The Black Cat monthly round-up: July 2022

We had a heatwave in the UK and I was yet again grateful that I invested in a portable air-conditioning unit a few years ago. It’s only useful for two to three days a year (although that will change, I am sure), but it’s still money well spent. There’s no way I could proofread accurately in temperatures around and above 40°C.

What I’ve been working on

I finished off the psychological thriller critique I started in June, alongside the proofread of a YA fantasy novel. I moved on to the copy-edit of a satirical crime thriller by an author I have had the pleasure of working with before. I also had a memoir to proofread for one of my publisher clients – I find I enjoy proofreading the occasional bit of non-fiction, as long as it doesn’t come with an extensive reference list or lots of footnotes. Which is just as well, as this was followed by another memoir, and I’ll complete that in early August.

What I read for fun

I managed to fit in one for-fun read in July. I’d had The House in the Cerulean Sea on my TBR list for some time. I wanted something relatively soft and gentle, and I think this book fits the bill. Throw in my favourite trope – found family – and I’m sold. It’s a lovely fantasy story, with sprinkles of wonderful humour and a touch of melancholy. It’s a tale about hope and love and acceptance, and I think we need more of those in the world.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: June 2022

In my May round-up, I mentioned a zombie horror novel I’d been copy-editing. I had previously critiqued the manuscript. Well, the absolutely fabulous news is that it has been picked up for representation. I am beyond delighted for my client – I know she had hoped to traditionally publish before deciding that self-publishing may be the best option for getting the novel out to a readership. I have to say, I was a little emotional to read the words ‘I believe you helped me get representation’.

What I’ve been working on

I finished off the copy-edit of the thriller I’d started in May and moved on to an absolute beast of a proofread – more than 215,000 words. I seem to have had a run of long manuscripts lately. Fortunately, this had been well copy-edited. It is the first contemporary novel I’ve worked on that uses the beginning of the pandemic as a key part of the storyline – I found it quite moving to look back at a time that was, really, quite naive, given what we know now. My next proofread, which will finish at the beginning of July, was young adult fantasy fiction – a breeze at ‘only’ 110,000 words. Alongside those, I have been working on the critique of the final instalment of a dark and twisting thriller series. I think the author has wrapped up an intense and, at times, disturbing series in a fitting manner.

A weekend in Brighton

Another month, another trip to a Sea Life centre. This time it was the world’s oldest aquarium – the building itself is stunning, even before you get to see the inhabitants. The turtles at this centre make April (mentioned in my May round-up) look like a tiny wee thing – one of the turtles at Brighton weighs twenty-eight stone (about 178kg). They really are astonishing.

A trip to Brighton wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the pier. The arcade was full to bursting, but I enjoyed the obligatory chips, and treated myself to some fresh doughnuts (I definitely didn’t eat all of them myself…).

The Grand was pretty much as amazing as I had hoped it would be. I was tickled to realise that my sea-view balcony was the one that has the iconic ‘GRAND’ sign on it. It’s not quite so great when it glows all night, but that can’t be helped. It was a good break and I would love to go back.

Looking ahead

There’s a CIEP local group lunch scheduled for July, which I am looking forward to. And I have been called upon to help my friend choose suitable flavours for his wedding cake – a job I am more than prepared to tackle. Bring on the samples.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: May 2022

May saw the first in-person meeting of the CIEP’s West Surrey & North Hampshire local group for more than two years. It was lovely to be able to see members face to face and to have a conversation that wasn’t limited by the reality of Zoom meetings. We were supposed to have a chartership celebration in 2020, but COVID made that impossible. I’d stowed away the shiny branded pens, pencils and bookmarks I had been intending to give out at that time, and I was able to hand them over to Ellen, our new coordinator, for her to distribute. It felt a little sad, as that was my last task as part of my coordinator responsibilities, but I know it is the right time to move on.

What I’ve been working on

Text on a background of daisies: Black Cat Editorial Services: May round-up

I finished off the copy-edit of a zombie horror novel I started in April. I’d critiqued an earlier draft of the manuscript, so it was rewarding to see how much it had improved and interesting to see how the author had decided to tackle the issues I’d raised. I moved on to the copy-edit of another novel I’d previously critiqued, and it is a sequel to a book I worked on last year. It’s always fascinating to revisit characters I am familiar with and to find out what the author has decided to throw at them this time. This copy-edit will be with me until mid-June. May brought me two proofreads for publisher clients – one was a sort of biblical fairy tale and the other was a historical adventure romance.

What I read for fun

I took my Kindle with me on my trip to Scotland and the book I had lined up was Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree. I kept reading good things about it on social media, and the real world is terrible and I really needed something cosy to distract me. I got exactly what I wanted: an interesting fantasy world, likeable central characters, relatively low stakes, found family, and lots of descriptions of pastries. I’d recommend buying yourself a cinnamon bun before you start this one – you’ll end up very jealous of fictional people otherwise. I believe it was originally self-published and has now been picked up by Tor, so it isn’t available on all platforms at the time of writing, but that’s an inspiring story in itself.

A new blog post

After far too long, I managed to find the time and brain capacity to write a new entry in my fiction essentials series. Following on from my post on how to punctuate dialogue, I’ve taken a closer look at vocative expressions – what they are, how they work, and why they are important.

A weekend in Scotland

A train carriage that has 'Caledonian Sleeper' emblazoned on it

I took the Caledonian Sleeper service from London Euston to Dumbarton and it was quite an experience. One of the things I liked most was that club tickets give you access to the first-class lounge at Euston, and that is a place where you can eat as much cake as you like, for free. A man sitting behind me had at least four scones. Other snacks, soft drinks, and hot drinks are also available. If I had realised beforehand, I would not have forked out for disappointing halloumi in a London Nando’s. The train experience itself was a bit hot and stuffy, but I found the rhythm of the train quite comforting to fall asleep to.

An Olive Ridley Turtle looks out of a large aquarium. She has a missing flipper.

Perhaps the highlight of my trip was a visit to Loch Lomond’s Sea Life centre. We were lucky enough to see the otters at feeding time and get close to April, the rescued turtle. She lost her right flipper when she was entangled in netting and her ongoing buoyancy problem means it isn’t possible for her to go back to the wild. She seemed happy enough being hand-fed and the centre of the keeper’s attention, though.

Looking ahead

I’m off for a weekend in Brighton to celebrate my sister’s birthday (it’s one of those big ones). I’ve booked rooms at the Grand, and I’m looking forward to feeling very fancy for a little while.

Fiction essentials: vocative expressions

I touched on vocative expressions in my blog post on how to punctuate dialogue, but I think it is a topic that deserves a little more exploration.


What are vocative expressions?

A vocative expression is used when someone is addressed directly in dialogue. It is often their name, but it doesn’t have to be – it could be a form of address that relates to their job, indicates their relationship to the speaker, or provides some other means of identifying them (respectfully or disrespectfully).

vocative, adjective
Relating to or denoting a case of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives in Latin and other languages, used in addressing or invoking a person or thing.
Lexico


Why are they useful in fiction?

Vocatives can serve many purposes, but there are three key reasons for using them in fiction.

Keeping track

The basic and most obvious reason to use vocatives is to help readers keep track of who is speaking and who they are talking to, especially if there are a few characters involved in the scene.

The Silent Companions (2018) by Laura Purcell, pp. 180–181
‘How now?’ Charles called again. ‘Speak up, little Hetta!’
The boys hooted again.
‘Leave her alone, Charles!’ I snapped, but it only made them laugh harder. They were so excited, I believe they would have laughed at death itself.
‘It is only in jest, Mother.’
‘I really cannot understand what Henrietta Maria is trying to communicate,’ Josiah said. ‘Anne, have you any idea?’

Showing relationships

Vocatives are an effective way to show the reader how characters relate to each other and how they feel about each other. Are they family members? Does one occupy a higher rank than the other? Do they like each other? Do they hate each other?

The Man Who Died Twice (2021) by Richard Osman, p. 199
‘But you can predict things,’ says Ibrahim. ‘The tides, the seasons, nightfall, daybreak. Earthquakes.’
‘None of that is people, though, mate,’ says Ron. ‘You can’t predict people. Like you can guess what they’ll say next, but that’s about it.’

The Way of All Flesh (2019) by Ambrose Parry, p. 66
‘What is your name?’ he asked, almost breathless in his incredulity.
‘It is Sarah,’ she replied, her words barely discernible over the sound of the screaming children.
‘Yes, I know that part. Your surname.’
‘Fisher.’
‘And you are a housemaid, Miss Fisher, are you not?’
‘Yes, sir.’

Conveying emotions

Well-used vocatives can help to show us the emotions of the speaker – they are a great tool for evoking a deeper sense of how the characters are feeling. We might often associate this sort of usage with annoyance, urgency or surprise, but it can show us sorrow, patience or concern just as well.

Seven Devils (2020) by Elizabeth May and Laura Lam, p. 300
Briggs could barely keep his eyes open. His skin was pale. “Hold on, Briggs,” Sher said. ‘We’re getting you out.”


Too many vocatives

Natural speech doesn’t tend to incorporate vocatives as often as you might think – too many will make the dialogue sound stilted and false. And readers are likely to find overuse really quite annoying. There are other ways to indicate who is being talked to, or who is present in the scene, without sprinkling the dialogue with vocatives. Let’s ruin a bit of a very good novel to demonstrate the point:

The Silver Collar (2020) by Antonia Hodgson, p. 307
The town was looking for a new schoolmaster. Was that something I might consider? […]
‘Is that what you want?’ she asked me.
‘I don’t know. Perhaps.’ If you want it, my love.
She narrowed her eyes. ‘Tom, you would hate it.’
‘I would not! Nayland is a very fine town, with plenty of taverns…’
‘A schoolmaster.’
‘A noble occupation.’
‘Yes. One that requires you to sit cooped up in a room for hours—’
‘I can do that!’
‘Sober, Tom. Sober.’

The same scene, but with vocatives turned up to eleven
The town was looking for a new schoolmaster. Was that something I might consider? […]
‘Is that what you want, Tom?’ she asked me.
‘I don’t know, Kitty. Perhaps.’ If you want it, my love.
She narrowed her eyes. ‘Tom, you would hate it.’
‘I would not! Nayland is a very fine town, Kitty, with plenty of taverns…’
‘A schoolmaster, Tom.’
‘A noble occupation, Kitty.’
‘Yes, Tom. One that requires you to sit cooped up in a room for hours—’
‘I can do that, Kitty!’
‘Sober, Tom. Sober.’

The second one is hideous, isn’t it? It’s horrible to read and it totally destroys the impact of when Kitty does address Tom directly. In the original, we can hear her suspicion, mixed with a little frustration and amusement; in our version, the characters might as well be robots.


Punctuating vocatives

We need to use commas to make it clear that a vocative expression is in action, and this is how to do it:

  • If the vocative expression is at the beginning of the sentence, it needs a comma after it [1]
  • If the vocative expression is at the end of the sentence, it needs a comma before it [2]
  • If the vocative expression interrupts the sentence, it needs a comma before and after it [3]
  1. ‘Evan, have you seen my ice cream?’
  2. ‘That’s my tub of ice cream, Evan.’
  3. ‘If you don’t put my ice cream down, Evan, we won’t be friends anymore.’

Vocatives need to be punctuated correctly to prevent ambiguity. We’ve probably all seen the classic ‘Let’s eat Grandma!’ mistake floating around social media, and that’s the sort of thing we want to avoid.


Capitalising vocatives

This is, I think, one of the things that writers struggle with the most. There are some simple guidelines, but sometimes it can be a little more complicated. Remember, these are for forms of direct address – there are different conventions when some of these words are used descriptively.

Names are proper nouns and so they always take an initial capital letter:

  • ‘Where are you going on holiday, Annie?’

Terms of respect and endearment take lower case in general use:

  • ‘I don’t know where your teddy is, sweetie.’
  • ‘Can I help you find your coat, sir?’

Terms of respect used with names become proper nouns and take upper case:

  • ‘Would you like to try the tea, Miss Harwood?’

Titles of rank and nobility take initial capitals:

  • ‘Where, Detective Inspector, did the body go?’
  • ‘I can’t stand any more of this heat, Captain.’

Titles indicating relationships take upper case:

  • ‘Thank you for visiting me, Dad.’
  • ‘Can you teach me how to paint like that, Auntie?’

Why do vocative expressions matter?

Vocatives are a useful tool. They help the writer convey who is being addressed and how they are being addressed, and they can help to give a deeper, richer sense of mood and indicate how the characters feel about and relate to each other. It’s important to be mindful with our usage, though. We don’t want to make the dialogue jarring and annoying to read, and we don’t want to distract the reader with ambiguities.

Resources:

Quoted works:

  • The Silent Companions (2018), Laura Purcell, Raven Books
  • The Man Who Died Twice (2021), Richard Osman, Viking (Penguin Books)
  • The Way of All Flesh (2019), Ambrose Parry, Canongate
  • Seven Devils (2020), Elizabeth May and Laura Lam, Gollancz
  • The Silver Collar (2020), Antonia Hodgson, Hodder & Stoughton

Hannah McCall is a line-editor, copy-editor and proofreader who specialises in working with independent authors and publishers of commercial fiction, particularly speculative fiction. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) and a Partner Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

The Black Cat monthly round-up: April 2022

I’m glad to be able to report that I have recovered from whatever lurgy I had in March and I was pretty much back to full capacity for April.

What I’ve been working on

I wrapped up the critique I started in March and the manuscript will be back with me for copy-editing in late May. It’s always exciting to see the improvements that have been made between my two stages of involvement. I had two publisher proofreads in April – one a gentle piece of children’s fiction and the other a twisty crime comedy that is definitely for adults. I’ve also been working on the copy-edit of a horror novel, and that will take me into mid-May.

What I read for fun

I had some time without a critique manuscript, so it freed my brain to enjoy a for-fun read. SI Clarke (one of my wonderful clients) introduced me to the existence of a very intriguing novel: Catherynne M. Valente’s Space Opera. It follows a washed-up glam-rock band who are chosen to represent Earth at the biggest song contest in the galaxy, with world-ending consequences should they fail. Valente’s inspiration by and love for Eurovision is very clear throughout, and that’s something I can appreciate. Space Opera is a story of hope and nonsense and some very well-observed truths. I think the writing style is likely to divide readers, though. The text is, generally, beautifully constructed, but sometimes it meanders, and occasionally it teeters on being overwrought. It is prose that seems best treated as an indulgence – many paragraphs are almost stories in themselves, to be experienced as whimsical but insightful detours into the human condition. If you are looking for sharp, snappy storytelling, this is not the book for you, but it is a rewarding read if you have the patience for it.

Looking ahead

I’m going to Scotland at the beginning of May and I’ve decided to use it as an opportunity to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while – I’m taking the Caledonian Sleeper and I’ve booked a room. I will, for the first time in my life, be sleeping on the top bunk like one of the cool kids. Eight-year-old me would be very proud. Later in May the West Surrey & North Hampshire CIEP local group will be having their first meeting in more than two years, and I am very much looking forward to seeing everyone again.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: March 2022

I had the lurgy (fortunately not the lurgy, which I have thus far managed to avoid) for a good chunk of March, so I have had a fairly light month in terms of full-length projects. This is one of the drawbacks of being self-employed – there’s no safety net if I can’t work because I’m simply not well enough to do so. Sure, I could blunder my way through a project and hope my client doesn’t mind or notice, but I wouldn’t consider that to ever be acceptable. Our professional standards are part of what defines us.

What I’ve been working on

When I was able to think coherently, I spent most of my time on the proofread of a comic post-apocalyptic tale that took multiple genre tropes and smashed them together in an irreverent fever dream. I also had a critique manuscript on my desk – this was the sequel to a novella I critiqued in 2019, and from an author I have worked with regularly since then. I think I say this sort of thing quite often, but it really is rewarding to see an author grow into their own style and gain confidence in their storytelling.

Thank you to my students

I had a flood of proofreading assignments submitted to me in March, and it took me a little longer than it usually would to mark and return them to my students. The course maximum is three weeks, but I normally aim to send my feedback within two weeks so there’s not too much of a lull in the learning process. I know how important this training is to many of my students, so I am grateful for their patience.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: February 2022

Well, February was… February. I don’t know what to say, really, so I’ll leave it to the CIEP’s statement of solidarity. To return to personal concerns, I have decided not to go to the London Book Fair this year, as I’m not quite ready to spend a day in an enclosed space with thousands of other people, but I’m tentatively planning to go next year.

What I’ve been working on

On the face of it, it doesn’t look like I did much this month, but that’s not quite accurate. I finished the critique of an apocalyptic horror novel I started in late January, and I’m delighted that I will be working with the author again once they have finished their revisions. It’s always very interesting, and usually very rewarding, to copy-edit a novel I have seen in an earlier form and already given advice on. The rest of the month, apart from my obligatory tutoring time, was taken up by the proofread of an absolute monster of a book. It was non-fiction for one of my publisher clients, and at 225,000 words, it was by far and away the longest manuscript I have ever worked on. It’s a real challenge when a manuscript is that long – there’s just so much to keep track of.

A new hobby

Last year, I spent a long time working with one of my favourite clients on an epic fantasy series, and every so often a character would ride a horse and I’d leave a comment for the author about how I am not sure a horse actually works in the way described – and then we’d end up changing it. I was basing a lot of this on my faded memories of my own horse riding when I was a child. This led me to thinking fondly of hacks and the countryside and the smell of horse (is that weird? I’m not the only one, right?), and I wondered if it would be awkward to start lessons again as an adult. Plus, it would be great to refresh my knowledge for when I work on other fantasy series. After much searching, I found a good riding school that hadn’t shut down over the course of the pandemic, and I’ve taken up the reins again. My legs hated me for a week after my first lesson, and my coccyx is not a fan of my attempts at trotting, but I think I’m making progress…

The Black Cat monthly round-up: January 2022

I took a fairly extended break over Christmas and New Year’s, but it still feels like I was back at my desk rather quickly. I think there might be something wrong with time in general – January itself has been and gone in a flash. But let us put aside my general displeasure with the progression of time. January 2022 marks a significant change in my professional life, which I will talk more about below.

What I’ve been working on

I have eased back into work with three proofreads, all for my publisher clients. The first was non-fiction, which is something of a rarity for me now. The second was a contemporary thriller and the third was irreverent speculative fiction. At the end of January I took on my first critique of the year and that will stay with me until late February.

What I read for fun

I have two for-fun reads to report for January. I’d had both of them sitting in my TBR pile for some time and I’m pleased to report that past-me was right to buy them. The Cat Who Saved Books, by Sosuke Natsukawa, is an international bestseller and I can see why. It’s a lovely short novel with quirky characters and lots of depth. The Haunting Season is a collection of ghost stories, most of them very gothic in feel. Natasha Pulley is one of my favourite authors and she contributed to this collection, which is what convinced me to purchase it. The storytelling is generally solid and enjoyable, and there are some interesting ideas wrapped up in these tales. One of the things I like most about short stories like these is the deliciousness of an abhorrent central character making their way towards the ending they thoroughly deserve.

Goodbye to coordinating

I have been the coordinator for the CIEP (formerly SfEP) West Surrey and North Hampshire local group for nearly five years and I have decided that it is time for me to move on. My workload has increased significantly since I took on the role and I can no longer give the group the time and attention it deserves. It has been a wonderful experience and I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to look after our little corner of the CIEP. It has taught me so much, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that I am a different, better person now because of my time as a coordinator. I have made some incredible friends and I will always regard the group with great fondness. I am delighted that Ellen Rebello has agreed to take over the role and I know that the group will be in excellent hands.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: December 2021

This is the fourth December round-up for Black Cat Editorial Services, so it is time for the now-obligatory report from my project-tracking spreadsheet. It tells me that my 2021 projects had a combined word count of 3,192,937 – slightly down on my total word count for 2020. This is to be expected, though, as this was my first full year of working as a tutor for the CIEP’s Proofreading Headway and Progress courses (my trusty spreadsheet tells me this accounts for 140 hours of work).

On a personal level, I found 2021 to be a distinct improvement on 2020. I have been fortunate to maintain my workflow from my publishing clients and to have many returning indie clients. It’s wonderful to have clients who put such trust in me, and I am very grateful to you all.

Continuing professional development

I look to take one formal course every year and I managed to squeeze it in at the end of December. I chose the Publishing Training Centre’s An Editor’s Guide to Editing Fiction. It is mostly aimed at editors who are new to editing fiction, but it was good to refresh my practice and see what advice the course authors have to offer.

What I’ve been working on

I took a fairly extended break over Christmas and New Year’s, but I still managed to get a few proofreads under my belt. I finished off the proofread of the political thriller I started in November and moved on to a novel about a mother coming to terms with her own mortality. I also had the proofread of the second instalment in a lovely sci-fi series from one of my long-standing indie clients. It was the ideal way to finish off my work in 2021.

Looking ahead

The West Surrey & North Hampshire local group has a meeting scheduled for January. The current situation means I have refrained from making many plans for 2022, but I hope to attend the CIEP conference (which is currently planned as an in-person gathering).

The Black Cat monthly round-up: November 2021

This is my fourth November round-up. In my first one, I talked about joining the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) – it doesn’t feel like it can be that long ago that I was waiting to find out if I would pass their vetting process. I did, and it’s been a worthwhile experience; I am glad I took the step to join. ALLi is a great source of information and support, for indie authors and for the services that help them. I’ve met some great people via the organisation, including some clients I have gone on to work with many times. I see the decision to join ALLi as a bit of a turning point. Along with my achievement of Advanced Professional Member status (July 2019) with the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (then the SfEP), it is a major contributor to the success of Black Cat Editorial Services so far, and I hope that will continue.

What I’ve been working on

I finished the two copy-edits I had been working on in October. I followed these with the copy-edit of an unusual, thought-provoking ghost story and some short stories for one of my long-term indie clients. I also took on the proofread of a political thriller for one of my publisher clients. My BA is in politics, so it was interesting to see my current specialism meet with my academic specialism.

Looking ahead

I will be slowing down for a break over Christmas. However, I do need to get my formal CPD for 2021 done, so that will be something to focus on in December.