How to use italics like a pro

Blog, On editing

Command i. It’s so easy to use this keyboard shortcut, especially when you’re working with a text that contains many foreign-language words.  The general rule in publishing is to italicise foreign words in English text, but have you ever considered whether the word you’re setting in italics really needs to be italicised?

Take for example, this piece of text written especially for a Jewish audience before the important holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

So, as the Jewish New Year begins and the sound of the shofar is heard in shuls around the country, I want to wish you a sweet and prosperous year.

The words ‘shul’ and ‘shofar’ come from Hebrew and so it would be tempting to italicise them. BUT.

Here’s what the Chicago Manual of Style says in its foreign words section:

7.52 Roman for familiar words. Foreign words and phrases familiar to most readers and listed in Webster’s should appear in roman (not italics) if used in an English context; they should be spelled as in Webster’s.

Oxford’s recommendation as set out in its Oxford Guide to Style also says to:

“Take into account […] the intended reader’s expectations”.

So given that the words shul and shofar appear in the dictionary and that the Jewish audience reading the text would understand them, there is no reason to italicise them.

Two simple questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is the word in the English dictionary (as suggested by the client’s house style)?
  2. Would the average reader of this text be familiar with this word?

Sweet and simple.

So on that note, Shana Tovah to all my Jewish readers. Wishing you a sweet and prosperous New Year!


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

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Your bookshelf can change the world: here’s how

Blog, On reading

If you’re reading this post, it’s fair to assume that you probably have a bookshelf or two at home, groaning under the weight of books you’ve already read. 

You might also, like me, be an advocate for increasing literacy stats in developing countries like South Africa. Because let’s face it, the more literate we are, the better informed and empowered we are. And that’s good news for everyone.

So how do these two ideas connect, you may ask?

It’s simple. 

Our used books can be shared in order to get more people reading. 

Here’s how …

Years ago, when I lived in London, I picked up a book on a Tube train platform. Inside was a label with a web link and a unique code, as well as a note from the person who left the book there. 

This person was a member of a passionate community of people called BookCrossers. They’re people who love books and reading and are generous and kind-hearted, just like you. 

The idea of BookCrossing is to share your love of reading by leaving your used books in public places so that they can be passed from reader to reader. You simply label your book (using the unique BookCrossing ID, which you generate from the website), leave it in a public place and then follow the book’s adventures online. 

The model is not widely used in South Africa (the most avid BookCrossers currently come from the USA, Germany and the UK), but I’m determined to change that. 

Are you with me? I dare you!

Click here to get started. 


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

 

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If you enjoyed reading this post and are keen to grow the BookCrossing community, please share it with your networks.  I’d also love to hear from you if you’re already using the platform – please leave a comment below. 

 

Here’s a surprising way to get kids reading

Blog, On collaboration, On reading

They say that in order to teach kids to eat well and appreciate all kinds of food, you have to get them involved in the food preparation process.

 

But how do you get kids to love books and storytelling? 

 

 

 

This, yes. 

 

 

 

 

And this.

 

 

 

But how about getting them involved in the story writing and book production process too?

 

This year I facilitated a ‘book sprint’ workshop with the children of Generation Schools Blue Moon, where all year groups from the littlies (3–6 yrs) to the seniors (9–12 yrs) participated in a collaborative story writing and illustration exercise in just one day. 

The result is this 32-page collection of stories, written and illustrated by the children themselves. The finished book was sold to the parents as a school fundraiser and guess what? The kids absolutely loved reading their own stories on its pages. Job well done.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

 

Let’s Connect

If you’re passionate about children’s literacy and you enjoyed reading this post, please share it with your networks.  I’d also love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment below. 

 

Here’s an idea worth spreading

Blog, On reading

Photo by Robyn Budlender on Unsplash

In a country like South Africa, with its laundry list of problems and myriad causes to support, you can either sit on the fence and not do a thing, or you can pick a problem from the list and do just one small thing.

Childhood literacy is my thing. As a writer and editor, I’ve found my happy place volunteering for non-profit organisations that try to make a dent in South Africa’s sorry literacy stats. So last night on my travels across the internet, I was delighted to come across someone else who supports this cause and who is making a difference to South Africa’s reading culture in a completely different way.

Gill Grose is an ex-librarian who now volunteers at an under-resourced primary school in Cape Town. Her story, recorded for TedX Cape Town earlier this year, will hopefully inspire you to do that one small thing too. At the very least, it will make you feel that there is hope for our country and its dire literacy stats. And that, for me, is definitely an idea worth spreading.

Watch Gill’s 10-minute feel-good Tedx talk here.


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

 

Let’s Connect

If you’re passionate about children’s literacy and you enjoyed reading this post, please share it with your networks.  I’d also love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment below. 

I have the answer to SA’s literacy crisis

Blog, On collaboration, On reading

Shared reading with my Book Dash book, The Best Thing Ever. Picture credit: Shine Literacy

The answer to South Africa’s literacy crisis is not a new one, but it’s something we need to be reminded of. It’s about getting children to read for pleasure from an early age and instilling a culture of reading in the home.

The problem

The problem is, that for the majority of South Africans, books are a great luxury, and while literacy and a love of reading are usually passed on from parents, many in South Africa don’t own a single book. Our literacy stats are a sad inditement of this fact  – only 20% of South African children are read to by their parents and by their fourth year of primary school a whopping 78% of children cannot read for meaning.

The solution

The answer is to make books more affordable in order to get more books into the hands of all South African children. It’s something that NGO Book Dash, along with its devoted team of creative volunteers, is working tirelessly to achieve. The Book Dash model cuts the cost of publishing so that books become cheaper and easier to distribute (each Book Dash book costs only R10 to produce) and importantly so that African children can see themselves in stories. The idea is that if books become more accessible, more children will read.

The Best Thing Ever, created at Book Dash on 5 March 2016

So far, I’ve participated in four Book Dash events, a bookmaking sprint that generates around 11 unique print-ready children’s books in just 12 hours. As promised by its model, my books have reached children with limited access to books. To date, 16 572 copies of my most popular title, The Best Thing Everhave been donated over the years and the book is used by Shine Literacy (another organisation working to improve literacy rates) as part of its reading programme in schools. The book has also been translated into five South African languages, 15 foreign languages and is shared widely online because of its Creative Commons licence.

A ‘dash’ with a difference

The team for the 13th Book Dash, 13 April 2019

Mostly, the books created at Book Dash events are aimed at three- to six-year-olds, but that changed at the 13th Dash held on 13 April. Hosted by the Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography the event followed the same winning format as always, but with one big difference – all the books produced were specifically created for babies.

Books for babies

Illustration by Kobie Nieuwoudt from My Special Blankie, created at Book Dash on 13 April 2019

It’s a known fact that reading to babies stimulates cognitive development, improves attachment to caregivers and encourages a love of books and reading further down the line. Which is why this latest Book Dash initiative is a stroke of brilliance.

With the help of the very talented Kobie Niewoudt (illustrator), Claire Shaban (designer) and Claire Shortt (editor), my latest Book Dash book, My Special Blankie, written especially for babies and toddlers, was created at Saturday’s Book Dash. As always it was an inspiring day, made extra special by those good people at Book Dash. I feel privileged and honoured to be part of what I believe is one of the most exciting literacy interventions happening in South Africa at the moment. The book will be available on the Book Dash website in the coming weeks and I’ll be sure to keep you posted on the cute hands and ears it has reached over the next few months. Watch this space.

In the meantime, I encourage you to share or donate a book to a child in South Africa who doesn’t have one. You’ll be amazed at the feel-good factor of this small gesture … and you’ll be helping improve literacy rates around the country.


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

 

Let’s Connect

If you’re passionate about children’s literacy and you enjoyed reading this post, please share it with your networks.  I’d also love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment below. 

Books: the best gift ever

Blog, On reading

Over the past few years, I’ve written three children’s books for Book Dash. All with the aim of putting good quality local books into children’s hands so that every child can own a hundred books by the age of five.

One of these books, The Best Thing Ever, was inspired by my son, who on a country walk in Ireland one year, collected a pocketful of rocks and used them to create a beautiful sculpture.

The story of Muzi, who also goes on a trip away from home and makes something special with the items he collects on the way, has captured the imaginations of young children in South Africa and abroad. It has been translated into 13 different languages and brought joy to kids in countries as far afield as India and Korea. All because the story has been generously gifted to children, either by Book Dash itself, other literacy organisations like Shine and Wordworks or online via the Book Dash app or Storyweaver. The book is completely open source and costs nothing to print, translate or distribute.

Recently I went to the Book Dash offices to stock up on more copies of this title and got more than I bargained for. I received a pile of letters and drawings from children who have received this book for free. What struck me was the children’s absolute appreciation for the gift of a book. Some of these kids had never owned a book before.

In a country like South Africa with such dire literacy stats, the Book Dash model is a necessary intervention.

So if you’re at a loss for what to get your loved one for Christmas, consider a donation to this wonderful organisation on their behalf. It will bring the gift of storybooks to little people who can’t afford to buy them and that, in my opinion, is the best thing ever!

Read The Best Thing Ever for free here.


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

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If you liked this post and you’re passionate about publishing, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss the industry.

Scrabble has me stumped with this new word

Blog, On language

Sheeple people. It’s a word. At least US dictionary company Merriam-Webster says so. Don’t believe me? Check it out:

 

sheeple

(plural noun)

shee·ple | \ ˈshē-pəl  \

informal

sheeple: people who are docile, compliant, or easily influenced : people likened to sheep

 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary is the official dictionary for (US) Scrabble and just yesterday they released their latest US Scrabble dictionary. The new dictionary includes 300 new words, including ‘sheeple’ and wait for it… ‘twerk’.

Merriam-Webster’s first US Scrabble dictionary was published in 1976; before that, the rules allowed any dictionary to be used in the game.

But purists, don’t fret – these changes do not (yet) apply to the UK game. Collins’ Official Scrabble Words is currently being updated in time for release next year.


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

Let’s Connect

If you liked this post and you’re passionate about publishing, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss the industry.

Quick tip: How to use full stops with brackets

Blog, On punctuation

In an earlier post, I explained the rules for using full stops in abbreviations.

But when it comes to the rules of full stops, a really tricky one is where to place them when using parentheses (or brackets). Or let me rephrase that – it’s really tricky if you don’t know the rule. It’s easy when you know how. 

Put the full stop OUTSIDE the brackets when the words in brackets are part of a sentence.

Example: Brown the meat all over (roughly three minutes).

 

Put the full stop INSIDE the brackets when the sentence in brackets is complete.

Example: Brown the meat all over. (This should take roughly three minutes.)

Now you know. Easy, right?


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

Let’s Connect

If you liked this post and you’re passionate about publishing, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss the industry.

Arundhati Roy: hottest ticket in town

Blog, On reading

 

As I write this, I’m still smugly high-fiving myself for pouncing on an invitation I saw a few weeks back to attend an intimate evening with acclaimed Indian author Arundhati Roy (in conversation with Rebecca Davis, Haji Mohamed Dawjee and Kim Windvogel). Facebook is certainly good for some things.

When I arrived at the new lecture theatre at UCT last night I could sense the excitement of the audience. I even heard mutterings of equal smugness that these people had nabbed themselves tickets (free, nogal) to the hottest event on this year’s literary calendar.  

When Roy herself entered the theatre, the audience erupted into rapt applause; she hadn’t yet opened her mouth. And when she did,  we hung on her every word. It was like sitting at the feet of a guru – she commanded that much admiration and respect.

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy’s debut novel came out in 1997. If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favour and get a copy. It’s a rich and poetic story set in 1960s Kerala about two small children and a shocking event which reveals the complicated and hypocritical actions of the adults in their world.  It’s the only book I’ve reread three times – it’s beautiful. It also paints a very unflattering and vivid picture of the political and caste system in India, an act for which she has often appeared in court – for “corrupting public morality”. “For further ‘corrupting public morality’”, Roy jokes.  The novel won her a Booker Prize.

Roy’s visit to South Africa is to promote her second foray into fiction: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, which I devoured with equal fervour. Her writing is sublime.

“How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.”

The story is an epic journey from the streets of  Old Delhi to its present-day metropolis, to the Valley of Kashmir and the forests of Central India. It is a tapestry of a diverse country played out by characters including a Muslim hijra, an upper-caste Hindu, an officer in the intelligence bureau, a Sikh, a Christian – almost everyone is represented.

“People—communities, castes, races and even countries—carry their tragic histories and their misfortunes around like trophies, or like stock, to be bought and sold on the open market.”

The treat of the night for me was hearing Roy read her own words. If her writing is like poetry, her reading was like music. And in a flash, it was over and throngs of people gathered at the signing table for another piece of this awe-inspiring woman.


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

Let’s Connect

If you liked this post and you’re passionate about publishing, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss the industry.

The full stop rules. Period.

Blog, On punctuation

Aah, the full stop – that simple punctuation mark used in just about every piece of text you read. Its main function, as you well know, is to mark the end of a sentence that isn’t a question or an exclamation. Like this:

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

Yet this humble punctuation mark can do so much more. It can be used for dramatic effect in informal writing.  Like this:

Worst. Day. Ever.

Or even before the @ sign in your tweets to make sure that everyone sees your mention. Like this: 

.@realDonaldTrump SMH

But seriously, in the English language, the full stop has its own set of rules and sometimes it’s just as important that you don’t use it.

For example, did you know that in British English, abbreviations like Dr and Mrs shouldn’t take a full stop? The rule is that if the abbreviation uses the first and last consonants of a word, no full stop is necessary.

So…

Rd (road)

St (saint)

Mr

And if an abbreviation consists of the first letters of each word, we use the first letter of each word without full stops.

So…

UK

USA

DJ

TV

But for abbreviations which consist of the first letter or first few letters of the word, we do use a full stop.

Prof.

p. (page)  

Likewise, abbreviations from another language take the full stop:

R.S.V.P (Répondez s’il vous plaît)

etc. (etcetera)

e.g. (exempli gratia)

i.e. (id est) 

There are those who say that the full stop is dying, that using a full stop, especially in text messaging is a sign of insincerity. I’m not so sure about that. I still use them. To me, it’s proper English; I’m an editor after all. Yes, yes, I know all about the evolution of language. I know that language is forever changing and perhaps one day there will be no punctuation at all. For now though, the full stop still has a place in my book.

Long live the full stop!

If you’re interested in the rules of punctuation, have a look at this post, in which I share everything I know about using the full stop in parentheses (or brackets).


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance non-fiction editor

I help non-fiction publishers deliver award-winning content. I am an internationally qualified non-fiction editor with 11 years’ publishing experience, specialising in education, lifestyle and literacy.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

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If you liked this post and you’re passionate about publishing, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss the industry.