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: 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: January 2021

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

What I’ve been working on

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

What I read for fun

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

Looking ahead

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

The Black Cat monthly round-up: 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.