The Queen’s English

Posted on September 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

The SYP’s press officer, Naomi Holt, talks to Anna Marx, Editor at Michael O’Mara Books about her experiences working on a book about the English language.


Did you enjoy editing The Queen’s English?

It was a fantastic challenge for a young editor. I enjoyed getting my teeth stuck into a language-based book offering definitive guidelines to its readership. Frustrating and stimulating in equal measure, the process was very rewarding.


What challenges did you face when editing the book? 

The initial challenge was establishing a relationship with the author, Dr Bernard Lamb, who is president of the Queen’s English Society. Being a young editor myself, I quickly had to overcome any uncertainties I may have felt over my relative level of expertise and have the courage of my convictions. The editing process, of course, presented its challenges, but working with the author these were overcome.  


How long was the process of editing the book?

The manuscript was delivered in April and went to the designer in June. There were some structural changes to be made after the first proofs came in, but most of the editing was done in roughly six weeks.


Was it a rewarding process?

It was a real learning curve; an ‘I used to know that’ of English grammar. A lot of the rules governing syntax and punctuation become second nature and I found I couldn’t always articulate the reasoning behind them. Editing this book was as much an informative experience as an instructive one.   


How closely did you work with the author?

We met a couple of times but were in regular communication over email, working through structural changes as well as to-ing and fro-ing over areas about which we disagreed. I enjoyed the opportunity to work with Bernard and he’s invited me to speak at a future Queen’s English Society meeting so he mustn’t think I’m too awful!


How did your career at Michael O’Mara begin? And how did you work up to becoming an editor?

It was all quite fortuitous, really. I arrived at O’Mara on a two-week work experience placement and, in my second week, a job came up as an administrative assistant in the company post room. This was a fantastic opportunity for a young graduate to get a feel for the business. I expressed an interest in editorial from the beginning and was offered some proofreading and research tasks. I think my enthusiasm paid off and I was invited to join the editorial department three months later.


Tell us a bit more about how you got into ediorial.

For me it was a combination of eagerness and simply being in the right place at the right time. I was lucky enough to start my career in a company which involves even its most junior employees in ideas meetings and which offers opportunities for personal development. I made it clear I was interested in the editorial department and was given some work to do by the Editorial Director. In my three-month appraisal I was offered the opportunity to join the department as Editorial Assistant and have worked my way up from there.


What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into editorial?

Show willing – if you are on a work experience placement, throw yourself into any task you are given. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make it clear which area you are interested in. Talk to people and find out what they do – you never know who might be able to give you a helping hand.  


Did you find The Queen’s English more challenging than other projects that you’ve taken on in the past?

It was certainly daunting to be editing a book claiming to be a guide to good English. But I also found it challenging because the content was important to me. I think it’s vital that we observe the rules that govern our language, if not merely for clarity and precision then so that we can break them when we want to.