This is a difficult one to write.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I decided I needed to get my books a re-edit. I’d rewritten bits, added scenes and generally jiggled things about and I wanted someone to go over them. Someone who knew the things I didn’t know like what sized dash to use when and when to use a semi-colon and when to use a colon. I needed a gimlet-eyed grammar spud and the fellow I usually used wasn’t around.
As I pondered whether to wait or find a second editor a post about editing appeared on a blog I follow. I’d give you a link but it isn’t there anymore. After a brief comment saying I thought I needed a line edit and a proof read someone popped up in the comments saying I might not. She said her name was Kate and what she said made a lot of sense. She thought what I might need was just an edit. After a brief conversation in the comments she suggested we moved the conversation to email. She said she was a professional editor and would happily look at some chapters and let me know what needed doing. I said I doubted I could afford her. She said.
‘I’m actually dirt cheap. But I wasn’t offering to work for you, I was saying I would look at something for free and give you a pro opinion.’
So I sent her a chunk – the first ten chapters, I think. She came back with an evaluation, along the lines of, ‘the story is interesting, don’t touch this, this and this it’s fine but I think you should probably fix this and this, and usually that is done like so …’ etc. She asked me a whole raft of questions about how I’d want to hyphenate compound words and other stuff that just wouldn’t have crossed my radar, explaining that I’d need to think about these things so they were always done the same way.
You know how sometimes, when you talk to someone, and you can just tell, at once, that they know what they’re doing? It was like that. I decided to hire her. If she’d agree to work for me. I couldn’t afford her but she was prepared to work in instalments which meant I then could. I asked the author friend who ran the blog where I ‘met’ her if he knew anything about her. Turned out she edited his books and he recommended her highly, so I asked her if she’d work on mine. To my delight, because I’d corresponded with her enough to be pretty sure she was an all round good egg, by now, she agreed.
To start with, she asked me more questions. This took a while and it became evident, very early on, that she had a similarly sarcastic sense of humour to me. She was funny, wise and incredibly kind with her comments – as well as perceptive. Her emails always started with – ‘I like this’ or ‘this was good,’ before she asked for clarification on something that didn’t make sense or suggested a change. She was completely gimlet eyed on continuity and was impressed that I could email her straight back with answers to her questions about the worlds we were working in. I was impressed, in turn, that someone as smart as her could be impressed by anything my brain did!
Kate was absolutely honest, she would not stint in telling you what she thought of something, whether it was bad or good but she could deliver the direst verdict and leave your pride and your feelings in tact. You knew exactly where you were with her. We we spent the next eighteen months exchanging emails most weeks as she sorted me out with a house style for the K’Barthan things and fixed my books. She could make me laugh out loud so the whole process was a complete gas and she was even unfazed when she received an email from my cat.
When we were done, she spent another few months wading through my newly completed book at the time, Escape From B-Movie Hell, then it was the K’Barthan omnibus. She continued to ask a myriad of questions, sought clarification on continuity issues and wrestled with those pesky compound words. All the while she quietly worked her editorial alchemy on my writing so that, without my actually being able to see how she’d done it, she turned my books from not bad to good. I pointed this out and she said,
‘To me, a good editor takes something, makes it better and people don’t realise what has been done, just that it is easy to read.’
She did the same thing for my confidence in my ability, too, because if someone that astute that smart and that mentally agile thinks your stuff is good then you can’t help but believe it is.
Among the talk about the projects in hand, the conversation ranged from pets to cars, to passing (or failing) the pencil test, Christmas, broken down cars, growing vegetables, adopting dogs (her) and cats (me). It really didn’t feel like work at all – I hope it didn’t for her either – yet all the while the project would move quietly onwards, despite the best efforts of fate, power cuts and other sundry disturbances of Gibraltese/Spanish (her) or British (me) life.
Frankly once she’d edited pretty much anything I’d written, and I had nothing new ready, I got serious withdrawal symptoms from our regular contact. But at the same time, we still exchanged regular chats on our respective blogs and as I knew she was working hard editing stuff for other people I tried not to pester her too often unless I stumbled upon something that I thought would really make her laugh.
However, after trouble with the Spanish power companies, she and Adrian, her partner, had to go off grid. So for some weeks the blog went quiet while she researched solar panels, gas fridges, windmills etc. I was therefore delighted when, six months or so after our completing work on the K’Barthan Box Set, I finally finished a short story. We started on it in July and I went on holiday, delighted that we’d be spending a month or so working on it together when I got back. But that was not to be. While I was away, Kate died, suddenly and unexpectedly.
Reading back our correspondence a few days after hearing the news, I found myself crying and laughing at the same time. I am so gutted that she is gone but at the same time, it struck me that I am also incredibly lucky to have worked with someone so multi-faceted, so interesting, such a genuinely good soul. Kate had principles, and she lived by them. I also try to console myself that, though she has gone, she lives on in the books she edited and the reviews she wrote. She is still vibrant and alive on her blog, Roughseasinthemed and in the many comments she wrote on the blogs of others. And she lives on in the hearts of all the people who were touched by her generosity of spirit and all round brilliance.
RIP, Kate Jackson. And thank you.