This post is by Nancy Jardine.
It amazes even me that in this time of ‘throw- away culture’ I have so many bits and pieces stored around my house that seem like junk. I’ve been blogging like mad this summer about things I’ve kept for years and years with no particular use for them, save that they have a great sentimental value.
Why on earth did I keep a set of cast iron LASTS that are incredibly heavy to lift?
I really don’t have any answer except to say that my father used them when I was growing up to mend his shoes and work boots, and sometimes shoes that belonged to my mother, sister or me.
If he was repairing shoes for the females of my family, it was generally only the heels he’d be replacing.
Cobbler, cobbler, mend my shoe, Have it ready by half past two…
Was my father a cobbler, you might ask? No, he was a glazier, but when money was tight you did what you could to sort things out. Shoes which had perfectly sound ‘uppers’ were not thrown away just because the sole or heel needed replacing. They were FIXED, even though the time and effort for the repairs needed to be found in what was usually quite a busy weekend. My dad worked on Saturdays till 1pm and was not home till around 2pm- Sunday being his only full day off work.
I can vaguely recall the smell of leather when Dad mended his boots or shoes, but the mending usually wouldn’t happen before a feet wetting! When the rain seeped through the cracks in the soles of his boots, that was the time to eventually ditch the sole and replace it- a waste before that stage. We’re talking Scottish weather, here, so the feet wetting might be considerable.
There were, of course, skills to be learned about the mending process. Dad would monitor the cracks in the soles and judge when the seepage of rainwater would penetrate those very last fibres to the inside of the boot. If he got it right, he would have the supplies already in the house when they were needed, but if not he’d have to suffer since I don’t remember him having a lot of alternatives in work boots when I was a little girl. He would buy a piece of thick leather (usually a rectangle). The most likely place was a market area in Glasgow (Scotland) called ‘The Barras’. ‘The Barras’ had stalls for everything and was a weekend haunt for many people who looked for bargains.
The first work boot would be upended onto the LAST and the old sole and heel would be prised off very carefully- the nails set aside since some of them might be able to be reused for another purpose if undamaged. Yanking, or ripping off the old sole would have been a crime because the rest of the boot needed to remain as intact and undamaged as possible for the new patched heel or sole repair to work properly. Once the old broken sole was removed, he’d check the interior skin which was a layer between the insole and the outer sole. Once he’d established that was intact, he’d continue with the new soles. If the inner layer needed replacing, he used a ‘sort of thick canvas’ to replace the spent layer.
My dad would place the new leather rectangle flat on the table and use a paper pattern that fit the size of the boot he was repairing. Once the soles were drawn with his glazier’s pencil – a really thick specially-shaped, leaded pencil – he’d cut out the ‘soles’ using a range of tools. A really sharp ‘paring’ knife would make the initial slit and then he had a very fine little ‘saw’ that cut through. Often the leather was very tough to cut and ended up a bit raggedy at the edges. He’d then use an oiled sander or oiled sandpaper to smooth off the edges. Of course, he had to remember to reverse the paper pattern for the second shoe to ensure it had the correct side out, since one side of the new leather was shinier, the finishing process better on that side for wear and tear.
The LAST was perfect for the repairing since the hammering of the new sole onto the boot was a noisy affair. It held the upended boot tightly in place, especially if it was the correct size. The placing of the new nails was a skill in itself since old nail holes on the ‘upper’ had to be avoided. That meant knowing the position of the previous nails. When the placing of the first new nail was established, the rest followed with precise positioning.
Were the repairs done? No. He’d do a new heel since the LAST was already out and it was likely that boot would need new heels replaced anyway. All the edges were then delicately finished off – no rough edges anywhere. The new nails were checked again (no sharp bits sticking up). The boot was removed from the last and Dad would try it for a good fit. When he was satisfied with the repair, he repeated the whole procedure for the second boot. Eventually the boots were polished till they shone and didn’t look like work boots at all. To anyone picking them up they would look like a new boots.
What has my today’s story to do with my writing?
I’m really sad, at times, that we have such a throw away culture but I personally wouldn’t want to go back to mending my own shoes. However, the point is that I COULD do it if necessary. I have the know–how to do it, and I did get in a little practise since my dad always let me help when he was doing stuff around the house. He had no son, but was always happy to encourage my interest in what he did.
What I learned from his cobbling of shoes was a multitude of TRANSFERRABLE skills. Those skills, it seems to me, should be applied in our writing and editing process and only when an author has gone through all of the stages is the WORK ready to for that very final polish!
A breakdown might look like this:
- Acknowledge that no manuscript is perfect at the final draft stage.
- Assess the problem and work out the major issues in the storyline to be replaced/resolved
- Find the tools needed: SKILLED EDITORIAL HELP; TIME, CONCENTRATION, DIY repair kit of dictionary/ grammar rules etc
- Use the correct ‘LAST’. Some form of editing package/ in conjunction with your editor
- Carefully remove the DROSS/ fix the CRACKS/ ensure LININGS are sound/ make sure there are no ANACHRONISMS in historical work/ NO confusing bits for reader understanding
- Mould the new overall story
- Tap carefully into shape by systematic check/ line edits
- Take the rough off the edges /fix all editorial errors
- Test for a good fit/re-read the whole for any lingering errors
- Polish very thoroughly/ one last sweep through
I’ve read some published novels recently which have failed on many of these points and are really not yet ready for public consumption. As a consumer and reader of the stories I don’t think it’s too picky to ask for the best possible result from an editing process. One or two loose nails might not affect a newly repaired boot all that much, but you can be sure that my dad’s feet would have been continuously wet if his nail work was as poor as some of the writing and editing that I’ve encountered. The ebook culture now fits well with our throw- away society but surely it should not mean that the work is not properly fit for the purpose? Even if I’m not paying as much for an ebook as I would do when buying a print book (getting a bargain as when my dad went to the Barras for his leather) I still expect that the author really has gone through all the stages above, many times, to make the final product the best that it can be. That might mean spending even MORE TIME on finalising the work before it is published.
I’d love to know what your thoughts are about published work that still seems to need final edits.
ps… PHEW! Thankfully, I can also say that I’ve recently read some novels which have been SUPERBLY EDITED.
Nancy Jardine’s books are available in ebook formats and in print from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, W.H. Smiths,; Waterstones and from other ebook retailers.
Nancy is currently doing thorough edits for the sequels to The Beltane Choice- an adventure set in Celtic/ Roman Britannia AD 71.
AFTER WHORL- BRAN REBORN is due for publication launch on December 16th 2013.
Having written this article, you can be sure that Nancy will be spending a lot of time on nail biting…
No! Make that nail checking!
pps…If you find any errors in the above, please tell me and I’ll sort them!
- Questions For Your Cobbler (oxfordclothbuttondown.com)
- Shoes (verduzcogisselle123.wordpress.com)