The Glitch and The Heckler

My advance copy of Sicily, It’s Not Quite Tuscany arrived in Singapore about 12 days ago. It was a big moment. Gill took photos of me ripping the top off the parcel, removing the contents, popping the bubble wrap (though I spent rather longer on that than she had the patience for), and holding the book aloft like it was the holy relic left behind by a religious figure, or a placard being waved by a ring girl at a boxing match. Then she went to grab the champagne off the ice.

And that’s when it happened. Nervously flicking through the book to cast my eyes on the printed words for the first time, I came to a random page about a third of the way into the text and stopped in my tracks. One of the words, I noticed, had a rogue character in the middle of it; a weird foreign-looking misspelling. The page had been clean in the final proofs – I even ran over to my computer and checked.

Then I saw another one. The same rogue character – “Ú” – appearing out of the blue on a page. Further scanning of the pages revealed another dozen or so appearances of this accented capital “U” throughout the book. It’s then I realised we had a problem – “The Glitch”, as we would come to know it. Shouty emails were swiftly sent to publishers, editors and, well, almost everyone I know, to see what could be done. The champagne was returned unopened to the fridge.

But rather than revisit the details of what has been a fairly stressful 12 days resolving the problem of The Glitch, instead I’ll post an article I wrote on the topic that appeared in last Thursday’s Sydney Morning Herald (in the regular column called The Heckler):

Literal slip not welcome in my book

THE letter combination ”hn” is rare in English. You’ll see it in a few words ending in ”-ness”, including ”foolishness” and ”mawkishness”. It also turns up in ”John”, ”doughnut” and ”fishnet stockings”. But it’s elusive.

Consider, for example, my first book being released this week in Australia (Sicily, It’s Not Quite Tuscany). Over the course of 420 pages and 100,000 words, ”hn” appears only 18 times.

Or rather, it would appear 18 times if not for a typesetting glitch that happened after the pages had been proofed and finalised. Mysteriously, wherever an ”h” and an ”n” should be side-by-side in a word, they have merged and morphed into the rather Hungarian-looking ”Ú”.

Doesn’t sound like much but as a first-time author, seeing my book on the shelves with errors beyond my control is hard to cop.

And why did it have to be a run-of-the-mill ”Ú”? Couldn’t the glitch have resulted in something cooler, like an ”Ø” or an ”Å”? Or even a ”heavy metal umlaut” like in Motörhead? Admittedly, ”Ú” is the 24th letter of the obscure Nordic Faroese alphabet, which lends it a touch of Viking magnetism. But it pales compared with the balancing act of ”Ţ” or the wackiness of the Maltese ”ħ”.

Nevertheless, a ”Ú” it is, and the relevant erratum slips are being printed as I write. (”Erratum” is a polite Latin way of saying ”stuff-up”.) These will be inserted into every copy of the book to alleviate the problem, a bit like a suppository.

My publisher tells me – with remorse, not pride – that I’m her first erratum slip in 20 years in the business. But I’m in decent company. James Bond creator Ian Fleming, angered by legal proceedings surrounding his book Goldfinger, threatened to include an erratum slip changing the main character’s name to ”Goldprick”. Lonely Planet printed 40,000 copies of a guide with ”WESTEN EUROPE” on the spine, before adding a humorous erratum slip that recounted the staff’s feverish conversation upon discovering the error. And a 1984 collection of short stories by Scottish author Alasdair Gray included the following message on a loose piece of paper: ”ERRATUM: This slip has been inserted by mistake.”

Anyway, if you see my book and its accompanying slip, please don’t be deterred from buying it. Sure, you’ll find the very occasional weird symbol, but the rest has been checked with great thorougÚess.

So, that’s where I’m at. I’ve got a first batch of books now sitting on bookshelves in stores around the country with a “bonus page” in the form of an erratum slip, and a pesky little typesetting issue bedevilling a very small number of pages.

It could be worse, though. Penguin published a cookbook in Australia a couple of years ago and one of the recipes called for the inclusion of “freshly ground black people”.

4 thoughts on “The Glitch and The Heckler

  1. Hi.
    I just want to make a comment about the book “Sicily, Its not quite Tuscany” by Shamus Sillar.
    I was born in Catania in Via Gesuiti and then my parents moved to Via Purita
    (both these streets are mentioned in your book) which is about a 1min walk from via Etnea (the main drag).We migrated to Australia when I was 7 years of age.
    I am writing this to show you that I am from the very place you mention throughout your book that being Catania (IL MILANO DEL’SUD) as it used to be known due to its prosperity and hype of activity in the commercial sense.
    I encourage all true CATANESE born and bread in that city to read your book as, in my oppinion, you have been honest and true in everthing you wrote.I paid particular attention to your Catanese dialect, the terms used, the customs, the gestiures, the scenery you describe and even some of the towns you mention and their dark sides.
    I have been back afew times and all my relatives still live there happy and content with their lives.I attended L’istituto Technico Archimede in Catania for a year back in 1978 only to realize that Australia was really home.
    Every page in your book transponded me back to Catania as I remember it and your style of writing and honesty and accuracy created vivid pictures asif I were there.
    The Catania, I left 46 years ago I can recall , was a clean,safe and very noble city with elegance and culture and cuisine and produce that was the envy of all of Italy.
    La “Pasticeria Siciliana” was back then renound all over Italy with true ARTISENS of the trade creating unimaginable tastes.( My Father was a Barista )
    You mention the bus number 431 but you forgot to mention bus number 29 that goes along Via Etnea to Gravina and how crouded it still is.
    Excellent reading for those that know Catania, have lived in Catania and know the Catanese personality.

    • Thanks, Jack! I really appreciate this feedback from someone who knows Catania so well. I think my book is harsh but fair on the city. I love the place and many of its people, but it’s not without problems.

      Incredible that you were born in the same small street where Gill and I lived for the first part of Sicilian adventure. As for buses, yes, I think I caught the 29 a couple of times, but it was mostly the 431 along Via Plebiscito for me, passing all the butchers selling horse meat. Our favourite pasticceria was Scardaci on Via S. Maddalena. Everything in that place was pretty much the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten.

      Thanks again for reading and enjoying the book, and for your insights into Catania.

  2. Hi Shamus,
    I’m presently up to chapter 19 (p.365) of your book “Sicily, It’s not quite Tuscany”. I am really enjoying it and can’t put it down. I bought it appropriatly from a book shop in Lygon Street, Carlton. I have been able to Google the different places you mention in your book and also went on google street view and was able to travel up and down Via Plebiscito with fascination. It really brought your book to life although you described your surroundings beautifully in the book! I loved the humour too and honesty.
    Thanks for your writing,


    • Hi Colin,

      Thanks for your message – glad you’re enjoying the book. I’ve done the Google Street View trawl around Catania, too. Lots of fun. I think I even recognise a few of the characters on the various street corners near Via Plebiscito. And I certainly recognise 333 Via Plebiscito – it’s a shop called Mister Pollo, serving some of the best rotisserie chickens in the business!


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