Tag Archives: author

A day in my life: Lucy Metzger

IMG_2999What exactly do editors and proofreaders get up to every day? This is a question we will be exploring in a new, regular feature: A day in my life. We start off with an insight into the life of SfEP regional development director Lucy Metzger.

I’m at work the moment my feet hit the floor around 6.15 a.m., but I don’t start getting paid until about 9.00 a.m. In between I’m waking teenagers, making teas and coffees (I must add that later in the day my teenagers sometimes make ME a cuppa) and packed lunches, waking teenagers again, telling teenagers I don’t know the whereabouts of their headphones/maths jotters/black-cardigan-no-not-THAT-black-cardigan, waking teenagers again and finally ensuring that they all end up in school. I drive home on a wee stretch of country road to escape the school-run traffic. That little drive, listening to the tail end of the Today programme, eases my transition from Mother Lucy to Editor Lucy.

There are many things I miss about office life, and I don’t know what I’d do without my Glasgow group companions, but I do relish that solitude as I sit down at my computer to begin work. Ideally the tasks I do between 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. are those that require my best thinking, as far as that goes. What’s ‘best’? Creative, analytical, intuitive – different jobs require different kinds of thoughts, but my mind is definitely better in the morning. A lot of the time I’m copy-editing academic books and textbooks. I usually conceive of the editing as being in two phases: the bits-and-pieces and then the reading. The morning is my best time for the reading. It’s also when I mark mentoring assignments, which requires careful thought as each mentee raises new kinds of queries and issues; and the morning is good for any writing I’ve got to do, e.g. reports or proposals for the SfEP council, training materials, a note for Editing Matters, or even a blog post.

My lunch isn’t a single meal – I snack: a cracker with cheese, a bowl of muesli, some leftover rice, some fruit. If I’m starting a new book then I’ll typically begin it in the afternoon and do routine checks: chapter titles vs table of contents, numbering of illustrations, styling of headings and subheadings, checking references and notes, etc. These tasks are good for afternoon. I don’t want to give the impression that I become completely incompetent at that time (the jury’s still out on that one), but these activities don’t exert my mental muscles quite as much. Such checking almost always throws up a few things to ask the author about, and this makes an opportunity to establish communication by means of some relatively lightweight queries – ‘which version would you prefer for the title of Chapter 3?’ – rather than plunging straight into the nitty-gritty – ‘I wonder if you could clarify what you mean by “if the subject (the individual is individual) is determined, yet only as being undetermined, then that which determines the subject, i.e. the predicate (the particular), is taken to be in-determining any determination”?’ I’m not kidding. Anyway, that kind of query is a morning query and definitely belongs in the second or third email to the author, not the first.

For the last few years, I’ve used the school day to predict exactly how many hours I’d have between sitting down at my computer and the first ‘hello’ of one of my kids coming in the door (they walk home). This year, though, my oldest is in sixth form and so may turn up at any time. I don’t like pointless interruptions, but it’s lovely to be interrupted by that. We have a little chat and then when she starts wondering about food I turn her loose on the leftovers in the fridge. I then get back to work, and so, I can only suppose, does she. Then the other two come home, and on goes my Mother Lucy hat again, which feels really nice.

How does this compare with a typical day in your life? We’d love to hear about what you get up to. If you’d like to share your ‘day in the life’ story, please email smm@sfep.org.uk.

Lucy MetzgerLucy Metzger grew up in Illinois and began proofreading in 1987. She edited for Macmillan in London from 1990 to 1995; she then moved to Scotland and went freelance. She is based in Glasgow. Lucy works mostly on academic and educational materials. She has three children, is an amateur musician, likes cooking and taking walks, and is learning to crochet.

Proofread by SfEP associate Patric Toms.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Editing Fiction: An addiction or bête noire?

IMG_2080Fiction is a vast subject area. There’s no escaping this fact. Unlike non-fiction and academic texts, which have certain conventions, reference formats and factual, checkable details to fall back on, fiction is essentially ‘something that is invented or untrue’ (OED). Not only that, but the medium itself encompasses a plethora of categories: romance, thrillers, erotica, science fiction, fantasy, literary works, and so on … not to mention children’s fiction versions of most of these as well, albeit with additional considerations for the age group concerned, language levels and appropriate content!

Faced with such a behemoth, many editors of my acquaintance choose not to edit or proofread fiction. Of those who do indulge, nearly all shy away from children’s fiction altogether, deeming it too problematic, or limit themselves to particular fictional genres, usually mirroring their own reading preferences. So, with that in mind, where does one start when thinking about editing fiction?

As editors we are ethically constrained from commenting on the content of academic material, even if we know it to be wrong. Unless we are experts in that particular field of study, often we have no idea if the facts presented are invented or true. And, quite honestly, that is not our concern as long as the text reads convincingly and is grammatically correct, properly referenced and so on.

To play devil’s advocate, if fiction really is a work of ‘invention and untruth’, as long as it reads well, is it really that different from the above? And should it be treated with so much circumspection?

I understand that many editors may find fiction’s apparent lack of clearly defined boundaries extremely daunting, preferring the relatively controllable realm of non-fiction and academia. But although I do edit non-fiction and academic material on a regular basis, the thing that draws me repeatedly to fiction is, indeed, the very fact that I never know what I’m going to find in a narrative. Authors continue to surprise, delight, even frustrate me … but editing fiction is never dull.

Without question, fiction incorporates an unparalleled arena of realistic or fantastical landscapes, remarkable or mundane individuals, and gripping or bathetic scenarios, where anything — or sometimes even nothing much — goes, and everything is possible. There is a book for every occasion and mood, a genre to suit most people, and while fiction’s breadth and variety are undoubtedly its greatest challenge  — and a huge potential hurdle with regard to editing — they are also its most rewarding features.

So, are there things that connect and bind all of these vagaries together, and can provide a would-be editor of fiction with a starting point when tackling their first novel, irrespective of the genre? All books are predicated on certain elements, in terms of structure, characterisation, pace, plot and presentation. In David Lodge’s novel Therapy, beleaguered sitcom writer Laurence Passmore states: “Each one [each book] is different, but the same themes and obsessions keep cropping up: courtship, seduction, indecision, guilt, depression, despair.” And this is largely true.

Conversely, there could also be an argument to suggest that one should not edit fiction, as it could be perceived to compromise the author’s original creation. However, Terry Pratchett asserts: “… the fact that it is a fantasy does not absolve you [the writer] from all the basic responsibilities. It doesn’t mean that the characters needn’t be rounded, the dialogue believable, the background properly established, and the plots properly tuned.” So, subtle, constructive editorial assistance is still required, and usually welcomed, to ensure that what the author thinks they have done is actually the case on the page.

Essentially, fiction still involves the basics of our trade: punctuation, spelling, grammar (although this can be less rigid), textual fluidity, narrative cohesion. Even fact-checking exists: if an author states that the Empire State building has 97 storeys you can and should check that detail (it has 103!); and don’t get me started on incorrect spellings and missing accents with regard to foreign words. After all, erroneous details only provide a would-be reviewer with ready ammunition, which is something all fiction editors should bear in mind.

The characteristic that sets fiction apart from other media, making it simultaneously rather problematic but also intriguing, is the element of ‘story’, which has to be plausible within its own context and setting. As long as a reader believes the events of a novel to be feasible and credible, albeit fantastical, and the characters to be rounded, creditable individuals, then the author and editor have done their jobs.

As for more specific details of how, as editors or proofreaders, we do or don’t facilitate that, and how we go about imposing our own minds on the matter at hand without compromising the author’s integrity or voice … you’ll have to come to my conference workshop – Introduction to Editing Fiction: Mind over Matter – and find out, or look out for details of forthcoming SfEP training courses!

Gale Winskill

Gale Winskill

Gale Winskill is a freelance editor who enjoys variety, and will edit most things within reason (www.winskilleditorial.co.uk). A half-Italian, dim and distant relative of William Shakespeare, she has travelled and worked abroad, finally residing in Scotland, where she plays tennis inconsistently, gardens by benevolent neglect, and is still occasionally flummoxed by Scots vernacular.