February 2019 Q&A: Glenys Osborne

In January 2019, Jane Fitzpatrick sat down with Glenys Osborne, grammar guru and long-time trainer for Editors Victoria, and tried to fathom how she fits it all in: editing and teaching, as well as working on two novels, a grammar text, a collection of short stories and a PhD.

When did you first become aware of grammar? Did you have a significant teacher?

My father had learnt Latin at school and worked as a proofreader, so he was always talking about language and grammar. He worked at places such as the Argus and in trade houses such as Dova Type, which was a significant trade house in Melbourne at the time. He later became a typesetter.

When did you get your start in publishing?

I was also a trade-house proofreader before I started editing. I got a solid grounding from all of the ‘old blokes’! I later studied at RMIT and then at Deakin, where I did a double degree in psychology and creative writing. Then I moved into publishing.

And you are studying again now, undertaking a PhD. What’s your topic?

My academic piece is on Jane Austen and the way in which Enlightenment ideas infused her work. It’s looking at the effect that experimental philosophy, an early form of science, had on her work and way of thinking. This effect comes through in ways that can be traced to various scientific ideas of the time.

How interesting. For example?

In Mansfield Park, she engages with ‘associationism’, a view of how human minds are formed, which goes back to the ideas of John Locke and other Enlightenment thinkers. It becomes evident from traces in Austen’s work that she had read many of the prominent thinkers of her time.

My thesis also explores Austen’s development, in the process of her writing, of a typology of human character. She is concerned with human nature, which was also a concern of experimental philosophy of that time, with people such as David Hume and John Locke – the idea that human nature could be known and described.

Great stuff. Any chance the PhD will lead to a book?

I don’t know about the academic component, but there is also a separate creative component, which is about a troupe of merry-go-round horses that kidnaps two children and makes them perform morality plays. It links with what Austen was saying about appearances and underlying so-called reality being at variance. Austen’s work is always concerned with that variance, especially in Mansfield Park. Mary Crawford, for instance, is a charming woman, but underneath she’s extremely manipulative.

How do you juggle everything in your life?

With extreme difficulty! I just try to fit things in as they happen, because life is unpredictable. I do bits of training, editing and studying. I have been enjoying working on fiction projects for authors who have not yet approached publishers. The dual nature of the PhD is a challenge; one of the ‘babies’ is always hungry while the other one is well fed.

And you’ve written fiction, too?

Yes, I had one novel published about eight years ago, and I also write when I can, day or night. It was great to have something published. Once you have that, no one can take it away from you. Winning an award was amazing and brilliant. Overall, though, the experience afterwards was instructive. Even though I had been in publishing for years, being on the other side of it was an education. I can relate it to my thesis, in that the behaviours people are enacting are not necessarily related to the underlying reality! There are a lot of writers who don’t always get treated well, and it’s only when you join the fraternity that this becomes plain. The industry can be exploitative. I had a great experience with my book, but at the same time it did open my eyes to the publishing industry.

What was it like to be edited?

Because I was with a small publisher, the editor didn’t really intervene. I was extremely happy with that, because I put a lot into what I did, and it had a particular experimental form. I didn’t want someone coming in and saying, ‘This character needs to go on a journey!’

Your in-house career has been at Thomson and Macmillan. Tell me about that.

I was in education, as a managing editor. I love educational publishing because of the multidimensional nature of the projects. Producing fiction can be one-dimensional, although I love editing fiction. In fiction I don’t believe there should be big, sweeping interventions, but in educational editing, those are core to what you have to think about.

What was the impetus for your new course?

It’s trying to build on the fundamentals of grammar and copyediting, which are concerned with making sure a sentence is grammatical. I am aware of AI [artificial intelligence] coming into the mix and how many of the smaller functions of copyediting will be dealt with by AI, but it cannot yet deal with the contextual nature of sentences. I am trying to give editors more ways to think about text than just applying grammar and problem-solving within the sentence; perhaps identifying what it is humans can do that AI can’t.

The sentence course is suitable for anyone, whether they have done my previous courses or not. The underlying intention is to develop strategies to save editors time, so that they can categorise sentences and issues by type, and are not re-inventing the wheel every time they encounter a problem.

Many thanks, Glenys, for sharing your editing career with us.

Glenys’s new course ‘Know your sentence’ on Saturday 23 February is fully booked. If you missed out and would like to attend this or another course with Glenys, please let us know.

Jane Fitzpatrick is a freelance editor who dabbles in writing, and a member of the professional development subcommittee.