Well, I have to post (have to) on this subject, because, frankly, I can’t resist the phrase ‘happy to chitty chat’. This came from an article in the New York Times (here) on how no one ever talks on the phone any more: phones are for emails, texts, twitter, but not talking, except, of course, said one interviewee, “Sometimes I call my mother on the way to work because she’ll be happy to chitty chat. But I just can’t think of anyone else who’d want to talk to me.”
My God. I’d always thought I was destined to be an author because no one wants to talk to me — it’s why we become authors, you know, nothing to do with writing ability. If you’re an author, you get to sit alone in a room, and the fact that no one wants to chitty chat (I’m sorry, but it’s so wonderful I’m going to have to repeat it endlessly) — the fact that no one wants to chitty chat is considered to be a bonus.
Indeed, someone said to me recently, ‘Oh, I’ve always thought I’d like to be a writer, but I don’t like to be alone.’ Leaving aside the first part of the sentence, which I hear only 8 times out of 10 when I tell someone what I do (and people wonder why I lie about that?), leaving that aside, the second part reduced me (almost) to stunned silence. You don’t like to be alone, but you’d like to write? And you’re afraid of heights but thought you’d like to clean the windows on the Chrysler Building?
She then went on to say she liked ‘People, colour, movement, diversions’ — I bit back the suggestion that she join the circus, but it did leave me thinking. When I worked in a publishing office, I was, for most of that time, a copy-editor. We sat at long desks, with manuscripts (pre-computer days. Eeek!), pads, pencils and erasers, and we edited. When we finished a manuscript, we’d either sit down face-to-face with the author, or we typed out a list of queries which went in the post. Some time later an answer arrived: scribbles in the margins of our queries, usually, or typed additional sheets. These got put into the MS and off it went. No, or carefully circumscribed, talking necessary.
And it was notable. The rest of the editorial department was very different, it was The Place of Chitty Chat. Indeed, it could be said that Chitty Chat was the function of the editorial, and the marketing, and the publicity departments. So different was copy-editorial that it was rumoured that once a cleaner had gone to the CEO: She didn’t like to interfere, she said, but she thought he should know that the people in that one department never worked: they just sat and read all day.
When I became an editor (briefly: chitty chat never really suited me) I realized that talking all day was what being a commisisoning editor was about: schmoozing agents and authors, having lunch, negotiating contract clauses on the phone, talking talking talking.
Now, it’s clear, no one talks. Contract clauses are negotiated by an exchange of emails. Marketing and publicity plans are laid out the same way. Editorial ‘conversations’ are emailed back and forth.
I’m not much of a chitty-chatter myself, but the idea that no one out there is chatting is, somehow, sad.