It’s been five months now since I last did any editing work on the new novel. There is always something else to do – work, the school run, social events, school holidays – but sometimes it feels like too many excuses.

I’ve always loved reading, writing and editing. As a bilingual secretarial student in the 70s, I was trained to edit and summarise articles and reports. While temping, in my spare time I jointly produced a local women’s paper, researching and writing articles about part time working, sexist advertising etc. It was an exciting time and I loved the process, but on applying for jobs employers, including women’s organisations, would look at me and see a secretary – not someone with writing and editing skills. It was disheartening but I never forgot that buzz.

A career as a manager in the charity sector followed and in my early 30s I met a new partner, an author. Over the next 11 years I would edit his novels and plays in my spare time, work that was always thrilling. But the editing work ended when I left him, and I closed the chapter on that part of my life, even though I had really honed my skills by this point. Fast forward another 12 years via marriage, late motherhood, a bruising redundancy and yet more admin work, and I became restless. Happy in my family life, I felt frustrated professionally and longing to be creative again. My child was getting older and more independent. I didn’t know it, but audrey was calling me.

“I felt frustrated professionally and longing to be creative again.”

Back in January, a chance conversation with an old friend led to an opportunity to get back into editing – a new novel by an unpublished author. I didn’t ask for payment, instead seeing the new book as a way of getting back in the saddle, rebuilding my skills and confidence. A couple of tentative emails later and it was in my inbox. Could I still do this – was it even possible to edit via email, never meeting face to face? What if the novel was rubbish?

The novel was, in fact, brilliant, extraordinary – I loved it, but it wasn’t ready to publish. It needed tidying up, attention to continuity, use of language, pace etc. Exactly the stuff I know how to do. It was so exciting to be working on a new, unpublished novel – I would lie awake going over the story in my mind. I was only able to put in a few hours a week, but found myself absorbed in thought about it while I was supposed to be spending time with the family. My head was full of questions. Would the author be offended if I made critical comments? How could I do justice to the work if I didn’t? In the end, I sent my appraisal of the first 60 pages and waited.

“I would lie awake going over the story in my mind.”

After a nail-biting eight days came his reply, saying my feedback was fantastic. Wow. After peeling myself off the ceiling I got back onto it for a few weeks, fitting the editing in around paid work and domestic stuff. But then I had a personal setback, falling and smashing a tooth. My confidence took a knock. It didn’t help that the story had taken a turn that didn’t ring true to me but I went silent rather than raise it with the author. I retreated into myself. Some nasty dental treatments over the summer plus the school summer holidays served as a huge distraction, and I parked the editing work for the duration. I was afraid of falling again, perhaps in more ways than one. I needed some courage.

September came around, and I sent a sheepish email to the author, asking if he would like me to go through the rest of the work. Had I blown it? I’m waiting to find out.

Words: Anita Turning

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