The Hermione factor

Like many people, I have read all the Harry Potter books. I remember very well reading the first one beside a swimming pool on the Greek Island of Samos and being unwilling to put it down for trivial matters such as eating, going to the loo and playing with the kids in the pool. As long as the drinks kept coming, I kept reading. Was it great literature? Well, probably not. But I’m not going to debate that here because actually it’s not that relevant. For whatever reason, the Harry Potter phenomenon has been a gargantuan success.

I had been sceptical in the extreme about even starting to read “Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone”. I was already late getting to it. It was first released in the UK in June 1997 and I was reading it in July 2000. The hype was building and I just had to see what it was all about. Of course, I had to keep it hidden behind a towel – after all it was a kid’s book!

But I was hooked and read it in two days. What was it about the book that made it so un-putdown-able? Well, apart from anything else, it was incredibly easy to read: The eyes scanned, the brain interpreted and the cinema in your mind played back the images with very little effort on the readers’ part.

Except for one thing…

Hermione

How the hell did you pronounce her name?

Now you may be nodding in agreement. Or you could be saying “how could he be so thick”. But unfortunately I had never met anyone called Hermione. So every time I got to her name – and it’s written, I guess, several hundred times – I stumbled. My synapses were sparking aimlessly; the film reel spun from its spool and the cinema lights came on.

Hermy-oh-knee?

Hermy-wun?

And it wasn’t till some weeks later while discussing Harry Potter with friends at the pub (as you do), that one of them said “Hermione” the way it was supposed to be pronounced. And I didn’t know who she was talking about having finally settled for Hermy-oh-knee.

Of course, thanks to the movies, we all know how it should be pronounced. And you probably knew too didn’t you. Well, I bet you didn’t…

So now, when I’m editing books ready for publication, of course I’m looking for the spelling and grammatical mistakes; the bits where the spell-checker guesses the wrong word; the formatting. But most of all, I’m looking for the “Hermione Factor”. Descriptions, events, dialogue that don’t quite work; turn the cinema lights on and block the direct line from printed word to visual image. We want our readers to be engrossed without coming up for air; to enjoy the experience; to tell us they liked our books and come back for more.

I have just finished editing a novel by Peter Carroll entitled “In Many Ways”. It begins:

The white transit van pulled up outside the warehouse – a high pitched squeal indicative of dirty brakes. A fine mist of rain hung like grey net curtains, and the clouds obscured any hope of celestial illumination. The headlights split the dark dampness, moisture swirling, glinting and twisting in the beams as if held inside two recently shaken, elongated snow globes. This brightening was brief, and the removal of the ignition key soon restored the murk.

No Hermione moments there. And it’s a great description of dark happenings on a rainy night in Glasgow. It was great working with Peter as he was open minded when I outlined the (few) Hermione moments. One fine example was that much of the dialogue was in Glasgow-phonetic text: Instantly understandable by your average Glaswegian. But it’s a big world book market out there and to my (English) mind this style interrupted the flow too much. So Peter has toned it down. Enough to give the reader the Scottish flavour but still rendering it eminently readable.

“In Many Ways” is now published on Amazon Kindle” (See link on the right). We think we’ve done a good job. We’d love to hear what you think.

Dave Lyons