Monday, April 24, 2017

More Research? Yes, Please.

Recently I was asked to do something I have never done before - beta-reading someone's newest Holmes novel. Now, beta-reading is kind of a low end form of proofreading or editing, but isn't exactly the same thing. (I won't attempt to explain the differences, so you'll have to look them up for yourself.) My "job" was to go through the manuscript and look for spelling errors, or anachronisms, or double-spaces...things like that. So, I did.

I sat down with a printed copy and went through it line by line. I did this five times. I found that it was easier than I thought to not get too involved with the story since I was looking for minor problems. (I did actually read it, but not until after I was done.) I also found that I really enjoyed the process. Each time I went through I found something else. Luckily, there were a few others who were doing the same, so I felt some comfort that if I missed something, they likely saw it. I should mention that I didn't worry about the chronology of the story because I was the consultant for it. Thus, I knew the dating was just fine.

I caught the usual things: misspellings, doubled words, missing sets of quotation marks, double-spacing between words, etc. There were commas out of place, an exclamation point where there was supposed to be a question mark, and other common little things that happen during writing. But, I saw some things that I circled in red, then drew an arrow going to the edge of the page and wrote the word CHECK! Probably about thirty or so. Each one was an opportunity to do research into the usage, history, and/or spelling of a particular term or phrase. The kind of stuff I do when dating a Holmes story. The kind of research I just love.

Examples include ferreted out, in-law (as a stand-alone term), nightgown, snob, stirring up a hornet's nest, medico, wallah, too hot to hold, and shocked to the core. Most of them checked out for the time period, some were a little doubtful, some were very doubtful, and a couple were just wrong. There are plenty of websites available for etymological research, but I have always found it best to go right to source material - newspapers, books, magazines of the time. Journals, letters, and diaries are also goldmines for word and phrase usage, and my first stop (for years) has been Google Books.

I also got to check out the date of manufacture for a certain type of motor-car (as they were called at the time of this particular story), the braking system of said motor-car, typewriters, and whether or not a newspaper was in print. I got to look into street names for a major metropolitan city. There was also a plant mentioned that was known by two different names at the time, and I had to research if both were common usage or not. And I was able to show the author a map that helped solve a small possible problem.

Now, looking into seemingly misplaced-in-time items is something I really enjoy doing. Loyal readers will recall that I did so back in March of 2016 for the term "tennis shoes" which appears in The Canon in 'The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton' (CHAS). That time I was able to track down enough info about a term to make a blog post about it. However, there are still a few that elude me. One occurs at the beginning of A Study in Scarlet (STUD) while Holmes and Watson are at Number 3, Lauriston Gardens that I have only found one other example of anywhere. And another almost entirely elusive one is in 'The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez' (GOLD) on Professor Coram's desk. But, there's one in 'The Adventure of the Resident Patient' (RESI) that I have never found another mention of in any place I have ever looked. It is my white whale, and I shall not stop seeking it until we meet.

Well, as always, thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts (if you have any), and I'll see you on Facebook or right back here next month. Until then I remain truly appreciative of your time. Thank you.