Day 28 of lockdown. Tomorrow we begin a fifth week in level four but already the announcements about level three, due to take effect next week, are having an impact. I felt it today on my afternoon walk, a subtle easing, a breathing out. We’re going to be okay. People were out on the streets in the gorgeous blue light — mothers, fathers, children on bikes, a teenager zipping at a pace down the road on his electric scooter, another lying on his stomach on a trampoline enclosed in a net with his ghetto blaster beside him playing, not too loud. Young and old were enjoying the warm sunshine on a bright day in April and saying hello. This is something positive to come out of the time of coronavirus, the rise of the new friendliness. I hope, when this is all over, that our revised etiquette on the streets will remain in place. For me, getting acquainted with a new suburb it has made a difference to how I feel. The weather as well has played its part. In the main this has been a golden autumn and Devonport throughout has put on a show, rolling out her best.
It was a good day. I was glad of the walk through the brilliant sunshine, thrilled to discover the jetty at Torpedo Bay and the viewing point reaching deep into the harbour. Standing there I had a sense of floating above the smooth water in the middle of an expansive view. To the east the Hauraki Gulf and the islands of Rangitoto, Motutapu, Waiheke with the Coromandel a pale mauve block in the far distance while to the west over a sweep of jade, a city, with slender cranes like spires, the Sky Tower the tallest of them all, mirage-like against the sky.
A good day leading into the journal course this early evening with a group editing workshop on the programme. This is where I present my own writing for editing and where I encourage the participants to take out the carving knife and cut. This is the best way I know to teach the craft, for it’s in the paring back, that a writer learns about the craft. That’s not all though. An edit involves the writer in an interrogation of the text. Words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, the very meaning of things are subjected to scrutiny. Questions are asked. Is that the best word? Is that what I really mean? Have I missed something? Do I need to expand?
When I talk about editing, I often present it as an opportunity to achieve your very best work. It’s where you polish and hone, aiming for a text that is smooth, nothing jars where the material is handled skilfully. You only have to read the mature work of Fiona Kidman, say the stories in her recent collection 'All the Way to Summer: Stories of Love and Longing' to appreciate the magic of a text where a great wordsmith is at work. Her prose in these edited stories is like liquid honey. The reader sips on the words.
It was my fault what happened today. I gave the group my journal entry from yesterday—the one that starts with Manet’s painting and asked them to cut two hundred words. Very soon there was a cacophony of voices and though each intervention was excellent it began to feel as though all the politicians in session in parliament were braying and baaing at me in my little room. I could feel my blood pressure rising. Cut that word it’s unnecessary… excessive, overwritten, incorrect. You don’t need a comma in that place. You have to put a comma there. ‘Personal hell’ is not right. Not everybody wants to die with people around them. You could cut that whole paragraph. Take out the feminine leg. And the woman at the bar at the Folies Bergère, she was no longer ‘alone’. She wasn’t even at the counter in the bar and her locket wasn’t standing out on her pale chest either. ‘A penny for your thoughts’ that disappeared although I think that was my suggestion.
The writers were doing a magnificent job, really, following my instructions exactly. Words and phrases were strewn across the cutting room floor, and the word count was decreasing when suddenly I said ‘Stop. I’m finding this difficult.’ That was awkward. And although the psychotherapists in the group said, ‘it’s good you are expressing your feelings,’ what were we to do now?
‘We carry on,’ I said. And we did, the voices softer now. Overall the edited version is a sharper, leaner, more accurate piece of writing however I have decided there won’t be any changes to my Facebook journal because it’s done and I believe the writer can have the last word. I’ve said that heatedly in the past to an editor. ‘I'm the one who has to put my name to it.’