Going to Press with Nick
Many years ago (even before Chapterhouse), when hot metal type was still used for some books, and long before the internet took hold of our lives, the old arts of proofreading and copy-editing relied as much on attention to detail and concentration as they do today.
The skills of an editor and proofreader were learned in house. In my case, as a newbie, I sat with Nick and watched him work on manuscripts and proofs. Occasionally, he would pause and ask my opinion on a misused colon or hyphen. We checked spellings in a battered old Oxford Dictionary. Nick smoked a pipe and a fug engulfed our small room. For relaxation Nick would bowl imaginary cricket balls and swat flies. He was a true wordsmith who demolished the Guardian crossword daily in half an hour. Above all, he was a first rate copy-editor and keen-eyed proofreader.
Then, one day, he said I knew just enough to tackle a small book, Annulment of Marriage. Only sixty pages or so, but my own project. A publishing first for me. Assiduous? Nervous? I should have been. First, the little book was copy-edited. Queries were raised by me and answered by the author. Then to first proof, then to revised proofs. A few more queries. Then the book designer and production department. And then to press.
The Fear Grows
I commuted to work by train. About an hour. The day of publication came. My first book! Then the slight gnawing doubt. I hadn’t seen the title page! My fear was the word annulment, which had been variously spelled by the typesetter. One n or two, one l or two. I imagined the finished books lying in the warehouse, the error being spotted, the books being pulped and the rookie editor scouring papers for another job. Interminable train ride.
Not Hugging Frank
Once in the office, I phoned the printer, Frank. I took a cab to his works. I watched my books come off the press. Clammy hands, dry mouth. I grabbed a book and nonchalantly(!) turned to the title page. The relief was so great I almost hugged Frank. Not advisable in those dark, unenlightened days. The lesson is clear. An error buried on p 256 may go unspotted for a century, but one on the title page is a proofreader’s worst nightmare.