I had written a story for children, so I rushed round to the National Publishing Office and asked for the editor in charge of children’s books. A man of about forty-five years old got up from behind his desk and smiled warmly. When he heard what I was there for he pumped my hand and gushed with enthusiasm.
I am delighted to meet you. You’ve written specially for children! Super! Absolutely splendid. You know, most serious writers nowadays neglect children’s writing. It does not have enough prestige for them. They only think of adults. They all want to do the Great Novel. But children’s writing can be as fine as any writing, if really talented people, such as yourself, give it their full attention. I think it is a desperately undervalued art.
“What have you written? A story? How charming. I shall read it myself with great interest, I promise you, and I’ll personally see to it that you get my response without any delay. Ring me on Monday. About 2:30 p.m.” I counted the minutes over the weekend and at last it was Monday. I hung on, and at half past two exactly I rang him.
He answered the telephone himself. I asked him whether my story was going to be published. His voice was very encouraging.
I can’t comment on your story right at this moment I am afraid,” he said.
"Drop by my office next week and we’ll have time to... you know, bat our ideas around, go into it all fully, sort everything out and agree what needs to be done, together. Alright? Splendid!”
I counted the minutes for another week. On the appointed day and the appointed hour, I presented myself at his office and asked once again about the fate of my story.
I consulted a specialist in agriculture,” he said. “We both agree that there is still some wrok to be done on this story. There are most serious gaps. I’m sure you can rewrite it to our satisfaction, however.”
Agriculture?” I gasped. “Why a specialist in agriculture? It’s got nothing to do with agriculture. I’t a story about children, in a city...”
Ah, but your hero,” he interrupted, “goes into the neighbour’s garden, twice, to pick apricots.”
"So what?” I was puzzled.
"Well, in your story, you have said nothing at all about the vitamins present in apricots! I mean, B1, B2, B14, not to mention the mineral traces! Stewed apricots provide iron for the blood and phosphorous for strengthening the endocrine system, which protects against liver disease.
“The least you could have done would have been to point out, so that the dimmest child could have not failed to get the message, that eating dried apricots throughout the winter months, twice a day, gives the body the chemical reserves to combat several kinds of damaging bacterial infection.
“I don’t think that you take your responsibilities! The fate of the young is in your hands! Don’t you want the next generation to grow up straight and healthy? Well then. This is important, isn’t it?
“And another thing,” he went on. “Children love jam. But in your story there is nothing, not a word, anywhere about apricot jam. I’m astonished! I mean, you must know its beneficial properties. It’s a tragedy,” he said, shaking his head sadly.
“So what should I do?” I asked.
“Include the points I mentioned,” he said, “In two or three weeks time, we’ll have another look at it. Okay?”
I went back once or twice a month to see the senior children’s book editor. He kept asking for changes. Five long years dragged by, my story grew to the length of a blockbuster novel, and he still was not satisfied. Of the young people I wrote the story for, some are now in university, some have got married, have children of their own...
Yesterday, I went back to the editor’s office. He had gone. There was no trace of him. The secretary in reception told me he had been transferred.
“Where to?” I asked.
“The Ministry of Agriculture,” she said.
- by Haroon Yousofi