This is the first in our new “Editors in the Spotlight” series, spotlighting editors who have won awards or participated in award-winning projects.
In this post, Kimmy Beach interviews Peter Midgley, who won the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence for editing her book, The Last Temptation of Bond.
Peter and I meet at Chianti in Edmonton to debrief and to toast his winning the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence.
This feeling of vicarious glory is strange for me, but utterly enjoyable. I ask him why he thinks the jury chose him for his work on 114 pages of prose poetry. Hardly the sexiest text from an editorial standpoint.
“The jury knows a lot of people are scared of editing poetry,” he says. “Bond is complex. It lapses into prose, poetry, into drama. You needed an editor who understood those genres. One who’d say to you, ‘You’re playing with erotica, and you’re in the modernist moment. Let’s push those aspects.’ ”
I fish a little in asking about working with me. I’m an author. It’s allowed.
“You were easy to work with,” he tells me, “because you were willing. You said, ‘Cool. Let’s try that. I’ll entertain your thoughts, no matter how harebrained.’ A lot of our work wasn’t on a mechanical level — not to diminish work that is — but on a cerebral one. I think the jury recognized that.”
“That cerebral level,” I say, “involved you filling my arms with books that would help inform what I was writing, and they were not Canadian books. Do you do that with every author?” Our pasta arrives with more wine.
“I can’t do that with every project, because not every project needs it and not every author wants it.” I don’t understand. If he says an author should read something that will help the work, shouldn’t the author be receptive?
“You’d think,” he says. “Some writers want or expect no more than a line edit from me. That’s it. There’s also a sense that a poet’s words are sacrosanct.”
“Bullshit,” I say.
He tells me, “I’ve been told I’m meddlesome.”
I nearly choke on my penne curry. I was open to whatever Peter threw at me, but I had to be. How else to find the best way to write that book? I tell him, “You must have sensed that I would be open to your way of working.”
“But there was something else there, Kimmy,” he says. “I’d read all your work, and after reading every piece, I thought, ‘God! Just go there!’ You were holding back. I think subconsciously, you were searching for a change. You knew you needed to move your career in a different way.”
I ask him, “What if I had said, ‘Screw you. I know exactly what I’m doing’?”
“I’d have backed off to where you felt comfortable. It’s your book, after all.” I shudder at the thought. “When I read Bond,” he says, “I knew we could do it if you were willing. And you proved to be. Editing is an intricate relief carving on an eggshell. It’s fragile and paper-thin. One mistake, and you can crack the whole damn thing. It’s terrifying.”
That thought hadn’t occurred to me.
“If an editor’s overconfident,” he says, “they’re in trouble. The responsibility is enormous, but they must give off an air of confidence. If I’d said to you, ‘I’m terrified,’ would you have trusted me?”
“You’re more in tune with writers, I suppose, because you’re a writer yourself,” I say. “When I was working on the last edits, you sent me chapters from your new book [Counting Teeth: a Namibian Story, Wolsak & Wynn, 2014]. Whether that was to distract me from my own intensity, I don’t know, but it was the exact right thing to do.”
“We were doing creative work at the same time,” he says, “and my sharing my new chapters with you was a result of a mutual trust that had developed. I was pushing you, but I was telling you things I knew I had to do in my own work, too. Counting Teeth is a memoir — a form I’d never worked with. Guiding you pushed me as well. And in our case, a friendship developed in addition to an editorial relationship.”
“How does this award feel, Peter?”
“Wonderful,” he says. “I don’t work with awards in mind, but it’s amazing to be recognized by my peers who can see that I’ve expanded and pushed and contributed to something extraordinary.”
The Last Temptation of Bond was longlisted for the Alberta Readers’ Choice Award, was featured on CBC’s The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers, and was named one of the top five poetry books of the year on Quill & Quire’s readers’ poll.
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