Category Archives: Fiction Clinic

When To Delete {Editing Tips}



All I can say is: be ruthless when it comes to anything that’s — clunky (awkward), redundant, superfluous, extraneous, clichéd, telling, overdone…

When it comes to having a nice fluidity to your narrative you have to ensure you remove things that simply don’t need to be there, simple! Take them out and if it still works then you are on the right track. Some writers think they have to say it in unique and interesting ways. While, to some extent, that might be true it can, if you work too hard, really feel forced. Then it simply doesn’t work! I have seen some wonderful metaphors and similes lost in a crowd of metaphors and similes! The trick is to use such devices sparingly and in just the right place. This gives them power. Got it?


Here are just a few things to ponder… I will talk about filler and the things you can lose from the actual story tomorrow!

  • Description — this is important for allowing the reader to really ‘see inside the moment’, to visualise it as you intended them to, but they don’t need every single detail drawn in for them — just enough and perhaps more importantly to create the right mood, or tone, perhaps, even, to create the right sense of danger if you are leading them to the edge of a cliff face, for example. Sparing, yet vivid wins the day! So it really does come down to how you use your words and which ones. And if in a moment of great tension then whatever you do don’t stop to admire the view, make the description an active part of the movement itself. Look at how other writers do it!


  • Look at things like attributions; the ‘he said/she said’ in dialogue. You will find that a lot of the time you can remove these as long as you can stay with the flow of the conversation. Better to show some body language so we know who said it. And don’t write  ‘they paused’ — create the pause with an action! None of us stop and pause, well not really! Lose adverbs that are redundant if we can see how something is done or said. Lose different words for said when said is just fine (I have talked about this before!) Punchy and sharp!


  • Lose clichés as these are considered to be lazy prose! The tears streamed down the face… ugh! How about she dabbed her cheeks or some other more interesting way to show she was crying!


  • Telling tags: These tell why something is done or said when it’s usually obvious! She stopped the man to ask the time because she was worried she was late. Telling! If we see her rush and ask the time as she rushes we can see it, it’s shown! See what I mean?


  • Lose ‘that’ and ‘very’ and ‘just’: a lot of the time … see some of my deliberate crossings out. Also see the use of italics when I think the word is more functional so I left it in…  The way that he said it made her smile; he was just so angry (more active?); she was very jealous (though better to show this through actions… right?) Also think about some of the adverbs we overuse! Like ‘suddenly‘… So often there is no other way to interpret the action so lose it and just show the action!


  • Pleonasms: nodding the headshrugging the shoulders; thinking in the mind… Where else? Get the idea?!!!


The message here is very simple: if you can lose it, lose it. That way the writing becomes sharper! 🙂 Only repeat expressions or use words that are less functional in a sentence when part of character voice and there is a difference as I will show you later in the week!

Happy Tuesdaying!




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Self Editing: Eveything you need to know

I had planned a post at some point similar to this, but when I read the talented Sharon Zink’s page I decided to share it.

Sharon is an amazing writer and I have had her on my blog. She also does the same job as me in that she offers manuscript appraisals; the same level of detail.

So I decided to share this link because it really is a masterclass in writing and everything on here is exactly the kind of thing I say to clients all the time when I assess their manuscripts…

Take heed fellow scribes!

I am now about to write the homecoming chapter on Pelicans… this is exciting, it’s the final chapter when we reveal the last of the missing pieces… and it’s raining so I am loving the sounds of rain on the roof as I write! The morning goes pitter patter… ❤

Have a wonderful day everyone!


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Friday’s Editing Tips [Formatting]

While formatting will be changed for Kindle and the like, it is good practice to get into a submission-ready standardised way of formatting your work as you write. Then change fonts and spacing if required by whoever you are submitting it to but generally most follow the same basic guidelines.

Here are some tips from a handout I like to share:

A Few Simple Tips For Formatting


Always check the guidelines for submission with the publisher or agent. Likewise, always check the rules and the submission guidelines when submitting to a competition or anthology. They will have their own in-house styles and rules. However as a rule of thumb the most preferred formatting is:

  • Times New Roman (Ariel sometimes)
  • 12 point
  • Double Spaced (remove extra space between paragraphs)
  • Double speech marks – although some prefer single (some even say if they want straight or curly!)

(Just make sure you are consistent.)

  • Rugged right (justified leaves gaps in the text) and editors usually prefer this as it appears too uniform otherwise. This is using the ‘align left’ tab not the ‘justify’ tab.



The default tabs in Word are usually fine (sometimes they might ask for certain indents but not usually), set for double spacing (sometimes 1.5) and click box – don’t add extra space between paragraphs for the whole document. Start the piece or a new section to the far left, then indent for new paragraphs. Look at books as this will give you the idea:


And so it began.

It was the summer of 1974…


Use an indent for a new paragraph or speaker (also includes reaction by a speaker so the reader can easily follow the conversation).

If you change scene, extra line space – no indent.

For a large time gap or point of view change also consider using asterisks for a larger scene break.


… She never stayed to hear his reaction. She couldn’t watch the man she loved just walk away. Not today. Not ever.


Peter drank. Perhaps not always the best answer but today Peter drank to forget.


Here we changed point of view. The formatting tells the editor/reader the switch in point of view was intentional. Again look at the way books do it and be consistent in your text. You will find your own style.



Always indent when a new person speaks unless it’s after action:

Peter stood and looked along the line of bushes. “What the hell was that?” he said.

Avoid hanging saids like:

Peter stood and looked along the line of bushes. He said,

“What the hell was that?”

(Move it up onto the same line.)

Again look at books. If you’re given another character’s reaction to what a speaker says start like a new paragraph.


“It looks nothing like an alien or a lion,” said Joe blushing.

Peter dug his hands into his pockets and shook his head at Joe.


Thoughts are sometimes also expressed like dialogue. This is completely unnecessary for a single viewpoint character narrator when it’s clear it’s all his thoughts (so you can also lose expressions like he thought.) But excursions in a third person narrative to direct first person thoughts or with an omniscient third person narrator it is preferable to use italics. These make it clear it’s thoughts and differentiate from dialogue.


He heard it again. Only this time followed by a shrill sound, like a bird maybe. It put him in mind of a parrot screeching but longer notes, more persistent. Whatever it was it wasn’t going away – (all character thought)

It’s going to get me – (switch to first person direct thought).

Rather than:

He heard it again. Only this time followed by a shrill sound. “Maybe it’s a bird,” he thought. “Maybe like a parrot but more persistent.” He stood back. “Whatever it was,” he thought, “it wasn’t going away. It’s going to get me.”


If you get into the habit of using the correct formatting it makes it easier when you submit and it also tells the editor you do know about writing – it’s far more professional. It also shows them you know how to follow rules which is essential if they decide to publish you. It’s surprising how many writers don’t read. Read as much as can not only do you then pick up the right way to format but you also see what works best.


Also make sure you use things like hyphens (-) to connect words and en dashes (–) to separate clauses and em dashes (—) for interruptions

Also for ellipses do not use three or more full stops control-alt-period (…) not (…).


Make sure you follow the guidelines, so if it says no identifying marks, remove your name from headers and footers. If it asks for page numbers at the bottom, insert them in the footer. If it asks for Ariel font, no indents (The Costa Prize does this!) and saved as a PDF, then do exactly as it asks.


Make sure you follow the rules of competitions: themes, word counts, previous submissions etc.


Have a great weekend everyone!

Ready to write

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The Glorious City of Bath

Winning the Bath Short Story Award (BSSA) this year has to be one of the big highlights. It knocked my socks off to actually win something and with a story  that had some very personal meaning. It seemed other people got it, it resonated on some level and isn’t that what being a writer is all about? So this is a great feeling when you make that connection. Thanks BSSA for choosing Learning to Fly –– read it here! LINK

Jude, one of the BSSA ladies, also wears another hat, that for Writing Events Bath, so when she knew I work with developing writers and my novel was out this month, she invited me to run a workshop on writing a psychological thriller at the wonderful Mr B’s Bookshop. And I love psychological thrillers, and while While No One Was Watching isn’t exactly that, it is kind of and I call it that if I have to pigeon-hole it and of course it uses many of those devices that tap into the psyche. I  grew up reading and being influenced by such books! So I loved putting this workshop together — a pig in literary mud!

And so last week Mum and I did something we never do, we left Dad in charge of the pooch and took a little trip to Bath, and the Hilton Hotel. And what a treat we had!

This time last week in fact we were  getting ready to set off to the station, although sadly it seems like ages ago now! Want to do it again! Want to do it at lots of hotels and places! Anyone else want to hire me? He he …

The hotel, although not quite as aesthetic to look at as the other Bath buildings, is lovely and central and a very short walk to Mr B’s although we did take a rather convoluted route because the girl at the hotel wasn’t sure! But we found it and around the corner at 3,30 we also found Halls and Woodhouse, the cafe where we were kindly treated to afternoon tea by the lovely ladies from BSSA. So nice to finally put faces to names, I met Jude, Anna and Jane and from Writing Events Bath also Alex.

We had a lovely chat about all things writing and enjoyed the delights of an afternoon tea. Then we relaxed on the sofas before it was time to go to Mr B’s ready for the workshop.


Writing Events Bath

Jane (BSSA), Debz (some writer apparently) and Jude (BSSA and Writing Events, Bath)

I had not run this particular workshop before, with a specific genre, but as I pointed out good writing is good writing and many of the things we talked about relate to any genre — good characterisation, motivation for action, sharp narrative etc. However I did focus it on what a psychological thriller is, where it fits in the context of other thrillers and the premise of many of these novels. I will do a blog post about this as I think many would find this interesting.

We had a couple of writing exercises, one writing an opening scene or blurb to see if we could capture the essence of a good psychological thriller. And after the break we wrote a scene with tension, after a discussion of narrative devices.

We finished with a Q&A and I even signed copies of my novel, in fact we ran out of books.

People were lovely and many said it had been very helpful 🙂 I hope that what I showed was that it can be done, we can get published if we work at the craft.

I have sat through many workshops and so I did what I thought I would want from a good workshop, it needs to be two-way, interactive and they needed to know I do know what I’m talking about (most of the time!).  So it helps that I work with lots of writers and I know the common errors! And that my novel was published of course!

I had a lovely time! And am so pleased some of the writers that took part have have found me on Twitter and said they’re enjoying the novel and loved the workshop! Phew!

The following day we did a spot of sightseeing in Bath, the tour bus, the Jane Austen Centre and of course some shopping! Although I bought very little.

A nice meal in the hotel that evening, and  then we relaxed in the room.

The following morning at breakfast, who should walk in but Ade Edmondson, who had been performing with his band in Bath that night. I didn’t disturb his breakfast but I was tempted to ask him if he wanted a copy of my book! I didn’t of course!

So here are some pics guys! I wish I was still there now!


Bath Abbey (1)



Bath Abbey (2)


That writer person again, who does she think she is?

That writer person again, who does she think she is?


Off to talk to the lovely writing group at Canvey Library this afternoon and you can hear me on Sarah Banham’s show on local radio Saint FM from 7pm, here’s the link: SAINT FM

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It’s Friday!

Well in the absence of anything for Fiction Clinic, and since I am getting ready to head off to Hay, I will keep this short and sweet this morning.

The sun is shining and I am hopeful I won’t need the wellies this weekend! But packing them just in case. Rosie has seen her doggy things go into a bag so is laying in front  as if daring me to even try to leave without her!

I’ve been hearing that they’ve got all the young writers there for the Chris Evans Radio 2 short story comp, wish I’d been there to raise more awareness about the Paws Animal Writing Competition — but imagine if we had that many entries. I think I’d need way more judges. Perhaps it’s good it’s not like that. And the good news is our young authors are published. The contracts went out last week and we have a venue booked in London for the launch of Wild n Free Too! So I will share more details on here. The next competition opens in September.

And talking of competitions I can’t wait to see who won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. I’ve read 4 of the stories on the Granta Site and the last one is on there today. These have all been amazing and deserved winners. I could not compete! Do have a read to see how well written all the stories are. Hard to choose a fav!

And have now almost finished reading the 4th of the 5 books for the Book Prize — but still same favourites.

Will report all about Hay and meeting my publisher after the weekend.

So think of me wandering around the Hay site being all bookish and nerdish! Who needs Glastonbury? Definitely not me although I will be rocking to Bon Jovi next weekend — what a mad life it all is!

Have a great weekend all … and we resume In The Spotlight next week too! Still looking for more authors if anyone wants to nominate themselves or someone else!

It's off to Hay we go!

It’s off to Hay we go! HAY site

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Being student, being teacher … the editing loop

I’ve spoken before about the concept of paying it forward, how I sometimes find myself giving people good news in my roles for BHP, CafeLit and Paws n Claws and so when I am lucky enough to receive good news it almost feels more earned.

This week I find myself in another odd little loop where in the mornings I’m working on the edits of While No One Was Watching and in the afternoons being the editor.

We all need an editor, that’s what I am really passionate about. I guess I am more clued up than some in terms of editing because of my job so indeed there are not too many edits or suggestions, my work is pretty polished, BUT the ones my lovely editor gave me are indeed valid and make sense. It does make a difference, and especially for those starting out. I so wanted this and I am so delighted to have this kind of one on one line by line copy editing. Having given this to others for so long, I love to have it given back.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with many writers and often get lovely feedback. Only this week the biggish publisher I do a lot of work for sent me a lovely response from an author whose MS I recently worked on and he wants me again! It not only makes me feel fab, but it validates what I do. I am a professional editor since I am paid to do this and it’s my job — but I still don’t think of myself as that! I am an author first. What me? A professional editor? Oh yes — me. How’d that happen? (Am I really, though?)

What I’m saying is the editor. just because it’s another set of ‘trained’ eyes sees what you don’t. And like so many books where the author acknowledges their editor for making the book what it is (I love to read the Acknowledgements section) I will be doing the very same thing. God I’m just excited to be in this position. Can you tell?

So maybe my life is hinged very much on this whole paying it forward thing, I help you, you help me — we all help each other.

And that’s the way it should be.

So to end, and talking of helping, next Friday I am off to Hay, but not till lunchtime so I will be holding Fiction Clinic, and so this is the plan — I will only edit one 500 word piece here on-line on my page so it will be the first that comes and send me something you know isn’t working — maybe you don’t know why. I will use the first one I get, and any others can be saved for another time.

Please email them over before Thursday to


Be Happy

Thanks and have an amazing weekend y’all!

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Being happy … wherever you are

… it’s not location, it’s a feeling deep inside …


Apologies that there is no Fiction Clinic today, what with being away etc but we will have one next month so do send over your 500 word extracts that you think need a little tlc.

I have returned from the parents home after a nice little break, although I still had a full MS to copy-edit while I was there that I managed to get in the post the day before I left. But it was still a restful time.

I have been thinking about my life as a writer and what that really means. I love living in my little county terrace in North Wales and it feels very ‘writerly’ with the lane and my view of the mountains. I wouldn’t say that actually inspires me to write but it certainly feels like a relaxed and lovely way to live.

My decision to move closer to the parents is to be more part of my family and I think it is the right time. I know living in a bungalow on Canvey Island doesn’t have quite the same ambiance or sound to it, but so what?

When you look at my lovely writing life , I realise all I really need is my laptop, a nice quiet room, my furry children for company and to write. So really does it matter where I live so long as it’s peaceful enough and it will be on Canvey in the part I want to live in. What it does mean is I can walk Rosie over at lunch time to see the parents and I think have more of a social life. And I plan to start the Canvey Island Writing Group as I don’t think they have one. That way I will also immerse myself in the literary life … I’m sure even Canvey has that. And I am now going to be only a 45 minute train ride to London so I might be able to attend more literary events there.

Happiness is more a state of mind and while I am really happy to be here, I also know it’s time to start a new chapter. It has taken me a few years since Lee died to finally find real happiness. Some might say if you’re happy stay where you are. But one thing is missing — being closer to family. And so long as I’m writing and I have my cats and dog with me, why wouldn’t I be happy elsewhere? I will be. It’s a given.

And who knows? Once the bestseller comes I can have a home in the countryside as well! Oh and the one in LA that I always told my realtor friend out there, I would have for premiers of movies made from the novels … well a girl will never stop dreaming. But actually so long as it’s the peaceful space, a laptop and a story in my head — I know I will always be happy. Bestseller or not. It’s not about the money and it never was. It’s about being happy. But a bestseller would be nice, because it means your work is getting recognition.

How about you? What are you imagining? What are your dreams?

Happy weekend everyone.

Next stop?

Next stop? Or maybe a bungalow on Canvey Island is enough for now 🙂


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