Literary ‘fails’: jumping on the ‘Fifty Shades’ bandwagon to make a point

First of all, I’ll hold my hands up and say I haven’t read the Fifty Shades books. I can’t therefore judge whether they’re gripping reads or garbage, but Grammarly‘s article ‘Fifty Shades of Grammar Mistakes‘ on the Huffington Post website illustrates perfectly the kind of issues that I have when reading an otherwise ‘good’ book.

If you’re anything like me, then these kind of errors – and worse ones – will leap out at you from the pages as if they’re in bold text, taking you out of the story. Since working as an editor and proofreader, I’ve become hyper-aware of what’s ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ in written work, but my history of spotting dodgy writing goes way, way back in time, to when I was about eleven and used a red pen to correct errors in the film tie-in book Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

I remember, aged 15, being outraged that there were so many editorial errors in the copy of Faye Weldon’s The Life and Loves of A She-Devil that I got out of the library. Of course I didn’t annotate this copy – I’m a model citizen! – but the bizarre change of the lead character’s shoe size part-way through the book has stayed with me in my ‘top 10’ of fails ever since.

As an adult, I’ve tweeted companies to point out misspelled signs in various departments and emailed publishers regarding glaring mistakes in novels. For example – and yes, it’s Fay Weldon again, but I’d like to say for the record that I think she’s a great writer and I think her books are generally very well written, here is an email I sent to the publisher regarding the Corvus 2010 hardback 2010 edition of Kehua!:

Please find listed below the errors I found when reading ‘Kehua!’ a few months ago, in case any further editions haven’t picked up on these. This wasn’t an official ‘proofread’ – they are just things I noticed when reading for pleasure:
p.40, line 11: “I won’t do change it,” she said.
p.170, line 6 from bottom: quote from Janice starting “Janice replied, ‘A hymn. Glad that I live am I…” This makes it hard to figure out where Janice’s speech ends and the narrator’s voice takes over again.
p. 210, line 3: “She had made an Australian friend, Dionne, on the boat over.” BUT p. 210, lines 7-6 from bottom: “They both went to elocution lessons to get rid of their New Zealand accents.”
p. 228, line 15 from bottom: “Mary Stopes the birth-control heroine” (Marie)
p. 232, line 18: there is an extra gap between ‘Joey’ and ‘Matthews’.
p. 237, line 5 from bottom: “He is a big, handsome fleshy man, carelessly dressed, bright-eyed and forceful” (missing comma after ‘handsome’)
p. 261, line 13: “Alice took the tube down to King’s Cross” (Tube)
p. 311, chapter heading: “Another’s day’s writing” (Another day’s…)
p. 325, glossary: extra tab has been inserted so the definition of ‘tohunga’ is not lined up with the other definitions.

Perhaps you think I need to get out more!

Or take this email I sent regarding a rather major plot point in Dolly: A Ghost Story, by Susan Hill:

When speaking to Edward, Leonora says on p. 97, lines 9-11 of chapter 14: “Though as I am older and my mother [Violet] was older than yours [Dora], it would seem fairer that I get the lion’s share.” However, on p. 21, lines 1-3 of the second section, it says, “Kestrel Dickinson had been an only child for fourteen years before two sisters were born, Dora first and then Violet.”
This tactic hasn’t netted me any extra work so far, but I like to imagine it’s all part of me changing the world, one comma at a time.
If you enjoy ‘fails’ in writing, another copy-editor and proofreader who I know through LinkedIn has a fun Facebook page called ‘Dale’s Fails‘, where she collects particularly choice examples and usually posts a few a day. If you’re on Facebook, head over there and check out her page!
Finally, if anyone’s wondering what to get me for my next birthday, you can’t go wrong with Jenny Baranick’s Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares:
missed periods
I’m happy to read about grammar for work or pleasure – surely a sign that I’m in the right profession?
Until next time!
S