In praise of editors... and the Branford Boase Award

UPDATE 1st MARCH - unfortunately after posting this blog post on Feb 16, I learned that I'm not eligible for the Branford Boase Award after all because I'd previously written some first readers. Shame! But I'm leaving this post here, because its sentiments are still true. And it was lovely to be longlisted, however briefly!

So, today’s the day I dust down my poor, long-neglected blog. Why’s that? Because, in the middle of a morning’s work, idly checking Twitter, I learned that I’d been longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2017, for Eden Summer, along with my wonderful editor Bella Pearson – and almost fell off my chair!

I’ve always admired the award, which honours the creative collaboration between editor and author, partly because I've worked on both sides of the equation. I recall working as a copyeditor at Walker Books in 2000 when I heard about the launch of the award. I learned about the two brilliant women for whom the Branford Boase Award is named: Editorial Director and co-founder of Walker Books Wendy Boase, and author Henrietta Branford, both of whom died of cancer in 1999. At that time, I was just starting to learn the editor's skills of copyediting and proofreading. As a very junior member of staff, I was in awe of the senior editors, many of whom had legendary reputations in the industry. And I could feel the sense of grief in the company at the fresh loss of these two women.

So, fast-forward to 2015, when I was lucky enough to work with Bella Pearson at David Fickling Books on my debut novel Eden Summer. From the very first meeting with Bella and David Fickling, I felt understood. Very quickly, Bella showed me that she’d seen the heart of the story I was trying to tell, that she knew and loved my characters, and, most importantly, that she could see how to make the story its very best. In autumn 2015 and into 2016, I worked with Bella to edit Eden Summer. It took several passes, from broader structural rewriting and sometimes painful cutting of unnecessary passages, to the fine-tuning of description and dialogue, and finally to polishing at sentence level, till we were satisfied.

notebook by Sarah Mason

The trust we established at our first meeting was key to everything that came later, I think. Knowing Bella had years of expertise and that she could articulate what I was aiming for, even when I hadn’t pulled it off, meant I had complete faith in her. I was prepared to work harder than ever and keep pushing so that Eden Summer was the best book it could be. Now I’m working with Rosie Fickling at DFB on my next project, and she also has this combination of perception and sensitivity, knowing when I need detailed feedback and when I just need a pep talk.

Authors know how much they owe their editors, for being their champions, their mentors, their confidantes. They feel so grateful to their editors for believing in their work and for helping to make it better. Without our editors, we simply wouldn't have made it to the finish line of publication. But it’s not often that editors are celebrated as publicly and widely as their authors would like. This is why the Branford Boase Award is so beloved and such an honour to be associated with.

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