Category Archives: Rules in writing

Create Your Style Guide [Editing Tips]

Welcome to a new and busy week. I thought I would give some editing tips every day this week, of course, some of this will have been covered before but  I think it’s always useful as a reminder.

So hands up who uses a Style Sheet or Style Guide when they write?Do you even know what one is? 

A style sheet is a list setting out the decisions that your editor has made on aspects of the layout and language of your document, in order to keep the document consistent.

This is a really useful thing, especially if you intend to write this as part of a series and so how you do something in one book must be consistent across books as well as within the book.

As you come to edit your work you don’t just focus on the shape of the story and if it works, on filler, character development etc. When it comes to the nitty gritty bits of the narrative don’t just focus on the flow of the language and the construction of the sentences either, you have to think about how you represent things. So, for example, do you use a hyphen in ‘no-one’ like that or ‘no one’, both are acceptable. Which of the OK or okay forms do you use (ok is not generally an accepted form). Do you write -ise in words like recognise or realise OR the more US form of recognize/ realize and how is this in other forms of -ise/ize words. Do you use capitals in some of your expressions, like the Magic Sword, the Golden Knife. Do you capitalise the East and the West? Do you use a capital in Professor? University… here I would say unless part of the official address, his name, the university’s name then use a small letter — get the idea? US or UK spelling?

By writing these things down you can create a guide so you don’t have to remember because, inevitably, you will use forms interchangeably. The sheet helps you create consistency — which is key here. For a final edit/proof, it’s vital, especially if you plan to self-publish. But to submit you also want to show the highest level of professionalism. It’s very rare I am sent a ms with the writer’s own style guide but it happens from time to time and it shows me they appreciate this aspect is important.


It might include notes on what font is used, whether the text is left or fully justified, how particular words are capitalised or hyphenated, how much indent your indented quotations have, what is put in italics.

Especially if you’ve learned English as a second or other language, you will know that the English language is not consistent, and it doesn’t even have proper rules for some things! This can be really frustrating, as two people might do things in two different ways, BOTH of which are correct.

For example, in English …

  • We can use -s- spellings or -z- spellings in words like “organisation”
  • We can capitalise or not capitalise words like Chapter 1 or experiment 2
  • We can hyphenate or not hyphenate pairs of words like policy-maker


And that’s before you get to decisions like …


  • Are you going to use 20%, 20 percent or twenty percent?
  • Are you going to describe America as America, the United States, the US, the USA, the U.S. etc. etc.?
  • Are you going to use double inverted commas for quotations and single inverted commas for concepts, or vice versa?
  • Are you going to refer to other research as (Brown, 2003; Green and Jones, 2005, p. 23) or (Brown 2003, Green & Jones 2005:23) or any other variant


Now, the important thing with all of these is to keep it consistent.


More editing tips tomorrow!

editing cartoon


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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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Keeping the dream alive … responding to criticism

I was reading an article this morning about how we receive and how we give feedback and criticism and it made me think.

As a writer I am no stranger to having my work picked over. Fortunately those who have, have always been encouraging even if there was plenty to address.

I also give feedback as part of my day job and I like to think I have developed a style that is encouraging and empowering, but at the same time, honest. It has to be.

What I did was look at what I want from a critique, honesty first and foremost, but no point in saying what’s wrong if you can’t offer a fix, an idea, a suggestion. This is where I think various things combine — me being a writer myself, the fact I work in publishing (albeit on a small scale) but I have worked with lots of stories and lots of writers to know what works, being a reader helps, and my MA alongside numerous other courses so I have a strong grasp of what works and what techniques to use to make things work better. And like you, I return to books and I read magazines and I make sure the advice I give is as solid as it can be.

I once had someone critique my work who just said things like — nah, boring, cut, don’t believe you — and no offer of why or how. I found it demoralising. And I vowed I would never do that or make someone feel that way.

Yes I have worked on manuscripts by very new writers that need a lot of work, but handled right, the comments and suggestions and advice make it clear they have a lot to learn, but a good teacher empowers and makes the student want to learn, and doesn’t demoralise or make them feel like giving up forever.

It helps I am, a ‘people’ person, or I like to think I am, so I approach the job with passion and enthusiasm and do go the extra mile for people. I love it when they tell me they can see the improvement and when they start to have success.  And since I have my publishing contacts, the various projects I am involved in, like CafeLit, I do offer ways to kick-start careers where I can and have suggested they submit to various collections.

Not everyone can teach, I like to think I have the balance right between honesty and encouragement. All I can say is it seems to work and we start the official first full week of work this year, I have a full board of jobs and lots are new clients, as well as familiar faces — so I look forward to what we can do together.

2014 is going to be a great year, come along and see!

Have a great week everyone!

1455061_614034055330223_967283944_nPs the kindle version is still 99p!


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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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Ramblings on being ready to submit …

After all the excitement of the cover reveal yesterday, and then as it turns out, the publisher had given me the not quite final cover which only added to the excitement and led to another reveal later, (yesterday’s post now has the correct image) and (pause for breath) we go live with the single today that will be free to download (optional donation to charity) — emergency post with link later, (yes this is all one sentence!) — I will calm it all down a notch now before I get tucked into the novel-writing.

Phew. Breathe.

I was pondering the dos and don’ts of the submission process and there are many such posts out there. I won’t give a step by step common sense list — only to say one thing — ALWAYS FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES TO THE LETTER. And that includes how you format your work. Get it right. Hard copy proof it for typos etc. You know all this and if you don’t — you should. Points finger, tries to look like a school teacher. Fails.

No what I was pondering was this need to have it now mentality and one of the many reasons some writers choose to self-publish — because rejection hurts? What can I say — it really does. Now I know this isn’t the only or even the main reason we self-publish but it is why a lot of us do — so don’t think this is a statement against self-publishing because it’s really not. Really really. Honest.  Shakes head, nods head, shakes it again. Oh dear now I look like a stuck chicken. I think it’s great this option is available. Truly. But (always a but) — what popped into my frazzled, on the computer far too long without breaks yesterday brain was that I think of a lot of the reason why some material published isn’t as good as it can be is we submit too early. Yep really.

I say this from my experience as a very small publisher, but also, mostly in fact, from my editing and critiquing work. Writers tell me they have their novel finished and want my help and in some cases are primed and ready to start seeking a publisher or the all elusive agent (they do take people on, don’t they? Now and then? Might be an urban myth  — she jests with tongue in cheek.) If the MS is an early draft and by that I mean, first to fourth even, and a first novel — there’s a reasonable chance it’s a few edits away from finished. Finished is a bit of a myth too. Also said with tongue firmly stuck to inside of cheek. The big question is knowing when it’s ready.

We all think it is and then it’s not and end up with so many versions of it. But this is process. This is needed. Really. If you can’t cope with writing the same novel about 8 times (average I’d day) then you might have a problem. It’s in the getting it right I derive great pleasure and so can you and I know many of you do!

All I’m saying, if I have a point in my apparent, going too fast with excitement, supposed to be calming it down brain this morning, is there are  key thoughts I want to share (it took this long to get to it! Now there’s a lesson in editing!) — here they are:

1. If your MS is an early draft it’s probably not ready.

2. If your MS is a much later draft, it’s probably not ready — but if it is almost ready then a publisher/agent might take a chance on it.

3. If your MS is rejected with standard rejections and not whispers (as someone put it so well on FB yesterday) of almost there it’s probably not ready.

4. If your MS has never been critiqued or copy-edited by someone who knows, and is a first novel in particular,  it’s almost certainly not ready.

And — 5. If you decide to self-publish and any of these apply, do yourself a favour and at least have the work critiqued/copy-edited to address why it was rejected before you put it out there — especially, let me repeat, if any of the above apply.

And last, but not least, 6. Don’t publish it too early. Make sure you have gone through several edits and it is as good as it can be (and that means the critique/copy-edit) to be as sharp as possible — if you want to sell books beyond the first one (which will always sell to family and friends) aim for longevity and think future sales.

On that note if your chief aim is to seek an agent, then remember they want you for your career, not just one book and that’s really important.

Of course if your motivation isn’t to secure an agent/publisher after self-publishing, or to self-publish your way into a bestseller and you’re doing it purely for fun and that’s enough — ignore all of the above! But it’s not why most of us write. Is it? Except for the fun part, which it should always be — right?

God, where did all that come from today? Too much caffeine. Or not enough?

Going off to write and await a phone call from my publicist. (Showing off now, always wanted to say that, and it is actually true! Claire from Parthian is calling be about launchy and press things this morning) Woo hoo! Never get used to it! Keep it fun. Always do it because you love it. Really, truly, honestly.

Act your shoe size. It helps!

And today!

And today!

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On Writing Groups …

Good or bad?

How much do you get out of yours?

I hear mixed things about writing groups and I know why. We met last night and we have a smashing group that appears to work — it gets people writing, entering competitions, sharing work and a large number of the group are published, competition winners or at least enjoying writing — and when it started in 2006 no one was — and a good number of these founder members remain.

I think the success of a group depends a lot on who’s running it and what the writers themselves want from it — being allowed to make suggestions and move it in the right direction. Feedback needs to be constructive, well given and all members need to know something about the others so when feedback is offered you know if it’s based on something solid — i.e. can you trust their opinion? Yes all opinion counts but it’s a bit like X factor — seeking the opinion most of Simon Cowell because he knows the business. ‘Oh I liked that’ is not enough.’ Don’t get me wrong, all opinion counts of course it does, but the really pull it apart, how to change it needs a little more! But as you work together you do refine this ability. And I should know! I now do it as a living!

What our writing group did, as it grew, now boasting close to 40 members, although we expect about 15 per meeting, was form satellite  critique groups so that those wanting it, could offer much more one to one, share work in advance type of feedback. My novel group closed at our faithful 4 members  and is amazing. It’s not about genre, we all write different things, so never think it has to be all the same genre — good writing is good writing, but the members need to be a similar standard if possible — that might be the hardest part to get right. I say this because otherwise you spend far too long on one person who gets the fundamentals wrong.  But there is a dichotomy there because you need someone with more experience to guide the group and learn from. But groups find their feet! Our group knows its stuff and that’s important to me. I need to know I really trust the opinion of the writers teasing my work apart. They are all published, one had an agent, 2 of us have MAs and all have attended numerous courses and know what we want. Others have joined and come and gone. But that’s because you must have the staying power and a novel, for its crit group to really work, needs people who come all the time otherwise you lose the continuity you need for critiquing a novel. How can you look at arc for example if you flit in and out. We’ve been going for a few years and several novels and when I move I will miss it.

The  main writing group is forming another novel group now as we had to close ours to new members.  I think you need to have about 4 members for it to work at its best or less as too many and you have issues with time, getting through them and the larger the group the more  likelihood that someone will be missing and if you haven’t looked at someone’s chapter for 2 months it’s hard to follow properly, so my feeling, or at least what worked for us, was small group, regular meetings, all similar ability (forget genre). And I’m sure the new group will find their feet — so long as they know something about novel-writing — this is the danger with anything of mixed ability — making sure the advice is solid. But we did okay and we learned a lot as we went along. And so will they, I’m sure.

We also have a great short story group I dip into once in a while, but I have to say not for a while but I tend to work Sundays when they meet — and a poetry group that does struggle for attendees and now tries to do it online.

We charge an annual sub of £10 which allows you access to the crit groups, pays for speakers etc and then £2 per night for the use of the room — a café that stays open for us. We meet in the evenings (which means we get people who work, day time groups tend to attract more of the retired folk — we get both!) and we meet once a month for the main meeting.

There, like any group, have been differences of opinion but as a rule it’s a great group and open to all suggestions and we often have guests or at least run little exercises or discussions — always trying to be flexible to meet members’ requests. And anyone is encouraged to run one of these ‘open forum’ sessions.

But I know of some groups you have to produce work and pass a test to belong to — er — how do beginners ever learn that way? Surely they need to work alongside the more experienced — at least in the main meetings anyway?

I guess for me what I get the most out of the group, since I don’t really need it to inspire me — because I will write, is the crit group for helping see what I can’t in my novel and the social aspect. The people in my group are my best friends — truly and the group rescued me at a tine when I needed someone. I was writing and needed feedback — sure, but I was also grieving after Lee died and suddenly this group became my life line — friendships that I know will last forever — beyond the writing meetings — so much more. Writing doesn’t need to be isolating is my message — loud and clear!  So if you can get the group dynamics right it will grow like a big pulsating mass spinning off the talent its nurtured! Now it sounds like a tumour — but you know what I mean, it’s something great and buzzy and happening — if you get it right!

If your group doesn’t work and there’s no flexibility then — join another.

We have structure to the meeting because you have to, but we are sometimes accused of a little too much chit chat. but I say this — since writing is something we do alone, then the meeting is more than a place to share ideas and work, it’s also a place to chit chat about writing too. The real work is what the meeting inspired you to go home and do — right? I can’t say that enough!

So what about you? What are your experiences?

Mary Ward, wonderful friend founded it in October 2006. I joined in April 2007 and then took over the chair in October 2007 until October 2010, now still Vice chair, but we have Daniel Dowsing  in the seat (following a year with writer Phil Thomas) and that’s about it. New leaders is essential for innovation or it stays in the same place. I hadn’t intended to be there 3 years but was voted in again but did decide 3 years was enough. Don’t want it to get stale.

I hope, when I move back to Canvey Island to start a writing group to meet like-minded people as they don’t seem to have one!

Thanks to Daniel our rather antiquated blog is now a proper website — take a look: and we’re now a member of the National Association of Writing Groups so people can find us on their website too!

That’s all for today! Have a truly wonderful day! And remember to dance!

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Where Fiction Becomes Truth …

‘The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie; deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth; persistent and unrealistic.’

John F Kennedy

I thought I would revisit the blurred line between fact and fiction — something I talked about at some length in my final MA dissertation. It fascinates me how the ‘masses’ are influenced by what they read in the media and how ‘truth’ is perhaps really only in the mind of the believer.

Indeed what is the truth?

What’s reported in the news? What we read in text books? Online?  Well we all know reporters  never truly lack bias, they add political spin for example. In fact when I wrote While No One Was Watching as a short story and an exercise in unreliable narration, the Reporter was indeed unreliable in his quest for a ‘good story.’  As was the Psychic and the Mother.



I have talked as well as about the expectations of the reader when you use real people in your fiction — to be ‘historically accurate’. We expect and are expected to at least get the facts right. It gives us more credibility — especially if we write fiction based on factual people. I know, for one, I try to check facts about anything, be it a place, an event, a news item for example — even if the story itself is fictitious. We can be pedantic about this and there will be someone somewhere claiming “Ah but there isn’t a post office there in that town” or “No there was never a newsagent on the High Street in Somewhere-on-sea in May 1985.”

Maybe so, and while I would hate to get something wrong, small details like this aren’t always possible to check. I have asked Google all sorts of strange questions and finding answers, with the internet, makes our life as a writer a lot easier. But you don’t always find the answers you need and somewhere you need to perhaps ‘stretch truth’ for the sake of story. While some people might well argue you have a fact wrong, if it’s something like there isn’t a post office there or you wouldn’t see the mountains if you stood where your character is, I would nod my head, say yes I was unable to find that fact at the time — but then I would say this … but technically this is fiction. You might want to say but what about the book? Did you like the story? Or is this what you do? Look for inaccuracies? Have you nothing better to do? But I would never be that rude. And this is why I try to be as accurate as I can. But I can’t always afford to go to the places in my novel ... yet?

While the ‘factual’ news report, article, historical book makes a statement that it is deemed factual, and therefore needs to be truthful — a novel is by definition ‘made up.’ It is fiction and therefore since factual books and reports can not be without spin or bias, even though they claim to report fact, the novel is the most truthful because it never professes to be anything else. Right?

That said, writing a novel that uses the back drop of a real event, in my case the assassination of John F Kennedy,  I did need to seek truth.

But what is the truth?

It was in seeking it, that I discovered just how blurred that line is. We all love a good conspiracy theory, right? And the real story is full of them.

While I could never answer the question about what really happened that day, no matter how much research I did, I did form an opinion based on all the information I read. So yes, while this story is more than a story about Kennedy, I like to think that is more like something that happens off set, I could not have written this novel without a Kennedy spin.


What version of events do you believe?

What interested me in my research was this question about history. About what’s really real and how as the news of his assassination broke, and indeed how any news breaks, how ‘facts’ change as more information emerges. I guess it’s only as true as it is at  any one time.

But when we live in a time after the events and don’t have personal memories of it, what version of events do we believe?

I have a personal experience of this when it comes to the moon landings. Now I was born the same year as the moon landings so have little in my memory about that! But as far as I am concerned it really happened. Fact. A few years ago I was watching some programme on TV about how it was all a hoax. I don’t believe that for a second but I have to say some of what they said was very convincing — especially to a new generation that didn’t live it as my own dad did — stayed up to see it. What showed me how easy it is to be swayed was when they talked on the programme, consulting a leading scientist no less (from where I ask?) who said the photos were faked and his evidence was the flag which he claimed would not have ‘blown’ on the moon where the atmosphere was so different and therefore it proved the whole thing was a hoax. I did wonder — they were convincing, even though I am sure they did land. When I talked to my dad about this he told me how it was public knowledge at the time that they knew this would happen and had taken a ‘stiff’ flag — or something like that, to the moon so it would appear in the photos as they wanted. So why did this show not have that — because it would have obliterated their argument? So there is a lot to be said for checking your facts!

I was very interested to read how many of today’s generation believe the version of events about the Kennedy assassination from what they saw in Oliver Stone’s movie JFK — great film! I bought into it but I also had access to a lot more information than the one source. Having come from a research scientist background, I am trained in how to research and just how many sources of validated information you need to be able to say ‘something might be true.’ So I certainly know that Wikipedia for example is a good starting place, but since it’s edited by the public, is not a verified source, just as a movie that is fictional (and ‘based on a true story’ is a loose term meaning it’s still made up) is also not a source for fact. But we buy into it anyway. And with over 90% of people in the US thinking the Kennedy assassination had to be more than a lone killer, that movie did a lot to cement that opinion. Polls showed how it changed after people saw that film!

And why wouldn’t it?

So can fiction writers rewrite history?

So it got me thinking whimsically about my novel. I wonder … I won’t add spoilers here but since I have blended fact and fiction and deliberately blurred that line further, if someone somewhere isn’t going to believe that one of my characters really did work with Jack Ruby? I can see people Googling his name when the book comes out. And I will smile at that.

Indeed perhaps it’s all the fault of the fiction writer as to why that line is so blurred!

What do you think?

Have a great weekend all 🙂 

Do you remember where you were?

Do you remember where YOU were?

While No One Was Watching will be released by Parthian Books in October 2013 in time for the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination (in case you didn’t know!)

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