I started chatting to the editor of textualities.net in Main Point Books on one of my rare sorties into Edinburgh… or perhaps that should be one of my rare opportunities for escape from my own secondhand bookshop!
We put the world to rights and I left with the words ringing in my ears: ‘Why don’t you do a piece for the new online magazine? You’ve got four weeks; you could write about commas.’ (You had to be there!)
That was four weeks ago exactly.
When I started doing the shop up a friend said, ‘This is great… you’ll be able to sit and read all day.’ Now, wouldn’t that be nice? Take these last four weeks – firstly we had the G8 to contend with… the M9 to Dunblane became a bit of a challenge, not to mention the worrying about whether ‘rent-a-mob’ would decide to pay a visit. Then there was that Harry Potter phenomenon. I’d had a few requests from local customers to buy some stock and do the midnight thing. Thanks must go to the friends who rescued me from my own midnight visit to a supermarket for supplies for the party – but the whole thing did keep me preoccupied for a while. I suspect said friend thought that books would just walk into the shop, clean themselves up a bit and jump up on to the shelves – and maybe even put themselves into the online catalogue, wrap up and wander off to the post office. I even manage to sell a book or two now and again (well, eleven this morning). Add to this the assessing boxes and bags full of books brought in for sale, trying to find room in the store room for them, chatting to customers and remembering to listen to The Archers… as well as generally watching the world go by… well you can see that I’ve plenty to keep me occupied! Isn’t procrastination a lovely word?
So where do the commas come in? Well, I’m currently working towards a Book House accreditation as a proofreader, to be followed by copy editing. This in an attempt to find additional means of pecuniary survival. I realise that my own writing gives no credence to this aim whatsoever, but I can cope with the principle ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ Because I have become very used to communicating by email, I find myself writing in a conversational way – leading to an overuse of ‘-’, ‘…’ and ‘( )’. However, this does not mean that I do not remember the rules taught by English language teachers, who would now require a new red pen daily to correct my many aberrations from their instructions. The difficulty I’m having is in trying to decide when to add or remove a comma from the work of others. Nine times out of ten my decision is technically correct, but (oh what damage one little word can do) in theory each alteration needs to be paid for by someone. So, unless it is really silly, I have to try and get used to ignoring the presence or absence of the comma. I realise it can seem pedantic to worry about such things but surely I’m not the only one left who gets frustrated at having to read a sentence more than once because no one thought it might be useful to put a comma in so that it becomes more obvious where the breaks would occur if the sentence was being spoken or read aloud and would thus help it to make more sense?
You can perhaps imagine my reaction when I read about the suggestion put forward recently regarding the obsolescence of the possessive apostrophe? That’s one that should be left for another day perhaps… after all I’ve got work to do!
Anne Maver owns and runs Well Read, 2 High Street, Dunblane FK15 0AD. tel: 01786 822690
© Anne Maver 2005