Elusive Beasts

I was on the track down of an elusive and prolific beast -- one that's common but camouflages itself so well that you can be staring right at it and not see it.

I knew that no matter how dedicatedly I hunted it, no matter how many hours or days I spent on the trail, I would miss many of the pestiferous things.

     So I asked my friend, Karen Bush,  an ex of the Authors Electric blog, to help and she bagged quite a few of the critters, having an expert eye for them.

     Using Karen's spotter notes, I culled all she discovered but in the process found a whole lot more of the pests. They breed, I think, as soon as you turn a page.

Because I'm talking about typos, of course. I've been proof-reading my latest self-published book, Telling Tales.

     There are several breeds of typo. They can be mistaken spellings. I know to be wary of any word containing 'ie' or, indeed, 'ei' because I seem incapable of learning which way round they go in any given word containing them. (I long ago learned that the mantra, ''i' before 'e' except after 'c'" doesn't always work.) If I spell 'field' or 'chief' or my friend's name correctly, it's by accident, since I'm going to get it right 50% of the time. (My friend long ago got used to greeting cards addressed to Shiela -- and I just had to check the misspelling of that.)

     I mastered many of the fiendish spellings in English as a child -- brought, would, mention, plumptious...

I can even spell 'necessary.' (In one Terry Pratchett book a dwarf king, while writing a letter, has to send messengers to the nearest town to 'find out how to stop spelling 'necessary.'' I love Pratchett.)

I was taught to 'Write out different spellings of the words on scrap paper and look at them and then you'll spot which is the correct one.' That works in almost every case. But not with the dreaded 'ie/ei.' I can write out 'field' and 'feild' a hundred times and still, sorry, I can't be sure which is the correct spelling. I have tried but my brain seems incapable of retaining this information. Or maybe it just wilfully refuses.


Thankfully, these days spell-check takes care of most spelling typos. Spell check doesn't cope so well with the homophones that English abounds in:

To  too  two

 hair hare

 pair pear

 peer pier (and there's another of those horrible 'ie' words.)

 Probably AI programmes will soon be able to cope with this but, until then, to spot these, you need an alert, awake reader who can grasp the context of the whole sentence and appreciate that piering at an object won't help you see it any better and that nothing hairs off into the distance. A reader like Karen.


 Then there are the the mistakes produced by editing, or cutting lines to fit the space on a page -- who didn't spot the double 'the' earlier in this sentence? Karen saved me from several of them.

Finger-fumbling too. I've published several books that feature wolves and you'd think I would have mastered the typing of 'wolf.'

No. I can guarantee that the word -- especially if taken at speed -- will come out as 'wlfo' or 'wofl.' I've learned to expect this and usually manage to correct them before it gets to proof-reading. But not always. And I just typed 'mange' instead of 'manage' which, as I was writing about wolves, I thought was funny. Slightly.


There's the typo of missing spaces and places where an unwanted space has crept in , such as spaces left after a comma. I made Telling Tales a playground for this species of typo by having the stories set within a frame.

So there's the narration-frame, setting the scene of the story-telling gathering: women sitting at a fireside to stitch clothing for a new bride; gathering to see off a young girl who's leaving home to take up her first job; women making a funeral tea for the mourners and women telling stories at the bedside of a new mother. These narrative sections don't have any quote marks.

At each gathering the same three women appear: Clo, Letty and Granny Shearing. When they speak, their speech has double quote-marks. They tell three stories each, in each section and these stories are enclosed in double quote-marks, because these are words they are speaking.

But when a character within the story speaks, such as the King-of-Cats, their words are enclosed within single quote marks.

When the speech of a character within a story starts a paragraph, there must be three quote marks, to indicate that this story is still being told by Clo, Letty or Granny. But the end of the character's speech must be closed with a single quote mark... Trying to explain this is doing me 'ed in all over again. I mean, like this: 


"'The King of this country,' says the King of Cats, 'I mean, the King of Men in this country, has a sick daughter. He's offering to give half his kingdom to whoever can cure her.'

Since the story-tellers are often interrupted by their listeners, and the characters within the stories are quite chatty, the quote-marks in this book really needed their own dedicated editor.

 A further complication was that Word seemed to change 'straight' quote-marks and 'curly' quote-marks at random and sometimes made the curly ones back-to-front. Karen's help was invaluable in spotting all of these.


All, in all, it's been exhausting. And then I had to design the cover, showing the spindle for Clo, the measuring tape for Letty and the big pair of shears for Granny.

And write the blurb.

Remind me again why I ever thought this self-publishing lark was a good idea?

 But Telling Tales is -- at last! -- finished and on sale. Without Karen's help and encouragement, I might have given up.

So instead of ending with another plug for Telling Tales, I'm going to plug Karen's books instead.

Thank you, mate.


What Karen doesn't know about training dogs and teaching riding isn't worth knowing -- and as she was once a horse-crazy kid whose family couldn't afford a horse, she has a wonderful knack of communicating that yearning for a horse. There must be hundreds of horse-crazy kids who would love her collection, The Five Pound Pony and Other Stories.

It's not just me -- she's gathered an enviable collection of reviews on Amazon.

 Everything Dogs Expect you to Know


   It's true that dogs are humankind's best friend. For millennia they've remained our steadfast and uncomplaining companions through thick and thin. But have you ever wondered why dogs are so accident-prone? Or what causes that distinctive doggy odor? And whether it is, in fact, possible to teach an old dog new tricks? This book is packed with facts, stories, and trivia, as well as answers to the questions that every dog owner ponders.    

From the essential to the amusing, you'll learn:

 Signs of dehydration 

10 ways to keep your dog slim  

How to give artificial respiration to your dog,

 what percentage of owners sign their pets' names on greeting cards,

stories of canine heroics,

 a profile of presidential pooches...

Lightly sprinkled with canine humor and quotations, this wide-ranging and easy-to-read manual is essential reading for dog owners and lovers everywhere. Quite simply, this is the book your dog wants you to read.

And, again, some excellent reviews.

 Dog-friendly Gardening: Creating a safe haven for you and your dog


Does your garden look more like a prison exercise yard than somewhere to relax? Or does it look beautiful, and you'd like to know how to keep it that way when your new dog arrives? From dealing with the practicalities of escape-proof fencing, to discouraging unwanted toilet activities in the rockery, this book will help you solve the problems that other gardening and dog-care books don't touch on. Green fingers are an asset, but not essential these tips are useful for everyone. Whatever your budget or plot size, with a little effort and imagination you can create a place that you and your pet can both enjoy, together.