Last week my friend joined the likes of TE Lawrence and Ernest Hemingway when he lost two crucial chapters of the book he's writing.
This concerns me because I was helping with rewrites and editing. In my clumsy way I take a hard copy and on it write in pencil all my corrections, suggestions and lyrical pensées. Pencil notes can be erased and ignored but if they're lost they're gone forever. No copy exists, no carbon, no electronic trace on a memory stick.
You'd think, in the electronic age, that this kind of incident was a thing of the past. TE Lawrence lost the only copy of Seven Pillars of Wisdom at Reading Station. Hemingway claimed his wife, Hadley, lost all his stories and poems at Gare de Lyons in Paris. She'd packed them in a small valise but when she boarded the train to Switzerland the valise was gone.
My friend put my corrected copy of his chapters 34 and 35 in a plastic envelope and zipped it into his backpack. Then, somewhere on the course of three errands he undertook between my study and his home, the impossible happened: chapters 34 and 35 disappeared. He retraced his steps, made phonecalls, asked shopkeepers but nothing was found. Hemingway says Hadley cried for hours. I'll concede my friend was gutted, but you'd think he could manage at least a few salties.
But I then tried to retrace my editing steps. You'd think that a job so technical would be easy to reproduce. It isn't: on this second concentrated pass through my friend's chapters my thoughts were quite different – proving that writing is a thing of the moment. It's marks left in sand just before high tide. Truly, nothing you read is carved in stone.