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“It was a complete shock,” Despina Cook, the winner of the 2024 IPEd Student Prize, said of the award.

“When I actually read the email I just broke down. It’s amazing.

“We all have this ‘oh I’m not good enough’ thought always hanging around. And sometimes I think, why am I doing this? I’m so busy. And I know that I find enjoyment in this but it also can be stressful in amongst everything going on in my life. But [the award] validated why I was doing it.

“And it encouraged me to keep going because, well, yes, maybe I am good at this and somebody else thinks I am.”

Despina’s winning entry, a structural edit report of a 135,000-word manuscript, was described by the judges of the Student Prize as “thorough and constructive, offering a nuanced assessment of the various storytelling elements such as theme, characterisation, story arc and point of view”.

For Despina, the process of crafting the report helped her to gain a better understanding of the role of the editor.

“Editors are so valuable in polishing the author’s work. It’s a body of work that’s been created, and there’s so much effort involved in creating something like that. It’s amazing. And editors are there just to polish that and make it the best that it can be.

“I love that it’s a collaborative approach.

“[You] always want to make sure to let the writer know that there are so many good things about [their work]. And then telling them also, ‘Here’s what can make this better.’ Or ‘Here’s what we can work on.’ Because I know when writers get feedback, [their reaction might be] ‘Oh, my God, this is so terrible’. But you’re there to encourage as well. And that’s so important.”

The 45-year-old from Queensland returned to university 20 years after her first graduation, but this time the focus was grammar and words rather than the numbers of business management.

“I have a finance background but I’ve always been bookish. And I guess I didn’t really have any influences growing up to lead me into this path for a career. I never thought of it as a career. And it’s only now that I’ve been able to step back a bit from my business that I’ve been able to enjoy my passions, which are literature and reading and editing.”

Despite working in an industry many would not immediately associate with writing and editing, Despina says she would grab any opportunity to write while working in her business. It was a way for her to wind down after work and the subject of the books she filled her bookcases with.

“Lynne Truss’s Eats, shoots & leaves and Don Watson’s Weasel words and anything to do with grammar and punctuation and writing, I would buy and read.

“So it all kind of fits together now I look back. I didn’t consciously think about it. But this is what I love. And this is who I am. So I’m glad to embrace it now. It’s better late than never, right?”

It was a webinar, hosted by Dr Richard Newsome on the University of Queensland’s writing, editing and publishing programs that encouraged Despina to take a leap into the much loved, but unknown, world of publishing and editing.

“I took part in that [webinar] and I immediately said to myself, ‘This is for me. This is absolutely for me.’”

Despina then enrolled in the Graduate Certificate of Writing, Editing and Publishing at University of Queensland (UQ), which she recently graduated from. She is now studying for a Master’s of Writing, Editing and Publishing at UQ, a pathway she credits IPEd for helping her pursue.

“[The Student Prize] really was the push to say, ‘Yes, you can do this. Go ahead; do the Master’s.’ IPEd’s very much responsible for me pursuing the Master’s.”

Asked about her plans post graduation, Despina is happy to stay focused on the now, enjoying her studies and whatever opportunities come her way.

“If I can organically make a career out of this, that would be my dream. I would love to keep pursuing this. I’ve also just been selected to be a subeditor for the UQ literary journal, Jacaranda Journal. And that’s so exciting for me.

“So it just seems to be a natural progression for me to keep going that way. I’m not proactively pursuing anything, but it just seems to be happening for me. So I will follow the path and see where that takes me.”

Despina’s entry to the 2024 Student Prize will be published in a forthcoming issue of Gatherings.