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Frustrated Writer – Help Needed! #wwwblogs #IAmWriting #WritingTips

 

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What I imagined…

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The reality…

So another week of solitude in Devon (read why here) and another attempt to get back into the writing.

This time though, I’ve hit a bit of a crisis.

When I began this second full-length novel (absolutely ages ago) I sort of knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted it to go. But, as often happens, when I came to write, it went off on a tangent and I’m not sure, at this point, how to get back on course. I’m not sure, anymore, exactly what this book is.

I do know that I’m not altogether happy with the direction it’s taken, or the way some of the characters have evolved. But 50,000 + words in, I’m a bit loath to start all over again.

So, do I give it all up as a bad job, or do I persevere and potentially waste more (precious) time?

The thought of ditching all that work, particularly as I find it so hard to fit in time for writing as it is, fills me with horror.

So where do I go from here?

Part of my issue is, I think, that I’m a great list-maker. I like to be organised and to have schedules and time tables and deadlines. And when, more often than not, I fail to reach those deadlines or stick to those schedules, it can feel like there’s no place left to go. And when a story, or an idea, or 50,000 words refuses to stick to my original idea, I find it hard to move on.

But 50,000 words is 50,000 words. I can’t and won’t ditch it all. I need instead to go back and read and read again, and evaluate every word, every twist, and every change in what I’ve written and try to get to the whys of it all. And perhaps too, I need to let go of that original idea of what the book was, and of what kind of writer I am.

I’m not starting again though.

So advice please, all you lovely writers out there – what would you do if you were me?

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‘Flesh’ by @dylanjmorgan #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT

Rosie's Book Review team 1

I reviewed’Flesh’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

It feeds. It grows. 

The small town of Vacant harbors a secret so terrifying that the local lawmen will do anything to keep it hidden—including murder. Something sinister stalks the surrounding woods, a horrifying creature thought to be only a mystical legend. It hunts at night, killing with ravenous voracity. Deputies Carson Manning and Kyle Brady are the harvesters: they find the victims, tie them to the baiting post. Sheriff Andrew Keller and Deputy Matthew Nielsen are the cleaners: they dispose of the corpses. But when Vacant’s townsfolk take matters into their own hands, nothing can contain the slaughter.

The deadly entity isn’t the only menace Sheriff Keller has to face. He has his own dark secret, a past he tries to hide behind frequent alcohol binges. Now that past has come back to haunt him and will throw him headlong into a traumatic situation that could mean life or death for him and those he holds dear.

I love a good horror story. I grew up devouring Stephen King books and I’ve never found another author that does small town spooky oppressive atmosphere, flawed but sympathetic characters and downright ‘bump in the night’ scares so well. So Dylan J. Morgan had a lot to live up to.

He has the small town atmosphere down perfectly. Vacant and its flawed inhabitants are compellingly drawn and easy to picture. I was torn between sympathy and frustration at Sheriff Keller and despised the deputies and the town mayor. Keller in particular was a complex character – beautifully done, he is the epitome of a man struggling to come to terms with his past, a man who knows his life has been a waste, who knows that he is weak, and yet still has that shred of humanity that has you rooting for him and wanting things to be alright.

The threat that the town faces is well -portrayed and satisfyingly scary, and the opening of the book is a real hook, paving the way for the gruesome secret at the heart of Vacant. The writing itself is technically flawless. The pacing is perfect, the dialogue authentic and the amount of gore pitched perfectly.

The only sticking point for me is the motivation of the ordinary townspeople. I didn’t quite buy that they would agree so whole-heartedly with how the police, preacher and major choose to deal with the threat to their town. These are nice, normal people. I’m not saying they can’t agree to it, only that I wanted to know more clearly why they had – why they were so convinced that this was the only option. There is scope perhaps for the religious element to be played up a bit more here. What Stephen King always does so well is make you believe that ordinary people can do dreadful things. And while this book was a compelling, competent and really enjoyable read, I didn’t completely believe it.

4 stars

Small publishers – a bit of a rant! #WWWBlogs #writingtips

Buyer-Beware

As well as writing and editing, I also read and review a lot of books. I try to read a variety of genres and read indie authors, traditionally published authors, big names, small names, complete unknowns, new writers and established writers. So I read a lot of books published by small presses.

Now before I get a load of flak, I do appreciate that there are a lot of really excellent small presses out there who do a fantastic job and who look after their authors. I also know that there are big, traditional, well-known publishing houses that don’t look after their authors. However, as the problems I have come across have all been with these smaller presses, those are the ones I want to talk about here.

I have read several books recently, for the most part eBooks, where the author has been published by a small publisher. Being rather nosy, and being an author always looking for opportunities, I have looked into many of these organisations. They all have lovely websites, all have lots of authors they are working with, all say they have plenty of experience in the industry, all say they are offering authors more than other publishers. Most also provide editing, formatting, book covers etc.

So why then are the majority, and I mean at least 75%, of these books not of publishable standard? Why are they full of typos and formatting errors? Full of spelling mistakes? Why, when they have supposedly been edited, do many contain basic writing no-nos such as ridiculous dialogue tags, exposition, stereotypical characterisation, unnatural dialogue, and information dumping?

Why also do so many of these organisations insist that authors promote each other? Why do I often look at glowing five star reviews for a book I can’t bear to finish and find those reviews are written by authors publishing with the same company? I’m all for authors helping each other, but I smell a rat, particularly when a publisher’s website states that the organisation treats its writers like family. All very nice I’m sure, and I’m very fond of a lot of my clients, we talk about stuff other than writing, we even occasionally meet up for coffee, but when they’re paying me their hard-earned money for my hard work it’s a professional business relationship, not family, and that’s how it should be.

I’m not suggesting that these companies are deliberately misleading authors, or that they aren’t trying their best. What I am suggesting though is that they aren’t up to the job. And OK, they might not be charging their authors up front – they’re not vanity presses – but they are taking a cut of the writers’ earnings (if there are any) and for that an author deserves professionalism, deserves an editor who knows how to edit, a marketing manager who has experience in marketing.

I think a lot of this has to do with people thinking they can publish books just because they can. And on closer inspection, a lot of them, despite vague statements to the contrary, don’t have any RELEVANT experience.

So please, please, please lovely authors – beware. Don’t let the fact that a publisher wants to publish your book go to your head. You deserve more than what some of these people are offering. You can probably do what they do better yourself. I shall be posting soon on what you should be careful of and what you should look for if you are considering a small publisher. In the meantime, do be cautious, and do your homework.

Author Focus – Bev Spicer @BevSpice

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I’m very pleased to have novelist Bev Spicer on the blog today. I have read three of Bev’s books and enjoyed all of them very much. My reviews are here:

The Undertaker’s Son

Angels

My Grandfather’s Eyes

Bev’s new novel ‘What I Did Not Say’ is out now and you can read an excerpt on her blog.

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You can also connect with Bev on Twitter.

Tell me a little about your writing history/background. What inspired you to write?

I’m not someone who can say I always wanted to write. I did enjoy project work at school and also wrote short stories to terrify my sisters (they liked end-of-the-world scenarios – the scarier the better!). But it was only when I moved to France in 2008 and couldn’t get a teaching post at La Rochelle University, that I decided to try writing. My first attempt was called ‘A Taste of Lemons’ and was the story of a girl trapped in two parallel universes. I believed it was brilliant but was sensible enough to listen to criticism (it hurt – the first book is a labour of love). Thank goodness I didn’t publish it. I might go back to it one of these days and give it a ruthless edit.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?

I can never stick to a plan. Rather, I have an idea centred around one or more characters. So the problem for me is balancing the freedom to invent and the discipline necessary to produce a plot that has integrity. Endings are the most interesting part of writing, for me. I love the subtle balance required to give the reader just enough to bring everything together.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Writing is like anything else in life: you learn how to do it by doing it! Advice rarely makes sense unless you have experience and can relate to what people are trying to tell you. And if you have experience you know that your writing can always be improved. When I started writing I had tunnel vision. I was unable to take criticism well. The thrill of creating something just took me over. I suppose I would say that it’s better to keep moving forward and at the same time be prepared to go back and edit work as you improve as a writer. And listen to criticism – it really does help to have other writers give you feedback on your writing. The negative stuff is usually more helpful than the praise, even if it is poorly delivered or downright brutal there will be truth in it. I put a YA novel on a writers’ website in order to get feedback before I published. A couple of people said nice things about it and offered constructive criticism. One person slammed it in an angry tirade of abuse. He hated it and told me exactly why. I must admit, I was shocked. My first reaction was to dismiss what he said, but I didn’t publish and still haven’t. The book is verbose at times; the fear in the first chapter is over-stated. It will be a better book because of the hefty dose of criticism it received on a public forum for authors. I must say though, that I try to give criticism as kindly as I can – you have to KNOW that you are trusted.

And of course it’s important to read, read, read.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just published my new novel ‘What I Did Not Say’.

Jessica Morley is on her way to meet with a man she hasn’t seen for fifteen years. In her bag there is a package she must deliver. As she travels south, she remembers Jack Banford, a boy who captured her imagination as a child and made her believe in a future that could never happen. Now it is time for her to set the record straight and finally put the past behind her. ‘What I Did Not Say’ is a story of loyalty, cruelty, and love at all costs.

Who is your favourite author and what is it that you love about their work?

I must say that I enjoy a lot of different authors. If I had to choose one, it would be Margaret Atwood. When I read ‘Cat’s Eye’ I was thrilled and terrified. She captures the venomous nature of childhood friendships and is a master of conveying mood.

Who would you choose to have over for dinner and why?

I’m going off piste on this one… Someone who can cook, obviously. Probably Jamie Oliver because he’s fun, friendly and doesn’t make a fuss. He’s made a huge difference to society’s attitudes to food and nutrition too.

Desert Island Books – what five books would you choose to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

‘The Nation’s Favourite Poems’ (BBC) – I have two copies to dip in to, ‘Oryx and Crake’ (Margaret Atwood) – I have to move on from ‘Cat’s Eye’, ‘Ghost Story’ (Peter Straub) – it’s terrifying, something by Shakespeare – probably ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’ (I’d learn all parts and perform the whole thing on the beach), and I know this will sound pretentious but I learned Latin at school and I enjoy a good challenge so I’d take ‘The Iliad’ and work out a translation – after all, I’d have plenty of time and no one to tell me I was wrong.

Tell us something unusual about yourself.

I don’t know whether it’s unusual, but I love astronomy and astrophysics. Can’t get enough of ‘Schrodinger’s Cat’, ‘Does God Play Dice?’ or quantum theory in general. Oops! I’d need more than five books on my desert island…unless there were multiple universes.

Oh, and I spent most of my weekends as a teenager with my father on a Welsh mountain learning to fly gliders. Cold, wet, and wonderful.

Find a copy of Bev’s latest book here.

‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’

 

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As part of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Challenge (check it out here) I was lucky enough to read June Kearns’ wonderful novel ‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’. June has kindly agreed to be my guest on the blog today and to share some of her insights and experiences about writing, reading and life in general. My review and an extract from the novel follow June’s interview.

June Kearns

Tell me a little about your writing history/background. What inspired you to write?

As a solitary little girl (only child!), who was always daydreaming, I started writing my own stories almost as soon as I could read. In the 1970s, I won a National Magazine Competition for the first chapter of a romantic novel, and years later, a version of that became the beginning of An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy.

How did you come up with the title of your novel? 

It wasn’t easy! I’d almost finished the book when the roaring 20s became a real trend – the new Gatsby film, Downton setting and all those art deco and flapper fashion references. I wanted to somehow give a sense of that era!

Who is your favourite/least favourite character in your novel?

My least favourite is probably Mrs Dutt-Dixon-Nabb. You can probably guess because I gave her a name with two hyphens, and said she had something of the dowager about her – with little finger sticking out at a perfect ninety-degree angle as she held her teacup.

What was the hardest part of writing for you? Were there any particular issues or hiccups when writing your novel?

Hiccups? Ooh, yes! The novel has two settings – the English shires and Texas. Checking and double checking different types and conditions of travel, times of journeys, ships, trains, timetables and distances, then factoring in weather – left me cross-eyed.

What are you working on now? 

At the beginning of the year, I was writing something set in the 1930s. It wasn’t going well, and I’d started making any excuse not to get on with it – de-fleaing the cat, washing socks. Then someone on Twitter asked for 60s memorabilia, and I had one of those light-bulb moments. This, I thought, is what I should be writing about! So, I’ve started – London setting, photographer hero – and it’s going well.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

The wall in front of my desk is covered in post-it notes with encouraging little phrases and bon mots! Here’s one that I really like: Stop apologising! Relax! Just write the story you want to read. Also: Write for your readers, not for other writers. Having said that, the New Romantics 4 give me constant support and encouragement

What writer would you choose as a mentor?

It would have to be Jane Austen. She was such a master of romance – combining fabulous characters, comedy, complications and reversals with great pacing and cracking dialogue. How did she do that? I need her to tell me!

Who is your favourite author and what do you love about their work?

I love lots of women writers, but especially Anne Tyler. She’s quirky and clever, but with a deceptively simple style. Ladder of Years is one of my favourites. Lovely!

Tell me something unusual about yourself.

In my twenties on a trip to Canada, I (briefly!) worked as a waitress in a drive-in restaurant, on roller skates. It wasn’t a success. Have you read Allan Ahlberg’s Mrs Wobble the Waitress? There were incidents. I was sacked.

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‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’ – My Review

I loved this book! June Kearns has created a romantic page turner devoid of soppiness but full of heart, laughter and wonderful characters that draw you in to their well-drawn world.

Gerardina Chiledexter is struggling to fund the run-down bookshop that is all she has been left by her extravagant, glamorous aunt (except for a mountain of debts). Just when it seems she has nowhere left to turn, she receives a surprise inheritance – half a cattle ranch in Texas.

We are swept away with Gerry to the wildness and heat of Texas, where she is made less than welcome by co-owner Coop. Confused by her conflicting feelings towards him, Gerry makes some rash decisions that lead her further into debt and seem to pave the way to a life of lonely spinsterhood.

However, there are twists and turns and surprises galore, along with a helping hand from some friendly spirits hoping to guide Gerry towards a brighter future.

The author does a fantastic job of bringing two very different places to life – the contrast between the dry heat of the vast plains of Texas was contrasted beautifully with the cold wet winters of England. I could feel Gerry suffocating as she listened to the rain dripping on to the windows of Prim’s tiny cottage.

The context of the novel was really interesting. The lack of eligible men to marry after the end of WWI was a real problem for women who had few other opportunities in life. Gerry, although a bright, funny and lovely girl, is not immune to this pressure, or to the fear of spinsterhood. I hate it when writers give us feisty female heroines from history who live independent, happy lives immune to social pressures. It’s refreshing to have a realistic heroine who is more than aware of the social constraints that have a very real bearing on what she is and isn’t allowed to do. And the little quotes at the beginning of each chapter offered a real insight into the pressures put on women at the time.

I thoroughly recommend this novel and will definitely be reading more of June Kearns’ work.

Five out of five stars.

You can buy a copy on Amazon (and I strongly recommend that you do!)

June is on Twitter: @june_kearns

on Facebook

and at: www.junekearns.com

www.newromantics4.com

 

‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’

 

Autumn 1924. The English Shires.

    She would. She wouldn’t. She might.

    Pushed  down  the  lane  by  a  wet  wind, Gerry  held  onto  her  hat  and  her   bicycle. Hedgerows, trees, fields, flew by in a blur. It  was  weather  for  woollies  and  wellies, but  she  hadn’t  got  either  of  those.

    Instead, she  was  drenched  in  scent   and  in  something  crêpe-de-chine  with  flapping  skirts  from  the  bottom  of  her  aunt  Leonie’s  trunk.

    Why? Because she hadn’t decided what to do yet.

    What was wrong with her? Anyone  would  think  she  was  feather-headed, the  number  of  times  she’d  changed  her  mind. Goodness  knows  there  were  few  enough  men  to  go  round  anymore, and  how  many  of  those  were  beating  a  path  to  her  door? She should be grateful.

    Squishing  bicycle  wheels  through  leaves  at  the  side  of  the  road, she  chewed  the  knicker-elastic  under  her  chin, there  to  stop  her  hat  from  flying  off. A  gang  of  rooks  in  gothic  black  rose  up – caa  caa – to  swirl  over  ploughed  fields  behind  the  hedge.

    If only the invitation had been for something else. Afternoon tea with Archie’s parents? Just thinking about it made her twitch.

    So  what  if  she  was  pushing  thirty, with  the  chill  wind  of  spinsterhood  gusting  round  her  ears? She  wasn’t  ready  yet, for  trial  by  Major  and  Mrs  Dutt-Dixon-Nabb. Nowhere near.

    ‘All right, Miss-Change-Your-Mind,’ Prim had said. ‘What’s wrong with Archie?’

  1. Engaging good looks, a winning way. The sort  of  suitor  to  bring  a  grateful  tear  to  any  mother’s  eye. It wasn’t him, it was her. Small, unexceptional, Gerardina Mary Chiledexter.

    ‘He’s nice,’ she’d said. ‘I’m flattered. But what have we got in common? A  sort  of  junior  squire  from  a  county  family, who  hunts  and  shoots  things – and  me.’ She had paused. ‘D’you think it’s money?’

    A snort from Prim. ‘You haven’t got any.’

    ‘Archie doesn’t know that, does he? We  don’t  talk  about  those  things, we  don’t  even  laugh  together  much.’

    Prim had enquired, rather sourly, what there was to laugh about. ‘Look at me,’ she’d said. ‘I’ll  never  bag  a  husband  now, the  competition’s  far  too  cut-throat. It’s not fair; I’ve been cheated. My  destiny, whoever  he  was, is  probably  under  the  mud  of  some  awful  French  battlefield.’

    ‘Is there such a thing,’ Gerry had murmured, ‘as destiny?’

    ‘Your aunt believed in it. Did  she  have  an  opinion  on  Archie, as  a  matter  of  interest?’

    ‘Erm …’ (‘Well-bred, but weak, darling. A mother’s boy. Fingernails too clean. And that name! Hardly trips off the tongue, does it?’)

    Of  course, Leonie  had  an  opinion  on  most  things, and  hadn’t  been  shy  about  sharing  them, either. Physics, fortune-telling, foreign money. Not that her views had always been reliable. Who  cared  though, when  she’d  taught  you  to  dance  the  hoochie  coochie  and  the  turkey  trot, wearing  ostrich  feathers  and  waving  an  Egyptian  cigarette  in  a  long  black  holder?

    Wild, wonderful Leonie. Why did you leave us in such a mess?

    Gerry  careered  down  the  hill  to  the  higgledy-piggledy  part  of  town, past  Peagrams  Drapers  and  Outfitters (Dresses  for  all  seasons), and  Hazeldines  Bakery (Bread  with  purity  and  nutty  flavour).

    Clattering  over  cobbles  to  the  saggy  frontage  of  Bent’s  Fine  and  Rare  Books, she  came  to  an  abrupt  halt.

    ‘Igor! Move.’

    A  scar-nosed, frayed-eared  hooligan  tomcat, big  as  a  small  bear,  sat  in  the  doorway, eyeing  her  coldly.

    ‘Shoo!’ She rang her bell, stamped her foot. ‘Shoo, shoo!’

    Turning  his  head  with  infinite  disdain, Igor  didn’t  budge  an  inch.

    After  some  complicated  manoeuvring  of  wheels  and  cat’s  tails, Gerry  banged  up  the  steps  into  the  narrow  three-storied  building  that  housed  the  bookshop. The bell over the door jangled its annoyance.

    ‘That cat,’ she announced, ‘is scary! A witch’s cat. Not a whisker of loyalty to anyone.’

    From  behind  a  pile  of  catalogues, business  letters, bills  and  receipts, Prim  peered  over  her  spectacles. ‘Did you look in a mirror before you came out?’

    ‘It was windy.’

    ‘Well, a man called to see you, apparently. Left a note on the door. Better smarten up a bit before he comes back. That’s  not  a  suitable  dress  to  ride  a  bicycle  in.’ She  held  out  a  handkerchief. ‘And there’s oil on your nose.’

    ‘Which man?’ Rubbing her face, Gerry noticed Prim’s tight bun unravelling. Always a bad sign.

    ‘Name of …’ Prim rummaged for the note, ‘hmm … let’s see. Yes, Cooper.’

    ‘Who? Do we owe him money?’

    ‘Gerry dear, we owe everyone money.’

    Almost everyone. They  were  sliding  out  of  control, that  was  for  sure, and  it  was  Gerry’s  responsibility  now, all  down  to  her, and  the  reason  for  layers  of  bags  under  her  eyes.

    Debt, they were in debt. Aunt  Leonie’s  bookshop  sinking  under  a  huge  wave  of  bills  and  final   demands  and  Gerry  couldn’t  sleep, because  of  dreams  of  being  dragged  off  to  debtor’s  prison  by  crowds  of  baying  creditors.

    ‘Can’t we at least ask Cyril to mend that window?’

    ‘No.’ Prim tapped her teeth with a pencil. ‘Even Cyril and his ladders are beyond us now. I  wouldn’t  take  your  coat  off   either, if  I  were  you. There’s no more coal for the stove.’

    The  few  early  customers  in  the  shop  weren’t  likely  to  save  their  bacon  either – someone  from  the  Light  Opera  Group  looking  for  music  and  one  of  the  Miss  Webbs  after  the  new  Ethel  M. Dell.

 

 

 

 

Writing and Editing Tips Part 5: Grammar Rules – Using the Right Word

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Writing is a tricky business. There are so many elements to consider – developing wonderful characters that grow as your plot moves forward, writing realistic yet entertaining dialogue that moves your plot along, developing a plot that keeps your reader enthralled and desperate to learn more, penning breathtaking scenes, inventing beautiful metaphors. Oh, and grammar. That last one isn’t that exciting is it? And it’s one of those things that can be a bug-bear for many writers – no matter how wonderful their writing is, many just can’t get a grip on the grammar. After all, grammar has nothing to do with creativity, does it?

Well I think it does. Grammar is an intrinsic part of writing; without its rules and regulations, that wonderful scene you’ve written detailing someone’s heartfelt passions, their devastating grief, or their soaring joy may very well be for nothing. One incorrectly placed apostrophe, one wrong word, one incomplete comparison or dangling modifier and your reader will be put off, unimpressed, doubtful of your ability or so irritated that they take to Amazon to give you a heart-breaking one star review. And, possibly worse than that, your beautiful, carefully crafted words may very well make no sense.

So grammar is something you need to get your head round. As a writer I have made plenty of grammatical errors in my work – everyone does, and, as an editor, I see them all the time. But the more you read about common errors and the more you work on avoiding them in your work, the easier it becomes to write and to write well.

One of the most common errors people make is to use the wrong word. And I’m not just talking ‘their’, ‘they’re’ and ‘there’ here. There are plenty of others. Here are a few  examples I see all the time when I’m editing.

Who and Whom
This is one that I’ve always found particularly annoying and difficult to get my head round. ‘Who’ is a subjective pronoun – it’s used when the pronoun is the subject of a clause. Other examples of subjective pronouns are ‘he’ and ‘they’. ‘Whom’, on the other hand, is an objective pronoun, used when the pronoun acts as the object of a clause. Other examples of objective pronouns are ‘him’ and ‘us’. ‘Whom’ should also be used after a preposition. Confused? Take a look at these examples:
1) Who made the cakes? (Who is the subject of the clause)
2) She asked whom the film was about. (Whom is the object of the object of the clause)
Try substituting different pronouns to see if you need ‘who’ or ‘whom’.
1) Did he make the cakes?
2) She asked if the film was about him.
and
1) Did they make the cakes?
2) She asked if the film was about us.
As for the usage of ‘whom’ after a preposition, here’s an example;
‘To whom do you wish to speak?’

Fewer and Less
This is the one that got Tesco into trouble. They received a bad grammar award for a statement that appeared on their toilet roll packaging proclaiming:
‘Same luxury, less lorries.’
Perhaps they were going for the alliterative qualities of the phrase, but someone in marketing should surely have realised that grammar perfectionists and know-alls, rather than feeling quietly smug (you know you did!), would complain. So what’s the problem?
Less should be reserved for when you are describing hypothetical quantities – something that can’t be counted.
‘This book was less successful than my last one.’
‘He’s less interested in football than I am.’
Fewer is used for things that are quantifiable; things that can be counted.
‘I sold fewer copies of the book than you did.’
‘He has been to fewer than ten games this season.’
So, technically Tesco’s lorries could have been counted, so there were fewer lorries, not less lorries.

Disinterested and uninterested
When I was studying for my Masters in Creative writing, I once spent hours on what I thought was a wonderful piece about love and romance all set in a beautifully exotic location. I had everything right – my descriptions were evocative, my words beautifully crafted, the dialogue and imagery heavy with meaning. I was actually looking forward to receiving my tutor’s critique, something that usually terrified me. My tutor was a successful, lauded poet and publisher and he was harsh (but fair). He completely tore me to shreds for writing that my hero was ‘disinterested’ rather than ‘uninterested.’ I was mortified. In all my years of reading and writing, I’d never known the difference before. But when it was (stringently) pointed out to me, I realised it was completely obvious. ‘Disinterested’ means impartial – like a judge is supposed to be. ‘Uninterested’ means not interested in something. Simple really, isn’t it?

Lead and led
You might not think this is very common, but believe me, it is. The trouble seems to be that the two words can sound the same. But they are very different. When you pronounce ‘lead’ the same way as you pronounce ‘led’, what you are actually referring to is a soft, heavy, ductile bluish-grey metal, the chemical element of atomic number 82, used in roofing, plumbing, ammunition, storage batteries, radiation shields, etc. (according to the dictionary). So:
‘He lead her to the bed’ is wrong.
‘He led her to the bed’ is right.
Remember ‘lead’ (rhymes with ‘bead’) refers to being in charge or in front, or to what you put around a dog’s neck (in England). ‘Lead’ (rhymes with ‘bed) is the metal.

Its and it’s
This is one that causes confusion because it goes against normal rules. It’s is the shortened form of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. Its is the possessive form of it. It’s confusing (see what I did there) because normally we use an apostrophe to show possession:
‘The dog’s birthday was last Tuesday.’
‘The man’s wife was leaving him.’
But:
‘I gave the dog its birthday present.’
Only ever use ‘it’s’ if you can substitute ‘it has’ or ‘it is’, so:
‘It’s been raining all week.’
‘It’s ten weeks until Christmas.’

These are just a few of the common errors I see every day. In my blog post next week, I’ll be looking at a few more.
What elements of grammar do you find most tricky to master? What common errors drive you mad? I’d love to know.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be.
Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

Writing and Editing Tips Part 4: Exposition – the good, the bad and the boring.

spongebob

Despite the fact that I quite often highlight great tracts of text and write ‘EXPOSITION’ over them in bold, (actually I’m much more polite than that about it) exposition is, in fact, extremely important. Indeed, exposition is part of every narrative; without it your reader would have no idea what was going on, where anything was, or who the characters were. Used wisely, used well and given the appropriate mode in which to inform, then it does have a valid part to play in a narrative. You can probably have no better example than the bard himself. The opening scene of Shakespeare’s Othello tells us a lot about Iago and Roderigo, their relationship and their status. And all in a few lines of dialogue.

ACT I
SCENE I. Venice. A street.
Enter RODERIGO and IAGO

RODERIGO: 

Tush! never tell me; I take it much unkindly

That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse

As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this.

IAGO:

‘Sblood, but you will not hear me:

If ever I did dream of such a matter, Abhor me.

Without wanting to make this a lesson in Literature and language, the opening lines tell us that Roderigo is socially superior to Iago; he says, ‘Tush!’ in other words, ‘Shut up.’ He must be Iago’s superior to speak to him like this. So, with one word, the audience is put in the picture.

Shakespeare knew that ‘showing’ the audience information about his characters and the setting, through actions and speech was far more entertaining and engaging than simply ‘telling’ them that information. And ‘telling’ is the form of exposition that we have all been guilty of using (yes, all of us, without exception, if you don’t think you haven’t done it then you don’t know what it is). But we do need to let our reader in on things, so how do we go about it without ‘telling’?

Let’s take a simple example. Your protagonist, Bill, is tetchy because he didn’t get much sleep. First of all ask yourself the question ‘does it matter? Does my reader need to know this?’ If the answer is yes, then you could say this:

Bill was tetchy this morning as he hadn’t had enough sleep.

Now that’s really boring. And if you do this all the time then it’s really, really, really boring. So how can you give your reader this information without ‘telling’ them?

Use dialogue, and use action. These two things can help enormously and will bring interest, movement and life to your writing:

‘For god’s sake, woman, why is this coffee cold?’
The mug followed its contents into the sink, the clatter drowning out the cheery tones of the radio DJ.
Emily lowered the newspaper.
‘You could always make it yourself. That would be a refreshing change. Anyway, why are you so grumpy?’
Bill sat down opposite his wife and placed his head in his hands.
‘Did you not hear it?’
‘Hear what?’
‘That bloody noise from next door. All night that same scraping and bumping. Then they started screaming at each other. I didn’t get a wink of sleep.’

I know this isn’t exactly Pulitzer Prize winning stuff, but I hope it’s a bit more interesting than the first example. After all, here we have a scene not just a sentence. And we have also learned quite a lot – Bill likes coffee, but he expects his wife to make it (is he a sexist pig perhaps? Is there conflict in the marriage? Resentment? An impending divorce?). We also know that there are some pretty strange people living next door, who are up to all sorts of things in the night. And of course, we also know that Bill is grumpy because he didn’t get much sleep.

Exposition through dialogue can be very effective then, but do be careful. You need your dialogue to be realistic. Don’t use it as a way of dumping information. And make sure your characters never tell each other things they already know. For example,

Bill adjusted his tie in the mirror. Emily smiled and straightened it, patting him on the shoulder.
‘Don’t look so nervous. You’ll be fine.’
‘I know, but I have to make this work. I really need this job. If I don’t get it I don’t know what I’ll do. The mortgage is due next week and we’re already three months behind. They’ll be looking to repossess if we don’t pay up.’
Emily nodded.
‘I know. Then there’s the money we owe your mum. It was nice of her to pay Tarquin’s school fees for the last two months, after all they were about to kick him out. But we can’t keep relying on her. Not now she’s got all those medical bills to pay. How awful that she should break her hip falling down the stairs on her birthday.’

Now I know this is an extreme example, but lots of writers do this. Bill doesn’t need to tell Emily how far behind their mortgage payments are – she knows. And Bill knows his mother paid Tarquin’s school fees, and everything else Emily tells him. If your reader needs to know this information, find different ways to show it – have a letter arrive from the bank just as Bill leaves for his interview, or have Emily visit her mother-in-law in hospital and be told that there is no more financial help.

And remember, as with most things in writing, and indeed in life unfortunately, less is more. Don’t bog down your narrative and bore your reader with unnecessary detail. Show them what they need to know and let them put the pieces together.

Do you have any examples of exposition – good or bad – that will help other writers? Do share them here.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be. 

Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

Writing and Editing Tips – Part 3: Editing and Proofreading your Work

Novels, short stories, articles, even blog posts, all need a thorough proofread and edit before submitting or publishing. Of course, if you’re writing a novel, then it really is worth considering hiring an editor –  see my previous post here. However, everyone needs to edit and proof their work at some stage. This can be a tricky job and one that many writers detest – they want to get on with the fun part, the actual writing, and for them editing and proofreadinging is a pain. It may well be (although I have to say I really enjoy it, even when I’m editing and proofreading my own work), but there are ways to make the chore a little less onerous.

Clear desk – clear mind

messy_desk_2
Make sure that when you sit down to edit or proofread that it is your sole focus. Clear everything else off your desk, close emails and the internet, put your phone somewhere else and focus on the task in hand. If you’re distracted, you’ll lose the flow of the work, or your place in the text.

Give yourself a break

biscuits
Editing and proofreading take a lot of concentration and focus. It’s impossible to do either for long, uninterrupted stretches of time. Don’t try to work for longer than thirty minutes in one stretch. Get up, walk around, make a cup of tea (and have a biscuit). Give your brain a five or ten minute respite. But don’t check Facebook or Twitter or your emails. You’ll just get sucked into wasting an hour.

To spellcheck or not to spellcheck?
Spellcheck is a really useful, if much maligned, tool. Do use it, but don’t rely on it. And when running a check, don’t drift off and end up changing things you don’t want to change because you’re not really looking and you just click the ‘change’ button automatically! Remember, spellcheck isn’t an alternative to editing and proofreading; you still need to go through everything yourself.

Get printing
Many people find it difficult to spot errors on a screen. Print off a hard copy of your manuscript and use a pen to correct errors.

Know yourself!
As you are working through your manuscript make a list of any errors that crop up again and again. Do you use ‘should of’ instead of ‘should have’ for example? Mixing up ‘their’, ‘they’re’ and ‘there’? Too many unnecessary dialogue tags creeping in? (See my post here.) Is there a word you overuse? (I know I use the word ‘really’ far too much, in novels, blog posts, even emails!) Jot them down and you’ll know what to keep an eye out for, and you’ll also learn what to avoid when you’re writing your next masterpiece.

Go backwards

backwards
As discussed in my previous post here, we become so familiar with our work that our brain fills in the gaps for us. We know what that sentence is supposed to say, so our brain glosses over it, stopping us from seeing errors that a reader will pick up on instantly. One way to avoid this is to read your manuscript backwards. That way your brain doesn’t know what is coming next and it’s easier to spot mistakes.

Read out loud
I know lots of people are uncomfortable doing this, but it really helps. Reading out loud helps you to spot all sorts of errors including typos, misuse of commas or missing commas, problems with flow and awkwardness. It also helps immensely with checking dialogue to make sure it sounds natural (see my post on writing dialogue here).

I’d love to know your editing and proofreading tips; do share them by leaving a comment.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be. 

Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

Writing and Editing Tips – Part 2: Beating Writer’s Block

writers block typewriter

Writer’s block – we’ve all heard of it, and lots of us have experienced it, whether it’s just that horrible half an hour of looking at a blank piece of paper or empty screen while our brains refuse to perform, or the more serious, crippling months or even years of inability to create that has afflicted some of the greatest writers. I know there have been times when I have tackled a huge pile of ironing, or walked the dog in the rain rather than face writing another chapter, or starting an article (or even a blog post), and the longer I’ve left it, the worse it has got.

Writer’s block can be caused by many things. For me personally, it often stems from a fear that my writing isn’t good enough, and that no one will want to read it anyway. Or I might be feeling guilty about devoting a day to working on my next novel rather than writing something I’m actually getting paid to produce. Then there are all the other little niggling responsibilities like the housework, the garden, shopping, the children (they should probably appear higher on the list!). But, as my husband keeps telling me, writing is important because it’s important to me. So next time I’m faced with a blank page, rather than go for the usual avoidance tactics of cleaning the skirting boards or reading random articles online in the name of research, I’m going to try one of these:

Write anything. Set a stopwatch for five minutes and make yourself write until the buzzer goes. It doesn’t matter what it is; just the physical action of writing something down can be enough to get your writing going again

Let yourself be terrible. Sometimes we can’t write because we feel our writing isn’t good enough. But when you are at the beginning of the writing process that doesn’t matter. Your first draft doesn’t have to be a prize-winner. Just write, whether or not it’s rubbish (chances are, some of it won’t be). You’ll be going back and re-drafting and editing over and over again. It doesn’t matter if what you write now actually is awful- it’s the finished manuscript that matters. As Margaret Attwood once said; ‘If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.’

writer's block girl

Move on If you’re stuck in a scene or you can’t quite resolve something, move on to another scene. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t witting chronologically. You can write the ending first if you want to, or the middle, or a scene two thirds through. It doesn’t matter – no one’s watching! You can come back and fill in the gaps later. And writing a different scene might help ‘unblock’ whatever problem it was that you had previously.

Exercise your brain. There are literally hundreds of writing exercises and prompts available online. Use one to kick start your writing. Try Mslexia for lots of helpful writing advice and exercises. And there are plenty of prompts on the Writer’s Digest site.

Exercise your body. Walk the dog or go for a run. Sometimes being away from the house doing something physical can be enough to unblock your brain. Leave your phone and your iPod behind and look and listen to what’s around you.

Plan your time. If you can, make sure you are writing when you are most creative and productive, whether it’s last thing at night or first thing in the morning. Try and keep an hour clear at those times to devote to your writing, even it if means getting up earlier or going to bed a bit later.

Set a target. Even if it’s only a couple of hundred words a day, or thirty minutes a day, make sure you write. Don’t worry how good or bad it is – just write for those minutes or write those many words. As Kingsley Amis once famously said: ‘The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s pants to the seat of one’s chair’

Give yourself a break. It may be that you are trying to do too much, that you are tired and stressed. It’s hard to be creative at times like these. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Take a week away from writing to catch up on all those other little nagging tasks that spring into your mind when you are trying to write. Guilt about spending time writing can cripple creativity, and its all very well telling yourself that writing is important too – we all have other things in our lives that can’t just be ignored. Get these done, and then you can sit down to write without worrying. And the time away may be enough to cure your writer’s block.

writer's block - cat

I’d love to hear your strategies for beating writer’s block.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be. You can contact me here.

Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

Why you need an editor Part 2 : A writer’s view

edit

I recently edited a novel for a wonderful writer, Quil Carter. Quil very kindly offered to write a testimonial to use on this blog. When I received his testimonial, as well as being really thrilled and pleased with his kind words, I realised that he also had some extremely good advice for writers, whether considering self-publishing, or already published. I decided that, rather than writing another post about the necessity of an editor, it would be really useful for authors to see things from a fellow writer’s point of view. So here, in Quil’s words, is why you need an editor:

If you are on the fence about whether you need an editor or not, let me tell you… you do. You can have as many friends look over your manuscript as you want, but in the end, you need someone who knows what they’re doing and Alison is that person. Believe me when I say Google will not help you if you want to try and edit on your own. It’s full of confusing misinformation, frustrating contradictions and will most likely teach you bad and incorrect habits. The buddy you asked to proof-read your book will most likely make it worse too.

If you do say defiantly ‘nah, I’ve already read it over and so have several of my friends and it’s fine’, it isn’t, it really isn’t. Grammar, sentence structure, where colons go and more complicated things like awkward sentences or just parts that are not needed are all things that need a professional’s touch, not someone with an ‘okay’ understanding of editing and grammar.

Still on the fence? Let me paint a picture for you: You just spent over a year writing something that you’re proud of, something you consider your baby. You finally decide, after going over it many times, to self-publish and put your work out into the world.

Then the ratings come in, and even if they are good you start to notice people commenting on the editing. ‘Needs an editor’, ‘it was a great story but it had some grammar mistakes’, believe me… it will crush your soul. All of a sudden you will be pouring through the original manuscript trying to find these errors and when you do… you will be picking apart EVERYTHING and second guessing things you once thought perfect. You will become neurotic, it will stress you out and it will not be a fun experience. You want people to see your writing, your plot-lines, your character development… not errors.

You’re a writer, and you should be writing, not picking apart grammar, or forever googling ‘semi-colon’ in hopes that maybe you’ll finally understand just how to use one.

Solution? You need Alison! She is perfect for self-publishers; not only is she here to help you with issues with your manuscript she knows things that I guarantee you don’t. Not only did she send back my edits days before she said they would be done, she did a wonderful job and offered suggestions on my book that helped make it better. Alison is easy to work with, professional and I am eager to use her again for my future books.

Your book deserves to be perfect; after all the time you put into writing it you’re selling yourself short if you don’t use Alison as your editor. With her golden touch you can make a good book amazing and if you have an okay book she can give you the tools needed to make it amazing. She knows her stuff and she knows what she’s doing.

One of my favourite parts about using her was the report that she included in her edits. She pointed out areas of my writing, bad habits that continued throughout the book she was editing (and that I know are in my other books) that I never realized I was doing. So not only did she do a great job editing, she has also offered suggestions that I feel will make my future books even better. I appreciated that a lot. I have used her report as my own personal writer’s guide and have referred to it many times to remind myself of parts that I need to fix for my future work. That is actually something every writer needs. Chances are you are making the same mistakes throughout your book and having them pointed out and corrected has been a huge help for me personally.

All in all, save yourself the stress and get Alison. I couldn’t be more happy with her work, and she has my full recommendation.

Quil Carter, author of The Fallocaust Series