Sunday, October 30, 2011

Copy Edits or the Ghost of Sr Mary Eleanor

Pitcure by 
Another milestone has arrived in my writing life - my first set of copy edits. Gulp. Lashings of red everywhere and it's easy to feel a huge failure. This really plays to my insecurities a bit like Christina's last post about reading aloud - they are tied together for me. I am dyslexic.

For me this means spelling is an obstacle of sometimes insurmountable proportions. I can be faced with a word that I can't even look up in dictionary because I don't know where to begin. Then of course there is also the fact that there are tricky words like is a mine field. I find I frequently 'dumb' down what I want to right (ooops write! and I just spotted that before I pressed the published post button) because I can't spell the words I normally use in speech and this can lessen the impact and meaning of my story or thoughts I'm trying to convey.

So I was dreading the copy edits. In my mind it was going to be like my high school senior year Advancement Placement English teacher was coming to haunt me. Sr Mary Eleanor took no prisoners and didn't understand that I didn't see spelling mistakes. After one essay test where I spelt Johnson five different ways she took me aside and told me that if I had one more spelling mistake in her class the A that I deserved would never be attained. I graduated with a B+.

If you are a writer, you know that reading your work aloud is vital. With me this doesn't work as words move. I don't see them move, but I pull words from the page and make new sentences - perfectly good ones, but not the ones written on the page. (reading aloud in a class was a nightmare). For my writing, I have fixed this problem with text to voice ears are not dyslexic. However homophones still can slip through...

So back to the copy edits..THE CORNISH HOUSE has been edited so many times and yet there are still tons of errors, but thus far I have escaped the spelling ones - except the English vs American ones. I am in awe of the copy editor's skill to find them all.

It appears I also lack the ability to use a comma...where I have used one it's wrong and well I never use them when needed. See Sr Mary Eleanor was correct all those years ago to deny me my A.

I am also in I mentioned I have been so hard on this script especially on my tendency to repetition and yet the copy editor has pointed out all my characters are sighing, shaking their heads (maybe 70 times) and sitting up straight that they must be exhausted from the strain....just goes to show what we don't 'see' in own work no matter how closely we look at it.... at least I haven't changed anyone's eye colour half  way through or their name in this script - I wouldn't want to put some others up to scrutiny.

Have you been copy edited? If so what is your biggest slip-up? If not what do you think yours would be?

Come back on Thursday to hear from Biddy...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Embarrassing Moments

Last weekend I attended the fabulous Festival of Romance, the first romance convention in the UK aimed at readers. It was a mixture of serious talks and fun, and I really enjoyed it! Well, most of the time. Because there was one part I absolutely hated and that was having to stand up in front of about fifty people to read out an excerpt from my novel.

I don’t find it difficult to read out loud as such and always loved taking my turn doing that at school when I was little, so this wasn’t the problem. It was just the fact that I was reading something I’d written myself as opposed to someone else’s work. And it had to be a scene describing my hero.

I don’t know about other authors, but when I read the words on the screen at home they always seem ok. Reading them out loud, however, makes them sound trite, silly, clichéd and downright rubbish. I’ve no idea why (unless they are all of the above, which I desperately hope they’re not!). And why, when you’re standing there in front of an audience, does it feel like you have an inner copy editor inside your brain? He/she is picking holes in the plot and tweaking the sentences the whole time, even though you know full well a real copy editor has already done this, not to mention the umpteen times you’ve gone through it yourself.

So why did the whole experience make me cringe?

Maybe it’s because when you read a piece out of context like that, you don’t get the whole picture? It’s a bit like the nominations for worst sex scenes every year – I’m sure they can’t all be as bad as they’re made out to be, because there has been a build-up to that particular scene beforehand which we’re not being shown.

Or maybe it’s just me. As we’ve discussed before on this blog, the whole standing up in front of a crowd thing is very daunting and I’m still learning. But I know one thing for sure - if I have to do it again, I’m going to think very carefully about which scene I choose. And I think I’ll pick a scene where I don’t have to read about naked men’s chests and wet breeches because that definitely didn't help ... (And no, I wasn’t describing Colin Firth).

Thankfully, it was over quite quickly and after that, I could relax and enjoy the rest of the festival. One of the highlights was taking part in a “heroine’s fashion parade” (ie. we had to dress as the heroines of our books), which was great fun. It’s not every day you get to stand next to Marilyn Monroe or a chicken!

Please stop by again on Sunday to hear from Liz

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reasons to Write: #1 Balance

The reasons we write - or the reasons we don't - are very personal, don't you think?

It's no particular secret that I haven't written for some time, and that I haven't written regularly for longer than I care to remember. I've made some measure of peace with that - it's never felt like a permanent situation, more like a pause. I'm hibernating. Out of season.

It'll come back. Or, rather, I'll come back to writing.

I'm not going to blog about the reasons I'm 'pausing'. At least, not today! It's enough for me to know what they are, to have learned to respect them, and to say, "it's okay. It's not permanent." (And not serious, either, so don't worry, if you're so inclined! :-) )

I'd rather talk about all the reasons TO write. I've been thinking about them a lot, lately.

Personally, I think writing helps to balance my life, to balance ME. The dayjob's a pretty heavy load on one end of a seesaw - it would be very easy to let it be all-consuming, to live for that, to think of that all the time. It would be very easy to be goal-orientated, project-focussed, NHS-management-speak-obssessed, musing all the time on codings and admissions avoidance, scrutiny and impact-assessment.

I'd rather spend at least some time wondering how to get my hero and heroine in bed, and what they'd do there that would be unique between them, how to blow up a cathedral (long story) and what would happen if THIS historical character had chances to meet THIS historical character.... Immersing myself on that imaginary world stops me immersing myself - unhealthily - in this real one.

And probably only a writer could consider full immersion in the real world as 'unhealthy'.

So. My number one reason to write: Balance.

What are yours?

(Warning: I'll probably shameless pinch your ideas and blog about them....)

Come back Thursday for Christina's next post!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

new house

I know I was meant to post on Thursday, and here it is Saturday, but this time I really do have a good excuse. My beloved iMac died, and with it all my bookmarks, calendars, documents, and basically my entire life.

It wasn't too disastrous—I had done a back-up only a few days before, so I've still got just about everything—but it's taking quite a bit of time to get everything transferred over to my brand-new, lovely shiny BIG iMac with gazillions of MB of memory. I feel a little bit guilty putting my old stuff on my new Mac. It's sort of like having a huge new mansion and bringing all of your beat-up furniture with you.

Because everything I write on this brand-new lovely iMac is bound to be much more scintillating, brilliant, interesting and clever than anything I wrote on the old one. It'll be gleaming and new, high-tech and clean. Right?

The latter part of my writing life can be traced through Macintosh computers. Before I went to university, I had an electric typewriter and stacks of notebooks. (Yes, I know this is revealing my ancient age.) But when I got to uni, I borrowed my roommate's Mac to write my papers and the occasional experimental bit of fiction. I stored all my writing on a plastic floppy disk and printed it out on the university's dot-matrix printer. I thought that thing was adorable; I loved how it was parodied in my favourite cartoon, Bloom County, as the Banana Jr.

In the 90s, I was a research student and I owned an Apple Powerbook. It was squat, awkward, and grey. But I wrote my first romance novel on it—in between writing chapters in my never-ending thesis.

At the turn of the century, though, I bought what is still the most beautiful computer, and one of the most scrumptious objects, I have ever seen: a first-generation iMac in yummy sweet-shop orange. I loved that computer. It was so CUTE. And it was the first time I was ever able to connect to the internet at home. You just plugged it in! Imagine!

On that computer, I wrote my first nine novels (some of them never published and which still languish on CD). I connected with people who were destined to become my closest friends. And because it was in colour, I was able to use photos of Hugh Jackman and John Cusack as screen savers. I still recall the smell it made when it heated up: a warm, plasticky, comforting smell.

When that died, I got a new white iMac, which was aesthetically gorgeous but less edible-looking. And now, this week, I've moved into a silent, sleek new silver-and-black iMac with an enormous screen. It's like looking into a whole new universe with crystal-clear vision.

These computers aren't just tools to me. They're part of my world, part of my social life, a big part of transferring my imagination into words. They really do feel like houses that I live in.

And anything can happen there.

Do you have a similarly emotional connection to your writing tools?

Come back, tomorrow, to visit with Anna.

PS: HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my brother Matt!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

In the Bath

CONFESSION: I actually wrote this post back in 2009 for my Not-A-Blog, but just last night while sitting in my bathtub I again had one of those amazing moments when all the pieces of a tricky plot point came together, and while I was hastily jotting down notes on the soggy bits of paper that I keep beside the tub for just that purpose, I remembered this old post and thought I'd put it up again for those who missed it...

A little while ago I happened to be reading a review of former US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s memoir,
The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, in which the reviewer quoted Greenspan as saying, ‘To this day the bathtub is where I get many of my best ideas.’ It turns out that Greenspan wrote most of his memoirs, in fact, while immersed in the bath, and that he’s in the habit of doing this. As Greenspan’s wife, Andrea Mitchell, explained to a reporter: ‘He first started soaking in the tub because of his bad back. He found it was good quiet time to have uninterrupted focus to marshal his ideas.’ And why does this interest me, I hear you asking?

Because for some years now, whenever I come to a difficult place in my writing, the first thing I do is to run a hot bath. An hour or so of soaking and my characters inevitably stir and start to talk, and I emerge with scribbled water-spotted pages filled with random bits of dialogue and thoughts for scenes, enough to get my story moving. I never really mentioned this to anyone, because I assumed it was simply a personal quirk of mine, the predictable result of listening to too much Flanders and Swann in my childhood. But since reading the Greenspan review I’ve been Googling round, and I’ve learned that I’m far from alone in my habit. In fact, I appear to belong to a whole club of bath-loving writers with members as varied as Benjamin Franklin and Agatha Christie. And while I don’t know whether Vladimir Nabokov wrote in his bath, he did write a piece in the Saturday Review on the subject of Inspiration, stating openly, ‘Some prefer the bathtub to the study...’

So there you are. Why I’m inspired in the bathtub I really don’t know, though I privately suspect that the effects of lying neck-deep in warm water with the white noise of the bathroom fan obscuring outside sound comes fairly close to the experience of lying in an isolation tank – sometimes called a ‘sensory deprivation tank’ – in which most people’s brainwaves slow to a speed known as ‘theta’, the daydreaming state that falls somewhere between relaxed ‘alpha’ and sound-asleep ‘delta’. My creative subconscious, in other words, gets time to play. It’s a theory, at any rate.

Where do YOU find inspiration?

Be sure to come back Thursday to read Julie's post.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Second Reads

Mayburgh Henge

If you remember, gentle reader, that last time we spoke my NWS manuscript, The Stone Voice, had been put forward for a  second read Since then things have moved on.

This week my manuscript came home to me. And it came home with two reader reports. Now I thought I would be upset that the manuscript wasn’t being sent on to agents or publishers but I knew the manuscript wasn’t ready. It was part way through an edit.

So it was with regret but no surprise that I read the reports. Well I couldn’t be happier. My first reader loved it! Which you would expect as she passed it on for the second read. My second reader report was amazing. Eight pages of gold dust. They have gone chapter by chapter working asking questions and teasing out theme and motivation so I can make it stronger. And the comment which made me happy…

“When a story is so close to being spot-on it can often be difficult to work out why some bits of the story aren’t hanging together…”


So I have taken suggestion from my fellow Heroine Addicts and will be copying said reports. I will keep a copy untouched. I will take a copy and highlight all the positive points (for bad days). And with the other I will highlight in one colour those I agree with and in another colour those comments I don’t necessarily agree with. Then I have been told to do nothing for a month.

I can do nothing for a month. I think. I do have my new story to work on.  In November I’ll be back in the editing chair.

I can’t wait!

Come back on Sunday to hear from Susanna

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Plot Problems Are Good for My Bottom

We all know of the dreaded writer's bottom....we sit on a chair, sofa or bed tapping away at the keyboard living in our imaginary worlds. Bliss - well sort of. This leads to an unattractive spread of the backside especially when combined with others things that help writing - wine, chocolate, cakes....

One has to take an active approach to counteracting that dreaded thing...the writer's bottom. You either have to be disciplined (hard when you are using all of that to apply bum to chair and write) or you must encounter plot problems. This is not my preferred solution, but one my mind clearly chooses.

When stuck...I walk and if possible walk a lot. The more I do, the clearer things are on my return to the keyboard. I've recently had a great deal of plot problems as I am re-thinking, re-writing and editing an old the rate I'm going I may turning out very fit as this story is presenting me with a plot wall daily...

Come back on Thursday to see what Biddy has to say....

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Winging It

What were your worst subjects when you were at school? Mine were definitely PE and sewing. PE because I’m a klutz and I wore glasses and couldn’t catch a ball to save my life (I was also cross-eyed and usually saw two of them, which didn’t help!) and sewing because ... well, I was just rubbish at it!

You’d think I’d be put off for life, wouldn’t you? But over the years I have improved slightly. I finally learned how to sew on a button (yes, without getting the thread all knotted and the button hanging sideways), I taught myself cross-stitch and actually finished a tapestry kit. Ok, so it took years, but I got there eventually. But recently I’ve had to be more adventurous – I needed to make a Regency dress.

I’ve always loved dressing up and jumped at the chance to do so for the upcoming RNA Regency Day. The only problem was that I didn’t have anything suitable to wear. Buying a dress or having one made was too expensive, so the only alternative was to do it myself. Why not, I thought?

It did seem very foolhardy for someone who can’t sew a straight line with a sewing machine and is very likely to draw blood every time a needle is used. But I figured that if I could learn to be an author, why not a seamstress? And it would be perfect “filling the well” time too – something to take me away from the writing completely.

So I went to buy material, thread and some buttons – then set to work. As with my writing, I decided to “wing it” (yes, I’m a “pantser” not a “plotter”) and improvise, although I did buy a pattern for the bodice part. Not that it actually fit – I mean who draws these things? Do they actually know how big the sizes are? Or was it just the fact that I didn’t follow the instructions properly? (Anyone else hate reading instruction manuals?) I made it fit eventually (I just hope no one ever looks on the inside!), and then I managed to attach the skirt bit and close up the sides. Amazing!

The only problem was that it looked a bit like I was wearing my grandmother’s curtains. Or possibly someone else’s bridesmaid’s outfit. Maybe lilac with white lace wasn’t such a good idea after all? But it’s done now and when I put it on, it sort of looks like a Regency dress. A very home-made one, but isn’t that what the poorer ladies did back then? Like Scarlett O’Hara, maybe they ripped down the drawing room curtains to make ball gowns out of? Well, that’s what I’m going to pretend anyway. I’m an author, I’m allowed to use my imagination.

Because I am going to wear it, despite the fact that it doesn’t look all that great. After all, I “wing it” with my writing, and I’ve had the courage to show that to the world, so why not home made clothing. Ok, so I had years of practice before the writing went on show, and I can see I need to practice my sewing skills a bit longer too. Still, it’s a bit of fun and I’m entering into the spirit of things – that’s what counts, right? If nothing else, I’ll give everyone a good laugh. And entertaining people is what authors do, isn’t it? But I think I’ll stick to the written page from now on ...

Please come back on Sunday to hear from Liz (if she’s stopped laughing by then !)

Sunday, October 2, 2011


It's easy to tell when I've been on a Regency binge. Quite aside from the drifts of Georgette Heyer's and other historical romances beside the bed, sofa, cooker, and loo, you'll find that my kitchen audio book du jour is probably Sense and Sensibility, or Persuasion.

There are other clues. I look much the same - I'm not to be found wilting about the house in fine cambrics and muslins, protecting my delicate frame (ha!) from draughts with a Norwich silk shawl, (although, yes, I was in my home-made Georgian ball dress again on Friday night, which is another story*)... but I sound quite different.

You see, when I immerse myself in another fictional world, I tend to absorb it's verbal rhythms and language. After six or so Heyer's, read in quick succession, I have to remember to speak normally.

I've always been that way. As a teen, if I read too many of one particular Sci Fi, or a mite too many gritty thrillers, I'd live in that world just a little too much. For the most part it's harmless, just treading the edge of a minor eccentricity. For writing, it's a nightmare.

I absorb language and writing style like a sponge, whether I want to or not. And if I am reading in the same genre as I'm writing, when I'm writing a lot, I have sleepless nights worrying about losing my writing voice, or becoming derivative, or - worse case scenario - inadvertent plagiarism.

So when I'm writing breathless, emotional romantic suspense, you won't find my anywhere near a contemporary romance of similar type. I'll read 1970s medical romances, or old-favourite fantasies.

Or I'll drive my long-suffering husband distracted by immersing myself in Heyer, and failing to remember which century I'm living in.

(*There was a launch even for next Spring's Cockermouth Georgian Fair: a screening of Vanity Fair at which I got to ogle James Purefoy on the screen AND sit very, very upright because slouching meant my corset tended to prevent my breathing AND hope it didn't rain later as my hair was only maintaining its lofty heights by the addition of a Great Deal of hairspray. Later, when I'd divested myself of dress and taken the pins out of my hair, while still wearing powder, patch and rouge, I looked like a dissolute denizen of a Georgian brothel. Or, as Husband maintained, a refugee from an 80's pop video....)