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The Independent Online
Few readers realise how much a book can owe to its editor. Routine editing involves eliminating repetition and correcting inconsistencies, faulty punctuation or spelling. Frequently, however, editors do much more, rewriting extensively and suggest ing new lines for authors to explore. All too often nowadays such important work is delegated to underpaid, unappreciated freelancers.

Ann Wilson was an outstanding book editor, cherished and respected by authors and publishers alike - though this appreciation never seemed very lucrative. She was educated in Sunderland, before taking a history degree at London University. After a spell working for various academic publishers, she joined Weidenfeld & Nicolson at the end of the 1960s, where she eventually became a director. But such a role was incongruous to her independent nature. From the late 1970s she was a freelance, admired for herability to manage complicated book projects and to rescue books that seemed lost. "Of course it's a mess," she would say cheerfully, as she wrestled with yet another apparently intractable manuscript.

Few writers accept criticism without a struggle, but Wilson's combination of obstinacy, intelligence and good nature usually prevailed. Her persistence worked miracles. Even the most distinguished authors owed something to her, among them Alistair Horne,J.M. Richards, Merlyn Rees, David Shipman, and Martin Seymour-Smith.

Ann Wilson could not have been more different from the besuited executives who now dominate the world of publishing. She was not interested in status or material rewards. She seemed to carry most of her possessions around with her in her car - for many years a Mini, a Weidenfeld vehicle which the company neglected to retrieve when she left.

Wilson helped many newcomers to publishing. She was, however, difficult to help, as her many friends discovered when she fell ill. She was not susceptible to advice, even - perhaps especially - from doctors, She raged against injustice to others - but failed to notice when she was badly treated.

If I picture Ann Wilson now, it is her smile I think of first. There was nothing malicious in her, though she adored gossip. Her amusement was just one manifestation of her interest in others, the interest which led her to volunteer her help in a cancer hospice, and to train as a Jungian analyst even while her health was rapidly deteriorating. Perhaps, too, she was trying to exorcise some inner misery, for there was a black hue to her wit. But she never imposed her unhappiness on others. She observed the world with an ironic detachment, like her favourite author, Jane Austen.

Ann Wilson (Ann Holiday), editor: born Sunderland 22 July 1944; died London 10 January 1995.