The Black Cat monthly round-up: November 2019

November was a chaotic month. It started with disruption caused by the laying of a new floor and concluded with a poorly cat. One new king-size mattress and a not-inconsiderable vet bill later, Oscar seems to be back to his usual self.

What I’ve been working on

Black Cat Editorial Services_ November round-upI finished the critique I started in October, of a psychological thriller, and was delighted to have provided exactly the sort of help and advice the author was looking for. I moved on to the copy-edit of an enjoyable and light-hearted children’s mystery novel.

My first November proofread was of the second edition of a best-selling management and self-improvement title. It was the first time I’ve worked on a new edition of a previously published book, and it was a bit of an eye-opener in that there was plenty of work for me to do. The second proofread was completely different – a well-edited and unconventional science-fiction novel. It was an interesting experience (and another first) to work with a PDF that had been produced using Vellum.

What I read for fun

I have to confess I have no completed for-fun reads in November. I read The Fiction Editor, the Novel and the Novelist by Thomas McCormack in an attempt to inform my editing practice, and it was definitely not fun. There are more informative and less frustrating books on fiction editing out there (On Editing by Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price is one of my favourites).

I did read a few chapters of Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea and it is brilliant so far. The main problem is I’ve become a bit over-fond of watching Buzzfeed Unsolved in the evenings instead of reading…

Looking ahead

I’m quite excited for the last SfEP local group meeting of the year: our festive social, which is a morning meeting for tea and cake at a local garden centre. The last lunch meeting of the year, in November, was well attended and the discussion was, as usual, helpful and generous.

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).

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: 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: January 2019

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Ella with her hurty paw.

The new year didn’t have the best of starts for poor Ella. She managed to split one of her nails down to the nail bed, which was very painful, and she had to have the nail removed under anaesthetic. She spent a few days with a bandaged paw, and she had to wear a plastic boot when out on (short) walks. She sounded like a small horse clopping around. In true spaniel style, she finished January with another injury – a snapped dewclaw. I’m hoping she’ll be more careful with her paws in February! The recent snow has certainly cheered her up.

What I’ve been working on

I managed to pack in a lot of work during January, and it couldn’t really have been more diverse. My first project was an account of the adventures of a community of dowsers – many of the events reported took place in warm and sunny climes, which was a nice antidote to the January weather. The second project was an elegantly structured novel about a young man who finds himself in big trouble with a local mob boss. My third and final January project will run into February – I’m proofreading a well-researched and interesting PhD thesis on the healthcare sector.

What I read for fun

I managed to pack in a lot of reading for fun as well – January was a long month. I started with Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. I bought the absolutely stunning collector’s edition, and I’m glad I did. It’s fast-paced, moving and quite dark, with a welcome streak of humour.

I pre-ordered the The BBlack Cat Editorial Services_ January round-upinding by Bridget Collins some time ago, on the strength of the premise and the book’s aesthetic. It was released in early January (my copy actually turned up before the release date), and I was not disappointed. The cover is truly gorgeous  – I gasped when I peeked under the dust jacket. The story itself is beautifully written, powerful and engaging. The implications of the book’s core concept are quite terrifying.

I’d heard good things about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, and it lived up to the hype. It’s deeply sad, but there are passages that made me snort with laughter. I can’t remember the last time I read a book with such a strong narrator’s voice. Eleanor seems to me to be a truly unique character.

My final read of this month was Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers. It seems strange, considering the heartbreaking things that happen in the Wayfarers books, that I should find the novels so comforting. I wasn’t sure I would like the style of this one – multiple stories, each from a different character’s perspective, eventually coming together to tell a bigger story – but I loved it. It worked brilliantly.

Looking ahead

The West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group is meeting in mid-February for a tips and techniques session on professional practice. We’re going to look at how we interact with our clients, and the aim is to help each other improve and develop the strategies and tools we use. But what I’m really looking forward to is the bring-and-share lunch.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: December 2018

Black Cat Editorial Services_It’s the end of December, and it’s the end of 2018. I keep a spreadsheet of all my projects, helping me to keep track of word counts and how long each project took. That spreadsheet tells me I edited a staggering 2,092,001 words this year – that feels like reason enough for a bit of time off before getting back into the swing of things in January.

What I’ve been working on

I thought it might be a quiet month in terms of work, what with all the festivities, but I’ve been kept busy with two sizeable fiction proofreads. The first was reminiscent of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, if Alice had been a belligerent middle-aged man. The second was the story of an unhappy Victorian marriage – this was unusual in that it used (with good effect) extracts from diaries, letters and newspapers to tell the story.

What I read for fun

I got through four books in December – it’s a great month for going to bed early but staying up late to read. Jess Castle and the Eyeballs of Death, by M. B. Vincent, was a perfect cosy read. It made me laugh out loud, it was easy to read (I mean that in a good way), there were the usual comforting clichés, and it had likeable central characters.

I followed Jess Castle with Spellslinger. Sebastien de Castell has written an engaging narrator in Kellan, but Reichis, the foul-mouthed squirrel cat, is the stand-out character for me. Shadowblack, the next in the series, is already in my TBR pile.

Father Christmas gave me a copy of The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth and Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine by Thomas Morris. It’s billed as ‘Horrible Histories for adults’ and I can understand the comparison. As you can probably imagine, there are quite a few stories of unfortunate souls who have stuck things in places they shouldn’t have. The index is a thing of beauty, by the way. I recommend checking it out.

My last read of December was Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas – I read the whole book in one day, so I think we can say I enjoyed it, despite the author’s tendency to describe dresses in great detail. I wasn’t even particularly annoyed by the love triangle.

Looking ahead

Goodbye to 2018. One of my first events in the new year will be lunch with the West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group. I’m very much looking forward to a catch-up with my local edibuddies.

Here’s to a happy and successful new year for us all.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: November 2018

Black Cat Editorial Services_ November round-upWhere is the year going? It seems far too early for this to be the penultimate round-up for 2018. We had a guest at Black Cat HQ for some of November: Mini was back with us for ten days while her dads had a lovely time on holiday in Cyprus. I thought about that occasionally as I trudged around in the mud and rain with three dogs.

Professional news

I applied to join the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) as a Partner Member. ALLi (pronounced like ‘ally’) is a professional association for authors who self-publish books. I’ve turned to ALLi resources and checked their Watchdog reports on many occasions. I enjoy working with independent authors, and so it seemed a natural step to become a member. As a potential Partner Member I was vetted by the Watchdog Desk, and I’m pleased to be able to say that I passed (with a lovely report summary that rather made my week). You can check out my member profile here.

What I’ve been working on

I started November with a proofread of a novel about a woman pursuing her dream of opening a bookshop. It was an interesting reflection on what is important in life and on taking risks in order to achieve what you really want. The rest of the month was taken up by a fictionalised account of the major events to befall European royal houses in the last century or so.

What I read for fun

I started Tombland by C. J. Sansom in October, but I finished it, and the devastating last act, in November. To get into the (just after) Halloween spirit, I picked up a copy of The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell. I found it genuinely creepy, and the companions are a terrifying concept, but I have some misgivings about the association of physical deformity with evil.

It’s an interesting coincidence that my next read was Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve – the themes around facial disfigurement in this are extremely powerful. I read most of Mortal Engines in one night, and I am surprised the book passed me by when it was first published and I’ve only found this world now there’s a film to be released shortly.

My last read of this month was Crime in the Community by Cecilia Peartree. It’s fast paced, funny and enjoyable – exactly what I needed after a run of fairly dark books.

Blog posts

I published one post on the Black Cat blog this month: a discussion of four punctuation problems I see in almost every manuscript I work on – four punctuation problems that have simple fixes. Sometimes it can be hard to get your head around punctuation and style rules, but these are easy wins everyone can benefit from.

As usual, I shared a few blog posts on Twitter. Perhaps the most useful for writers is Louise Harnby’s advice on presenting a story to be read, rather than as if it is to be watched.

Looking ahead

There’s one West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group meeting left for 2018 – it’s a morning meeting where we will have tea/coffee and cake and celebrate the festive season.

I expect to slow down on the work front, but I will still be available by email for most of the Christmas period.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: October 2018

Black Cat Editorial Services_October round-upI write this post while wearing fingerless gloves – a sure sign, if one were needed, that November is about to nudge October out of the way. It was fortunate it was still warm mid-October when I spent a weekend on the Isle of Wight. It’s one of my favourite places – beautiful countryside, lovely beaches and great food.

What I’ve been working on

I started the month with a proofread of a book that collected the author’s research on a lost medieval village. It was complicated, with lots of place names and specialist terms and end notes, but it was fascinating. I finished the month with a fantasy epic, which contained many of the traditional elements: a struggle between good and evil, large-scale battles, death-defying escapes, a Dark Lord, magic, orphans, a wise mentor, ancient beings, mythical creatures… There was even a dragon. I bloody love dragons.

What I read for fun

We Are the End, by Gonzalo C. Garcia, is a complex book in terms of themes. I read it as a snapshot of the life of a man who has depression. It’s challenging, moving, and darkly funny. The main character, Tomás, is sympathetic and relatable, even when he’s wishing people who make him uncomfortable would die. That’s a testament to the skill of the writer. And I admire the unusual design of the book – some text is upside down, there are squiggles that disappear off the page, whole sections of text are crossed out.

I’ve read a few of Matt Haig’s books over the last few months, and I couldn’t help but pick up a copy of The Truth Pixie. It’s a beautiful book, with a lovely story, wonderful illustrations (by Chris Mould), and an important message. It conveys many truths, one of the most crucial being  ‘… you’ll never know happy unless you know sad’. It would have been of great comfort to me when I was a child – it was a comfort now that I’m a supposed grown-up. Being an editor is a great excuse to read whatever I want – I can’t edit children’s fiction unless I read children’s fiction.

I’m halfway through Tombland by C. J. Sansom. It is, as with the rest of the Shardlake series, beautifully and engagingly written. Matthew Shardlake is such a well-constructed character that I can’t help but find his difficulties and pain deeply upsetting. It’s like reading about horrible things happening to a friend. I will need to read something a bit lighter after this one, I think.

Blog posts

I published two posts on the Black Cat blog this month. The first was a slightly tongue-in-cheek post about why you shouldn’t choose me as your editor. It has a serious side, though. I think it’s important that an editor is not only a good fit for the project but also for the client. And I think it is important to set realistic expectations. The second was to encourage fellow editors to join in with Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) local groups. It focused a lot on the benefits to editors, but there are benefits for our clients: an editor who spends time with other editors is continually learning, is exposed to different methods and experiences, and has access to a network of brilliant publishing professionals.

I’ve shared quite a few blog posts on Twitter. They include a superb bit of microfiction,  great advice on submission rejections, and reasons to write fiction of different lengths. Sarah Grey wrote a wonderful blog post on inclusive language, which was published by the SfEP. It’s not just of value to editors – writers should read it too. We all want to ‘welcome readers into the text and keep them reading’.

Looking ahead

I’ll be having lunch with the lovely West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group in early November. It’s our last lunch meeting of the year, but we will be having tea and cake in December to celebrate the festive season. Mini will be back at Black Cat HQ mid-November, while her dads enjoy a holiday in the sun. I’ll spend the rest of November enjoying the peace and quiet after a week of doggy chaos.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: September 2018

Black Cat Editorial Services_September 2018September is one of the months I enjoy most. This is mostly because it contains the day of my birth, but I also enjoy the cooler weather, the changing colours of the trees, and the return of Strictly Come Dancing. I was kept very busy this month, and there is lots to report.

My trip to Lancaster

The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) held its annual conference in early September, and I embarked on a 500-mile round trip to join in. I had never attended a conference (for anything) before, and I’m very glad I changed that. It was a brilliant, but tiring, four days. If you want to read more, I wrote a long and involved blog post all about the conference.

I brought back some SfEP badges for members of the West Surrey and North Hampshire local group. We had a lunch meeting at the Shepherd and Flock – the table in the bay window is the ideal place for a good chat and good food. Rachel, with whom I shared coordinator duties, is moving on to a new career, which is sad for the group but wonderful for her. I’ll be going solo with the coordinator role for the foreseeable future.

What I worked on

I finished the long and complex guide to complementary medicines and therapies I started in August. Cake was consumed. Then followed two more proofreads, both for publishers and both memoirs. The first was about a woman’s journey as she sailed across the Atlantic – and then back again. The second covered the career of a former professional footballer. This highlights for me one of the reasons I love working on memoirs – the range of experiences I get to read about is, sometimes, staggering.

What I read for fun

I didn’t have a lot of time to sit down and relax this month, but I managed to read two books. A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers, is warm and beautiful, and sad but full of hope. You don’t have to have read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet to enjoy and understand this installment of the Wayfarers series, but it gives the story greater depth if you have.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, by Mark Manson, is more than its attention-grabbing title might suggest. It’s about choosing what to care about, taking responsibility for our life and our problems, and accepting that sometimes life is a bit shit. Avoiding pain doesn’t make us happy in the long term. I particularly like Mark’s concept of the ‘self-awareness onion’.

Birthday celebrations

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Afternoon tea at Oakley Hall

My birthday is the perfect excuse to eat lots of nice food, and that’s what my celebrations are always based around. I had a dinner with family (egg fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, chow mein, and a mountain of chips), dinner with friends (an aged sirloin steak with Béarnaise sauce – don’t ask how much it cost), and afternoon tea with my sister. I should add that I didn’t do all that on the same day.

I visited Berkshire Show on the Sunday before my birthday, where I spent many hours wandering around eating food and trying not to buy beautiful things I don’t really need. Food consumed: a bag of doughnuts, a salt-beef and pickles roll, and a large ice cream with Flake. Things bought: a new mug, a key ring made from bits of old watches, two pints of apple juice, and a bag of German sausages.

Looking ahead

One of my best friends gave me £30 in Waterstones vouchers for my birthday, so you can guess where I will be going at some point in October! I have a weekend away planned, to the Isle of Wight, but before that Mini will be joining us at Black Cat HQ. So much for a rest!