I've worked as an editor in the past, and my wife is a magazine editor and I often go to her with obscure questions about grammar or punctuation, so you might think there's not a lot left for Peter to do. Nothing could be further from the truth! Firstly, no matter how hard you try, textual mistakes will always get through somewhere. Secondly, you can't underestimate the value of an unbiased third-party to question the clarity of certain bits of dialogue or storytelling, or to notice when I've accidentally drawn the handle on the outside of an aeroplane in two different places in two different panels.
And an editor's job doesn't stop there as Peter also deals with the blurb, page plan, deadlines, and countless other things besides. One of those is making sure my research is up to scratch. Here's one of Peter's notes from volume one:
Is 'Orchis ouranio-toxo the binomial name? If so, it should be italicized. 'Apostasiodeae' is the genus, and should be italicized. I think the same applies to Paphiopedelium and Laeliocattleya. Can you confirm the taxonomic group these terms relate to, and then I can say of they need to be italicized or not.
Keeps me on my toes!
How did you end up becoming an editor? Was it an ambition, or something you fell into?
When I was at sixth form, I had a dilemma: I was going to university to study English literature, with the view of working in publishing, or to study psychology, with the view of becoming a psychologist. I chose psychology, but upon graduating, found a summer job proof-reading at the local book publisher. I've been working as an editor ever since.
As an editor, what do you spend most of your time doing in a typical working day?
At any one time I could be working on 30 books all at different stages of development. Depending on what needs attention at any given time, I could spend most of my day reading story submissions, developing manuscripts or working in collaboration with designers and illustrators to develop the book on the page. A big part of my job is juggling my workload to ensure deadlines are met.
Besides The Rainbow Orchid, what other titles have you worked on?
I've worked on hundreds of titles across a range of genres and formats: baby books, picture books, novelty books, character books, colouring and activity, comics and humour.
Am I right in saying that you worked on the two Quick and Flupke books that Egmont released last year?
It was a real privilege to work on English translations of Herge's Under Full Sail and Fasten Your Seat Belts - if not a little nerve racking. I have untold admiration for Hergé's work and wanted to treat it with the upmost respect. I was pleasantly surprised to discover how funny Quick and Flupke episodes are; they show Hergé had a real mischievous side.
I think I remember you mentioning, at our first meeting, that you wrote some Thomas the Tank Engine titles - is writing also a part of your job?
I think I was writing a Thomas the Tank Engine novelty book at the time! I've also written stories for Winnie-the-Pooh, Fireman Sam, Mr Men and even Barbie!
What's the best thing about your job?
Having the opportunity to create something beautiful, affecting and lasting.
What would you say makes a good editor?
It's not only about having a way with words; I think the best editors are able to develop and maintain good relationships. When it comes to editing, it's important to remember that the story isn't your own, but someone else's hard work, and should be treated with sensitivity and respect.
What advice would you give to a writer who wanted to get their book into the best shape possible for publication?
The best thing an aspiring author can do is read, read and read some more. They need to develop an instinct for what works. Personally, I look for children's stories told with a distinctive voice - stories with lots of personality. I think agents play an important role in helping to shape texts before they are submitted to editors. It's also true that agented manuscripts are more likely to be read than those which are unsolicited.
Had you much experience of working with comics prior to taking on The Rainbow Orchid?
Honestly, no... Although I do have a few comics on my bookshelves at home. I also had plenty of experience working with illustrated books, which provided me with a good understanding of how words and pictures interact. The important thing with The Rainbow Orchid was to be thorough with the text and to ensure you hadn't overlooked anything. I learnt lots about comics through working on The Rainbow Orchid.
What would you say is the main difference between working on a comic album, a regular prose book, and a children's picture book?
With comics and picture books there is a real need to make every word count. It's about making sure the stories are told in a concise but affecting way. One of the differences between working on illustrated books - as opposed to straight fiction - is the opportunity to collaborate with designers and illustrators. It's an aspect of my job that I really enjoy.
Do you read comics, and are there any titles or creators you particularly enjoy?
One of my fondest early memories is going to the library with my Dad to borrow Asterix comics. I couldn't get enough of them! I even visited the Asterix theme park in France. I didn't really read comics when I was a teenager, but a few years ago, I got into reading some of the Neil Gaiman comics, particularly The Sandman series. The Rainbow Orchid reignited my interest in the medium, and I can honestly say that it is up there with the best comics available today.
Now I'm blushing! Working with books and manuscripts all day, can you read for pleasure? What do you like to read for pleasure?
I do read outside work, mostly adult fiction and history, which I hoard obsessively. There are times after work, however, when reading is a chore. For this reason, audio books are starting to appeal to me. My dirty secret is sport autobiographies - I can't get enough of them!
Thank you very much, Peter!