Tag Archives: punctuation

How I got started – Graham Hughes

SfEP deskOne of the most common questions asked at Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) local groups and by those interested in pursuing a career in editing or proofreading is: ‘How did you get started?’.

SfEP professional member Graham Hughes shares his story in this regular blog feature, which explores the many different career paths taken by SfEP members.

This really wasn’t part of the plan. From a ridiculously early age – around 14 – computing was the only career I could foresee for myself. I did the O Level, A Level and degree, and joined British Rail (yes, we’re going back a bit) as a programmer.

After about 15 years, several changes of role and a few changes of employer, I was in a rut. Fresh opportunities were limited by my old-fashioned technical skills, and the work was becoming mundane. I started looking for something else to do – first as a sideline, and maybe eventually as a career.

I saw an advert for the Writers Bureau’s Comprehensive Writing Course. This seemed like something I could do. I’d always felt comfortable working with documents, as well as programs. I did the course – most of it, anyway – and went on to have a sports history book, and some articles, published. Soon, though, I was struggling to produce ideas and convert them into paid work. After two years of not quite setting the world alight, my book was remaindered. The idea of making a living from writing seemed far-fetched.

So, what next? Another Writers Bureau course caught my eye: Proofreading and Copy Editing. It struck me that checking my material – rather than actually writing it – had probably been my main strength. How about checking other people’s material, and getting paid for it? Also, as Richard Hutchinson explains in his blog post on how he got started, there are parallels between programming and editorial work.

A plan came together: (1) do the course, (2) re-edit the book (yes, I now realise I probably should have used someone else), (3) self-publish it as an ebook, (4) look for work as a proofreader or editor. The last part was the tricky one.

My first job wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind. After I’d emailed the leader of a local writers’ group, one of its members asked me to type a short play script that he’d handwritten. He accepted my offer to edit it as well, so it felt like some kind of a start.

After that, finding work was very tough. With my full-time employment in IT, I couldn’t take on big jobs, or even smallish time-critical ones. I joined the SfEP, after dithering for several months, and started learning a lot about proofreading and editing, especially from the SfEP forums – but progress was snail-paced for the next year or so.

The big change came when my IT job ended, semi-voluntarily. Rather than looking for a new one, I decided (nervously) to focus on freelance editorial work. I did look for in-house editorial jobs close to home, but there seemed to be nothing available for someone with my limited credentials. The next few months were very challenging: a few small jobs, then nothing for nearly three months; but my progress with the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) Basic Proofreading course gave me some hope.

Then, suddenly, the work started coming – mostly from students, largely thanks to the Find a Proofreader website and a helpful, nearby SfEP member with an overflowing workload (thanks Helen). Around this time (spring 2014), I completed the PTC course, along with other training, and became an ordinary member of SfEP (now known as professional member), which helped to bring in more work. To shore up my finances, I downsized from a suburban semi-detached house to an urban flat (no great wrench), wiping out my mortgage.

Since then, things have been gradually coming together. I’ve been doing more work for business rather than students, also proofreading two books for a publisher. I’m now leaning more towards editing, to make use of the decent writing skills that I feel I have (though you might disagree, reading this). Technology and business have become my predominant subject areas. Via a long-winded route, I think I’ve ended up in my ideal job.

If you’re thinking of getting into editing and/or proofreading, I strongly recommend it, if you think it’s right for you and vice versa. Being a keen reader isn’t enough: you need a sound understanding of spelling, grammar and punctuation, a knack for paying attention to detail, a professional attitude and a willingness to stay positive and persistent as you build your business. If that’s you: good luck!

Graham HughesGraham Hughes still can’t quite get used to the idea of telling people he’s a proofreader and editor, rather than saying he’s ‘in IT’. He started doing part-time editorial work, and joined SfEP as an associate (now known as entry-level member), in 2012. He went full-time in 2013, before becoming an ordinary member (now known as professional member) of the SfEP – and an online forum administrator – the following year. To learn more about his background and services, please visit the GH Editorial website.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Susan Walton.

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

Warm glow proofreading

The Magic DoorSome time ago someone asked on one of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) forums whether it is ever a good idea to do some proofreading or copy-editing for free. Much discussion ensued. Putting to one side for a moment the obligatory proofread of your offspring’s thesis or dissertation, your best friend’s offspring’s thesis or dissertation, or your elderly relative’s treasured autobiography, what is left? Why else might you work for nothing? The forum went on to list a number of possible reasons, and one of them was ‘because it might give you a warm glow’.

I admit it: this suggestion was mine, and I made it because I speak from experience.

Many, many (far too many) years ago I went to Denbigh Primary School in Luton and one of my teachers there was Mr Lyons. I mainly remember him because every Friday afternoon he would put aside whatever work we were supposed to be doing and read a story instead. One of the books he read to us over a period of some weeks or months was The Magic Door. Heard of it? I bet you haven’t.

Long, long after I had left Denbigh Primary I remembered that I enjoyed listening to The Magic Door, and I tried to track down a copy. This was in the days before the internet. Ahem, it was even before the days of personal computers. I couldn’t find any trace of the book. My search wasn’t helped by the fact that I couldn’t remember who had written it.

I tried again when Mr Google was born. Still failed. I moaned about it to anyone who would listen, then thought no more about it. Then several years later I got an email from someone I hadn’t been in contact with for ages. Amazingly, she had remembered me moaning, and by accident had found a site promoting the publication of The Magic Door. Excitedly I clicked on http://www.danbillany.com/books-by-dan-billany/the-magic-door. Try it now and you’ll see what I found.

Needless to say, I bought a copy of the book. While I was about it I read about the author, Dan Billany, who disappeared in WWII and didn’t see the publication of The Magic Door, or indeed of the books he wrote during captivity in Italy. He and another prisoner escaped from prison but were never seen again.

All this was jolly interesting, but I was anxiously awaiting my copy of The Magic Door. Would I still enjoy it? Would my eight-year-old son enjoy it? Or would it be hopelessly outdated, badly written and a terrible disappointment? It was some… er… forty or fifty years since Mr Lyons had read it out to my primary school class, after all. I couldn’t even remember much about the story itself, only that I had enjoyed it all those years ago.

I needn’t have worried. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and so did my son – so much so that some of the phrases from the story have crept into our regular family usage. But as I was reading the book out to my family, I was puzzled to see lots of errors in the text – spelling and punctuation errors. How could this be? It had been a bone fide published book way back in 1943.

I contacted Dan Billany’s great-niece (I think that’s the relationship), Jodi Weston Brake, to ask her what had happened. The answer was simply that there were no electronic versions of The Magic Door available, so she had had it rekeyed but couldn’t afford a proofreader. Now you can feel the warm glow coming. I offered to proofread the book for her, and explained why. She was delighted to hear the story of Mr Lyons, and sent me a pdf of the book (which was useful because at the time I was just teaching myself to edit pdf documents). I don’t know if a second edition has been issued, but if it has and it still has errors in it, they’re down to me. But don’t bother to write.

One thing struck me as I was proofreading the book and warmly glowing: it is very definitely a boy’s book. It’s about the adventures of a class of boys in a boy’s school, and their adventures are… well, boyish. Of course ‘boy’s stories’ and ‘girl’s stories’ were just part of the landscape back then. Maybe that is a topic for another blog post. But I can recommend The Magic Door to anyone with a son aged about eight to ten, especially if you want to feed them some history on the sly. And I can definitely recommend warm glow proofreading.

Stephen CashmoreStephen Cashmore is the training director and an advanced member of the SfEP. He lives on the west coast of Scotland, a stone’s throw from the beach, with his complicated family and not enough hours in the day.

 

Proofread by SfEP associate Anna Black.

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

The internet and the democratisation of English – Part 3: Go home, spelling reform, you’re not needed here.

Sue Littleford, an advanced member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), has written a series of four blog posts exploring how the internet has contributed to the democratisation of the English language. Here is part three:

World Dictionary In part one, I wrote about mob rule in English, and how the internet has delivered the largest mob ever. In part two, I talked about coping with changing norms of language. One of those changing norms is surely spelling.

David Crystal OBE, in his lecture to the 2013 conference, spoke of how he has tracked the dropping of the h from rhubarb over the last few years by simply googling the word from time to time. Who needs the h, anyway? Rubarb sounds just the same without it. Why not agree it’s time it went and update the dictionaries? Wouldn’t that be nice and neat and logical?

Ah, yes, spelling reform. I’m agin it. In detail-less brevity, English spelling shows its breeding. It doesn’t reflect how some words sound now. It doesn’t reflect, necessarily, etymology. Some of our words were taken out to a dark alley and given a wedgie by language bullies who were afraid that good old English was simply not good enough (wedging the b into debt, the p into receipt, the s into island), some of them tripped over their own feet and had a nasty accident (smooshing an h into ghost, for example) and some words were mugged for political purposes (Nathaniel Webster springs to mind). It’s all a dreadful mess, spelling isn’t logical, it’s hard to learn and Someone Ought to Sort It Out. Well, again, no. There’s no Someone to do it. There are millions of someones. (See what I did there? We’re back at the internet.)

I suspect that, quite possibly in my lifetime, there will be natural and inevitable spelling reform based on the weight of opinion on what works best for one speaker of English to communicate with another, regardless of their backgrounds. Globalism demands it. Changing spelling wholesale is contrary to the way language actually works. And if you don’t believe that, count up how many Esperanto speakers you know, or writers of Shavian. Language grows – or, rather, is grown by its users – to meet demand. What starts as wordplay, or slang, or code becomes widespread; those words that are found useful become embedded, at least for a while. Those words that aren’t are dropped. Words come into fashion, go out again, maybe they come back, maybe they don’t. It is usefulness that drives these effects.

Spelling reform will happen, as it has happened constantly since we started spelling, but not as a programme imposed from above, by some ineffable body outside language telling us how things are going to be from now on. Yes, we must be taught how to use our language with facility, we need to learn the norms for spelling, punctuation and grammar that apply to our time; we need to learn about register, about appropriateness, so that the English we use in our school essays and job applications will be different from the English used informally. This isn’t new. What is new is the ease with which so many people of so many points of view can debate, declare, deride uses to such a huge audience. Some memes go viral, others don’t. Some memes have longevity, some burn out quickly after only sporadic interest. Just as general suffrage gives votes to people you don’t agree with, and to people you suspect shouldn’t be trusted with something as important as choosing the government of the country, the internet allows people less educated than me and people more educated than me, on a spectrum that runs from crackpot through people who think just like me and onto a whole other kind of crackpot to use English and to publish constantly.

Consider, though, the impact of spelling reform if it happens any other way. There have been so many schemes, mostly criticising the fact that words don’t look how they sound. So – you’re going to devise a spelling scheme and have it adopted. Upon whose accent do you base spelling? Received Pronunciation? Brum? Scouse? Welsh? Highland Scots? Belfast? Estuary? Then it already doesn’t look like it sounds to anyone with a different accent, or who speaks a dialect. What do you do about homophones? Homonyms? Will you sort out the mess of contronyms, too? But let’s gloss over that and speed on.

A new English spelling system is introduced. Time passes. Not much time – ten or twenty years is more than enough. The literature of the last four hundred years or so is now unreadable to the younger generations who only know the New English. A common enough problem now – Shakespeare is troublesome for many, Chaucer for most. Given the exponential growth of publishing since their day, though, it’s a vastly bigger problem. But it’s not the biggest problem. That is that our young people are cut off from the English of the rest of the globe. A few basic words will survive the revamp, of course: bat, dog, bawl, idiot.

So do we cut off our kids from our culture? Or do we transcribe and republish everything? Or just bits of it? (Which bits? Is the rest of our literature, our history, kept for the comparative handful who learn the Oldies English as a separate, elite, subject?) And what about the internet? The mass of material so huge it’s impossible to imagine?

The difficulty with spelling evolution now, of course, is dictionaries. We used to spell how we spoke, so we all spelled differently. Then came the printed word, which brought about a bit more standardisation, then the spellers, then the dictionaries. How can spelling move away from the monolith of the dictionary? Well, it can and it does and the dictionaries play catch-up. I sometimes amuse myself by checking a spelling on Googlefight before going to the dictionary. The people are speaking, and they’re not all speaking dictionary.

Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford was a career civil servant before being forcibly outsourced. That was such fun she changed tack altogether and has now been a freelance copy-editor for seven years, working mostly on postgraduate textbooks plus the occasional horseracing thriller. She is on Facebook and Twitter.

Proofread by SfEP associate Patric Toms.

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