Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A view from the man with the red pen ....

Now another special edition of May Contain Nuts for Poetry Month.

Alan MacGlas is publications editor of New Voices Press, the main publishing imprint of the Federation of Writers (Scotland) (details available at and of Sawmill, the special imprint of the Scottish Association of Writers (details available at
He likes to put on his special editor face and pretend he's all curmudgeonly when he's actually very charming and as witty as the Witmeister living in Wit House, Wit Avenue, Cleverclogsville.

He says he's not touting for business, but if anyone wants to hire him he can be reached through either site.

Without any further ado, here's what the big man with the red pen has to say ...

There are questions that people often ask me at parties, such as, “Who are you?” and “How did you get in?” and “Would you please leave?”  The answers are never easy.  Sitting on the kerb with my feet in the gutter after being thrown out of a party is a moment that lends itself to contemplation of the deeper meanings and revelations of life.  It is a moment when I might, if I could, look up at the stars, and wonder at such calm beauty in the midst of the chaos and cacophony of eighties music still drifting out of the premises from which I have just been defenestrated.  But I can see no stars; for the inscrutable laws of the universe decree that it will always be raining at such moments, and I am aware only that my shoes, so elegant in the illusions of dry daylight, are rapidly assuming the guise and weight of gum-saturated cardboard around my feet in the gurgling effluent.  Instead, certain bitter realizations come to me, about life, failure, and the manifest pairing thereof within my corpus.  I do not complain.  Failure is the stuff of art.  Look at Vincent Van Gogh.  Look at Andrew Lloyd Webber.  I am intimately acquainted with failure.  I know failure from the inside and the out.  That’s why I am such a perfect editor.

To prove my credentials, I offer you the following five words: “I am a editor.”

To this, I hear your immediate riposte: “That’s only four words, and one of them is incorrect.”

So you think you’re an editor?  You think that’s how easy it is?  You think there’s room in this gutter for two, with the sodden dead leaves piling up against your obstant feet?  Think twice, madam, think thrice, sir, before venturing into the cloacal (note from MM – yeah, I had to look it up too) torrent.  And here’s why.

Re-examine my sentence.  The information you were afforded prior to reading it was that there were five words.  If you can count only four, then obviously one is missing; but why assume an error?  The mere fact that I am drawing it to your attention shows that I was fully aware of the omission, and presumably had ample time to mend it.  Therefore the omission was deliberate; in which case, you, as editor, must assume that I, the creative artist, had a purpose.  Now you have work to do, for it is not the business of artists to explain their purposes; it is their business only to create art.  It is for you, the viewer, listener or reader, to deduce the artist’s purpose, if any, or to construct, create or realize it, if the artist so bids.  In this particular case, deduction is possible.  The place of the missing word is indicated by the fault between ‘a’ and ‘editor’.  What kind of word goes between an article and a noun?  Usually, an adjective.  In this case, since the article is ‘a’, the adjective must begin with a consonant.  There are twenty-one consonants to choose from, but let us suppose it is F, for fun.  So reconstruct the sentence.  It now reads: “I am a f… editor.”  So far, so good.  Now, clearly it is an adjective that signals its presence by its absence.  What sort of adjective would that be?  One that is despised or even taboo in common speech… And so on.

That preceding paragraph has taken more than two hundred words to explain to you just one example, in the examination of a single, small, banal and superfluous sentence, of what it takes to be an editor.  I am faced with the task of deconstructing and interpreting thousands upon thousands of such sentences, in prose and poetry scribbled by the talented and the differently talented, the hopeful and hopeless multitudes of literary Scotland, all of whom will receive my approval as no more than rightful recognition of their genius, or my modest suggestions for revision as the jealous ravings of an arrogant brick-brained philistine.  Ecce vivus editori.  You still want to join me in the gutter?  Bring a bottle.

Oh, the f-word… Freelance.

© Alan MacGlas 2011


  1. I knew the F word was Freelance, had to be hadn't it. What other word could it possibly be?

  2. " ... it is not the business of artists to explain their purposes; it is their business only to create art. It is for you ... if the artist so bids."

    Lovely! And I detect not a hint of sarcasm or well-justified bitterness in it.

    (P.S. I earn my living as a copy editor, what you would call a sub. Perhaps that's why I enjoyed this post so much.)
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"