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.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: September 2020

Big news for September: paper proofreads are back. It will be lovely to be take a break from working on-screen, and it will be good to get back to the simplicity of BSI marks. Now I just need to find a local post office that has reliable opening hours and fairly short queues…

What I’ve been working on

I had two projects to finish off from August: the copy-edit of the YA fantasy epic and the critique report for the historical fiction. My next project was the copy-edit of a memoir (I seem to be in the middle of a run of these from a publisher client). Then I moved on to the copy-edit of a novel that is the sequel to a book I worked on earlier in the year. It’s always a pleasure to work with returning clients, and to see how their stories are developing. September concluded with the copy-edit of the latest instalment in a sprawling historical saga.

Goodbye to academic editing

I haven’t taken on academic work in some time. I have been focusing my business on fiction editing, and that move seems to be paying off. I am – at the time of writing – booked up until January 2021. In light of that, I decided it was time to give up my approved proofreader status with Royal Holloway, University of London. It wasn’t fair to the students for me to keep my name on the list when I am highly unlikely to be available at short notice – and when, to be honest, I don’t particularly enjoy that sort of work. I will continue to take on memoirs and other ‘light’ non-fiction books from my publisher clients, but otherwise I will exclusively work on fiction.

What I’ve been reading

The Thursday Murder Club was one of the big releases in September, and I loved it. I read the whole thing in two days. I lent my copy to my mum, and she read the whole thing in two days. That’s a big compliment – she’s had my copy of The Adventures of Maud West for about six months now. Richard Osman has written a witty and engaging murder mystery, with some stand-out characters and moments of great pathos. I’ve started reading Antonia Hodgson’s The Silver Collar, and I am enjoying being back in Thomas Hawkins’ world. Hodgson is already delivering a powerhouse example of absorbing first-person narrative style.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: August 2020

I took a week or so off in August, and it was nice to have a break – I needed a few days to relax. I had my friend’s dog, Mini, for a while, and she went on some adventures with Ella, my spaniel. Ella seemed pleased to have a friend to hang out with, but the house is now back to being very quiet. In other news, I had to invest in an air conditioning unit to get me through the latest heatwave. I find it impossible to concentrate in the intense heat. Now I have to find storage space for it until I need it again next year…

What I’ve been working on

August saw the return of some of my regular publishing work, but not paper proofreads. I miss them, actually. Working on a screen all day is hard on the eyes, and I like the simplicity of BSI marks. But things change. My break means that I had only one competed project this month: the copy-edit of a memoir. I’m still working on the copy-edit of a YA fantasy epic that I had previously critiqued – it is really rewarding to see my advice turned into so much improvement. I’m also working on a critique of a novel set in Europe during the 11th century.

Professional development

I do a formal training course every year as part of my continuing professional development. I find myself picking up more and more potential copyright issues lately, and I thought it would be useful to take the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading’s course Copyright for Editorial Professionals. I don’t plan on clearing permissions myself, but it is good to have some knowledge of how to assess and deal with copyright issues.

What I’ve been reading

I finished Queenie and The Black Hawks, both of which I’d started reading in July. They are very, very different novels, but both worth reading. I pre-ordered Matt Haig’s latest novel, The Midnight Library, and I’m very glad I did. I loved it. It’s a beautiful book and a beacon of hope in the quite often dark period we find ourselves living through.

Looking ahead

I hope to organise a Zoom meeting for my CIEP local group; we are due a catch-up. And I’ll be taking a few more days off – my birthday approaches and I’ll have cake to eat.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: July 2020

Sally gangThis year has delivered another blow. It had been clear for a while that Sally was feeling her age – and the combined effects of multiple health issues. She was no longer enjoying life, and with kidney failure on the horizon, we had to say goodbye. She was seventeen years old (at least – she was a rescue and she was no younger than three when we adopted her). Here she is (the collie cross on the left) with the rest of my silly gang. The house is so quiet without her and her happy tip-taps.

What I’ve been working on

July was a busy month for work. I finished my copy-edit of an adult post-apocalyptic epic and the proofread of a young adult fantasy romance. The proofread was for a publishing client, and I was touched that the author took the time to request they send me her thanks for my work.

I moved on to the copy-edit of a beautiful collection of short stories. Speculative fiction is my favourite genre when I read for fun, and these stories were excellently constructed and told. I was lucky to follow that work with the copy-edit of a fantasy novel that had some of the best point-of-view work I have read from an indie author. I wrapped up the month with the complicated proofread of a semi-autobiographical novel set predominantly in Wales.

The monthly round-up_ JulyOn the blog

I published a long article on how to punctuate dialogue in fiction. The idea behind this post is to support my editorial reports (and it will probably help my critiques, too). It is an easily accessible resource for my clients to consult, and it goes into much more detail than I would be able to provide in each report I write. I find that the punctuation in and around dialogue is one of the things I regularly have to address when I copy-edit, and proofread; hopefully the article will be of help to writers who find punctuating speech difficult or a bit confusing. My aim is to produce a series of ‘fiction essentials’ posts.

What I’ve been reading

I wanted to spend some time hanging out with Martha Wells’ Murderbot, so I read Artificial Condition and thoroughly enjoyed it. I especially appreciated the introduction of ART – it takes great skill to construct a compelling character who happens to be a transport ship.

I’m in the middle (roughly) of reading Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. It’s a complex novel – in turns funny and heartbreaking, and at times frustrating. On a technical level, though, I love how the author has integrated social media into the storytelling. It works brilliantly. I’m also reading The Black Hawks by David Wragg. I nearly didn’t get past the first few pages – in which the main character poddles about with a hangover and has breakfast – but I’m glad I did. It has an interesting ensemble cast, a likeable central character, and plenty of action.

Looking ahead

I am expecting August to be a fairly quiet month. I have a book to review for the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, and I am looking forward to taking some time off.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: March 2020

Black Cat Editorial Services_ March round-upThe beginning of March seems like a different world to the end of March. At the beginning of March I attended a lovely lunch with the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading’s West Surrey and North Hampshire local group. There were twelve attendees – nearly a record turnout. The next week, I met up with three of my favourite edibuddies. We went to Farnham and raided the bookshops and food establishments. (That’s not much of an exaggeration – I bought a lot of books.) If you like books and live at all near Farnham, the Oxfam books and music shop is the place to visit. The range is great and the prices are amazing.

Of course, no one will be doing that for a while. As I write this, the UK is in lockdown and has been for a while. I am fortunate that I am used to working from home, and I am well set up to do so, but it is a difficult time for us all.

What I’ve been working on

I had a relatively light month in terms of work. I took on two proofreads: one was historical fiction, set during the settlement of New France (an area colonised by France in what is now Canada), and the second was a memoir. My only copy-edit for March was fiction for an indie author I had had the pleasure of working with before.

What I’ve been reading

I had a copy of Dennis Baron’s What’s Your Pronoun? to review for the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading. The review will be available online in due course, but I can say that I do think it’s a worthwhile read.

My for-fun read this month was The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton. Maud West was a female private detective in the early twentieth century. I picked the book up when it caught my eye in the lovely Blue Bear Bookshop in Farnham. It’s a fascinating true story, engagingly told by Stapleton.

Looking forward

COVID-19 has put a stop to any in-person local group meetings for the foreseeable future. In a rare bit of good news, however, I am now more or less back to normal levels of availability for new projects.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: January 2020

January started with a meeting of the West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group where we discussed our goals for the year. New websites, membership upgrades, and client-base expansion were popular aims. I was heartened by the level of positivity and optimism on display. I count myself lucky to be surrounded by such a driven and generous group of editors.

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

I finished my Christmas-time edit of a satirical crime novel and the new year brought me two non-fiction proofreads. One was a book of reflections on Japanese culture (which gave me a final shove to start learning a bit of Japanese) and the other was a guide to privacy legislation. I was back to fiction for my next proofread: the second instalment of an indie mystery thriller. I’m still working on a critique of a time-travel thriller predominately set during World War II – I like to spend lots of time mulling critique manuscripts over, so I expect to have it on my desk until mid-February.

What I read for fun

I had a lot on my plate in January, so I haven’t quite finished my only for-fun read. Naomi Novik’s Temeraire – a fantasy alternative-history novel in which there are many dragons – somehow manages to be joyful and yet completely heartbreaking.

Looking ahead

I’m going to cut down on my workload for a few months, for personal reasons, but I’m planning to maintain this blog series and my coordinator work.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: December 2019

Black Cat Editorial Services_This is the second December for Black Cat Editorial Services and the business continues to go from strength to strength. My project-tracking spreadsheet tells me that 2019’s projects had a combined word count of 3,066,923. That’s nearly a million words up on 2018, which seems incredible and slightly ridiculous.

It has been quite a year – much of it hard work and some of it tiring and frustrating. But there have been many highlights. In September, I completed the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ Introduction to Fiction Editing course. In August, I was the guest on the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Twitter chat (#IndieAuthorChat). In July, I became an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP – something I had been working towards for four years. In June, I approved a typeset version of my book review for the SfEP’s Editing Matters magazine. In March, I attended the fiction editors’ mini-conference in London, and a few days later I went to the London Book Fair. And in February, I led a continuing professional development session for the West Surrey and North Hampshire local SfEP group.

I am fortunate to have many wonderful colleagues, clients and friends, and I am very grateful for all of your support.

What I’ve been working on

I completed two fiction proofreads in December – one a split narrative, time-jumping, mystery thriller, and one a work of gentle, humorous commercial fiction about a village taking on a Trump-like figure. I’m currently in the middle of a copy-edit of a satirical crime novel – it’s kept me nicely busy over the festive period.

What I read for fun

So, I finally ran out of episodes of BuzzFeed Unsolved and returned to reading (after a one-day binge of The Witcher). The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern is amazing. Its delicately woven narrative threads, beautiful imagery, and charming characters really made it a wonderful read. I spent most of Boxing Day reading A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. The world-building is pretty darn good, and I appreciate a secondary protagonist who has many, many shades of grey.

Looking ahead

I’m planning to attend the SfEP (soon to be the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading) conference, and I aim to be back at the London Book Fair. In the short term, I’m looking forward to the first lunch meeting of the year with the West Surrey and North Hampshire local group, where we will be talking about our goals for 2020.

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

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!