Saturday, 8 March 2014

Eleanor Catton and Max Porter: Midwives or Meddlers?

Saturday's talks and events at Writers Week included the launch of The Curioseum at Te Papa, with readings from six of the authors involved, and the Weta Digital session on visual effects in the Lord of the rings and The hobbit movies. It's impressive but oddly disconcerting to see how scenes are built up using various  clever techniques so that by the end, what you think you are seeing isn't what you are seeing at all. (Legolas shooting off that arrow and leaping onto the back of Gimli's horse? - actually it was the digital Legolas who made that amazing leap. Dwarves barreling down the river? - same thing - digital dwarves -sometimes digital river.)

But the session at 4.45pm was definitely one of the most popular: Midwives or Meddlers - Eleanor Catton in conversation with one of her Granta editors, Max Porter. 

Eleanor Catton commented that they weren't sure which one of them was supposed to be chairing the session, but their informal conversational style worked perfectly and Eleanor seemed to be finding some of Max's answers as interesting and revealing as the audience did.

Eleanor recalled sitting next to Germaine Greer at a previous Writers and Readers Week. When one of the authors on stage made a comment about having a good editor, Germaine Greer leant across to Eleanor and whispered loudly, "there' s no such thing!"

Is there such a thing? and what is the role of the editor? - a profession that Max defined as "baffling", "irritable" and endangered by the rise of self-publishing on Amazon.

I've never thought much about the role of the editor in general, or from the editor's point of view. I've worked with some wonderful editors and I know the difference they can make to a piece of text: the glaring errors they pick up, and the many more subtle techniques they use to make a manuscript better. But I hadn't really understood the different ways that different authors might need editing, from some who need a deep "in the trenches" line edit to others who need more help in other areas, like sales and marketing. Max said that "editor-author has to be a bespoke relationship."

From a general discussion about editing, Eleanor and Max moved to a more particular discussion of editing The luminaries, a process which Max took over halfway through from another editor. He praised Eleanor as "a self-editing writer, combining competency with self-critique" in a way that was very unusual - but he did also talk (very tactfully) about the stresses involved with editing such a complex manuscript that wasn't always meeting all the deadlines. Hearing Eleanor talk about the worth of creative writing courses to her, and how she sees them now as a creative writing teacher, was also fascinating. 

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