The Black Cat monthly round-up: May 2022

May saw the first in-person meeting of the CIEP’s West Surrey & North Hampshire local group for more than two years. It was lovely to be able to see members face to face and to have a conversation that wasn’t limited by the reality of Zoom meetings. We were supposed to have a chartership celebration in 2020, but COVID made that impossible. I’d stowed away the shiny branded pens, pencils and bookmarks I had been intending to give out at that time, and I was able to hand them over to Ellen, our new coordinator, for her to distribute. It felt a little sad, as that was my last task as part of my coordinator responsibilities, but I know it is the right time to move on.

What I’ve been working on

Text on a background of daisies: Black Cat Editorial Services: May round-up

I finished off the copy-edit of a zombie horror novel I started in April. I’d critiqued an earlier draft of the manuscript, so it was rewarding to see how much it had improved and interesting to see how the author had decided to tackle the issues I’d raised. I moved on to the copy-edit of another novel I’d previously critiqued, and it is a sequel to a book I worked on last year. It’s always fascinating to revisit characters I am familiar with and to find out what the author has decided to throw at them this time. This copy-edit will be with me until mid-June. May brought me two proofreads for publisher clients – one was a sort of biblical fairy tale and the other was a historical adventure romance.

What I read for fun

I took my Kindle with me on my trip to Scotland and the book I had lined up was Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree. I kept reading good things about it on social media, and the real world is terrible and I really needed something cosy to distract me. I got exactly what I wanted: an interesting fantasy world, likeable central characters, relatively low stakes, found family, and lots of descriptions of pastries. I’d recommend buying yourself a cinnamon bun before you start this one – you’ll end up very jealous of fictional people otherwise. I believe it was originally self-published and has now been picked up by Tor, so it isn’t available on all platforms at the time of writing, but that’s an inspiring story in itself.

A new blog post

After far too long, I managed to find the time and brain capacity to write a new entry in my fiction essentials series. Following on from my post on how to punctuate dialogue, I’ve taken a closer look at vocative expressions – what they are, how they work, and why they are important.

A weekend in Scotland

A train carriage that has 'Caledonian Sleeper' emblazoned on it

I took the Caledonian Sleeper service from London Euston to Dumbarton and it was quite an experience. One of the things I liked most was that club tickets give you access to the first-class lounge at Euston, and that is a place where you can eat as much cake as you like, for free. A man sitting behind me had at least four scones. Other snacks, soft drinks, and hot drinks are also available. If I had realised beforehand, I would not have forked out for disappointing halloumi in a London Nando’s. The train experience itself was a bit hot and stuffy, but I found the rhythm of the train quite comforting to fall asleep to.

An Olive Ridley Turtle looks out of a large aquarium. She has a missing flipper.

Perhaps the highlight of my trip was a visit to Loch Lomond’s Sea Life centre. We were lucky enough to see the otters at feeding time and get close to April, the rescued turtle. She lost her right flipper when she was entangled in netting and her ongoing buoyancy problem means it isn’t possible for her to go back to the wild. She seemed happy enough being hand-fed and the centre of the keeper’s attention, though.

Looking ahead

I’m off for a weekend in Brighton to celebrate my sister’s birthday (it’s one of those big ones). I’ve booked rooms at the Grand, and I’m looking forward to feeling very fancy for a little while.

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: 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: June 2021

I had a little bit of time off in June, so things have been a bit less hectic work-wise. I have, however, managed to fill my schedule for the rest of 2021 – which is, frankly, ridiculous. I can only thank my clients for their ongoing trust and support; I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you all.

As I mentioned in my previous round-up, I had my first vaccination appointment at the beginning of June. Fortunately, the only side effect I experienced was that my arm really, really hurt the next day – I could barely move it. But the jab itself didn’t hurt at all and all of the staff at the vaccination centre were absolutely lovely.

Restrictions have started to ease in the UK, so I was able to go out and about (in a responsible manner) during my time off. I had my first pub lunch for about 15 months, and I treated my mum and my sister to afternoon tea to celebrate their birthdays. I have missed those tiny sandwiches so much.

What I’ve been working on

One critique went back and I started a new one. June’s critique (although it will extend into July) was of a work of epic fantasy fiction, with magic and dragons and all that good stuff. Alongside this I had the copy-edit of a short-story collection and the proofread of some contemporary fiction. The main project of this month was the copy-edit of book four of a fantasy series – there’s only one book left now, and I’m going to really miss the characters and working with their creator. I finished the month with the proofread of a pretty extensive travel memoir for one of my publishing services clients – it really brought home how much I have missed being able to go places, and even missed just there being a possibility of going somewhere new and experiencing new things.

What I read for fun

OK, so it is excuse time again. The Kingdoms did turn up, and I have started reading it, and I’m enjoying it a lot, but I haven’t managed to spend much time on it. I think some of this is to do with having a succession of critiques to do – my head is full of those stories and it’s hard to split my focus.

Looking ahead

It’s nearly time for another Zoom meeting for the West Surrey & North Hampshire CIEP local group, so I will aim to get one organised in July.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: May 2021

I am trying not to make a habit of writing and posting my monthly round-ups a bit late, but the end of May and beginning of June has been very busy and that is my excuse. I did manage to squeeze in a Zoom meeting with the West Surrey & North Hampshire CIEP local group, and it was lovely to catch up with them and have a general chat about editing-related matters.

We had a guest at Black Cat HQ for the end of May. Ella’s favourite friend, Mini, came to stay with us for a couple of weeks, and they had a lovely time being naughty little peas in pod. Here they are making sure that the neighbours aren’t doing anything they disapprove of.

What I’ve been working on

My long run of critiques has continued. I finished the report for a psychological thriller novella, and moved on to the critique of what I can only really term as transgressive fiction. Alongside this I proofread some contemporary fiction and a novel that is part coming-of-age story and part romance. Perhaps the most interesting project of this month was the proofread of a supernatural murder-mystery – a combination I would love to work on more.

What I read for fun

Confession time: I have no completed reads for May. I had planned to read Natasha Pulley’s The Kingdoms upon its release, but distribution problems mean that my copy has still not reached me. My disappointment is immeasurable.

Looking ahead

I have my first vaccination appointment booked for early June. I don’t think ‘excited’ is the right description for how I feel about it – I think it is something closer to relief and a little bit of hope.