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Interview—Meredith Forrester aka Lady Style Guide
Written by Max Olijnyk — 12th February 2015

One of the big ideas Penny had when we were setting up The Good Copy was to start our own grammar school. We’d have brainstorm sessions around the table in her backyard where the wildest ideas were thrown around, many of which immediately vaporised, maybe because they were just too darned good, or maybe because we didn’t write any of them down. The grammar school was a no-brainer, but a no-brainer that required a hell of a lot of planning. “It sounds really complicated,” I said, ever the naysayer. “No, we HAVE to do the grammar class, it’s crucial.” said Penny, thumping the table with her fist, upsetting an ashtray.

“And you know what we’ll call it?” she was leaning back in her chair now, one eye closed as she inhaled her cigarette. I shrugged.

“Stop. Grammar Time!”

And that was that. We had to do it. But then we had to come up with a curriculum for a punctuation and grammar course, which is actually a pretty big job. That’s where Meredith came in. She wrote the whole shebang, then we put a few jokes in. Now it’s ready to go and it’s pretty darned amazing.

Meredith Forrester gets excited about grammar the same way I get excited about … I can’t even think of what. Maybe I should do something about that, because her enthusiasm is both life-affirming and infectious. What follows is a short interview with the ever-humble Mere, aka Lady Style Guide(1), our resident school curriculum writer, copy editor, copywriter and punk rock fan. Enrol in Stop. Grammar Time. classes today(2) to be a little bit more like Mere.

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Max: What do you find so interesting about grammar and punctuation? Don’t you find it a bit, you know, boring?

Meredith: Oh, no! I find it thrilling, Max. I love the logic and the process and the research. Copyediting is like solving a jigsaw puzzle but, instead of a picture of a lakeside chalet in Switzerland, you end up with a clear sentence written in an appropriate tone. Of course, adding a possessive apostrophe to an ad on the back of a toilet door is very satisfying, but I also find the nuances of style and usage particularly intriguing. It’s very cool how our use of language changes and evolves (thanks, internet and globalisation), and how we use different words and phrases depending on who we’re writing for—you’d use more formal grammar and punctuation in a government document about tax rates than you would in a BuzzFeed article about the films that shaped J-Lo’s career, for example. And that’s where style guides come in handy (I love style guides)—they help keep things consistent across each document, article, social media post, etc., especially when you have many different voices. I don’t think I’ll get bored anytime soon.

Who’s your editing hero?

My big-picture-editing hero is Max Perkins (I wrote about his biography for our Xmas Gift Guide!). He was fair and honest in his suggested edits, and he championed his writers. I am in awe of Susan Butler, editor of the Macquarie Dictionary—imagine editing a dictionary! And I keep up with David Marsh, production editor of the Guardian and master of its common-sense style guide (and Twitter account). His book For Who the Bell Tolls is in The Good Copy shop. It’s a great read if you’re interested in plain English and want to learn from David’s experiences writing for newspapers.

Mostly, though, I look up to style guides, and what other magazines and editors are doing or saying. The Economist Style Guide, Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Strunk and White, the Chicago Manual of Style, the BuzzFeed style guide … So many resources.

What is the mistake that has popped up most often in your copy-editing travels?

What a tricky question. A misplaced—or missing—comma is a big one. For example, here’s the subject line of an email I received the other day: ‘Are you in Meredith?’ If I were editing that subject line, I would suggest a comma after ‘in’—Are you in, Meredith?—to avoid the potentially awkward confusion. The good ol’ greengrocer’s apostrophe is also a common error—sometimes I think people get scared and forget that you can make most words plural simply by adding an ‘s’, so they jam an apostrophe in there willy-nilly.

Who do you think will get the most out of the Stop. Grammar Time. classes?

Everyone who likes words! We’ll be teaching the basics of grammar and punctuation—things such as the different types of words (nouns, adverbs, etc.), how to construct a sentence, where to put apostrophes, how to use a style guide and the difference between ‘less’ and ‘fewer’. If you work with words—in articles or emails or blogs or Facebook posts—or you just use them in everyday life, and you want to be more confident and error-free, there’ll be something for you. Also: people who like tote bags will totally enjoy getting one of our Stop. Grammar Time. tote bags.

Do you find people are always worried they’re making mistakes when they write to you? Can you please make sure my questions are spelled correctly? Thanks Mere.

I do feel this feeling, Max. Sometimes people are straight-up about it, which is funny and also satisfying. Hey, it’s just what I do. I think the only time my correcto-brain becomes a problem and is no longer an endearing trait is when I absent-mindedly slip grammatical corrections into important conversations—people have been known to get a bit frustrated. By the way, I added an ‘out’ to Q4, is that okay? Thanks Max!

(1) Here’s a link to Mere’s blog Lady Style Guide

(2) Here’s a link to read about and hopefully enrol in Stop. Grammar Time.