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: July 2021

July brought us a brief heatwave in the UK, and I can’t say that I enjoyed it. It’s one of very few things that make me miss working in an office – at least there was air-conditioning and I wasn’t constantly worried my computer was going to overheat/explode. I bought my own air-conditioning unit last year, and while it is a bit noisy and it takes up a bit of room, it was money well spent (even if it only sees use for a week every 12 months).

What I’ve been working on

I was back to a full-on schedule in July. I finished the critique I’d started in June and moved on to the critique of the second book in a fantasy series. I critiqued the first book in the series, so it’s wonderful to see how the story is going to progress and to see that the writing has taken such a huge step forward. I’ll be working on this one until mid-August. There was only one proofread for this month – a new novel from a client I work with a lot. It was an absolute pleasure, as usual. My two copy-edits were also for long-standing clients. I’m currently editing (it’s a beast of a book, so I will be working on it in August too) the last book in an epic fantasy series, and I will be very sad to see our collaboration come to an end. There are also some character deaths I’m trying not to take personally… The other copy-edit is a psychological thriller set in the 1980s, and once I have finished that edit, I’ll move on to the edit of a much longer novel by the same author.

What I read for fun

I finally managed to dedicate some time to reading The Kingdoms, and I absolutely loved it. Natasha Pulley is one of my favourite authors, and I admire her writing so much. It’s always so beautiful. I’ve seen some criticisms of The Kingdoms for being confusing, but I didn’t find it to be so. If you’ve read the author’s other works (The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, for example) it won’t be anything you aren’t prepared for. It’s a historical adventure novel with wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey elements. Enjoy the ride.

Looking ahead

I’ve been allowed to bring forward my appointment for the second dose of my COVID vaccine, which is very welcome. It means I will be fully vaccinated before I – and this is not a joke – go ghost hunting. My friend was owed a birthday outing and this is what he has decided he would like to do. I will be going to Oxford Castle for an overnight ghost-hunting adventure – a sentence I never thought I would write. My sister has already drawn the line at using a Ouija board; I’m wondering what the included snacks will be.

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.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: April 2021

I looked back on the April 2020 round-up before I wrote this and, gosh, that one was bleak, wasn’t it? A year ago things were not looking brilliant, so I’m glad that I find myself in a much-improved situation now. In a bit of symmetry, however, I have had another book review published. I had the pleasure of reviewing Kia Thomas’s A Very Sweary Dictionary and you can read what I thought here.

What I’ve been working on

My run of critiques continues – I completed the critique I started in March and I have just finished another critique (both were psychological thriller novellas). It’s always an honour to be asked to give feedback on something an author has poured so much of themselves into. I have another critique due to start in May. I finished the fantasy fiction proofread I started in March and moved on to the proofread of a family history.

What I read for fun

The latest instalment of the Murderbot Diaries was released in April and it didn’t disappoint. Fugitive Telemetry (I’ve linked to the hardback but the ebook is out already) has a slightly different vibe to the other books – this is basically a whodunnit, but it still contains all the elements that make a Murderbot story. Murderbot became one of my most cherished fictional characters some time ago, so I am looking forward to whatever Martha Wells gives us next.

Looking ahead

The West Surrey & North Hampshire CIEP local group is due a Zoom meeting in May, so I intend to get one organised for the end of the month.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: March 2021

The March round-up comes to you a bit later than usual as I worked part-time hours for the last week of the month (but somehow I still managed to be surprisingly productive) and I took the long Easter weekend off. I’m including it as part of my efforts not to overwork myself as I did for a significant chunk of 2020. They seem to be working so far. I think it is necessary to have some time off to refresh and recharge. Having said that, I’m not very good at building up my enthusiasm for working again after a few days of TV and chocolate.

What I’ve been working on

I finished the copy-edits of the biography and the epic fantasy that I started in February, and I moved on to some contemporary fiction, one novel for a publisher and one for an indie author. I critiqued a previous version of the indie novel a couple of years ago and it was really satisfying to see how much it had changed and evolved. It is a much stronger story now and I’m really glad I was able to support the author in achieving that. Working with returning clients was a theme for March – I also had the pleasure of proofreading a short story for one of my long-standing indie clients. Towards the end of the month, I went back to the world of fantasy fiction for two projects. I have completed the copy-edit (of a magical, if dark, children’s adventure), but the proofread is very long and will take me into April. I’ll be working on that alongside the critique of a psychological thriller for another returning client.

What I read for fun

I have one read for March: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within. Becky Chambers has concluded her Wayfarers series with another brilliant novel. It is, in my opinion, space opera at its very best. I’m upset that it has to end, but I am grateful for the quiet, profound, and beautiful stories that we have been given. I’m looking forward to reading what comes next.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: January 2021

January is over already. Despite the continuing UK lockdown, time seems to be flying. I returned to work after a lovely, relaxed break for Christmas and New Year’s, and I have been fortunate to have a full work schedule. The West Surrey and North Hampshire CIEP local group had a catch-up towards the end of the month; we talked about our goals for this year – as hard as it may be to think of them in the precarious situation we all find ourselves in at the moment – and I’ll return to mine later in this post.

What I’ve been working on

My first project of the new year was the proofread of some American contemporary fiction. I work on a lot of contemporary British fiction, so it was interesting to work on a novel based in the US and by a US author. I moved on to the copy-edit of a novel by an author I have had the pleasure of working with before – the novel was an atmospheric Gothic horror reminiscent of the work of Laura Purcell. January ended with the proofread of a fantasy novel about angels and demons, and I am still working on a critique of the beginning of a fantasy fiction novel. I usually critique full manuscripts, so this will be another new and interesting experience.

What I read for fun

I’ve got one completed read to report and two partial reads. The completed read is Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes – I wasn’t going to miss out on psychic cats in space. It took me a while to fully engage with it but it is funny and fast-paced, and has a cast of likeable characters. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke) is a very, very long novel, and that is my excuse for not having got anywhere near finishing it yet. It is, though, reminding me why I loved the BBC adaptation so much. My other not-yet-completed read is Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone. I am aware I have probably approached the Grishaverse in the wrong order (I started with Six of Crows) but the upcoming Netflix adaptation has encouraged me to fill in some of the blanks.

Looking ahead

As I mentioned above, we talked about our goals for this year at the West Surrey and North Hampshire local group Zoom meeting. (I hope that in-person meetings can resume before the end of 2021.) I have two aims for 2021. One is a thing I do every year – complete one formal training course as part of my continuing professional development. The other is to make sure that I balance work with time off – I worked a lot of Saturdays and Sundays last year, and I am going to try to minimise that this year. It’s time to reclaim my weekends.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: December 2020

This is the third December for Black Cat Editorial Services and the business continues to grow. That feels like a huge achievement given the horrible year we have all had, plus the bonus terribles that were allotted to me and my family: my mum was diagnosed with cancer, my sister had to cope with and recover from COVID-19 alone, and my dog died. As far as I am concerned, most of 2020 can get in the bin.

It’s not all bad, though. I checked my project-tracking spreadsheet, as is now traditional for these end-of-year blog posts, and it tells me that my 2020 projects have a combined word count of 3,355,011 – about 300,000 more than 2019, despite the COVID-related work slump mid-year. It was a real relief to see my publisher work return, and I am very grateful to my wonderful indie clients who kept me busy during the dark times.

Despite the circumstances, I still managed to get some good things out of this year. I wrote two book reviews for the CIEP (on Dennis Baron’s What’s Your Pronoun and Jacqueline D. Lipton’s Law and Authors: A legal handbook for writers); attended the CIEP’s online conference; completed two courses (Copyright for Editorial Professionals and How to Write the Perfect Editorial Report); and became a tutor for the CIEP’s Proofreading Headway and Progress courses.

I started working as a tutor in August and it has been a steep learning curve – I’m very grateful to have had the brilliant Annie Jackson to hold my hand through it. I can’t tell you how strange it feels to have my name in the CIEP’s tutor list alongside some of the people I have looked up to since I began my training and some of the people who tutored me. I can only hope that my students will get as much from my help and advice as I did from my tutors and my mentor, the wonderful Margaret Aherne.

What I’ve been working on

I scheduled in a Christmas break this year – I needed some downtime – but I still managed to complete three more projects before calling it for the year. I started December with the proofread of a dark and fantastical short-story collection and then moved on to the copy-edit of the second instalment of an epic fantasy series (I worked on the first instalment and I’m getting a bit attached to the characters already). My last project of the year was the copy-edit of a fantasy/horror novel with a unique premise and intriguing conclusion.

What I read for fun

I couldn’t stop myself – I had to read the rest of the available Murderbot books. I read the novella, Exit Strategy, and the full-length novel, Network Effect, in two sittings – and now I must wait until April for the next instalment. Having run out of Murderbot material, I turned to Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw. Like the first book, Strange Practice, it is an enjoyable and monster-filled novel. I wrapped up the month with Genevieve Cogman’s The Masked City, another enjoyable adventure with familiar characters.

Looking ahead

I will be returning to work next week, so I will make the most of the next few days of doing very little. Usually I say something like ‘Here’s to a happy and successful new year for us all’ at this point – it feels like a lot to wish for, but I do hope it comes true.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: November 2020

November saw England back in lockdown. Fortunately, this time, it hasn’t had any effect on my schedule or workload. When this lockdown ends, my local area will be subject to tier 2 restrictions (‘high alert’). I don’t expect this to make much difference to me – I can’t remember the last time I left the house to do something other than walk the dog that wasn’t food shopping or an essential appointment.

What I’ve been working on

Being trapped in the house seems to have been good for my productivity level. I had a couple of non-fiction proofreads this month – one a thoughtful exploration of how the Church of England can overcome its current divisions, and one an engaging account of a charity walk around the British coast. I enjoy walking (probably a necessity when one has a springer spaniel) but I don’t think I could do it for days on end, let alone months. My fiction work has been equally as diverse. I finished off the copy-edit of the novel I found difficult to place in a particular genre (I still can’t). Then I moved on to the proofread of a science-fiction novel – I worked on the first book in the series last year, so it was interesting to see how the story has progressed. The second half of November saw me immersed in a fantasy fiction copy-edit for one of my publisher clients, and I have started the copy-edit of another fantasy fiction epic from a returning indie client.

What I read for fun

Surprisingly, I did manage to get in a couple of for-fun reads in November. I usually try to fit in a ‘spooky’ read around Halloween. I was a couple of days late starting it, but this year I went for The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox. One of my indie clients mentioned Hester Fox’s work as a comparison for what he is trying to achieve in his next novel, and so I thought it would be worth having a look. It’s not a particularly scary book, but it is atmospheric, romantic, and heartbreakingly sad. There’s a lot of heartbreakingly sad going about, and my next read wasn’t an exception. I returned to Martha Wells’ Murderbot for another adventure, this time in Rogue Protocol. As usual, Murderbot is a joy, but there’s an emotional gut-punch at the end of this instalment.

The CIEP conference 2020

The in-person CIEP conference was, of course, cancelled this year. But that didn’t stop the institute from coming together to put on a virtual conference instead. I attended all of the sessions on the first day. The highlight of those was Sarah Grey’s session on inclusive language. I was at Sarah’s 2018 conference session, so I knew it would be good, and I was not disappointed. I also have to say that Hugh Jackson, the CIEP’s chair, did a wonderful job during his welcome speech. Unfortunately, I had to get back to work on days two and three, so I am planning to watch the recordings of those sessions during my Christmas break.

Looking ahead

My local group would usually have a Christmas social in early December. This year we will be having our meeting via Zoom – I hope to see plenty of mince pies being scoffed.