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).

Recommended books for writers and editors

Recommended books for proofreaders and editors (and writers)At a recent meeting of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) West Surrey and North Hampshire local group, we spent a couple of hours talking about our favourite resources: those books and websites we turn to first when we are working. Here are some of the books I would recommend to proofreaders and editors, and to writers – and the good news is you may be able to try them all out before deciding to spend your hard-earned money.

New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide (Oxford University Press, 2014)

New Hart’s is a handy little style guide, primarily for conventions within UK publishing. It’s thorough and straightforward, and it gives plenty of helpful examples. I used it a lot when I started out and I still have it within easy reach now. If you have a UK library card, you may be able to access New Hart’s for free (use this link and look for the PREMIUM tab).

The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (University of Chicago Press, 2017)

CMOS is probably one of the best-known style guides. It’s a treasure trove if you are working with US English and need to know US-publishing conventions. The print copy is a beast but, fortunately, you can access the same information – in a searchable format – online (a subscription is required but there is a free trial available).

The Penguin Guide to Punctuation, R.L. Trask (Penguin Reference Books, 1997)

Don’t be put off by the publication date on this one – it’s still the best book on punctuation I have come across. Trask provides clear, simple explanations, and does not assume prior knowledge. If you are worried about how to use semicolons, or don’t know a hyphen from a dash, this book is for you. You can access an online version of the guide for free via the University of Sussex (thank you to Etty of Elegant Words for that tip-off!).

New Oxford Dictionary for Writers & Editors: The Essential A–Z Guide to the Written Word (Oxford University Press, 2014)

This isn’t your standard dictionary – it focuses on those words and names that may cause an editor or writer difficulty. NODWE is designed with us in mind. Not sure about a spelling variation? Wondering if that term should be hyphenated? NODWE is the book you need. As with New Hart’s, it is available free online to many UK library-card holders.

Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, ed. J. Butterfield (Oxford University Press, 2015)

I love Fowler’s. It is eminently sensible – there’s no nonsensical pedantry here. Its advice is easy to understand and international in scope. This respected authority on English usage is a bit of a tome, so if you’d like to get a sense of the book, a ‘pocket’ version is available alongside New Hart’s and NODWE.


For a slightly different take on some of my favourite work-related books and websites, check out my blog post on the resources I use as guides to style and usage.

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.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: August 2019

Black Cat Editorial Services_ August round-up(1)One of the best things I did during August was to take part in FutureLearn’s How to Read a Novel course. It’s a great introductory exploration of key parts of modern fiction: plot, characterisation, dialogue and setting. The concepts were familiar to me but Dr Alex Lawrie is a wonderful guide through the frameworks and examples presented in the course. Fiction writers, and editors, could do worse than spend a few hours working through the material and thinking about how to apply it to their own practice.

What I’ve been working on

I’ve been fortunate to have four books on my desk this month. I started with a children’s fantasy-fiction novel, set in Scotland, and followed it with a novel about a European woman starting a new life in India. Finishing off the last two books will take me into September. One is a fascinating non-fiction book about cricket in the early twentieth century; the other is a fiction novel about bereavement.

What I read for fun

I read two brilliant books in August. The Way of All Flesh, by Ambrose Parry, is a Edinburgh-set historical crime novel. I was drawn right in. It’s a good example of how to use two point-of-view characters to cover the same events, of how to use their overlapping perspectives to enhance the reader’s engagement with the story. Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi, is another strong example of using multiple point-of-view characters. It’s glorious, epic fantasy-fiction, with superb world-building and female friendship at its core. I do wish, however, that the characters didn’t exclaim ‘Agh!’ or ‘Ugh!’ quite so often.

Looking ahead

This time last year I was nervously looking forward to attending the Society for Proofreaders and Editors’ conference. I’m not making the journey this year but I’ll be following the Twitter hashtag (#sfep2019) to keep up with the goings-on. I will be taking part in September’s meeting of the West Surrey and North Hampshire local group. We’ll be talking about marketing and finding work (always a hot topic for freelancers). Then I will be off on a short holiday to celebrate my birthday.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: July 2019

The monthly round-up_ July 2019I was somewhat startled to realise that this post will mark a year of Black Cat round-ups. That means Black Cat Editorial Services has been in operation for more than a year – and what a year it has been! I’ve worked on 30 projects, and read (for fun) 30 books. I went to the SfEP’s conference in Lancaster. I attended the London Book Fair and the fiction editors’ mini conference. I joined ALLi and now regularly take part in their Twitter chat (#IndieAuthorChat). And I wrote a book review for the SfEP’s Editing Matters magazine (which technically means I’m a published writer!). Thank you to clients, colleagues and friends for all your support.

Professional news

All of the above has helped me to become an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. To reach APM level was one of my major professional goals, and I am still extremely pleased to have achieved it. APM is the top tier of SfEP membership. I had to prove I have more than 1,500 hours of editorial experience, show evidence of recent professional development, and provide two references from satisfied long-term clients.

What I’ve been working on

I proofread two very different memoirs this month. The first was a deeply personal account of a difficult childhood and mental health issues. The second was a snapshot of the author’s charity work and related success stories. I finished July with a novel about escaping from Germany at the height of World War II.

What I read for fun

I managed three for-fun reads: one non-fiction and two fiction. Rutger Bregman is becoming a well-known figure and I’d highly recommend taking a look at Utopia for Realists. It contains some big ideas – ideas some may consider radical – but it is written in an accessible and engaging manner.

My fiction reads were Almost Love by Christina James and Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb. I was slightly disappointed by Almost Love: there’s a good story in there, but it needed a bit of a trim, in my opinion. And the text in the print edition is way too small: Sabon 9/10.5 is a no from me. Assassin’s Apprentice is a classic of the fantasy genre, and rightly so. I found the world-building particularly impressive (see the cutting of hair when in mourning) and liked the framing device of Fitz starting to tell a history of the Six Duchies.

Looking ahead

I have been asked to take part in #IndieAuthorChat as a guest on Tuesday 6th August at 8pm (BST). We’ll be chatting about proofreading for indie authors: what it involves, when it should be done, and what the value is to self-publishers. Do join us!