Sunday, December 29, 2013

Proofreading pickles

I've been reading a lot this last year. But not only books that I've wanted to read for my own pleasure. I've also had to read an incredible amount of material for my studies and my job as an academic and business writing teacher. I've accumulated stacks of books about teaching writing to ESL students and researching on all manner of topics. My special interest is in peer review and self correction - mainly because I'm just a tad tired of doing all the marking myself and would love to hand some of it over to them! - but also because I'm interested in techniques for peer and self correction on my own behalf.

Actually, I notice that all the writers among us are very passionate about achieving quality in editing and production. Even so, errors slip through. I've seen it in my own books, not only the ones I've self-published and had readers proof-reading for me, but also those that have been professionally edited. It drives me to distraction and I threaten to go into deep depression when I hear of or see a mistake that hasn't been picked up after publication. But then I read my text books on academic research and journal papers on my chosen topic and I see the same types of errors cropping up in these supposedly erudite and high quality works too. This is when I have to ask what is the problem? And why is it so difficult to produce flawless books these days if even well-known publishers like Cambridge and Oxford University Press, Routledge or the renowned Michigan Press in the US cannot get it right?

I don't actually have the answer to this, but I have a suspicion it has to do with everything being digital these days. No longer do we have armies of proofreaders sitting with rulers and pens making proofreading marks on paper printouts of the books. Perhaps the style sheets of the past are no longer used by copyeditors and proofreaders. Maybe everything is done on screen with MS Word track changes and minor details just get overlooked. After all, we all know the screen is very different from the printed page, don't we? To make a personal observation, I don't think I've read a book in the past six months without a single error in it (except perhaps the Donna Leon novel I read a few months ago - big name, big budget?). It might only have been an extra space between a comma and a word, a misplaced speech mark, a missing preposition, or a fallen 'cap' at the beginning of a chapter, but there's always something. In my study books, there have been worse errors like fused clauses, unfinished sentences and seriously misspelt words. 

It doesn't trouble me in other people's books quite so much now because I've come to accept it as part of modern publishing. I'm certainly not in a position to criticise, but boy oh boy, I would so love to be totally sure my books were word and punctuation perfect, so it troubles me very much about my own work. A fault free manuscript is something I still aim for. That said, I now have my own wonderful group of proofreaders who being language teachers are justly critical, but I find it fascinating that barring a few overlaps, they all find different mistakes or points to comment on - a little worrying too. 

I'm currently nearing the end of my editing phases with Harbour Ways, the sequel to Watery Ways, so I'm praying we've got it right this time (I say 'we', because it really is a team effort). It's tricky as there's both Dutch and English to check in the book, but the 'girls' have been amazing as has Koos, who did the first read through. One final check from another proofreader friend, and then we'll see…but I do hope that in contrast with all my academic reading, and my previous books, this particular volume will be - well, if not perfect in all ways (what is that anyway?) at least consistent and finally fault free!

I don't have a release date for Harbour Ways yet, but I hope I'll be able to announce it soon. For those who don't know my books, it's the sequel to Watery Ways and recounts the story of how I convert my own barge, the Vereeniging, from an empty hull to a liveaboard 'faring' barge. The image above is the concept cover.

For now, though, Happy New Year to all, happy editing to my writing friends, and of course, lots of lovely good wishes to you all!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Season's Blessings

Just a shortie before Christmas. I thought readers might enjoy a break from my usual ramblings, so here are some images of the Oude Haven at Christmas time, when many of the boats are adorned with lights. I think you'll agree it's a pretty enough sight for anyone.

Here's wishing you a lovely festive season, whatever your persuasion, and a peaceful, positive and prosperous 2014. But most of all I hope you have heaps of fun and pleasure in whatever you are doing because that's what life's about, and if it isn't, it should be :-)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas memories

As we approach the festive season, I start thinking of previous years and other Christmases spent in different parts of the world. Nelson Mandela's recent passing and the celebration of his life that was broadcast has of course reminded me of Christmas in South Africa, barbecuing in the sun while the Christmas tree with its fake snow twinkled inside the house. I hope Madiba himself, or Tati, as he came to be known, enjoyed many such Christmases after his release from Robben Island. He was a great human being with a deep faith. The world, and especially South Africa, will miss him greatly

Other Christmases I recall were those I spent as a child in London. We lived in an old Victorian house in St John's Wood. It had so much rising damp, I thought it was normal that we redecorated our basement every year to disguise the mouldy patches crawling up the walls. Imagine my surprise when later I discovered that only our house seemed to need this kind of regular smooshing! It was also cold and drafty and central heating was unheard of then, but fortunately we had coal fires in most of the rooms. At Christmas, we would have a massive Christmas tree in the hall, and the paper chains we used to make were hanging in every room. We always went to midnight mass in the centre of London too. There were churches where the services were just glorious with magnificent choirs and organ music. I remember loving these Christmas services, even when I was small. They were quite magical and very exciting when you were about eight and out so late.

Then there were Christmases in the west country, in the large and hopelessly impractical house my parents bought on the Dorset, Devon and Somerset borders. It was even draftier than the London house, and we rattled around in its voluminous space, but we all loved the oversized rabbit warren of rooms and wings it consisted of. Again, we had a huge Christmas tree in the hall that we ritually decked with all manner of baubles and homemade decorations every year. The house was really much too big and the ceilings too high for paper chains, but we did our best. We used to go to midnight mass there too - at our own church but also to the carol service at the village church. Breakfast after midnight mass was baked ham with homemade bread and jam we'd also made ourselves from the blackberries in the summer months, or marmalade my mother made from Seville oranges. We had no TV then, so we would play card games and roast chestnuts in the open fireplace. It was really lovely. I hated leaving London at first, but once I got used to living in the country, I was completely smitten.

The Ténacité at Anderlecht

But what about Christmas on my barge? That has been another kind of magic. I won't say much about Christmas on the Vereeniging here as it's part of my new book, Harbour Ways, and I don't want to spoil it for possible readers. Still, there was another boat, the Ténacité,  in another place - Belgium. I'll be writing about this too later on, but I can say at least something about it here. Some of you already know that for three years, I had a barge at a place called Anderlecht just outside Brussels. I've mentioned it in blog posts before, but what I haven't written about is the Christmas when we took the Ténacité to Clabecq in Wallonia - a Christmas I will always remember with fondness.

The towpath at Clabecq

There was a boating community on the canal between Brussels and Charleroi just past the lock at Lembeek and we knew a few of the people who lived there, so we slotted ourselves in between them for a few days to spend Christmas on our barge, in the country. It snowed while we were there and we went for long walks in the woods or along the towpath, I painted (pictures this time and not boats) and wrote. We made our own bread, and generally lived as I've always wanted to - on the water, but out in the country. We even went to a new year's party on one of the boats. There were no fireworks, there was no Wifi, there was no trite TV - there was just peace, snow, the rocking of the barge as the commercials sped past and a real feeling of a still winter's world at Christmas. I sold the Ténacité in 2006 for reasons I've also mentioned before. I still regret having to part with it as it was a lovely homely barge that gave us some wonderful times and treasured trips, but luckily the memories don't fade (in fact they probably get a bit brighter and shinier over time if I'm honest), and these are something I can always keep.

Another view of the Ténacité interior with my paintings on the wall
Happy Christmas to all my regular readers here and to anyone who happens by. I hope it's peaceful, joyful and blessed for you all.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Introducing Pat Orchard: Singer songwriter

I've known about Pat Orchard for some time. He is one of Koos's friends on Facebook and Koos has often amused me with comments and asides that Pat has made. I also knew he was a 'rocker' as Koos puts it, but had never listened to any of his music until yesterday. I was sitting on the sofa working on some assignments when I heard this beautiful song coming from Koos's direction. The song, music and lyrics captured me instantly. Who's that? I asked

When Koos told me, he pulled back so I could see the video that went with it. It was so magical I just gaped. As someone whose core business is writing, I am rarely lost for words. I am now, so as I really wanted to share this lovely piece of writing - musical, lyrical and visual - I am posting it here for my friends in blogland. So, everyone, meet Pat Orchard through his music:

Across the sand towards the shade
I'm looking back at the tracks I've made
The same old smile on the same old face
This sea-side town the same old place
But will there be a trace
Of when we were young
Of when we were young
Of when we were younger
Than today

And across the maer onto the dunes
I listen to the skylarks tune
I watch the children as they play
And how they steal my thoughts away
I'm running through another day
Of when we were young
Of when we were young
Of when we were younger
Than today

But I
I remember the heather on the moors
And the running home from top of the granite Tors
Down watery lane I'm chasing shadows once again
Of when we were young...
But how the time will fly
Just pass you by
How the time will fly
How the time will fly

Take my hand and we'll walk in the sun
We'll talk of the past - of all we have done
Old stories are always the best
Remember the good - forget the rest
And we can just reminisce
Of when we were young
Of when we were young
Of when we were younger
Than today

Lyrics/Vocals/guitar Pat Orchard
String arrangement Tony Lowe

Video filmed and produced by Jake Bryant

Sunday, December 01, 2013

A Red Letter Day

I'm still on a bit of a high as I write this.

Today, this afternoon, I saw my books in a shop window for the first time in my life. The experience was so heady, and I was so overwhelmed, I did a very uncool thing and insisted my daughter took a photo of me standing in front of the window. Here it is:

Okay, I tried to look dignified and restrained, but it really was something beyond just euphoric. If I never see this again, I will forever cherish this image.

The reason that all my books were in the window of this shop was that I was giving a talk at the American Book Center in Den Haag and they very kindly promoted not just the books I was talking about (Watery Ways and The Skipper's Child), but my other books as well. The talk centred on the two books with Dutch connections, and I especially hope that given the time of year, The Skipper's Child will gain some interest. It is set at Christmas in 1962 (so it's seasonally topical), and is a kind of 'coming of age' novel in that it tells the story of a 12 year old boy who discovers what it means to be loyal and courageous against some fairly heavy odds; he also learns to stand up for what is just and fair in the face of quite overwhelming opposition. It is a 'period' novel, being set in the early sixties, about a very different way of life on the European waterways, so I hope it will interest enough people to give it a try. I've written another novel since (my Eccentrics, of whom I am very fond), but I still feel Arie Kornet's story is the best of my creative writing so far.

I also talked about Watery Ways, the memoir of my first year on a barge, and the difference between writing fact and fiction. Then we finished up the afternoon with a demonstration of the Express Printing machine they have at ABC. I've featured this in a blog post before, but now I'm going to post a brief film of the machine. I should mention that because they have to be sure the author owns all the rights to the books they print on this machine, I chose to give them African Ways to use as a demo. It's my first book, my first memoir, and the only one I have retained sole rights over. This astonishing machine takes around ten minutes to print, bind, cut and finish a complete book. When it has finished everything it has to do, it delivers a perfect and complete book in a slot on the side of the machine. So, to finish off the afternoon, we held a draw and one of my visitors won a signed copy of African Ways.

There weren't many people at the talk, but those that came were a lovely receptive audience, and I am very happy and pleased to have had the opportunity. Still, even if there'd been no one there at all, just the sight of those books on the stands and in the window, well, it's more than just a feeling of wow! it will be a long time before I ever become blasé about that! Below there are some more photos of the mighty machine, and lastly, the winner of the prize looking (thankfully) pleased to have scooped the prize.

Many thanks to Agnes, Jo, Karin, Lilia, and Esther at ABC for their very kind help and also the wonderful Barry who helped make the afternoon such a special event. I hope it will prove to be worth all the trouble for all of you in eventual sales, and I very much hope I can come back another time to talk about my future writing projects.