In her recent review of Patrick McCabe’s latest novel, The Stray Sod Country, I was struck by Joanna Briscoe’s concluding remarks: ‘The Stray Sod Country does not possess the sustained, addictive darkness of McCabe’s finest work. It would accomplish more if its ramshackle meanderings were more tightly focused, yet to impose shape or editorial intervention upon such an explosive imagination would be useless and even destructive.’

These comments interested me for a number of reasons. In the first place, I assume an editor was involved in the publishing process. But what kind of input can and should an editor have in the case of an author whose books are as successful and dictinctive as McCabe’s? Is it really impossible for an editor to make a useful contribution to work of this calibre?

I was reminded of the late Iris Murdoch (above), who has been described as ‘a perfectionist who did not allow editors to change her text’. That always sounded to me like a contradiction in terms; if anything, a good editor can help an author get closer to the perfect text.