Ali Turnbull

Joe Bloggs

Ali Turnbull

Advanced Professional Member

Why did you choose an editorial career, and how did you get into it?

I interviewed Paddington Bear's creator Michael Bond for my university newspaper. He wrote to me saying how delightful it was to meet a reporter who had "actually read the books". This is when I started to think about publishing as a career.

What training have you done to get your editorial career up and running?

I did a crash course in shorthand – at that time the best route into publishing was secretarial. I didn't need my degree at all.  My first job was as editorial secretary on African Business magazine. I learned to sub and mark up copy alongside retired Fleet Street aces.  

The early days of desktop publishing coincided with my maternity leave, so I taught myself PageMaker while my daughter slept.  When QuarkXPress and InDesign became the industry standard, I went to short courses on those. And some excellent SfEP courses have helped me along the way, particularly On-screen editing 1 and 2 and Working for Non-publishers.

What work are you most proud of?

In the 1980s I joined Running magazine and helped turn it from a small bi-monthly hobby magazine to a mass circulation monthly.  I devised a way to encourage more women to get out running. My first book, Running Together, tells the story of their achievements.

In the 1990s I read research from the Foundation of Nursing Studies that said best practice wasn't reaching patients because nurses didn't understand the evidence. This spurred me to write Plain Words for Nurses, which in 2002 won the Medical Journalists Association award for excellence in medical journalism.

What do you do if you're struggling on a job?

Sleep on it – the solution often comes during a run or a shower. If I find a job is outside my skills or I can't do it in the time, I'm not afraid to say so before it escalates. I'll usually find someone in SfEP who is both skilled and available.

What does being a member of the SfEP mean to you?

A lovely, fun bunch of like-minded people who are generous with their time and advice. I came to my first conference in 2001 and I keep in close touch with many of my SfEP friends on Facebook. Since 2014 I have been a moderator for the SfEP Forums. Once every six weeks I take a turn to approve new users and – occasionally – gently remind people of the Forum rules. I'm delighted to see how the Forums have grown recently.  My favourite Forum is Newbies – it's lovely to be able to help new editors and proofreaders get started.

Which editorial tasks do you enjoy the most and why?

I love running PerfectIt through a manuscript and coming up with style queries. Authors are impressed with my sharp attention to detail, but it's really Daniel Heuman, PerfectIt's creator, who has done all the work.

And I love the challenge of turning bossy public sector content into words that encourage people to do the right thing.

Do you have any editorial pet hates?

Corporate clichés – pushing the envelope, leveraging profile, thinking outside the box. I don't see a box.

Pulling out all the stops to meet a Friday deadline and getting Out Of Office Auto Reply: "I am on annual leave now and not in the office until Wednesday 12 May." Grrr!

What has most surprised you about your editorial career?

The variety of it! Print, online, business, public sector, not-for-profit, and a huge range of subject matter. I called my business fit to print because I specialised in sport, health and fitness. But then I was asked to read content on subjects as diverse as extreme fire juggling and chicken boning machinery. I thought not being a specialist would be an obstacle, but sometimes ignorance is useful. I can ask all the daft questions readers might ask.

What's the best career advice you've received?

Do one thing at a time and do it well. I don't go for all this stuff about women being better at multitasking. When I multitask, I make mistakes. Things that look right can still be wrong and no spellchecker will pick them up. My biggest near-miss was captioning some contraceptive devices – we very nearly went to press with an intrauterine device that was 32m instead of 32mm. Ouch!

What advice do you have for people starting out on an editorial career?

If you can get an in-house job with a publisher or creative agency, take it. Make the tea, answer the phone, make yourself completely indispensable. You'll learn so much alongside others – especially technical skills.

If you are working solo, get busy networking – contact all the creatives in your town or city and make sure they know what you do, and how well you do it.

Do you ever stop editing?

Yes! At 10 past 5 on a Friday I will switch off the computer, go downstairs to watch Pointless and that is it for the weekend. I try not to shout at the TV when a 'less' should be a 'fewer' or 'there is' should be 'there are'. I just grind my teeth silently.

Finally, tell us one thing about you not related to editing

Proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks, I took up playing the trombone three years ago. It's not the easiest of instruments! Now I have joined the Penrith Town Band and lead the parade.

The SfEP does not give any special endorsement to the members who appear in Meet our members. If you are looking for an editorial professional, we recommend you search the Directory of Editorial Services.