Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper

Apparently, an interregnum is the period between two reigns. In English History, it can refer to the time between Charles I ‘s execution and the arrival of Charles II, whilst we had a Republic (30 January 1649 – 29 May 1660)

Metaphorically, it can mean any suspension of government from the end of one regime to the beginning of another. I rather feel  I am in one… Continue reading

Ravens and writing desks

clattering of jackdaws

A reference to Nina’s own work – which I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

Recently my writing colleague, fellow SCBWI and friend Nina Wadcock asked if anyone would be her Beta reader. I volunteered straight off. We got on well and I had every expectation it would be a good read. She accepted my offer  – and then the second thoughts came fluttering in a black cloud… Continue reading

Landscape – with editor

A painting of a figure walking a long a beach by David Pott.

Study by David Pott

After over six weeks of lying in a metaphorical drawer, I am looking at one of my scripts. The frenzy that was NaNoWriMo certainly meant I wasn’t thinking about it during that period, and I am now able to look at it with some detachment.

I can see the sparse clearings and the lush dells; engage with the inhabitants I had grown to love, and generally see the wood for the trees.

a picture of an old tree in a forest

There will have to be felling of some parts – and some judicious pruning. I may have to sacrifice some sub-plots I had lovingly tended to make the whole thing healthier and stronger – like a fire-break has to be cut through the forest at times. And even the best and sternest of lumberjacks needs help, I expect.

I had hoped that my MA ( can it really be two years ago?) would equip me to edit better. I think I am a slow learner at times – or just plain inexperienced. So I am buying help in. There’s a small, whiny, possibly egotistical voice, says that this is failure.

This book – if it ever gets published – may well end up costing me more than I could ever earn from it. Nonetheless, I have learned a great deal. If nothing else, tremendous respect for those whose work is good enough to be published – and in some cases, downright awe.

a gargoyle sits thoughtfully in some ivy

I do hope I can get the best out of the advice. That I can  sit on my ego – hard. That I can find the humility to accept what is said in the spirit it is meant – and the self-confidence to argue my point when I really have one.

I’ve read my story again – and I can honestly say, some of it is good. Now I need help to make it better.

a little girl takes big steps with the help of  her grandfather

Now we’re cooking

I am currently enjoying a sojourn at Retreats for You in deepest Devon where my hostess Deborah cooks lovely food. This goes down well – and unsurprisingly led me to thinking about cookery and creativity.

I think editing can be something like refining a recipe – and I see genres as being cuisines. We can create our own take on a particular type – but we need to acknowledge the traditions associated with it.

So good old fish-and-chips frankly should have very little done to it. The freshness of the fish, the quality of the batter and the accompaniments are pretty much all there is to work on. This might be like a good whodunit. The reader knows what she wants and really expects it to be just so – no-one wants bouillabaisse or a sudden burst of Dickens.

But ‘Chinese’ is a much wider field. There are a markers we like (like a book cover) to entice us in – red lanterns, gilding and a fat and happy little god, perhaps. Yet upmarket restaurants might give the merest hint – just one calligraphy scroll – and perhaps play with these signifiers. There the food maybe less modified for Western tastes and the consumer expected to make more of an effort.

To me, this reflects less commercial fiction – it’s more immersive, less mediated. The reader is trusted to engage and figure out things for themselves. Nonetheless, there will be things the readership expects – comprehensible sentence structure, a plot, some degree of resolution. And the writer must provide.

I have a fundamental distrust of pubs and the like with far too wide a menu. I am almost certain it will be bought in from Brakes and microwaved.  Here, my writing analogy would be laziness, plagiarism and cultural appropriation. Harsh, perhaps, but poor quality on either account is an insult to the person you’re providing for.

I am not against ‘borrowing’.

Look at China Mieville’s splendidly odd ‘Railsea’. He used Herman Melville’s whaling and transformed it into the hunting of giant moles in his world. There’s nothing wrong with making a paella-style dish from local ingredients born out of what you know and where you are now . That’s how we got Jambalaya.

But just sprinkling a teaspoon of Schwartz Italian Herb Mix over a risotto doesn’t not make it authentically Veneziana. You can’t put a few Creole words in, refer to jazz on Bourbon Street and think you’ve recreated New Orleans. It needs depth and research and love.

Editing is the point at which you consider what you are serving up – and to whom. There is much to reflect on: has the stock of your ideas been simmered long enough? Is the story weighed down with blandness? Does it need a bit of pep – or is there too much going off at once?

You have to keep trying and testing. Eventually, the taste buds give up – and that’s where other opinions come in. (More of that in another post, I think.)

What cuisine would reflect your work?



Goes with the territory

In case you hadn’t guessed from all my recent posts, I’m busy editing.

I am doing it with the help of the rather marvellous Book Map© courtesy of The Golden Egg Academy. I shan’t steal their thunder – or would that be their cock-a-doodle-dooing? It suffices to say that it’s a jolly fine way of organising what the blue blazes is going on in your story.

I do have one caveat about it, however.

It isn’t a proper map.

Proper maps are crinkly and you can roll them up and they have ‘Here be dragons’ on them. They have puffy-cheeked winds blowing twin-masted brigantines over squiggly blue seas whilst mermaids look on. And they are most definitely drawn, not written.

That thought led me to consider maps in comparison to stories. A map is a way of showing what something is like to someone else. It has to be based in reality but it isn’t the reality itself. Yet a really good one can almost seem real, and with imagination you can get lost in it.

That seems familiar.

There are conventions that make them easier to read, that resemble many other maps; yet each one is unique. It can show something different – or even if it is the same, the way it is shown can be distinctive enough to make you see it in a new light. Styles have changed over time – and yet the old ones have resonance, they help us see things how our predecessors saw them.


And creating them?

It seems so similar to me.

  • first I foray into unknown places and blunder about enchanted
  • then my wanderings get doodled down at random, I am exhausted, uncertain what’s important
  • then comes the serious sorting-out – I must make it clear to follow, decide what kind it is, make it suit the person who will read it (interesting that we say ‘read a map’) and yet remain true to what I have discovered

Detail of a map by Grayson Perry- he charts his ideas and feelings in wonderful, intricate detail.

It’s slow, laborious, painstaking work. Sometimes you have to scrap great chunks – often your most beautifully drawn smoking volcano. Sometimes you find parts that you thought made sense are a complete mystery to others and you have to start again.
I have a couple of advantages.
  1. I don’t have to be a frost-bitten Polar explorer or get winched down ravines in darkest Borneo to find new places to explore – they are all in my head.
  2. Google can’t get there.
But most of all, I love opening up whole new worlds – and then showing off the best bits to others.
How about you? 



Overdoing it

My glamorous and talented belly-dance instructress, Jenn will tell you that overdoing it is one of my failings. She does an elegant hip drop with languid grace – I do a great dump of a thing more like a cliff collapse. I have a tendency to make up for what I lack in finesse by enthusiasm.

Such exuberance is endearing in a puppy – but in a woman of my years, possibly less so. I am not, however, arguing for half-heartedness in dance or anything else creative for that matter. I passionately believe in embracing things; in involving your core, both literally and figuratively.

But I have observed that I come unstuck in my writing when I spend all my arrows too soon. I throw similes, metaphors and period details all in at once. Maybe there will be a signpost to a later event and a character revelation – all within a couple of paragraphs. Overcomplicated,  and worst of all, confusing to the reader.

It’s not that I think readers need to have everything pointed out and labelled – but I make it hard for them to see what is important in a welter of extraneous stuff. Think overenthusiastic tour guide telling you about every architectural phase of the stately home’s building, some juicy anecdotes and a list of owners all at once.

Blenheim Palace

I do it on the minor scale too. A sentence about crossing a bridge in Selchester at first go could well be like this –

Georgiana halted on the shining river-worn cobblestones in front of the five bar tollgate, waiting impatiently for the ancient Bridgekeeper to make his grumpy hobbling way to her.

Overwritten or what.

Now it has to be said that there are genres and styles that are properly more elaborate and intricate than others.

Flight of fancy

Plain country style

But if the decoration is only there to distract the eye from a bodge, that’s not good.

Some grand court dresses were cobbled together, I believe.

So in my editing I am endeavouring to locate the one important thing I need to convey in each paragraph – and let everything else serve that. Ideally, that should apply to sentence level too.

Instead of a bottom-of-the fridge stir-fry, I want to create a memorable dish full of flavour – but not too many of them.

‘Non più di cinque’ as the Venetians have it – no more than five




One Writer, Two Masters

King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.

I’m editing at the moment. Major structural editing – not nice little finicky detailed stuff I can noodle away at for hours but, as Emma Greenwood so succinctly put it, wrestling the plot snake.

For me, it feels like forensics or reconstructive surgery or some seriously messed-up palaeontology. There are all sorts of unattached bits – which bone goes where, is there more than one dinosaur here – oh look, that’s mammalian from another epoch. My first draft is like the scrapings from the bottom of a tar-pit – a jumble of mismatched fragments that some over-enthusiastic amateur assembled into a monstrosity.

Oh – that would be me.

And I do have some help.There are people who can tell me what sort of shape it ought to be. They know the market, know the form. They can help me make my work meet expectations.

But therein lies the rub. What if it’s something new I’ve uncovered? Whose advice to take with a different kind of a tale – and how would I know with so little experience? Could I re-arrange the pieces into something extraordinary? But whatever I do, I don’t want to create a chimaera, a GMO of a story which suits no-one.

I was mulling over this when I came across this generous and honest reply by Joanne Harris to a young man who had not enjoyed her two Rune books. [Do read all of it – it is an object lesson in how to respond on-line]. This is the paragraph which stuck out as if highlighted by the Muse in cerise –

A writer can (and should) only try to please one person at a time. That person is the writer herself – because trying to please anyone else, or modifying what you write for the sake of a real or imagined readership leads, not only to madness, but to dishonest writing. And, whatever else we expect of them, we need writers to be true.

My blood fizzes at that with a thrill made of recognition and anxiety. There’s the peril I may never produce something that someone else wishes to publish. Mrs Sensible says I must produce something marketable. She holds out her phone with the image of someone reading and enjoying my book – it is tagged ‘success’.

And like all true temptations, it is based in truth – that is my definition of doing well.

But as I gaze at that, the Muse wanders away. She is a jealous goddess and wants my undivided attention.

What I want, then, is the wisdom to reshape my work to be the thing it is – only better. I want to listen to advice with discernment, to make changes for the deepest and best of reasons.

I can only have one Mistress.

Rather wince than die

“Will you tell me my fault, frankly as to yourself, for I had rather wince, than die. Men do not call the surgeon to commend the bone, but to set it, Sir.”

Emily Dickinson to mentor Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Drawers of Fortune at the Senso-ji temple in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan.

I have been thinking a great deal about editing this last week. My story has had its requisite six weeks in a metaphorical drawer and now I am writing with the door open (see Stephen King’s marvellous ‘On Writing‘).

It makes me anxious.

I am fortunate enough to be working with a well-established editor with a great reputation. As a relative beginner, that both helps and worries me. Honesty makes me admit I am shy of letting anyone see what a hash I’ve made on my own. I’m back at school, covering up my misspellings, crossings-out and rubber smudges.

I’ve been advised to focus on what children will respond to most, to plunge the reader straight into a key event, so they know immediately something that I had held back.. This bothers me: I want to shy away from showing my ‘best bit’ too soon, I want to lead up to that ‘ta-daah’ moment. Perhaps I think I can’t follow the reveal, that I will have spent all my dramatic capital.

Also I worry that the reader won’t have had time to get to know Georgiana. Why should they care about her and her strange powers over stone if they haven’t spent time with her to begin with?

In my more dismal moments, I imagine my romping girl morphing into a Lara Croft form, albeit in Regency costume. She becomes a figure in a game-play, dodging over the rooftops of Selchester, whom the reader inhabits but doesn’t engage with.

Would this be such a bad thing? (Jane Austen’s Emma by Strawberry Singh)

But I fret that I could end up with a story with too much action, too much attention to design detail (I do know the City-on-the-Sea awfully well) and too many special effects – and not enough depth. I see it with layers, like those cut-away drawings of what’s beneath your feet – can I convey those layers and keep the narrative drive?

My more sensible side says listen to the industry professional, go with what is suggested and trust you can do it.  You’re most likely to be imagining half of these concerns. And after all, it’s much better to be published and be read than not.

The upshot of all this wibbling* has been to make me think really hard about my non-negotiables. I made myself jot down which aspects of the original draft were essential from memory – to see what sticks. These are the core DNA of Georgiana’s story, but I have to accept that someone else might know better how to bring it out into the world. After all, midwives know more than first-time mothers about birth.

Does anyone care to share their advice with me on this process?

* I am indebted to Jon Mayhew for this delightful word.


Chuck chuck chuck chuck chicken…

…lay a little egg for me.

Tomorrow finds me on a train to Frome in Dorset before I attend a Golden Egg Academy workshop on Saturday & Sunday. I’m making a day of it and intend to explore a wee bit. Changes of scenery can often lead to new inspirations – not that I’m short of anything to write about but a little prompt whilst between major works-in-progress keeps the creativity ticking over nicely.

I’ll be sharing accommodation with my pal Claudia Myatt – so an exchange of sea yarns will be going on, I suspect. It will be great fun to meet up with other writers for young people too – if nothing else, I will find that stimulating.

However the biggie is help sorting out the stack of tamboured muslin, talking gargoyles and civic corruption which is Georgiana & the Municipal Moon. I think you’d have to envisage my first draft as a cabin trunk jammed full of grubby little scene oddments, faded images of neo-Regency life, salt-stained maps of Selchester, the City-on-the-Sea, and the odd transcript of curious dialogue. It seems as if it should all fit together somehow – but I need some serious help putting my scrapbook together.

I am both nervous and thrilled to have Imogen Cooper take my story seriously. I want all the help I can get to make it work the best I can. There is a core, like the spine formed early on in an embryo that I can’t or won’t change, but otherwise: whatever it takes to tell the story.

To be continued…