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Spirit Houses: Can I has correct grammar?

June 5, 2013

So, here’s the plan, guys – in the lead-up to my new novel Spirit Houses coming out, I’m going to keep you updated about the finishing touches. OK?

Currently, I’m editing. Oh, the never-ending editing! It’s already been past four people and had numerous sweeps, but it was all onscreen and now I’m sitting here with a proof copy of the book with about sixty little marker tabs sticking out the top where I’ve made final amendments. It is shocking how many things I’ve picked up on to change that I just didn’t notice onscreen. Granted, it’s not grammatical errors or big stuff, mainly finicky formatting tweaks and the odd repetition. I can’t stress enough though – if you are publishing a book, read it through in print, all in one go. The repetition bits I’m certain I’ve missed before because I’ve only ever read the thing in chunks, never in one straight-through go like an actual reader would read it.

Anyway, here’s my chance to bang on about grammar and spelling, it being relevant and all. Hold onto your hats!

Last year, as part of the Chester Literature Festival, I was lucky enough to hear David Crystal speak on the development of English spelling. During this fascinating talk he gave a brief overview of how English language spelling developed and continues to develop from phonetic spelling, to a standardised language that borrows much (including idiosyncrasies such as the ‘h’ in ‘ghost’) from other languages, and is now potentially becoming more phonetic once again.

A lot of the audience questioning focused upon ‘correct language’ and how terrible it is that today’s youth use so much slang and abbreviated spelling. David Crystal handled these questions brilliantly and I have to agree with the general gist of his answers – no, it’s not terrible. Language evolves and that’s one of the most fascinating things about English as a language.

I do want, however, to elaborate upon that.

I’m all for new words being introduced into English. I’m all for the gradual evolution of meaning in existing words. If we didn’t have that, then the language would stagnate. Spoken language is different to written language, and a personal email is different to a job application and so on. I abbreviate like crazy in text messages – it uses fewer characters on my archaic, pay-as-you-go phone and so it’s cheaper! But that’s where I do draw the line a bit (I also start sentences with ‘but’, by the way).

It’s one thing to allow language to evolve and to spell creatively in personal correspondence, but I do think that standards need to be kept as well. It’s the same as e-readers and self publishing, in my opinion – these new innovations are brilliant, but they shouldn’t be at the expense of traditional methods.

There ~is~ a time and place for correct grammar. I’m starting to notice increasingly, and with increased frustration, that standards in professional publishing are dropping. Whilst self publishing still has that attached (unfortunately sometimes deserved) stigma of poor quality and sloppy editing, it’s looking to me to be the new way to go, because at least then you only have yourself to blame if your work is sub-par. When we produced Re-Vamp we edited it a lot. I mean, four separate people went through every story several times to make sure it was formatted and correct. I know that there’re still a few minor mistakes in the text, but that’s only to be expected of any work (I’m currently reading a Roald Dahl collection and even that’s got the odd missing full stop and so on). But I’ve also recently read a professionally published book that I counted no less than 326 errors in, and when something is being marketed as a professional piece of writing, it should not be mixing up ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ and letting in the kind of errors that show it’s not even been proof-read, never mind copy-edited. Frankly, it makes me afraid to let anyone handle my work apart from me.

You can probably tell that this is rather a pet peeve of mine. Just this morning on the way to work I passed our local shop which is proudly displaying a home-made sign in the window that reads SPECIAL’S. Whilst I’m not quite brave enough to go in there and kindly point out their mistake to them (because I’m fully aware that it would just make me look like a pedantic smart-arse) I wish I ~was~ brave enough. Because that shop is right opposite a high school, and really, what hope do kids have of learning correct spelling and grammar when they’re constantly bombarded with errors like that?

So I guess what I’m saying is, I embrace text speak and regional slang and changing meanings, but if you’re going to publish a book – please, please make sure you proof read it, keep your formatting at least consistent and spell and punctuate your slang properly.

Even if editing and re-editing is boring (oh boy, is it ever boring) it’ll be worth it in the end when you have a flawless end result.

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