The Black Cat monthly round-up: June 2020

Welcome to the June round-up! We’ve done half of 2020. To be honest, June felt like a very long month. But things are, at the moment, looking up. My mum has finished her radiotherapy treatment, I’ve got a whole heap of bookings for the next few months, and the weather can be described as moderately warm rather than absolutely baking. Lockdown restrictions may be easing but I won’t be rushing to the pub or the hairdresser any time soon (I don’t think my hair has ever been this long before).

What I’ve been working on

Black Cat Editorial Services June round-upIt is a relief to be able to say that my workload is continuing to build back up. June was a busy month but I was fortunate to work with some lovely authors. I finished the edit of the sci-fi thriller I started in May. It was a heavy edit encompassing a lot of point of view tweaks, and I’m really quite pleased with the final result. It was a total change of mindset when I moved on to the proofread of an accomplished mystery thriller. The copy-edit of an adult dystopian epic will take me into July, as will the copy-edit of a fantasy short-story collection. In more good news, publisher work seems to be starting to trickle back in – I’ve got the proofread of a YA fantasy romance to keep me very busy.

Professional development

I surprised myself by managing to fit in some training in June. I took Louise Harnby’s course How to Write the Perfect Fiction Editorial Report. It provides a lot of valuable information and advice, and I’m looking forward to putting it into practice for my future copy-editing commissions.

What I’ve been reading

M. B. Vincent’s A Death in the Woods was my companion for the last of my waits in a hospital car park. It’s the sequel to Jess Castle and the Eyeballs of Death (a much more intriguing title, that). I don’t think it’s going to win any awards for originality, but there are times in life when you don’t necessarily need that. It’s a comfort blanket of a book (despite the serial killer). It’s funny and the characters are likeable, and the series deserves more attention than it seems to be getting.

Looking ahead

After the success of the last meeting, I’ll be hosting another Zoom catch-up for the West Surrey and North Hampshire Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading local group.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: May 2020

Well, May has been (on a personal level) a distinct improvement on April. After more than a few tests, my sister has finally been declared negative for COVID-19. I probably don’t need to tell you that it is a huge relief.

I decided to jump on the Zoom bandwagon and set up a meeting for the West Surrey and North Hampshire Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading local group. We ‘met’ for a couple of hours, and it was lovely. It was great to see so many familiar faces, and I was pleased to hear that our members are generally coping as well as can be expected in the current circumstances.

Black Cat Editorial Services_ May round-up(1)What I’ve been working on

I spent a good chunk of May on a critique of a YA (young adult) epic fantasy novel. The author was a delight to work with, and I am very pleased that I was able to give her helpful advice on how to elevate what is already a good novel. The rest of the month was spent on the copy-edit of a sci-fi thriller, set on board a Royal Navy warship. It’s one of the most complex fiction edits I have taken on, but the story is compelling and I’m enjoying helping it to shine.

What I’ve been reading

I’ve been taking my mum to radiotherapy appointments every weekday for a couple of weeks now and my Kindle has been my companion while I wait. I’d picked Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth – a book that deftly combines necromancy, spaceships and lots of swearing – because I thought it would be a compelling, funny, wild ride. It is those things, but I didn’t realise it would be quite as devastating as it is.

Looking ahead

I will, hopefully, be getting back into the swing of having a full workload (despite the continuing lack of projects for publishing houses). I’ll organise a July Zoom meeting for the CIEP local group as it’s unlikely in-person gatherings will be allowed any time soon.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: April 2020

Black Cat Editorial Services_ April round-upApril seems to have been, in many ways, a lost month. I don’t know where much of it went, and I have achieved very little. I think Easter happened at some point. I can only hope this does not turn out to be the new normal.

COVID-19 has hit rather too close: my sister, who is a key worker, tested positive after experiencing fairly minor symptoms. Fortunately, her health is steadily improving, but I am finding it particularly hard that I can’t see or help her, apart from providing grocery and medicine drops.

In a bit of good news, my review of Dennis Baron’s What’s Your Pronoun? has been published by the Chartered Institute of Proofreading and Editing (CIEP). It was featured in the first-ever edition of The Edit, the e-newsletter for CIEP members, which was a lovely surprise.

What I’ve been working on

The COVID-19 crisis has significantly reduced my workload, and I am not going to pretend it is not of deep concern. All of my publisher work ceased in late March and will not resume for the foreseeable future. But, fortunately, I haven’t been completely without projects: I proofread the third instalment of an indie thriller series, and I am currently working on a critique of a young adult epic fantasy novel.

What I’ve been reading

I have the privilege of access to a garden, and I was able to spend much of the sunny weather reading outside. I had been saving Natasha Pulley’s The Lost Future of Pepperharrow for some time off; The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is one of my favourite books and I wanted to savour the sequel. The storyline doesn’t quite have the same magic as in the first book, but I still enjoyed Natasha Pulley’s writing style and being reunited with Thaniel and Mori. For me, though, Six is the standout character of this book.

I haven’t quite finished it, but The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr has been a fascinating read so far. It is focused on psychology and neuroscience – how stories and our brains affect each other and how we can use this knowledge to craft more engaging tales. Some of the concepts will be familiar if you studied philosophy at any point in your life (I did three years as part of my degree) but they are explored in an engaging and straightforward way (unlike anything I read at university). I can see Will Storr’s insights having a beneficial impact on my editing practice.

Looking ahead

Well, your guess is as good as mine, probably. I am tentatively thinking about organising a Zoom meeting for the West Surrey and North Hampshire local CIEP group – we will miss our in-person May meeting and I’d like to make up for that in some way.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: March 2020

Black Cat Editorial Services_ March round-upThe beginning of March seems like a different world to the end of March. At the beginning of March I attended a lovely lunch with the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading’s West Surrey and North Hampshire local group. There were twelve attendees – nearly a record turnout. The next week, I met up with three of my favourite edibuddies. We went to Farnham and raided the bookshops and food establishments. (That’s not much of an exaggeration – I bought a lot of books.) If you like books and live at all near Farnham, the Oxfam books and music shop is the place to visit. The range is great and the prices are amazing.

Of course, no one will be doing that for a while. As I write this, the UK is in lockdown and has been for a while. I am fortunate that I am used to working from home, and I am well set up to do so, but it is a difficult time for us all.

What I’ve been working on

I had a relatively light month in terms of work. I took on two proofreads: one was historical fiction, set during the settlement of New France (an area colonised by France in what is now Canada), and the second was a memoir. My only copy-edit for March was fiction for an indie author I had had the pleasure of working with before.

What I’ve been reading

I had a copy of Dennis Baron’s What’s Your Pronoun? to review for the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading. The review will be available online in due course, but I can say that I do think it’s a worthwhile read.

My for-fun read this month was The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton. Maud West was a female private detective in the early twentieth century. I picked the book up when it caught my eye in the lovely Blue Bear Bookshop in Farnham. It’s a fascinating true story, engagingly told by Stapleton.

Looking forward

COVID-19 has put a stop to any in-person local group meetings for the foreseeable future. In a rare bit of good news, however, I am now more or less back to normal levels of availability for new projects.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: February 2020

The end of February sees the end of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and the beginning of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, of which I am proud to be a member. It would not have been possible without the hard work of many within the organisation. I look forward to continuing to serve as a local group coordinator.

What I’ve been working on

Despite cutting down my workload for February and the immediate future, I still have quite a list of completed projects to report. I finished working on the indie mystery thriller I starBlack Cat Editorial Services_ February round-upted in January, and I completed the critique of the time-travel adventure I had on my desk. I have a real love of critiques now – it feels wonderful to really dig into a manuscript and help the author realise its potential.

The rest of the month was taken up by three proofreads – of very different novels. The first was contemporary new-adult fiction, presented in the form of a diary. The second was a satirical crime thriller, and the third was a multi-generational tale of a single family.

Looking ahead

The beginning of March brings the first meeting of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading’s West Surrey and North Hampshire group. We’ll be talking about tracking and accountability, but I hope to organise a chartership celebration for us later in the year.

At the time of writing, the London Book Fair is going ahead despite concerns about coronavirus and multiple exhibitors cancelling their attendance. I’ve made the difficult decision to do the same – I was so looking forward to it. But my mum has just been discharged from hospital and it would be deeply irresponsible of me to put her at risk.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: January 2020

January started with a meeting of the West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group where we discussed our goals for the year. New websites, membership upgrades, and client-base expansion were popular aims. I was heartened by the level of positivity and optimism on display. I count myself lucky to be surrounded by such a driven and generous group of editors.

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

I finished my Christmas-time edit of a satirical crime novel and the new year brought me two non-fiction proofreads. One was a book of reflections on Japanese culture (which gave me a final shove to start learning a bit of Japanese) and the other was a guide to privacy legislation. I was back to fiction for my next proofread: the second instalment of an indie mystery thriller. I’m still working on a critique of a time-travel thriller predominately set during World War II – I like to spend lots of time mulling critique manuscripts over, so I expect to have it on my desk until mid-February.

What I read for fun

I had a lot on my plate in January, so I haven’t quite finished my only for-fun read. Naomi Novik’s Temeraire – a fantasy alternative-history novel in which there are many dragons – somehow manages to be joyful and yet completely heartbreaking.

Looking ahead

I’m going to cut down on my workload for a few months, for personal reasons, but I’m planning to maintain this blog series and my coordinator work.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: December 2019

Black Cat Editorial Services_This is the second December for Black Cat Editorial Services and the business continues to go from strength to strength. My project-tracking spreadsheet tells me that 2019’s projects had a combined word count of 3,066,923. That’s nearly a million words up on 2018, which seems incredible and slightly ridiculous.

It has been quite a year – much of it hard work and some of it tiring and frustrating. But there have been many highlights. In September, I completed the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ Introduction to Fiction Editing course. In August, I was the guest on the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Twitter chat (#IndieAuthorChat). In July, I became an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP – something I had been working towards for four years. In June, I approved a typeset version of my book review for the SfEP’s Editing Matters magazine. In March, I attended the fiction editors’ mini-conference in London, and a few days later I went to the London Book Fair. And in February, I led a continuing professional development session for the West Surrey and North Hampshire local SfEP group.

I am fortunate to have many wonderful colleagues, clients and friends, and I am very grateful for all of your support.

What I’ve been working on

I completed two fiction proofreads in December – one a split narrative, time-jumping, mystery thriller, and one a work of gentle, humorous commercial fiction about a village taking on a Trump-like figure. I’m currently in the middle of a copy-edit of a satirical crime novel – it’s kept me nicely busy over the festive period.

What I read for fun

So, I finally ran out of episodes of BuzzFeed Unsolved and returned to reading (after a one-day binge of The Witcher). The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern is amazing. Its delicately woven narrative threads, beautiful imagery, and charming characters really made it a wonderful read. I spent most of Boxing Day reading A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. The world-building is pretty darn good, and I appreciate a secondary protagonist who has many, many shades of grey.

Looking ahead

I’m planning to attend the SfEP (soon to be the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading) conference, and I aim to be back at the London Book Fair. In the short term, I’m looking forward to the first lunch meeting of the year with the West Surrey and North Hampshire local group, where we will be talking about our goals for 2020.

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

The Black Cat monthly round-up: November 2019

November was a chaotic month. It started with disruption caused by the laying of a new floor and concluded with a poorly cat. One new king-size mattress and a not-inconsiderable vet bill later, Oscar seems to be back to his usual self.

What I’ve been working on

Black Cat Editorial Services_ November round-upI finished the critique I started in October, of a psychological thriller, and was delighted to have provided exactly the sort of help and advice the author was looking for. I moved on to the copy-edit of an enjoyable and light-hearted children’s mystery novel.

My first November proofread was of the second edition of a best-selling management and self-improvement title. It was the first time I’ve worked on a new edition of a previously published book, and it was a bit of an eye-opener in that there was plenty of work for me to do. The second proofread was completely different – a well-edited and unconventional science-fiction novel. It was an interesting experience (and another first) to work with a PDF that had been produced using Vellum.

What I read for fun

I have to confess I have no completed for-fun reads in November. I read The Fiction Editor, the Novel and the Novelist by Thomas McCormack in an attempt to inform my editing practice, and it was definitely not fun. There are more informative and less frustrating books on fiction editing out there (On Editing by Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price is one of my favourites).

I did read a few chapters of Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea and it is brilliant so far. The main problem is I’ve become a bit over-fond of watching BuzzFeed Unsolved in the evenings instead of reading…

Looking ahead

I’m quite excited for the last SfEP local group meeting of the year: our festive social, which is a morning meeting for tea and cake at a local garden centre. The last lunch meeting of the year, in November, was well attended and the discussion was, as usual, helpful and generous.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: October 2019

There’s no social stuff to report for October – it has been a very work-heavy month, but I have managed to get in a lot of for-fun reading to balance it out.

What I’ve been working on

I started October with a non-fiction proofread: a work of political theory addressing (some of) the current issues in British government. I don’t envy authors of this sort of work – the situation is likely to have moved on before this book is even published.

It was a bit of a relief to be able to sink myself into some fiction for the rest of the month. I took on one children’s fantasy-fiction novel and one young adult fantasy-fiction novel. Both authors had succeeded in creating compelling magical worlds – a particular skill when one was set in a different galaxy. Alongside these edits, I have been working on a critique of a psychological thriller from a first-time author. It’s a real privilege to be trusted with an author’s manuscript and asked to give my assessment of it. My aim is to give the author the tools and confidence to achieve her goals for her novella.

What I read for fun

Black Cat Editorial Services_October round-upThree for-fun reads this month, and one of them was more than 800 pages long – I think you can tell I didn’t get out of the house much.

Semicolon is an excellent book. I am a fan of semicolons and Cecelia Watson does a lovely job of explaining why writers should embrace this elegant little mark. She also digs into language snobbery and grammar pedantry with a sense of humour and ear for good writing.

My first fiction read was Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens. I’d read lots of positive reviews of the series and I wasn’t disappointed. I thought the framing device of the book being the case notes of the Wells & Wong Detective Society (two third-formers at an English boarding school) was a great one. The narration from Hazel Wong is engaging, humorous and, at times, moving.

My second fiction read was an epic: Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree. It deserves all the praise that has been heaped upon it. For a book of that length to grip hold and not let go until the very end is a huge achievement. It’s a fantasy world where women lead and same-sex relationships are unremarkable. I didn’t realise just how refreshing that would be.

Blog posts

I published a blog post inspired by one of our recent West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group meetings. There are lots of good resources out there for editors and writers, and I’ve collected five of my favourites and details on how you might be able to access them for free.

On Twitter, I shared an article from Luna Station Quarterly about not killing the dog. Tracy Townsend has summarised a lot of my thinking on the subject, and as a reader it always disappoints me when an author uses it as a lazy way to signpost ‘evilness’.

Kia Thomas wrote a great post about editing with kindness, which I think every editor ought to read and take on board. I like to think I am a kind person in general, but it’s something I have particularly focused on while writing up the critique I mentioned earlier.

Looking ahead

Early November sees the last lunch meeting of the year for the West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group. We’ll be chatting about how to make the most of our professional websites (it feels a bit weird to type that for a blog post for my professional website).

The Black Cat monthly round-up: September 2019

Black Cat Editorial Services_September 2018I wasn’t at the SfEP’s conference this year, unfortunately, but I had plenty of other things to keep me occupied in September. I have been working my way through the SfEP’s Introduction to Fiction Editing course, on and off, since May and I managed to complete it this month. It’s a lot more in-depth and complex than the course title may suggest; I’m sure it will have a positive effect on my editing practice. The section on critiques and their structure should be particularly useful.

What I’ve been working on

I finished off the two proofreads I started in August: a non-fiction book on cricket and a novel about bereavement. I followed this with the proofread, for a publisher, of a poetry collection. Poetry is not something I have edited before, so this was a great experience – I love being able to work on a wide range of texts. The last project of September was a collection of stories about British-Indian women. It was a fascinating glimpse into the lives of some truly remarkable people.

What I read for fun

I had a week or so off for my birthday (more on that later), which meant that I had a bit more time for for-fun reading than usual. I pre-ordered the collector’s edition of Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom some time ago, and it arrived at the beginning of the month. It’s almost as beautiful as the collector’s edition of Six of Crows. And it gave me an opportunity to use the Boomerang app for the first time. Enjoy:

I’ve had the novella All Systems Red by Martha Wells on my wish list for a while. It was the first book I downloaded onto the Kindle Paperwhite I got as a present for my birthday. Murderbot is a brilliantly written character: introverted, humane, dispassionate and funny. I whizzed through it in a couple of hours and then chose Vivian Shaw’s Strange Practice as my next read. The characterisation throughout could be stronger but I enjoyed it for what it was.

Birthday business

Sandwiches, scones, cream and jam, and cake cubes on a dark-wood stand.

Afternoon tea at Audleys Wood.

I managed to make my birthday celebrations last a couple of weeks. The first treat was afternoon tea at Audleys Wood Hotel in Alton with one of my favourite editor colleagues. I do enjoy posh sarnies and tiny cakes. I had a lovely, chilled birthday at home and then headed up to Yorkshire for a few days away. I stayed in Harrogate, which is a beautiful place. Somehow I had failed to realise the UCI Road World Championships (cycling) would be taking over the area; lots of roads were closed, it was very busy, and there were bikes – almost literally – everywhere. But I did manage to enjoy a good wander round the town and visit the legendary Bettys tea room. There was an Italian restaurant joined to our hotel, and the food there was absolutely stunning.

The local group

Between my birthday and going to Harrogate, I held a lunch meeting of the West Surrey and North Hampshire local group. The topic for discussion was marketing and looking for work, and as usual the group members delivered some great insights and advice. The next meeting will be in November, and we’ll be talking about how to make the most of our professional websites.