The Monthly Q&A: Sandra Duncanson

Sandra Duncanson is the Senior Editor at Insight Publications, an independent educational publisher that specialises in senior secondary English textbooks.

How has your month been?

The last month has been pretty exciting, actually. My first book, English Year 10, was released at the end of July, so we are promoting that at the moment. It was a real labour of love, and I'm incredibly proud of the finished product. Now, I'm working on a chapter for our Literature textbook that is due for release in October. I've also travelled to a few different places across the state recently, running professional development seminars for teachers about implementing the new VCE English Study Design, sharing resources and discussing strategies for how the new course might influence the Years 7-10 curriculum.

How did you get here?

I was a secondary English and Literature teacher for about 15 years. I loved it but I always knew that teaching wasn't a 'forever job' for me. With a little planning, a lot of work, a bit of luck and a lot of support from two different schools' leaders my job slowly transitioned from teaching to editing - within the one school - over the course of about six years.

In 2008 I began RMIT's Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing and dropped back my teaching load to part-time. I also started doing a little freelance work. In 2010 I finished teaching, became the school's publications editor, began a comedy blog and started a small animation studio with my partner. I graduated from RMIT in 2012.

Last year, I became an Accredited Editor and for the first time it felt like I could tell people I was an editor without any hesitation or modifying phrases. It also felt like the right time for a new challenge. I started at Insight Publications on 1 September 2014 - happy anniversary, me! It's a lovely place to work and the perfect opportunity to use my knowledge of English teaching and writing/editing experience in a full-time, in-house educational publishing role.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

That feels a bit like answering the 'what is your greatest weakness' job interview question; there are so many potential answers but so few I would confidently share! Today my biggest challenges were not spilling coffee on my work, remembering that talking to my computer out loud is not okay in an open plan office and finding a way to explain intertextuality and 'the dialogic nature of texts' to a Year 11 readership. In general, I still feel quite new in my job so there are more substantial challenges too: fitting in with expectations and processes, and managing the different aspects of a first big project in a new workplace (that is, finding the happy middle-ground between being the 'annoying question asker' and the 'you should have asked us first person'). I find permissions challenging too, but that's only because it's time-consuming and can be frustrating, not because it's hard.

What do you love most about your work?

I can't deny it, the biggest thrill so far has been the moment I first saw my name printed on the front of a book as an author. That's a good day at the office, right there. More generally, I love that my job is the perfect blending of my two word-nerdy worlds: English teaching and editing/writing. I love working with words, and being surrounded by people with similar literary interests. It's also amazing to work alongside the incredibly knowledgeable and supportive team here at Insight. I am learning so much from each of them, but also feel that my teaching experience and editing/writing skills are genuinely valued too.

I always worked in high schools with 2000+ students shouting and jostling each other outside my window every 50 minutes, so the atmosphere of a grown-up office environment with only 10 or so people is indescribably wonderful. I still get excited by the prospect of being able to duck out to get a coffee without having to consult a clock and a school timetable, and spending a whole day (or days) working on the one task without interruption. No teacher has ever done either of those things in a work day, ever.

What is your average weekly workload? Does it vary throughout the year?

It does vary, in terms of urgency throughout the year, depending on the publication schedule, but there's always something happening to keep us very busy. All of the VCE English Study designs change next year, so that's created quite a lot of work updating and creating resources.

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

I've always had a weird attraction to the idea of being a long-haul outback train driver, but I'd settle for being Tina Fey's personal aide.

Thanks so much, Sandra (who has also just joined the Editors Victoria committee).

Sandra blogs, writes and 'social medias' under the name Harper Lane at harperlane.com.au.
You can buy her fantastic textbook English Year 10 from insightpublications.com.au.