It was a glaring and potentially libellous error. If a journalism student of mine had made a blooper like this, I’d have failed them, pointing out the likelihood of a court sending their editor to jail. If a creative writing student had made it, I’d at least have downgraded them for failing to proof-read their work. Trouble was, this time it was me that let the error go through and there it was, for all to see, in my first ever e-published novel.
Oh, the shame. To compound my utter mortification, proof-reading is something in which I take a particular pride. It’s one of my ‘strengths’. “Born to sub” is an insult that journalists throw at those with a tendency to pedantry, and it’s one I’ve shrugged off many a time. Attention to detail is good thing and no, it does not hamper your creativity. I am always banging on about it to my students. (E.g.: “You are not ‘bored of’ this lecture on grammar and punctuation, you are ‘bored with’ it”). How many times have I written on an assignment that it needed better proof-reading? I hate to think.
One of my other strengths? Knowledge of the law, of course. I got a Distinction in my Law exams at journalism college and I’ve retained a healthy interest in it ever since. Several years reporting the courts for local newspapers also kept me alert to the dangers of libelling someone, sometimes unintentionally. I know the traps and I know the defences. So when a reader pointed out that there was an incidence of a stray real name in my new novel, I almost handed myself over to the police out of sheer embarrassment.
Yes. This prize proof-reader and savage wielder of the red pen put a real name into a novel where a fictional one belonged. Quite what was in my head when that happened, I’ll never be able to explain. But countless proof-reads, revisions and edits by myself and my partner, over the space of many weeks, failed to pick it up. I realise here that I may be playing into the hands of the e-publishing nay-sayers, who expect anything not professionally edited to be riddled with gaffes. But I’ve seen typos and other such silly mistakes in traditionally published works too – in fact, in my local reading group, we’ve commented on the prevalence of errors in printed material these days and wondered whether it was a symptom of cost-cutting in the editing departments of publishing houses. The fact is, sometimes idiotic mistakes slip past even a trained eye. But that’s not to excuse myself, you understand.
I’m grateful for several things. Firstly, the kind reader who spotted the inconsistency was a friend rather than a libel lawyer, who would have scented blood and lots of money. Secondly, this kind reader e-mailed me straight away, adding that she “hoped I didn’t mind [her] pointing it out.” Mind? I should be paying her a very large fee. Thirdly, I’m glad I put that blurb at the beginning which says that all the characters are fictional and any resemblance to persons alive or dead is purely coincidental, as that will go some way towards mitigation (won’t it, Your Honour)?
I’m very grateful for the speed with which I was able to take down the offending document from Amazon Kindle and replace it with the corrected version. And finally, I’m glad I know so much about defending a libel case. Because if any of the original versions fall into the wrong hands, I can at least say that I took all reasonable and timely measures to correct the bungle. And that may reduce my prison sentence.
So, let this be a terrible lesson to all creatives out there. As tiresome as proof-reading is, do it properly or it can land you in all sorts of potential trouble. Will I now be gentler on those students of mine who fail to spot their mistakes and typos? Not likely.
The (legal) version of Kill and Tell is available from Amazon Kindle, here.