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.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: October 2021

I’m not really into puzzles or adventure games, so it is probably not a surprise that I had never taken part in an escape room challenge before. I have to confess that I wasn’t feeling very enthusiastic about it – it seemed a bit like paying for an hour of concentrated anxiety – but my friend wanted to do one for his birthday and let no one say I won’t make sacrifices for my loved ones. It turns out my entire group was a bit rubbish at it, and my only real contribution was being able to repeat an eight-note tune on a keyboard (my only instrument-playing experience is playing the recorder at primary school for a few weeks before I got too nervous to perform in front of people and never did it again, which is an on-brand origin story). But we did complete it, in the grand time of 53 minutes and 47 seconds. It’s not about the time, though, really, is it? It was an hour of laughter and comradeship, and the experience of doing something new.

What I’ve been working on

I feel like I had a fairly balanced month in terms of work – not too much and not too little. My workload as a tutor has been steadily increasing, so I’ve had to take that into account when I schedule in proofreading and copy-editing projects. I started the month with the critique of the second part of a saga I have been involved with for a while. The author completed their revisions by the end of the month, so it’s now back with me for editing when I can fit it in around my other work. My first copy-edit of the month was of a novel by one of my long-standing clients. Their work is always tightly plotted and beautifully written, and it is a privilege to be their go-to editor. The second copy-edit will finish in the beginning of November – this is for a new client whose voice and characterisation is impressive. I feel very lucky to work on such wonderful manuscripts.

Book reviews

My latest book review for CIEP has been published: Strange to Say: Etymology as serious entertainment. I usually enjoy reading the books they send me, and I tend to look for the positive aspects even if I am not, perhaps, the primary target audience for the text. It’s hard when that is difficult to do, especially as I know how much hard work and emotional energy goes into writing and publishing a book. But I also have to be honest – it is, after all, a review.

Looking ahead

I had hoped that there might be a chance for the West Surrey & North Hampshire CIEP local group to have an in-person meeting this year, but I think that is looking increasingly unlikely. As that is the case, we will be having our last Zoom meeting of the year in late November.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: September 2021

Page text:
Along the Perimeter
Steven Healt
Inscription:
Hannah, 
Thank you for helping me make this book everything I imagined it could be.
-Steven
SH

There are few things better than book mail. One of those things is receiving a copy of a book that you worked on. I got one of those in September – and it had come all the way from the USA. It always means such a lot to me when one of my clients sends me a copy of the completed work, and when they have thought about a lovely inscription to include. I am a fairly stoic person, but it does make me a bit teary when people say nice things about me. If you are reading this, Steven, thank you again. It was a pleasure to critique the manuscript (and that of the sequel).

The conference

The CIEP’s second conference was held in September, and it took place online, for obvious reasons. Although I would enjoy going to an in-person gathering again, there are plenty of benefits when the sessions take place online. Perhaps the biggest one, for me, is that the speakers can be from all over the world, so we can access knowledge and viewpoints we might not have been able to before (not everyone has the time, means, ability, and desire to travel to the UK to give a one-hour presentation). I hope this aspect can be retained for future conferences. You can read more about the conference and the sessions that were available here.

What I’ve been working on

September was a fairly quiet month for editing projects. I finished two projects that continued from August – one the copy-edit of a dark, psychological tale and the other the proofread of a collection of short stories. I also had the critique of a YA sci-fi/fantasy novella, which I thought held a lot of promise as the beginning of a series.

What I read for fun

I have started reading Richard Osman’s The Man Who Died Twice and I am really enjoying it. There is some ongoing commentary about the prevalence of ‘celebrity authors’ and their effect on the publishing industry (and rightly so), but I think Osman’s success is not just to do with him already having a fairly high profile. His books are enjoyable – the stories are intriguing, the characters are fun to spend time with, and the prose is witty and accessible.

Birthday business

The author (long brown hair, sunglasses, blue jumper, blue jeans, white trainers) sitting on a pebble beach

I am another year older, and I don’t know where the time is going. I used my birthday as an excuse to take a couple of weeks off – there wasn’t much point last year as we were still in the grip of COVID lockdowns. The focus of my birthday celebrations was a trip to the Isle of Wight, one of my favourite places. I had a lovely time visiting the Garlic Farm, the donkey sanctuary, and Shanklin Beach. I ate far too much, but I was happy.

A black and white English spaniel staring at a tennis ball on a pebble beach

I also made two trips to a beach a little closer to home, where Ella could have a good swim and I could enjoy some chips and ice cream. I’ve have gone to Lee-on-the-Solent at least once every summer since I was a small child, and I’m glad to have kept up the tradition.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: August 2021

I had my second dose COVID vaccination in the early part of August. Like with the first dose, I had a very sore arm for a couple of days, but I’ve been quite fortunate in that that’s the only side effect I have experienced. It’s comforting to know I have the protection of two jabs, and so do all of my close friends and family.

What I’ve been working on

August has been a ridiculously busy month. I finished the copy-edit of the psychological thriller I was working on in July, and I moved on to the copy-edit of the author’s next novel, which is a longer, more disturbing, tale. I have finished the copy-edit of the last instalment of an epic fantasy fiction series, and I am very sad to say goodbye to the characters I’ve spent so much time with. I’m also sad that my collaboration with the author has come to an end – it has been a wonderful experience. July’s critique was also finished off, and I have a new one that I will focus on at the beginning of September.

I’ve had three proofreads on my plate – one a modern exploration of the personalities of Greek gods, one a murder-mystery, and one a collection of short stories. The first two are done, and the third will be finished by early September.

What I read for fun

There has been no reading for fun. I chose sleep instead. Please see the section above for my excuses.

Ghost hunting

A sub-heading I never thought I’d use, but here we are. Oxford Castle and Prison is not huge, but the history is impressive (and horrifying and deeply sad, as with most places of historical interest). It was an interesting evening, if very tiring (I am not made to stay up past midnight and the event lasted until 3am). I cannot report any significant breakthroughs in providing evidence of contact from the other side, but there were a few motion detectors set off, some unexplained footsteps and knocking sounds, and some bits and pieces caught via spirit box. Others had whole conversations via the Ouija board, but it doesn’t seem that I have any sensitivity to these things. It hasn’t changed my naturally sceptical outlook, but it was mostly good fun. I am disappointed but not surprised to report that COVID precautions meant that snacks were not provided, but my friend brought his home-made brownies and they kept us going. I may also have had a cheeseburger on the way home – it was a little like being a student again.

Looking ahead

It’s my birthday in September, so I am looking forward to some time off to enjoy it. I will be attending the CIEP conference, which takes place online this year and runs from Saturday 11 September to Tuesday 14 September. There are some great speakers lined up and I am looking forward to absorbing their kindly shared knowledge.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: July 2021

July brought us a brief heatwave in the UK, and I can’t say that I enjoyed it. It’s one of very few things that make me miss working in an office – at least there was air-conditioning and I wasn’t constantly worried my computer was going to overheat/explode. I bought my own air-conditioning unit last year, and while it is a bit noisy and it takes up a bit of room, it was money well spent (even if it only sees use for a week every 12 months).

What I’ve been working on

I was back to a full-on schedule in July. I finished the critique I’d started in June and moved on to the critique of the second book in a fantasy series. I critiqued the first book in the series, so it’s wonderful to see how the story is going to progress and to see that the writing has taken such a huge step forward. I’ll be working on this one until mid-August. There was only one proofread for this month – a new novel from a client I work with a lot. It was an absolute pleasure, as usual. My two copy-edits were also for long-standing clients. I’m currently editing (it’s a beast of a book, so I will be working on it in August too) the last book in an epic fantasy series, and I will be very sad to see our collaboration come to an end. There are also some character deaths I’m trying not to take personally… The other copy-edit is a psychological thriller set in the 1980s, and once I have finished that edit, I’ll move on to the edit of a much longer novel by the same author.

What I read for fun

I finally managed to dedicate some time to reading The Kingdoms, and I absolutely loved it. Natasha Pulley is one of my favourite authors, and I admire her writing so much. It’s always so beautiful. I’ve seen some criticisms of The Kingdoms for being confusing, but I didn’t find it to be so. If you’ve read the author’s other works (The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, for example) it won’t be anything you aren’t prepared for. It’s a historical adventure novel with wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey elements. Enjoy the ride.

Looking ahead

I’ve been allowed to bring forward my appointment for the second dose of my COVID vaccine, which is very welcome. It means I will be fully vaccinated before I – and this is not a joke – go ghost hunting. My friend was owed a birthday outing and this is what he has decided he would like to do. I will be going to Oxford Castle for an overnight ghost-hunting adventure – a sentence I never thought I would write. My sister has already drawn the line at using a Ouija board; I’m wondering what the included snacks will be.