The Black Cat monthly round-up: October 2019

There’s no social stuff to report for October – it has been a very work-heavy month, but I have managed to get in a lot of for-fun reading to balance it out.

What I’ve been working on

I started October with a non-fiction proofread: a work of political theory addressing (some of) the current issues in British government. I don’t envy authors of this sort of work – the situation is likely to have moved on before this book is even published.

It was a bit of a relief to be able to sink myself into some fiction for the rest of the month. I took on one children’s fantasy-fiction novel and one young adult fantasy-fiction novel. Both authors had succeeded in creating compelling magical worlds – a particular skill when one was set in a different galaxy. Alongside these edits, I have been working on a critique of a psychological thriller from a first-time author. It’s a real privilege to be trusted with an author’s manuscript and asked to give my assessment of it. My aim is to give the author the tools and confidence to achieve her goals for her novella.

What I read for fun

Black Cat Editorial Services_October round-upThree for-fun reads this month, and one of them was more than 800 pages long – I think you can tell I didn’t get out of the house much.

Semicolon is an excellent book. I am a fan of semicolons and Cecelia Watson does a lovely job of explaining why writers should embrace this elegant little mark. She also digs into language snobbery and grammar pedantry with a sense of humour and ear for good writing.

My first fiction read was Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens. I’d read lots of positive reviews of the series and I wasn’t disappointed. I thought the framing device of the book being the case notes of the Wells & Wong Detective Society (two third-formers at an English boarding school) was a great one. The narration from Hazel Wong is engaging, humorous and, at times, moving.

My second fiction read was an epic: Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree. It deserves all the praise that has been heaped upon it. For a book of that length to grip hold and not let go until the very end is a huge achievement. It’s a fantasy world where women lead and same-sex relationships are unremarkable. I didn’t realise just how refreshing that would be.

Blog posts

I published a blog post inspired by one of our recent West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group meetings. There are lots of good resources out there for editors and writers, and I’ve collected five of my favourites and details on how you might be able to access them for free.

On Twitter, I shared an article from Luna Station Quarterly about not killing the dog. Tracy Townsend has summarised a lot of my thinking on the subject, and as a reader it always disappoints me when an author uses it as a lazy way to signpost ‘evilness’.

Kia Thomas wrote a great post about editing with kindness, which I think every editor ought to read and take on board. I like to think I am a kind person in general, but it’s something I have particularly focused on while writing up the critique I mentioned earlier.

Looking ahead

Early November sees the last lunch meeting of the year for the West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group. We’ll be chatting about how to make the most of our professional websites (it feels a bit weird to type that for a blog post for my professional website).

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The Black Cat monthly round-up: September 2019

Black Cat Editorial Services_September 2018I wasn’t at the SfEP’s conference this year, unfortunately, but I had plenty of other things to keep me occupied in September. I have been working my way through the SfEP’s Introduction to Fiction Editing course, on and off, since May and I managed to complete it this month. It’s a lot more in-depth and complex than the course title may suggest; I’m sure it will have a positive effect on my editing practice. The section on critiques and their structure should be particularly useful.

What I’ve been working on

I finished off the two proofreads I started in August: a non-fiction book on cricket and a novel about bereavement. I followed this with the proofread, for a publisher, of a poetry collection. Poetry is not something I have edited before, so this was a great experience – I love being able to work on a wide range of texts. The last project of September was a collection of stories about British-Indian women. It was a fascinating glimpse into the lives of some truly remarkable people.

What I read for fun

I had a week or so off for my birthday (more on that later), which meant that I had a bit more time for for-fun reading than usual. I pre-ordered the collector’s edition of Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom some time ago, and it arrived at the beginning of the month. It’s almost as beautiful as the collector’s edition of Six of Crows. And it gave me an opportunity to use the Boomerang app for the first time. Enjoy:

I’ve had the novella All Systems Red by Martha Wells on my wish list for a while. It was the first book I downloaded onto the Kindle Paperwhite I got as a present for my birthday. Murderbot is a brilliantly written character: introverted, humane, dispassionate and funny. I whizzed through it in a couple of hours and then chose Vivian Shaw’s Strange Practice as my next read. The characterisation throughout could be stronger but I enjoyed it for what it was.

Birthday business

Sandwiches, scones, cream and jam, and cake cubes on a dark-wood stand.

Afternoon tea at Audleys Wood.

I managed to make my birthday celebrations last a couple of weeks. The first treat was afternoon tea at Audleys Wood Hotel in Alton with one of my favourite editor colleagues. I do enjoy posh sarnies and tiny cakes. I had a lovely, chilled birthday at home and then headed up to Yorkshire for a few days away. I stayed in Harrogate, which is a beautiful place. Somehow I had failed to realise the UCI Road World Championships (cycling) would be taking over the area; lots of roads were closed, it was very busy, and there were bikes – almost literally – everywhere. But I did manage to enjoy a good wander round the town and visit the legendary Bettys tea room. There was an Italian restaurant joined to our hotel, and the food there was absolutely stunning.

The local group

Between my birthday and going to Harrogate, I held a lunch meeting of the West Surrey and North Hampshire local group. The topic for discussion was marketing and looking for work, and as usual the group members delivered some great insights and advice. The next meeting will be in November, and we’ll be talking about how to make the most of our professional websites.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: August 2019

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

What I’ve been working on

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

What I read for fun

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

Looking ahead

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

The Black Cat monthly round-up: July 2019

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

Professional news

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

What I’ve been working on

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

What I read for fun

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

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

Looking ahead

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

The Black Cat monthly round-up: June 2019

Black Cat Editorial Services_ June round-upI almost can’t believe we are halfway through the year already – where does the time go? I’m pleased that my workload has remained steady, and that I managed to find some time to enjoy the much-improved weather at the end of the month.

One of my June highlights was being asked to approve the typeset version of the review I wrote of On Editing – I’m not ashamed to say I was quite excited to see my words nearly ready for print! I think the review will feature in the July/August edition of Editing Matters.

What I’ve been working on

I finished off the fantasy-romance edit I started in May. The author was delightful to work with and I hope she finds great success with her novel. I also completed the second part of the short-story collection I began in May – it was great to see the themes coming together and the realisation of the direction of the piece as a whole.

I was then on to two fiction proofreads. One a modern-day revenge thriller and the other an action thriller set during the Second World War. I followed these with the proofread of a long and complex non-fiction book on how our brains absorb visual information. It’s good to do something different every now and then, but this project reminded me how much I prefer to work on fiction.

What I read for fun

I managed one book this month: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. It has a great concept and the story rolls along nicely. It did make me think, however, about the art of using punctuation. The correct use of punctuation is, of course, important, but I think those little marks need to be wielded with style and sensitivity. For example, if the reader has to stop and re-read the sentence to make sense of what the dashes are doing, that’s a problem. If the reader (I admit this may be specific to me) is thinking about how ugly the punctuation combinations are, they aren’t absorbed in the story anymore. The punctuation should help the words flow by, should clarify and reinforce meaning, and all while being unobtrusive.

Looking ahead

Early July sees another SfEP local group meeting. We’ll be talking about our favourite books and other resources when we are working or training. I have a few go-tos (hello, newly re-branded Lexico) and it will be interesting to find out what other editors recommend.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: May 2019

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Mini and Ella having a snooze after a walk.

Welcome to the May round-up. I had another full-on month – I’m starting to think this is the standard now and I should get used to it. I’m getting on well with Toggl, and I have found it has significantly increased my productive time.

We had a good time at Black Cat HQ, with Mini visiting for a week or so mid-May. Her dad had swanned off on holiday, again (this time to Spain). Mins is an absolute sweetheart, and Ella always loves having her here.

One of the other highlights of the month was the SfEP local group lunch meeting. It’s always an enjoyable few hours, but this was a particularly lovely meeting. We had a couple of new faces, but the atmosphere was still warm, friendly and unguarded.

What I’ve been working on

May started with the proofread of the memoir of an economist and former banker, which was straightforward enough. Alongside that, I copy-edited the first part of a varied and thoughtful collection of short stories. My second proofread of the month was a crime novel set in London and dealing with issues of sexuality and gender. And then I got stuck into the edit of an epic (in length as well as content) fantasy-romance novel. I don’t usually work on romance titles but the quality of the writing and the strength of the fantasy elements enticed me to make an exception.

What I read for fun

I mentioned in the April round-up that I would be writing my first review for the SfEP’s Editing Matters magazine. Well, I read the book and I wrote the review. The book I tackled was On Editing by Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price. I won’t spoil my review but I loved the book and I’d highly recommend it for fiction authors and editors.

The Princess Bride Black Cat Editorial Services_ May round-up(1)by William Goldman was my only fiction read this month – yet another classic I really should have read already (I have recently bought a whole load of classics to try to address this failing of mine). It is, of course, brilliant, and if you love the film you will love the book. Perhaps the most striking thing, for me, is the framing device of Goldman editing the work of the fictional author S. Morgenstern. It took me a while grasp the complexity of the whole thing – Goldman narrates as a fictionalised version of himself, weaving a story within a story. If you are thinking about using a framing device in your work, you should check out Goldman’s stunning, intricate example.

Looking ahead

I have a couple of projects to finish off for the beginning of June. I’m hoping to put aside a few days to start working through the SfEP’s Introduction to Fiction Editing course. I aim to do at least one training course each year to support my continuing professional development. I love working on fiction, I have heard good things about the SfEP’s course, and I had a discount voucher to use up – it seemed the obvious choice.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: April 2019

April is the start of a new financial year for me, and I’ve implemented a few changes. I’ve decided to get serious about tracking productivity – I’ve signed up for Toggl so I can record the time spent on projects and related tasks, and it should make clear how much of the working day I waste scrolling through Twitter or playing with the cat. Now I’ve settled into the Black Cat Editorial Services brand, I’ve set up a spreadsheet to track enquiries I receive and where the enquirer found my details. I’m hoping to work out where my marketing efforts are best focused – at the moment it looks like joining the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) was a good step.

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

I worked on four projects in April. I completed the proofread of a fiction novel about an unsolved murder and moved on to the biography of a Spanish composer. I followed the biography with some historical fiction about life and politics in a small Welsh town, and finished the month by proofreading a collection of accounts about the authors’ relationships with God and their religion. I absolutely love how diverse my work is.

What I read for fun

OK, I’m putting this here because it was enjoyable to read, even if I approached it as a source to inform my editing practice: Writing a Novel by Richard Skinner. Skinner is a creative-writing teacher at the Faber Academy, and it shows. I highly recommend this quite slim volume – it’s full of excellent advice and techniques, and its tone is positive and encouraging.

I managed one fiction read for this month: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. (I seem to keep coming to popular series late.) For a long book – 452 pages – it rattles along at a decent pace, and I was swept up with it.

Blog posts

I shared a few blog posts this month. The first was Denise Cowle on why the Grammar Police aren’t cool. I agree with her – and particularly on her point about being kind. Aeryn Rudel, writer of the Rejectomancy blog, has been writing and posting excellent microfiction of late, and his blog post on the benefits of producing such pieces is very interesting. I think he is spot on about it being a brilliant way to practise self-editing.

I’ve been taking part in the new Twitter chat (#IndieAuthorChat) organised by ALLi (Tuesdays, 8pm UK time) and it has been very enjoyable – I’d recommend joining in. One of the best things I have picked up from it is Alison Morton’s tracking grid, which she has kindly shared on her blog. It’s a simple, straightforward way to keep track of a novel’s timeline and summarise the events that have occurred.

Looking ahead

The West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group is meeting mid-May, and I’m looking forward to catching up with the other members. And as if my editing work wasn’t enough, I’m undertaking my first book review for the SfEP’s Editing Matters magazine – I’m a bit nervous about it but I think it will be fun.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: March 2019

I predicted, in my February round-up, that I would be a bit tired by the end of March. I was right. This is a long round-up. Let’s get into it.

What I’ve been working on

I’ve had my greedy little mitts on four projects this month. I finished off the two fiction proofreads I started in February – one a medieval romance and the other the contemporary tale of a fight to save much-loved communal land. Then I was straight on to an alternative history novel. The author delved into the horrifying consequences of a different ending to World War II – and it wasn’t the obvious different ending.

My last project will take me into April (April already!). It’s a work of fiction based on a real-life murder, and the author has deftly woven the story using points of view from two first-person narrators and an omniscient narrator – a tall order to pull off.

The fiction editors’ mini-conference

Black Cat Editorial Services_ March round-upThis was the first of my trips to London in March, and for this train journey I treated myself to a first-class ticket (what decadence). It got even better when I arrived at the venue to find several platters of pastries on offer.

The first session was Efficient Editing – Your Way with the brilliant Kia Thomas. Kia knows how to deliver a good session, and I picked up some handy tips for making the most of Word. The second session was on Manuscript Critiques. Aki Schilz and Anna South gave interesting insights into how they approach manuscript assessment. They both stressed the importance of being frank, but respectful, when working with authors. It’s all too easy to create or encourage unrealistic expectations. This was a point that struck a chord – it’s important to me that I am honest, but sensitive and empathetic, when I work with authors.

After lunch (a lovely buffet, the highlight of which was the smoked salmon on focaccia) was the third session: Some Points of View on Point of View with Tom Bromley. It was my favourite session of the day. Tom has a vast amount of experience and knowledge to share – I could have listened to him for a few more hours, to be honest. The final session was on How Editors Can Help Indie Authors. Orna Ross and Roz Morris shared their thoughts on the editor–author relationship within self-publishing, and talked about some of the current issues and innovations within the self-publishing arena.

Sarah Calfee and Carrie O’Grady did a fantastic job of organising the conference. I had a great – if long! – day, and I was very glad to have the wonderful company of my SfEP buddy Louise Pearce, of Refine Fiction, during and when travelling to/from the event. Thank you, Louise.

The London Book Fair

I was back to London (standard-class ticket this time – I’m not made of money) for the annual book fair. It’s a super day out for those in the publishing industry, although it did seem to lack a little of the sparkle it had last year. I dropped in, of course, to the SfEP stand to say an awkward hello, and managed to catch the end of a discussion on KDP at Author HQ. The Children’s Hub hosted a panel session called Diversity: Where’s the Issue? which I was pleased I was in time to listen to. The panel were spot-on with their assessment: diversity should be included naturally and incidentally. On a personal level, it felt particularly relevant because I had recently had the difficult task of pointing out to a client (a publishing house) some issues with the manuscript they had sent me. I was fortunate, later in the day, to be able to listen to a reading by and discussion with Seno Gumira Ajidarma.

What I read for fun

A copy of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens accompanied me on both of my trips to London. If there’s one thing a train journey is good for, it’s having time to get stuck into a book. I’ve no idea why it has taken me so long to get round to reading Good Omens. It’s everything you would expect, really. Bring on the TV adaptation.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned at the London Book Fair is that Titan have commissioned three novels set during the timeline of the Firefly TV series. I was just a tad excited (and baffled as to why I hadn’t heard of it sooner). I immediately ordered the first one: Big Damn Hero. It’s entertaining enough and I’ll read the second book, eventually.

Alongside Good Omens and Big Damn Hero, I made my way through The Art of the Novel. It’s a collection of essays (edited by Nicholas Royle) on the writing of novels, and I like it very much. It provides little snippets of insight into the minds of the contributors (all novelists). The authors and subjects are diverse, and the advice is sound.

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.