This is a tale of a book, it doesn’t matter what it’s called. It was my second published book, had a short run for library distribution and then began to gather dust. This book was always a favourite of mine. It still is.
With electronic publishing coming into its own, I got the rights back to the book, and placed it with a publisher who republishes out-of-print novels. The file had been through several computer conversions, first on floppy disks, (remember those?) compact disks, and one of those flashdrive thingies that I’ve just learned how to use. They’ve been filed as Claris, Appleworks, and whatever I’ve got now, Microsoft word, I think. I loved my Macs, all four of them. Steam Mac - Power Mac – see through IMAC in flashy red - Skinny G Mac, and my latest, the apple of my eye, the big, bold and beautiful Mac the knife! Doc X and RTF come into it somewhere - all very confusing.
My latest Mac has word 2008, with all its bells and whistles, and an inbuilt feature that munches the words off my old files. How did I discover the cannibalistic nature of Mac the knife? Easy. It has a handy little twiddly bit at the bottom of the file that busily counts words, adds and subtracts, and tells you what your numbers are worth from second-to-second, like an enthusiastic gnome of Zurich. A quick glance and I was informed that my original 100,000 file had shrunk to a mere 70,000 in its travels.
Bookworms! That was my first facetious thought, quickly dispelled because everyone knows the gentle bookworm - although able to devour words in by the dozen, doesn’t keep them after they’ve been digested. My second thought was a surprised, good gracious! (Oh shit! actually) I’ve been robbed! Then I remembered that Mac has a veritable zoo inside it, with leopards, tigers and a paw print called growl, so it wasn’t fair to blame the worm.”
I’d promised the publisher to flick through the book over last weekend in case it needed a couple of spellings corrected. Hah! famous last words. I’ve just spent a week revising it. There were random sink holes everywhere, in the dialogue, the narrative, single words, paragraphs, whole pages.
I sat there for a week, hunched over Mac the knife, my eyes darting from screen to hard copy, seeking out the blanks. I was going to compare it to the actual book, but it had one of those spines that were so rigid with glue that to spread the book open would have broken it – besides, the print was too small to read without binoculars. Luckily, I still had the old-fashioned, double-spaced hard copy of the original that had been waiting patiently in the cupboard to be useful again. There were the big words, the big spaces between lines, and the bright red corrections made by hand. Bless you, you old-fashioned hard copy. I can see why editors loved you. Nobody can siphon those little suckers off the page.
I emerged from that exercise with a hunched back, sore eyes, no fingernails and a stiff neck. I’ve just sent the book off - electronically, of course. The computer has its uses. It made the crossing intact, completing it in 10 seconds, and receiving an answer in 10 minutes.
Because I still haven’t been able to find the creature that chomped off 30,000 of my words, the thought occurred; could it be that my Mac tried its hand at editing when I wasn’t looking?
Whatever? I’m just glad I decided to do a thorough job on it before sending the thing off.