Tuesday, 24 September 2013


'Edits' is a bit of 'Marmite' word, I always think - you either love it or hate it. Authors tend to say ....heavy sigh.....'Going to be out of the loop for a while, I've got edits'. A bit, then, like a dose of influenza or a nasty rash. But is there a middle way? Could edits become an acquired taste? Back in the day when I was doing journalism for Devon Life, my copy had to be pretty spot on. And anyway, the maximum word count was 1000 words so not too difficult to get right. I've had a fair few magazine editors for my short stories over the years as well. In the days when I wrote a lot for My Weekly I had the subeditor (that doesn't look right - should it be sub editor? Or maybe sub-editor?) from heaven - a lovely lady called Jean. She would often ask me to add a paragraph, or another plot thread, or change names, and - once - even a setting. So I thought, when the time came for me to do an edit on a full length novel, that I pretty much knew where I was going with it. Oh dear. How wrong could I have been! How very, very wrong. To say my edit on TO TURN FULL CIRCLE was a steep learning curve is the understatement of the century. There were lots of computer probs with this one, alas, which didn't help. I began to wonder whose book it was as it went through yet another tweak or six. For EMMA (the sequel to TTFC, and the second in my trilogy) I have a different editor. Goodness, what a difference this is making to how I perceive edits to be. I have discovered ... that I seem to have a bit of a fondness for ... elipses. Oh yes I do! And I flirt with the dash/hyphen rather more than is decent - well, haven't we all been there? Lots of both have been taken out and replaced with commas. Or the sentence has been split into two. How that simple thing has tightened up my writing - thank you, Jane! So now we come to the thorny question about self-publishing versus the mainstream route. Someone (she has never worked with an editor) moaned to me only this week that she had been taken to task by someone she'd asked to read her manuscript, for some grammar and punctuation issues. 'But I've never turned in anything less than a perfect manuscript!' she wailed. I gulped. Back home, on my desk, was my editor's 'Style Sheet'. There are 70 things on it - 70! Here are a few:- cabinetmaker, not cabinet-maker. commis chef, not in italics. drawing room, no hyphen. rag doll,not rag-doll. mincemeat, but mince pies. Oh dear. And to think I have a copy of NEW OXFORD DICTIONARY FOR WRITERS AND EDITORS on my bookshelf! But we all think we know how it should be written sometimes, don't we? I'm definitely going to refer to it more in the future. How much time we would save ourselves - and our editors - if only we got these basics perfect on submission. So, I'm going to be out of the loop for a while. I've got edits. My historical is done and now a contemporary novella awaits - a whole new ballgame, or should that be ball-game/ ball game? Hmmm ....

Monday, 16 September 2013

Back to the Future: the Curse of Modern Technology

by Jennifer Young

Back in the good old days...
I’m struggling to build a website. It’s supposed to be easy. Everyone tells me it is. Everyone around me seems only to click their fingers fora beautiful, professional-looking site to appear in front of them, whereas I slave away for hours and all I produce is something with half a paragraph of text, a photo of myself unintentionally cropped in all the wrong places and a floating box which says ‘add text here’. #technologyfail, as my teenagers might say.

In the rest of my life, I have to admit, technology does make life easier. I’m no Luddite but nor does any of this come instinctively. I may have been the last person in the western world to get a mobile phone but now I have it, it helps me out in all sorts of ways. There’s nothing like the bus tracker app when you get on the wrong bus. Google Earth? Wouldn’t be without it. And there’s the netbook which fits in my handbag so that I can write when I’m away, and the Kindle so that I can read when the bus app tells me I’ve ten minutes to wait for the next bus…whatever did we do before we had them?

Well, as writers I think our life was much easier. More specifically, I think plotting was a lot easier. Technology moves so quickly now that before you’ve finished drafting a plot some new advance renders it impractical. I bet crime writers utter a curse at the news of every breakthrough in forensic science: the good old-fashioned sleuth must be impossible to write these days.

Author's curse.
Image courtesy of blakeburris (via Wikimedia)
And what about mobile phones? Gone are the days when people couldn’t be contacted, or were able to keep secrets. Thanks to satnav your heroine no longer has any excuse to go wandering down a strange country lane in the dark: she’ll just seem plain silly. And that stranger, he reminds me of someone…I’ll just take a quick picture on my phone. It’s particularly galling when you decide it’s time to resurrect an old plot only to realise that just wouldn’t happen now. And then you have to start all over again.

There are solutions, of course. Recently I had to have a heroine, who fled her ex-boyfriend, go cold turkey on Facebook so that it wasn’t too easy for him to find her. But your options are limited: it gets a bit repetitive when the hero can’t call the heroine because he’s run out of credit (does anyone still have pay as you go?) or charge, or he loses the phone; and when he does get through the heroine can’t reply because she’s broken her phone or her over-enthusiastic flatmate has put it in the washing machine. In real life technology considerably narrows our options for the plot twists, strangles our creativity.

Except in the case of my nascent website, of course, where the opportunities for things to go wrong seem to increase with every click of the mouse…. 

Monday, 9 September 2013

Abbotsford by Mary Smith

I blogged some time back about Red Rose White Rose in which, shortly before the Battle of Flodden, James IV’s Queen Margaret and his mistress, Janet Bairars contemplate what their future will hold if their King is killed in battle. The scripted readings by the two women are interspersed by 16th century music played on authentic instruments by Richard and Vivien Jones, two members of the Galloway Consort.

Last weekend we were privileged to perform in Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott’s home near Melrose in the Scottish Borders – and even more wonderful, the performance, to a full house, was in his magnificent library, surrounded by his books.

The library contains over seven thousand volumes, arranged on the shelves as he arranged them. Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to start taking books of the shelves (though this is probably fortunate for the books) but it is clear these were books which were read. Scott didn’t simply fill a library with books for show: he read them, he used them for research for his own writing and he made comments on the margins. You can almost see him moving along the shelves searching for the volume he wants whether it is Scottish history, folk lore, a treatise on witchcraft, a travel book or a novel.

Abbotsford has re-opened this summer after a major programme of repair and refurbishment. A new visitor centre has been built which has an exhibition about Scott, a shop, restaurant and wonderful views over the gardens to the house. The house itself is jam-packed with a truly astonishing collection of historical artefacts. Scott was an avid collector and the entrance hall is crammed with suits of armour, spoils from Waterloo, a clock once owned by Marie Antoinette and even the wood panelling is from the Auld Kirk at Dunfermline. In fact, if were alive today he would probably be put in jail for stealing antiques – peepholes in the yew hedge against a boundary wall are full of ancient stones Scott ‘acquired’.

Whether or not you are a reader of his work (and a visit to Abbotsford is sure to make you want to try some of his novels) you can’t help but admire this man who decided to pay off his publisher’s debt – the equivalent of £20 million – by writing. He said: “My own right hand shall do it.” By the time he died in 1832 he was better known than any of the Romanticists – and outlived most of them – with a truly international reputation. His work influenced Dickens, Pushkin, George Eliot and Tolstoy. And he was able to buy an old farm house and transform it into his idea of how a baronial country manor should be.

He was a writer but, looking round his fabulous library, it was clear he was also a reader and someone who loved books.

The house and gardens are open seven days a week – do visit if you get the chance. The website is at www.scottsabbotsford.co.uk/visiting-abbotsford