This round-up is a bit late, and that’s because something pretty momentous happened at the end of October. I bought a house. It took three very long months from offer to completion, but I am finally sitting in my very own home. To be honest, there were times when I thought it would never happen – and the declining health of the UK economy meant circumstances were not exactly ideal. Mixed with the relief, though, there is a sense of achievement. When I first started my own editorial services business, I hoped that one day it would be successful enough for me to be able to buy my first home, and I have done that. It’s a point in my life that shows me just how far I have come. I have to thank all my colleagues and clients for your support along the way. I appreciate you all, very much.
What I’ve been working on
October has been a fairly quiet month, in terms of work. My usual tutoring commitments have been ticking along nicely. In addition to that, I had the opportunity to work with a new client. It was a pleasure to copy-edit her debut murder mystery novel – it was impressively crafted and I hope it finds the audience it deserves. My other project for this month was a proofread of a sci-fi novel for a client I work with regularly – and it’s always exciting to see where her storytelling is going to venture next.
What I read for fun
This is a bit of a cheat because I haven’t completely finished it yet (I’ve been a bit distracted, for obvious reasons), but I’ve been enjoying Natasha Pulley’s The Half Life of Valery K. As you would probably expect from Pulley, this is historical fiction with shades of fantasy and a delightful smidgen of romance. This time, we find ourselves in Soviet Russia during the Cold War, exploring the secrets of a hidden nuclear research facility. I always enjoy Pulley’s writing style and storytelling, and this is no exception.
There’s likely to be a lot of disruption in November as I get things sorted out in my new home, including setting up my brand-new office space. I hope to be back to normal as soon as possible.
September is the month of my birth, so I did take a few days off in order to celebrate a bit. Of course, I had to go for my traditional afternoon tea and enjoy the tiny sandwiches and dainty cakes I would never have the patience to make myself. I have to admit that it defeated me this time, and I had to give the chocolate flower pot to my sister’s partner. I hope he enjoyed it as much as I would have done.
My other birthday treat was to go on a hack on a quiet Monday morning. This included my first time riding on a road – complete with actual cars on it – and I’m pleased to say it went well. Most of the hack, though, was through beautiful fields and woods, and I had a lovely, relaxing time. I include a wonky picture of the back of Tyson’s head as proof that I’m not making up the horse riding thing.
What I’ve been working on
I finished off the double critique I started in August – the series is shaping up to be a real epic and I’m excited to see where the author is going to take it. The rest of my September work was proofreads. I started with a contemporary slice-of-life tale that took a sudden detour into thriller territory and continued with a post-apocalyptic story of survival and sacrifice. I took on a non-fiction proofread to round off the month, and it was an interesting insight into a different spiritual outlook.
I’m working on a small project at the moment that I hope will help my proofreading students. I’d like all my students to do as well as they can, so I’m writing up some ‘before you begin’ advice based on my now two years of tutoring experience. I’m writing this as a form of accountability to myself – I aim to have it done by the time I write the October round-up!
I finished the memoir proofread I started in July, alongside the proofread of a crime thriller for a publisher. I was very flattered to be asked to proofread a novella by the same author shortly afterwards – it’s always good to have the characters and style fresh in the mind. The psychological thriller I critiqued in June/July was back with me for copy-editing this month, and I think it was a fitting end to the series. Finally, I have the critique of the next two books in a sci-fi/fantasy series with me until the end of September.
Goodbye to Lexico
My clients will know that my go-to dictionary has always been Lexico (itself formerly Oxford Dictionaries online), and I was upset to discover that it would close in August. It now re-directs to Dictionary.com. That’s all very well, but it’s not the resource I’ve trusted for so long. Fortunately, the paid-for version of Oxford Dictionaries still exists, so I have set up a subscription to that and it will be my default dictionary from now on. I know some libraries still provide access to OUP resources like this, but many have made cuts to these services (Hampshire certainly has). However, an individual annual subscription is currently £16.66 (and includes access to other resources too), which seems entirely reasonable in our increasingly expensive world.
I won’t be able to take part in the 2022 CIEP conference in September, much to my disappointment. One of my best friends has very selfishly decided to hold his wedding on that weekend. I hope all the attendees enjoy themselves as much as I did when I went to the 2018 SfEP conference in Lancaster. It was a formative experience, and I’m looking forward to attending a future conference.
We had a heatwave in the UK and I was yet again grateful that I invested in a portable air-conditioning unit a few years ago. It’s only useful for two to three days a year (although that will change, I am sure), but it’s still money well spent. There’s no way I could proofread accurately in temperatures around and above 40°C.
What I’ve been working on
I finished off the psychological thriller critique I started in June, alongside the proofread of a YA fantasy novel. I moved on to the copy-edit of a satirical crime thriller by an author I have had the pleasure of working with before. I also had a memoir to proofread for one of my publisher clients – I find I enjoy proofreading the occasional bit of non-fiction, as long as it doesn’t come with an extensive reference list or lots of footnotes. Which is just as well, as this was followed by another memoir, and I’ll complete that in early August.
What I read for fun
I managed to fit in one for-fun read in July. I’d had The House in the Cerulean Sea on my TBR list for some time. I wanted something relatively soft and gentle, and I think this book fits the bill. Throw in my favourite trope – found family – and I’m sold. It’s a lovely fantasy story, with sprinkles of wonderful humour and a touch of melancholy. It’s a tale about hope and love and acceptance, and I think we need more of those in the world.
In my May round-up, I mentioned a zombie horror novel I’d been copy-editing. I had previously critiqued the manuscript. Well, the absolutely fabulous news is that it has been picked up for representation. I am beyond delighted for my client – I know she had hoped to traditionally publish before deciding that self-publishing may be the best option for getting the novel out to a readership. I have to say, I was a little emotional to read the words ‘I believe you helped me get representation’.
What I’ve been working on
I finished off the copy-edit of the thriller I’d started in May and moved on to an absolute beast of a proofread – more than 215,000 words. I seem to have had a run of long manuscripts lately. Fortunately, this had been well copy-edited. It is the first contemporary novel I’ve worked on that uses the beginning of the pandemic as a key part of the storyline – I found it quite moving to look back at a time that was, really, quite naive, given what we know now. My next proofread, which will finish at the beginning of July, was young adult fantasy fiction – a breeze at ‘only’ 110,000 words. Alongside those, I have been working on the critique of the final instalment of a dark and twisting thriller series. I think the author has wrapped up an intense and, at times, disturbing series in a fitting manner.
A weekend in Brighton
Another month, another trip to a Sea Life centre. This time it was the world’s oldest aquarium – the building itself is stunning, even before you get to see the inhabitants. The turtles at this centre make April (mentioned in my May round-up) look like a tiny wee thing – one of the turtles at Brighton weighs twenty-eight stone (about 178kg). They really are astonishing.
A trip to Brighton wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the pier. The arcade was full to bursting, but I enjoyed the obligatory chips, and treated myself to some fresh doughnuts (I definitely didn’t eat all of them myself…).
The Grand was pretty much as amazing as I had hoped it would be. I was tickled to realise that my sea-view balcony was the one that has the iconic ‘GRAND’ sign on it. It’s not quite so great when it glows all night, but that can’t be helped. It was a good break and I would love to go back.
There’s a CIEP local group lunch scheduled for July, which I am looking forward to. And I have been called upon to help my friend choose suitable flavours for his wedding cake – a job I am more than prepared to tackle. Bring on the samples.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
I touched on vocative expressions in my blog post on how to punctuate dialogue, but I think it is a topic that deserves a little more exploration.
What are vocative expressions?
A vocative expression is used when someone is addressed directly in dialogue. It is often their name, but it doesn’t have to be – it could be a form of address that relates to their job, indicates their relationship to the speaker, or provides some other means of identifying them (respectfully or disrespectfully).
vocative, adjective Relating to or denoting a case of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives in Latin and other languages, used in addressing or invoking a person or thing. Lexico
Why are they useful in fiction?
Vocatives can serve many purposes, but there are three key reasons for using them in fiction.
The basic and most obvious reason to use vocatives is to help readers keep track of who is speaking and who they are talking to, especially if there are a few characters involved in the scene.
The Silent Companions (2018) by Laura Purcell, pp. 180–181 ‘How now?’ Charles called again. ‘Speak up, little Hetta!’ The boys hooted again. ‘Leave her alone, Charles!’ I snapped, but it only made them laugh harder. They were so excited, I believe they would have laughed at death itself. ‘It is only in jest, Mother.’ ‘I really cannot understand what Henrietta Maria is trying to communicate,’ Josiah said. ‘Anne, have you any idea?’
Vocatives are an effective way to show the reader how characters relate to each other and how they feel about each other. Are they family members? Does one occupy a higher rank than the other? Do they like each other? Do they hate each other?
The Man Who Died Twice (2021) by Richard Osman, p. 199 ‘But you can predict things,’ says Ibrahim. ‘The tides, the seasons, nightfall, daybreak. Earthquakes.’ ‘None of that is people, though, mate,’ says Ron. ‘You can’t predict people. Like you can guess what they’ll say next, but that’s about it.’
The Way of All Flesh (2019) by Ambrose Parry, p. 66 ‘What is your name?’ he asked, almost breathless in his incredulity. ‘It is Sarah,’ she replied, her words barely discernible over the sound of the screaming children. ‘Yes, I know that part. Your surname.’ ‘Fisher.’ ‘And you are a housemaid, Miss Fisher, are you not?’ ‘Yes, sir.’
Well-used vocatives can help to show us the emotions of the speaker – they are a great tool for evoking a deeper sense of how the characters are feeling. We might often associate this sort of usage with annoyance, urgency or surprise, but it can show us sorrow, patience or concern just as well.
Seven Devils (2020) by Elizabeth May and Laura Lam, p. 300 Briggs could barely keep his eyes open. His skin was pale. “Hold on, Briggs,” Sher said. ‘We’re getting you out.”
Too many vocatives
Natural speech doesn’t tend to incorporate vocatives as often as you might think – too many will make the dialogue sound stilted and false. And readers are likely to find overuse really quite annoying. There are other ways to indicate who is being talked to, or who is present in the scene, without sprinkling the dialogue with vocatives. Let’s ruin a bit of a very good novel to demonstrate the point:
The Silver Collar (2020) by Antonia Hodgson, p. 307 The town was looking for a new schoolmaster. Was that something I might consider? […] ‘Is that what you want?’ she asked me. ‘I don’t know. Perhaps.’ If you want it, my love. She narrowed her eyes. ‘Tom, you would hate it.’ ‘I would not! Nayland is a very fine town, with plenty of taverns…’ ‘A schoolmaster.’ ‘A noble occupation.’ ‘Yes. One that requires you to sit cooped up in a room for hours—’ ‘I can do that!’ ‘Sober, Tom. Sober.’
The same scene, but with vocatives turned up to eleven The town was looking for a new schoolmaster. Was that something I might consider? […] ‘Is that what you want, Tom?’ she asked me. ‘I don’t know, Kitty. Perhaps.’ If you want it, my love. She narrowed her eyes. ‘Tom, you would hate it.’ ‘I would not! Nayland is a very fine town, Kitty, with plenty of taverns…’ ‘A schoolmaster, Tom.’ ‘A noble occupation, Kitty.’ ‘Yes, Tom. One that requires you to sit cooped up in a room for hours—’ ‘I can do that, Kitty!’ ‘Sober, Tom. Sober.’
The second one is hideous, isn’t it? It’s horrible to read and it totally destroys the impact of when Kitty does address Tom directly. In the original, we can hear her suspicion, mixed with a little frustration and amusement; in our version, the characters might as well be robots.
We need to use commas to make it clear that a vocative expression is in action, and this is how to do it:
If the vocative expression is at the beginning of the sentence, it needs a comma after it 
If the vocative expression is at the end of the sentence, it needs a comma before it 
If the vocative expression interrupts the sentence, it needs a comma before and after it 
‘Evan, have you seen my ice cream?’
‘That’s my tub of ice cream, Evan.’
‘If you don’t put my ice cream down, Evan, we won’t be friends anymore.’
Vocatives need to be punctuated correctly to prevent ambiguity. We’ve probably all seen the classic ‘Let’s eat Grandma!’ mistake floating around social media, and that’s the sort of thing we want to avoid.
This is, I think, one of the things that writers struggle with the most. There are some simple guidelines, but sometimes it can be a little more complicated. Remember, these are for forms of direct address – there are different conventions when some of these words are used descriptively.
Names are proper nouns and so they always take an initial capital letter:
‘Where are you going on holiday, Annie?’
Terms of respect and endearment take lower case in general use:
‘I don’t know where your teddy is, sweetie.’
‘Can I help you find your coat, sir?’
Terms of respect used with names become proper nouns and take upper case:
‘Would you like to try the tea, Miss Harwood?’
Titles of rank and nobility take initial capitals:
‘Where, Detective Inspector, did the body go?’
‘I can’t stand any more of this heat, Captain.’
Titles indicating relationships take upper case:
‘Thank you for visiting me, Dad.’
‘Can you teach me how to paint like that, Auntie?’
Why do vocative expressions matter?
Vocatives are a useful tool. They help the writer convey who is being addressed and how they are being addressed, and they can help to give a deeper, richer sense of mood and indicate how the characters feel about and relate to each other. It’s important to be mindful with our usage, though. We don’t want to make the dialogue jarring and annoying to read, and we don’t want to distract the reader with ambiguities.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).