Poisoned Island … Antidote to boredom

The Poisoned Island

by Lloyd Shepherd

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Poisoned Island - Lloyd Shepher

A mysterious island in the Pacific, its inhabitants fighting for survival amidst the arrival of European travellers; the emerging wonders of the gardens at Kew; the ship Solander back from a mission; a Magistrate and his constable … oh, and a few gruesome deaths to add to the fun. All linked within a story that will want you to read through the night.

The Poisoned Island is the second offering from Lloyd Shepherd which allows us back into the world of Magistrate Harriott and his faithful constable Horton. His first book, The English Monster, was so good that to be honest I wondered just how this follow-up would cope. That all too difficult second novel can make you or break you. And luckily I think this may just be the former.

To start off with, and I’m going to be fickle here, the cover is fabulous. I know, you can’t judge a book and all that, but I love the way that the cover, like its predecessor, incorporates a map of the area of London involved in the story. We are to be taken back to 1812, and by seeing the streets open up before you, you can almost step into the picture and be taken down into the narrative. It may be irrational, but to me a book has to be attractive to the eye as well as the mind. Or perhaps that’s just the historian in me.

I won’t go into detail about the story… that would be silly, but I have to say that I love the old Magistrate and his side-kick. It’s like Morse and Lewis have been transported back to Regency London, but that’s just a comparison, these are characters that stand up in their own right, they are men you want to read more of, and I truly hope that I do get to follow them along on more of their adventures. And Horton’s wife should have her own side-kick status, there is definitely more to her than meets the eye.

Custom Office London Dock.jpg
The front of the Custom Office, London Dock, designed by Daniel Asher Alexander and in use 1811-43.

Unlike some authors who seem to have either carried out a cursory wiki-trawl of their chosen era, or worst, done no research at all, Shepherd has obviously immersed himself in the Regency period. He knows his era without shouting about it, and has researched well. While you are not being preached at, you know that he knows what he is writing about. If this were a film there would be no wrist-watches on view during the tavern scene.

What isn’t immediately obvious, and what had me fascinated with his last novel, is that the people and places are real. While the story is fictitious, the characters existed. And I’m sure at least one of them would have been tickled pink by his new adventures.

So, as a review what can I say about The Poisoned Island? I won’t tell you the story, but would urge you to read it for yourself. Lloyd Shepherd is a wordsmith who knows when to draw the reader in; he paints the scene beautifully and allows the characters to speak to you. And when the story is ended, go and learn more about his characters…to get you ready for book three.

William Parry's painting Sir Joseph Banks with...
William Parry’s painting Sir Joseph Banks with Omai and Dr. Daniel Solander, circa 1775-76 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, pop along to you local bookshop, or retailer of choice and bag yourself a copy of this excellent book. I cant wait to see what Harriott and Horton get up to next!

So, how come I see errors by editors and proofreaders?

Typo3Ok, so we all know that you go to an editor to work magic with your words, tighten you tables and add pzazz to your paragraphs. But you pop along to a blog, twitter or another piece of writing …and what’s that? A typo!

Yup. It’s there, shouting at you. “HellooooOOoooo! Got this one wrong didn’t you?” Cue flashing neon lights and dancing girls skipping across the screen.

Well, it’s not surprising really, after all we are only human.

Only Human

When you hire an editor, or a proofreader, we spend our time lovingly wandering through your copy. Armed with lovely coloured pens and a pencil or two, or sitting in front of the screen (probably still clutching the coloured pen as a comfort blanket), we switch on our “editing brain” and the magic happens. Words are evaluated, sentences tweaked, typos blitzed…piece by piece the copy starts to sparkle.

Until of course we come to our own writing. We try to avoid errors, but like every good editor knows, writers need editors…and once we cross the line, the writer part of the brain takes over. It’s a well known fact that the longer you work on a piece of your own writing, the closer you get to it, the less you see. You become used to the words on the page, you gloss over the odd error and the brain sees what it wants to see. Eventually, you will have re-read the piece so often that you miss the, sometimes glaring, errors. Heck, we’ve all seen those sentences doing the rounds on Twitter and Facebook –  misplaced strings of words saying something along the lines of “if you can read all this jumbled up nonsense you are either hyper-intelligent or a superhero”.

It’s probably a little known fact (the non-scientific fact acquired by talking to people) that writing can bring editors out in cold sweats at times. You prepare a little article, read it…read it again…then re-read it. There’s a typo in there, there’s bound to be. In our profession we know that the spell checker doesn’t pick everything up, (and we know that it’s our reputation on the line)…so we read it again. It’s fine, we’re fine…we will not show ourselves up. Then BINGO! as soon as you thrust your writing out into the world there is it, quietly winking at you from the page or the screen.

old typewriter

So, next time you read something written by an editor, or a proofreader, and there’s an error, or a typo or a mis-aligned paragraph…smile your secret smile, lean back in your chair and heave a sigh of relief…yes…editors and proofreaders are human too!

*disclaimer* There’s bound to be a typo in here…there is just BOUND to be!

So why do businesses need an editor anyway?

Why?

Editors don’t just work on books and magazines…oh no…anything that can be read needs an editor or a proofreader. Yes, even businesses benefit from that extra set of eyes. Your business publications, website, business flyers and advertising materials attract people to you and your services. Don’t you want to make the best impression possible?

I know it can all be very mysterious…and yes, there are different types of editor, but basically we read through your stuff to make sure it looks and reads right.

An editor, amongst other things, ensures that:

  • BookYour publications are set out the way you want them – keeping things consistent and in the style that you like, one that will speak to your audience in the language of your company. Yes, I can be very chatty and informal, and that’s the way I like it…but if you’re a lawyer or a plumber you will want a different voice.
  • Your information is correct and consistent – for example, you don’t want to have one piece of contact information on one page of your brochure, then a completely different one on another page. Or, heaven forbid, forget to actually put contact details on your publications!
  • Your material reads well and says what you want it to say. Not everyone is a Word Wizard after all.

          and…

  • Your publications aren’t littered with embarrassing typos.

Whoops!

Ooooh yes, typos. We’ve all seen them, those cringingly bad typos that don’t just involve misplaced apostrophes, but are enough to make you suck the air through your teeth and grimace (just me then?).  The recent one I saw on Twitter, for example, springs to mind…Tesco offering money off deserts – don’t think even with money off I could afford more land at the moment.

If you type in “advertising typos” on Google (or your favourite generic search engine), you’ll find enough websites to keep you happy for hours…unless of course one of your business’s typos appears there! Can you imagine? How embarrassing! Yes, I know the old adage there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but …yes…there is.

For a bit of light relief (I know…the thought of your business and typos can bring you out in a cold sweat) here are a few instances of bad typos courtesy of the Guardian.

Mind you, it’s great publicity for the author of the new book…now why didn’t I think of that? Well done Mr Moir!

ScreamBut it’s not all huge, scream at you from the page, typos that get you going viral on Facebook, or appearing in a book on typos, that can cause grief…there are the little ones that can still cost you to put right. A spell checker won’t pick up those words that are actually words, but shouldn’t be there in your copy. Your “Fact Checker” can become a “Fat Checker” and slide past without being noticed, but an editor or proofreader will spot it.  And you Public services can become…well… let’s leave that one right there.

Street names are a good example of something that is all too easily messed up…there are quite a few instances I’ve noticed locally where the name “Princes St” is spelt “Princess St” and not just on printed leaflets…but on those adverts that rotate on the TV in the Post Office. A typo showing up every five minutes for all to see. Yes, the business will still get custom, and locals know there is no Princess St, but not everyone is local and …well…it’s just embarrassing isn’t it?

While writing up this piece I came across a good blog by the Grammar Girl on funny typos…well worth a visit for a giggle.

Lorem IpsumFinally…an editor can make sure that you don’t leave in dummy text….yes, it can happen. You pop in a little Lorem Ipsum… you know that dummy text that’s used to help designers with their page layout… and you forget to take it out. You’d be surprised how often it’s left in documents and websites. I’ve seen a few examples, although of course now you’re going to toddle off to Google and see what images are on there. Here’s my favourite.

So…

Why do businesses need editors? Simply to make you the best you can be…and save you a red face or an expensive return trip to the printers. It’s like health insurance for your words.