I live in an area with a very strong literary heritage: the Brontë sisters lived in nearby Haworth. A recent event at the Old School Rooms in Haworth gave me a chance to hear how two contemporary novelists, Tracy Chevalier and Maggie O’Farrell, feel a connection with Charlotte Brontë’s most famous work, Jane Eyre.
As well as discussing aspects of the novel, including the strong central character and the use of first-person narration, Tracy and Maggie reflected on the nuts and bolts of writing, both in relation to Charlotte Brontë and from their own experiences.
For me, one of the most interesting parts of the discussion focused on how the Brontës developed their novels. The sisters would sit together at a table to write, and would take it in turns to walk around the table reading parts of their work aloud. Maggie O’Farrell wondered about the editorial interaction between the sisters. How far did they collaborate during this process? To what extent did they ‘borrow’ from each other’s personal experiences for their own individual writing?
Part of Charlotte’s working method involved writing out short sections of text on individual pieces of paper and revising them before copying them onto the manuscript. Tracy Chevalier wondered just how many changes were made before the final version was produced. If only Track Changes had been available in 19th-century Haworth!
As I sit in my office editing a journal article on knowledge organisations or a lengthy report on education policy in Central Asia, I can draw inspiration from Charlotte’s writing process and her desire to hone each and every sentence to perfection.
When it comes to writing and editing, some things never change.