If you’re looking for someone who not only loves books, but who also knows publishing from the inside, you’ve come to the right place.
After spending a year at university in Germany, I earned my passage home as the ‘native-English’ proofreader for the Festschrift of a retiring professor of English, and among many other interesting articles had the privilege to work on a contribution by Umberto Eco. The thrill of that, followed by becoming a bookseller back home in Edinburgh, set me on the path to a lifelong career in publishing.
I’ve been continuously freelance since the mid-1990s, often while working in-house for a publisher, or elsewhere. I find it stimulating and satisfying work, and love working closely with authors, whether it’s on a novel or a memoir or something more formal or business-facing. I work for a variety of publishers – educational, academic and reference (e.g. Chambers, Harrap, Hodder, Collins, Leckie & Leckie, Edinburgh University Press) as well as trade (e.g. Canongate, Birlinn, Mainstream, Stirling Publishing, Sandstone Press) – and with a growing number of individual writers who are seeking help with their writing projects, are self-publishing or are preparing their work for submission to agents and publishers. I also present talks and workshops on publishing and the editorial process – and am always happy to visit groups and organisations to provide advice and training (contact me if you’d like to find out more).
During a period when I was freelancing full time, Canongate asked if I could help out in-house for a while, and shortly afterwards I became their Managing Editor. Managing the editorial work on their wide range of titles, both fiction and narrative non-fiction, and working closely with all the other departments, from production to marketing to rights, as well as their brilliant authors and freelancers, I learnt a great deal about trade publishing. I enjoyed the hands-on editorial work here the most, so after four years I decided to return to doing that full-time as a freelancer. I’ve continued to work on Canongate titles freelance since then – always a delight.
My career started at this Edinburgh-based dictionary and reference publisher, where I began as editorial assistant, and I worked there off and on throughout the 1990s, both in-house and freelance. It was the ideal place to train – they did almost everything in-house, and I got the chance to work as an editor, electronic editor, typesetter and project manager. When I left (temporarily, as it turned out) to travel and go back to uni, they also trusted me with freelance proofreading, research and writing work, and I continued to manage projects for them into the 2010s, after operations moved to London. I still like to refer to their dictionaries (including the online version), which contain useful – actually, fascinating – etymological information.
During one of my periods of travelling in the 1990s, I found myself in London and worked at Websters, with a wonderful team, on the British edition of Microsoft’s Encarta. It was rigorous work and honed my proofreading eye. This was my first experience of electronic publishing, as Encarta was CD-only, so I learned how to work with mark-up languages – SGML in this case, a predecessor to XML (which I later used a lot at Chambers) and related in some respects to HTML. When I left to do an Information Management and Librarianship diploma at Strathclyde University, Websters gave me the freelance task of researching and writing bibliographies for Encarta – and were very patient as I learned how to do this on the job!
I worked here between 2010 and 2015 on a contract funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). My role was attached to the brand new John Gray Centre (JGC) in Haddington – a heritage hub for East Lothian. Part of my remit was to manage the creation, development and content for the JGC website – I particularly love the way the heritage catalogues are integrated with an online map search, which also has historic maps shared by the National Library of Scotland and the British Library (check it out here – try typing in your postcode to see what archaeology is in your area, if you live in East Lothian or Midlothian!) I also worked with schools and local groups, creating and delivering resources for varied audiences both on-site and online (see for instance the Talking Museum, inspired by the Talking Newspapers scheme for visually impaired people). If you have a collaborative creative project relating to a museum or gallery that you’d like some help with, do get in touch!
I used the electronic/digital publishing and project management skills gained at Chambers and Websters to manage a Heritage Lottery Funded (HLF) project to digitise and put online collections from within the library. This formed the start of the Library’s wonderful online offering, which you can find here and on SCRAN.
I was part of the first group to do this postgraduate degree (graduating in 2017 after doing it part-time) – which was also the world's first postgraduate Masters in Fantasy. It was a delight as well as an education, covering a variety of themes (from women’s fantasy to children’s, Gothic and urban, among others) and ranging from the Romantic era right up to the present day, taking in Neil Gaiman and GRR Martin as well as the usual suspects (Tolkien!) I fell in love with Hope Mirrlees’ brilliant 1926 novel, Lud-in-the-Mist, and ended up focusing my dissertation on it, and its treatment of themes that have since – and perhaps always – been essential for Fantasy’s exploration of the importance of imagination, freedom and art.
I did this degree because I particularly enjoy working on fiction as an editor, and Fantasy fiction in particular. If you are writing or publishing Fantasy or speculative fiction, do get in touch to discuss your project.
Practical and useful!
This degree gave me the opportunity to study at the University of Regensburg in Bavaria (Germany) for a year, enabling me to do some primary research and face-to-face interviews for my history dissertation (on the Church in the community, under Nazism). The literature aspect of the course fed my growing interest in Fantasy, with its focus on pre-genre writers like ETA Hoffmann (author of ‘The Nutcracker’, among many other classic fantastical tales), Goethe (Faust) and Kafka (‘Metamorphosis’). It also, ultimately, gave me my first taste of working in publishing …
I am keen to keep my skills sharp and up-to-date, and regularly do training courses on publishing and various other skills. Most recently I have completed courses run by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (Efficient Editing and Proofreading Progress).