Friday, 22 March 2013

Copy Editing

There is a real possibility that today’s blog will be a bit of a disappointment. Let me explain.

I have just – and I mean ‘just’ – finished checking the copy editing of Postcards from the Past and taken the necessary down to the post office so that it can wing its way back to Transworld. That means I just have had no time at all to think about this blog whereas most weeks I have a pretty clear idea of what I intend to write and, sometimes, it is written on Thursday evening. Not today. Today my head is still full of copy editing or, as our American friends call is, line editing.

This has nothing to do with editing which is where the content of the book and big things such as plots, characterisation, pace, balance and so forth are put under the magnifying glass. No, copy editing is where the magnifying glass goes back into the box and the microscope comes out. Now we are looking at every comma, semi-colon, colon, inverted comma (single and doubles), hyphens, n-dashes, m-dashes and full stops. We are checking to see where the paragraphs break, that none of the tenses are mixed, that all song titles, book titles, film titles, etc are correct, that there are no errors in the time line. Surely Susie knew about the murder before she had lunch with Penelope? How can little John be eight today when he was born only seven years ago?

Flash-backs require special care. Did they have contact lens in 1941? He can’t have been driving an Escort then, they didn’t hit the market until much later.

I have done a bit of copy editing and I can promise you it is one of the hardest and most difficult things to do – your job is to make corrections without anybody noticing which means without disturbing the style of the writer. Sometimes punctuation isn’t a problem. Some books defy all the rules of grammar. I would have problems in copy editing such books: I would be at odds with the author all the way through. That is not to say that I do not enjoy books written with little or no regard for the English language. Dick Francis wrote some books which did that but he wrote about the world he knew (rather as did Jane Austen) and in his books you can smell the stable yard, feel the creak of the saddle beneath you as your and the horse’s breath condenses in the early morning chill, the fear and exultation of the jockeys, trainers and owners on race days.

There is no good reason for this photograph. Am I trying to prove that there is something strangely beautiful about corrugated iron? Surely not.
On Dartmoor, since you ask.
Good, really good, copy editors are like hens teeth and Marcia is incredibly lucky to have Yvonne Holland working on the manuscripts. Like most copy editors, Yvonne is freelance. She was hugely helpful to Marcia when she was writing The Children’s Hour in which Lydia was a copy editor. Without Yvonne’s expert input that characterisation would not have been possible.

So, we receive the manuscript covered in Yvonne’s notes and marks. There will also be a sheet drawing Marcia’s attention to places where there are major queries. So, job one is for Marcia to work through that and tell me what changes she wants made (it is uncanny how Yvonne always spots problems although some of her proposals for solving them may not be what Marcia wants). Once that has been done, the manuscript ends up on my desk.

I read it through, red pencil in hand, ticking everything I think is right, changing anything I feel is wrong (Yvonne and I do not always agree on the use of commas) and putting a query against anything I want to discuss with Marcia. Then I go through it again, correcting the manuscript on my computer so that the ‘post copy editing’ version can be sent overseas for the translators to start work while, at the same time, marking any corrections using a green pen.

Finally those sheets, the ones with my green scrawls on them, are popped into an envelope and taken down to the post office. Now I am back, rather damp (it was pouring with rain) with very little time to write to you. I suspect this is a rant – my apologies.

This is not the best photograph I have taken of the Painted Lady Vanessa cardui but it isn't bad of the person about to land nearby. No idea what it is but I will see if I can identify it but please don't hold your breath: at the moment I am not even sure whether it is a wasp, a bee or a fly.

Bill was far more interested in another dog on the other side of the road than he was in becoming famous. Perhaps he has his priorities right.