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Advice from Fitzgerald’s editor: just get it down on paper

Just get it down on paper, and then we’ll see what to do with it.”

Max Perkins

I’ve just received the edits for my second novel, The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells from my gift of an editor, Manpreet Grewal.  My mother is looking after Tennessee (thank you Mama, you’re a star) and although I’m sleep deprived, have a thumping headache and a throat that feels like sandpaper, I jumped into my rattly old Polo and headed for Costa Waterstones in Reading where I’m sitting with a latte and a biscotti, pouring over Manpreet’s comments.

I’ve always dreamt of having a Maxwell Perkins – in Manpreet, I believe I have.  Perkins was F.Scott Fitzgerald’s editor: The Great Gatsby would be a very different beast were it not for Perkins’s eagle eye, his sensitive suggestions and his gentle nudging.  The title itself would have been different – Fitzgerald liked ‘Trimalchio’, ‘On The Road to West Egg’, ‘Gold-hatted Gatsby’ and ‘The High Bouncing Lover’, none of which really work, do they? Good titles are important, they give novels a timeless quality, they jump star the imagination.  Manpreet and I are currently playing around with titles for my second book – I’ll keep you posted.

Of course, the story and the writing are what really matter.  It is wonderful to read the line by line discussions in letters between Gatsby and Perkins: there is a respect for the story, an openness to new possibilities, a creative exchange. Having received a set of edits from Perkins, Gatsby bursts with that wonderful, idealistic enthusiasm we writers have (to counterbalance our times of glum glass-half-full thinking): ‘With the aid you’d given me, I can make Gatsby perfect,’ he writes.

A good editor doesn’t leave us bruised and full of doubt but rather buoyed by our achievements and inspired to go back to the manuscript and to make it stronger.  Manpreet always says that she wants to draw out the heart of my story and its characters, to make what’s there, the essence, come alive. She does this by, above all, asking questions and making suggestions that spark my imagination.  ‘Cut’ is one of her favourite editorial words, but ‘flesh out’ comes a close second.  She inspires me to go deeper and so to help the reader draw closer to my story and my characters.  And she gives me the courage to sit back down at my desk, to roll up my shirt sleeves and to abandon myself, once more, to the life of my novel.

I hope that, with Manpreet’s help, I can make Home Again (or the novel with a better title) something close to perfect.