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A Lesson Learned

As well as writing a number of books I have also edited a good selection of other writers’ manuscripts. Editors have a long list of things to look out for from major inconsistencies through minor typos taking in howlers in the passing. It was my editor who taught me never to use ‘find and replace’ in full-length manuscript.

I had completed a biography of Robert Murray McCheyne, a 19th Century minister in Dundee. McCheyne undertook a visit to the Holy Land where, according to his diary, he travelled on an ass. My editor pointed out that the word ‘ass’ has a different meaning to our friends across the Atlantic. I did a find and replace, substituting ‘ass’ with ‘donkey’ ……. so changing ‘class’ and ‘classes’ to ‘cldonkey’ and ‘cldonkeyes’ and ‘pass’ and ‘passes’ to ‘pdonkey’ and ‘pdonkeyes’ etc. I leave you to think of the other consequences!

Little things can make a big difference, little things like the benediction at the end of a church service.

The first hymn

The first hymn was

just long enough

for Flora to pull her skirt

until the pleats were where they ought to be.

She’s dressed in a rush.

It took her the whole prayer

to work out

the week’s meals.

The intimations allowed Flora

to worry about lunch.

Had she turned down the oven?

The sermon lasted

the total count of all the panes

in both arched windows,

the sum of the top three numbers

on the hymn board

divided by the bottom one,

plus two presbyterian peppermints.

And the benediction?

It hit Flora - like a hammer blow -

for the very first time.

She left

a new woman.

Written for the Scottish Fellowship of Christian Writers and used by kind permission.


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