After writing about Dorothy L Sayers’ uncompromising stance on having her radio scripts messed about with, it got me thinking about the general subject of how accommodating an author should be to the suggestions of ‘outsiders’. I once read that a famous author from my home town – Alan Sillitoe of Saturday Night, Sunday Morning fame – always refused to have his manuscripts altered by editors. His stance was that he was the professional writer and he knew exactly what he wanted, so why should a non-author think they could ‘improve’ his writing?
He had a point. You wouldn’t have an art dealer standing behind the shoulder of a great painter saying ‘I think you should put that tree over here, not just there.’ But then again, I don’t think you need to be an expert or a professional to have a valid opinion – sometimes an outsider can bring a different perspective to things. I certainly know that as a writer I eventually get so close to my work, so immersed in it and familiar with it, that I know I am no longer capable of judging it objectively. I no longer know whether a surprise is surprising or a joke is funny.
Anyway, back to Dorothy. Someone at the BBC asked to ‘discreetly edit’ her play (a religious broadcast for children) and she flatly refused. They then tried to arrange discussions with her in Bristol (where the Children’s Department had been evacuated while the war was on). I loved her reply so much I thought I’d share it with you:
Oh, no, you don’t, my poppet. You won’t get me to do three days of exhausting travel to Bristol in order to argue about my plays with a committee. What goes into the play, and the language in which it is written is the author’s business. If the Management don’t like it, they reject the play, and there is an end of the contract.