The Devil in the Detail

Lazy DevilThree weeks on and our house is still in ‘a state of mess’ as our five year old grandson so eloquently put it. We have decamped to our bedroom where we have spent the last week, the lounge no longer fit for human habitation. Everywhere is covered with a layer of dust that no matter how much you clean manages to replicate itself like an alien species, even before the damp duster has time to dry. We have no central heating, as most of the radiators are hanging off the wall now waiting to be replaced in about a month’s time. Our current source of heat is a small fan heater, wisely purchased to prevent hypothermia setting in, and the only saving grace a reduction to our usually astronomical gas bill. Small mercies!

What started out as a simple job to replace old windows has turned into a nightmare of epic proportions, with that light at the end of the proverbial tunnel still not ready to reveal itself. We have discovered, since my last little rant, that our wall cavities were blocked with discarded render from an earlier plastering job and this was a probable cause of the damp. Result = time extension & more expense.

Then, once the plaster had been removed on the wall around the lounge window, we discovered crumbling bricks and yet more construction problems. Result = time extension and even more expense.

It has certainly been an exercise in patience, but I reassure myself that the end results will be worth it.

The one thing that has tried my patience though is the lack of care most tradesmen exercise when working in your home. We have had a complete overhaul of our 1920s semi over the years (though you wouldn’t think so if you saw it at the moment – the plumber thought we’d only just moved in), and invariably in carrying out one job, another is created by their carelessness. From this job alone, we have sustained chips and gouges to the banister, skirting and new oak window sills, nails protruding proud from a skirting where there once wasn’t any , this being the plasterer’s method of reattaching it to the wall (in two halves I might add when it used to be one strip). Part of the vent to one of the newly installed window has been snapped off, and we have adhesive all over our laminated bedroom floor that is refusing to budge. There are other injuries, but I fear you may lose the will to live reading about them.

He has offered to repair the faults we have highlighted (he doesn’t know about all of them yet, or at least he hasn’t made us aware that he knows), but we are loathe to let him should he cause further damage in the process. Unfortunately, this has taken the shine off what would have been a good plastering job and it proves that old adage: The Devil is in the detail.

At the risk of boring you with yet another metaphorical rambling, could the same not be said of writing? A well-constructed story can fail to impress if grammatically unsound, or poorly punctuated. (Although it doesn’t seem to have done Hilary Mantel any harm. She appears to have reinvented English grammar for her own use, with more colons on a page than stars in a dark night sky, and there must have been a shortage of quotation marks on her edit for Wolf Hall, it seems she was told to use them sparingly: ‘You won’t need them for every dialogue, Hilary. With the level of literacy these days, Joe Public will never know the difference.’

Far be it from me to profess myself as an expert. I’m sure anyone proficient in the art of English grammar could pick holes in my offerings. We all make mistakes and even after several readings of the same piece you can still miss a glaring error, but a piece of work littered with typos is really off-putting. Your first reaction is: Have they read this before releasing it to the world? Then you may erroneously surmise the author has no pride in their work, taking little care in how it’s presented.

My husband works in the field of IT and has previously commented about the variety of documents, produced by so called professionals, that bear a range of different fonts when sections are copied and pasted from other documents. The contextual positioning of these inclusions may not sit well because of a different tense or little introduction to the point being made. In these cases the author has obviously failed to take the time to edit their work before submission. A poor format not only looks amateurish, it makes the written piece less inviting and more difficult to read.

As we are forever being told, many competition entries are disqualified without ever being read because they haven’t abided by the rules of presentation and I’m sure in the event of a tie-break, the one with the least amount of grammatical errors will come out on top.

So a word to all craftsmen everywhere: Attention to detail is an essential part of the finished product; neglect it at your peril.

Image credit: derocz / 123RF Stock Photo

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2 Responses to The Devil in the Detail

  1. Rosemary says:

    Gosh, what a long post, Julie! Your comment about workmen from one trade causing problems requiring you to call in workmen from another trade reminded me of Flanders and Swann’s ‘The Gasman cometh’.

    Your IT-working husband’s comments about use of different fonts and styles within documents struck a chord with me too. One of the banes of my work life is supposedly helpful documents and templates supplied by our management (and also from outside, from bodies like Edexcel) which are very badly set up, with text-boxes, tables and – worst of all – lines and lines of returns, which make perfect sense when you’re designing a blank form, but not when you’re filling it in.

    Regarding Hilary Mantel, I read ‘Wolf Hall’ some years ago, although I have not yet worked up the courage to tackle ‘Bring Up the Bodies’. I cannot remember being aware of bad grammar, although I do remember that her sentence structures were very long involved, with lots of semi-colons. It only goes to show, doesn’t it, that readers look for content, not style. I have been working, through Chapter Seventy-Nine (my writing site), with a member who will help members with editing, and I have learned a great deal. After working through stories with her, my characters and my plot-lines are much more poignant and meaningful than a lot of stuff that I see ‘published’. And that really is not boasting, because there’s a lot of stuff out there that really needs my friend’s help!

    • JWow Admin says:

      Yes, it is quite a ramble. Sorry about the length but thanks for persevering and getting to the end. Chapter Seventy-Nine sounds like it’s really working for you. It’s great to get constructive feedback that helps you feel more confident about your writing skills especially, as you say, when it is hard to fathom why some of the ‘stuff’ out there was accepted for publication in the first place. Perseverance is the key.

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