The Black Cat monthly round-up: March 2019

I predicted, in my February round-up, that I would be a bit tired by the end of March. I was right. This is a long round-up. Let’s get into it.

What I’ve been working on

I’ve had my greedy little mitts on four projects this month. I finished off the two fiction proofreads I started in February – one a medieval romance and the other the contemporary tale of a fight to save much-loved communal land. Then I was straight on to an alternative history novel. The author delved into the horrifying consequences of a different ending to World War II – and it wasn’t the obvious different ending.

My last project will take me into April (April already!). It’s a work of fiction based on a real-life murder, and the author has deftly woven the story using points of view from two first-person narrators and an omniscient narrator – a tall order to pull off.

The fiction editors’ mini-conference

Black Cat Editorial Services_ March round-upThis was the first of my trips to London in March, and for this train journey I treated myself to a first-class ticket (what decadence). It got even better when I arrived at the venue to find several platters of pastries on offer.

The first session was Efficient Editing – Your Way with the brilliant Kia Thomas. Kia knows how to deliver a good session, and I picked up some handy tips for making the most of Word. The second session was on Manuscript Critiques. Aki Schilz and Anna South gave interesting insights into how they approach manuscript assessment. They both stressed the importance of being frank, but respectful, when working with authors. It’s all too easy to create or encourage unrealistic expectations. This was a point that struck a chord – it’s important to me that I am honest, but sensitive and empathetic, when I work with authors.

After lunch (a lovely buffet, the highlight of which was the smoked salmon on focaccia) was the third session: Some Points of View on Point of View with Tom Bromley. It was my favourite session of the day. Tom has a vast amount of experience and knowledge to share – I could have listened to him for a few more hours, to be honest. The final session was on How Editors Can Help Indie Authors. Orna Ross and Roz Morris shared their thoughts on the editor–author relationship within self-publishing, and talked about some of the current issues and innovations within the self-publishing arena.

Sarah Calfee and Carrie O’Grady did a fantastic job of organising the conference. I had a great – if long! – day, and I was very glad to have the wonderful company of my SfEP buddy Louise Pearce, of Refine Fiction, during and when travelling to/from the event. Thank you, Louise.

The London Book Fair

I was back to London (standard-class ticket this time – I’m not made of money) for the annual book fair. It’s a super day out for those in the publishing industry, although it did seem to lack a little of the sparkle it had last year. I dropped in, of course, to the SfEP stand to say an awkward hello, and managed to catch the end of a discussion on KDP at Author HQ. The Children’s Hub hosted a panel session called Diversity: Where’s the Issue? which I was pleased I was in time to listen to. The panel were spot-on with their assessment: diversity should be included naturally and incidentally. On a personal level, it felt particularly relevant because I had recently had the difficult task of pointing out to a client (a publishing house) some issues with the manuscript they had sent me. I was fortunate, later in the day, to be able to listen to a reading by and discussion with Seno Gumira Ajidarma.

What I read for fun

A copy of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens accompanied me on both of my trips to London. If there’s one thing a train journey is good for, it’s having time to get stuck into a book. I’ve no idea why it has taken me so long to get round to reading Good Omens. It’s everything you would expect, really. Bring on the TV adaptation.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned at the London Book Fair is that Titan have commissioned three novels set during the timeline of the Firefly TV series. I was just a tad excited (and baffled as to why I hadn’t heard of it sooner). I immediately ordered the first one: Big Damn Hero. It’s entertaining enough and I’ll read the second book, eventually.

Alongside Good Omens and Big Damn Hero, I made my way through The Art of the Novel. It’s a collection of essays (edited by Nicholas Royle) on the writing of novels, and I like it very much. It provides little snippets of insight into the minds of the contributors (all novelists). The authors and subjects are diverse, and the advice is sound.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: February 2019

February felt like a very short but busy month at Black Cat HQ. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of projects come my way. Around my editing work, I managed to fit in a lovely afternoon tea with my sister and a few days in the beautiful county of Yorkshire. The unseasonably warm weather, while worrying for the future, made it a very pleasant trip.

Black Cat Editorial Services_ February round-upWhat I’ve been working on

I completed the proofread for the PhD thesis I started work on in January. The end of this overlapped with the edit of a sci-fi/horror novel for a well-established independent author. I don’t often get to edit science-fiction, and I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. And I don’t often edit US English – although I frequently proofread it – and to do so with this project was an interesting departure from the norm.

My next project was the proofread of a story exploring the idea of eternal love. Parts of it were set in a country in east Africa and parts of it took place in the UK – a juxtaposition that was used to good effect.

I have two projects on my desk as I write this, and they will take me into early March. Both are fiction, but strikingly different. The first is the story of a rural village’s fight against the development of communal land. The second is an epic re-telling of a doomed medieval romance.

The CPD session

The West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group held a continuing professional development session on professional practice. It was, in theory, led by me (not a role that comes easily) but I was pleased – although not surprised – that the group members were chatty, enthusiastic, and generous with their thoughts. We shared ideas and techniques for a wide range of interactions with clients and focused heavily on the paperwork we use (such as project agreements, style sheets, and feedback forms). I have to say I found the session extremely valuable. I will be making changes!

Looking ahead

The West Surrey and North Hampshire local group has a lunch meeting in early March. A few days after that, I will be off to London for the fiction mini-conference. The line-up looks brilliant, and I am really looking forward to it. I am hoping to find the session on helping self-publishing authors particularity useful. A day or so later I will be back in London, with a couple of my favourite SfEP colleagues, for the London Book Fair. We went last year and had a great time. I expect to be completely knackered by the end of March.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: January 2019

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Ella with her hurty paw.

The new year didn’t have the best of starts for poor Ella. She managed to split one of her nails down to the nail bed, which was very painful, and she had to have the nail removed under anaesthetic. She spent a few days with a bandaged paw, and she had to wear a plastic boot when out on (short) walks. She sounded like a small horse clopping around. In true spaniel style, she finished January with another injury – a snapped dewclaw. I’m hoping she’ll be more careful with her paws in February! The recent snow has certainly cheered her up.

What I’ve been working on

I managed to pack in a lot of work during January, and it couldn’t really have been more diverse. My first project was an account of the adventures of a community of dowsers – many of the events reported took place in warm and sunny climes, which was a nice antidote to the January weather. The second project was an elegantly structured novel about a young man who finds himself in big trouble with a local mob boss. My third and final January project will run into February – I’m proofreading a well-researched and interesting PhD thesis on the healthcare sector.

What I read for fun

I managed to pack in a lot of reading for fun as well – January was a long month. I started with Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. I bought the absolutely stunning collector’s edition, and I’m glad I did. It’s fast-paced, moving and quite dark, with a welcome streak of humour.

I pre-ordered the The BBlack Cat Editorial Services_ January round-upinding by Bridget Collins some time ago, on the strength of the premise and the book’s aesthetic. It was released in early January (my copy actually turned up before the release date), and I was not disappointed. The cover is truly gorgeous  – I gasped when I peeked under the dust jacket. The story itself is beautifully written, powerful and engaging. The implications of the book’s core concept are quite terrifying.

I’d heard good things about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, and it lived up to the hype. It’s deeply sad, but there are passages that made me snort with laughter. I can’t remember the last time I read a book with such a strong narrator’s voice. Eleanor seems to me to be a truly unique character.

My final read of this month was Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers. It seems strange, considering the heartbreaking things that happen in the Wayfarers books, that I should find the novels so comforting. I wasn’t sure I would like the style of this one – multiple stories, each from a different character’s perspective, eventually coming together to tell a bigger story – but I loved it. It worked brilliantly.

Looking ahead

The West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group is meeting in mid-February for a tips and techniques session on professional practice. We’re going to look at how we interact with our clients, and the aim is to help each other improve and develop the strategies and tools we use. But what I’m really looking forward to is the bring-and-share lunch.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: December 2018

Black Cat Editorial Services_It’s the end of December, and it’s the end of 2018. I keep a spreadsheet of all my projects, helping me to keep track of word counts and how long each project took. That spreadsheet tells me I edited a staggering 2,092,001 words this year – that feels like reason enough for a bit of time off before getting back into the swing of things in January.

What I’ve been working on

I thought it might be a quiet month in terms of work, what with all the festivities, but I’ve been kept busy with two sizeable fiction proofreads. The first was reminiscent of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, if Alice had been a belligerent middle-aged man. The second was the story of an unhappy Victorian marriage – this was unusual in that it used (with good effect) extracts from diaries, letters and newspapers to tell the story.

What I read for fun

I got through four books in December – it’s a great month for going to bed early but staying up late to read. Jess Castle and the Eyeballs of Death, by M. B. Vincent, was a perfect cosy read. It made me laugh out loud, it was easy to read (I mean that in a good way), there were the usual comforting clichés, and it had likeable central characters.

I followed Jess Castle with Spellslinger. Sebastien de Castell has written an engaging narrator in Kellan, but Reichis, the foul-mouthed squirrel cat, is the stand-out character for me. Shadowblack, the next in the series, is already in my TBR pile.

Father Christmas gave me a copy of The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth and Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine by Thomas Morris. It’s billed as ‘Horrible Histories for adults’ and I can understand the comparison. As you can probably imagine, there are quite a few stories of unfortunate souls who have stuck things in places they shouldn’t have. The index is a thing of beauty, by the way. I recommend checking it out.

My last read of December was Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas – I read the whole book in one day, so I think we can say I enjoyed it, despite the author’s tendency to describe dresses in great detail. I wasn’t even particularly annoyed by the love triangle.

Looking ahead

Goodbye to 2018. One of my first events in the new year will be lunch with the West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group. I’m very much looking forward to a catch-up with my local edibuddies.

Here’s to a happy and successful new year for us all.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: November 2018

Black Cat Editorial Services_ November round-upWhere is the year going? It seems far too early for this to be the penultimate round-up for 2018. We had a guest at Black Cat HQ for some of November: Mini was back with us for ten days while her dads had a lovely time on holiday in Cyprus. I thought about that occasionally as I trudged around in the mud and rain with three dogs.

Professional news

I applied to join the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) as a Partner Member. ALLi (pronounced like ‘ally’) is a professional association for authors who self-publish books. I’ve turned to ALLi resources and checked their Watchdog reports on many occasions. I enjoy working with independent authors, and so it seemed a natural step to become a member. As a potential Partner Member I was vetted by the Watchdog Desk, and I’m pleased to be able to say that I passed (with a lovely report summary that rather made my week). You can check out my member profile here.

What I’ve been working on

I started November with a proofread of a novel about a woman pursuing her dream of opening a bookshop. It was an interesting reflection on what is important in life and on taking risks in order to achieve what you really want. The rest of the month was taken up by a fictionalised account of the major events to befall European royal houses in the last century or so.

What I read for fun

I started Tombland by C. J. Sansom in October, but I finished it, and the devastating last act, in November. To get into the (just after) Halloween spirit, I picked up a copy of The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell. I found it genuinely creepy, and the companions are a terrifying concept, but I have some misgivings about the association of physical deformity with evil.

It’s an interesting coincidence that my next read was Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve – the themes around facial disfigurement in this are extremely powerful. I read most of Mortal Engines in one night, and I am surprised the book passed me by when it was first published and I’ve only found this world now there’s a film to be released shortly.

My last read of this month was Crime in the Community by Cecilia Peartree. It’s fast paced, funny and enjoyable – exactly what I needed after a run of fairly dark books.

Blog posts

I published one post on the Black Cat blog this month: a discussion of four punctuation problems I see in almost every manuscript I work on – four punctuation problems that have simple fixes. Sometimes it can be hard to get your head around punctuation and style rules, but these are easy wins everyone can benefit from.

As usual, I shared a few blog posts on Twitter. Perhaps the most useful for writers is Louise Harnby’s advice on presenting a story to be read, rather than as if it is to be watched.

Looking ahead

There’s one West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group meeting left for 2018 – it’s a morning meeting where we will have tea/coffee and cake and celebrate the festive season.

I expect to slow down on the work front, but I will still be available by email for most of the Christmas period.

Simple fixes: how to solve four common punctuation problems

Black Cat simple fixes_ four common punctuation problems(1)Punctuation can be a tricky beast. There are so many potential pitfalls and rules that should be followed, but there are some easy wins, some minor tweaks you can make that will elevate the standard of your writing. Here are four easily rectified errors I come across a lot. And they are errors to watch out for even if you are going to work with a copy-editor – or perhaps I should say especially if you are going to work with a copy-editor. If I look through a manuscript and see I don’t have to make these corrections all the way through, I’m going to charge less. So, let’s grab that low-hanging and money-saving fruit.

Ellipses that aren’t

EllipsisEllipses are the ‘three little dots’ that are used to indicate an omission or a trailing away of speech. In typeset text an ellipsis is not usually represented by three separate full stops – an ellipsis is a single symbol.* (You can see in the example image that the spacing is different.) When you are typing in Word, the software will probably autocorrect your three full stops to the ellipsis symbol. If it doesn’t, you should insert the symbol yourself (Windows users can press and hold the ALT key and then type in 0133). The main reason for doing this is to make sure that the dots don’t get split up over two lines; we want the three dots to be next to each other, or it’s going to look really weird. I frequently find that four full stops have been keyed in, which leaves us with an ellipsis and an extraneous full stop. Sometimes I’m faced with two full stops, and I have to decide if an ellipsis was intended, or query it with the author – which is time we could both spend on more important things.

*Some styles do represent an ellipsis using three full stops, but they are joined by non-breaking spaces – which means they operate like a single symbol but are more fiddly to insert.

‘Reversed’ apostrophes

Reverse apostropheApostrophes are used to mark omissions or indicate a possessive; I’m sure you know that. But I see ‘reversed’ apostrophes in nearly every manuscript I work on – in fact, I expect to see them. Reversed apostrophes often occur in the case of omissions, particularly things like rock ‘n’ roll or ’tis. It’s so common, you might not even realise it is an error (look at rock ’n’ roll again). Apostrophes are only one way round – the reversed apostrophe is actually an opening single quote mark. It can be hard to spot this error, and I’d recommend being alert to it as you are typing. Do not trust Word to know whether you wanted an apostrophe or an opening quote mark.

Please note, however, that there are some marks that look like reversed apostrophes but are not. You’re likely to run into these when using Arabic, Greek and Hebrew names and phrases, so do double-check if in doubt.

Hyphens used as dashes

Hyphen and dashes(1)Hyphens connect words and bits of words together. They are not a substitute for a dash. I often see a hyphen in number ranges (like this: 15-20) and used as a parenthetical dash (like this: the cat-the one with a bushy tail-was on the mat). En rules are used between elements that form a range (like this: 15–20). En rules (with a space either side) or em rules (without a space either side) are used as parenthetical dashes (like this: the cat – the one with the bushy tail – was on the mat. Or this: the cat—the one with the bushy tail—was on the mat). Word will often autocorrect spaced hyphens to spaced en rules, but lots of them slip through. The ALT code for an en rule is 0150 and the code for an em rule is 0151.

Double quote marks inside double quote marks or single quote marks inside single quote marks

It doesn’t really matter which style of quote mark you use – single or double – but it does matter that you don’t use the same style for quoted text within quoted text. If you have, for example, a character quoting someone else, the quote marks should be used like this:

Single and double quotes

Applying these simple fixes

Ideally you will have read this post before your novel reached 80,000 words, you’ve completed your edits, and you are about to show your manuscript to someone, but life is not ideal. Make use of Word’s Find function – but be wary when using Find and Replace. Check each change before you make it and resist the temptation to hit ‘Replace all’.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: October 2018

Black Cat Editorial Services_October round-upI write this post while wearing fingerless gloves – a sure sign, if one were needed, that November is about to nudge October out of the way. It was fortunate it was still warm mid-October when I spent a weekend on the Isle of Wight. It’s one of my favourite places – beautiful countryside, lovely beaches and great food.

What I’ve been working on

I started the month with a proofread of a book that collected the author’s research on a lost medieval village. It was complicated, with lots of place names and specialist terms and end notes, but it was fascinating. I finished the month with a fantasy epic, which contained many of the traditional elements: a struggle between good and evil, large-scale battles, death-defying escapes, a Dark Lord, magic, orphans, a wise mentor, ancient beings, mythical creatures… There was even a dragon. I bloody love dragons.

What I read for fun

We Are the End, by Gonzalo C. Garcia, is a complex book in terms of themes. I read it as a snapshot of the life of a man who has depression. It’s challenging, moving, and darkly funny. The main character, Tomás, is sympathetic and relatable, even when he’s wishing people who make him uncomfortable would die. That’s a testament to the skill of the writer. And I admire the unusual design of the book – some text is upside down, there are squiggles that disappear off the page, whole sections of text are crossed out.

I’ve read a few of Matt Haig’s books over the last few months, and I couldn’t help but pick up a copy of The Truth Pixie. It’s a beautiful book, with a lovely story, wonderful illustrations (by Chris Mould), and an important message. It conveys many truths, one of the most crucial being  ‘… you’ll never know happy unless you know sad’. It would have been of great comfort to me when I was a child – it was a comfort now that I’m a supposed grown-up. Being an editor is a great excuse to read whatever I want – I can’t edit children’s fiction unless I read children’s fiction.

I’m halfway through Tombland by C. J. Sansom. It is, as with the rest of the Shardlake series, beautifully and engagingly written. Matthew Shardlake is such a well-constructed character that I can’t help but find his difficulties and pain deeply upsetting. It’s like reading about horrible things happening to a friend. I will need to read something a bit lighter after this one, I think.

Blog posts

I published two posts on the Black Cat blog this month. The first was a slightly tongue-in-cheek post about why you shouldn’t choose me as your editor. It has a serious side, though. I think it’s important that an editor is not only a good fit for the project but also for the client. And I think it is important to set realistic expectations. The second was to encourage fellow editors to join in with Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) local groups. It focused a lot on the benefits to editors, but there are benefits for our clients: an editor who spends time with other editors is continually learning, is exposed to different methods and experiences, and has access to a network of brilliant publishing professionals.

I’ve shared quite a few blog posts on Twitter. They include a superb bit of microfiction,  great advice on submission rejections, and reasons to write fiction of different lengths. Sarah Grey wrote a wonderful blog post on inclusive language, which was published by the SfEP. It’s not just of value to editors – writers should read it too. We all want to ‘welcome readers into the text and keep them reading’.

Looking ahead

I’ll be having lunch with the lovely West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group in early November. It’s our last lunch meeting of the year, but we will be having tea and cake in December to celebrate the festive season. Mini will be back at Black Cat HQ mid-November, while her dads enjoy a holiday in the sun. I’ll spend the rest of November enjoying the peace and quiet after a week of doggy chaos.

The benefits of SfEP local groups

Are you a member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP)? Are you thinking about becoming an SfEP member?* If the answer is yes to either question, have you met up with a local group yet? Even before I became the coordinator for the West Surrey and North Hampshire local group, I recommended local groups wholeheartedly. It can be a bit scary to put yourself out there, but here’s why you should go along:

It gets you out and about

I can go days without talking to someone outside of my immediate family, and that’s probably not very healthy. I can have whole months when I only leave the house to walk the dogs. That’s definitely not healthy. But it’s such an easy default to slip into when you are self-employed and working from home. I don’t have to talk to anyone (I’m not counting contact with clients). Regular, face-to-face meetings with other human beings are the perfect antidote to the little bubbles we can find ourselves trapped in.

You will build a support network

LGMThis, for me, is the most valuable aspect of attending a local group. Every couple of months I meet up with people who care about how I’m getting on, and I care about how they are getting on. We share our successes and our troubles. We give and receive advice and support. Being able to talk to people who do what you do, and understand the things you are dealing with, is extremely important. There is no need to feel isolated or lost or out of your depth. It has never been the case that a member of our group has been alone in whatever was worrying them.

You’ll learn things

Many local groups hold training sessions or continuing professional development (CPD) days – a quick glance through the calendar of events confirms a range of topics. Our last CPD day was about working with PDFs. The next one will be about professional practice. But it’s not all about dedicated sessions and specific topics. I’ve learnt such a lot from our informal meetings. If you approach the meetings with openness and generosity, you’ll find it reciprocated.

You may get work out of it

Let me start this section by saying I consider it poor etiquette to ask for leads, and I don’t think I am alone in that. However, when you get to know other editors they may become inclined to refer work to you, if they can’t take it on themselves. I refer work to other members of my group, and members of the group refer work to me. I’ve picked up some excellent projects this way, and I know other members have too. And it’s good for our clients – we can’t take on the project, but we know someone who may be able to, and we know they will do a good job.

It’s fun

A lot of local group meetings involve food. If you are anything like me, that will be all the encouragement you need. West Surrey and North Hampshire meetings are usually lunches. It’s a couple of hours of sitting with your friends, eating good food, and having a chat. I’ve spoken to a few other coordinators and they all aim for a friendly, welcoming environment, where you can enjoy yourself.

Want to learn more?

The SfEP has a lot of information about the local groups. If you are an SfEP member, you should join your local group’s forum and see what they are up to. And you can always email the coordinator(s) for more information. We are volunteers – we aren’t paid for the time we spend on local group business – but we’ll do our best to assist. It’s always lovely to welcome new group members.


*Non-SfEP members can attend up to three meetings. Once you’ve joined the SfEP, you can attend as many meetings as you like. And you aren’t restricted to one group – join as many as you want!

Five reasons NOT to choose Black Cat Editorial Services

Black Cat Editorial Services_why I'm NOT the editor for youThere are lots of proofreaders and copy-editors out there, all trying to make themselves visible and entice you to use their services. It can be hard to choose the right one for you. Will they do a good job? Will they understand what you want to achieve? Will you like them? Well, I’m going to make your life a bit easier and tell you why you should cross me off your list of editors to contact.

I’m totally laissez-faire

You’re using serial commas? Cool. You aren’t using serial commas? Also cool (unless they are needed for sense). We are using single quote marks for concepts but double quote marks for speech? No problem, as long as it’s consistent. You want to spell verbs with the -ize ending? Super, I’ll make sure they’re all like that. It’s your writing and they are your style choices, not mine.

I’ll encourage your ‘rule’ breaking

Rules, legitimate or otherwise, shouldn’t come between you and great writing. Split your infinitives for effect. Put a preposition at the end of the sentence because it reads more naturally. Use comma splices in that section of dialogue to convey your character’s anxiousness. I’ve got your back.

I’ll ask you some hard questions

Is this word appropriate in this context? Could we make this language more inclusive? Have you got permission to use these song lyrics? I’ll admit it right now: I might be a tiny bit annoying. But that’s better than alienating your audience or getting in trouble because you forgot to seek copyright permissions.

My services aren’t cheap

I’m a highly trained professional. I edit for a living. I invest in continuing professional development. I belong to one of the most respected editing organisations in the world. My time and services are in constant demand. And I have a cat who will eat only Felix As Good as it Looks.

You might have to wait a while

It’s really, really unlikely I’ll be able to start work on your 100,000-word manuscript immediately, and I definitely won’t get it back to you within a couple of days. I’m usually booked up at least two weeks in advance, so the best thing to do is get in contact as early as you can. And your project deserves time and attention – I won’t rush through it or assume it’s all fine. I’ll take my time on an edit, and I’ll do it properly.

In summary

If you want an editor to take the ‘rules’ and their favourite style guide and stamp them all over your writing, you’ll find me very disappointing. If you’d like thoughtful guidance and support, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re searching for someone who won’t flag up anything dubious buried in your manuscript, I’m not for you. If you want to work with an editor who will advocate for your potential readers and support your long-term interests, you’ve found her.

If you need editorial services that are cheap and quick, you’d best look elsewhere. If you want high-quality editing, giving your writing the time and respect it deserves, Black Cat Editorial Services is for you.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: September 2018

Black Cat Editorial Services_September 2018September is one of the months I enjoy most. This is mostly because it contains the day of my birth, but I also enjoy the cooler weather, the changing colours of the trees, and the return of Strictly Come Dancing. I was kept very busy this month, and there is lots to report.

My trip to Lancaster

The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) held its annual conference in early September, and I embarked on a 500-mile round trip to join in. I had never attended a conference (for anything) before, and I’m very glad I changed that. It was a brilliant, but tiring, four days. If you want to read more, I wrote a long and involved blog post all about the conference.

I brought back some SfEP badges for members of the West Surrey and North Hampshire local group. We had a lunch meeting at the Shepherd and Flock – the table in the bay window is the ideal place for a good chat and good food. Rachel, with whom I shared coordinator duties, is moving on to a new career, which is sad for the group but wonderful for her. I’ll be going solo with the coordinator role for the foreseeable future.

What I worked on

I finished the long and complex guide to complementary medicines and therapies I started in August. Cake was consumed. Then followed two more proofreads, both for publishers and both memoirs. The first was about a woman’s journey as she sailed across the Atlantic – and then back again. The second covered the career of a former professional footballer. This highlights for me one of the reasons I love working on memoirs – the range of experiences I get to read about is, sometimes, staggering.

What I read for fun

I didn’t have a lot of time to sit down and relax this month, but I managed to read two books. A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers, is warm and beautiful, and sad but full of hope. You don’t have to have read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet to enjoy and understand this installment of the Wayfarers series, but it gives the story greater depth if you have.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, by Mark Manson, is more than its attention-grabbing title might suggest. It’s about choosing what to care about, taking responsibility for our life and our problems, and accepting that sometimes life is a bit shit. Avoiding pain doesn’t make us happy in the long term. I particularly like Mark’s concept of the ‘self-awareness onion’.

Birthday celebrations

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Afternoon tea at Oakley Hall

My birthday is the perfect excuse to eat lots of nice food, and that’s what my celebrations are always based around. I had a dinner with family (egg fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, chow mein, and a mountain of chips), dinner with friends (an aged sirloin steak with Béarnaise sauce – don’t ask how much it cost), and afternoon tea with my sister. I should add that I didn’t do all that on the same day.

I visited Berkshire Show on the Sunday before my birthday, where I spent many hours wandering around eating food and trying not to buy beautiful things I don’t really need. Food consumed: a bag of doughnuts, a salt-beef and pickles roll, and a large ice cream with Flake. Things bought: a new mug, a key ring made from bits of old watches, two pints of apple juice, and a bag of German sausages.

Looking ahead

One of my best friends gave me £30 in Waterstones vouchers for my birthday, so you can guess where I will be going at some point in October! I have a weekend away planned, to the Isle of Wight, but before that Mini will be joining us at Black Cat HQ. So much for a rest!