Proofs are out — nearly there

Excitement mounts in this house — the nit proofs are here. A massive PDF file was waiting in my inbox Friday and I’ve just banged out hard copies on ‘fast draft’ mode from the printer. Here’s a smattering, as a taster.

They look very good, and I’m wandering round with a smug look on my face, trying to read out bits to my harassed family. But I must be calm. We’ve got to read through everything first; my red/ blue/ green/ black editing pen will get full use this week. Then we have to construct the contents and index, check the illustrations, fiddle with running heads, check the spellings of Latin names, in fact, go through everything with a fine-toothed comb.

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How to write a book about nits

Some while back I was interviewed for a magazine article. You know the sort of thing…strange man, studies insects, weird huh! Actually, it was a brilliant article, witty, subtle and kind. And, guess what, it was written by my arch-partner in nit crime, that Justine Crow. [It’s here, by the way, if you’re inclined, pages 16–18.]

In it, Justine asked how I study insects, expecting some state-of-the-art high-tech CSI-style equipment maybe; instead she found the answer pleasingly Victorian — basically, it’s just me and a big net. Don’t be surprised, therefore, to find that this is also our approach to writing a book.

We specifically had the kitchen floor done to cope with spread sheets.

Despite the prevalence of desktop publishing, email, spreadsheets and the supposedly paperless office, when writing a complicated book you just can’t beat the spread-it-out-on-the-floor technique. So this was us, just over a month ago, getting the pages in order.

They’ve been tweaked a tiny bit since then, but this was the decisive editing point that dictated the layout, the flow and, indeed, the overall style of the book. No on-screen cutting and pasting, no excel charts, no algorithmic jiggery-pokery; just jostling, shuffling and paper-pushing. Less is more.

Knit a Nit

Knits. By Kirsty Gordon

To me knitting is alchemy – coloured twine bewitched by clicking sticks into miraculous garments, blankets and toys. My mother was a fine knitter, my crusty sister Lummo knits too (albeit always from the same wool in a hedgerow brown that she bought as a job lot), as do the women in my partner’s family. In fact, the Arran cardi the mother-in-law made me actually stopped the traffic as I crossed the road on foot when one driver hung out of the window to ask me where it came from. But me? I just never got the hang of it.

But I’m genius at nit-checking. I don’t have talent for much – apart from drinking too much, completing 30 lengths frontcrawl without stopping and poaching an egg perfectly – but I can sweep a head of lice in, well, a trice. The secret is not to trust your eyes. Which is just as well in my case because after 40 something years with 20/20 vision, my near sight has crumbled. I told the amused, though slightly wincing optician that I could tell something was wrong when I had to hold my son’s head under a spotlight at arm’s length to see what I was doing with the nit comb and tissues.

The thing is, if you rely on the evidence of your eyes alone, it is unlikely that you will spot any nits (empty eggs that is) until the head in question has got a head full. And as for seeing a live louse? Well, they move darned quick, are fiendishly camouflaged and they have no intention of being caught. Which is exactly why they are so successful. The only times I have  clearly identified live lice roaming on a scalp was when I worked in a nursery and one or two children from ‘chaotic homes’ had serious infestations and I was picking the things off with my fingers.

And as for freshly laid eggs, well they too blend in very well and are usually quietly deposited and glued onto the hair shaft very close to the scalp thereby increasing their invisibility.

As far as I’m concerned, the secret to population control is regular combing, whether or not the beloved bonce in question shows any sign of habitation or not. And combing close to the skull, right at the follicle. And remember, scratching is not a reliable indicator, especially as kids quickly learn not to do it if it means a cross mum and a lengthy session covered in chemicals and conditioner in front of Antiques Roadshow.

So, comb weekly and don’t just leave it to the odd fish through your offspring’s hair at the bus stop during an idle moment to check what is going on in there. A quick sweep once a week should quickly keep the critters in check. Meanwhile, a little light diversion technique might be in order. So, how about getting them to knit their own nit while you comb? (technically, a cuddly louse). They could knit a head full!

With thanks to my dear chum, clever Kirsty Gordon, who showed me how it can be done….