A writer’s world: the fair art of copy editing

Colpy editing photo

It’s a little-recognised facet of being a novelist, and one that most of us dread: copy editing.

Fortunately, publishers employ independent copy editors whose task it is to go through your deathlesss prose with a fine tooth-comb (word-comb?) as a mother might search for nits, looking for inconsistencies and typographical errors. They have to be real details people, exceptional with grammar, making sure, for example, that capital letters, hyphens and indents are in the right places, (eg Liberty prints, mini-skirt and hair-do) as well as the dreaded apostrophies (eg lover’s knot, hairdresser’s).

They are also the masters (mistresses?) of consistency: making sure you always refer to a character in the same right way (eg Miss Garthwaite / Miss G); whether you have marked the passage of time correctly (eg ‘Should this be fourteen years perhaps?’) and whether your characters’ physical characteristics are the same each time (eg ‘He had blue eyes in the first chapter.’) They’ll also question any dodgy historical references you might have overlooked (eg ‘When did Boots start developing film?’).

So far, so wonderful. But the author’s task is then to do their own fine tooth-comb job. This entails reading, and not in the way we normally read, skimming sentences for meaning, but literally reading every word, every speech mark and apostrophe, all over again, to make sure you agree with the suggestions the copy editor has made, and responding to their questions regarding consistency, time passing, historical references etc. It’s a laborious job and not one that some of us are well-suited to! If you are anything like me, you also have to resist the temptation to do a complete re-write of certain passages which, in the cold light of paper proof, and quite a few weeks after you submitted your final draft, don’t work as well as you would like.

Next stage: the proof copy – another very careful reading required, because this really is your last opportunity for making sure that it’s right!

(The Forgotten Seamstress will be published in February 2014).


Conquering the world – a writer’s obsession with sales and other random statistics


One of the last things I predicted, on becoming a published author for the first time, was that I would become obsessed with sales figures and other random statistics. Now, of course, I have clocked on to the obvious truth that this is a trait common to most writers because a) sales = royalties and b) the better your sales, the greater your chances of being published next time.

Still, back then in the heady days of 2012 when The Last Telegram had just hit the streets, supermarkets, airports, bookstores and the great online world out there, I was astonished to discover that it was in the Amazon Kindle top 100, and had become one of their ‘movers and shakers’. I took to logging on several times a day just to watch it rise in the fiction charts and, even more encouragingly, in the ‘historical fiction’ chart where it reached the dizzy heights of the top ten.

But as with all things in life what goes up must come down, and after a month or two it slithered inexorably off the top 100 and into the unnumbered ‘others’.  Now I have to rely on updates from my publisher to find out how the sales are going – which are pretty good, thanks to you wonderful readers out there. Of course I also click regularly onto the Amazon review site, and other book review sites, to see what people think. To date, 143 lovely people have kindly reviewed The Last Telegram, and I thank you all for taking the trouble and for your (mostly) four star ratings.

Meantime, my latest obsession is with the clicks on this website, and where they come from. So far, it has been visited by people in UK, USA, France, Germany, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium, Sri Lanka, Italy, Poland, Kyrgyzstan, Denmark, Austria, Norway, India, Thailand, New Zealand, Netherlands, Russian Federation, Spain, Mexico, Isle of Man, South Africa, Jersey, Turkey, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Portugal, Slovenia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece.

Now that’s a pretty impressive list for a novel that’s only (so far) been published in English (German edition out in July). But if I am to achieve my ambition of covering the world by the end of the year I still have a long way to go, especially in South America and Africa, in the Far and Middle East, the Baltic States and the far north (Sweden, Iceland, Greenland).

So if you know anyone who lives in these places, please drop them a line with my website address to encourage them to log on and say hello. You will make a stats-obsessed author very happy!


Liz Trenow’s Life of Writing: A touch of trench humour

Over the top

There are some great posters – often displayed in school classrooms – showing words and phrases that we owe to Shakespeare.  But recently, while getting myself into the mindset of writing my third novel, The Poppy Factory, I’ve discovered another source of vibrant vocabulary and phrases: the soldiers who fought in the trenches of the First World War.

Did you know, for example, that if you’re feeling washed out, fed up, or downright lousy, World War One is to blame?  Researchers Julian Walker and Peter Doyle analysed thousands of documents from the period including letters from the front, trench newspapers, diaries, books and official records to trace how language changed during the four years of the war. The published it in a great little book called Trench Talk: Words of the First World War, which has become a kind of bible for me lately!

My favourite examples: communiques from headquarters were derisively known as ‘bumf’, short for ‘bum-fodder’, a term used for toilet paper. ‘Lousy’ of course comes from that scourge of trench soldiers, the common louse. ‘Cushy’ derives from the Hindi ‘khush’ meaning pleasure, and the phrase ‘blind spot’ came from the early pilots whose planes also had a tendency to ‘conk out’.

The brutality of life in the trenches gave rise to many euphemisms for death: such as ‘pushing up daisies’, ‘gone west’, ‘snuffed it’, and for fear, such as ‘got the wind up’ (referring to the way your stomach reacts to fear).

The trenches were a melting pot far from the ordered class structure of Edwardian England, and after the war many colourful terms previously only used in one social class or one region entered into common usage. For example ‘scrounging’ and ‘binge’ came from Lancashire, as well as words previously only used by the criminal underworld, such as ‘chum’ (for an acccomplice), ‘rumbled’ (to be found out) and ‘knocked off’, or stolen. Sacked officers were said to have become ‘ungummed’ from the French ‘degommer’ (to dismiss). This quickly developed into the phrase ‘to come unstuck’, which we still use widely today.

Finally, although we don’t hear it much these days, I was fascinated to discover that word ‘Blighty’ comes from the Hindi ‘bilati’ which simply means ‘foreign’. The term was used by Indian soldiers of their British colleagues, for whom it came to mean ‘British’ or ‘Britain’.