Editing for Novices

So the edit came back and I must say it is impressive. I haven’t completely absorbed it all yet but mostly I think the changes made improve the book and will make it clearer and easier to follow. There are one or two cuts that I can’t agree with but I assume that’s normal. I don’t actually know how best to go through the document and rework it, but one of my fellow authors at Unbound, James Ellis, who is also a professional editor, has offered to help. Meanwhile I am totally chuffed with the editor’s opening paragraph – I pretty much stopped reading when I got to the end of it, thinking “it’s not going to get any better than this!”:

“Your memoir has a great (and commercial) premise, and I really enjoyed reliving your father’s earlier life experiences and learning more about this fascinating period in WWII history. He was a stoic, level-headed and resourceful personality who lived a fuller life than most, but chose not to shout about his achievements. WWII is of perennial interest as a genre and Princess Anne’s Foreword helps to give this gravitas. Your writing is polished, your descriptions are vivid, your questions are intelligent and you’ve clearly done a lot of research”.

I am away on an osteopathy course this weekend and I have a course that I am teaching in early November which I need to finalise my preparations for, so I am going to have to squeeze editing in around the edges. Oops – I just read James’ top ten dos and dont’s – number one don’t is to blog about writing when you should be writing!

Chongqing

Before leaving Guiyang, we visited the Number One Scholar Pavilion, on an island in the river and linked to a Buddhist temple on the far bank. This is pretty much all that’s left of the old city. A photo from the 1930s and from today shows the march of the tower block. I’m sorry to leave this province and Guiyang – there is much to explore and I’ve enjoyed this city more than any other in China, so far.

Pavilion in 1930s

Pavilion in 1930s

Pavilion today

Chongqing has special status as an area for economic development. It is now home to over 30 million people and is a mess of concrete flyovers, sullen ranks of tower blocks and choking traffic. Depressingly ugly. Even the opera house is ugly. I think they may have had Sydney opera house in mind but something terrible happened in translation.

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The opera house is the green building on the left

I visited the former residence of General Stilwell, the American commander here in WW2. I don’t know if he met Dad but they probably went to the same parties. It was good to see his office and meeting rooms, intact with furniture and equipment of the period. There was a photo of Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai Shek (Leader of the Nationalist Party) whom Dad met on a couple of occasions. He tells of a British diplomatic mission in November 1942: “Madame speaks perfect English; her speech of welcome on behalf of the women of China was a masterpiece; not a word wrong and beautifully delivered. It was painful to listen to the halting and rather tactless utterances our representatives made in reply”.

Chiang Kai Shek, Madame, Gen. Stilwell

Chiang Kai Shek, Madame, Gen. Stilwell

Chongqing was comprehensively bombed by the Japanese from 1941-44 and nearly 12,000 people died. Details from a painting in the museum show the nightmare it must have been. Dad describes the effect: “At one time or another most of the city has been bombed flat. When it has been rebuilt they have taken the opportunity to build fine wide streets but, having no cement or tar available, you can imagine how disgustingly slimy and muddy they become in wet weather. Though the main streets are kept clear of refuse and human ordure, the paths and alleyways are not. Mothers bring their children out of the house and hold them over the gutters when they wish to relieve any and all of the calls of nature. Kitchen refuse is just thrown on the nearest heap of rubble. The city swarms with rats of a portliness that has to be seen to be believed”.

Wartime Chongqing painting

Wartime Chongqing painting

I was also taken to the ‘old town’ which dates back 300 years and is now a shopping opportunity. I’m glad I’m not staying too long. Chongqing means ‘double celebration’ but I think that spirit must have been killed in the bombing. Even in the ‘40s Dad says that Chongqing was regarded as a terrible place, yet he is positive about it: “It is true that the climate is foul, prices astronomically high, the amenities of civilised life few and facilities for recreation almost non-existent; but it has its compensations”.

Roof of Qing dynasty building

Roof of Qing dynasty building

News just in: a large gin and tonic was murdered this evening! At last. I thought I’d follow it up with dinner but the buffet restaurant was offering chicken’s feet, pig trotters and fly blown sushi, so I had the complimentary packet of dried peas in my room instead. There’s limits you know.

Battle Trail

Oh brilliant, I forgot to bring the melatonin, so did NOT get a good night’s sleep. Also it was rather warm (sorry folks but daytime is about 23C and night not much less) so I felt restless. This morning I met Martin Heyes, of Walk Hong Kong, who is an expert on the WW2 history of Hong Kong. My Dad spent most of his time at the Battle Box, the Allied HQ on HK island. Needless to say it has been destroyed and the spot is now occupied by the British Consulate. We went and had a look at the site, just so that I could orientate myself when reading his story.

British Consulate, HK

British Consulate, HK

We then headed uphill to Wong Nai Chung gap, the site of the decisive battle for HK. Martin walked me round a ‘discovery trail’ (with some limited printed information) bringing alive the battle – the tactical errors, the stories of survivors, the history of the Japanese in China and the roles of the various regiments and battalions. The British were utterly under-staffed and under-prepared, especially for an attack from land. The view from the UK War Office was that they didn’t stand a chance of succeeding and it seems that they didn’t want to waste resources (men, artillery or supporting troops) on a lost cause. Under the circumstances the Allies did well to last as long as they did! Here is a film of Martin Heyes describing the battle of Hong Kong:

 

Cricket ground, 1942

Cricket ground, 1942

Cricket ground, 2013

Cricket ground, 2013

While we were surveying the scene over the cricket ground and Happy Valley racecourse, 2 kites flew overhead. I love these birds – we often see several on our way to visit horsey clients along the M4. Julian and I have seen one or two when we’vc visited Roger’s grave in Wales – they always seem to be there, regardless of the weather.

Somehow it seemed like a wave from Dad – he was a keen birdwatcher and got very excited if he saw a kite (they were pretty rare in the ‘70s). I have fond, if slightly terrified, memories of travelling through Wales on the way to our annual holiday (a picnic on the beach at Aberdovey) with Dad birdspotting whilst driving on winding mountain roads with a substantial drop off.