detail that no one other than David and I are going to notice, the best part of three years and 60 books ago, and yet I cannot remember a linear detective plot I saw earlier this year* . . .

Actually, I am glad it’s that way round, because it would make my job even more difficult if that were not the case! Plots are pretty easy, but spellings, of names and words specific to each author, are not, and that’s why every editor who knows what they’re doing keeps a style sheet, which is then passed on not just to the copy-editor and the proofreader, but also to the author – as a lot of fantasy and SF writers are working on series, it’s absolutely imperative that they keep the same spellings throughout. (I’m not even going to mention my frantic email to Nicola Sunday night asking her to check the spelling of a piece of coinage in the finished edition of Book 1, because I was pretty sure we’d called it something else in Book 2 . . . luckily for me, my clever author came up with a reason which is both valid and sensible.

And now the best part of the day: I’m going to spend a happy fifteen minutes trawling the web for reviews: we’ve just published Peter Liney’s fantastically exciting Into the Fire: yes, Big Guy Clancy is back, and this time he’s not just facing the super-scary Infinity, but a villain from his past. Peter does villains exceptionally well (I will never forget his description of the fog coming down in The Detainee, and the drums beating, and the old and sick and desperate inhabitants of the Island covering in their shanties  knowing the hunt was on – it still sends shivers up my back). The Detainee is out in paperback now, so if you haven’t yet treated yourself, now is the time. And if your tastes run more to high fantasy, Rachel Pollack’s gripping The Child Eater is the one for you: a wizard who has found the secret to eternal life must be stopped, and that will take a boy from one world who wants nothing more than to learn to fly, and a boy from our world who is trying to be ‘more normal than normal.’ There’s always that uncomfortable wait when the books are first sent out for review, then the notices start trickling in and we all heave a sigh of relief: it’s not just us who love the books; other people get what we see in them as well.

So now all you have to do, Beloved Reader, is go out there and buy, buy, BUY! I’d love to know which books you’re not able to put down right now.


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*I have decided to follow Ian’s advice and be grateful we can’t remember TV plots, because that means we can watch all those boxed sets we’ve bought again, and again, with huge enjoyment. Phew! Silver lining, tick.

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