Today I met up with a 77 year old friend who's written a memoir/autobiography that he'd like to have me proofread and possibly edit for him.
It covers a lot of ground, including his childhood in Ireland, coming to England as a young man, a spectacular suicide attempt, a fair bit of time spent in jail cells, successful careers in both engineering and show business, run ins with the IRA, spectacular misadventures on several continents, with much of the 20th century as its backdrop.
After sitting and chatting with him for a couple hours, I took the manuscript (hand typed, by the way) over to Kinko's to make a copy for him, since it's never been stored on a computer and he was entrusting me with the only copy in existence. Because the pages were old and tattered (he finished it quite a few years ago and it's been kicking around in drawers and boxes ever since), it was impossible to run it through the automatic document feeder, so I had to stand there and copy each page individually.
Most of my knowledge of the story was gleaned from reading a paragraph or two of each page as I waited to feed it into the machine. It looked like a real ripsnorter, and I look forward to finishing it off on the plane back to New York.
But here's the thing: despite covering considerably more time and at least as many events as my own memoir/autobiography, it's about 200 pages shorter. So what's up with that, I couldn't help wondering? As it was, it felt as though I was leaving half of my favourite stories out and only telling the barest details of those I included, and yet my book seemed long and laboured, while my friend's book, which dealt with whole sections of his life in a page or two, virtually sparkled with wit and insight.
He also uses very simple and straightforward language; he's obviously not a natural writer, but he seems to understand that and make up for it by avoiding fancy constructions and most adjectives and adverbs. I think he may have the makings of a very fascinating book here, whereas my own probably needs to have about two thirds of its innards excised before the general public is likely to find it readable.
Discouraging? A bit. I'm at a point now where I'm deciding whether to toss the whole thing out in favour of a novel that covers some of the same ground, or to do the necessary rewriting/major surgery on my original manuscript.
In the meantime, I'll occupy myself by editing my friend's book. I'm already preparing myself for the delicious irony should I succeed in helping him get it published while my own continues to languish in well-earned obscurity.