Thursday, 30 July 2009

Birth In Suburbia

Drawing on her 18 years of midwifery experience, Falaki manages to craft a moving novel about three pregnant women, their relationships with each other, their friends and family, and their unborn children.

Birth in Suburbia is filled with information about pregnancy and labour, but the story drives the novel so well that it never feels like a data-laden textbook on pregnancy. Each pregnancy and labour is very different and well-described: a caesarean section, a natural home birth, and an uncomplicated hospital delivery in an alternative position.

Under Falaki’s careful pen, Birth in Suburbia plays out like a quick-witted, more mature episode of Sex and the City, except in this episode the characters are British ... and pregnant. With witty banter and emotional relationships, readers will find themselves quickly drawn into the story.

Expectant mothers may well find plenty of information on what to expect by reading this entertaining novel.

Birth in Suburbia is very close to good, but the huge number of careless errors it contains do not work in its favour.

Some paragraphs are indented while others are not; punctuation marks are often omitted; words are wrapped in quotation-marks for no apparent reason; and random capitalisations pepper the clumsy, cliché-ridden text.

It's a shame, as despite all the errors this book has real potential to engage. I have dipped into the text in several different places now and think it shows great promise: but because it needs such a thorough revision and a proper edit, I read just four pages before finding my fifteen problems. I wish I could have read further for this review.


The Deepening said...

You strike at something here without actually saying it. Why oh why don't authors who self-publish pay the money to have a qualified editor go through their manuscript? It makes absolutely no sense to me. At least they could put it into a stiff, professional critique minimum. It boggles my mind to waste all that time, effort, money, ink and trees only to produce an embarrassment.

Jane Smith said...

Deep, you're reading more into my words than I intended.

I'm not convinced that writers should pay to have their work edited. If they choose to that's up to them, but I don't often recommend it: there are all sorts of people out there who claim to be editors, who do little more than copyedit or run the text through a spell-check--which just isn't enough. It's a classic way for novice writers to get ripped off, and I always advise people to be very wary of such services.

In addition, if a writer isn't skilled enough to edit their work to submission-ready standard(and here I'm not talking about editing it as a competent professional editor would; I mean getting their manuscript clean and relatively error-free) then it's likely that they're not yet good enough at writing to submit or self-publish. If they can't see the errors in their work then they are almost certainly going to have an over-inflated sense of its worth: which isn't good.

Mostly, though, I believe that writers should edit their own work as far as they possibly can: it's an essential part of writing, and cannot be avoided.

The Deepening said...

Agree, however, I find very few self-published novels where there aren't 32 grammatical errors (and I don't mean minor ones or style differences) in the first five pages -- using 'that' or 'which' for 'who' or 'whom', run-on sentences, subject-verb agreement, homonym problems.... And there are good professional editing services available even in one's local community. I'm tired of picking up books, especially the self-published ones, and, gee, the book is way below par.

I know authors who can and do edit their own manuscripts successfully, and literary agents acknowledge the cleanliness of their manuscripts. However, when a book has already gone to print, and is filled with errors, then it's too obvious that there is reason for the denigration of self-published books.

A group of which I am a member received a challenge concerning a historical novel. The author defied us to find five errors in three pages. I found more than seventeen in the first three, and thirty-two in the first five. He admitted that my catches were valid, asked me to edit the entire (no), then informed me that he used three different software programs to grammar and punctuation check. Excuse me? Software? His answer to re-editing the manuscript and republishing a second edition? Buy more editing software -- two more different products...for more than it would cost to hire a professional editor. This is a problem, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I think you make some interesting points, Jane. Many of the errors you pick up seem to stem from sheer carelessness rather than lack of skill. As The Deepening says, what a shame to put so much effort into making a book, then 'spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar'. Writing a novel is both art and craft, I think - formulating ideas then assembling them - and neither is any use without the other. When a craftsman makes a beautiful piece of furniture he creates the shape, then he constructs it, then he polishes it to perfection. A writer needs to do the same.

Interestingly, a journalist friend once told me that the best way to proof-read for typos was to read the work backwards. I never could discipline myself to do this, but his reasoning was that you were then not distracted by the story. And I suspect this distraction makes a significant contribution to the errors you constantly encounter. Mind you, reading backwards through a 2000 word article is probably a bit easier than doing so with a 90,000 word novel.

There is unquestionably a heavy onus on the self-publisher, with no hard-nosed editor intercepting the manuscript before it gets to the printer, but that is the price you pay for independence. I have to say, in the defence of those who don't get it right, that I have heard some real horror stories about shambolic manuscripts dumped on long-suffering editors by commercially successful authors.

The Deepening said...

Well said, SleepyJohn. Excellent points.

Jane Smith said...

It seems to me that lots of the writers whose books I review here just don't understand what editing is for, or the subtleties of punctuation. They seem to have little or no feel for language; and they don't seem to have read much, either.

I applaud their determination and tenacity: they must have plenty of both to finish their books; but I just wish they'd worked harder at learning how to write before they decided to self-publish. It does them no favours to have their books out in public.

(I have to point out that Birth In Suburbia is one of the better books I've reviewed here, and really doesn't deserve to have attracted our conversation or our criticisms: I hope that if the author is reading this then she'll forgive us for veering somewhat off-topic on her patch of this blog.)