Category Archives: Just for fun

Reading for pleasure – can editors and proofreaders still do that?

When you come into this profession you may well think to yourselves: is this the end of my nights curled up in front of the fire with a good thriller? Am I going to be able to read my psychology newsletter with the same interest? In this blog post, Alex Mackenzie quizzes editors and proofreaders to find out if they’re still able to read for pleasure.

My preoccupation with this question led me to quiz CIEP members about their reading and whether the job has changed their habits or enjoyment in any way.

Everyone who contributed to this blog post said they have changed their reading habits since starting in the profession, and in these ways:

  • what I read
  • when I read
  • where I read
  • how much I read.

How my reading habits have changed

People who used to read a lot of fiction (up to a hundred books a year) now read less – or have even dropped it entirely – and may compensate with film. People who don’t work with fiction don’t necessarily feel an effect on their reading for pleasure, but possibly have noticed a slower speed when reading non-fiction. Others now select their reading to complement or distract from the job.

‘I wasn’t exactly keen to sit down with a novel after I’d turned my computer off for the day.’

‘I spend all day reading academic writing that’s usually not written too well, so by the time I’m done with the day’s work, I’m exhausted and my brain can’t take in another fact.’

‘When I worked in an office, I commuted across London for an hour each way so I used that time to read, but when I changed career and became a proofreader, working from home, I found that reading on the stairs between the kitchen and my spare-bedroom office wasn’t terribly practical. I’ve always read in bed before I go to sleep, but only for 10 or 15 minutes each night, so I found I wasn’t making much of a dent in my to-be-read pile.’

‘I’ve been struggling to focus on reading for pleasure for quite a number of years (too much work/stress).’

‘I’ve been an editor for 28 years. Historically, I have never been a fussy reader – as long as a book had a well-structured, compelling and plausible story, I was always able to ignore most other issues if not being paid to correct them (!), whereas at one time I prided myself on having finished every book I had ever started.’

‘As my workload has intensified and become more fiction-orientated, I have discovered that I don’t want to read anything too taxing when not working.’

‘My editing work is focused on business and marketing topics, which has allowed me to maintain my strong fiction-reading habit. What has suffered over the years is my professional reading. I used to read so many more books on language, editing and business. These days, I just don’t have the time.’

‘I have a pile of fantastic profession-related books waiting for me to find the energy to read them.’

‘My reading as a result of the job relates more to my translation work than to my proofreading and editing. Last year I was being mentored as an emerging literary translator of Welsh to English and, as I have no training in translation, I read a lot of books translated into English from various languages as a kind of CPD.’

How I feel about this

  • I’ve lost some of the pleasure.
  • I notice mistakes more.
  • I tune into the author’s style straight away.
  • I appreciate good writing.

The people who responded find themselves to be fussy fiction readers. Low-quality writing, an author’s idiosyncrasies and editorial oversights such as sloppy punctuation in dialogue are unwelcome distractions. With cheap ebooks available for 99p, fiction is accessible but often poor, so people now give up on a novel where they never would have done before.

‘My editing brain now hijacks the suspension of disbelief, which means that much of the pleasure I previously derived from fiction has vanished.’

‘I notice mistakes all the time. They just sort of jump off the page or screen. But when I’m reading something that was most likely edited, it’s more difficult. I know that everybody has really tight deadlines and horrendous workloads, so it’s not that the mistakes upset me, but reading something that’s full of errors makes me really, really tired because by the time I get to the end, I’ve mentally corrected each mistake I noticed.’

‘The thing that editing has ruined changed in my reading is that I notice an author’s style really quickly. From favoured sentence structures to being overly attached to commas, it takes me just a few pages to notice it.’

‘I used to read fiction – Arthur C Clarke, Dick Francis, C S Forester – but apart from the latter (whose prose I enjoy for its own sake) I’ve more or less stopped reading fiction, mainly because learning to edit fiction has reduced my suspension of disbelief to near-zero.’

‘My shelves are now littered with books I couldn’t be bothered to finish as they were so poorly constructed/written – including some by well-known and successful authors.’

‘So for me to like [it], there must be some phenomenal writing going on.’

What am I doing about it?

  • I just ‘shake it off’ and live with it, compartmentalising the day job.
  • I choose more carefully (either for pleasure or for professional development).
  • I joined a local book group.
  • I stop reading if I don’t enjoy it.
  • I appreciate quality writing.

People realise the importance of regular reading; developmental editors especially need to read widely. We can be coin-operated, switching our editing brain on and off, and we make a big effort to specialise in areas that don’t trespass on our reading for pleasure. We may be able to compartmentalise our minds, and shifting physical positions helps too – keeping a foot in academia at the desk, critiquing fiction on the bean bag. And sometimes a complete change of routine forces a book upon us, and we find ourselves whisked away by the magic.

‘For a while, I accepted that this was just how things were.’

‘I’ve consciously decided not to edit fiction because I want to keep enjoying reading fiction in my free time. It’s the thing that keeps me going in tough times, and the last thing I do every day before bed.’

‘Were I to edit fiction, I wouldn’t be able to lose myself as easily in my free reading.’

‘Following a house move, I found a local book group and signed up, thinking it would encourage me to read more and in new areas. It was all fine for the first book (yes, I was cram-reading in the hours before the meeting); then, with exquisite timing, lockdown came along. We continued to meet online but I found reading almost impossible during that first period of confinement (there was so much on Netflix to watch, after all) so I missed a couple of sessions. I picked it up again earlier this year and I’m so glad I did. I’ve read some fabulous books that I wouldn’t have even considered normally, and I’ve made some new friends.’

‘I took this book away with me during the first year of Covid and it completely carried me off into another world. The fact that it was linked with a highly infectious disease probably helped!’

‘In informal, unedited writing, I can just shake it off (after all, I know my writing is also bound to be full of mistakes). To combat this, I’m picky about the stuff I read, from news websites to novels. I choose sources with writing that is generally carefully edited and produced over a longer time, I don’t read any self-published novels, and I tend to favour authors who have been writing for longer. I have stopped reading some authors just because of an annoying tic in their writing. I just choose my authors with care. When a book is written really well, the mistakes fade into the background because my mind is filled with vivid imagery. My tiredness fades away because the book is giving something back. Some books manage this with plot, some are really funny, some have characters who feel truly alive, some are like paintings done with words, some are written with almost painful empathy, and the very best manage to do it all.’

‘I read fiction almost exclusively (non-fiction tends to be limited to a few articles a week), and usually fiction that isn’t too heavy. I also like videogames with good stories, where I can zone out and read a few lines at a time. [Some] are brilliantly written games that have a lot of stories to tell, but you’re only reading a little every few minutes, so it’s not so exhausting.’

‘I churn through vast quantities of best-selling crime fiction and thrillers, and various other types of commercial fiction, which, apart from allowing me to switch off, also keeps me abreast of the latest trends and conventions in the various genres. And of course, finding out whether I guessed correctly how they’re going to end or whodunnit is always entertaining – I’m rarely wrong, which is, I suppose, an occupational hazard, but doesn’t usually detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.’

‘I save more demanding works of literary or ‘must-read’ fiction for quieter periods of work or for holidays, when I can give them the attention they deserve.’

‘I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, as well as 19th- and early 20th-century literature or stories that take place during those times. I like to be taken out of my everyday life. Sometimes I like a slow, reflective pace (especially in the winter) and other times, I like a fast, adventurous pace.’

‘If the story is good enough I won’t think.’

Reading choices mentioned:

‘Anything about how things around us, and about us, work.’

‘[certain authors] for when I want to shudder/marvel at the universality and resilience of the human condition, [others] for when I want to marvel at a writer’s ability to unfurl, with tenderness, the gender roles and hypocrisies of people in a seemingly moral society. And love that makes you weep.’

Videogames: ‘Sunless Sea’ and ‘Sunless Skies’

Authors: Hugh Aldersey-Williams, Jane Austen, Rutger Bregman, the Brontës, Bill Bryson, David Eagleman, Giulia Enders, C S Forester, Neil Gaiman, Kevin Hearne, N Mahfouz, Naomi Novik, Maggie O’Farrell, Herman Pontzer, Catherine Poulain, (as translated by Adriana Hunter), Kate Quinn, John Scalzi, Ali Smith, John Steinbeck, Ian Tregillis, Anthony Trollope, Ali Turnbull’s blog.

Wrapping up

The bottom line is that there are occupational hazards, but good writing is worth the distractions. And we appreciate how editors invisibly facilitate our reading for pleasure!


Without contributions from CIEP members, this would be a short and dull read! My thanks go to: Caroline Petherick (especially for editorial assistance), Riffat Yusuf, Erin Brenner and Melanie Thompson, among others who prefer to remain anonymous. Thanks also to those in Cloud Club West who incidentally dropped me a tasty morsel!

About Alex Mackenzie

Alex Mackenzie is a British copyeditor and proofreader living in Asturias, Spain. She moved into editing from a 30-year career in international schools across nine countries. Alex is a published English language teaching (ELT) author with a Master’s degree in education. Areas of specialism are ELT, education, sustainability and meditation, adding creative non-fiction and fiction. She is a Professional Member of the CIEP.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: coffee and cake by Pixabay, couple reading by Andrea Piacquadio, books by a window by Lum3n, all on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

The 2021 CIEP conference: The lightning talks

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 12 to 14 September. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Ben Dare reviewed the lightning talks.

Lightning talks are unique at the CIEP conference – hosted by Robin Black with his usual honest and unexpected insights, the odd flash of self-revelation, and the maintainer of the consistently affirming atmosphere. As quick as each talk is (five minutes – do you fancy giving it a go next year?), I couldn’t possibly fit every pearl into this article. But I’ll try to give you a flavour:

Ema Naito: The most powerful people in the world

Ema works with many Englishes. But despite growing up speaking English, being Japanese means Ema is still spoken to as if English is a foreign language to her. With some awesomely honest thoughts on language and identity – hers and others’ – Ema’s talk certainly made me think. Growing in awareness of language and identity – both our own and other people’s – makes us better editors, Ema says. Editors are powerful. How will you use that power?

Joely Taylor: Bothersome backsides and other photo failures: a brief intro into editing photography

Key takeaways:

  • Avoid the dreaded rear-view
  • Look for fine details: embarrassing, offensive, not safe, illegal, visible personal details, etc
  • Check the caption!
  • Are there issues around copyright, printability, suitability, quality?

Wow. What a lot to think about. A superb reminder not to glance over photos while editing and think, ‘Well there’s no text there to worry about, I’ll move on!’

Sam Kelly: How proofreading helped me commentate on football

A proofreader never knows what they’ll get asked to do! So should you be asked to commentate on your next local derby:

  • Do your homework (read a guide)
  • Keep it clear (don’t give two characters/players the same name)
  • Focus (even when boring)
  • Watch those changes (midfielder substituted for a winger = moving text from one PDF page to another).

Okay, so football’s not my thing, but I’ll keep this in mind for whatever public speaking I’m asked to do!

Alison Shakspeare: Sussing out self-publishers

To work smoothly with a self-publishing client, ask yourself: What’s the author looking for? And remember these rules:

  • Editing/proofreading is always needed
  • Something is always missing
  • It’s always longer and more expensive than they thought
  • Clarity = happy authors.

And with some key questions to ask, Alison shows me it’s good to keep the whole of the publishing process in mind with self-publishing authors. But it sounds like it could be fun!

John Ingamells: Learning Korean

A lightning tour of language – and recent history: did you know that John worked for the British diplomatic service? No? Me neither. The presentation shows how different Korean script is from the English alphabet. The Korean alphabet dates back to 1446 (the language is of course much older). It has fourteen consonants, ten vowels and one bank holiday. But you might find yourself counting in Korean or Chinese, and it’s good to know your audience before you choose your sentence ending. Phew!

Michelle Ward: Bringing history to life

I must admit I didn’t realise the breadth of the re-enactment life. You could meet famous people (Bernard Cornwell and Sean Bean, and Prince Charles). You might make your own clothes, or sew up a bayonet hole at least. You will learn how to:

  • Shoot a rifle
  • Dress practically
  • Cook over a fire
  • Dress wounds
  • Take an enemy position.

Not forgetting the dances and parades. If banquets get mentioned, I might just be in.

Ben Dare copyedits/proofreads for projects on sustainable food systems and sustainable living (and almost anything else when asked nicely). His greatest desire is to find a bit more spare time for gardening, but he spends most of his non-work time with family, triathlon training or coastguarding (and, of course, ironing).

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Podcasts and editors: what the word nerd heard (part 2)

In the first part of this blog, I explained why I’m a fan of podcasts and how their focus on narrative and storytelling make them particularly appealing to writers and editors.

In this second part, I’ve identified a few shows that I think fellow editors may enjoy – and they’re not necessarily what you’d expect. It’s just a small selection from the two million plus podcast series that are available, so existing podcast fans will probably wonder why I’ve not mentioned their favourite show. Well, I probably don’t know about it – but I’m always looking for new ideas so do put a link in the comments to any podcasts you love.

1. Podcasts about working with words

I only listen to a handful of podcasts that deal explicitly with language. I spend enough of my day wrestling with words as it is. But these are all diverting enough for listening not to feel like work, and could even be regarded as CPD (continuing professional development).

The Editing Podcast: All about writing and editing

Our friends, CIEP directors Denise and Louise, may have given you your first taste of the wonderful world of podcasts. They already have six seasons of bridging the gap between writers and editors, showing that our profession is both approachable and knowledgeable. What better combination? Add to that the fact that their shows are short and they don’t take up all your phone memory, and it’s a must-listen.

By the Book: The power of books and friendship

Here’s another couple of literary ladies, these ones quite different to Louise and Denise. Kristen and Jolenta live by a different self-help book each week, with varying results. For editors, it’s fascinating to note what it is about this genre that appeals to readers. But it’s not so much about how useful the books are, as about how powerful relationships are. Even if you have little in common with their New York lifestyles, these two not only are great role models as friends, but also seem to have helpful and supportive husbands who don’t mind their personal lives being recorded for the entertainment of thousands of listeners.

Because Language (was Talk the Talk): Cutting-edge linguistics

Much of the engaging character of this show also stems from the relationship between the three presenters. They take a very modern and descriptivist approach to language use, which is interesting from an editorial point of view. One might argue that they can be a little too tolerant of certain uses while shutting down others, but that’s the balance that linguists must negotiate.

For another option, Lingthusiasm is probably the best-known linguistics podcast, due to one of its presenters being the author of the excellent book, Because Internet – and it is worth listening to – but I have to admit my mind tends to wander during their lingthusiastic discussions.

The Allusionist: Exploring language in society

Helen Zaltzman explores language in relation to everything from cookery books to the censorship of Brazilian newspapers to Dickensian theme parks. It packs a lot into 20 minutes or so, and sheds a lot of light on both American and British culture, including the latest thoughts on sensitive language. The transcripts are particularly comprehensive, with lots of supporting material and enough links to get lost in for the rest of the day.

Something Rhymes with Purple: Jolly japes with Gyles and Susie

Everybody loved Susie Dent’s interview at last year’s CIEP conference and her etymological podcast with National Treasure™ Gyles Brandreth is just as entertaining. Both presenters are incredibly erudite, but wear their learning lightly (unlike Gyles’s famous jumpers) as they spark off each other while discussing the words of the week. It’s also quite funny to hear these respectable celebrities discuss sex and swearing so openly.

For ideas for more podcasts about language and writing, check out the suggestions at Podchaser and Book Careers.

2. Podcasts about narrative and storytelling

You may have noted that, for me, the appeal of my favourite podcasts often comes from the interaction of the presenters, and how they construct their narrative.

It’s the same for these podcasts, which focus on broader themes – real experiences and the world around us.

The Moth: The art of (true) storytelling

This is the original performance-storytelling podcast – real-life anecdotes told live on stage without notes. From an editorial viewpoint, it’s about constructing a compelling narrative but, on a more emotive level, it’s about life experiences across different times and cultures. Some stories are funny, some are tragic, some are compelling, all are memorable.

Don’t miss a lovely story by Mr PerfectIt himself (I nearly crashed the car when I heard the name Daniel Heuman), the amazing experience of an astronaut struggling to swim, or my absolute favourite – a woman remembers how reluctantly collecting milk-bottle tops for charity became something much greater than she expected.

Also check out spin-offs like The Dublin Story Slam, which features mostly Irish storytellers recounting their experiences. Mortified is another variant on the theme, in which adults read out their own teenage diaries on stage, with comical and cringeworthy results.

Spooks and Bogles: Never let the truth get in the way of a good story

Actor, author and historian (and – disclaimer – my friend) David Kinnaird found himself short of an audience at the start of last year’s lockdown so, with typical energy and panache, he used his considerable knowledge and performance skills to write and perform a weekly podcast about Stirling’s history and ghost stories. If that sounds a little esoteric, well, that’s part of the charm, but David’s research and storytelling is exemplary. And in fact, after around 70 episodes, it’s broadened its focus to Scottish, and sometimes Irish and English, folklore – the starting points for fascinating explorations of history, politics and the nature of reality.

For context, start at the beginning with Dead Man Talking.

99% Invisible: Putting the visual world into words

This one’s a lesson in style for non-fiction editors – every episode succeeds in vividly explaining the influence of design and inventions on the world. Presented by the memorably named Roman Mars, each of these mini-documentaries about architecture or technology or town planning or ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ by the Baha Men* will have you repeating random facts at everyone you meet.

They’ve covered almost literally everything – but several episodes are about books and here’s a recent episode, The Clinch, about the sexy covers of romance novels.

*If you’re interested in the origin stories of cheesy pop songs, an honourable mention goes to this uplifting episode of Every Little Thing, about the origins of that wedding-reception classic, ‘Cha Cha Slide’.

How I Built This: The stories behind the brands

Another memorably named presenter, Guy Raz, interviews entrepreneurs of brands you may or may not have heard of about their experiences of starting, running and sometimes leaving businesses. It sounds horribly dry and capitalist but it’s actually very engaging – another lesson in how storytelling works in factual contexts too. Guy’s politely probing interviewing style results in some candid revelations from CEOs. Look out for him making a point of asking both women and men how they balanced work with childcare, and also note the answers to his most famous question … was your success due to skill or luck?

As a daily Duolingo user, I like this episode about the surprising story of the world’s top language-learning app.

Beautiful Anonymous: A weekly tribute to empathy, openness and honesty

It’s a simple premise. New Jersey comedian Chris Gethard chats with an anonymous caller for an hour. They tell their life stories in their own words, so you get perspectives from those whose voices you may not normally have a chance to hear. Some callers have rather dull lives; others certainly do not – but it’s all about what it is to be human.

There are more than 270 episodes so far. Chris himself recommends his favourite early episodes in this article.

And finally …

My Dad Wrote a Porno: The best editing podcast of all

You’ve probably heard of this one – it’s one of the most popular British standalone podcasts and has picked up numerous celebrity fans. And it really is all about writing and editing! Jamie and his friends read out – and comment on – his dad’s explicit but amateurish porn novels. It’s both hilarious and, er, educational, in more ways than one. They’re quick to pick up on inconsistencies, factual errors (especially involving body parts) and structural issues – showing that readers do notice such things. The spin-off book was a marked-up manuscript – I’ve got a copy right here next to Hart’s Rules.

And you’ll never think of pomegranates in the same way again.

Enjoy listening and do tell me about your own favourite podcasts – the more obscure the better!

About Julia Sandford-Cooke

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has spent more than 20 years in publishing. When she’s not listening to podcasts, she writes and edits textbooks, speaks very bad Dutch and posts short, often grumpy, book reviews on her blog, Ju’s Reviews.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: play/pause by Thomas Breher from Pixabay; Listen by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Podcasts and editors: what the word nerd heard (part 1)

In this first of two blog posts, Julia Sandford-Cooke introduces us to podcasts and looks at how they can be a useful development tool for editors. She answers the following questions:

  • What is a podcast?
  • Do you have to pay for them?
  • Who listens to podcasts?
  • What can podcasts be about?
  • OK but how does this all tie in with editing?
  • Don’t know where to start?

I have to admit something that you might find shocking. Brace yourself …

I don’t listen to BBC Radio 4. No, not even The Archers.

In fact, I haven’t listened to live radio, or live TV for that matter, for years. But I somehow still manage to be well informed on topics that interest me. In fact, spend any time with me and one thing I’m likely to say (other than ‘How can the dishwasher be full already?’) is ‘I heard [insert fascinating fact] on a podcast’.

According to my aptly named Podcast Addict phone app, I’ve spent 91 days listening to podcasts since 2016. Last week alone, 10 hours and 36 minutes of my time were accompanied by podcasts. So I must have spent 10 hours and 36 minutes on my morning walk, cooking, tidying, cleaning and, yes, dealing with the dishwasher. It’s just like listening to the radio – any task that would otherwise require me to listen to my own thoughts can be carried out while listening to other people’s. It’s my own form of curated content.

What is a podcast?

Podcasts are a form of on-demand audio media. Many people, at least in the UK, seem to think they are simply radio shows you download from the BBC website. Well, some are, but you’re missing out if that’s the extent of your podcast experience. The majority are standalone audio recordings, usually part of a series, researched, recorded and produced specifically for listeners to access via their computer, tablet or phone. You can download episodes to listen to when you want, or you can stream them if you have a reliable WiFi connection.

Episodes can be any length, from five minutes to a couple of hours. Most of those I listen to are between 20 and 50 minutes long – again, like a radio show. But unlike radio shows, many have transcripts, along with images, on their websites, so people who are unable to hear or have difficulty taking in spoken information can still access the content.

One of the many wonderful things about podcasts is that it’s very easy to create your own. Three of my friends (separately) started shows during last year’s lockdown – everyone can have a voice, though whether they have an audience is another matter and that, as with books, is down to promotion and word of mouth.

Do you have to pay for them?

Podcasts are generally free to access. However, a downside is that many have to keep stopping for adverts from their ‘sponsors’, which is a bit tedious if you’re used to ad-free media. But you can always fast-forward through them, and it’s worth putting up with the ads if it means the shows remain free. Others are funded by fans donating to Patreon or similar crowd-funding platforms – I support my friend David’s historical storytelling in Spooks & Bogles, for example, and the entertaining and erudite Strong Songs has more than 1,250 subscribers willing to pay a monthly fee to hear about the songwriting techniques behind their favourite tracks.

Most podcast apps and platforms, such as Spotify, are free for the basic service. I chose to pay £2.99 several years ago to get the premium version of my app and I still think it was a great investment.

Who listens to podcasts?

Well, who watches TV or plays football? Anyone who wants to. Anyone who can. Recent statistics suggest that 55% of the American population has listened to a podcast, and about 18% of people in the UK listen to at least one podcast every week. They are particularly popular in South America.

Some research suggests podcast listeners are ‘loyal, affluent and educated’ – and not necessarily young. I know a man in his mid 70s who likes nothing better than to plug in his headphones to spend some introvert time with the latest episode of his favourite science show.

Far from being the latest newfangled fad, podcasts are really pretty mainstream. It’s estimated that 14.6 million people in the UK listen to podcasts (numbers have shot up since the pandemic started).

They have been around for quite a while by today’s technology standards. They first began to gain momentum in 2004, to the extent that ‘podcast’ was declared word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary in 2005. There’s even an International Podcast Day™ on 30 September. Interestingly, organisers used to describe it as an opportunity ‘to educate current and future consumers about podcasting and advance the podcasting discipline’ but now simply say it is ‘a celebration of the power of podcasts’. An example, perhaps, of the impact of their recent popularity?

What can podcasts be about?

Part of the mainstream appeal comes from the huge variety of subjects that two million different podcast series inevitably bring.

Statistics indicate that British listeners are most likely to download podcasts in the genres of sport, news/politics and comedy (mostly produced by the ubiquitous BBC). There are apparently 18 different daily news podcasts in the UK alone but, sport, news and politics not being topics on which I wish to spend my leisure time, I subscribe to only a couple of the current top 100 iTunes podcasts, which is surprisingly few considering I follow more than 50 podcasts overall.

Personally, I prefer documentary-style factual content or autobiographical shows. In the mood for onstage anecdotes? Play The Moth. Hungry? Play The Sporkful. Fancy a bit of contemporary socioeconomic theory (and who doesn’t)? Play Freakonomics.

Podcasts can be fiction too, and the format allows for original approaches to dramatic audio production. I enjoyed the thriller Carrier (soon to be filmed for Netflix) but that’s because its star Cynthia Erivo can do no wrong. But most scripted shows are ‘docudrama’ style, often based on the discoveries of a (fictional) investigative reporter, and I find these get tiresome pretty quickly. I’d rather read a novel.

OK but how does all this tie in with editing?

  • There’s the obvious thematic link. Many podcasts are about language, linguistics, writing, publishing or editing. Our very own Denise and Louise host The Editing Podcast, a must-listen for writers and editors alike.
  • Then there’s the structural link. My favourite shows are less obviously related to my profession but, in my opinion, are just as immersed in narrative and storytelling, as I’ll demonstrate in the second part of my blog.
  • Podcasts are collated, compiled and edited just like books. Producers choose what to keep and what to remove. Like books, they have tropes and formats that we come to expect, from an introductory clip to capture our attention to carefully selected background music. John August, in the first episode of Launch (a podcast about publishing his novel), does a fine job of identifying some of these. (He’s also very nice about copyeditors.)
  • Listening to podcasts improves my general knowledge. You can choose which podcast you listen to but you don’t necessarily know what they’ll be talking about so you never know when the history of barbed wire, the story of Wigan Casino or the fact that certain species of baby spider eat their mothers will come in handy. Many’s the time that I’ve run to Google to find out more about something I’ve just heard.
  • Listening also increases my awareness of other cultures and beliefs, and (because I listen to so many American shows), my awareness of how other cultures view my own. Admittedly, I roll my eyes at the frequent, outdated criticisms of British food (Gastropod, I’m looking at you) or mentions of generic ‘British accents’, but it’s nevertheless illuminating to appreciate that stereotyping works both ways.
  • I spend so much time with the written word that spoken language provides a useful balance, with its own layers of meaning and surprise. Surely I’m not the only person not to know that apparently ‘pho’ (the soup) should be pronounced ‘phar’? (Disclaimer: I can’t be sure that it is – I just heard it in a podcast.)

Don’t know where to start?

With so many podcasts to choose from, it can be hard to identify the ones you’ll enjoy most. What are you interested in? Websites like Podchaser group shows by genre – business, technology, comedy, audio drama and so on – or check the iTunes charts to see what’s popular in the UK at the moment.

If you have a hobby or special interest, from quilting to paddleboarding, there’s bound to be a podcast (or several) that covers it. Or perhaps you’d like to hear the stars of your favourite 2000s TV show (like The West Wing, The OC and Gilmore Girls) reminiscing. Ten years ago, backstage gossip might have been in book format but today it’s actors and the production team interacting.

Just browse until something catches your interest and then stream it online – via a website or on Spotify – or download it to an app, which I prefer because it’s portable.

Still looking for ideas? The second part of this blog will give you a few more starting points.

About Julia Sandford-Cooke

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has spent more than 20 years in publishing. When she’s not listening to podcasts, she writes and edits textbooks, speaks very bad Dutch and posts short, often grumpy, book reviews on her blog, Ju’s Reviews.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: Listen by Nick Fewings; podcasting set up by Will Francis, both on Unsplash.

Forum matters: Spring-cleaning refreshers

This feature comes from the band of CIEP members who volunteer as forum moderators. You will only be able to access links to posts if you’re a forum user and logged in. Find out how to register.

Any mention of spring cleaning immediately brings to mind the opening to Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows:

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home … till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms … It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said … “Hang spring-cleaning!” and bolted out of the house …, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

You know you have to think about CPD, updating websites and social media, and tightening up your business information, but it can make you feel a bit Mole-like, all dusty and achy. Thankfully, the great, green meadow of the CIEP forums is there to roll in and refresh yourself!

In ‘Structuring the Dayʼ members share helpful approaches to brushing up yourself and your business that look at time management, preventing the making of lists taking over from the doing of what’s on them, making sure you take account of you, helpful ways to prioritise – along with the usual smattering of technical tips.

Many an inner Mole is revealed across the forums, including in the supportive local groups, as members urge each other to go outside. One of the most enjoyable threads is in the Off topic forum. ‘Wildlife distraction of the dayʼ shares sightings and photos of birds, insects, reptiles and even of ‘cereal-eating, wifi-connected, human-like creatures’. Springwatch, eat your heart out.

Refreshing your business

Once you’ve decided to burrow away, then a quick search of the forums (using five-plus letters!) yields some helpful dustpans, brushes and dusters.

In ‘Free article limit for online newspapersʼ several editors shared workarounds to keep searching for online articles from the same publication when checking an author’s citations.

Has LinkedIn messaging gone premium?ʼ revealed how many members had received a ‘problem’ message on trying to message a new contact, but had then re-enabled messaging those connections on LinkedIn – without going Premium.

For the independently minded, ‘Callout boxesʼ talked about recolouring your proofreading comments in Adobe Acrobat – at the same time reminding members of forum protocol that discourages discussion of course exercises outside official areas.

For those who work on client websites, there are a few thoughts on accessing a client’s WordPress website admin pages as a warning to the uninitiated. Nice that the client sorted it out pretty quickly. Also on the website theme, there are some motivational pointers to help you polish up your SEO.

Refreshing yourself

Of course, spring cleaning is about putting the sparkle back on what you already have, not necessarily about replacing with the new, which is where the forum archives can be a great resource. So keep seeing the shine using tips from ‘Eye strain – new setup needed?ʼ It might be an old thread (2015) but the suggestions are still good:

  • from Janet MacMillan’s emphatic advice to get your eyes checked – ‘an editor pal of mine was experiencing eye strain and eyesight issues and by going to the ophthalmologist forthwith, she saved her sight, and probably her life’
  • through Lisa Cordaro’s thoughts on lens coatings, ambient lighting, frequent screen breaks, ‘And finally, don’t do long days at your VDU. Bad for the eyes and general health!’
  • and very much in the spring-cleaning vein, Ceri Warner’s ‘have you tried adjusting the lighting in the room where you are working? I’ve got my monitor with its back to a window, which I found was very tiring for my eyes, so at the moment I’ve got thin curtains across the window but I do need to rearrange the room when I get a chance.’

The topic was revisited in 2020 in ‘How do you protect your eyes?ʼ and ‘Question about visual migrainesʼ.

CIEP members are great at highlighting helpful links that take you outside the forums – for instance, to John Espirian’s contribution on Louise Harnby’s blog following some chat about using two screens.

If you need to refresh your work interface because of RSI, then ‘Hands-free editing?ʼ offers some thoughts on speech recognition software as a new approach.

The forum moderators hope that, like Mole, you’ll be ‘bewitched, entranced, fascinated’ by the flow of forum threads and that they will help to keep you happy and motivated at spring-cleaning time.

 

Photo credits: mole by Tabble on Pixabay; crocuses by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Crafty editors: Part 2

Earlier in July, we shared Part 1 of our crafty editors series – here are some more delicate, striking and tasty examples of what our members do with their spare time!

Jenny Papworth

This is a set of four prints on the theme of ‘winter’. I started screen-printing after a course at the local arts college, and I now print on paper and textiles and sell through my shop on Etsy. Doing something crafty is a great way to wind down after a long day in front of the computer, and screen-printing offers a whole new arena in which to be precise and pedantic.

John Ingamells

Lockdown inspired many people to try baking sourdough bread. But the method’s popularity has been on the rise (!) for some years. Of course, sourdough is nothing new; it is the way bread was made for thousands of years before we learned how to make yeast separately.

Its devotees are captivated by the strange alchemy: the bread-and-water starter that lives in the fridge for years; the process that turns three simple ingredients – flour, water and salt – into well risen bread with a depth and complexity of flavour that mass-produced breads cannot match. And, to add a genuinely modern twist, they now tell us it’s actually very good for us as well!

Sam Hartburn

Here are some modular origami dodecahedra I made – the first is a normal dodecahedron made from post-it notes; the second is a stellated dodecahedron. I’m not sure if the third has a name – a flowered, cubed dodecahedron maybe.

In modular origami, you fold a number of identical modules from small pieces of paper, then fit them together into a bigger shape. The modules usually slot together and stay in place without any glue, although often there is no strength to the piece until the final module is slotted into place – meaning that the process of putting them together can be frustrating. You can even make origami pieces that move, like this rotating structure.

Rich Cutler

A few years ago I became interested in art and photography. Like most budding photographers I started out by taking decorative, pleasing images. However, I soon became dissatisfied with these, and found myself drawn instead to contemporary art – about which I knew very little (my background is in science). On a whim I applied for a master’s degree in photography, and to my surprise I was accepted! Doing the MA was one of the best decisions I’ve made, and improved my photography immeasurably. Since graduating in 2013 I’ve exhibited as a photographic artist both in the UK and internationally.

Rich has managed to show his work publicly despite the lockdown: Insecta in the window of the contemporary art gallery Fabrica, Brighton (on display until September).

Annette Doutney

I arrange flowers at my parish church and it’s something I have missed during lockdown. It’s both relaxing and satisfying to take beautiful things and create something even more beautiful with them in a peaceful, empty church. I can let my mind wander as I work, too, unlike when I am editing or proofreading!

Philippa Tomlinson

Wet felting is surprisingly hard physical work when done by hand, but this is partly why I love it. It is also a sensory activity – so a welcome antidote to the sometimes stressful hours spent staring at the computer screen. I can let my mind drift off, immersed in the colours and smells and textures of the felting while listening to music or the sounds of nature outside in the garden. It is also an unpredictable craft – you are never quite in control of how the final product will turn out – and it’s good to learn to embrace that.


Proofread by Joanne Heath, Professional Member.

Stitched together and posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Crafty editors: Part 1

On the CIEP forums, we recently asked members if they’d like to share their crafting skills, and had a fabulous response – this is Part 1 of our crafty editors series!

Sarah Perkins

Here is Pugin, my firescreen.

I saw a beautiful glass peacock firescreen. I loved it, but it was far too small and delicate for my fireplace, and very expensive. It got me thinking that I could make something three dimensional, so I didn’t need the traditional frame to make it stand upright. Apart from the peacock blue felt, he was made from various scraps, in different techniques so I didn’t get bored or run out of a material I couldn’t find again. There’s knitting, patchwork, quilting, drawn thread work, crewel embroidery, ribbon weaving, needle lace, felting, machine embroidery, and even a bit of fair trade raffia.  You wouldn’t believe how many people have asked me why I don’t call him Penelope. Because he is a peacock. Ah!

Nicholas Taylor

This is my latest line of handmade cards, combining my love of maps and all things outdoors and the joy of sending cards. I haven’t been able to get out as much recently but this has just given me more chance to cut up a lot of old OS maps!

 

 

 

 

 

Catherine Dunn

I studied fine art at Loughborough University and graduated in 2001 with a BA in painting. Since then, I’ve continued to draw and paint as a hobby. I find it helps me zone out and relax. Due to space constraints, these days I keep it fairly small. This piece is in watercolour pencils and ink. I enjoy working in a wide range of media, but I always keep things mainly in two dimensions. I’ve recently started experimenting with ProCreate Pocket on my iPhone, which is opening up new avenues to me.

Joanna Porter

I make lace, mainly bookmarks because they are relatively simple to do and still work even if the lace is not 100% perfect. I find it therapeutic as it is not that complicated to do but does require total concentration. Part of the pleasure also comes from using my grandmother’s bobbins. I hope to add a lace bookmark to the raffle at the 2021 CIEP conference.

Elaine Monaghan

Silk satin; pre-print dip in logwood dyebath; bramble, oak and coreopsis

I enjoy making botanical contact prints (sometimes known as ecoprints), mostly using leaves from my garden, or collected while on a walk. It’s a very personal way of making a permanent record of a moment in time. I generally print on protein fibres (silk, wool), which take prints well; cellulose fibres (cotton, linen, bamboo, etc.), including paper, can be trickier. The photos show two examples of printing on silk. The technique has great potential for upcycling favourite old garments that need a new look, and I’m working on incorporating prints into conventional garments (such as on a silk lining for a jacket).

Habotai silk; sumach and oxeye daisy; post-print dip in madder dyebath

One of the attractions of the technique is that each print is unique: the result of printing a leaf from an individual tree may vary, depending upon the season, and if weather conditions change. It’s encouraging that even the most experienced printers get unexpected results!

 

 

 

Caroline Petherick

After a rather long break, I took up knitting again and kicked off with a nice warm woolly for winter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Sensecall

In my spare time, I produce abstract works on canvas using natural coloured mica pigments mixed with resin and hardener. The resin sets to a hard clear vitreous finish, giving interesting light-diffracting qualities to the pigments on the canvas. I use a mixture of techniques to add and disperse the pigments and resin across the canvas and to introduce cells and lacing effects.

 


Proofread by Joanne Heath, Professional Member.

Stitched together and posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

 

Not just fun and games: the CPD of escape rooms

By Julia Sandford-Cooke

You might think I’m just a meek and unassuming editor, but I have a secret identity. When I’m not correcting content, I may be stealing diamonds, exploring Egyptian tombs, solving crimes or perhaps even saving the world (twice from a renegade sheep). Despite my reputation for remaining calm under pressure, I have been known to scream, ‘Why are you just standing there? We only have three minutes to defuse the bomb!’

Yes, I’m an escape room enthusiast. Bear with me because the link to continuing professional development (CPD) isn’t as tenuous as you might think. After 20 years as an editor, I’m still committed to learning but I’ve completed most relevant courses at least once, so have begun to seek out new ways to build and apply my skills. After all, we editorial professionals don’t just spend our days correcting grammar and swearing at Microsoft Word – we also practise problem solving, time management, team working and lateral thinking. And all these skills are tested and strengthened in escape rooms.

What is an escape room?

Basically, you and your team of two to about seven people enter a room to solve puzzles relating to a particular theme or story within a set amount time (usually an hour but, increasingly, 90 minutes). In fact, ‘escape room’ is rather a misleading term. It’s really more about escapism than escaping. Although you may need to find a way out of a setting like a prison or cabin within the time limit, instead you could solve a crime, find a relic, save a pirate ship or pass all your wizarding exams. Sometimes the challenge is just collecting as many toy cats as you can. You won’t actually be locked in (I believe that’s illegal) and, in fact, many rooms allow you to leave at any time – but what would be the fun of that? I won’t spoil your future games by describing the puzzles you’ll encounter in detail but they may involve matching words, spotting inconsistences, identifying patterns, remembering sequences, cracking codes, finding pieces of a jigsaw and completing it, or something more physical, such as shooting foam bullets at a target. Typically, you’ll need to identify a numeric sequence or locate a key for a padlock. It’s seen as bad form to require external general knowledge (that’s what pub quizzes are for) so, as long as you know simple maths and the alphabet, you’ll be able to make a start. If you get stuck, your games master, who monitors you on CCTV, can provide a hint.

Most escape rooms are aimed at adults but switched-on kids aged over eight or so often excel as part of a grown-up team, as long as the theme isn’t too scary – my 11-year-old escape room veteran refuses to do any rooms relating to Egyptian mummies, zombies or school detentions. As for the rooms themselves, some are charmingly homemade, some are slickly mechanised and some have amazing movie-quality sets but all require players to accept the scenario in which they find themselves and work together to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome. Can you see the parallels with publishing yet?

Julia and her husband test a virtual reality game at ERIC. Photo by Guy Wah Photography.

Take my nearest venue, Fakenham Escape Rooms. In this game, we have been employed by the International Rescue Corps to complete the work of a missing professor who had been working on new technology that predicts the time and location of natural disasters. Our mission is to find his research and coordinate our findings to discover where and when the next disaster will be. It’s a fun, immersive room and, as it happens, we were top of the leader board for six months until some professional escapologists (pah!) completed it slightly quicker. It’s the taking part that counts – but beating other teams does motivate competitive players like me. The owners subsequently asked us to test their new room before it officially opened, and listened to our constructive feedback on the experience, a bit like a physical version of proofreading.

It’s all about teamwork

So, what makes a good escape room team? Well, I’ve edited enough business books to be intimately acquainted with the Belbin team roles, and have played enough escape rooms to know that combining people with different skills is going to get the job done quicker and better. For example, my daughter has a mind like a trap and is good at finding hidden items. My programmer husband can apply logic to any situation, and I delegate all the maths puzzles to him. Some of the friends I’ve played with are efficient, organised and focused. Others are highly creative or have an in-depth knowledge of binary. As for me, when I asked for feedback on my performance, Team-mate 1 (my daughter) said I’m quick to make connections between different elements and Team-mate 2 (my husband), after some thought, said I’m better at reading than he is. Our greatest triumphs have been a result of focusing on the goal, clear communication and mutual respect for each other’s abilities. All of which are ingredients for successfully managing any project.

Benefiting more than just me

I attended two excellent conferences in 2019. One was (naturally) the SfEP conference at Aston University. The other was the amusingly named ERIC – the Escape Room Industry Conference in glamorous Dagenham. Covering everything from game theory to marketing, with a little acting thrown in, it was the most enjoyable small-business foundation course that you can imagine. I came home brimming with ideas for developing my own editing business (‘escape rooms’ now features as a key word in my CIEP Directory entry – puzzle tester for hire). As a textbook specialist, I’d love to look at ways of engaging learners via puzzles and for improving testing methods such as those tricky multiple-choice questions that authors always struggle to perfect.

What’s more, while I’m not quite ready to open my own escape room (watch this space), I made a contact at ERIC which has resulted in another exciting new project. I’ve joined forces with my local library to coordinate a treasure trail for teams of Key Stage 2 pupils (9 to 11 year olds) in which they have to use the library facilities to tackle puzzles and act out a narrative – hopefully developing their literacy and problem-solving skills, and their enthusiasm for libraries, in the process.

Try it for yourself

There are now about 1,500 escape rooms in the UK, and maybe 20,000 in the world, so there’s likely to be at least one near you. Some are inevitably better than others – read reviews before you go to gain an idea of quality because it’s admittedly not a cheap hobby. The typical cost is around £20 per person, and it can be even more expensive if (as a purely hypothetical example, of course) you choose to celebrate 20 years with your husband by travelling to Margate to play five games over two days (Kent being the unlikely escape-room capital of the UK). It’s still cheaper than formal training as well as fun, educational and a welcome break from those ubiquitous screens.

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has 20 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. She has written and edited numerous textbooks, specialising in vocational education, media studies, construction, health and safety, and travel. In her spare time, she’s a pirate, spy and astronaut.

 


Thinking about your CPD plans? The CIEP offers a wide variety of courses, and more informal CPD is available through its members’ forums and local groups.


Photo credits: Sheep Jonathan Poncelet, Escape Rooms sign – Zachary Keimig, both on Unsplash; Julia and her husband testing a virtual reality game at ERIC Guy Wah Photography.

Proofread by Emma Easy, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

 

Originally published December 2019; updated June 2021.

Five things to take to the SfEP conference

By Abi Saffrey

It’s just over a week until the 2019 SfEP conference. This year, I’m leading a workshop on editorial project management but, while writing my slides, I got a bit distracted by thinking about what I need to take with me. And then I started to wonder what other delegates would be taking with them, so I went onto the SfEP’s conference forum and asked. Here are my (and my respected colleagues’) recommendations of what to put in that wheelie case before heading to Aston University in Birmingham on 14 September.

1. Home comforts

Conference accommodation can be unpredictable – the pillows too firm, the duvets too thick, the shower room too tiny – but it’s possible to mitigate those issues by taking something from home. Okay, you can’t take your bathroom, but you could take a pillow or pillowcase, a sheet, even a small fan. At some venues, if you bring a hairdryer, you’ll gain brownie points from other delegates. They may even stand you a drink at the bar. But this year we can all travel light, because Aston’s rooms are truly luxurious with hairdryers, irons (and accompanying boards), fans, bedside lights and adequately sized bathrooms.

2. Food and drink

I will be taking my refillable water bottle, because I love a bit of hydration – especially important in air-conditioned seminar rooms and when spending the best part of three days talking (and laughing). Emergency and preferred teabags are worth shoving in your case, as you never know what will be on offer in bedrooms or at break times. Ditto snack items – whether you prefer sweets or bananas, you’re going to need energy to keep the brain whirring.

Good news: there is a small supermarket a short stroll from the Aston conference centre, so Minstrels are always within reach (other chocolate products are available).

3. Something for the quiet moments

Conferences are tiring, especially if you normally work at home with only a furry companion to talk to for hours on end. How strange that editors often take books with them for their downtime. Other portable hobbies that can provide an essential mental and physical breather include music, colouring, sketching, sewing, running and wine.

Aston does have a delightful little swimming pool that is open to delegates at certain times, so remember to pack appropriate attire if you fancy a dip. This year, there will also be a Quiet Room in the conference centre, so that delegates can easily take time out during the busy days.

4. Something for the actual conference

It turns out that the SfEP conference isn’t all about chatting with edibuddies; there’s also some of that there learning going on. Take an open mind and some confidence – listen to others’ ideas and speak your own. If you’re prone to a grumpy resting face, see if you can dig out a smile or two (for use when appropriate).

You’ll need something to take notes with/on, whether that’s a laptop, mobile device or a notebook and pens (preferably lots, and in different colours). And don’t forget the charger (and additional power pack) for those electronic devices, especially if you’re live tweeting (this year, the conference’s hashtag is #sfep2019).

Consider your clothing selections – a conference is not the right time to try out new shoes. Go comfy (and clean).

Remember business cards in case of networking successes or prize draws.

5. Medication

Nearly everyone who responded to my call for suggestions mentioned medication – either for an existing condition or painkillers for the headaches that come from thinking, talking and those lightbulb moments. (I refer the honourable reader to the earlier point about hydration.)

And don’t forget!

It’s the UK! The weather does what it wants. It turns out that coats quite often get left at home, and are later missed.


With thanks to SfEP conference goers and forum regulars, veterans and devotees: Hugh Jackson, Helen Stevens, Anya Hastwell, Sue Browning, Julia Sandford-Cooke, Luke Finley, Jane Hammett, Denise Cowle, Margaret Hunter, Jane Moody, Beth Hamer, Cathy Tingle, Sabine Citron and Melanie Thompson (and those who have contributed to the discussion after this was written).

 

Abi Saffrey will be taking decaf teabags, a water bottle, her swimmers, well-worn trainers, bananas, her laptop, her resting grumpy face and hopefully a completed set of PowerPoint slides to this year’s conference.

 

 

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Wise owls: office companions

Christmas cuddly owlIn the last SfEP blog post of 2018, the Wise Owls are out in force to share their appreciation for that must-have item for every freelance editor or proofreader: an office companion.

Darcy (Hazel Bird's dog)Hazel Bird

Since she arrived in 2015, my furry editorial assistant (Darcy) has been mostly unassistive in her contributions to our joint workspace. She is excellent at identifying the correct use of words such as ‘biscuit’, ‘frisbee’, ‘lunch’ and (slightly more unusually) ‘teeth’. However, she is less good at tasks such as fixing problems with commas or chasing authors’ corrections. She excels at carrying out requests to find the human editorial assistant (generally in his office at the other end of the house). However, she is less adept at conveying any useful information to him or bringing him back with her, if required.

She has many admirable qualities to make up for these professional deficiencies, however. Although she will happily abandon me if there may be food on offer elsewhere, she is generally stalwart, usually being found in a bed next to my desk. Being a cockapoo and thus only slightly less energetic than a tornado, she also requires regular walks – a huge benefit for someone who otherwise has a tendency to become absorbed in her work and forget to move for hours on end.

Overall, during her three years of employment as chief editorial assistant, Darcy has done little to fulfil her job description. She has also probably destroyed more resources than she has generated for the business, having a talent for rendering almost any toy unsafe within an hour or so of receiving it. However, on balance, her positive qualities do outweigh her lack of editorial acumen, so she will likely stay in her role for the foreseeable future.

Louise Bolotin's Spotify playlistLouise Bolotin

For many years, my faithful office companion was Nelson, a pedigree British shorthair with blue tabby fur like velvet and huge green eyes. He was cute, adorable and largely quiet, which was a blessing when I needed to be deep in thought. Since his passing two years ago, I have two office companions. One is silence, the other noise. I must have silence when concentrating on the trickiest of edits. But I also must have music – I’ve been listening to music all my life and it’s as essential as eating for me.

You could say my go-to office companion now is Spotify. Much as I love to sing along to tracks, I find lyrics a massive distraction when working, so anything I play must be instrumental. I have some classical favourites – Smetana’s Ma Vlast and Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranjuez are regularly on my virtual decks, for example. But my true love is reggae and I turn to the heaviest of heavy dub for satisfaction without vocals. It’s rhythmic and soothing, not too fast and typically has
60–90 beats per minute, perfectly matching a healthy heart rate. I’ve been listening to Joe Gibbs’ African Reggae since the late 70s and it never fails for me. Other dub albums are available, as they say.

Margaret Hunter's monkeyMargaret Hunter

I wasn’t going to contribute to this Wise Owls offering. I don’t need office companions, I thought. In fact, I love working on my own, able to get on with things just as I want, whenever I want, without people interfering or chatting or just generally being there.

But then I realised I’m not a total recluse. Freelance editors’ social media pages regularly feature office companions of the furry, purring, woofing (farting??) kind, but I don’t have a pet. I have Monkey (yes, I know he’s not…). He’s not great at conversation though; but he is there if I want a friendly ear to rant at.

And then there are the birds outside my window, who seem to get through seed as fast as I’m daft enough to keep filling it up. Yes… I need a window onto the natural world, and the birds, well, they make me happy.

But really my true companions are my SfEP colleagues. Maybe we rarely say the words out loud, but we’re having conversations all the time on the forums, on social media and via email. And just sometimes we meet in person.

So, I do have companions, human and otherwise. Without them this freelance editing lark would definitely be a much harder and lonelier slog.

Matty (Melanie Thompson's dog)Melanie Thompson

I literally would not be here without my Office Assistant, Matty. When I say ‘here’ I mean, in the village where I live – because a major reason for moving here was the fantastic local (dog-)walking. When I say ‘here’ I also mean ‘being a freelance editor’ – because if I hadn’t needed to stay at home to keep him company I may well have been tempted to take an office job a few years ago. And when I say ‘here’ I also mean ‘at my desk’ – because now he is an old dog and has very set habits. If I don’t say ‘let’s go to work’ and unlock my office door in the morning he looks very confused.

Having an office companion is a joy, but it’s also a job. Being a pet’s ‘parent’ brings responsibilities – and expense. So the yellow Dogs Trust stickers are absolutely right: a pet is for life, not just for Christmas. If you’re thinking of getting a pet, my top tips are: get good ‘lifetime’ pet insurance (Direct Line have been brilliant for us), and find local friends or professionals who can pet sit when needed.Matty in a field, in the sun

Matty often features on my Facebook page and in my annual newsletter to clients. He’s about to notch up his 13th Christmas in his role as Office Assistant. He’ll be getting an annual bonus (extra fish-skin treats). He has certainly earned it: all those hours of waiting patiently while I’m tapping on a keyboard; the twice-daily compulsory walks that often help me think through knotty editing problems; and helping me to get to know so many of my neighbours and all the local delivery people!

As I type, he’s starting the ‘4:30 whine-up’ … it’s nearly dinner time. Long may his daily commute continue.

Mike Faulkner's Pine MartenMike Faulkner

My office/shed is in the woods in deepest Argyll, so I am spoiled for choice when it comes to local fauna for company – regular passers-Mike Faulkner's red squirrelby are roe deer, pine martens and red squirrels. I haven’t managed to get a pic of one of the deer, but these two chaps come almost every day.

We live in fear that one day Piñon the pine marten is going to catch Squirl the squirrel (I know …), but so far Squirl has been way too fast and agile – hMike Faulkner's dog Eddiee can reach parts of the tree that are beyond Piñon’s wildest dreams, and he doesn’t seem put out by the odd stand-off.

Eddie watches them through the window when he isn’t on LinkedIn.

 

Nik Prowse

I don’t have any pets, although sometimes I think it would be nice to own a dog to warm my feet in winter. But when I think about what keeps me company in the office it’s invariably music.

I can’t edit to music – I just can’t concentrate on copy-editing with any background noise. But running an editorial business, and even working through the necessary tasks required to get a book manuscript back to the publisher, involves far more than just copy-editing. For the extra tasks, especially the mundane ones, I find background music helps my concentration hugely.
In the main, if I need music for concentration I choose ambient electronica. Ambient music often eschews normal song structure to create tracks that vary in length, sound and atmosphere a great deal. Once you get away from the idea that songs need words or instruments … or even a discernible structure … there’s a lot to discover! I find ambient music incredibly good for the concentration (except while editing, as I’ve said). Often referred to in a derogatory way as ‘wallpaper music’, for my purposes this is the point: it’s meant to be unobtrusive and in the background.

One of my current worktime favourites is by Carbon Based Lifeforms. Derelicts takes me back to the sounds of Vangelis or Jean Michel Jarre in the early 80s, and it’s a very soothing soundtrack for those more mundane office tasks.

Sue Littleford's bearsSue Littleford

Hurrah for arctophilia! Much as I miss my darling cats, they did have a habit of sitting on the keyboard at awkward moments, or sticking their butts in my face and walloping me with their tails: endearing out-of-hours but not so much on deadline. Teddies are much better behaved. My tribe is divided into bedroom bears and office bears and currently stands fifteen strong. The ten office bears stand (well, sit) guard and (over)fill my partner’s desk, as there’s no room on mine, but just for you, I had a bit of a tidy-up and you can see my guys (and one gal) in all their office-duty glory. The gal – Genevieve from Geneva – is a genuine work bear as she came home with me from a visit to a client.

Sue Littleford's bearsThe office bears are a very supportive bunch – they agree with all my decisions, commiserate when a manuscript turns out to be a bit of a ’mare, cheer when an invoice goes out and cheer even more when the invoice is paid. Decorative and decorous (no teddy butts in my face), each one is a delight. My bear from babyhood, Pinky, is retired (being more grey than pink, these days). You can see them all looking forward to a crisp winter! Season’s greetings from Pinky (he claimed seniority so must come first in the list), Arthur, Basil, Genevieve, Gerald, Hank, Harry, Kristoff, Little Binky, Marius, Robin, Rodney, Rudy, Siggy and Snowball.

Pip (Sue Browning's dog) Sue Browning

This is Pip, my office companion or, perhaps more accurately, my out-of-office companion, as she rarely ventures into my office (it’s tiny), only sheltering here when there’s serious bike fixing going on downstairs, involving Many Bad Words.

She was a rescue dog, and very timid. When she came to us, aged 5 months, she was afraid of people, dogs, cats, horses, cows, fireworks, gunshots, loud noises in general, and plastic bags. Now, after nearly 11 years of careful and loving nurture, I’m delighted to say she is no longer afraid of plastic bags.

She may not be my in-office companion, but she plays a vital role in my working life, making sure I get exercise and fresh air every day. I love her dearly, and wouldn’t be without her.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator, Gaston, Abi Saffrey's catand Gaston, supreme office overlord.

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