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”.