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.

Simple fixes: how to solve four common punctuation problems

Black Cat simple fixes_ four common punctuation problems(1)Punctuation can be a tricky beast. There are so many potential pitfalls and rules that should be followed, but there are some easy wins, some minor tweaks you can make that will elevate the standard of your writing. Here are four easily rectified errors I come across a lot. And they are errors to watch out for even if you are going to work with a copy-editor – or perhaps I should say especially if you are going to work with a copy-editor. If I look through a manuscript and see I don’t have to make these corrections all the way through, I’m going to charge less. So, let’s grab that low-hanging and money-saving fruit.

Ellipses that aren’t

EllipsisEllipses are the “three little dots” that are used to indicate an omission or a trailing away of speech. In typeset text an ellipsis is not represented by three separate full stops – an ellipsis is a single symbol. (You can see in the example image that the spacing is different.) When you are typing in Word, the software will probably auto-correct your three full stops to the ellipsis symbol. If it doesn’t, you should insert the symbol yourself (you can press and hold the ALT key and then type in 0133). The main reason for doing this is to make sure that the dots don’t get split up over two lines; we want the three dots to be next to each other, or it’s going to look really weird. I frequently find that four full stops have been keyed in, which leaves us with an ellipsis and an extraneous full stop. Sometimes I’m faced with two full stops, and I have to decide if an ellipsis was intended, or query it with the author – which is time we could both spend on more important things.

“Reversed” apostrophes

Reverse apostropheApostrophes are used to mark omissions or indicate a possessive; I’m sure you know that. But I see “reversed” apostrophes in nearly every manuscript I work on – in fact, I expect to see them. “Reversed” apostrophes often occur in the case of omissions, particularly things like rock ‘n’ roll or ’tis. It’s so common, you might not even realise it is an error (look at rock ’n’ roll again). Apostrophes are only one way round – the “reversed” apostrophe is actually an opening single quote mark. It can be hard to spot this error, and I’d recommend being alert to it as you are typing. Do not trust Word to know whether you wanted an apostrophe or an opening quote mark.

Hyphens used as dashes

Hyphen and dashes(1)Hyphens connect words and bits of words together. They are not a substitute for a dash. I often see a hyphen in number ranges (like this: 15-20) and used as a parenthetical dash (like this: the cat-the one with a bushy tail-was on the mat). En rules are used between elements that form a range (like this: 15–20). En rules (with a space either side) or em rules (without a space either side) are used as parenthetical dashes (like this: the cat – the one with the bushy tail – was on the mat. Or this: the cat—the one with the bushy tail—was on the mat). Word will often auto-correct spaced hyphens to spaced en rules, but lots of them slip through. The ALT code for an en rule is 0150 and the code for an em rule is 0151.

Double quote marks inside double quote marks or single quote marks inside single quote marks

It doesn’t really matter which style of quote mark you use – single or double – but it does matter that you don’t use the same style for quoted text within quoted text. If you have, for example, a character quoting someone else, the quote marks should be used like this:

Single and double quotes

Applying these simple fixes

Ideally you will have read this post before your novel reached 80,000 words, you’ve completed your edits, and you are about to show your manuscript to someone, but life is not ideal. Make use of Word’s Find function – but be wary when using Find and Replace. Check each change before you make it and resist the temptation to hit “Replace all”.

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.

Five reasons NOT to choose Black Cat Editorial Services

Black Cat Editorial Services_why I'm NOT the editor for youThere are lots of proofreaders and copy-editors out there, all trying to make themselves visible and entice you to use their services. It can be hard to choose the right one for you. Will they do a good job? Will they understand what you want to achieve? Will you like them? Well, I’m going to make your life a bit easier and tell you why you should cross me off your list of editors to contact.

I’m totally laissez-faire

You’re using serial commas? Cool. You aren’t using serial commas? Also cool (unless they are needed for sense). We are using single quote marks for concepts but double quote marks for speech? No problem, as long as it’s consistent. You want to spell verbs with the -ize ending? Super, I’ll make sure they’re all like that. It’s your writing and they are your style choices, not mine.

I’ll encourage your ‘rule’ breaking

Rules, legitimate or otherwise, shouldn’t come between you and great writing. Split your infinitives for effect. Put a preposition at the end of the sentence because it reads more naturally. Use comma splices in that section of dialogue to convey your character’s anxiousness. I’ve got your back.

I’ll ask you some hard questions

Is this word appropriate in this context? Could we make this language more inclusive? Have you got permission to use these song lyrics? I’ll admit it right now: I might be a tiny bit annoying. But that’s better than alienating your audience or getting in trouble because you forgot to seek copyright permissions.

My services aren’t cheap

I’m a highly trained professional. I edit for a living. I invest in continuing professional development. I belong to one of the most respected editing organisations in the world. My time and services are in constant demand. And I have a cat who will eat only Felix As Good as it Looks.

You might have to wait a while

It’s really, really unlikely I’ll be able to start work on your 100,000-word manuscript immediately, and I definitely won’t get it back to you within a couple of days. I’m usually booked up at least two weeks in advance, so the best thing to do is get in contact as early as you can. And your project deserves time and attention – I won’t rush through it or assume it’s all fine. I’ll take my time on an edit, and I’ll do it properly.

In summary

If you want an editor to take the ‘rules’ and their favourite style guide and stamp them all over your writing, you’ll find me very disappointing. If you’d like thoughtful guidance and support, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re searching for someone who won’t flag up anything dubious buried in your manuscript, I’m not for you. If you want to work with an editor who will advocate for your potential readers and support your long-term interests, you’ve found her.

If you need editorial services that are cheap and quick, you’d best look elsewhere. If you want high-quality editing, giving your writing the time and respect it deserves, Black Cat Editorial Services is for you.

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!

SfEP conference: Lancaster 2018

This year the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) held its 29th annual conference. It’s a chance for editing types to socialise, network, learn new things and brush up on their existing skills. And it was the first conference I’ve ever attended.

It took me around five hours to drive to Lancaster University, the location of this year’s conference. It was a drive that saw me contend with wind, rain, a toll booth, and clipped-shut toilet lids at service stations. I reached Lancaster on Saturday a little flustered, and quite tired, but I successfully checked in and located my room. It was like stepping back in time nine years – except my room at Royal Holloway had a comfortable mattress and I could turn around in my old en suite’s shower without hitting my elbows.

I’d arrived in time for conference registration, and then I attended the welcome and annual general meeting. I was strangely pleased to be able to raise my little rectangle of red paper to vote at the AGM. By this time, I was firmly attached to my conference buddy, Rachael Mortimer, and it made the whole weekend seem much less daunting. Thank you, Rachael.

After the first-timers’ pre-dinner drinks and then dinner (duck with hard bits of cauliflower), I headed off to bed. Sturdier conference attendees took part in the pub quiz – a good time must have been had because I’m pretty sure a few of them stumbled into the halls of residence rather late that night.

Sunday

Sunday began with a full English breakfast (minus the plum tomatoes) but soon we were off to the plenary session and the Whitcombe Lecture. This year the Whitcombe Lecture was given by Professor Lynne Murphy and she provided an informative and entertaining overview of the different approaches taken by US and UK editors. What I’ve taken from it is that US editors tend, on the whole, to edit with the experience of the reader as their primary concern, whereas UK editors edit with the author’s intention as their primary concern. It seems to me that there is a balance to be struck between the two.

After a tea/coffee break (orange juice and cookies for me) it was time for the first workshop of the conference. I attended Getting stuck in: editing narrative openings, in which Eleanor Collins provided ideas and techniques related to the structural editing of narrative texts. It was my first workshop and I had to introduce myself to the group and talk about a book that has an opening I like. Of course, I immediately couldn’t remember a single book I’d ever read. Ultimately, the workshop provided lots to consider for helping authors construct a compelling opening to their story, but Eleanor also explored why authors can find openings difficult to write – an insight into that can’t help but make for better editing on all levels.

It was soon lunchtime. The ‘dumplings’ that accompanied our stew are already infamous, but at least most of my colleagues didn’t spend the rest of the day with stew splattered all down their shirt (I did). There wasn’t time to dwell on my disarray – the first session was upon us. I chose What do proofreaders of student writing do to a poorly written master’s essay? Differing interventions, worrying findings because I have done a lot of work with students. Nigel Harwood discussed the results of a study he conducted into the work undertaken under the banner of ‘proofreading’. Many (I think most) of the participants in his study were not professional proofreaders, but students or the friends and family of students. Nonetheless, it was alarming to hear about the different approaches taken to the work – the collective gasps of astonishment were frequent. It reinforced, for me, how important it is that I have my own guidelines for proofreading work by students (that’s to be submitted for marking) and that I make them clear to prospective clients.

SheadingAfter another tea/coffee break (water, cookies, and an apple I’d taken from the breakfast bar) the something-for-everyone sessions began. First up for me was How the f**k do I style this? with Kia Thomas. I’m reminded of how much I enjoyed it because the only thing I wrote down in my notebook was ‘fuckbadger’, from a game where we had to style a new swear. Then I dashed over to the Lightning talks so I could catch Rachael in action (Proofreading for the Board-Game Industry). She did herself proud. I loved the lightning talk format: such varied topics in succinct chunks.

I’m the local group coordinator (LGC) for West Surrey and North Hampshire, so I went to the LGC meeting next. It was great to meet and hear from other LGCs, and to share what we are doing with our groups, and what seems to be working and what doesn’t. Earlier in the day I nabbed a handful of SfEP badges for my group, and sustained only minor injuries thanks to the pins. I walked back from the meeting with the lovely Lisa de Caux – just one of my Twitter buddies I met for the first time in real life and felt like I’d been friends with for ages.

The evening brought the gala dinner (chicken and leek terrine, roast lamb, and a titchy portion of Eton mess), the highlight of which was the performance by the Linnets (a choir of SfEP members). Julia Sandford-Cooke wrote the lyrics to ‘An Editor’s Psalm’, and has put them on her website to be enjoyed there too. Someone said to me (please forgive that I can’t remember who – I was running on empty by this point) that they needed to be back in their room before midnight, to avoid turning into a pumpkin. I shared the sentiment. Fortunately, I did avoid becoming a squash; it would have made the next day awkward.

Monday

I had Coco Pops for breakfast – I pretended I wanted a ‘lighter’ option, but really I wanted the sugar hit. My second workshop, but first of the day, was eEditing for multi-channel publishing. Chris Jennings introduced us to markdown – a lightweight markup language used by platforms such as Scrivener and Ulysses. I haven’t explored options for editing online, and this was a great introduction to the possibilities.

After cookies and orange juice (looking back, I realise I consumed a lot of sugar) and saying goodbye to Rachael, who had to leave early to get her train, it was time for The healthy editor: managing yourself and your workspace. Denise Cowle provided a welcome reminder about self-care and making sure our workspace isn’t negatively affecting our health and work. And I got my first taste of tablet (yeah, I know, I have a Scottish surname and should be ashamed of myself).

Monday’s lunch was much more manageable than stew: lasagne and garlic bread. It was followed by the plenary session, which consisted of a talk given by Kathryn Munt (CEO of the Publishing Training Centre). She gave an overview of the evolution of outsourcing within the publishing industry, particularly to companies overseas. I don’t work with any outsourcing companies, but I know a lot of my colleagues do and it’s an area fraught with difficulties. The session confirmed this, but also provided hope that the publishing industry may begin to tackle the problems raised.

A final tea/coffee break and I headed for one of the sessions I had most been looking forward to: Sarah Grey’s Inclusive language: the ethics of conscious language. Language is incredibly powerful, and we only need to look around us and at recent events to see the results of language and word choices. It’s a real shame that the session was cut short (because the plenary session overran) but I think that will be rectified at next year’s conference.

I didn’t win any prizes in the raffle (boo) at the close of the conference. Many people had already departed by this point, but I said goodbye to some of the people who had put up with me over the three days, collected my certificate of attendance, and retired to my room. I drove home on Tuesday.

In summary

The SfEP conference 2018 was brilliant. I had such a good time. Yes, the food and accommodation left something to be desired, but that didn’t detract from the rest of the event. I attended some excellent workshops and sessions, and I learnt such a lot from them. I came back absolutely exhausted, but reinvigorated in my love for what we do.

What I will always remember, though, was how lovely everyone was. I was very nervous about my first conference, but the nerves evaporated almost as soon as I arrived. I can’t list all the people who sought me out to say hello, there were just too many, but please know that I am so incredibly grateful to you all. It meant so much that anyone would even think to do so. And thank you to all the people I didn’t know from Twitter or the SfEP forums but who chatted to me anyway and made me feel like I fit right in.

If you are thinking about attending the conference next year, I highly recommend you go for it. Do it. I don’t think you will regret the experience.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: August 2018

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Partners in crime: Mini (left) and Ella (right).

We had a temporary addition at Black Cat HQ this month. The absolute sweetheart that is Mini came to stay while her dads were off on holiday. That meant a week of me having to corral three dogs, two cats, and a tortoise. The tortoise was the only one I could trust to behave. Fortunately, Mini is respectful of cats (Oscar sorted her out last time she came to stay) and she fits right in to our little pack. She and Ella spent a week chasing about and creating joyful chaos. We had a very mopey spaniel when it was time for Mini to go home.

What I’ve been working on

At first glance, August seems like a fairly quiet month, but my latest project has been something of a challenge. I started the month with a short story written by an independent author and returning client, whom I very much enjoy working with. The story explored the dark side of social media and its effect on mental health.

Black Cat Editorial Services_ August round-up(1)Then followed a proofread for a publishing house – this the memoir of a nurse, focusing on her time as a student nurse in the 1960s. Almost every page contained an attitude or event that made the 1960s seem like a different world to today.

The project I’m finishing off now, at the end of August, is a long and complex guide to complementary medicines and therapies. I’m going to deserve some sort of cake once I’ve finished it.

What I’ve read for fun

I’ve had a copy of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers, in my TBR pile for a long time. I had a gem just sitting there, waiting to be read. It’s beautiful and engrossing and different, and the characters are all of those things too. It’s brilliant. I’ve bought the sequel and it will probably be one of my September reads.

I have to make a confession now: when I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy this month, it was for the first time. I mean, I’ve seen the 2005 film version, so I was sort of aware of the story, but I hadn’t read the book, or listened to the original radio series. Anyway, I finally read the book, and it was everything I expected it to be: sharp, funny, surprising. And Marvin was still my favourite character.

My reads this month were concluded with Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott. Here’s another confession: I bought Rotherweird because it had sprayed edges (black) and I’m a sucker for sprayed edges. It’s the same reason I bought The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (green edges), and that turned out to be one of my favourite books. The sprayed-edge method of choosing has not let me down. I loved Rotherweird. It is weird. It’s dark and fantastical, with a sprawling cast and twisting plot. I physically flinched at a certain event, which I did not see coming, near the end. The sequel is on my wish list.

Looking ahead

September is shaping up to be a busy month. The big event will be the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ conference, this year in Lancaster. It will be my first time attending a conference – for anything, ever. I don’t feel particularly nervous yet – but I expect it to hit me once I start packing. Later in the month I’ll be hosting a lunch meeting for the West Surrey and North Hampshire local group; it’s been quite a while since our last meeting and I think there will be lots for us to catch up on.

Around my SfEP-related activities, I’ll be celebrating my birthday. I seem to be making the most of it this year – I have an afternoon tea booked in, and a trip to Berkshire Show planned, as well as dinner with family.

All this excitement may mean that it takes me a bit longer than usual to reply to emails.

Tools of the trade: resources for style and usage

It’s part of my job to make sure the texts I work on are consistent in style and in usage, and to identify and/or fix incorrect usages of the English language. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to be able to work from a house style-guide, or a copy of the project style-sheet that has been compiled by someone else, or a list put together by the author. But where do I turn if I don’t have these things? There are lots of resources available, but this post discusses those I use most often.

Style and usageBlack Cat tools of the trade_ guides for style and usage

When I talk about style here, I mean preferred forms in areas such as spelling, hyphenation, capitalisation and punctuation. For example, the use of serial commas is a matter of style, as is whether you write proofreader or proof-reader. Writing style itself, while it includes these things, is not what we are necessarily dealing with here.

Usage looks at how language is used – and I’m focusing on grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice and syntax. For example, standard modern usage would see programme as the correct British English spelling, but allow program when used in a computer-related context.

New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide

New Hart’s Rules is an excellent little guide to style. Don’t be fooled by its diminutive stature – it is thorough and wide-ranging. It’s the first thing I reach for if I need a reminder on how to style publication names, or the principles of presenting numerical date forms. It does touch on US English style, but I have a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style to refer to for US-specific queries.

When editing text to UK-publishing standards, it is New Hart’s I will use as my guide. I don’t enforce the style on the text, unless I’ve been directed to do so by the client, but it serves as an authoritative guide for tackling consistency issues.

New Oxford Spelling Dictionary: The Writers’ and Editors’ Guide to Spelling and Word Division and New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors: The Essential A–Z Guide to the Written Word

I’ve lumped these two together because for me they serve the same purpose. If I have to decide between hyphenated or not hyphenated, check the spelling of a specialist term, or confirm the italicisation of a word from a different language, I will pick up one or both of these books. The Spelling Dictionary has more entries, but at the cost of the extra guidance present in the Dictionary for Writers and Editors.

Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage

Fowler’s is a treasure trove of information and advice on the use of the English language. On occasion, I flick through it just for fun, but then I’m a bit odd. I usually turn to Fowler’s when I have a niggling ‘is that the proper way to use that word?’ thought. Sometimes it serves as a hand-holder: yes, you can use further in that context; yes, proven is now common in UK English.

It’s a comprehensive dictionary, and it contains thoughtful and nuanced guidance. For example, it provides a clear and thorough summary of the issue around split infinitives – and comes to the sensible conclusion that split infinitives are acceptable, and can, in fact, be necessary.

Oxford Dictionaries Online and the Oxford English Dictionary

If I’m away from my desk (and therefore my books), or if I can’t find the information I need in the sources above, I go to Oxford Dictionaries Online. This is usually where I do quick checks of spellings and alternative forms. It will often give advice on related grammar and standard usage, as well as details of the word’s origin and pronunciation.

Archaic and unusual words may require me to access the legend that is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It can be almost overwhelming in the depth of detail for some entries, but it is an excellent resource. (Access is restricted to subscribers – but if your local library has a subscription, you should be able to sign in using your library card number.)

What does this mean for my clients?

It means my clients can be sure that I take style and usage seriously. I don’t make decisions based on a flip of a coin or what I prefer – I use authoritative resources to guide me. The style sheet I compile for each project has a section where I record which books and websites I’ve consulted in the course of proofreading or editing. If the client would like to look into any relevant style and usage in more detail, they can do so.

The key takeaway is what these resources allow me to do: I make sure style is consistent, and I fix or highlight non-standard usage. My clients are informed about what I’ve done, and why, and I engage them in the decision-making when necessary.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: July 2018

July has been a busy month, and the UK heatwave didn’t help productivity at Black Cat HQ. The tower fan and lots of ice cream have got us through.

The launch

Black Cat Editorial Services has been up and running for a week. The name and brand have been well received, and I am so very grateful for all the support that has been shown.

Things I’ve been working on

The monthly round-up_ July 2018(1)It’s been all books this July and all for publishing houses. I started the month with a proofread of a biography of an amateur runner, and then took on an epic work of fiction set during the English Civil War. It reminded me of one of the great strengths of fiction: it made that period feel real. It was no longer merely a series of conflicts that happened hundreds of years ago; it was a terrifying, almost tangible reality.

I finished July with the proofread of a lovely novel about an elderly gentleman who didn’t feel part of the world anymore. It was beautifully and thoughtfully written.

Local meeting

The SfEP West Surrey and North Hants local meeting took place in early July. We managed to nab an outside table at the Heron on the Lake in Fleet. It was a beautiful day, and a lovely lunch in good company. Discussion included our current projects and the merits, or otherwise, of the training courses we had undertaken. The next local meeting will be in September.

Looking ahead

No summer holiday for me this year. But August won’t just be for work: I’ve signed up for Future Learn’s Introduction to Linguistics course, which looks fascinating. My thanks go to Hugh Jackson for alerting me to its existence.