I’ve just got back from a month in the UK, where I spent my first 30-something years and the first 8 or so of my publishing career. A break of any kind is always good, but it’s especially great when you get a chance to revisit places you love. It was mainly a family-and-friends visit but, being me, I couldn’t help but observe a few things along the way to share on the blog. Here’s what I took from my experiences there this time around.
1. London life seems to suck for lots of people. It’s pretty clear to me that working life has become very pressured for many people in the UK. In London, particularly, the pace of life has picked up even compared to the already quite hectic scene I remember from only a few years ago. It’s scary how stressed people seem to be, at work and in their lives.
An example: a friend gave an example of a typical day commuting on the London Underground. She saw two guys waiting for a train, moving along the platform along with hundreds of other commuters. The first guy thought the next guy wasn’t walking fast enough, so he shouted f-words at him (always a good way to get someone moving, right?). The swearee didn’t take to that very well: cue the punch-up. I’d love to know why the first man was so out-and-out rude but, even without that knowledge, it’s an example of how unpleasant life can be in the big city now. My adopted home town, Adelaide, is more chilled out than stressed out and – so far – the downturn here hasn’t changed that too much. Hope it continues that way.
2. A chance to reconnect and put faces to names. Halfway through the holiday, I had the great pleasure of visiting my former workplace, Cambridge University Press, in the flat-and-beautiful east of England. It’s now 9 years since I started work there as a rookie commissioning editor, and 6 years since I left. I saw many friends and colleagues who had fallen out of my life, or fallen into Facebook-friend status – reconnecting face to face was so good.
I also met the editor who took over the Business list from me back in the mid-2000s, and heard about all the wonderful things she has done to develop the range. I felt a bit like a primary school teacher hearing that her student has later graduated from college with honours: delighted with the student’s achievement but a bit disconnected from the success. It was a real highlight to finally meet the editor in person after several years of friendly emails and Facebook updates. She’s lovely. I’m jealous!
3. A knock on the head. On my last weekend in England, I went to a reunion at my old university – my college is among the most gorgeous in Oxford, and hasn’t changed much in the 18 years since I started there. Of course, a common theme at any reunion is ‘what are you doing now?’ which, after a few goes, I got very good at summing up for my former student colleagues. Not everybody was positive about my choice to become an editor, though, which brought me up pretty sharply. One of my old mates – also an editor, working in London at a glossy magazine – challenged me to explain why I’m not a writer or an academic. ‘I don’t understand,’ he said. ‘Why don’t you do something more fulfilling that uses your brain?’ (Huh?) ‘Um,’ I said, and told him why I love what I do and all the ways it is creative, analytical, and hugely rewarding. OK, I may have protested too much. But I was right.
Later, when the effect of the bubbles had worn off, I thought: I’m sorry that my friend doesn’t feel more positive about the profession we share. But I’m glad that he challenged me on my professional choices, because explaining how I see my working life reminded me of all the pleasures of editing: working with authors, developing materials, mastering gnarly bits of language. The conversation was a knock on the head to remind me that not everybody values editing highly – even within the profession. And that only makes me want to tell more people about why editing is important and worth it.
So, I’m back. Thanks for bearing with me while I was away. And I’ll be writing more fresh content on all things editing and publishing very soon – look out for a new post next weekend.