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I'm consciously making time and space in my life to be a writer now... it's been a long time coming!

So I thought I was working on a trilogy about a disillusioned 40-something modern-day woman. After some incredibly helpful feedback and mentoring from a beta-reader-cum-full-structural-editor who has been worth his weight in gold, I am now considering making Novel No1 a stand-alone. Doing so will allow me to edit out some of the plot 'sub-strands' that were there to help maintain narrative traction into Books 2 and 3. Being able to cut these out means I can make Book No1's plot arc slicker and more focused on the story's key question and key theme. All good!

It's also 'freed' me up to begin work on a 2nd, totally unrelated novel - a bit of a 'women's fiction/futuristic' thing.

I'm originally from Dorset, but moved overseas in 2010. Now living and working in KL, Malaysia.

My Forums
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Hello lovely people,I just saw that The Blue Pencil Agency are running a 'Pitch Prize' (https://blue…
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  •  · Hi there. For me, the latest draft implies the novel is set in 2085. If so, we need to know clearly.…
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Hey everyone,So, there's a scene in my current WIP in which the MC (the narrator, who happens to be …
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  •  · I watched that film.  No idea what it was called now but I think it starred Michael Caine, Bob Hoski…
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Here's an idea:If we are self-publishing (which I'm not yet, but probably will at some point), one o…
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  •  · Sounds like a great idea! :-)
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I just found this post on K M Weiland's blog from 2016. Although it's an old post, I have found the …
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Hello you lovely people,I would really welcome any feedback you would be kind enough to provide me o…
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  •  · Thanks so much for pitching in a 2nd time, L - really appreciate it. Unfortunately the link you adde…
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https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TropesJust came across this site listing loads of tropes…
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  •  · To trope or not to trope, that is the question.Plus, do too many tropes spoil the plote(plot)? 😐 
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Hello lovely people,

I just saw that The Blue Pencil Agency are running a 'Pitch Prize' (https://bluepencilagency.com/bpa-pitch-prize-2020/), but the deadline for entries is this Sunday!

I've thrown this synopsis of my current WIP together, and would love some feedback if any of you have the time and inclination (NB. The synopsis must be a max of 300 words; this one's 277, so I only have a weeny bit of wriggle room).

Thank you in advance! 


Sadie is 52 years and 4mths old - the same age she’s been for the last 65 years, thanks to her unprecedented reaction to the anti-ageing treatment she took in the past.

Sadie lives on as some kind of matriarchal relic from her own past. Her 35 yr old great-grand-daughter Kasia is the closest thing she has to a friend these days. Sadie has a more difficult relationship with Kasia’s mother, Odette: 53, divorced, menopausal and embittered by the cruel blows life has dealt her, Odette resents Sadie’s enduring presence in their lives, seeing her as some kind of usurper to her own crown.

Sadie’s last-surviving child Ebony (Odette’s mother) is dying of cancer. In her final months, she urges Sadie to add someone new to her life before she outlives everyone who knows and loves her. 

Sadie begins dating 56-year-old Zander, who is unperturbed by the age gap between them and the truth about her bizarre genetic condition. Zander offers her the opportunity to reinvent who she is at last.

But Sadie is finding it harder to throw herself whole-heartedly into a relationship than she’d thought; up until now, staying single had always been an agonising but conscious choice: People I love can’t leave me if I don’t let them in to begin with.

Meanwhile, it becomes horrifyingly obvious that Odette is attracted to Zander as well, and that they would make a perfect match. If she really wants her grand-daughter to find lasting happiness, Sadie needs to step out of their way.

The plan succeeds in bringing them together, but leaves Sadie desolate, and once again convinced of the inevitability of the fate she most dreads.

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Hey everyone,

So, there's a scene in my current WIP in which the MC (the narrator, who happens to be 117 years old and not ageing, but that's not important here) is participating in a private ceremony along with her 51-yr-old grand-daughter Odette and 35-yr-old great-grand-daughter Kasia to scatter the ashes of her recently-passed 84-yr-old daughter Ebony. The plan is to scatter her ashes, as Ebony had requested, upon a nearby hillside spot. 

I have never seen human ashes; I've had to make some presumptions about what the contents of a cremated person's urn would look like, and what quantity of ash there would be. I have also had to imagine the logistics of the scattering.

Would any of you be kind enough to tell me if this excerpt sounds authentic, plausible and - well - any good?

Huge thanks in advance.


“Are you alright with that?” I say to Odette, indicating the urn. “Would you like one of us to carry it for a while?”

I’m expecting her to refuse. For a moment, I think she intends to. But then she looks at me and nods. “Why not,” she says, and holds the urn out towards me like a peace offering. I take it from her gingerly, deliberately letting my fingers brush over hers. 

“Thank you,” I say, holding her gaze for as long as she lets me.

“Let’s get going before this weather turns, shall we?” She starts to head off up the footpath, Kasia and I walking side by side behind her. It’s a ten minute hike to the top, and we complete it without any further words. All I can think about is my precious cargo. With every footstep, I know I am closer to having to let it go.

By the time we crest the lip of the hill, we are all panting. 

Odette looks back round at us. “Okay?”


She leads us towards one of the only two benches - one on the city side, the other on the coastal side. We are heading for the latter. I am relieved to see that no one else is up here, so we have the hilltop to ourselves. It is almost eerily quiet, no sound but our own collective heavy breathing.

We sit in a row: me in the middle. Ebony’s urn is on my lap. Without any of us needing to say anything, we all instinctively know what comes next. From either side of me, an arm reaches around my shoulders. I am pulled into a huddle of shared grief. To my left, I can feel Kasia shuddering as she starts to sob. To my right, Odette feels rigid, but she’s gasping out tears. I say my own goodbyes silently, biting down on my own lips that are quivering hard.

Eventually, we’re ready. I take the lid off and peer inside with a mixture of dread and longing. There she is! Oh god, there she is!

“How do you want to do this?” I say to Odette, dragging my eyes away from the urn’s contents.

From her coat pocket, Odette produces three medium-sized metal scoops. “I thought we could each use one of these,” she says hoarsely. “We can go to different points, if you like. Scatter her simultaneously in different directions, into the wind.”

This seems like the right thing to do. With the urn standing on the bench now, we apportion out the fine silvery-beige powder. The breeze, coming up from the sea, swirls at the mound on my scoop, and I have to cup my hand around it to protect it as I walk towards the spot I have chosen: the far end of the footpath, where it seems to melt over the edge of the grass into the expanse of sky. 

“Fly free, my darling girl,” I murmur, and I hold my trowel at arm’s length, sideways to the wind, and let it take her. A ribbon of glistening, shimmering dust takes off, and at once evaporates like smoke into the air. I stare after it, stunned and broken.

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Here's an idea:

If we are self-publishing (which I'm not yet, but probably will at some point), one of the obstacles is finding ways to connect your wonderful book with the sort of people who would want to buy it.

Each of us here must have their own personal network of friends, family members, colleagues, etc etc - and will be connected to those people via various channels: email, social media platforms, Linked In, our own websites, etc. Think about all of those potential readers collectively, already amassed into readymade mailing lists! 😁 

What if, once a week/month/whatever, we each committed to sharing details of one or two other JW members' currently self-published work via our own networks? Something like, "An associate of mine recently published this book about ____ . I've agreed to give him/her a helping hand with the promotion, so here's the link to it on Amazon (or wherever). Take a look and see if it interests you. If not, feel free to pass the info on."

A little step like this from enough of us could potentially transform sales figures for the members we help.

Who's in? 

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So... having sourced a beta-reader about a month ago via the FB group "Writing Bad", I now have one other person besides myself who has read my entire book. He provided me with SO MANY great ideas for the final edit. But in addition, he also told me:

     I think your book is going to be a hit!
     I really enjoyed reading it.
     If you want to share the next version with me, I'd be honored to read it again.

which totally made my day... 

(Does this count as my first official review?) 😁

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I just found this post on K M Weiland's blog from 2016. Although it's an old post, I have found the suggestions to be great - especially the Facebook groups I'd not heard of before. Within an hour, I had commissioned my first beta-reader and mentor from 'Writing Bad' :-)

Hope this might offer some really useful channels of support for the rest of you.


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Hello you lovely people,

I would really welcome any feedback you would be kind enough to provide me on this 560-word synopsis. The obvious questions are what elements are successful vs not so successful with regards to a) piquing your interest enough to make you want to read the book, and b) giving you what feels like a clear sense of the story and the MC.

I have my own concerns at the moment in response to those questions, but your feedback will help me to gauge more accurately what adjustments are most needed.

Many thanks in advance!


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So, while I retreated to my 'woman cave' recently for a bit, here's what I did. 

Firstly, I sulked a lot because it is nearing the end of 2019, the year I told myself would be "the year" for me as a writer (because I turned 50 this year - as though that is somehow a contributing factor to any writer's success rating), and yet I feel no closer to my dream existence as a fabulously successful and world-renowned author of award-winning fiction.

Then I read one of Harry's email/blog post from July 12th entitled "Stick or twist", about the hard decision we sometimes have to make to dump our first novel and move on to new projects.  I tried on for size the notion that this might apply to me as a person, ie. that I was actually a bit shit at writing - or at best, just 'passably good' - and wondered if it was the truth. Then I decided, "Bollocks to that," and resolved to kick myself up the arse a bit. 

Firstly, I turned a room in the basement into my 'writing room'. (The house I rent in Malaysia is palatially huge, so I have the luxury of doing this). Then I decided to have some proper fun - I went out with friends, rode an inflatable flamingo round a city centre hotel's rooftop infinity pool (which was surprisingly cathartic), and indulged in facials and massages. 

After that, I was ready to get back to business. I have felt for a while that the opening few chapters are just not cutting it, but I haven't known how to fix it. Should I pay for a professional edit, or try reworking it again myself? I ummed and ahhhed for a few days, then decided I will try first to do EVERYTHING I can myself, and only then will I pay sizeable sums for the necessary help.

In the quest for different sources of help and insight, this is how I came across K. M. Weiland's website, and I am finding her tips on structure really helpful. I have gone back through the opening 9 chapters, and so far have managed to strip out nearly 3000 words - including dumping the whole of chapter 4 - and I feel a bit better now 😁

Oh, and I have finally solved the bugbear of what to call my novel (having tried out atleast 3 previous "working titles" and hating them all) - "Stick Or Twist" is absolutely perfect.

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Just came across this site listing loads of tropes... Maybe some of you are already aware of it? Thought I'd share it here in case it proves to be a useful source of inspiration to any of you.

Of all the writing habits I have, one of the worst – the worst from good financial sense point of view – is that I like writing LONG books.

My first novel was a spine-breaking 180,000 words. Not one of my novels has ever been less than 110,000 words. The first “short story” I wrote was 8,000 words, which is to say miles too long to be an actual short story. Heck, even this email is likely to be far longer than any other email you get in your inbox today.

Ah well. There are some things you can’t fight, and my addiction to length is one of them.

But that also means that when it comes to short-form copy, I’m at a loss.

I’m not especially good at book blurbs, which want to be about 100-120 words (depending a bit on layouts and where you’re expecting them to appear.) Since titles need to be short and punchy, I’m not especially good at those either.

In a word: I’m pretty damn rubbish when it comes to coming up with titles … and this email is going to tell you how to write them.

Which means if you want to ignore the entire contents of what follows, on the basis that I obviously, obviously, obviously don’t know what I’m talking about, then I have to say that the evidence is very much in your favour.

That said, I think it’s clear enough what a title needs to do. It wants to:

  1. Be highly consistent with your genre
  2. Offer some intrigue – for example, launch a question in the mind of the reader
  3. Ideally, it’ll encapsulate “the promise of the premise” in a few very short words, distilling the essence of your idea down to its very purest form.

The genre-consistency is the most essential, and the easiest to achieve. It matters a lot now that so many books are being bought on Amazon, because book covers – at the title selection stage – are no more than thumbnails. A bit bigger than a phone icon, but really not much. So yes, the cover has to work hard and successfully in thumbnail form, but the title has more work to do now than it did before.

Genre consistency is therefore key. Your title has to say to your target readers, “this is the sort of book that readers like you like”. It has to invite the click through to your book page itself. That’s its task.

The intrigue is harder to do, but also kinda obvious. “Gone Girl” works because of the Go Girl / Gone Girl pun, and those double Gs, and the brevity. But it also works because it launches a question in the mind of the reader: Who is this girl and why has she gone? By contrast, “The Girl on the Train” feels a little flat to me. There are lots of women on lots of trains. There’s nothing particularly evocative or intriguing in the image. I don’t as it happens think that book was much good, but I don’t think the title stood out either. (I think the book sold well because of some pale resemblances between the excellent Gone Girl and its lacklustre sister. The trade, desperate for a follow-up hit to Gone Girl, pounced on whatever it had.)

The third element in a successful title – the “promise of the premise” one – is really hard to do. I’ve not often managed it, and I’ve probably had a slightly less successful career as a result.

So what works? Well, here are some examples of titles that do absolutely nail it:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Brilliant! That title didn’t translate the rather dour and serious Swedish original (Man Som Hatar Kvinnor / Men Who Hate Women). Rather it took the brilliance of the central character and captured her in six words. She was a girl (vulnerable), and she had a tattoo (tough and subversive), and the tattoo was of a dragon (exotic and dangerous). That mixture of terms put the promise of the book’s premise right onto the front cover and propelled the book’s explosive success.

Incidentally, you’ll notice that the title also completely excludes mention of Mikael Blomkvist, who is as central to that first book as Salander is. But no one bought the book for Blomkvist and no one remembers the book for Blomkvist either. So the title cut him out, and did the right thing in doing so.

The Da Vinci Code

Brilliant. Dan Brown is fairly limited as a writer, but it was a stroke of genius to glue together the idea of ancient cultural artefacts with some kind of secret code. Stir those two things up with a bit of Holy Grail myth-making and the result (for his audience) was commercial dynamite.

And – boom! – that dynamite was right there in the title too. The Da Vinci part namechecks the world’s most famous artist. The Code part promises that there are secret codes to be unravelled.

Four words delivering the promise of the premise in full.

I let You Go

This was Clare Mackintosh’s breakout hit, about a mother whose young son was killed in a hit-and-run car accident. The promise of the premise is right there in four very short words … and given a first person twist, which just adds a extra bite to the hook in question. A brilliant bit of title-making.


So that’s what a title wants to do. A few last comments to finish off.

One, I think it’s fair to say that it’s quite rare a title alone does much to propel sale success.

Because there are a lot of books out there, and because everyone’s trying to do the same thing, there’s not much chance to be genuinely distinctive. My fifth Fiona Griffiths novel was called The Dead House, but there are at least three other books on Amazon with that title, or something very like it. That didn’t make my title bad, in fact – it did the promise of the premise thing just fine – but I certainly couldn’t say my title was so distinctive it did anything much for sales.

Two, if you’re going for trad publishing, it’s worth remembering that absolutely any title you have in mind at the moment is effectively provisional. If your publishers don’t like it, they’ll ask you to change it. And if they don’t like your title #2, they’ll ask you to come up with some others. In short, if, like me, you’re bad at titles, you just don’t need to worry too much (if you’re going the trad publishing route, that is.) There’s be plenty of opportunity to hone your choice well prior to publication.

Three, you don’t want to think about title in isolation. There should, ideally, be a kind of reverberation between your title and the cover. That reverberation should be oblique rather than direct. Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go had for its cover image a butterfly trapped against a window – a metaphorical reference to the anguish of the book’s premise. If instead it had shown a mother obviously distraught as a car struck her son, the cover – and title – would have seemed painfully clunky and ridiculous.

If you get a great cover image that doesn’t work with your chosen title, then change the title. If you have a superb title and your cover designer’s image is too directly an illustration of it, then change the image. That title/cover pairing is crucial to your sales success, so you can afford no half-measures in getting it right.

That’s all from me.

My kids are making elderflower cordial and singing as they do so. They are also wearing helmets for no reason that I can possibly understand.

Till soon


PS: Want to know what I think of your title? Then I’ll tell you. Just pop your title (plus short description of your book) in the comments below. I’ll tell you what I think.

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