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A writer’s work is never done

I’ve just posted two articles to Anne Fine’s web site, in which she talks about the new revised editions of a batch of her books: there’s an article based on one which appeared in The Times, addressed to adults – parents, teachers and other interested parties – and an article written specifically for the children who read her books and visit her web site.

The changes seem to be of two kinds. Some reflect the way the world has changed since the books were written: the changing value of money, the increased use of cars (the midwife, for example, no longer rides a bike). These can be changed with no sense that they should have been done differently in the first place. Others reflect the writer’s developing style: repeated phrases are removed, the text is tightened up. And then there are those which fall on the overlap of these two cases: where it is not the facts of the world but our sensitivity to it which has changed. I won’t give away the examples, because both articles make fascinating reading in their own right.

What intrigues me, as someone whose public writing is done online, is that I associate this sort of revision as one of the benefits – and one of the temptations – of the internet. It was Paul Valéry (so Google informs me) who said that a poem is never finished, only abandoned; that’s even more true of a web site, there are always additions and improvements to be made. But how many authors have the chance to revisit their books the way I revisit web sites? And how many want to?

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