Zapping the typo


If you’ve written a book, a good tip, which I generally ignore, is to read it backwards. After all, readers can be strange, so it’s not a bad idea to check that it’s just as good backwards as forwards. But the main purpose is to spot and eliminate typos. The reasoning being that by reading it backwards, you don’t get distracted by the story, so the typos become more visible. In cognitive terms, your attention is less engaged in higher level processing (constructing a meaning from the narrative), so more is available to focus on the lower level process of word recognition. Of course, if you’ve written the story yourself, you’re unlikely to be wondering what happens next, but you do keep thinking, ‘Hmm, that word’s not quite right’ or ‘That sentence works pretty well’, so all those sneaky typos scuttle past you just the same.

Now, I’m ready to give the backwards thing a go, but I’m not sure how it could stop thoughts like that popping up. Naturally, it depends how you interpret ‘backwards’. Unless you’ve written the whole book as a palindrome, reading it right to left is not just unhelpful but impossible: elbissopmi tub lufplehnu tsuj ton – naem I tahw ees? Theoretically, you could read the lines left to right but the individual words as normal (for English, that is): normal as words individual the but right to left lines the read could you. Hmm. How long before you utter a howl of rage and throw the whole thing from the balcony? Next level up would be the paragraph or the page. Much more feasible. But the thing is, I know the story backwards already, so the thought of reading it all again, whether forwards, backwards or sideways, doesn’t appeal.

So far, on my various readings, I’ve plucked 142 typos out of Perfume Island, which I put into a jar on the desk, screwing the lid on tightly. It’s cruel, I know, but I get a kick out of watching them squirm around before expiring. But how many are still lurking in the text? One thing’s for sure – too many. So now I’m going to bite the bullet and read it one more time, dressed as a frogman, rotating the book 360° anti-clockwise every time I come to the word ‘that’.