The Unexpected Benefits of Surgery by Jem Shaw

Terry Pratchett holds that the correct collective noun for a group of witches is “an argument”. Authors, I’m convinced, view cooperation purely as a word whose hyphenation is to be discussed at length until a third faction arises to insist that its use in the context in point is incorrect anyway.

“Kill your babies,” says the excessively quoted writers’ axiom. I’ve been enjoying regular conflict with my fellow Renegades for eighteen months or so now, so I’m used to a bunch of people who turn up every week with fixed bayonets and a pitcher’s mitt. Don’t get me wrong: they’re not vindictive, but give them a target and they’re as forgiving as Ivan the T when his verruca’s playing up.

When I first arrived with them, confident that the pre-natal ticking from the shell of my WW1 oeuvre would humble them with its pinnacular literacy and vernieral accuracy, I was greeted with accusations of over-writing and my dangling participles were amputated with house bricks. They even had the temerity to expose my tendency to invent adjectives. It’s what they do.

OK, so maybe my style could benefit from dialling back from 11, and there’s possibly a little syntactic tidying to do, but nobody’s going to criticise my accuracy and painstaking research.

Except one. On my first visit, Tim Havard – you’ll know him by his nom de guerre of Malcolm Havard – pointed out that the gun on a 1916 Bristol Scout wasn’t mounted as I’d written, thus ejecting baby, bathwater, plumbing and mains water supply from one of my favourite passages. In the ensuing heated debate I learned that this guy doesn’t just know the exact specification of every item of WW1 ordnance, he even knows their serial numbers. Clearly, we weren’t going to get on.

Which is why, in just under two weeks’ time, our collaborative anthology of Great War stories appears, published by Penkhull Press. Working with another author has been a new experience for me, especially one whose encyclopaedic knowledge of the period lies in my path like rusted wire. It helps that Tim has the ego of the Dalai Llama.

If you’re looking to improve your writing then you have first to understand that you’re never as good as you thought you were. Then find a bunch of friendly assassins like Renegade Writers who’ll make you welcome but never make you comfortable.


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