Lindsay Clandfield on Katy Wright

I used to wonder why authors thanked their editors in the acknowledgments of their books. It wasn’t until I worked with Katy Wright that I really understood.

I first met Katy Wright at an IATEFL conference in Liverpool in 2004. It was my first BIG conference, I was an eager new author all set to meet my new commissioning editor and publisher at Macmillan. I remember being so nervous but excited at the same time. I was moving into a world about which I knew quite little and was in awe a bit at the whole thing. Katy Wright did not disappoint at all.

For the next year or so Katy helped the manuscript which was to become my first major book (Straightforward Elementary) take shape. She was a tireless professional. It takes a special kind of character to be a good editor, as you are often having to walk a fine line between encouraging an author when his/her work is good and pushing him/her when the work is not up to scratch. Katy was patient, and always listened to ideas and suggestions but always had a crystal clear idea of what the project needed.

Like the majority of editors, Katy started her ELT career as a teacher.

Fresh out of university (she studied history of art at Cambridge) she went to get her teaching certificate. Philip Kerr, lead author on Straightforward, was her trainer on her CELTA course at International House London. He told me that she was probably one of the sharpest, best teachers he had ever seen during his many years as a teacher trainer.

After finishing her certificate, Katy joined the British Council and started her career at the British Council in Israel. She spent three years in Tel Aviv and Nazareth, teaching general English and later on doing teacher training. This was the early nineties, and there were many English teachers from Russia who had arrived in Israel since the collapse of communism and needed training in communicative language teaching. Katy told me it was a great life experience, but after nearly four years it was time to move on.

Katy returned to the UK and did a higher diploma in TEFL at Manchester university. Shortly after finishing she moved into the world of educational publishing, which had been an interest to her since university days. Her first job was as a desk editor at Heinemann, working on manuscripts and learning the ropes. There she worked under Jill Florent, a “brilliant publisher and mentor” in Katy’s words. The first book Katy edited was Star, a First Certificate book by Luke Prodromou. I asked Luke how his experience was with Katy back at this time.

I first knew of Katy when her father appeared at the BC Thessaloniki in the late 70s early 80s. She was just a little girl. Then she 'reappeared' as my editor on Star, when the FC book was nearly complete and I was just starting the lower levels. I think it was her first project as an editor. She was young and full of energy and bright ideas. The difference between the FCE book and the other two volumes, the ones she edited is palpable. FCE is a baggy boring monster - basically it was not edited and overwrote like mad.

Her approach was tough, constructive and creative. When she didn't like something she provided alternative ideas or material. She was both critical and encouraging.

For me it was a learning experience in writing for teenagers and taking things form the readers' point of view. She helped me to keep the end reader in mind and produced a much fresher and appealing course. She had a good eye for design and visually had very good taste.

Interestingly, the FCE book was not a great seller - the books she edited, however, did much better and I am still in a position to appreciate and feel grateful for her support. She was a pleasure to work with and though young she was confident and professional. It made the sometimes painful experience of editorial feedback much easier to take and benefit from.

After two years Katy started moving up in the world of publishing. Her first promotion was to be commissioning editor for primary education in Greece. This allowed her to really focus on a market and get to know it. Greece is a very intense and competitive market, especially in the world of primary and secondary school, making it a very interesting place to work with in terms of English language teaching, and Katy was very satisfied with her work at that point.

But her real aim had always been adult education, and the opportunity presented itself when a job came up in the adult education group of Macmillan (who had taken over Heinemann by that point) with the late David Riley, a legend in the world of publishing. Katy began work on videos for the flagship course Inside Out before getting to commission her first own course – Straightforward. This was in 2003.

The world of publishing is constantly changing, and people are often moving about. So it was sad (for me and the other authors) but not a surprise to know that Katy was continuing her rise in the profession from commissioning editor to publisher.

She was offered a job with Pearson Longman as senior publisher for the adult group and the methodology titles in 2005. Since then Katy has been behind the launch of the new adult course Language Leader, as well as the award-winning How to Methodology series.

Katy and her partner Paul had their first child Amelie in 2007 and became parents for a second time earlier this 2009 with the arrival of Daniel. Much of the information for this piece I gathered from a Skype conversation with Katy at her home in London, as she is currently on maternity leave.

As this is a piece for She in ELT, I asked her if having children had made it difficult for her to find the right work-life balance. “Not really, no,” Katy told me. Although she was currently on maternity leave she felt that Pearson Longman had been amazing when it came to allowing her flexibility with work. “I cut down to four days a week after coming back from my maternity leave with Amelie. And of those four days, they let me work from home for two. Which really helps.”

So, is the world of ELT publishing male-dominated like many other businesses? Katy laughed when I asked this. “It’s like a nunnery!” she exclaimed, before quickly adding, “In the best possible way.” Katy told me that in ELT publishing, like in so many other sectors of language teaching, it is a female dominated area. Many of the very high up positions remain in the hands of men, but the glass ceiling in still pretty high. “I know several senior publishers and figures in the industry, all women.” And, based on her own experience, Katy believes that it is a good industry for women.

I thought a lot about how to begin this piece, because there is another thing about Katy that is interesting.

She is the daughter of another important ELT figure, Andrew Wright (author of Five Minute Activities and other books for teachers). It’s tempting to start to write about a daughter or son of someone known by insinuating that it’s all down to genetics, or contacts. However, in my view, Katy is a talented professional who is respected and appreciated in the field completely down to her own merit and personal achievements. She is one of the great “She in ELT” women in her own right, and I wish her all the best for the future.

Lindsay Clandfield is an award-winning methodology author, textbook writer, teacher and teacher trainer. A regular contributor to OneStopEnglish, he writes a monthly column for the Guardian Weekly and his great blog SixThings covers a wide range of topical ELT issues.

More in the She-in-ELT series

1 Response to “Lindsay Clandfield on Katy Wright”

  • Gavin Dudeney says:
    November 27, 2009

    Lindsay (Karenne),

    Katy was the editor on the book that I wrote with Nicky Hockly in the How To... series.

    Never worked with anyone more professional, organised, dedicated and pleasant. Katy knows what she wants and now to get it, even when deadlines are, shall we say, a bit tight.

    A worthy entry in the She in ELT series, for sure.



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