3 Feb 2014

In Memory: Judy Freeman

It seems like yesterday.

After blogging about MMOs for the best part of two years, I’d landed my first paid writing gig, producing features and the occasional bit of news for ZAM. It was a dream-come-true for me; a chance to learn how to create professionally, and to put those creations in front of a huge audience. I was alive with innocent excitement. The Editor-in-Chief at the time, Christopher Tom (now doing a superb job over at Riot), introduced me to the team.

Including Judy Freeman, the copy editor.

I was paranoid. Would my words be up to scratch? Would my distinctly British sense of humour translate across the ocean? Would my eccentric idioms be struck down by the stern gaze of this unknown entity? I needn’t have worried. In her own words:

As I see it, my job is to make my writers look great so I polish and burnish. My goal is to forever remain invisible to the reader. If he/she can see my work I have failed. I will never ask you to write in my style but will do everything I can to make yours glow.

Writers often say that they write for an audience, and mine was Judy. Over the course of a year and a half, I’d try out ideas on her. Test the waters, see if something worked. Sometimes it was a huge success, like the time I wrote a preview entirely using an in-game narrative. Other times it ended up being redrafted and refined, like some of my very first interviews. But she was always there, being encouraging and supportive. I never had much confidence in my own ability, feeling like a pretender, but Judy lent me hers.

She also taught me a lot about American English. People stateside are never keen, but they are sometimes eager. Groups of people – teams, corporations, studios – are singular, not plural. Drop the u here and there, slide in the z occasionally, and it all works. Even if she had to correct me regularly. There were the times when I was scrambling to meet a deadline or embargo drop, and she’d work late into the night to have it ready for publication in the morning.

Even after I moved on to pastures new, we still caught up occasionally. Sometimes by Skype, sometimes by email, just to shoot the breeze. She’d tell me what she thought of Downton Abbey, and I’d grimace inside at what she’d think of the UK as a result. But it was all good-natured. She was still working away with her collection of red pencils, sharpening articles as an unsung hero.

Last week, Judy died. Cancer has robbed the world of a good friend, mentor and muse. I have no words – and she’d probably laugh and gently mock me – but grief and loss. She touched almost everything I wrote, but her influence on me went far beyond it. Judy made me think more about the craft of choosing and placing words together than anyone.

Judy had been at ZAM/Wowhead for over 5 years, with countless writers on numerous games. It’s staggering to think just how much she worked on, yet always being fresh, inquisitive and passionate about the content she pruned and polished. I missed her when I moved on, and I miss her even more now.

Thank you, Red Pencils. For everything.

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