July 12, 2010

Er . . . Ask Robin


Okay, you guys, your mission, should you decide to accept it, is that you have to NAG ME about Ask Robin.  I keep forgetting.  Things like bells keep driving it out of my mind.*  And I already know the answers to questions about me, you know?**   It’s not like I’m burning to think about this stuff.  But I’m happy to get some blog entries out of people’s questions.  So if I haven’t done an Ask Robin for a while, nag me. 

 My favourite question so far: 

Okay, I feel odd about asking this question. It’s not the sort of question that I would normally ask, so here’s the background. My 8 year old nephew has decided to start reading “The Hero and the Crown”. It’s still a year or two early for him, so he’s having a bit of a hard time of it (his mom and I both hope he’ll pick it up again in a few years), but he’s wanting to read it and has made it most of the way through the book. In our conversation about it, the subject of your car somehow came up (“somehow” is not the right word; when he was 2 1/2 he was saying things to us like, “Hey, did you guys just see that Black Ford Ranger drive by?… Wow! That was such a cool Hudson Hornet!!” My nephew is obsessed with cars…). He doesn’t really use the internet (although he had a fun time looking at pictures of Chaos and Darkness, along with your roses; his family has quite a garden, and he loves watching me feed their roses), so it was worked out that I would write and ask you about the make and model (and heck, let’s say color, too) of your car. I don’t know if this is a question that ANY of your other readers will have, but at least it’s a short question and he would be very excited to get an answer from you, so I figured I’d ask. 

1965 cream-coloured MGB roadster.  Cutest car ever made.***  Of course she has wire wheels.

I also have to sell her—protracted, heartbroken sob—because since Peter pretty much doesn’t drive any more there’s no excuse for a second car—and there’s no way I’m ever going to get the hellhounds into her.   I never quite got the whippets into her either, but I could have, and was always going to get around to dog . . . not dog proofing, exactly, more like dogifying . . . what passes for a back seat in a B.  Or rather I was going to get around to asking Atlas to do it for me. 

            But that didn’t happen.  And now I have hellhounds and a (almost) non-driving husband.  And my poor MGB has been sitting in the garage for two years because I keep not quite bringing myself to do the deed.  Siiiiiiigh.

            So the honest answer to your question is, 15-year-old Volkswagen Golf.  And through the mud, the mould, the dents and the scratches, I think he still counts as red.  And much beloved, in the way that the teddy bear with all its fur worn off and only one eye left is beloved. 

 And this is the question no one has ever asked me before, and I’ve been waiting for seven years: 

I had to replace my copy of Sunshine after a friend loved the copy I loaned her so much she passed it on, rather than back, so, I ended up with the American paperback edition whereas before I had the British one. 

I realised that the song that Sunshine sings to keep herself, well, herself, when she’s locked up with Constantine near the start of the book is different in the two editions – the American one has a couple of lines of “You are my sunshine” while the British one has “The cup of your hands holds my sunshine/The curve of your arms is my sunshine”, with thanks to the lovely forum posters for confirmation. 

My question, and sorry it took so long to get here, is why are there different songs? I know that a lot of books have different versions for UK and US editions with respective spellings and some cultural touchstones altered, but I would have thought that “you are my sunshine” is pretty universal, or at least transatlantic? Also, where does the British song come from? Apologies if this is a pedantic question, it comes from a deep, deep love for the book. 

Well, it doesn’t sound pedantic to me—and as I say, I’ve been waiting since the book came out for someone to ask me about it.  I guess the British/American line gets crossed less often than I think—or that most people are too sensible (or too broke) to go around collecting variant editions.†  I’m sorry to say however that the answer is profoundly unromantic:  it has to do with the ‘fair usage’ business—what and how much you can quote of copyrighted material.  I don’t now remember why two lines of a song are okay in America but not in Britain, but I do remember that it was represented to me very strongly that this was the case.  I kicked and screamed—that song had always occupied that place in the story, even from earliest days when SUNSHINE was still a short story, and was also one of the first songs I ever learnt when I was a kid.  I was extremely loath to give up the homage of using those two lines of it.  But I had to.  Which left a nasty symbolic hole in the story.

            We’d tried various ways of eliding it:  you could just leave the lyrics out;  they aren’t necessary for the meaning or the plot.  But I wanted two lines of something that looked like a song in that spot.  The two song-like lines that appear in the British edition aren’t a song however—I wrote them, and that’s all there is.  I can remember staring at the blank piece of paper and thinking, come on, McKinley, it’s only two lines.  I could have applied to Peter, who is a Verse Machine†† as well as a Plot Factory†††, but for some reason I didn’t. 

            I acknowledge however that those two lines are a bit like notes to a story you will write some day;  I know there’s more.  I don’t know much else, other than that it’s a love song—it had to be a love song—but now that I compose a little‡ those two lines do drift across my mind occasionally in a tantalising sort of way.  Hmmmmm. 

* * *

* Note:  I have my band for Sunday’s quarter peal.^  By stealth and cunning I mercilessly tracked my last victim down at Old Eden practise tonight.  Well, maybe not exactly stealth:  she saw me coming and said yes before I opened my mouth.  Colin had warned her I was armed and dangerous—I having started my gruelling odyssey yesterday by finding my conductor, as Vicky the Latest on My List of Evil Ratbags suggested.  And that would be Colin.^^ 

^ Eeeeeep. 

^^ Niall doesn’t conduct tower quarters.  Hmmmmmmm.  Maybe I could return a few favours by nagging him about this.  Mwa ha ha ha ha.    

** Or if I don’t, I’m probably In Denial and won’t answer those questions anyway. 

*** Although I wouldn’t throw an XK120 out of bed.  

† I had a lot of Peter’s books in both English and American editions before I married him. 

†† He wrote the lyrics to the lullaby in PEGASUS, for example. 

††† See:  how the ELEMENTALS series came to be. 

‡ When frelling PEG II will let me


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