Tuesday, 19 October 2010


Shakespeare had a line for it. "A young man married is a man that's marr'd." (I hope his wife, older than he, hit him upsides the head with a frying pan.) But although I'm neither a man nor young, I've been marr'd. Marred, as we'd say.

Neil Marred.

You see, Neil Marr is Bewrite Books' editor in chief, and he's just edited my latest novel Shakespeare's Will, and, probably like his other editees, I can strip my sleeve and show my scars …

He's too good. Scarily good. Of course he spent a previous lifetime in journalism – oh, sorry, once upon a time that would've been a compliment, meaning he can both read and write, unlike too many of today's journalists who use 'reticent' when they mean 'reluctant' because they are victims of a modern education. But Neil and I are both of a certain age – he's 3 days short of being 13 months my senior – and this means that we went to school back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and children were taught to read, write, spell, punctuate, parse a sentence and understand the subjunctive and the correct use of apostrophes (or, in modern usage, under'stand the correct use of apostrophe's).

He's a damn good editor. So am I. It's been part of my job for years. And when an editor edits an editor's book, then the editor edits the editor's edits and so on, there may just be the occasional difference of opinion. I'm always right, you see, but, quaintly, Neil thinks he is. The fool. But of course he can always pull out the ultimate weapon and threat: house style.


But he can recognise a pun when he sees one; unlike some 'editors' who shall remain nameless. And he edited my first novel, Treason, with only one query; again unlike other editors who shall remain nameless (unless anyone sends me money to name them).

And he's Scottish, you see, so in our gritted-teeth exchange of emails about dashes v. ellipses, he can lapse into some dialect comprehensible only to his own kind. For all I know he's giving me the recipe for haggis rather than a proofreading correction, but I end up saying, "Yes, Neil."

And of course he affects not to understand the simplest, plainest Australian English – for instance, when after The Disagreement About The Quotation Marks I expressed the hope that all his chooks would turn into emus and kick his dunny down – the mildest remonstrance, as I'm sure you'll agree – he responded really quite oddly. The fact that all my pot plants died next day is, I am sure, pure coincidence. Nothing to do with that quotation from Macbeth he sent.

But we both survived the editing experience (the facial tic will go soon, I'm sure) and so did Shakespeare. We didn't misspell the book's title. Our merry jest about bringing the story up to date by changing Shakespeare's twins' names to Chandler and Chardonnay didn't make it into print by mistake. We didn't put 'trumpet' for 'strumpet'. And Tony Szmuk's ingenious cover is a triumph.

And, because I review a lot of proof copies for my local bookshop (shout out: the excellent Mostly Books at Mitcham in Adelaide) I can say that Bewrite Books and their Mr Marr (and, I'll bet, their other editors) can give most bigger publishers lessons in editing. Probably no publishers never let a mistake through – even I did, once – but if more had their books Marr'd it'd be a better world for readers. Though perhaps not as funny ... who doesn't love a really galactic, titanic misprint, as when Jeffery Deaver's publishers printed "brian" for "brain" in a quotation from Hippocrates? And who isn't giggling at the Jonathon Franzen's 'editing' troubles with his new book?

Also, Neil's the only person in the world who's allowed to call me Merry. So when he calls me Meredith I'm back on the headmistress's carpet again, hanging my head and saying, "I dunno," and "Wasn't me." And if there are any mistakes in Shakespeare's Will, it wasn't me. It was Neil Marr. So there. Och aye. Too right.

Meredith Whitford


  1. Ahh ... now I see:

    Chooks = chickens
    Emus = emus
    Dunny = outside toilet facility of wooden construction.

    By the way, Merry, Cò an caora sin còmhla riut a chunnaic mi an-raoir?


  2. What an uncommon pleasure it is to see an author so pleased with an editor.