The Black Cat monthly round-up: June 2022

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.

Looking ahead

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.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: May 2022

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

What I’ve been working on

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

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

What I read for fun

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

A new blog post

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

A weekend in Scotland

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

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

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

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

Looking ahead

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

The Black Cat monthly round-up: April 2022

I’m glad to be able to report that I have recovered from whatever lurgy I had in March and I was pretty much back to full capacity for April.

What I’ve been working on

I wrapped up the critique I started in March and the manuscript will be back with me for copy-editing in late May. It’s always exciting to see the improvements that have been made between my two stages of involvement. I had two publisher proofreads in April – one a gentle piece of children’s fiction and the other a twisty crime comedy that is definitely for adults. I’ve also been working on the copy-edit of a horror novel, and that will take me into mid-May.

What I read for fun

I had some time without a critique manuscript, so it freed my brain to enjoy a for-fun read. SI Clarke (one of my wonderful clients) introduced me to the existence of a very intriguing novel: Catherynne M. Valente’s Space Opera. It follows a washed-up glam-rock band who are chosen to represent Earth at the biggest song contest in the galaxy, with world-ending consequences should they fail. Valente’s inspiration by and love for Eurovision is very clear throughout, and that’s something I can appreciate. Space Opera is a story of hope and nonsense and some very well-observed truths. I think the writing style is likely to divide readers, though. The text is, generally, beautifully constructed, but sometimes it meanders, and occasionally it teeters on being overwrought. It is prose that seems best treated as an indulgence – many paragraphs are almost stories in themselves, to be experienced as whimsical but insightful detours into the human condition. If you are looking for sharp, snappy storytelling, this is not the book for you, but it is a rewarding read if you have the patience for it.

Looking ahead

I’m going to Scotland at the beginning of May and I’ve decided to use it as an opportunity to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while – I’m taking the Caledonian Sleeper and I’ve booked a room. I will, for the first time in my life, be sleeping on the top bunk like one of the cool kids. Eight-year-old me would be very proud. Later in May the West Surrey & North Hampshire CIEP local group will be having their first meeting in more than two years, and I am very much looking forward to seeing everyone again.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: March 2022

I had the lurgy (fortunately not the lurgy, which I have thus far managed to avoid) for a good chunk of March, so I have had a fairly light month in terms of full-length projects. This is one of the drawbacks of being self-employed – there’s no safety net if I can’t work because I’m simply not well enough to do so. Sure, I could blunder my way through a project and hope my client doesn’t mind or notice, but I wouldn’t consider that to ever be acceptable. Our professional standards are part of what defines us.

What I’ve been working on

When I was able to think coherently, I spent most of my time on the proofread of a comic post-apocalyptic tale that took multiple genre tropes and smashed them together in an irreverent fever dream. I also had a critique manuscript on my desk – this was the sequel to a novella I critiqued in 2019, and from an author I have worked with regularly since then. I think I say this sort of thing quite often, but it really is rewarding to see an author grow into their own style and gain confidence in their storytelling.

Thank you to my students

I had a flood of proofreading assignments submitted to me in March, and it took me a little longer than it usually would to mark and return them to my students. The course maximum is three weeks, but I normally aim to send my feedback within two weeks so there’s not too much of a lull in the learning process. I know how important this training is to many of my students, so I am grateful for their patience.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: February 2022

Well, February was… February. I don’t know what to say, really, so I’ll leave it to the CIEP’s statement of solidarity. To return to personal concerns, I have decided not to go to the London Book Fair this year, as I’m not quite ready to spend a day in an enclosed space with thousands of other people, but I’m tentatively planning to go next year.

What I’ve been working on

On the face of it, it doesn’t look like I did much this month, but that’s not quite accurate. I finished the critique of an apocalyptic horror novel I started in late January, and I’m delighted that I will be working with the author again once they have finished their revisions. It’s always very interesting, and usually very rewarding, to copy-edit a novel I have seen in an earlier form and already given advice on. The rest of the month, apart from my obligatory tutoring time, was taken up by the proofread of an absolute monster of a book. It was non-fiction for one of my publisher clients, and at 225,000 words, it was by far and away the longest manuscript I have ever worked on. It’s a real challenge when a manuscript is that long – there’s just so much to keep track of.

A new hobby

Last year, I spent a long time working with one of my favourite clients on an epic fantasy series, and every so often a character would ride a horse and I’d leave a comment for the author about how I am not sure a horse actually works in the way described – and then we’d end up changing it. I was basing a lot of this on my faded memories of my own horse riding when I was a child. This led me to thinking fondly of hacks and the countryside and the smell of horse (is that weird? I’m not the only one, right?), and I wondered if it would be awkward to start lessons again as an adult. Plus, it would be great to refresh my knowledge for when I work on other fantasy series. After much searching, I found a good riding school that hadn’t shut down over the course of the pandemic, and I’ve taken up the reins again. My legs hated me for a week after my first lesson, and my coccyx is not a fan of my attempts at trotting, but I think I’m making progress…

The Black Cat monthly round-up: January 2022

I took a fairly extended break over Christmas and New Year’s, but it still feels like I was back at my desk rather quickly. I think there might be something wrong with time in general – January itself has been and gone in a flash. But let us put aside my general displeasure with the progression of time. January 2022 marks a significant change in my professional life, which I will talk more about below.

What I’ve been working on

I have eased back into work with three proofreads, all for my publisher clients. The first was non-fiction, which is something of a rarity for me now. The second was a contemporary thriller and the third was irreverent speculative fiction. At the end of January I took on my first critique of the year and that will stay with me until late February.

What I read for fun

I have two for-fun reads to report for January. I’d had both of them sitting in my TBR pile for some time and I’m pleased to report that past-me was right to buy them. The Cat Who Saved Books, by Sosuke Natsukawa, is an international bestseller and I can see why. It’s a lovely short novel with quirky characters and lots of depth. The Haunting Season is a collection of ghost stories, most of them very gothic in feel. Natasha Pulley is one of my favourite authors and she contributed to this collection, which is what convinced me to purchase it. The storytelling is generally solid and enjoyable, and there are some interesting ideas wrapped up in these tales. One of the things I like most about short stories like these is the deliciousness of an abhorrent central character making their way towards the ending they thoroughly deserve.

Goodbye to coordinating

I have been the coordinator for the CIEP (formerly SfEP) West Surrey and North Hampshire local group for nearly five years and I have decided that it is time for me to move on. My workload has increased significantly since I took on the role and I can no longer give the group the time and attention it deserves. It has been a wonderful experience and I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to look after our little corner of the CIEP. It has taught me so much, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that I am a different, better person now because of my time as a coordinator. I have made some incredible friends and I will always regard the group with great fondness. I am delighted that Ellen Rebello has agreed to take over the role and I know that the group will be in excellent hands.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: December 2021

This is the fourth December round-up for Black Cat Editorial Services, so it is time for the now-obligatory report from my project-tracking spreadsheet. It tells me that my 2021 projects had a combined word count of 3,192,937 – slightly down on my total word count for 2020. This is to be expected, though, as this was my first full year of working as a tutor for the CIEP’s Proofreading Headway and Progress courses (my trusty spreadsheet tells me this accounts for 140 hours of work).

On a personal level, I found 2021 to be a distinct improvement on 2020. I have been fortunate to maintain my workflow from my publishing clients and to have many returning indie clients. It’s wonderful to have clients who put such trust in me, and I am very grateful to you all.

Continuing professional development

I look to take one formal course every year and I managed to squeeze it in at the end of December. I chose the Publishing Training Centre’s An Editor’s Guide to Editing Fiction. It is mostly aimed at editors who are new to editing fiction, but it was good to refresh my practice and see what advice the course authors have to offer.

What I’ve been working on

I took a fairly extended break over Christmas and New Year’s, but I still managed to get a few proofreads under my belt. I finished off the proofread of the political thriller I started in November and moved on to a novel about a mother coming to terms with her own mortality. I also had the proofread of the second instalment in a lovely sci-fi series from one of my long-standing indie clients. It was the ideal way to finish off my work in 2021.

Looking ahead

The West Surrey & North Hampshire local group has a meeting scheduled for January. The current situation means I have refrained from making many plans for 2022, but I hope to attend the CIEP conference (which is currently planned as an in-person gathering).

The Black Cat monthly round-up: November 2021

This is my fourth November round-up. In my first one, I talked about joining the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) – it doesn’t feel like it can be that long ago that I was waiting to find out if I would pass their vetting process. I did, and it’s been a worthwhile experience; I am glad I took the step to join. ALLi is a great source of information and support, for indie authors and for the services that help them. I’ve met some great people via the organisation, including some clients I have gone on to work with many times. I see the decision to join ALLi as a bit of a turning point. Along with my achievement of Advanced Professional Member status (July 2019) with the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (then the SfEP), it is a major contributor to the success of Black Cat Editorial Services so far, and I hope that will continue.

What I’ve been working on

I finished the two copy-edits I had been working on in October. I followed these with the copy-edit of an unusual, thought-provoking ghost story and some short stories for one of my long-term indie clients. I also took on the proofread of a political thriller for one of my publisher clients. My BA is in politics, so it was interesting to see my current specialism meet with my academic specialism.

Looking ahead

I will be slowing down for a break over Christmas. However, I do need to get my formal CPD for 2021 done, so that will be something to focus on in December.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: 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.