Monday, 16 December 2013

The Tyranny Of Editing

New Collection Of Short Stories – 'The Truth In The Lie'

My new collection of short stories, entitled 'The Truth In The Lie', seems long overdue to me. I thought it would be out long before Christmas but it's dragging its feet – or rather, I am. Some of these stories are new and I'm quite excited about them. Others were written a while ago. Before the last collection (Special Treatment & Other Stories) in fact. These are the stories I was not 100% comfortable with when the stories for the last collection was selected. "Better to hold these ones back," I said to myself. They needed more work, and I hoped, as many of us writers do, that the spark that would ignite each of them would come to me if I was patient. Periodically I have re-read them and on occasion ruthlessly edited them – slaying numerous darlings in fact – and around three months ago I felt confident that they were ready. At this point my very literary (despot) eldest daughter came home from working in a retreat in the Spanish pyrenees. She is home for a few months and asked if she could do some paid work for me.

"You could edit my next book of short stories," I suggested. "It's about ready to go but could do with a final check."
My Current Editor

The next day she began. Ten days later she presented me with a document with a mass of yellow 'Track Changes' suggestions. I have read through it. Unfortunately she has not been over-zealous. Although there were only one or two typos, she highlighted many areas where stories could be improved. I should be grateful but I must confess to some sense of frustration. It was not what I had been expecting. The publishing date has had to be pushed back to a major extent and that does not make me feel good.

And there was me thinking I had learned all I needed to know from my first two books! So having one's book edited is painful. Yes I knew that, so how could I have forgotten so easily? With my first book - Long Road, Hard Lessons - A non-fiction book about my 10,000mile cycle journey with my teenage son, I endured about two weeks of very defensive arguments with my content editor, who is an old friend. Him being an old friend probably didn't help in many ways. It certainly didn't make him any less brutal with me. In the end, however, I realised that he was right about 95% of what he said, so why not save myself the pain and just accept it, bar any parts where he had misunderstood my intended meaning.  The whole point of getting someone else to edit, is that however good we get at editing our own work, we will always need a separate pair of eyes and at least one outside point of view in order to make it as good as it should be. So this time I have not argued with my daughter - at least not yet. I am grateful for the fact that she has taken the job so seriously and made such an effort.

Image courtesy of

So whereas this blog should have been telling you that the new book is now available, instead it is telling you that it's not. What I can tell you, I will:

I have no cover yet, but I'm inclined to go for the same traditional (Penguin classic style) cover as with Special Treatment & Other Stories. I'm not a traditionalist by nature but I can't stand those cheesy (as I see them) airport thriller style covers that look like a graphic design student had a month to kill and needed to impress someone. I like the cover to intrigue the reader about what's inside rather than to get them so excited about the cover, that what's inside can only seem like an anticlimax. Or perhaps I just prefer 'classy' to 'loud'.

Story Genre
The stories are, like the last collection, subtitled 'Excursions Into The Lives Of Others'. They are somewhat voyeuristic in style. The reader may feel they are prying. Things are disclosed or hinted at which we feel perhaps we shouldn't know – some readers may even feel a sense of discomfort. Perhaps some of that discomfort is about the fact that most of us recognise something of ourselves and our own lives in these characters. Scary! But I sense that much of what seems to make people uncomfortable, is their own overwhelming desire to know more.
The title, The Truth In The Lie, was chosen because of the number of times I have been asked whether my stories are based upon truth. It seems obvious to me that every fictional story is based upon truth – personal truths from past experiences or those I have heard of, and 'great truths'. Many so called great truths may never actually have happened, yet they are universal truths of life, understood by all.

Story Outlines
My Only FriendAn elderly widow in Lisbon is estranged from her son who prefers to live in squalor and idleness since the death of the father he adored.

A Minor DistractionA rich American man on a train in Africa tries to tempt a poor young girl into his carriage while stopped at a wilderness station. The tragedy that ensues hardly seems to touch him.

Greta A pair of travellers arrive in a rural Hungarian hotel where all is not what it should be. They are shown to their room by a young woman who seems something of an automaton. 

All In Good Time A woman who runs a cafe is told she is being watched by the security forces. It seems unlikely until one of her staff disappears under strange circumstances.

Masaji A father and son attempt to escape from China on foot after their visa runs out. 

In The Line Of Fire A man in a war zone is attacked and hounded by those he once regarded as friends. They seem unwilling to allow him to leave the area, however.

Never Give Up Exhausted after several days at work, a man begins to experience strange occurrences while driving home through a long road tunnel.

Traffic An art dealer makes his first trip to Africa and almost immediately becomes the victim of not one but two carefully engineered scams – or so it seems. 

River Witch A young man camps by a river and is shocked to see a naked young woman float past as he lies in bed enjoying the early morning sun. How could he not go after her?

Red Card Once a promising professional footballer, Pat Carmichael becomes an alcoholic loser after he suffers a crippling injury. Finally after two years of depression he picks himself up.

Drawn To The Light Travelling home on his daily commuter train, David is drawn to something strange he sees in the dark while the train is stopped. What he sees transfixes him.

Dottie’s Diary Two women hill-climbing in Wales take shelter in a stone barn. Soon they are joined by a wealthy local woman who invites them home where they meet her husband. He is familiar to one of them. 

Burned On Him A rather reserved family meet for a weekend at the parents' house where a revelation by one sister causes an argument and unexpected consequences.

The ‘F’ Word A conversation overheard on a train with three children, their mother and her friend. 

The Bottle Lady of Luang Prabang Surreal happenings when a group of friends meet at their regular breakfast cafe by a busy main road. "The chink of glass in the early morning traffic haze."

If you would like to purchase 'The Truth In The Lie' (which is now available in print or as an e-book) please click one of the links to the main sales sites, where you can also find other stories by the same author:

Mark Swain on Amazon
Mark Swain on Smashwords


  1. Hello Mark - than you for words of wisdom and experience. I work as an editor and your acceptance - despite the aggravation! - of your daughter's comments and track changes, makes me smile. You reached the kernel when you said that we can't proofread and edit or our work; why would we make a mistake? We know this stuff backwards! But the typos and grammar slips are the easy bit, the harder part is to make the story come alive and to resonate with the reader. You are blessed to have an editor on tap and I look forward to the book's publication.

  2. Hi Margie, thanks for your comments. Yes I feel lucky. The e-book will be out by the end of the week. Cover just given the go ahead. Very pleased with it. Paperback will take a while longer as always.