27 October 2010
Bits of me started going wrong in the summer. This meant seven visits to my marvellous dentist in Bloomsbury, Dr Cline, who plays me Simple Minds and gangsta rap. But the real bummer was tearing my stomach muscles (‘hernia’ lacks romance, so I’ve dispensed with the word). Weird spasms in my leg alerted me to it. I went straight to my GP. He referred me to the surgeon, which led to multiple trips to Newham University Hospital where they prodded me, sucked my blood and decided to operate.
The weekend before surgery Charlotte and I went to the Big Chill: my first music festival in three years. It was hard-core. We raged non-stop from Saturday afternoon to Sunday evening. Returning to London on the Monday I was surging with energy, bounding up stairs two at a time, backpacks over both shoulders. I was admitted two days later, expecting to be back at work after a night’s rest. So unrealistic.
It was 8 a.m. The anaesthetist was affable and Serbian. I chatted her up. Then unconsciousness. I awoke rough as a badger’s backside. Complete wipe out. There were three puncture wounds in my stomach where the robots went in, lots of pain and wrongness all over. I drifted in and out of sleep for a few hours. Charlotte arrived, took one look at me and burst into tears. It was a week before I even turned a natural colour.
That evening I was woken up, peppered with fresh bandages and readied to leave. As I sat up blood spurted out of the holes in my belly and splattered across the hospital floor. Cue: goldfish impression. Not nice. Not glamorous.
The nurse cleaned me up then Charlotte half-carried me to the exit and plonked me into a taxi. I winced with every speed bump, then lay in bed, drugged with pain killers being delicate for 11 days. I didn’t waste them …
- Copy-editing is where someone checks a piece of text for clarity, flow, readability, consistency of style and overall structure.
- Proof-reading is where someone goes through a piece of text with a fine-tooth comb and strips out any last mistakes of spelling, punctuation, grammar or formatting.
Arranging for the manuscript to be checked by a professional proof-reader was the final stage in my journey from a series of related assertions regarding the patterns which describe the human world, to a self-contained and watertight literary artefact.
Getting 144,000 words stripped of errors isn’t straightforward. I’m not talking about numpty typos, I’m talking about ensuring the entire thing is consistent with publishing best practise and that it follows a set of logical and self-consistent spelling and grammatical conventions. That requires a professional.
Stephen Brierley is an advanced member of the Society of Editors and Proofreaders. He has a degree in Mathematics and Engineering Science, a masters from the University of Minnesota, a scientific doctorate and he was reassuringly expensive. Examples of things Stephen corrected: Christiaan Huygens has two ‘a’s in his name; Diego Maradona has only one ‘n’ in his; Olivia Newton-John’s surname is hyphenated (how did I miss that one?); Camembert has a capital C; and Atatürk’s name is spelt with an umlaut. He also cleaned up my use of ellipses and speech marks.
Stephen’s scientific training was indispensable. He ensured that I used the correct term for the space-time continuum and (this one was crucial) spotted an assumption about baryonic matter in the bit near the end where I deconstruct the nature of mortality. Phew. Setting out a thesis concerning how human consciousness relates to the fabric of reality is no time to undermine oneself with a schoolboy error regarding the proportion of helium in the observable universe.
It took three full, hard-concentrating days of my ‘hernia holiday’ to mark up Stephen’s changes to the manuscript. There followed an exceedingly technical two-hour chat about syntax and morphology on the Sunday afternoon. By that evening I had something which – having arranged three years of my life around wordsmithing – was enormously gratifying: a manuscript free of technical error.