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: February 2019

February felt like a very short but busy month at Black Cat HQ. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of projects come my way. Around my editing work, I managed to fit in a lovely afternoon tea with my sister and a few days in the beautiful county of Yorkshire. The unseasonably warm weather, while worrying for the future, made it a very pleasant trip.

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

I completed the proofread for the PhD thesis I started work on in January. The end of this overlapped with the edit of a sci-fi/horror novel for a well-established independent author. I don’t often get to edit science-fiction, and I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. And I don’t often edit US English – although I frequently proofread it – and to do so with this project was an interesting departure from the norm.

My next project was the proofread of a story exploring the idea of eternal love. Parts of it were set in a country in east Africa and parts of it took place in the UK – a juxtaposition that was used to good effect.

I have two projects on my desk as I write this, and they will take me into early March. Both are fiction, but strikingly different. The first is the story of a rural village’s fight against the development of communal land. The second is an epic re-telling of a doomed medieval romance.

The CPD session

The West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group held a continuing professional development session on professional practice. It was, in theory, led by me (not a role that comes easily) but I was pleased – although not surprised – that the group members were chatty, enthusiastic, and generous with their thoughts. We shared ideas and techniques for a wide range of interactions with clients and focused heavily on the paperwork we use (such as project agreements, style sheets, and feedback forms). I have to say I found the session extremely valuable. I will be making changes!

Looking ahead

The West Surrey and North Hampshire local group has a lunch meeting in early March. A few days after that, I will be off to London for the fiction mini-conference. The line-up looks brilliant, and I am really looking forward to it. I am hoping to find the session on helping self-publishing authors particularity useful. A day or so later I will be back in London, with a couple of my favourite SfEP colleagues, for the London Book Fair. We went last year and had a great time. I expect to be completely knackered by the end of March.

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 benefits of SfEP local groups

Are you a member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP)? Are you thinking about becoming an SfEP member?* If the answer is yes to either question, have you met up with a local group yet? Even before I became the coordinator for the West Surrey and North Hampshire local group, I recommended local groups wholeheartedly. It can be a bit scary to put yourself out there, but here’s why you should go along:

It gets you out and about

I can go days without talking to someone outside of my immediate family, and that’s probably not very healthy. I can have whole months when I only leave the house to walk the dogs. That’s definitely not healthy. But it’s such an easy default to slip into when you are self-employed and working from home. I don’t have to talk to anyone (I’m not counting contact with clients). Regular, face-to-face meetings with other human beings are the perfect antidote to the little bubbles we can find ourselves trapped in.

You will build a support network

LGMThis, for me, is the most valuable aspect of attending a local group. Every couple of months I meet up with people who care about how I’m getting on, and I care about how they are getting on. We share our successes and our troubles. We give and receive advice and support. Being able to talk to people who do what you do, and understand the things you are dealing with, is extremely important. There is no need to feel isolated or lost or out of your depth. It has never been the case that a member of our group has been alone in whatever was worrying them.

You’ll learn things

Many local groups hold training sessions or continuing professional development (CPD) days – a quick glance through the calendar of events confirms a range of topics. Our last CPD day was about working with PDFs. The next one will be about professional practice. But it’s not all about dedicated sessions and specific topics. I’ve learnt such a lot from our informal meetings. If you approach the meetings with openness and generosity, you’ll find it reciprocated.

You may get work out of it

Let me start this section by saying I consider it poor etiquette to ask for leads, and I don’t think I am alone in that. However, when you get to know other editors they may become inclined to refer work to you, if they can’t take it on themselves. I refer work to other members of my group, and members of the group refer work to me. I’ve picked up some excellent projects this way, and I know other members have too. And it’s good for our clients – we can’t take on the project, but we know someone who may be able to, and we know they will do a good job.

It’s fun

A lot of local group meetings involve food. If you are anything like me, that will be all the encouragement you need. West Surrey and North Hampshire meetings are usually lunches. It’s a couple of hours of sitting with your friends, eating good food, and having a chat. I’ve spoken to a few other coordinators and they all aim for a friendly, welcoming environment, where you can enjoy yourself.

Want to learn more?

The SfEP has a lot of information about the local groups. If you are an SfEP member, you should join your local group’s forum and see what they are up to. And you can always email the coordinator(s) for more information. We are volunteers – we aren’t paid for the time we spend on local group business – but we’ll do our best to assist. It’s always lovely to welcome new group members.


*Non-SfEP members can attend up to three meetings. Once you’ve joined the SfEP, you can attend as many meetings as you like. And you aren’t restricted to one group – join as many as you want!

SfEP conference: Lancaster 2018

This year the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) held its 29th annual conference. It’s a chance for editing types to socialise, network, learn new things and brush up on their existing skills. And it was the first conference I’ve ever attended.

It took me around five hours to drive to Lancaster University, the location of this year’s conference. It was a drive that saw me contend with wind, rain, a toll booth, and clipped-shut toilet lids at service stations. I reached Lancaster on Saturday a little flustered, and quite tired, but I successfully checked in and located my room. It was like stepping back in time nine years – except my room at Royal Holloway had a comfortable mattress and I could turn around in my old en suite’s shower without hitting my elbows.

I’d arrived in time for conference registration, and then I attended the welcome and annual general meeting. I was strangely pleased to be able to raise my little rectangle of red paper to vote at the AGM. By this time, I was firmly attached to my conference buddy, Rachael Mortimer, and it made the whole weekend seem much less daunting. Thank you, Rachael.

After the first-timers’ pre-dinner drinks and then dinner (duck with hard bits of cauliflower), I headed off to bed. Sturdier conference attendees took part in the pub quiz – a good time must have been had because I’m pretty sure a few of them stumbled into the halls of residence rather late that night.

Sunday

Sunday began with a full English breakfast (minus the plum tomatoes) but soon we were off to the plenary session and the Whitcombe Lecture. This year the Whitcombe Lecture was given by Professor Lynne Murphy and she provided an informative and entertaining overview of the different approaches taken by US and UK editors. What I’ve taken from it is that US editors tend, on the whole, to edit with the experience of the reader as their primary concern, whereas UK editors edit with the author’s intention as their primary concern. It seems to me that there is a balance to be struck between the two.

After a tea/coffee break (orange juice and cookies for me) it was time for the first workshop of the conference. I attended Getting stuck in: editing narrative openings, in which Eleanor Collins provided ideas and techniques related to the structural editing of narrative texts. It was my first workshop and I had to introduce myself to the group and talk about a book that has an opening I like. Of course, I immediately couldn’t remember a single book I’d ever read. Ultimately, the workshop provided lots to consider for helping authors construct a compelling opening to their story, but Eleanor also explored why authors can find openings difficult to write – an insight into that can’t help but make for better editing on all levels.

It was soon lunchtime. The ‘dumplings’ that accompanied our stew are already infamous, but at least most of my colleagues didn’t spend the rest of the day with stew splattered all down their shirt (I did). There wasn’t time to dwell on my disarray – the first session was upon us. I chose What do proofreaders of student writing do to a poorly written master’s essay? Differing interventions, worrying findings because I have done a lot of work with students. Nigel Harwood discussed the results of a study he conducted into the work undertaken under the banner of ‘proofreading’. Many (I think most) of the participants in his study were not professional proofreaders, but students or the friends and family of students. Nonetheless, it was alarming to hear about the different approaches taken to the work – the collective gasps of astonishment were frequent. It reinforced, for me, how important it is that I have my own guidelines for proofreading work by students (that’s to be submitted for marking) and that I make them clear to prospective clients.

SheadingAfter another tea/coffee break (water, cookies, and an apple I’d taken from the breakfast bar) the something-for-everyone sessions began. First up for me was How the f**k do I style this? with Kia Thomas. I’m reminded of how much I enjoyed it because the only thing I wrote down in my notebook was ‘fuckbadger’, from a game where we had to style a new swear. Then I dashed over to the Lightning talks so I could catch Rachael in action (Proofreading for the Board-Game Industry). She did herself proud. I loved the lightning talk format: such varied topics in succinct chunks.

I’m the local group coordinator (LGC) for West Surrey and North Hampshire, so I went to the LGC meeting next. It was great to meet and hear from other LGCs, and to share what we are doing with our groups, and what seems to be working and what doesn’t. Earlier in the day I nabbed a handful of SfEP badges for my group, and sustained only minor injuries thanks to the pins. I walked back from the meeting with the lovely Lisa de Caux – just one of my Twitter buddies I met for the first time in real life and felt like I’d been friends with for ages.

The evening brought the gala dinner (chicken and leek terrine, roast lamb, and a titchy portion of Eton mess), the highlight of which was the performance by the Linnets (a choir of SfEP members). Julia Sandford-Cooke wrote the lyrics to ‘An Editor’s Psalm’, and has put them on her website to be enjoyed there too. Someone said to me (please forgive that I can’t remember who – I was running on empty by this point) that they needed to be back in their room before midnight, to avoid turning into a pumpkin. I shared the sentiment. Fortunately, I did avoid becoming a squash; it would have made the next day awkward.

Monday

I had Coco Pops for breakfast – I pretended I wanted a ‘lighter’ option, but really I wanted the sugar hit. My second workshop, but first of the day, was eEditing for multi-channel publishing. Chris Jennings introduced us to markdown – a lightweight markup language used by platforms such as Scrivener and Ulysses. I haven’t explored options for editing online, and this was a great introduction to the possibilities.

After cookies and orange juice (looking back, I realise I consumed a lot of sugar) and saying goodbye to Rachael, who had to leave early to get her train, it was time for The healthy editor: managing yourself and your workspace. Denise Cowle provided a welcome reminder about self-care and making sure our workspace isn’t negatively affecting our health and work. And I got my first taste of tablet (yeah, I know, I have a Scottish surname and should be ashamed of myself).

Monday’s lunch was much more manageable than stew: lasagne and garlic bread. It was followed by the plenary session, which consisted of a talk given by Kathryn Munt (CEO of the Publishing Training Centre). She gave an overview of the evolution of outsourcing within the publishing industry, particularly to companies overseas. I don’t work with any outsourcing companies, but I know a lot of my colleagues do and it’s an area fraught with difficulties. The session confirmed this, but also provided hope that the publishing industry may begin to tackle the problems raised.

A final tea/coffee break and I headed for one of the sessions I had most been looking forward to: Sarah Grey’s Inclusive language: the ethics of conscious language. Language is incredibly powerful, and we only need to look around us and at recent events to see the results of language and word choices. It’s a real shame that the session was cut short (because the plenary session overran) but I think that will be rectified at next year’s conference.

I didn’t win any prizes in the raffle (boo) at the close of the conference. Many people had already departed by this point, but I said goodbye to some of the people who had put up with me over the three days, collected my certificate of attendance, and retired to my room. I drove home on Tuesday.

In summary

The SfEP conference 2018 was brilliant. I had such a good time. Yes, the food and accommodation left something to be desired, but that didn’t detract from the rest of the event. I attended some excellent workshops and sessions, and I learnt such a lot from them. I came back absolutely exhausted, but reinvigorated in my love for what we do.

What I will always remember, though, was how lovely everyone was. I was very nervous about my first conference, but the nerves evaporated almost as soon as I arrived. I can’t list all the people who sought me out to say hello, there were just too many, but please know that I am so incredibly grateful to you all. It meant so much that anyone would even think to do so. And thank you to all the people I didn’t know from Twitter or the SfEP forums but who chatted to me anyway and made me feel like I fit right in.

If you are thinking about attending the conference next year, I highly recommend you go for it. Do it. I don’t think you will regret the experience.