Friday, 6 June 2014

Book Proofs and Blackbirds

Book Proofs

Reading the proofs of Indian Summer is now a thing of the past. There was one silly mistake I found which was in the manuscript that we sent to Transworld following incorporating all the bits and pieces which came to light thanks to the copy editing (carried out once more by Yvonne Holland who is absolutely first class). This time Transworld have decided to submit an electronic version to the printers rather than to have the book typeset in the traditional way so the only mistakes should be the ones we made in the first place – and so it turned out to be.

Odd to remember that the inspiration for the setting of this book was near St Neats in Cornwall. We had stopped to let Jossie (below) out of the car for a moment and we were standing on this bridge looking down at the little river below and through the trees to the building with its barn when something clicked in Marcia's mind. Mind you, all of this was in the wrong place so the whole lot was (mentally) moved to the edge of Dartmoor behind Ashburton.

The advent of modern technology into the art of writing is both exciting and worrying. Speaking as a simple hack, I find being able to write on a machine that gives me the option of makes changes as and when I want to is wonderful. I remember one book that I wrote where I had considerable problems with one chapter. In the end I retyped that chapter thirteen times and that is something you never forget. It's a bit like proof reading. On the one hand you are bored silly – on the other you have to retain a high level of concentration. But, and there is always a but, it means changes which almost certainly have a bad effect on some people – but, of course, a good effect on others. The obvious example is internet book selling which has hammered the high street bookshop (which we all love in theory but generally do not support in practice). On the other hand, you have a far wider choice on Amazon and they do employ a lot of people even if in an environment that, from all that I have read, I would find intolerable.

The little river and (below) the house with its barn.

As to passing on text files from author to printer and cutting out the typesetter, well it is obviously not good for typesetters. However, if it keeps the prices of books down and so makes them more accessible, that must be good. Incidentally, having done spells of typesetting (as happens sometimes when you edit things in a very small publishing house) I know from personal experience that that is another example of something that is both boring and demanding high levels of concentration.


The garden is now full of baby birds being fed by careworn and rather scruffy looking adults. It was a peaceful afternoon a few days ago. Marcia had just finished a stint of writing and was relaxing in the garden. I was in the kitchen. Suddenly there was an almighty crack and a baby blackbird crashed into the kitchen door (which is mainly glass). It seems that a springer spaniel (probably the maddest breed there is) suddenly roared up from the lane, rushed around our lawn and then took off again. The people with whom the dog was walking took no notice but not so the birds. They, of course, scattered – and one, a baby blackbird, had come to grief.

It is always difficult to know what to do when a bird is injured. This one was lying on its side, beak open, tongue lolling but still breathing. I picked it up and checked wings and legs: nothing broken as far as I could see.

Years ago I was told that shock can be a killer in these circumstances and the injured bird or animal should be kept warm if possible. Whether or not this is correct I really don't know but I held it for some time until its breathing became more regular and then I put it down on the grass.

It was then, as you can see, sitting upright – or nearly so – which made us a bit more hopeful.

I'm not sure when Marcia realised that the big problem was that the bird couldn't see. Obviously the probable reason was that the blow had been severe enough to detach the retinas in which case there was no hope for it. Also very worrying was the fact that the adult blackbirds, while continuing to feed the other baby, were steadfastly ignoring the one that had been damaged. I have seen this sort of thing before. It is as if the adult knows that there is no point in wasting time and energy on a hopeless case. It was all very depressing.

Anyway, we decided that the best thing we could do was to make him (why did we decide it was a he?) as comfortable as we could and then to keep a watching brief in case he was attacked (crows and cats being the likely threats).

The hours dragged by and nothing happened other than he started to walk. Not being able to see, he was stumbling into things and ended up in a corner underneath a hose reel. Not a good place. I decided to catch him again and put him somewhere safer. He gave off the usual strident “help, I'm in trouble” call of the immature blackbird – and I was immediately challenged by the adult male flying straight at me and letting forward the well known blackbird challenge call.

Even so, with the baby back on the lawn, the adults continued to ignore him.

Then, quite suddenly and without warning, he took off and flew up into a bush. Did that mean he could now see again? It seemed so.

He (or she, as the case may be) reunited with his (her?) brother (or, quite possibly, sister) just outside the kitchen door.
Finally, and to our delight, the adults started to feed him again and he seems to be making good progress although one wing still droops quite badly. Luckily there is no need for these birds to fly very much or for very far.

It is nice to be able to report a success story – nearly every injured bird that I have tried to save has eventually died. Sometimes I have steeled myself and put one out of its misery. Sometimes I have let nature take its course. In both cases I end up feeling rather guilty – it is, indeed, a no-win situation.

Meet Ben.
Not a very good photograph I fear but you can't get them all right.