Manuscript – Adventurous Spirit
Author – Heather Hawkins
Publisher – Murdoch Books
Editor – The Manuscript Agency’s Michele Perry
In 2007, at the age of 41, with two teenagers and a
contentedly unadventurous life Heather Hawkins made a doctor’s appointment. Swiftly thereafter she was diagnosed
with Stage One Ovarian Cancer. Surgery to remove the
tumour and perform a hysterectomy was performed nine
Ten years on and Heather is in remission. But her cancer journey ignited a hunger for challenges. Just two years after diagnosis, she completed her Surf Life Saving Bronze Medal, as well as competed in her first-ever running event.
Since then she has completed 6 half marathons, 18 full marathons and 3 ultra marathons; including the North Pole Marathon and the World Marathon Challenge (7 marathons. 7 days. 7 continents). In 2016 Heather commenced the world’s longest trek, the Great Himalaya Trail; a 1,700km, 152 day journey crossing the top of Nepal from East to West.
These adventures are only the tip of the iceberg of what Heather covers in her memoir, ‘Adventurous Spirit’ (Murdoch Books 2017). We were fortunate to edit Heather’s MS and she has kindly given permission for us to publish our notes from the editorial process.
The Editing Journey of Adventurous Spirit
Notes from the editor, Michele Perry
As soon as I starting reading An Adventurous Spirit, I was hooked, awed, inspired… I didn’t care what the deadline was, I just knew I had to work on this book.
The original manuscript (MS) that came to me was in a good shape, and I had no doubt that readers would be easily engrossed in and inspired by Heather Hawkins’s life. Heather had written an exhilarating, heart-warming, emotive, absorbing and thought-provoking MS, and I saw nothing but potential; however, naturally (well, naturally for an editor!), I saw areas for improvement. I saw ways that we could ‘massage’, refine and rework areas of the MS, to draw out more of her story’s essence.
I was engaged by The Manuscript Agency (as an editorial provider for Murdoch Books) to provide a structural edit + a copy edit on Heather’s MS. The first step was to work through the MS and look at it from a structural point of view. This meant reading the MS in its entirety and trying to establish what was working and why it was working, what wasn’t working so well, and what was missing.
This was a memoir, non-fiction, MS so there were different things to consider to when working on fiction titles. With non-fiction it is important to ensure the voice of the author is not lost through the editing process. It is about helping the author tell their story; working out when too much information is given, when information is missing, perhaps tweaking content if it becomes too linear and blow-by-blow etc. It is about ensuring that you help the author capture that part of their life and share this with an audience.
And so my Structural Edit began …
The overarching narrative and the interspersed stories of Heather’s myriad of journeys through life, her obstacles and triumphs were exceptionally clear and strong. However, some thought did need to be given to the overall structure, with the main focus on ensuring that the narrative was clear and that the information Heather wanted to share with readers – the lessons she learnt, her thoughts and feelings – all intertwined successfully and gave the story depth. In certain sections, I encouraged her to reveal more about her concerns, fears, ways she stayed so positive, what kept her going etc. to add more varied spectrums of sentiments. Heather has a wonderful ability to see the positive aspects in everything and in wanting to share that light with others she had hidden her darker thoughts; but these were crucial for the reader to find out about.
I mainly focused on reworking the structure to fix any flow issues that disrupted the narrative, as well as ensuring the clarity of her emotions, thoughts and points she wished to bring to the reader’s attention. As an editor we are often the first ‘external’ readers and can also see gaps in the narrative, areas that are assumed knowledge for the author and her friends/family, and can find ways of filling these gaps in a streamlined way.
I was immediately warmed by her voice and writing style, and I knew the reader would be too. It allowed the reader to connect easily with her and really invest in her story.
The main structural changes I made included:
I proposed that Heather write an ‘Introduction’. I thought that this would be an effective way for her to introduce herself to the reader, share her hopes for them in reading her book, and her reasons for writing.
I changed Chapter One to a ‘Prologue’, as it read more like one. And I suggested that Heather write more about how she felt about fulfilling another dream, which she couldn’t believe she was doing/could do after fighting cancer. I also needed her to clarify some thoughts, and I did some reworking to ‘connect’ these thoughts.
I reworked the chapter heading and moved Heather’s original introduction to further within the chapter, to fix the narrative flow. Some additional information was needed throughout this chapter. I deleted a few sections that didn’t develop the narrative, or provide necessary background, and edited other sections back. I felt it was important to keep the focus on her immediate family in this chapter, and remove other (‘distracting’) text. I suggested we edited back her time in Canada, the ‘actions’, and focus more on how living in a new country made her family feel. Some other ‘deleted text’ was moved to different chapters (ie the information about meeting Doug and starting her life with him). I also wanted to shine a light on her decision to move from nursing, to studying Creative Arts. I also asked Heather to clarify and elaborate aspects that were raised in this chapter – the deletions of other text made room for this additional information.
Clarification was needed in this chapter – I felt that she should introduce her plans earlier. I reworked some scenes (about working in the hospital) in order to pick up the narrative pace, and deleted other scenes that pulled the focus away from the main plotline. As always, I saw space to edit back sections to keep the narrative moving, and to keep it focussed on ‘the necessary’ to enhance the narrative.
Some text was deleted to keep the pace moving and the narrative flowing. I also summarised some scenes. I suggested that she conclude the chapter by explaining what her plans/hopes for the next phase of her life were. I felt that it was best to finish this chapter by introducing the next chapter.
In this chapter, we really needed to clarify when she took her outback trip. And she also needed to add more of an introduction to ‘set the scene’. I moved some stories from other chapters and intertwined them here, and elaborated on her desire to study Creative Arts and any plans/fears for the future.
Chapter Six (new chapter suggestion):
I felt we needed a new chapter here. In this chapter I suggested that Heather focus on:
what happened after her trip, explain her new study path. Express how she felt about ‘settling down’, and leaving her adventurous life/nomadic life behind her. Explain a few ins and outs of her life then, ‘paint the picture’. I wanted her to tell the reader about meeting Doug, and their life together – starting a family, and her hopes/fears for the future and generally fill in gaps that were missing for the reader had this chapter not existed. I wrote some suggestive new text to demonstrate what we could do in this chapter, and left Heather to work her magic.
Here we needed to elaborate more on telling her family of her cancer diagnosis. I asked for her to express more of her feelings when she found out it was cancerous, as well as add any fears she was fighting through, and how she fought them. Ultimately I felt that she needed to describe her specific emotions more, to find the impact that was so essential and realistic to this situation.
Heather needed to clarify the new program she was looking at to help fight her cancer, and what it meant, and also to elaborate on what she did to keep positive, healthy etc. I also asked that she share how this road to recovery made her feel, and discuss more of her fears, and explain why she decided to do the surf lifesaving challenge.
Here we needed to explain her training in more depth, and how it made her feel. I felt that we should give the reader a little more background into her exercise regime in the past. During this early running phase, I needed her to elaborate on how she felt when looking at what she was accomplishing, and express how this new love of running made her feel. I mentioned that it would be nice to expand on this section and not rush through it so much because it was a major change in her life, and such a challenge that she was embracing now. She was really pushing herself at this time and it was so inspiring. I felt that the reader would want to know more about what kept her pushing herself. I asked her to elaborate on how she felt, ticking off so many races. And if she could add some text about how she was fitting these races into her daily life, the sacrifices she and her family were making. I added the text about hearing about the marathon in the Antarctic here, as it was in 2014, which this chapter focuses on, when that happened. I also needed her to clarify when the North Pole Marathon (NPM) fitted into the races she mentioned for 2015. We needed to fit the NPM around the others that she listed. Overall, we needed to clarify some of the timelines for the races.
More was needed in this chapter. I felt that we could add one of her travelling experiences/another experience with her parents when she reflected on them in the run. I also asked if she could add more about panicking, worrying about some of the things that happened in this race, and to elaborate on her reflections of Bek and Cal. I wrote some suggestions in the MS for her. I also asked her to discuss more about the feeling of change she was experiencing. At the end of this chapter, I felt that we could put the other races from Chapter 8 in here, as these were the next races she did. I wrote a suggestion as to how we could end this chapter to lead into the next.
Things I needed her to elaborate on in this chapter: her charity, and how she raised money, feelings about this training/lifestyle being all encompassing, and what was inspiring her. I also felt that the reader would benefit from learning how she was staying so positive, especially when she was ‘crumbling’, and how she picked herself up. I loved how she ended this chapter.
This was a very emotive, beautifully written chapter. I just felt that she needed to explain more about how she pushed through the years when she was dealing with her mother’s illness and cancer, as these times overlapped.
I loved this chapter, it just needed a general copyedit. I also suggested some alternative text to ‘The End’.
I suggested the inclusion of an Epilogue, and reworked some appropriate text for this as a goof way to conclude the MS.
I also suggested that we include spans of years under each chapter heading to give the reader a sense of time.
The next stage – the copyedit!
What I received back from Heather after she reworked the manuscript following my structural edit was exactly what we needed to take her story to the next level. I felt the narrative was deeper, clearer, filled with more emotion, and her ‘voice’ now shone through more effectively.
The copyedit then focused on maintaining her voice and ensuring it was consistently clear, concise and correct. Her diary entries needed some attention also as there were grammatical errors etc., and I styled them appropriately to aid the readability (ie indented and italicised). It is the role of the copy editor to identify these different styles within the text, and notify the designer of the all the text elements and heading levels, in order for them to design, style and lay out the manuscript into its final form.
I did all the usual stuff, cleaning up spelling and grammar, making sure each sentence was clear for the reader. I did some general fact checking to ensure all the names and dates of places and events that were in Heather’s memory matched the real thing – it is easy for these things to get lost along the way. I ensured that the same spellings were used throughout and that no text was missing. There are a lot of ‘automatic’ things an editor will look for in the copyedit phase. But basically the job is to ensure the manuscript is flowing as well as it can, is as accurate as it can be and that no errors remain (although, inevitably errors fall through, or can be introduced at this stage, which is why it is wonderful to have a proof reader check the work before it goes off to the printers!).
It is always important to me to remind the author throughout the editorial process that it is their manuscript – all of my comments and ideas were merely suggestions for Heather, but ultimately she was the one holding the reigns. It was up to her as to whether she agreed with the edits or not. But I am happy to report that she agreed with 99 per cent of them!
I thoroughly enjoyed working with Heather and helping her bring this wonderful life’s journey to life! So many readers will be inspired by it. I even started taking my running training more seriously and entered the Mother’s Day Classic in Melbourne, 2017. I still run to this day, and love it! And I too am now more mindful of my daily ‘adventures’, and I am thankful for my own ‘Adventurous Spirit’ that is now taking me around the world doing what I love most – helping authors!
If you would like to read ‘Adventurous Spirit’, you can purchase it through the Murdoch Books website, or at leading book retailers. Stay tuned for our interview with Heather, about her experience of the writing, editing and publishing process.