I do so charily, knowing I have lived something of a charmed life in the hostile world of words and what people read. For some time I worked as a sub-editor. Most of my journalistic career was in broadcasting which is, for the spellingly challenged, forgiving – if the newsreader gets the sounds right, no-one knows how the script is spelled. Or spelt.
My first novel, Harbour Glimpses, was published recently online. Of course, I did the thing that all authors do when a book comes out. I initially called on home team support. From this a couple of good reviews followed. But, in the same way I act as critic, not everything glisters.
On the day of the ebook’s release I received an email that informed me of my sins –‘ to prove that I am a literary critic whose sole purpose is to find tiny proof reading flaws’ – that I had mistaken ‘faint’ for ‘feint’. Or the other way round. It appears variantly twice – adjective and adverb – in a book of 55,000 words.
Readers of a certain age will remember exercise books marked as ‘Narrow Feint’. And there is, I contend, an arguable case for an ancient spelling of a thing that is faded. It was that particular expression I could pretend I had used in my book. I might have got away with it once. When it comes to the adverb, I have to concede that the case is closed.
There has also been a challenge to my spelling of the word 'carcase'. Should it be 'carcass'? Dictionaries seem to suggest there is a British usage for the former. I may live in the United Kingdom, but the novel is set in Sydney, so which rendering is the appropriate one?
My father, as I have written elsewhere, was a stickler for these things. He would rail and rant over spelling and grammar. I have related a story of his devouring a long book in an afternoon, only to pronounce that he had picked up a howler on one page deep into the narrative. I checked. He was right.
Proof reading is a dying skill. As is sub-editing. A friend, recently retired from a career in journalism, terms online reporting as ‘not wrong for long’. Pick up an error, alert the author who can correct it, and you may be lucky enough for no-one to have witnessed your faux pas in the first place.
Harbour Glimpses has picked up some good reviews and I am grateful for that. Of course, writing is no longer enough. We all have to be promoters and marketeers. I have never really been gifted in those fields but, like my faltering steps with the pen, it is a sentence that still needs to be written. Or is it writ?