Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Edit Audit – Am I getting better?

Recently I just got my latest edit of my WIP over to my Golden Egg Editor, Mother Goose, Imogen Cooper. This got me thinking about writing, editing and whether I’m actually getting any better. After some competition successes early on in my writing journey, in the way of an Undiscovered Voices Honorary Mention in 2012, and two successive Chicken House Long-Listings in 2013 and 2014, progress has been difficult to see.

My Daughters drawing of me mid-edit! 

So, in a kind of pinch myself – reality check, I decided to do a kind of edit audit, to see if it I can see if any there is any evidence that all my honing and experience is actually improving my writing. So I dived back in to the archive files on my computer to have a look. 

Before that here’s, a few thing to put stuff in to perspective; I started writing (picture books) when my son was coming up to his first Birthday. He is now approaching his thirteen birthday.

My first novel I started in 2009, and wrote the first draft (whilst recovering from a big operation, and living in a touring caravan while managing a house build), I joined my first critique group Abingdon Writers in 2010, and became a SCBWI member in 2011 in order to enter UV2012. 

A rather lengthy plot plan!

My first dabble at writing a novel was ‘Through Mortal Eye’s’ a YA dark fairy-tale with a duel narrative, partly told in first person present tense form the protagonist Ruby’s point of view with extracts of The Hunter’s adventures as Ruby reads a strange Fairy Tale book. When I finished the first draft, and thought I’d edited it to perfection, I gave to my friend and neighbour to read who is an author and editor of educational kids’ books to read. Two weeks later, we had a difficult conversation when she told me it was unreadable, due to the terrible spelling and non-existent grammar. Kindly, she gave me a few weeks of grammar tutorials in order for me to improve the readability of my writing, which I think everyone that has ever read anything I’ve written since will be grateful for! 

Knowing that my writing needed help, and being pre-scbwi, I found an editor on online, he was in the Sates, and although looking back was probably not ideal, he did help me to structure the novel and balance out the two narratives. I did two edits with him, before submitting the novel to UV and getting Honorary Mentioned. I planned my submission of the novel to co-inside with long-list announcement and received a full manuscript request for an agent, and under exclusive I worked with the agent for six months doing a further two edits before she left the industry before signing me. Following this I subbed the novel to Chicken House and got long-listed, after which, I signed with an agent, whom I did a further eleven edits, before, she also left the industry. So all in all, my first novel has a total of 15 edits, and changed from YA to MG. It has received many close calls but never got a contract. 

My second completed novel a YA Sci-Fi Dystopian novel ‘Journey to the Bone Factory’ was written in a frenzied dash in order to meet the 2014 Chicken House deadline. It received minimal edits and was long-listed. It has several full manuscript requests from agents and commissioning editors but again no bites.

My current WIP (which is not my third as there are serval half done or completed first drafts lurking in draws) had a very different start to life. The idea came to me in 2009, whist looking at a Frida Kahlo painting, and I wrote 2000 words and noted down a few plot ideas and character notes before filing it into my ideas stash. I then picked it out again in 2014 when a publisher ran a competition looking to commission some Dark Romance, New Adult novellas. So I dusted off my 2000 words, improved it and entered the competition and won a contract. I wrote the novella all 23,000 words and edited it under a month, and did another edit with my lovey editor, before my editor, left, and then the series was dropped and the contract retracted. However the new editor requested I write it up to a full length YA and re-submit. Worried about getting the change from New Adult to Young Adult, and novella to novel right, and Dark Romance to Thriller, I (already an egg) enlisted the wisdom of Mother Goose Imogen Copper of The Golden Egg Academy. 


With the guidance of Imogen I have been working to change my WIP working title ‘Exquisite Pain’ into the best form it can be. I have so far completed four edits. Some very heavy edits needing multiple spreadsheets to keep me on track. One so I know what I’m going to write. One logging what I’ve written, another to keep me on track so I don’t go over word count.

So my number of edits on each project…

Through Mortal Eyes: 15

Journey to the Bone Factory: 5

Exquisite Pain: 6

After doing my audit I can say that I *think* hope and pray that I am improving. It certainly seems that now each edit is much more significant and improving the manuscript much more. I surmise that my edits before were all more like tinkering, hoping that if I beat it enough with a spanner that the metaphorical engine may whirl into life. Whereas now, my understanding of plot, story arc, and character development are stronger, and so there for the structure and reading experience of my writing is much improved with each edit. Hopefully this means that improvements are being made despite the fact that due to me not submitting or entering competitions there is no real gauge as to whether this is indeed the case. 

Editing in car.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Being a Dyslexic Adult Reviewer of Children’s Books

A while ago a prolific book reviewer blogged about being an adult reviewer of children’s books, and I thought at the time I should do a post about being a dyslexic adult reviewer of children’s book, and so here it is.

I love stories. I love books. I love children’s books. I love reading. However I am also an adult, who happens to be dyslexic, who has two very (un-dyslexic) children who are avid readers. This is a set up for many awkward moments. Like, when my children read the book I’ve been reading and reviewing in a quarter of the time (which they like to point out – bless them). Or when I occasionally read out loud to them (they are quite old now, but even when they were small and I read to them daily) they would point out when I miss read something, (awe –sweet – bless them – GRRRR!)

However this awkward type of exchange is not exclusive to my own children (who after all are children and are still learning empathy) but is also present in people that should know better, but whom just scoff at the mention of children’s books, believing them to be inferior. Let me tell you a little story…

As a parent of two avid readers, I spend a lot of time in charity shops looking for reading material (I wish to point out here that I do support authors by buying new books via independent bookshops too, but when your kid read this much, you need to source reading at a lower cost too). So, one day I was perusing the bookshelves in a local charity shop, when a voice bellowed, “what do you like to read madam?”

Now I am not accustomed to being called madam, and I didn’t realise this question is directed to me until the voice repeated the question at a higher volume, and I looked around the shop to see that apart from the source of the voice, the mature lady at the till, I am the only person there.

SO I answered,Ohh, sorry. Erm, children’s books mostly.

I was not prepared for the response, she, scoffed. Cleared her throat. Then said; “What did you not learn to read? Can’t you read PROPER books?”

Now. At this point, I think it important to point out this shop was for a charity that specialises in getting venerable adults many with learning difficulties back out into the work place. I shall leave you with that thought as I admit I was dumbstruck, transported back to being an eight year old tormented in class. 

I should have said..

 “Children’s book are proper books, and are one of the biggest growth areas in publishing.” 


“Actually I review children’s books.” 


“I like to read children’s books so I can discuss them with my children and encourage them to read.” 


“It’s none of your business.” 

But I didn’t, I just left. 

Now this is something you get regularly from people who are unfamiliar with the industry, a kind of disapproving judgmental retort.

But being an adult children’s book reviewer can difficult for other reasons, like…

1. Everyone assumes I’ve read the classic children’s books. I haven’t. I struggle to learn to read so classics were for me as a child inaccessible.

2. I’m a slower reader than most people. This can be especially difficult when over at Space on the Bookshelf, we shadow the Carnegie. So I always hope that my books are small, but I most review the YA, so ultimately they’re not! 

3. I’m a REALLY bad speller, I try really hard to proof read my reviews, to get spelling and grammar correct, but sometimes I just can’t see the mistakes, and it can be embarrassing. Like the time i interviewed Charlie Higson and spelt his name wrong. He was charming and lovely, and corrected me, but still! 

4. I am not good at grammar. Once I did a tweet where I forgot to put an apostrophe in They’re and instantly another author tweeted saying: ‘I think people who describe themselves as writers in their profiles should know their grammar.’ I was mortified. Bashed. Crushed. My profile also reads, ‘dyslexic writer’ I could have responded but I didn’t. However now, I write every Tweet in word first to check the spelling and grammar before copying into to twitter and posting. This makes the, should be rapid nature of Twitter much more laborious and time consuming.

Now as I said I love stories. I love writing. I love reading. I love kids’ books. And I love reviewing. It is a privilege to read new books and be a small cog in the machine that gets books into the hands of children. To inspire and encourage children to read, it is also an honour to champion debut authors and illustrators to help get their books to the target audience. 

I love what I do. It’s not always easy having the dyslexic associated hindrances, but it fine, I work through them, I have mechanisms to cope. But if I make a mistake in a tweet or a review, please do let me know politely and I will rectify it, and I will truly be grateful and appreciate your effort. But please be empathetic, I am an adult, I will grumble sulk and pull, myself up, but children with these difficulties are much more tender, and spelling and grammar are not the end of the world.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

The End is Near for One of my Favouritist Places in the World – The Cottage Bookshop in Penn.

In 2013 my family relocated. Everything was new. New House. New school. New Job. New clubs. And thanks to out trusty steed ‘Volvo’ biting the dust also a new car. To make matters worse I’d moved away from critique group (the much talented Oxford wing of SCBWI BI), and further away from closest writer friends, (Jo and Nicki –are your ear burning?) But also increasing the distance between me and my most favourite shop, Mostly Books in Abingdon which I frequented in many different guises; customer, helper, general loiterer, to name a few. So with our lives being almost unrecognisable, it was a real boost to discover a gem of a local bookshop, one that was the embodiment of every bookshop and library I had ever imagined – The Cottage Bookshop in Penn. 

Stepping into The Cottage Bookshop is like entering into the Bookshop in ‘The Neverending Story,’ the smell, the seeming endless labyrinth of bookcases, the promise of numerous other worlds and adventures lurking between thousands of covers. I fell in love with the place instantly. The tiny cottage I was to learn had been a bookshop for over sixty years and in that time had added bookcase after bookcase, and housing over sixty thousand titles of every type, genre and book imaginable. It had also featured in television shows and had many famous customers over the years, and was in fact believed to have inspired Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Library. 

So, once discovered I would voyage to The Cottage Bookshop when I need a pick-me-up, or for specific things. On one occasion the whole family spent three hours looking for just the right book to help my daughter with a history project. She was studying Elizabeth I and wanted a book that was non-fiction but written more like a novel but at her level. Eventually we unearthed just the thing, a book about Elizabeth’s reign written as if a novel. It was the right age range and pitched perfectly. To our surprize we found that it had travelled a long way, Published in 1953 by a US publisher, but sold originally in Brazil, the original price label still attached. 

My children owe in part (at least) much gratitude to The Cottage Bookshop and the treasures we have found there for some of their best grades, across numerous subjects, including an art ‘Selfie Maze’ project. But, The Cottage Bookshop is more than a destination for educational purposes for our family. We have spent many a Saturday morning walking the few miles from our house in the middle of nowhere, through the woodlands and fields, to the shop, to each buy a stack of books that we lug home, after stopping at the pub for a well-deserved coffee and read of course! 

The Cottage Bookshop always has a community feel, we once met a elderly lady there who had been visiting the shop since her childhood, and other times we bumped in to visitor from overseas. It is a much loved place, by many from near and far. However all good things must come to an end, and it was announced last week that after almost 67 years, the owner has put the building up for sale and that the bookshop will therefore be closing. So with a sad heart, I bid a farewell to The Cottage Bookshop and it lovely staff, and say, that it was a pleasure to have been a customer and to have discovered it with enough time to enjoy it in all its bookish eccentricities!