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A guest blog on copyediting

In 2018, I copyedited Martin Edwards' latest novel, Gallows Court, for Head of Zeus. It's a high-octane thriller set in the chilly London winter of 1930. I met Martin in person at a Society of Authors event alongside the Harrogate Crime Festival last month, and he invited me to write a guest blog for his site. Here I talk about some of the things I've stickled over and the nits I've picked during my time editing crime fiction.

Martin Edwards is the chair of the Crime Writers' Association and the president of the Detection Club, so it was no surprise that my main challenge with Gallows Court was finding something to correct!

When Head of Zeus asked me to copy-edit Martin Edwards’ Gallows Court, I jumped at the chance. It’s an enticing mystery set in 1930 London and I felt transported into the fog and freeze of that dark winter and the intricate and compelling murder plot that plays out there. But at the same time, I suspected that it would be a challenge – to find something to correct.

Copyediting is a fine-tooth, stickling business, a different mental process from the creative splurge of drafting fresh fiction. Even writers who can edit will struggle to inhabit both headspaces on the same project. As an author myself, I think of myself as an author’s editor, sensitive to retaining the writer’s voice, wisdom and intentions. I like to treat my clients’ manuscripts with the respectful care and attention I hope will be given to my own work.

Even when copy is very clean, each book throws up its own themes: in one job I’ll find myself revisiting everything I knew about the use of the appositive compound modifier; in another, pondering the semantic philosophy behind serial commas. I’ve written marginal opinion pieces about the spelling of whisky, the naturalisation of corporate neologisms, the most efficient rendering of non-standard gangster slang, and the language-rotting tendency to forget plurals when on safari. I’ve contributed to house style guides on italicisation of non-English terms and consulted manufacturers’ guides on the correct typography of HK VP9s, RAP-401s and GTIs – then broken those rules when the author has a consistent, deliberate case.

Still, when it came to Gallows Court, I knew I’d struggle. Martin is such a vastly experienced novelist and, as suspected, the plot was seamlessly rendered and the research meticulous. I get a hit of nerdish serotonin when I’m editing a historical novel and catch an anachronism before it gets to print, but Gallows Court only offered me only one, very marginal, case. In the end all I could offer Martin was some nitpicking on honorific capitalisation and hyphenated compounds. I’m glad he didn’t find it unbearably irritating and still invited me to write this post.


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