Susan Keogh, who came all the way from Melbourne to give the workshop, is a very experienced editor and wrote the Lonely Planet in-house style manual. She not only knew her stuff really well, she was a very engaging speaker.
She stressed from the outset the necessity of good, clear writing - even in academic and technical texts. We looked at extracts from widely different kinds of writing including : a piece from a Mills&Boon romance, a fictionalised biography of an Australian soldier, and scientific papers, and considered how they might be improved.
Adverbs and adjectives were too often the enemy :
... the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of wordsas Strunk and White have it, especially :
Rather, very, little, pretty ...We chopped out repetitions, got rid of irrelevancies, and learned the all important art of showing not telling. We weeded out cliches and tired language, learned that detail should emerge from the narrative rather than being added to it, and needs to advance it. And we visited that stylistic bugbear and unintended source of hilarity : dangling modifiers. This analysis and reshaping of texts was by far the most useful part of the workshop for me. (And it confirmed my hunches - I know what I'm doing.)
On the Monday afternoon though we changed tack and looked at how to write effective blurbs and publicity material, by using such devices as extended metaphors, compiling a cheat-sheet of useful words and by using literary and grammatical effects. We took apart blurbs and wrote our own for an imaginary guide book for Singapore. And I now feel confident to tackle writing a decent one of my own ... which is just as well.
I was looking forward to the part about managing publishing projects, but it seemed to be aimed at organisations where there were multiple projects to oversee, rather than the freelance editor with just one. But I really enjoyed Susan's disaster stories including her account of what happened when Lonely Planet published a travel guide with Westen Europe on the spine. (They didn't recall and pulp, they inserted a humourous bookmark instead!).
I was the only attendee from this side of the causeway, and the rest, bar one or two freelancers, worked for Singaporean publications. It was sad not to see anyone from book publishing there as they would have found this useful (and there is a great need for such training to raise professional standards).