Saturday 18 January 2014

A sentimental journey into copyediting

Guest post by Valeria Vitale

The reason I have chosen the word «journey» is not merely metaphorical. Actually, it is pretty accurate: I read the draft version of We See a Different Frontier seated on the upper deck of the number 59 bus from Brixton to Aldwych.

I had been asked to proofread it, looking for typos, mainly, but also little gaps in plot, inconsistencies or other things like that. I agreed because I was curious about the stories, and that’s how it started. Every morning, for a few weeks, I waited at my bus stop with the book in my hand and a quite serious look on my face. I would greet the driver with a little nod of solidarity (we were both on duty on that bus) and march up the stairs.

Then I sat on the first available seat and started reading, holding an imaginary red pen, happy to prove myself useful. But books and journeys often do not go in the way we expected. Other things happen. For example that you get carried away with the stories and completely forgot that you were supposed to spot mistakes. So, when I was reading Sofia Samatar’s “I stole the D.C.’s eyeglass” or Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s “What really happened in Ficandula”, I suddenly realised that I had to start again.

Two times.

Three times…

Some other times it may happen that the writing is so good that you want to go a couple of pages back and read it again, just for pleasure. With Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Them ships” or Benjaun Sriduangkaew’s “Vector”, I was really tempted to poke the person sitting next to me on the bus and telling them, «Do you want to hear something really awesome?!» Sadly, after a little hesitation, a sense of social appropriateness always prevailed.

You may also find that some of the stories contain such powerful images that you feel like you have to stop reading and close your eyes for a little while. I did it when I was reading J.Y. Yang’s “Old Domes” or Lavie Tidhar’s “Dark Continents”. I wanted to visualise what the words described, in my own imagination. In the eye of the people seating next to me, I must have looked pretty much like one of those commuters that take quick and not too comfortable naps on public transportation. But I wasn’t sleeping: I was observing an army of giant cockroaches taking over London, and I was meeting the anthropomorphic spirits of old buildings.

I didn’t just read WSaDF’s stories. I talked about them, discussed them, explained what I liked and disliked and why. So, they became more and more mine; the characters more and more real. They used to keep me company on my journey back home, on the same bus, 59, Aldwych to Brixton. Often very late, when I was usually too tired to read but not to get lost in my own thoughts. I could almost see them out of the corner of my eye: a long-necked mechanical bird lurking from the front window, a were-tiger purring just behind my neck, a barefoot girl running up and down the empty deck.

I’ve been seeing them less and less in the last months. But they haven’t left me. They live somewhere in my memory and conscience, shattered in images, ideas, words. And they are not inert. They have been growing and reproducing themselves, copulating with other images, ideas and words.

That’s why each time I know that the book got a good review or a nomination for a prize, I feel happy as for the success of a friend. As everyone, I had my favourites, according to very personal (sometimes slightly irrational) criteria. But all the stories in this anthology are worth reading, all the stories have left me something. And I am glad I had the opportunity to write this post, mainly because I can finally thank all the authors for bringing those stories to life. I can’t wait to read more.

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