The Black Cat monthly round-up: May 2019

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Mini and Ella having a snooze after a walk.

Welcome to the May round-up. I had another full-on month – I’m starting to think this is the standard now and I should get used to it. I’m getting on well with Toggl, and I have found it has significantly increased my productive time.

We had a good time at Black Cat HQ, with Mini visiting for a week or so mid-May. Her dad had swanned off on holiday, again (this time to Spain). Mins is an absolute sweetheart, and Ella always loves having her here.

One of the other highlights of the month was the SfEP local group lunch meeting. It’s always an enjoyable few hours, but this was a particularly lovely meeting. We had a couple of new faces, but the atmosphere was still warm, friendly and unguarded.

What I’ve been working on

May started with the proofread of the memoir of an economist and former banker, which was straightforward enough. Alongside that, I copy-edited the first part of a varied and thoughtful collection of short stories. My second proofread of the month was a crime novel set in London and dealing with issues of sexuality and gender. And then I got stuck into the edit of an epic (in length as well as content) fantasy-romance novel. I don’t usually work on romance titles but the quality of the writing and the strength of the fantasy elements enticed me to make an exception.

What I read for fun

I mentioned in the April round-up that I would be writing my first review for the SfEP’s Editing Matters magazine. Well, I read the book and I wrote the review. The book I tackled was On Editing by Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price. I won’t spoil my review but I loved the book and I’d highly recommend it for fiction authors and editors.

The Princess Bride Black Cat Editorial Services_ May round-up(1)by William Goldman was my only fiction read this month – yet another classic I really should read already (I have recently bought a whole load of classics to try to address this failing of mine). It is, of course, brilliant, and if you love the film you will love the book. Perhaps the most striking thing, for me, is the framing device of Goldman editing the work of the fictional author S. Morgenstern. It took me a while grasp the complexity of the whole thing – Goldman narrates as a fictionalised version of himself, weaving a story within a story. If you are thinking about using a framing device in your work, you should check out Goldman’s stunning, intricate example.

Looking ahead

I have a couple of projects to finish off for the beginning of June. I’m hoping to put aside a few days to start working through the SfEP’s Introduction to Fiction Editing course. I aim to do at least one training course each year to support my continuing professional development. I love working on fiction, I have heard good things about the SfEP’s course, and I had a discount voucher to use up – it seemed the obvious choice.

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The Black Cat monthly round-up: April 2019

April is the start of a new financial year for me, and I’ve implemented a few changes. I’ve decided to get serious about tracking productivity – I’ve signed up for Toggl so I can record the time spent on projects and related tasks, and it should make clear how much of the working day I waste scrolling through Twitter or playing with the cat. Now I’ve settled into the Black Cat Editorial Services brand, I’ve set up a spreadsheet to track enquiries I receive and where the enquirer found my details. I’m hoping to work out where my marketing efforts are best focused – at the moment it looks like joining the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) was a good step.

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

I worked on four projects in April. I completed the proofread of a fiction novel about an unsolved murder and moved on to the biography of a Spanish composer. I followed the biography with some historical fiction about life and politics in a small Welsh town, and finished the month by proofreading a collection of accounts about the authors’ relationships with God and their religion. I absolutely love how diverse my work is.

What I read for fun

OK, I’m putting this here because it was enjoyable to read, even if I approached it as a source to inform my editing practice: Writing a Novel by Richard Skinner. Skinner is a creative-writing teacher at the Faber Academy, and it shows. I highly recommend this quite slim volume – it’s full of excellent advice and techniques, and its tone is positive and encouraging.

I managed one fiction read for this month: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. (I seem to keep coming to popular series late.) For a long book – 452 pages – it rattles along at a decent pace, and I was swept up with it.

Blog posts

I shared a few blog posts this month. The first was Denise Cowle on why the Grammar Police aren’t cool. I agree with her – and particularly on her point about being kind. Aeryn Rudel, writer of the Rejectomancy blog, has been writing and posting excellent microfiction of late, and his blog post on the benefits of producing such pieces is very interesting. I think he is spot on about it being a brilliant way to practise self-editing.

I’ve been taking part in the new Twitter chat (#IndieAuthorChat) organised by ALLi (Tuesdays, 8pm UK time) and it has been very enjoyable – I’d recommend joining in. One of the best things I have picked up from it is Alison Morton’s tracking grid, which she has kindly shared on her blog. It’s a simple, straightforward way to keep track of a novel’s timeline and summarise the events that have occurred.

Looking ahead

The West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group is meeting mid-May, and I’m looking forward to catching up with the other members. And as if my editing work wasn’t enough, I’m undertaking my first book review for the SfEP’s Editing Matters magazine – I’m a bit nervous about it but I think it will be fun.

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: 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.

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 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!

The Black Cat monthly round-up: August 2018

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Partners in crime: Mini (left) and Ella (right).

We had a temporary addition at Black Cat HQ this month. The absolute sweetheart that is Mini came to stay while her dads were off on holiday. That meant a week of me having to corral three dogs, two cats, and a tortoise. The tortoise was the only one I could trust to behave. Fortunately, Mini is respectful of cats (Oscar sorted her out last time she came to stay) and she fits right in to our little pack. She and Ella spent a week chasing about and creating joyful chaos. We had a very mopey spaniel when it was time for Mini to go home.

What I’ve been working on

At first glance, August seems like a fairly quiet month, but my latest project has been something of a challenge. I started the month with a short story written by an independent author and returning client, whom I very much enjoy working with. The story explored the dark side of social media and its effect on mental health.

Black Cat Editorial Services_ August round-up(1)Then followed a proofread for a publishing house – this the memoir of a nurse, focusing on her time as a student nurse in the 1960s. Almost every page contained an attitude or event that made the 1960s seem like a different world to today.

The project I’m finishing off now, at the end of August, is a long and complex guide to complementary medicines and therapies. I’m going to deserve some sort of cake once I’ve finished it.

What I’ve read for fun

I’ve had a copy of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers, in my TBR pile for a long time. I had a gem just sitting there, waiting to be read. It’s beautiful and engrossing and different, and the characters are all of those things too. It’s brilliant. I’ve bought the sequel and it will probably be one of my September reads.

I have to make a confession now: when I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy this month, it was for the first time. I mean, I’ve seen the 2005 film version, so I was sort of aware of the story, but I hadn’t read the book, or listened to the original radio series. Anyway, I finally read the book, and it was everything I expected it to be: sharp, funny, surprising. And Marvin was still my favourite character.

My reads this month were concluded with Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott. Here’s another confession: I bought Rotherweird because it had sprayed edges (black) and I’m a sucker for sprayed edges. It’s the same reason I bought The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (green edges), and that turned out to be one of my favourite books. The sprayed-edge method of choosing has not let me down. I loved Rotherweird. It is weird. It’s dark and fantastical, with a sprawling cast and twisting plot. I physically flinched at a certain event, which I did not see coming, near the end. The sequel is on my wish list.

Looking ahead

September is shaping up to be a busy month. The big event will be the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ conference, this year in Lancaster. It will be my first time attending a conference – for anything, ever. I don’t feel particularly nervous yet – but I expect it to hit me once I start packing. Later in the month I’ll be hosting a lunch meeting for the West Surrey and North Hampshire local group; it’s been quite a while since our last meeting and I think there will be lots for us to catch up on.

Around my SfEP-related activities, I’ll be celebrating my birthday. I seem to be making the most of it this year – I have an afternoon tea booked in, and a trip to Berkshire Show planned, as well as dinner with family.

All this excitement may mean that it takes me a bit longer than usual to reply to emails.

Tools of the trade: resources for style and usage

It’s part of my job to make sure the texts I work on are consistent in style and in usage, and to identify and/or fix incorrect usages of the English language. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to be able to work from a house style-guide, or a copy of the project style-sheet that has been compiled by someone else, or a list put together by the author. But where do I turn if I don’t have these things? There are lots of resources available, but this post discusses those I use most often.

Style and usageBlack Cat tools of the trade_ guides for style and usage

When I talk about style here, I mean preferred forms in areas such as spelling, hyphenation, capitalisation and punctuation. For example, the use of serial commas is a matter of style, as is whether you write proofreader or proof-reader. Writing style itself, while it includes these things, is not what we are necessarily dealing with here.

Usage looks at how language is used – and I’m focusing on grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice and syntax. For example, standard modern usage would see programme as the correct British English spelling, but allow program when used in a computer-related context.

New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide

New Hart’s Rules is an excellent little guide to style. Don’t be fooled by its diminutive stature – it is thorough and wide-ranging. It’s the first thing I reach for if I need a reminder on how to style publication names, or the principles of presenting numerical date forms. It does touch on US English style, but I have a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style to refer to for US-specific queries.

When editing text to UK-publishing standards, it is New Hart’s I will use as my guide. I don’t enforce the style on the text, unless I’ve been directed to do so by the client, but it serves as an authoritative guide for tackling consistency issues.

New Oxford Spelling Dictionary: The Writers’ and Editors’ Guide to Spelling and Word Division and New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors: The Essential A–Z Guide to the Written Word

I’ve lumped these two together because for me they serve the same purpose. If I have to decide between hyphenated or not hyphenated, check the spelling of a specialist term, or confirm the italicisation of a word from a different language, I will pick up one or both of these books. The Spelling Dictionary has more entries, but at the cost of the extra guidance present in the Dictionary for Writers and Editors.

Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage

Fowler’s is a treasure trove of information and advice on the use of the English language. On occasion, I flick through it just for fun, but then I’m a bit odd. I usually turn to Fowler’s when I have a niggling ‘is that the proper way to use that word?’ thought. Sometimes it serves as a hand-holder: yes, you can use further in that context; yes, proven is now common in UK English.

It’s a comprehensive dictionary, and it contains thoughtful and nuanced guidance. For example, it provides a clear and thorough summary of the issue around split infinitives – and comes to the sensible conclusion that split infinitives are acceptable, and can, in fact, be necessary.

Oxford Dictionaries Online and the Oxford English Dictionary

If I’m away from my desk (and therefore my books), or if I can’t find the information I need in the sources above, I go to Oxford Dictionaries Online. This is usually where I do quick checks of spellings and alternative forms. It will often give advice on related grammar and standard usage, as well as details of the word’s origin and pronunciation.

Archaic and unusual words may require me to access the legend that is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It can be almost overwhelming in the depth of detail for some entries, but it is an excellent resource. (Access is restricted to subscribers – but if your local library has a subscription, you should be able to sign in using your library card number.)

What does this mean for my clients?

It means my clients can be sure that I take style and usage seriously. I don’t make decisions based on a flip of a coin or what I prefer – I use authoritative resources to guide me. The style sheet I compile for each project has a section where I record which books and websites I’ve consulted in the course of proofreading or editing. If the client would like to look into any relevant style and usage in more detail, they can do so.

The key takeaway is what these resources allow me to do: I make sure style is consistent, and I fix or highlight non-standard usage. My clients are informed about what I’ve done, and why, and I engage them in the decision-making when necessary.