Tuesday, 2 May 2017

PAPERWORK (otherwise known as decluttering) – Dianne Hofmeyr

This is not about the loads of paperwork we do every day but about scaling down. Getting rid of all the piles of paper from the past.

Decluttering has long been a buzzword and a recent book 'Goodbye Things' by Fumio Sasakia suggests all he needs is a bed, a table, his MacAir and a smart phone. Why keep paper? Why have books? You scan everything important to you and read books digitally.

Well yes, but you can only do that if your laptop is decluttered too. At the moment I only have 4GB of space because of my vast quantity of photographs and yes those can be stored in the iCloud, or on external drives and I do every so often, when big warnings flash up. But it still requires time and the will to declutter a laptop.

Last week my husband suggested I look through our store cupboard in the basement. We live in a 67 sq. metre flat so the store cupboard is vital… where else would I keep the ironing board, the vacuum cleaner and my extra stash of chocolate? It also houses boxes and boxes of old manuscripts neatly tied up and labelled with string and all the said research and reviews that go with each book.

I took down the first box and started ripping. It was the only copy I have of a novel I wrote in 1988 written on a typewriter (a word only a bit younger than gramophone) with pencil corrections and white tipex all over the onion skin pages, literally cut and pasted with cello-tape corrections. But undeterred it all went into the bin. Research. Reviews. Clippings. And text. This is not the same me. I’ve moved on.

It was going well. I hauled down the next box and there lay my very first novel together with a letter from my editor dated 25th May 1987 telling me they had printed 2500 copies of A Sudden Summer. What struck me was the date ... almost exactly 30 years ago to the month. A photograph lay across the letter taken of us on the day the novel came out. How young we both look and a bit uncanny that the girl on the cover seems to have the exact hairstyle I had then.

What struck me too was the editor's jaunty tone in her letter. 'May this be the first of many books for you. For you’ve got it, babe!' 

She’s to blame. If it weren’t for Dr Annari van der Merwe I wouldn’t still be writing books thirty years on. Thank you Annari for your patience. What an intricate and wonderful labyrinth you caused me to follow with your ball of string.

Well you’ve guessed it. Could I tear up this manuscript even more covered in tipex and tape? Not when scrawled across the first page, she had also written… Keep this under lock and key. One day you will be able to sell it to the University of Texas in Austin for a grand sum. Not so! But still I slipped the crinkly onion skin paper back into the box and locked the door to the storeroom and all the book memories for yet another day.

In two days time, thirty years on, and I’m not sure how many books later, I have a very different one coming out – a picture book, My Daddy is a Silly Monkey, for very young readers. It’s come full circle. The same publisher, Tafelberg, who trusted me with my first novel has bought the South African Rights. It’s a book about the chaotic yet wonderful relationship between a busy father and a daughter that I saw emerge between my own son and his daughter at time when he was juggling his complicated life. Carol Thompson’s illustrations explode with energy and humour and thanks to Janetta Otter-barry and her team, the book will come into the world this week on 4th May 2017 just 3 weeks short of my thirty year entrance into the world of writing.


No doubt in years to come, I will sit in the same storeroom looking at yet another box of papers … my hands willing but my spirit weak. 

Clutter… the English psychoanalyst and design teacher Jane Graves wrote in ‘The Secret Life of Objects’ is always about memory, so therefore about emotion and sentiment. Tidying, then, is intimate work. 

If this is only my paperwork attempt, what about the objects? Get rid of multiples... says Fumio Sasakio. Four pairs of scissors is too many. You only need one that works and you will always know where it is.  Hmmm... if only.

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Penny Dolan said...

Enjoyable post, Dianne. I always wonder whether these drastic declutterers are an annoyance to their neighbours with "I don't have such and such any more. Could I borrow yours?"

Your clutter looks wonderfully tidy - and how hard to get rid of letters and photo's like that?

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Actually Penny one of the things Fumio Sasakio recommends is that we all should become borrowers! So its funny that you should pick up on this!

Penny Dolan said...

(Reading on desktop now, not on tiny tablet!)

Not quite a coincidence. I'd just been imagining the situation when a Sasakio devotee comes round to call, again. Borrowing, in principle, sounds a good idea but, as a regular habit, could easily wear out a friendship. On the other hand, I suppose those borrowed and well-worn objects would stand out against all the tidiness, so they'd be returned promptly?

However, looking around me here, I'd have to agree with that Jane Graves quotation. I do have rather a lot of "memories."

By the way. love the look of your "My Daddy is a Silly Monkey" book. Congratulations on the new title - and on having a new clutter-box.

Natasha Mostert said...

Lovely, lovely post. And of course the University in Texas Austin will be desperate to have your manuscript! Do they know it is available? In truth, this made me quite nostalgic for the days when we were Fedexing clumsy manuscripts back and forth with hand-written comments from our editors in blue marker. These days the final manuscripts no longer show any of those fingerprints so why would one want to keep such bland documents anyway? But the others you have to keep...

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Well, one was shredded and has been binned already. But you are right. They do have the fingerprints of our work. They were truly 'toiled' over as opposed to a quick digital fix. Almost like those old family recipes books with their flimsy stuck in paper and covered in brown freckles of old cake mix!

CarolThompson said...

As an illustrator too - my boxes are even bigger Di! Endless storyboards, roughs, less rough, refined sketches - and there's the final srtwork..... The hand written comments from editor and designer lend a real sense of time and place to each book - they really were 'toiled over'.

Looking forward to a box marked 'Storm Dragons' Di

Loved your piece. Bring on MAY 4th!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Thank you to my lovely illustrator! I know just how much they were ' toiled' over. But that's what is the mark of a true illustrator... as all they show is not the 'toil' but a fresh impromptu spontaneity.

Stroppy Author said...

I so agree - very hard to throw away the evidence that we did all the work on our books. I need a really serious declutter. I have even budgeted £100 for petrol going to and from the recycling centre (about the cost of a skip, but will shift far more stuff for the same cost). It just never seems quite critical enough. Still, I don't want to end up as one of those old poeple living in a warren of piled boxes of papers until eventually they collapse and the corpse isn't found for three weeks. There must be a comfortable path between memory-austerity and death-by-boxes.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Oh Stroppy Author you've made me laugh this am. Death by boxes!

Crystal Warren said...

Dear Dianne

Please don't throw away your manuscripts! And PLEASE don't send them to an American archive. There is a South African literary museum that would be thrilled to have your papers.

We are in the final stages of a new exhibition, and original manuscripts, drafts, artworks and other documents have been used in the research and the display. The museum has recently moved to a brand new building, where the collections are housed in secure, custom-designed storage areas, with space for exhibitions and visiting researchers.

If you wish your papers to be preserved for posterity, please consider sending them to NELM.