Over my dead body...

One of the joys of working in publishing, especially on the editorial side, is working with people. By this I mean working specifically with people who write; people who are creative. When I worked full time at OUP as an assistant editor and then just as a plain old editor, I worked with a myriad of wonderful characters who are still very much alive in my memory. They all had something in common: a desire to pass on knowledge and a desire to tell a story.


Once I left full-time work and became a freelancer, seventeen years ago, I missed that close relationship that I used to have with 'my' authors. As an editor, I'd be assigned projects from the point of commissioning to publication, which could stretch over years in the non-lexical reference department (ten years if your name is Alan Davidson), and those books, and their authors, would become my own for all that time.


Starting Hobeck has allowed me to foster relationships again, such as those I used to have when I was at OUP. I have authors again and I love it. Of course, there are differences. The Hobeck authors write about crime rather than non-lexical reference, but they have essentially the same passions and desires: the desires to write and the desire to tell a story. I feel very fortunate to be in this business again. I am rather fond and feel weirdly protective of our stable of authors and it hasn't yet been a year.


Working with creative and intelligent people at OUP made for a colourful working life. I have many wonderful memories of my authors back then. There was the author of a book about Western art who shouted down the phone to me that he would have a naked woman on his book's jacket 'over my dead body'. Then there was the author who delivered his manuscript on scraps of paper stapled together even though floppy disks were a thing by then (guess who had to make three photocopies of this 1,000-page mostly handwritten tome on her first day at work?). There was also the author of Britain's Historic Railway Buildings: An Oxford Gazetteer of Structures and Sites who would regularly disappear incommunicado off in his caravan (to view railway stations of interest), usually when I needed him to read his proofs. Another author almost caused me to give birth in the OUP café (I was nine months pregnant at the time so not far off that point) by leaping in the air and shouting a four-letter expletive loud enough to alert the other coffee drinkers. What had made him swear so? I had suggested that he might want to revise his manuscript, a little. Finally, I remember most fondly of all the lovely Betsy Livingstone, author of The Oxford Dictionary to the Christian Church, third edition, which was 1840 page long (Lewis Hastings, you have a long way to go to beat that). Betsy was an elderly scholar, very small in stature yet mighty in her intelligence and powers of persuasion. Once every few months she would invite me over to her Oxford College flat for a three course meal, cooked up by herself, washed down with sweet wine and port. Once a little tipsy, Betsy would lure me into her study to convince me of the necessity of making a number of urgent corrections to her dictionary (mostly to declare recently deceased vicars). I'd say yes, every time.


I am hoping the Hobeck authors will provide me with more anecdotes to add to my Mary Poppins bag for my grandchildren and great grandchildren. I think what I will tell them, at least based on this first twelve months, is that the Hobeck authors brighten up my day and give me reason to love my work. They do. I do. (At least so far...) I can't wait to get them all together, when this covid madness is over. We will have one hell of a party (without the sweet wine and port though perhaps).

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