Pangolin Issue 47

Behold – a quantum leap in peeling technology. On the right is one like the peelers of my childhood, on the left is a device that works so much better. It follows the contours of whatever is being peeled because the blade can pivot on its axis. My memories of the original 1960s peeler are that it had a wooden handle bound with nylon string for a better grip, but it was often a blunt instrument.

So why are folk still buying the old peelers when the new ones are so much more efficient and effective. Well, you’ll have noticed that the old one has a pointy end which enables other functions: it’s handy at getting out potato eyes and other dodgy bits of fruit and veg and can also be used as an apple-corer, though it’s not as good as one of those single-purpose corers with a cylindrical cutter.

You may have guessed that this lunar month I have been mainly peeling prose, i.e. editing. My work in progress has reached v3.2 which I hope may be the penultimate draft (I can dream). This compelling drama has no less than three major female characters who are all middle-aged, so I’ve been working to distinguish their voices. Marion often starts her sentences with The thing is, Freya uses So, and Kathy, broader in her Yorkshire, refers to her three daughters as our Emma, our Chloe and our Abbie. There’s a sweet spot to be found between over-emphasising and under-playing these and other verbal clues, I hope I have found it.

Readers of Pangolin 46 will remember that I am impressed with the concept of psychic distance, so much so that the planning chart for the novel now has a rainbow colour-coded box for each scene – the most intimate psychic distance is at the red end of the spectrum, the most distant is blue. It all looks very pretty, and does serve the useful purpose of charting the emotional ebb and flow of the story. It’s too easy to be so enchanted by the little coloured squares, I have to be careful not to lose the flow of what should be more like a surging, eddying river than a static mosaic.

The word-processor was one quantum leap for writers, the Find & Replace edit function is another. At the last Leeds Writers Circle novelists’ group, I was gently informed by Andrew that five characters with names beginning with M was a few too many. Only two of these are major characters so one of them had to go. I suggested Mark (the ex-detective) could become a Neil or an Ian but Roz came up with the much better suggestion of Philip. So, with a couple of clicks, his name was changed throughout the novel. That left me with the small task of changing all the philipets and superphilipets back to markets and supermarkets.

Philip, as he is now called, may or may not displace Ogden, as the object of Freya’s desire. These two men are physically very different, and Ogden says very little in the entire book. I would be interested in your thoughts about this fragment from Freya’s first encounter with Ogden:

‘I’ve got a spare apple,’ I said.

‘Oh, thanks,’ he said. ‘That’ll do. What sort is it?’

‘Cox’s Orange Pippin.’

‘An excellent choice.’

I passed him one and watched, fascinated, as he devoured it from pole to pole, pips and all, not around the equator as most people would. The only thing left when he had finished was the stalk, which he dropped in a bin.

Days after I wrote this I realised that, in my pursuit of a description that highlights Ogden as an unusual man, I had stumbled into the ancient trope of woman gives man apple. Too much of a cliché?

So, Ogden doesn’t need a peeler or a corer for his apple, but the thing is, our Freya’s story (did you notice what I did there) does need some more editing. I will peel, gouge and scrape away anything that is not essential, hoping not to inflict too many injuries on myself in the process. I have yet to start on the ritual known in writing circles as the cull of the hads, probably accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture at full volume.

Next month I think we will look at serendipity. One of my minor characters asserts that serendipity makes the world go round. I’m not sure that I agree with him, but there have been so many happenchances in the making of this novel that I wonder if it is just meant to be. I’m sure you can’t wait to read about them, but in the meantime, don’t forget the real pangolins.

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