October 2018 Q&A: Maryrose Cuskelly

Maryrose Cuskelly has worked mainly on a freelance basis as an editor and writer since graduating from RMIT's Graduate Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing, with occasional in-house stints in publishing houses, a university communications and marketing unit, and as a consumer health information officer at a major public hospital. Currently she writes for a custom publishing house, writes and edits articles and copy for a statutory authority and assesses manuscripts through Writers Victoria. We review her latest book, Wedderburn, in this newsletter.

You work as a freelance editor and freelance writer and are also a published book author. How did you get to this stage in your career?

While studying at RMIT, I chose all the editing subjects and also enrolled in Non-fiction Project, where I began writing about the human skin. When I graduated, I was encouraged to keep working on the material by my tutor, Di Websdale-Morrissey. Over the years I was writing it and trying to find a publisher, I was working as a freelance editor for Pearson and a number of other clients.

In 2006 I was approached by a friend who was a social entrepreneur and wanted to write a book about 'value-centred market economics'. He had extensive experience in his field but wanted assistance in writing a manuscript to promote his ideas. We developed a proposal for a book, which won the Iremonger Award for Writing on Public Issues (for unpublished work), and The End of Charity was published by Allen & Unwin in 2008. I kept working on my own manuscript, while taking on short-term and freelance writing and editing gigs. Original Skin was eventually published by Scribe in 2010.

I've continued to work as both an editor and a writer, always keeping an eye out for a story that I could develop into another book. I've gone down a few dead ends and I have (of course) an unpublished (and perhaps unpublishable) novel in my bottom drawer. In 2016, I won the Thunderbolt Prize for Crime Writing (non-fiction) for an essay I wrote about the disappearance and murder of schoolgirl Marilyn Wallman, who was abducted near Mackay in 1972. This gave me the confidence that I could write a longer true crime work such as Wedderburn.

What is it that you like about being an editor, and about being a writer?

As an editor, I enjoy bringing a technical eye to a piece of writing that I don't have an emotional attachment to – it can be quite restful! When I'm writing, I'm always looking for that kernel – a phrase, an idea, an image – that will lodge in a reader's mind and linger after they've turned the page.

What are your main editing gigs, and what proportion of your work is editing?

I've recently done a structural edit on a true crime manuscript by another author in preparation for submission and I believe it has found a publisher. I also regularly edit reports, discussion papers and marketing copy for a statutory authority. Currently about 25% of my work is editing.

Is it hard to swap between freelance writing, freelance editing and writing your own books? How do you make it work?

I like working on a project basis. It makes for variety and, as I generally work from home, I can be flexible with the hours and days I spend in my studio. I also respond well to a deadline. Or in the case of juggling several projects at once – numerous deadlines.

You have a lovely acknowledgement in Wedderburn to your two editors (Ali Lavau and Angela Handley) and proofreader (Clara Finlay). As an editor yourself, how do you find the process of having your book edited by others?

I completely depend on it. When I think of what would have slipped through without them, I blanch.

And do you think being a writer gives you particular skills you use when you are editing other people's books?

Perhaps it makes me more diplomatic in the way I give feedback or suggest changes? I know what it's like to hand over your baby to someone else. On the other hand, every editor I've worked with as an author has been respectful of my writing and extremely tactful in their suggestions, so maybe it's simply a trait most editors share.

If you didn't have the job you are in now, what would you like to be doing?

Not long after I left school I was offered a job at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane. On the advice of my parents, I took a 'sensible' job instead with the Queensland Public Service in the Works Department. The work was stultifying, and, in my section, there was an enthusiastic culture of drinking at lunchtime and chucking a sickie. I often think longingly of the very different career I might have had if I'd begun my working life mucking out the Tasmanian devil enclosure and taking photos of tourists with a koala in their arms. My retirement plan is to live in south-east Gippsland and look after orphaned native animals. I have already decided on my crazy-lady outfit: a large floppy hat, Blundstone boots and a home-sewn pinafore with rows of pockets for all the baby wombats.

Thanks so much, Maryrose, for giving us a glimpse into your multi-faceted career.



Twitter: @MCuskelly