The editor survives the editing

The editor survives the editing
By Charles Gordon for The Ottawa Citizen, June 4th, 1995

Sandra Gulland of Killaloe has been an editor for 20 years and she knows what editors can do good and bad. Now she’s a novelist, with the publication of The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. By and large, she is appreciative of editors and the editorial advice of other writers.

That is not an attitude shared by a lot of writers, whose usual attitude is “I want to do it myself.”

Not that there’s anyone like that around here.

Gulland came to Canada from the United States in 1970. She moved to Killaloe with her family 17 years ago from Toronto. Much of the editing she did involved young adult fiction, the editing developed in her a “very spare kind of style,” she said in an interview.

When she began writing Josephine B. five years ago, the built-in tension between writer and editor seemed to have a direct effect upon her.

“I find that when I begin writing, I become a grumpy editor,” she said.

The trilogy was accepted by HarperCollins on the basis of the manuscript of the first book and outlines of the second and third. Along the way, Gulland was getting good advice. “Janette Turner Hospital was very helpful,” Gulland said. Jane Urquart, who was writer-in-residence at the University of Ottawa in 1990, “helped me clarify my approach. She also told me to get to Paris immediately.” Gulland did. “I’ve traveled a lot, and following her is great fun,” she said, speaking of the late Mrs. Bonaparte.

Once the book was completed, the new experience of being the edited rather than the editor began. “I was terrified going into the first editorial meetings,” Gulland said. “All the horrible things I’d done to other authors, now it was going to be my turn.”

But it was fine, of course. Gulland developed trust, particularly in Iris Tupholme, her editor at HarperCollins. “I feel I’ve been blessed.” Gulland said. “If I trusted what she said and went ahead with what she recommended, I found that the results were very good.”

Not that it was easy: Gulland was very fond of the last line of her book. It had survived several drafts. But her editor said: “I think that line should go. It sounds a little too much like Gone With the Wind.”

Gulland was unconvinced and still fond of her sentence, as writers tend to be. She took it to a friend. The friend said: “I don’t know, it’s a little too much like something Scarlett O’Hara would say.” The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. now has a new last line.

Gulland is 370 manuscript pages into the second volume of the trilogy which begins, presumably, where the first leaves off: Napoleon and Josephine’s wedding night. Is there any danger of the author tiring of her subject?

Gulland is not worried. “It’s important to renew myself,” she said, “and that’s a question of research. New characters come into the picture, the situation changes.”

Not to mention more travel.

© The Ottawa Citizen