It’s often said that writing and editing are two sides of one coin, and it’s not unusual to find a person who incorporates both into a literary life. So it is with Nicola Redhouse – by day, an editor at Scribe Publications, and by night, a fiction writer. Killings speaks to Nicola, whose story ‘The Girl and the Cat’ appears in Issue One of Kill Your Darlings, about being on both sides of the fence.
What are your processes and passions as a writer?
I’ve always felt a creative compulsion to record things in words – and of course tied to this, to read – but my interest in the different forms has changed over time. As a child, I experienced utter pleasure reading, and then discovered a similar pleasure writing my own stories. Then, as a teenager, I began to read poetry and verse novels (Robert Lowell and Emily Dickinson were favourites, and of course Dorothy Porter), and I became interested in psychoanalysis, and I suppose I discovered the rich associative possibilities of poetic language.
I’ve now moved back into really enjoying the more extended involvement with character that you get reading short stories and novels – Alice Munro and Joan London are among my favourites – and wanting to achieve that in my own writing. Short stories are an incredible form – I think they’re capable of both that more associative meaning and symbolism that I love in poetry and the expansive characterisation of longer narratives that so deeply engaged me with books as a child.
Tell us a little bit about ‘The Girl and the Cat’.
I wrote ‘The Girl and The Cat’ a few years ago, and revisited it a few times before I was happy with it, which is how I always tend to work. The story emerged, as many of mine do, from personal experience (the feelings that surfaced after I finally moved a whole lot of my childhood belongings from my mother’s house into my own home), but then branched out into other, imagined directions. I have a few people that I workshop my writing with.
Peer feedback is immensely helpful, and I think it’s vital to consider a reader’s experience of your work; but, in the end, you need to balance that with a confidence about what it is that you want to do with your story, otherwise you lose that thing which makes it yours.
Now, what are your processes and passions as an editor?
At Scribe, I work across the non-fiction list, but I tend to take on a lot of the books that fall under ‘narrative non-fiction’, because this is where my reading interests lie.
As an editor, I love seeing a manuscript transform into an actual object with aesthetics and a physical presence that will hopefully appeal to its target readership. It’s a bit like the satisfaction that you get when you do a jigsaw puzzle.
I enjoy all aspects of editing: people often think of copy editing as a pedantic and mechanical job, but it’s just as challenging as the bigger-picture structural editing – both involve a kind of logical engagement with ideas, just at different levels. And of course I love assessing manuscripts, because it’s an opportunity to read widely and to practise my critical reviewing skills. I also love the more creative, lateral aspects of my job, especially writing cover-design briefs and blurbs.
Can the roles of writer and editor overlap or assist, or even cannibalise each other?
Working as an editor is a dream job for me – I am involved with writing and reading every day, and am stimulated by that engagement with words and stories. There are some benefits to working in non-fiction, in light of the fact that my current focus as a writer is in fiction. For one, it means that fiction reading is still left as something that I can do simply for pleasure, and pleasurable reading has always been vital to my productivity as a writer.
But I don’t think that being an editor necessarily cannibalises one’s own writing capacities: at some point as a writer you need to apply critical editing faculties to your work, but for me the process of writing comes from a much more unconscious, creative part of me than editing does. Still, working as an editor definitely causes a degree of brain fatigue – I mean, if I worked all day making cheese I probably wouldn’t want to eat it for dinner. Sometimes I just have to give in to that, and watch bad television instead of pushing myself to write or read at the end of a day.
I think training and working as an editor has helped me with my own writing in a few ways. It’s given me a capacity step back a bit from my words and place myself in the reader’s shoes – because that’s essentially what I have to do as an editor: be an astute reader. It’s also of course given me an invaluable insight into the publishing industry: I understand better the kinds of factors that are involved in assessing work for publication.
Being a writer certainly enriches my work as an editor: I have an all-too-acute sense of how it feels to have your words critiqued, and this has helped me to adopt what I hope is a style of editing that is constructive, and that views the process as a dynamic collaboration.