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August 30, 2012

On the way to work this morning I listened to David Bowie’s great, unreleased studio album, Toys. It’s the record he made before Heathen, and it’s mostly comprised of Bowie revisiting some of his earliest songs, some of them almost forgotten. It’s a fantastic album and I particularly love his new, rocky version of ‘I Dig Everything’.


I’m fascinated by people’s desire to revisit their past creations. It clearly worked for Bowie, but I wonder if this is in part because he was rescuing obscure bits of his back catalogue and not trying to revisit his classics. Kate Bush did a similar thing last year (or was it the year before?) with Director’s Cut, and while I love what she did with some of the songs, others, I felt, were less successful. I adore her original version of ‘This Woman’s Work’, for example, and didn’t feel the new version had the same impact.

It’s not just musicians who feel this need to go back and tinker. I recently watched the newish DVD of Day of the Daleks, and was intrigued after watching the original episodes to take a look at the ‘new, improved’ version with all the extra special effects. While it was undoubtedly impressive, I think on reflection I still prefer the original, in all it’s wobbly glory.

I do understand this impulse, though. These days I find I can hardly look at my earlier books and stories without fighting the urge to toss them across the room in frustration. Sometimes I find myself wanting to go back and rework them and improve them. I never have, though, despite scrawling notes and amendments in the margins of finished copies. I always end up deciding my time would be better spent working on new things, looking forward instead of over my shoulder.

What do you think? Should authors ever consider going back and revisiting their earlier works with a red pen?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark Hodder permalink
    August 30, 2012 1:37 pm

    Generally, I’m a never look back kinda guy, but with THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF SPRING HEELED JACK, which was my debut novel, if it was ever to be re-issued, perhaps as an omnibus with its two sequels, I’d welcome the opportunity to do a “special revised edition.” Two reasons: I see it as stylistically faulted compared with my more recent work; and, when I wrote it, I never knew it would be the first of a trilogy, so I’d love to be able to enhance the foreshadowing (and add more of it).

    • August 30, 2012 1:51 pm

      Yeah, I feel the same way about The Affinity Bridge. I’d love to give it a polish and increase the links to the arc that develops later in the series.

      I think Ghosts of Manhattan would benefit from a couple of extra chapters, too, introducing the main bad guy a bit earlier into the plot.

  2. August 30, 2012 1:40 pm

    I tend to agree with the desire to hurl past works across the room… That being said, I would love the time to go back and re-work past stories, because of everything that I have learned since writing it. The new techniques of storytelling, the new grammatical skills…The changes in character or plot that I may have thought would make the story that much better. However, I worry about never feeling like it is complete. At what point do I consider it finished? I suppose that is a occupational danger, being able to identify that the story has been polished as much as it possibly can must be a killer skill to have.

  3. August 30, 2012 2:08 pm

    With my Who stuff, I wish Mark and I had the same chance the writers of the classic TV show did and go back and do a novelisation. Especially true of Project: Lazarus – so much I’d play around with, especially in the McCoy episodes…

    • August 30, 2012 6:50 pm

      Cav – I’d love to read a novelisation of the Forge stories. More Forge stuff, please! Write a novelisation of an episode that was never made, without the Doctor… 😉

      • August 30, 2012 9:07 pm

        Funny you should say that…

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