In Memory of Simon Greenall,
a Beloved Friend
By Li Huiqin, FLTRP
The news that Simon passed away yesterday is a bolt out of the blue. I still can't believe it is true.
I got to know Simon Greenall in 2006 for the New Standard College English series (NSCE). It was at the very beginning of my publishing career and I heard so much about him before our first meeting. It's a big name, a celebrity with a successful ELT publishing history in more than 40 countries. Everyone was a bit nervous and intimidated picturing the future days working with him, and it turned out to be a really really bumpy journey with laughter and tears, excitements and heartbreaks, mutual understanding and more misunderstandings… all became precious long lasting little good memories.
To me Simon is a myth, a complex, a respected author, a mentor, but most importantly, he is a generous beloved friend.
Simon is a great writer.
Simon used to say that “I'm sentimental” (sometimes I think he used that as an excuse to ask for more emotional care from his young editors), and his sense of sentiment contributed a great deal to his writing. His has a very subtle and observant eye for details, of people, cultural phenomena, natural surroundings, and moments of everyday life. He talks to taxi drivers with his awkward Chinese and makes friends with waiters and service people in restaurants and hotels to get to know more about Chinese people. He embraces people and culture with an open heart and that's why he could write books like People like us.
He reads extensively for ideas and inspiration. His study in Oxford made me awe when I visited. Whole walls of books pile up to the ceiling, literature, non-fiction, travel writing, philosophy… you can almost find any type of book in his study. That's why he is so eloquent and expressive in his writing. He introduced to me my all-time favorite writer Bill Bryson. And like Bill Bryson, he himself is an extremely humorous writer. I can still feel the joy and laughter reading his pieces like Leisure inactivities – or how to relax and do nothing, Duelling by folk dance, and so on (all from NSCE). His British sense of humour or irony is so deeply rooted yet you can get it so easily. A vivid picture is just in front of you while reading his work, and not many writers could do that.
Simon in Oxford Union Library
Simon at NSCE book launch
Simon is a great ELT textbook writer.
As a professional ELT textbook writer who published course books in more than 40 countries, his works speak for themselves. ELT in China has got its own characteristics, and he made enormous efforts trying to understand the college students and teachers. He sat in classes in universities across China, talked to teachers and valued my feedback as a sale rep. He worked with the Chinese team head by Prof Wen Qiufang for years, respected their experiences, opinions and contributions, but at the same time brought a whole lot of new philosophy and pedagogy to Chinese college English classrooms.
Only the writing and editorial team knew that Simon wrote 11 different versions for the sample unit of New Standard College English, not including minor revisions. He and his UK editor Deborah Friedland researched more than 300 passages for the first book as a start. There were numerous editorial discussions, disagreements, quarrels and sometimes even slamming doors or throwing eyeglasses, with all the creative ideas, it boils down to just one thing ,“We will never sacrifice quality” says Simon.
Simon was awarded the OBE ( Officer of the Order of the British Empire) and accepted by the Queen herself in the Buckingham Palace for his achievement in promoting English teaching around the world. He wrote to me the following when he got the news:
Of course, I'm extremely proud, even though I'm overwhelmed by the thought of all those people who deserve the award more than I do. But more important, I consider that it's in recognition of the work I've done in ELT with FLTRP, longer than with any other company, So I'm writing to you to thank you giving me the opportunity to offer those services for which the award has been made. It's quite clear in my mind the OBE is in substantial part for the work I've done with you, for FLTRP and for China.
NSCE editorial meeting
Simon accepting award from the Queen
Simon is a great mentor.
I began with him literally knowing nothing of textbook writing and publishing. He taught me how to develop a course syllabus, a page plan, a unit structure, a semi-ed interview, an integrated activity. He showed me what stylish and high quality design looks like, how to treat a spread as a whole, no photo/illustrations for cosmetic reasons, what is serif and sanserif, how to deal with overmatter, how to read proofs, research photos, signing off proofs… Oh God, almost everything I know about publishing, I learned from you, Simon.
He forced me to give feedback to anything he wrote within 48 hours with sound reasons and convincing evidence, which consolidated my later work with him and other writers in terms of intercultural communication and critical thinking. Remembering all the long nights working in the office with Gao trying writing back to him, remembering all the anguish caused by his email accusations of my patronization and indecisiveness and improper requirements, remembering all the stomachaches every two months when he is in Beijing for editorial discussions, I grew up and he grew old.
Simon with FLTRP editorial team
Simon with FLTRP and Macmillan Team
Simon is a great friend.
With all the misunderstanding, negotiations, quarrelling, and sometimes fighting with each other, we do became BFF as he put it.
He is a charming because he is learned, extremely intelligent and sensitive. He seems to know everything about architecture and oxford history, and he generously spent quite some time proudly showing me and Xiaoling around Oxford and explained in extreme detail the features and highlights of different colleges and buildings in an entertaining way. He seems to always know what your question is and the answer is ready for you.
He is always creative, wickedly creative. There is always a way out. I will never forget that he wanted to dig a tunnel in his suit in the famous FLTRP Daxing Convention Center and run away at midnight because he thought Daxing is too isolated.
He is human. he has stage fright every time he speaks in front of a large audience. He is embarrassed when a conference language is Chinese and he didn’t know whether and when he should stand up to say hi. He is hurt when people forget to invite him to an important occasion.
He is sometimes emotionally vulnerable. Every two months he flew from the UK to Beijing to stay for 7-10 days. It was always agony for him because he has to bear the loneliness and homesickness after work. He complained a lot and broke to tears many times.
He is hilarious. Besides all the heavy work, we take walks in the summer palace, we drink at pubs in Houhai, we eat street food, we travel to universities, we gossip, we laugh at others, we joke about our own lives, we secretly named the character of the Listening and Speaking Book Li Hui，we think the highest of our project…
At this moment, everything is past and only one hard fact left, Simon won’t be coming to Beijing again. I burst into tears!
May you rest in peace, my friend!
Simon with team at his home
Simon with team in London
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