Tag Archives: books

Friday’s Fish …

In which The Author is less than happy

I haven’t spent a lot of time online in the past couple of weeks, in case you’ve been wondering. The good news is that, despite the best efforts of the town planners, the Cynon Valley Plaid Cymru gang all made it out of Cwmdare in one piece and were in the pub before 1.00. Result! as young people say these days.
I haven’t been too well since then, so I’ve been confined to the house a lot of the time. The stomach upsets which I’ve been experiencing for a few years have been getting more frequent and less predictable. Travelling far from the house (especially in an area with a dearth of public toilets) isn’t really an option.
The further good news is that we (my GP and I) are getting closer to finding out what the recurring problem with my digestive system is. A series of tests have eliminated the more serious concerns; it’s not inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease, or (the biggest fear when you’re my age) anything life threatening. For the time being, Drs Davies and Jones seem to think it’s probably IBS – irritable bowel syndrome. I’m taking a mixture of tablets to try and keep it in check, and I’m keeping a food diary to try and isolate some of the possible triggers.
And it’s food that’s brought me to Aberdare Library this afternoon, in a roundabout way. As it’s Friday, every Thereisnospoon pub has a special offer on fish and chips. This morning, after a couple of days with no real appetite, I felt a craving for fish and chips. I came into town with just one thing on my mind and headed straight to Thereisnospoon.
As it’s half term, it was already packed when I got there. I found a small table right by the entrance and put my jacket on the back of the chair, to make sure nobody else moved in while I was at the bar. Then I went to place my order. After nearly ten minutes of patient queueing and a pleasant chat with another customer, I was able to order my lunch. I took my drink and my receipt back to my table, connected to the wifi with my phone, and checked my emails while I waited for my order to arrive.
More people came in, and were lucky to grab the next table when the previous customers left. They spent some time perusing the menu – a mere formality which I was able to dispense with (and a good thing too, as there wasn’t a menu on my table to begin with) – and one of them went to place their order. A few minutes later the same one-crowd-out and one-crowd-in occurred opposite me. The main part of the pub was still filling up, too, and I spotted a few people I knew coming in. I could have gone and talked to them, but if I’d left my table unattended there was no telling where my lunch would have ended up.
I wasn’t really keeping track of the time, so I was quite surprised when the family who’d come in after me started tucking into their meals. I had a look at the receipt to check the time-stamp. I’d placed my order at 12.29. Surely the other people hadn’t come in much before one o’clock.
I didn’t say anything to the waitress, because (I assume) different meals take different preparation times. However, when the next lot of food arrived on the table opposite, I decided to post a sarcastic message on Facebook:
Waiter, I came in for breakfast and it’s now lunchtime. Could I please order supper?
(I can’t remember where I first came across that, but I’ve got a feeling it might have been in one of Robert Anton Wilson’s books. Wherever I’ve cribbed it from, it seemed highly appropriate for the occasion.)
After an hour and a half had elapsed, I decided to see if Thereisnospoon had a Twitter account. I was surprised to find that they did – but not especially surprised to find that it’s been pretty much dormant since 2014. Even so, I sent them a Tweet asking if waiting ninety minutes since ordering food was a new record. I used the hashtag #SlowFood16 for added sarcasm.
When the big hand was on six again, I decided it was time to refill my glass and also see what had happened to my meal. The barbint actually seemed quite put out that I’d dared to ask about the vanishing lunch. It was my fault, apparently, because I hadn’t thought to mention it earlier. I could have started an argument, but I really wasn’t in the mood. I could have asked for a refund (and then gone to the fish shop a couple of doors away) – but Goddess only knows how long that would have taken them to organise.
I sat back down and finally got my food at just before 2.50 p.m. Instead of garden peas, they’d served mushy peas (which I don’t especially like), and there was no tartare sauce. The waitress was very apologetic, and blamed (naturally) the computer. Well, of course we always blame the computers – they can’t defend themselves (not yet, anyway!)
Talking of computers: I got back from the Plaid Cymru election manifesto launch in Cardiff the other day to find a card through my door. Apparently there was a parcel waiting for me in my neighbours’ house. I wasn’t expecting anything from anyone, so I thought my speculative emails to the sister imprints within the Orion Group might have resulted in a new proof to work on.
I knocked my neighbours’ door, but they were out. I sent an email to my contact at Gollancz to ask him if he’d sent me anything on the spur of the moment. He pleaded innocence, so I was still none the wiser.
I managed to catch my neighbours at home yesterday evening. The parcel had originated at Littlehampton Book Services (I recognised the label straight away), so I got rather excited. Could it have been a copy of Gavin G. Smith’s latest book (the one I worked on last autumn), hot off the press?
No, it wasn’t. It was a small-format paperback of Steeple by Jon Wallace, the author of the book which I copy-edited before Xmas. I wouldn’t have minded, but Gollancz sent me a trade paperback copy before I even started the job. The smaller edition must have sat on back-order since then, and finally saw the light of day this week. Does anyone want a mint condition trade paperback copy of Steeple? Free to a good home.
I’m in Aberdare Library now, having eventually eaten my lunch. (I was toying with the idea of ordering a pudding, but as Thereisnospoon actually stop serving food at 11 p.m. I decided against it. There was no guarantee I’d have got it before stoptap.) I’m not using my own computer, though, because the bloody wifi seems to have knocked off for the weekend at least a couple of hours before everyone else does.
One of the songs I vaguely remember from my childhood was by The Scaffold. This Liverpool comedy/pop group, consisting of Roger McGough, John Gorman and Mike McGear (Paul McCartney’s brother), were regulars on TV when I was very young, and are probably best known for their Number 1 hit ‘Lily the Pink’. I think my deep admiration for Roger McGough (one of the two living poets I can actually listen to) dates from that period.
The song I’ve got in mind – the title of which escapes me – was a clever little ditty about the humdrum routine of 1960s/70s life. I can only remember fragments of it now. The first verse started with the words ‘Monday is washing day’ (which it always was in our house, too); I also think ‘Tuesday’s roast beef’; I do know for a fact that ‘Friday’s fish’ – and the refrain went, ‘Is everybody happy?’
I don’t really need to answer that, do I?

The Proof of the Pudding

In which The Author blurs the lines

As my regular readers will know, I recently completed my first big (and, more importantly, paid) job for a UK book publisher. Although I’ve been billing myself as a proofreader for a long time, I’ve always offered more than simply spotting typos and grammatical SNAFUs.
My experience of working with Geoff E. on his book The Men Who Marched Away, published exactly a year ago today (see ‘They Shall Not Grow Old‘), really blurred the notional lines between proofreading, copy-editing, and project management. Initially I offered to proofread it for him before it went to press. In the event I double-checked a lot of the facts, helped with the layout, suggested alterations to the running order, and pretty much typeset the whole book. Yesterday he emailed me a draft of an 8,000 word article he’s been working on. I can take my time over that, though, as there’s no deadline.
When Orion Books sent me the proof of Gavin G. Smith’s forthcoming book, about a month ago, I don’t mind telling you that it threw me into a tailspin. Six hundred pages of an incredibly dense and bizarre SF adventure – the third part of a trilogy, as it turned out – would have been daunting enough as a casual read. I had to make it as near perfect for publication as possible. If I fucked this one up, my freelance career would end as suddenly as it had begun.
I was only about two pages into the proof when I came across the first hiccup. One of the characters is the legendary Celtic/Irish figure Crom Dubh (see ‘The Coincidences are Stacking Up‘). In the proof, however, it was spelt Crom Dhubh. That dh didn’t look right to me, so I checked a couple of books on Celtic mythology out of the Cosmic Tigger Reference Library. Sure enough, the consensus was that I was right and the typesetter was wrong. I marked the page and carried on going.
A few pages further on I came across a character named Anharad. So what? I hear you ask. Well, I’m Welsh, so I know a few girls named Angharad. The root of the name is caru (= to love), and the ngh sound in the middle is a so-called nasal mutation. It’s one of a number of consonant changes which make the Welsh language such fun for learners of all ages. There were several other queries about Celtic elements which occurred to me as I was working, so I made a note of them on a separate sheet of paper.
Then I found myself in the post-apocalyptic scenario, and the fun started over again. One of the characters is named Alexia. However, her name appeared throughout the entire proof as Alexis, except on one occasion. (I hadn’t got my hands on the earlier books by this stage, so I was confused to say the least.) Again, I made a note on a separate sheet.
When I’d accumulated about half a dozen similar queries, I decided to bite the bullet and email my contact at Orion. He, in turn, forwarded them to the author. It didn’t take long before I got a reply. My observations on Crom Dhubh [sic] and Anharad [sic] were kindly noted, but as they’d already appeared in the earlier books, it was a bit late to do anything about them now.
The Alexis/Alexia situation had, however, slipped past everyone. It turns out that she should have been named Alexia throughout – and not Alexis. (In his email, Mr Smith described it as ‘a good catch!’) That meant that I had to change each and every occurrence of her name, bar one – and there are a few hundred of them. (On a word processor it’s easy. You just use Find and Replace and Robert is your father’s brother. On paper, it takes bloody ages!)
Then I had to double-check the spellings of various pieces of military hardware, as I told you a few weeks ago. It’s probably not a good idea to use public wifi in your local library to draw up a militia group’s Xmas wishlist, but what choice did I have? Is it Beretta or Berretta? (It turns out that the former is correct.) Do USAF planes have hyphens between the letter and the number. (Yes, they do.) Is it a Model O or a Model 0? So much weaponry, so little accuracy.
My list of queries kept growing. Is the home of bespoke London tailoring Saville Row or Savile Row? What does VA stand for in VA West Los Angeles Medical Center? Do we need to hyphenate dumb matter, when smart matter isn’t hyphenated? Is the impossibly unpronounceable (and possibly unbloggable) thing at the turning point of the story male, female, or an inanimate object? Would someone born in Germany really be called Jorge, when that’s the spelling usually used in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries?
The list went on and on. Eventually, I posted the marked-up proofs back, and at the same time emailed nearly eighty queries to my contact at Orion. Some were things which could be sorted out at the office; the rest would land back on Mr Smith’s desk for him to mull over.
That’s what I meant about blurring the lines between proofreading and copy-editing. I could have ignored all the inconsistencies, factual errors, slip-ups and general carelessness, and just concentrated on spelling and punctuation. That would have fulfilled my brief, to all intents and purposes.
But that wouldn’t have rung true with me.
The way I saw it, I was being paid to prepare a piece of text so that it was as error-free as humanly possible. Rowland and I had a couple of pints last week, and we were comparing notes on our experiences. He used to suffer from the printer’s devilry when he was editing our local paper. He feels exactly the way I feel when errors creep into printed material.
I couldn’t have left Saville Row in there and walked away. If I hadn’t spotted it, someone else would have – probably in the finished book. After all, it was only by pointing out a series of errors in Ben Aaronovitch’s Foxglove Summer that I’d been able to join Orion’s freelance pool in the first place. Surely it’s better for me to catch these things now, than for a punter (or, even worse, a reviewer) to spot them six months hence. As a wise man once said, ‘It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.’
It did make me wonder where their regular copy-editor’s head was at, to be honest. But it doesn’t matter.
I had an email from them yesterday, and all is right in the world.
The upshot of the story is this: Orion were so impressed with my feedback on Mr Smith’s book that they want me to move straight on to copy-editing. I should get my first piece of work in a couple of weeks’ time.
In my own mind, I’d been aiming at copy-editing as a long-term prospect. Maybe once I’d established myself as a decent proofreader, I could hope to branch out and get involved further back along the production cycle. Instead, I’ve landed myself right in at the deep end.
Once again, the book is the final instalment of a trilogy. This time though, they’re going to send me the earlier books in advance, so that I’m already au fait with the characters and the style before I get started.
And, naturally, it means more money. Quite a bit more, in fact. When I consider that I used to spend the best part of four hours every day just travelling to and from work, paying over £100 a month for the dubious pleasure of Arriva Trains Wales’ ‘service’, and earning not much more than minimum wage, I still can’t quite believe what a lucky break I’ve had.
My commuting time has been slashed to however long it takes me to walk from my bedroom to my middle room. My travelling expenses comprise the occasional bus ticket to or from Aberdare, and once in a while a train journey to Pontypridd. My working day starts when I feel like it, and can go on into the small hours of the morning.
Next year, once I’ve got a few completed assignments under my belt, I’m going to start approaching other publishers to see if I can get into their pools as well. In theory, as long as my eyes hold out, I can still hold a pen, and my mind remains reasonably sharp, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do this for at least another twenty years.
I think this is the only time I’ve actually kept a New Year’s resolution. Look back to the first post from this year, and see what I was talking about then. Well, more by chance than my design, I’ve really gone and done it!
Getting paid well for what you enjoy, and doing what you know you’re good at. Isn’t that everyone’s ambition, at the end of the day?