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Working with Gilda

—Lesley Levine

I’m a freelance copy-editor, so my job is to come in once a book has been accepted for publication by a publisher and been through a structural edit at the hands of a commissioning editor. Not every commissioning editor is as scrupulous as they might be about their part of the process, but at Penguin Gilda worked with Eleo Gordon and she was marvellous, very clear-sighted and able to get the best out of her authors. The commissioning editor deals with the overall structure of the book, then passes it on to the copy-editor, who looks at the more detailed side of things: spelling, grammar, consistency, avoiding repetition, making sure arguments are followed through – everything to ensure that the reader gets the clearest possible picture.

My East End was published 1999, so I must have met her the year before. From the beginning, it was obvious that she was a very accessible, friendly person, easy to talk to. And everyone must have thought so, because the basis of the book was oral history and she managed to get fascinating insights out of people. Or rather, she was able to use lots of individual insights to construct a fascinating, coherent whole – a history of the East End from the mouths of the people who’d lived there.

From my point of view, she was a joy to work with. She was very amenable to any suggestions I might make because she had her eye on the bigger picture, so once she trusted you she was happy for you to get on with things. This isn’t always the case with authors, who can be understandably anxious. But I took Gilda’s approach to mean that she was confident her work would withstand editorial scrutiny and that she didn’t have the sort of big ego that needed to put other people down. I would read the manuscript, come up with my queries and then Gilda and I would sit down together and talk things through. And in our talking we’d often come up with a whole new way of approaching things. It all felt very amiable and collaborative.

Our Street was published 2003. Again, working from the bottom up, using individual accounts to create something much larger, this was oral history to paint a picture of London during the war. Obviously there’s a place for military histories, but there’s something ever so accessible about reading human stories too.


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