The Black Cat monthly round-up: June 2022

In my May round-up, I mentioned a zombie horror novel I’d been copy-editing. I had previously critiqued the manuscript. Well, the absolutely fabulous news is that it has been picked up for representation. I am beyond delighted for my client – I know she had hoped to traditionally publish before deciding that self-publishing may be the best option for getting the novel out to a readership. I have to say, I was a little emotional to read the words ‘I believe you helped me get representation’.

What I’ve been working on

I finished off the copy-edit of the thriller I’d started in May and moved on to an absolute beast of a proofread – more than 215,000 words. I seem to have had a run of long manuscripts lately. Fortunately, this had been well copy-edited. It is the first contemporary novel I’ve worked on that uses the beginning of the pandemic as a key part of the storyline – I found it quite moving to look back at a time that was, really, quite naive, given what we know now. My next proofread, which will finish at the beginning of July, was young adult fantasy fiction – a breeze at ‘only’ 110,000 words. Alongside those, I have been working on the critique of the final instalment of a dark and twisting thriller series. I think the author has wrapped up an intense and, at times, disturbing series in a fitting manner.

A weekend in Brighton

Another month, another trip to a Sea Life centre. This time it was the world’s oldest aquarium – the building itself is stunning, even before you get to see the inhabitants. The turtles at this centre make April (mentioned in my May round-up) look like a tiny wee thing – one of the turtles at Brighton weighs twenty-eight stone (about 178kg). They really are astonishing.

A trip to Brighton wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the pier. The arcade was full to bursting, but I enjoyed the obligatory chips, and treated myself to some fresh doughnuts (I definitely didn’t eat all of them myself…).

The Grand was pretty much as amazing as I had hoped it would be. I was tickled to realise that my sea-view balcony was the one that has the iconic ‘GRAND’ sign on it. It’s not quite so great when it glows all night, but that can’t be helped. It was a good break and I would love to go back.

Looking ahead

There’s a CIEP local group lunch scheduled for July, which I am looking forward to. And I have been called upon to help my friend choose suitable flavours for his wedding cake – a job I am more than prepared to tackle. Bring on the samples.

Fiction essentials: vocative expressions

I touched on vocative expressions in my blog post on how to punctuate dialogue, but I think it is a topic that deserves a little more exploration.


What are vocative expressions?

A vocative expression is used when someone is addressed directly in dialogue. It is often their name, but it doesn’t have to be – it could be a form of address that relates to their job, indicates their relationship to the speaker, or provides some other means of identifying them (respectfully or disrespectfully).

vocative, adjective
Relating to or denoting a case of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives in Latin and other languages, used in addressing or invoking a person or thing.
Lexico


Why are they useful in fiction?

Vocatives can serve many purposes, but there are three key reasons for using them in fiction.

Keeping track

The basic and most obvious reason to use vocatives is to help readers keep track of who is speaking and who they are talking to, especially if there are a few characters involved in the scene.

The Silent Companions (2018) by Laura Purcell, pp. 180–181
‘How now?’ Charles called again. ‘Speak up, little Hetta!’
The boys hooted again.
‘Leave her alone, Charles!’ I snapped, but it only made them laugh harder. They were so excited, I believe they would have laughed at death itself.
‘It is only in jest, Mother.’
‘I really cannot understand what Henrietta Maria is trying to communicate,’ Josiah said. ‘Anne, have you any idea?’

Showing relationships

Vocatives are an effective way to show the reader how characters relate to each other and how they feel about each other. Are they family members? Does one occupy a higher rank than the other? Do they like each other? Do they hate each other?

The Man Who Died Twice (2021) by Richard Osman, p. 199
‘But you can predict things,’ says Ibrahim. ‘The tides, the seasons, nightfall, daybreak. Earthquakes.’
‘None of that is people, though, mate,’ says Ron. ‘You can’t predict people. Like you can guess what they’ll say next, but that’s about it.’

The Way of All Flesh (2019) by Ambrose Parry, p. 66
‘What is your name?’ he asked, almost breathless in his incredulity.
‘It is Sarah,’ she replied, her words barely discernible over the sound of the screaming children.
‘Yes, I know that part. Your surname.’
‘Fisher.’
‘And you are a housemaid, Miss Fisher, are you not?’
‘Yes, sir.’

Conveying emotions

Well-used vocatives can help to show us the emotions of the speaker – they are a great tool for evoking a deeper sense of how the characters are feeling. We might often associate this sort of usage with annoyance, urgency or surprise, but it can show us sorrow, patience or concern just as well.

Seven Devils (2020) by Elizabeth May and Laura Lam, p. 300
Briggs could barely keep his eyes open. His skin was pale. “Hold on, Briggs,” Sher said. ‘We’re getting you out.”


Too many vocatives

Natural speech doesn’t tend to incorporate vocatives as often as you might think – too many will make the dialogue sound stilted and false. And readers are likely to find overuse really quite annoying. There are other ways to indicate who is being talked to, or who is present in the scene, without sprinkling the dialogue with vocatives. Let’s ruin a bit of a very good novel to demonstrate the point:

The Silver Collar (2020) by Antonia Hodgson, p. 307
The town was looking for a new schoolmaster. Was that something I might consider? […]
‘Is that what you want?’ she asked me.
‘I don’t know. Perhaps.’ If you want it, my love.
She narrowed her eyes. ‘Tom, you would hate it.’
‘I would not! Nayland is a very fine town, with plenty of taverns…’
‘A schoolmaster.’
‘A noble occupation.’
‘Yes. One that requires you to sit cooped up in a room for hours—’
‘I can do that!’
‘Sober, Tom. Sober.’

The same scene, but with vocatives turned up to eleven
The town was looking for a new schoolmaster. Was that something I might consider? […]
‘Is that what you want, Tom?’ she asked me.
‘I don’t know, Kitty. Perhaps.’ If you want it, my love.
She narrowed her eyes. ‘Tom, you would hate it.’
‘I would not! Nayland is a very fine town, Kitty, with plenty of taverns…’
‘A schoolmaster, Tom.’
‘A noble occupation, Kitty.’
‘Yes, Tom. One that requires you to sit cooped up in a room for hours—’
‘I can do that, Kitty!’
‘Sober, Tom. Sober.’

The second one is hideous, isn’t it? It’s horrible to read and it totally destroys the impact of when Kitty does address Tom directly. In the original, we can hear her suspicion, mixed with a little frustration and amusement; in our version, the characters might as well be robots.


Punctuating vocatives

We need to use commas to make it clear that a vocative expression is in action, and this is how to do it:

  • If the vocative expression is at the beginning of the sentence, it needs a comma after it [1]
  • If the vocative expression is at the end of the sentence, it needs a comma before it [2]
  • If the vocative expression interrupts the sentence, it needs a comma before and after it [3]
  1. ‘Evan, have you seen my ice cream?’
  2. ‘That’s my tub of ice cream, Evan.’
  3. ‘If you don’t put my ice cream down, Evan, we won’t be friends anymore.’

Vocatives need to be punctuated correctly to prevent ambiguity. We’ve probably all seen the classic ‘Let’s eat Grandma!’ mistake floating around social media, and that’s the sort of thing we want to avoid.


Capitalising vocatives

This is, I think, one of the things that writers struggle with the most. There are some simple guidelines, but sometimes it can be a little more complicated. Remember, these are for forms of direct address – there are different conventions when some of these words are used descriptively.

Names are proper nouns and so they always take an initial capital letter:

  • ‘Where are you going on holiday, Annie?’

Terms of respect and endearment take lower case in general use:

  • ‘I don’t know where your teddy is, sweetie.’
  • ‘Can I help you find your coat, sir?’

Terms of respect used with names become proper nouns and take upper case:

  • ‘Would you like to try the tea, Miss Harwood?’

Titles of rank and nobility take initial capitals:

  • ‘Where, Detective Inspector, did the body go?’
  • ‘I can’t stand any more of this heat, Captain.’

Titles indicating relationships take upper case:

  • ‘Thank you for visiting me, Dad.’
  • ‘Can you teach me how to paint like that, Auntie?’

Why do vocative expressions matter?

Vocatives are a useful tool. They help the writer convey who is being addressed and how they are being addressed, and they can help to give a deeper, richer sense of mood and indicate how the characters feel about and relate to each other. It’s important to be mindful with our usage, though. We don’t want to make the dialogue jarring and annoying to read, and we don’t want to distract the reader with ambiguities.

Resources:

Quoted works:

  • The Silent Companions (2018), Laura Purcell, Raven Books
  • The Man Who Died Twice (2021), Richard Osman, Viking (Penguin Books)
  • The Way of All Flesh (2019), Ambrose Parry, Canongate
  • Seven Devils (2020), Elizabeth May and Laura Lam, Gollancz
  • The Silver Collar (2020), Antonia Hodgson, Hodder & Stoughton

Hannah McCall is a line-editor, copy-editor and proofreader who specialises in working with independent authors and publishers of commercial fiction, particularly speculative fiction. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) and a Partner Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

The Black Cat monthly round-up: April 2022

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

What I’ve been working on

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

What I read for fun

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

Looking ahead

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

The Black Cat monthly round-up: March 2022

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

What I’ve been working on

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

Thank you to my students

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

The Black Cat monthly round-up: 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: November 2021

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

What I’ve been working on

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

Looking ahead

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

The Black Cat monthly round-up: August 2021

I had my second dose COVID vaccination in the early part of August. Like with the first dose, I had a very sore arm for a couple of days, but I’ve been quite fortunate in that that’s the only side effect I have experienced. It’s comforting to know I have the protection of two jabs, and so do all of my close friends and family.

What I’ve been working on

August has been a ridiculously busy month. I finished the copy-edit of the psychological thriller I was working on in July, and I moved on to the copy-edit of the author’s next novel, which is a longer, more disturbing, tale. I have finished the copy-edit of the last instalment of an epic fantasy fiction series, and I am very sad to say goodbye to the characters I’ve spent so much time with. I’m also sad that my collaboration with the author has come to an end – it has been a wonderful experience. July’s critique was also finished off, and I have a new one that I will focus on at the beginning of September.

I’ve had three proofreads on my plate – one a modern exploration of the personalities of Greek gods, one a murder-mystery, and one a collection of short stories. The first two are done, and the third will be finished by early September.

What I read for fun

There has been no reading for fun. I chose sleep instead. Please see the section above for my excuses.

Ghost hunting

A sub-heading I never thought I’d use, but here we are. Oxford Castle and Prison is not huge, but the history is impressive (and horrifying and deeply sad, as with most places of historical interest). It was an interesting evening, if very tiring (I am not made to stay up past midnight and the event lasted until 3am). I cannot report any significant breakthroughs in providing evidence of contact from the other side, but there were a few motion detectors set off, some unexplained footsteps and knocking sounds, and some bits and pieces caught via spirit box. Others had whole conversations via the Ouija board, but it doesn’t seem that I have any sensitivity to these things. It hasn’t changed my naturally sceptical outlook, but it was mostly good fun. I am disappointed but not surprised to report that COVID precautions meant that snacks were not provided, but my friend brought his home-made brownies and they kept us going. I may also have had a cheeseburger on the way home – it was a little like being a student again.

Looking ahead

It’s my birthday in September, so I am looking forward to some time off to enjoy it. I will be attending the CIEP conference, which takes place online this year and runs from Saturday 11 September to Tuesday 14 September. There are some great speakers lined up and I am looking forward to absorbing their kindly shared knowledge.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: July 2021

July brought us a brief heatwave in the UK, and I can’t say that I enjoyed it. It’s one of very few things that make me miss working in an office – at least there was air-conditioning and I wasn’t constantly worried my computer was going to overheat/explode. I bought my own air-conditioning unit last year, and while it is a bit noisy and it takes up a bit of room, it was money well spent (even if it only sees use for a week every 12 months).

What I’ve been working on

I was back to a full-on schedule in July. I finished the critique I’d started in June and moved on to the critique of the second book in a fantasy series. I critiqued the first book in the series, so it’s wonderful to see how the story is going to progress and to see that the writing has taken such a huge step forward. I’ll be working on this one until mid-August. There was only one proofread for this month – a new novel from a client I work with a lot. It was an absolute pleasure, as usual. My two copy-edits were also for long-standing clients. I’m currently editing (it’s a beast of a book, so I will be working on it in August too) the last book in an epic fantasy series, and I will be very sad to see our collaboration come to an end. There are also some character deaths I’m trying not to take personally… The other copy-edit is a psychological thriller set in the 1980s, and once I have finished that edit, I’ll move on to the edit of a much longer novel by the same author.

What I read for fun

I finally managed to dedicate some time to reading The Kingdoms, and I absolutely loved it. Natasha Pulley is one of my favourite authors, and I admire her writing so much. It’s always so beautiful. I’ve seen some criticisms of The Kingdoms for being confusing, but I didn’t find it to be so. If you’ve read the author’s other works (The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, for example) it won’t be anything you aren’t prepared for. It’s a historical adventure novel with wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey elements. Enjoy the ride.

Looking ahead

I’ve been allowed to bring forward my appointment for the second dose of my COVID vaccine, which is very welcome. It means I will be fully vaccinated before I – and this is not a joke – go ghost hunting. My friend was owed a birthday outing and this is what he has decided he would like to do. I will be going to Oxford Castle for an overnight ghost-hunting adventure – a sentence I never thought I would write. My sister has already drawn the line at using a Ouija board; I’m wondering what the included snacks will be.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: June 2021

I had a little bit of time off in June, so things have been a bit less hectic work-wise. I have, however, managed to fill my schedule for the rest of 2021 – which is, frankly, ridiculous. I can only thank my clients for their ongoing trust and support; I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you all.

As I mentioned in my previous round-up, I had my first vaccination appointment at the beginning of June. Fortunately, the only side effect I experienced was that my arm really, really hurt the next day – I could barely move it. But the jab itself didn’t hurt at all and all of the staff at the vaccination centre were absolutely lovely.

Restrictions have started to ease in the UK, so I was able to go out and about (in a responsible manner) during my time off. I had my first pub lunch for about 15 months, and I treated my mum and my sister to afternoon tea to celebrate their birthdays. I have missed those tiny sandwiches so much.

What I’ve been working on

One critique went back and I started a new one. June’s critique (although it will extend into July) was of a work of epic fantasy fiction, with magic and dragons and all that good stuff. Alongside this I had the copy-edit of a short-story collection and the proofread of some contemporary fiction. The main project of this month was the copy-edit of book four of a fantasy series – there’s only one book left now, and I’m going to really miss the characters and working with their creator. I finished the month with the proofread of a pretty extensive travel memoir for one of my publishing services clients – it really brought home how much I have missed being able to go places, and even missed just there being a possibility of going somewhere new and experiencing new things.

What I read for fun

OK, so it is excuse time again. The Kingdoms did turn up, and I have started reading it, and I’m enjoying it a lot, but I haven’t managed to spend much time on it. I think some of this is to do with having a succession of critiques to do – my head is full of those stories and it’s hard to split my focus.

Looking ahead

It’s nearly time for another Zoom meeting for the West Surrey & North Hampshire CIEP local group, so I will aim to get one organised in July.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: May 2021

I am trying not to make a habit of writing and posting my monthly round-ups a bit late, but the end of May and beginning of June has been very busy and that is my excuse. I did manage to squeeze in a Zoom meeting with the West Surrey & North Hampshire CIEP local group, and it was lovely to catch up with them and have a general chat about editing-related matters.

We had a guest at Black Cat HQ for the end of May. Ella’s favourite friend, Mini, came to stay with us for a couple of weeks, and they had a lovely time being naughty little peas in pod. Here they are making sure that the neighbours aren’t doing anything they disapprove of.

What I’ve been working on

My long run of critiques has continued. I finished the report for a psychological thriller novella, and moved on to the critique of what I can only really term as transgressive fiction. Alongside this I proofread some contemporary fiction and a novel that is part coming-of-age story and part romance. Perhaps the most interesting project of this month was the proofread of a supernatural murder-mystery – a combination I would love to work on more.

What I read for fun

Confession time: I have no completed reads for May. I had planned to read Natasha Pulley’s The Kingdoms upon its release, but distribution problems mean that my copy has still not reached me. My disappointment is immeasurable.

Looking ahead

I have my first vaccination appointment booked for early June. I don’t think ‘excited’ is the right description for how I feel about it – I think it is something closer to relief and a little bit of hope.