Stet: A Memoir

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Stet: A Memoir

Post by Litlove on Sun Mar 31, 2013 10:01 am

Hi All,

Just thought I should kick off the discussion. I'm intrigued already by the different views of Athill that we're collecting from the reviews. I really liked her, and wished I could adopt her as a grandma. I felt her tone was 'make the best of it' and that if she'd been a different sort of person, fighting for her rights among the other directors, for instance, it would have shown an aggressive, competitive side and I would have liked her less.

I also thought the Myra Hindley interview was fascinating - would an editor nowadays turn down the prospect of a lucrative book because it might upset the mental balance of the author? I don't think so.

Well, what are other people's opinions on the writer-editor relationship generally?

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Re: Stet: A Memoir

Post by Stefanie on Mon Apr 01, 2013 8:13 am

It seems like book editing today is a lot different, more of the kind where the manuscript is pretty much ready when the editor gets it, agents and outside editors seem to do more of the work that editors like Athill used to do.

I always used to think a job like Athill's would be so great, but having to placate egos and nanny so many, I would grow frustrated rather quickly and my authors would go running to the hills! Athill seems to have been rather good and keeping her ego out of it, except for the once with Naipaul. But sometimes it seems she was too good at keeping herself out of things. She was technically a director and she never said a word about pay or making the work environment more comfortable for everyone, etc. That was disappointing. But I appreciated she acknowledges her shortcomings!
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Re: Stet: A Memoir

Post by teresareads on Mon Apr 01, 2013 6:32 pm

I wondered about the difference between editing in her day and today. I think today the job is divided up a lot more, and it's unusual to have one editor working on so many aspects of the book. In fact, it's considered bad practice for the same person to do a developmental edit (shaping the overall structure), a copyedit, and a proofread. I wondered when she said she did all those jobs if that meant all on the same book, or if she copyedited books another editor shaped, with everyone doing bits and pieces on each book. That's how we operate at my magazine, but we're all working on smaller pieces.

That interplay between her lack of ambition and the obvious injustice being done seems relevant even today, don't you think? I was totally with her on not wanting to be totally driven by the work and not necessarily wanting additional responsibilities, but when part of what's going on is clear inequality and injustice, her complacency becomes harder to accept (although I admit I would have been the same way).

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Re: Stet: A Memoir

Post by Litlove on Tue Apr 02, 2013 9:48 am

I get the impression that editors in the 50s-80s would have seen a book right the way through, even from the idea in some cases, to publication and after. At least, that's how it would have worked in the UK (I got very interested in the history of publishing a few years back and read some really fascinating books on it, though not this one then).

I know I bang on about this an awful lot, but cultural horizons must surely have had a huge influence on Diana Athill. No woman would have stood up for equal pay in the 50s or 60s, or even 70s, not in England. Feminism was not something that affected your average woman. It was common practice for women to leave their jobs as soon as they married in the 50s and 60s, and very few women indeed still worked once they'd had children in the 70s. These things just weren't done, and it takes very determined and unusual people to brook the trend. I know Athill was a director, and therefore theoretically more responsible, but she would have been unusual enough as it was, an unmarried career woman. Women were lucky to have jobs at all, is mostly what they felt (and I judge here from all sorts of reading, both fiction and non-fiction, and the memory of what people did in the 70s when I was a child.) The Government was convinced the economy would collapse if it gave into demands for equal pay, and though an act was passed in 1970, it was a long, long time before it affected women in the professional sector. For the most part, women were in any case in very different roles to men (secretaries, nurses, etc), and it was unionised activities (mostly factory work) where the fight for equal pay took place.

I know it's a common reaction in the 21st century, to look back 50, 60 years ago or even longer, and wonder why people didn't think the way we do now. But they didn't, so I end up feeling overprotective of the historical specificity of those earlier eras!

ETA: I was chatting about this with Mr Litlove last night and he reminded me that we still live in an era of unequal pay. One of the most striking differentials at the moment is height: short people are regularly paid less than tall people in business. Apparently there have been studies done on this, and the information is out there and 'known' about. But why aren't short people making more of a bid for their equal rights? It may be that 50 years from now, people will look back and wonder how we stood for such injustice. But maybe enough short people aren't aware of the trend, or they feel embarrassed bringing it up with their bosses... I think this is how it was for women back in the 60s and 70s. Very few educated, middle class women worked back then - my generation was the first who were expected to work and maybe have this thing called a career. My mother certainly didn't expect it.

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