Furry Dice Chewing Gum – Problems for New Writers

Beginners’ four faults

As an editor, I know when I am reading someone’s first novel. I have nicknames for the four give-away faults beginners make: (1) Walk and Chew Gum (2) Furry Dice (3) Tea, Vicar? (4) Styrofoam. I see at least one of these in every manuscript where the author has not mastered the craft of writing before submitting his or her work. What are these four faults and, more importantly, how can you cure them?

(1) Walk and Chew Gum
The writer has not integrated action and dialogue, internal monologue and action, or internal monologue with dialogue. It is as if the characters can do only one thing at a time. An example:

    “If you think you’re going to town you’d better thing again,” said Ralph.
    He put down his can of beer.
    “I’m not having any daughter of mine going to a Cantrell boy’s party, and that’s final!”
    “Oh, Pa! How could you be so cruel!” JoBeth cried.
    Then, hunting in her pockets for a tissue, she dried her eyes and stared at him defiantly.
    “If I want to go, how can you stop me?” she demanded.
    Ralph knew this would happen. She had always been independent, like her mother. He half-lurched to his feet.
    “You little hussy!” he bellowed.
    Running up the stairs, JoBeth turned at the landing.
    “I am going, do you hear? I am.”

Not integrating action and dialogue makes for jerky, lifeless prose. Combine, combine, toujours combine:

    “If you think you’re going to town you’d better think again,” Ralph snapped, putting down his can of beer. She was too damn much like her mother. “I’m not having any daughter of mine going to a Cantrell boy’s party, and that’s final!”
    “Oh, Pa! How could you be so cruel!” JoBeth hunted her pockets for a tissue, dried her eyes and stared at him defiantly. “If I want to go, how can you stop me?”
    Ralph half-lurched to his feet, bellowing, “You little hussy!” But JoBeth was already upstairs. “I am going, do you hear? I am.”

This might not be award-winning prose, but it reflects the reality of the action and feelings better by having action, thought and dialogue knitted together.

(2) Furry Dice
Adjectives, adverbs and prepositions are furry dice hanging from a car’s mirror. They don’t do anything for the car’s performance, they simply clutter the place. I once stripped a fifth of a novel by removing words and phrases such as ‘very’ ‘up’ ‘down’ ‘over’ ‘about’ ‘some’ ‘a little’ ‘a bit’ ‘somewhat’ ‘whole’ ‘just’ and other modifiers. For instance:

    She picked up the gun and aimed it straight at him. His smile disappeared as he lifted up his hands into the air. She waved him over to the wall, saying, “Spread ’em out, and no funny business, you hear?” She checked all of his pockets for the money, then stepped back. “Okay, I’m convinced. You haven’t got it.”

This would be better without the modifiers, and with the tighter language you’ll have to write to replace them:

    She snatched the gun and aimed. His smile disappeared as his hands climbed. She waved him to the wall, saying, “Spread ’em, and no funny business, you hear?” She checked his pockets for the money, then retreated. “Okay, I’m convinced. You don’t have it.”

59 words have become 44, and even then the passage could be trimmed. But the first, necessary action, before you seriously begin to rewrite, is to grab that swimming pool net and remove clogging, unnecessary modifiers that muddy the water. Hemingway didn’t need them; you don’t need them.

(3) Tea, Vicar?

    “More tea, Vicar?” Angela asked, taking his cup and placing it on the tray beside her.
    “Don’t mind if I do,” said the Rev. Phelps.
    “That was two sugars, wasn’t it?” she asked, pouring the fragrant liquid from the heirloom pot into his cup and stirring in the milk. When he nodded, she dropped in two sugar lumps, stirred again, and handed him back the cup.
    “Thank you, my dear,” he said, accepting it with a smile.

How often have I read loving descriptions of cups of tea being poured, pots of coffee being made, even whole meals cooked and eaten? Or rooms cleaned or decorated, or journeys made? Too darn often. Writers get a high out of conjuring a tableau from thin air, and in the white heat of creation forget that tableaux of mundane details are not exciting. The reader will not share that euphoria.

Reading about a cup of tea being poured is about as exciting as watching paint dry. How does this scene help further the plot or character development? It doesn’t. The writer simply got carried away with describing everything. Fiction is supposed to be like life, but with the dull bits removed, not spelled out in excruciating detail. Examine your work. Test every scene. Is there anything that you think of as ‘setting the scene’ or ‘capturing the atmosphere’? If there is, cut it. Every scene needs conflict and movement to give it life, and tea for the Vicar has neither.

(4) Styrofoam
This is related to Tea, Vicar?, but it arises not from self-indulgence, but panic. Styrofoam is the padding novice writers stuff into their novels because they haven’t enough story to tell (or think they don’t) and need to create word count. Padding is distinguishable because suddenly the forward movement of the story stops dead. Nothing happens for a few pages. I read, I read, and at the end I’ve learned nothing about the characters I needed to know, nor have the characters done anything essential to the story. Every scene has to propel the plot to the crisis that will resolve the story. Styrofoam does neither.

If you fear you haven’t enough narrative, add more conflict. Don’t give me tours of the countryside, long rambling chats, the characters making travel arrangements, or any other lifeless block of prose. I want action. I want inexorable movement towards the crisis. I want to be gripped. So cut the padding. If that makes your novel too short, re-think your premise, your plot, your primary and secondary characters, and rewrite.

If you want to be published, you’ll have to cure these faults yourself, because your editor won’t do it for you. She’ll just send it back.

Copyright Caro Clarke reproduced by author’s kind permission


Another Rejection Slip? Never Give Up, and here’s why…


Adelaide Godwin, Author ‘Landing on my Feet. The Adventures of Poohka the Cat’

Guest blogger Adelaide Godwin talks to Tracy Thomson about the launch next month of her new children’s book.

Is this the first novel you have ever written? Yes
What about when you were younger at school?  I enjoyed writing but I am not sure the examiners felt the same when marking!
Was your first language French?  No, this is why at the age of 9, I had to start from scratch, having lessons in French and abandoning my limited knowledge of English grammar!
Did you shine at English composition or find yourself naturally more steered towards images and painting?
I loved to draw but we did not have art classes at the school.  I took my Art O Level for a joke and got an A grade. I never had any tuition until attending art classes, here, over the last 4 years. I never really shined at anything academically, I was more sporty, I like to think.
How did you conceive of the novel?  We saved a feral cat (he had been missing from our Urbanisation for a month) returning with a bad leg injury.  He is now a three legged cat living with us as part of the family.
Did you see images of a little cat and then let your imagination flow with a journey, friends and morals? Yes, my imagination took over and I set to painting his journey at my art classes.
You said you saw the book first in images and then came up with the joined up writing part, could you perhaps elaborate on that?  Once I had completed the paintings, I then put pen to paper to write the story as I imagined it.  My Publisher, Digital Leaf, said that was completely the wrong way round.
Initially you saw the reader as being older than the eventual age chosen. Yes, I thought perhaps with mentioning a cat being neutered it might be for a slightly older group.  But then again I have a talking tree! So I can see how the publisher’s thought differently. 
Did any differences between the Publisher and you cause problems?  No, I was happy to go along with whatever the publisher’s thought. I was just so pleased they were as passionate about my story as I was.
Who or what served as inspiration for you on your writing journey?  Our dear pussycat “Pooka” (Poohka in the book)  We bonded with him when he was living outside and he would walk around the Urbanisation with us on a daily basis.  So when he went missing we were most concerned for him.
How long did it take?  From starting with the paintings then the writing just under 2 years.  The actual writing took approximately 6 months, but I did not have a routine.  I wrote when I had the time and that was not as frequently as I would have liked.
Why did you decide on a nom de plume?   I always thought I should have used a different name when acting but never did, so this time I decided I would for writing. I have chosen  my grandmother’s two middle names.
I understand more than one Publisher was interested, what helped you to decide which one to go with? No only the one.  When sending off submissions I had 13 refusals but a number of them came back with complimentary responses, saying it was not for them, but someone out there will take it!  It is finding that someone, sadly they never guide you.  Anyway, I was most fortunate.
Have you started the next one yet? Yes, the first two chapters, it is just finding the time to shut myself away and get on with the rest.  I need a routine.
The publishing process can seem arduous do you have any advice for others out there who are taking their own baby steps?  Never give up.  I understand JK Rowling found an agent on her 12th attempt.  Geoffrey Archer on his 27th.  The lady who wrote The Help on her 61st attempt.  So there is hope for us all.  Basically if I can do it, anyone can.  I have absolutely no writing background at all.
What is the best approach for negotiating with the Publishers along the way vis a vis book jacket and illustrations.  I was lucky I liked the front and back cover.  The internal illustrations had to be changed because they were too English, so with a bit of coaxing and gentle persuasion they were altered.
How will you keep track of book sales? Will you access Amazon sales via the Amazon account set up or is that all being done by your Publisher?  This is all being done by the publisher. They will be sending me quarterly accounts of sales and so on.
Below is a brief bio of the author (in her own words):

Adelaide was educated at an Ursuline convent in a remote Belgian village before attending Winkfield Place Finishing School, famous as Constance Spry’s school. There she achieved a Cordon Bleu Diploma and went on to work for Prue Leith in London and as chef at the Little London Restaurant in Chichester.

Adelaide then joined British Airways and took to the skies, working as Cabin Crew for fifteen years and travelling the world extensively.

Adelaide has also worked in the television and film industry doing small acting roles, as well as some photographic and voiceover work.

She now divides her time between the UK and southern Spain where she cares for animals, writes, paints and enjoys the Mediterranean sunshine.

So with a vivid imagination Adelaide picked up a pen and a piece of paper and started to write!

The result is:

Landing on my Feet; the Adventures of Poohka the Cat by Adelaide Godwin

This is the incredible tale of Poohka a feral cat from Sotogrande who through an error of judgement ends up on a landfill site many miles away from home. Seriously injured and left for dead, this story takes you on his epic journey of survival.

With courage and determination Poohka starts his amazing journey with the assistance of some very unexpected friends he makes along the way. With highs and lows, twists and turns, the story leads you to a heart-stopping conclusion.

A taster from my book:

Chapter 2 – No place for a siesta

In August, the hottest time of the year in southern Spain, Spike sat motionless in the heat of the sun. He was perched on a decaying branch of an old cork oak tree. The week had passed too slowly for Spike, a mature and splendid looking vulture. Spike longed for Wednesdays to come around, and waited impatiently.
There was a gentle but obvious roar of a lorry in the distance. Spike jumped up, stretched his scaly neck and flexed his claws. ‘It’s coming!’ he cried joyfully.

Señor Arbol, the once majestic cork oak tree, groaned loudly. ‘For goodness’ sake, Spike, if you carry on with this behaviour you will break my weary old branch. Then you will lose your prime spot here at the rubbish tip.’

‘OK, OK!’ he yelled with excitement, struggling to contain himself. ‘I’ll try my best, but my tummy is rumbling so much, and my food is on its way!’

As if in reply, the decaying branch beneath Spike made a big creaking noise. Spike gulped and immediately stopped bouncing up and down. Spike liked his vantage point closest to the dumping area, and he’d fought hard to get this prime position. He had no intention of losing it now!

Described as:

“A roller-coaster ride of a book for young animal-lovers everywhere.”
Age: 8 +
Digital Leaf

“A claw-biting journey of bravery, persistence and unusual friendships set atmospherically in southern Spain”
Heather Hacking Bestselling Author-Illustrator

More: Poohka the Cat age 8 yrs+


Congratulations to Susan Molbeck, Second Place in the Bootcamp Writing Competition


Sitting.  Sitting on the Esplanade.  Sitting and waiting.  Waiting for what?  If I knew the answer to that question I wouldn’t be here, I’d be far, far, away, beyond those blue hills I can see when I turn my head and look back towards the town; beyond the edge of that straight horizon directly in front; oh yes, I’d be far away doing something else and being someone else.


As a small boy my mother would bring me to this spot, of course the Esplanade didn’t exist as such in those days.  There was an untidy bit of beach with a dirt track running alongside of it, rocks, stones, pebbles, the sea and the gulls.  We kids thought it a rare treat, the freshness of the sea breeze and the sparkle of the water broke the monotony of dust and heat we experienced all the other days of our lives.  Mum would sit with us while Dad did his business in the town, then we’d up on the cart and bump our way home, waving regretfully ‘Goodbye’ to the sea.


Even when I was little this place used to give me weird thoughts and I’d ask .. “Mum who am I? Why am I here?  Who are you?”  If she were serious she’d refer me to ‘God’ – now don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that I don’t believe – it’s just that I’ve never met him, face-to-face like, and been able to ask him my questions, so they’ve gone unanswered;  but if Mum were light-hearted she’d laugh, clap her hands together and exclaim telling me I’d turn out to be a professor in something or the other.  Lizzy, my sister, would squeeze my hand and say “Don’t worry Arnold, we’ll find out.”  Once I went all the way over to Europe to her gravestone, it was with a lot of others, I felt I owed it to her to see where she’d been put.  There was an archway over the entrance which said ‘Their name liveth forever’ and underneath ‘They made the supreme sacrifice’.  I was the only living being there.  I found the headstone ‘Elizabeth Andersen’ it said and in a loud voice I spoke, “Lizzie girl, “ I said, “Did you find out?  Can you tell me why?  It’s Arnold, your brother.”  If anyone had overheard me they’d have thought I was stark staring mad, I didn’t expect an answer only an indication – over all these year – nothing, nothing came.


When I was courting our Meg I would sit with her on this very bench, the palms and bushes had been planted only a short while and the whole place looked new and scrubbed.  Come to think of it, it was the Esplanade’s fault that we ever came together, I always pick up my ideas here.  After that decision the game called ‘life’ caught up with me and I had no time to sit and think of asking questions like why? – how? – for what purpose?  Every waking moment was filled with work and at night I was too exhausted to do anything but sleep.  I hadn’t grown up to be a professor as Mum prophesied, just an ordinary farmer, taking over Dad’s few acres, adding a few of my own.


The Esplanade was here all the time while my kids grew up, by then we had cars and trucks, Meg could come and go in and out of town as she pleased;  the ‘stead was no longer considered to be in the outback, it was only fifty minutes from shops and schools.  We saw more of other people than my folks ever did, we acquired neighbours on both sides.  Me?  I waited.  I waited for the day when my children would look up at me and ask “What’s the reason behind it all Dad?” and I would have to admit that although I played the game, although I worked and strived, lived and breathed, tried and failed and then tried again, I didn’t know what the purpose of it all was.  My biggest disappointment was that they never asked.


Meg, a stranger to me now, is an old, tired woman who’s only interest is her children and her children’s children.  I’m left on the outside because their problems are not my problems – anyway I’m not supposed to have any of those, I’m retired, I’m Dad, left here sitting in solitary splendour on the Esplanade, in the sun.  The cars flash by on the road behind my back, not one stops, I have as much contact with them as I do with the people on the pathway in front of me.  They, like the cars, go by, one after the other.  The odd one might say “How’re you doing mate?” in a friendly manner but they don’t stop for an answer, however I have found out something and this has made me content to sit and wait.  I’m an old man, I shouldn’t have too long to go.


The other day a young man with a priest’s collar, what we used to call a dog collar, sat down on my bench beside me.  We sat together in silence looking out at the calm sea, the boats, the hot sun, the blue sky, the shadows of the old trees.  I thought to myself ‘Now here is a man who must know all the answers in the world or he’d be ashamed to dress himself up like that and proclaim his faith.’  On the spur of the moment I found the courage and without preamble, mainly because I’d thought about it so much I was past the point of explaining anything to anyone, I asked:



He must have known something was coming ‘cos he didn’t turn a hair but swung round and replied.

“To give us shade on a hot day, to give us somewhere green to sit in under this tireless sun, to allow us a place to rest close to the bustle of town, here we can be with our fellow man and contemplate God’s miracles.”


Not exactly the answer I’d expected:  I could have told him that it was the Shire that put the money down and built the Esplanade, that it was gardeners who had watered, weeded and worked on it, that it hadn’t even been there sixty years ago.  But I held my tongue, because he had given me an answer I could accept, the first one.


Sitting here, looking out at the sea, I know why the Esplanade was created and can even give God his due for part of it.  I know why this place is here, NOW I only have to find out why I’m here too?


How to hook a reader, plot or character?

My dog got a lovely gift this Christmas, hope you do too! Happy Writing.


Be it people or animals, if I suddenly care what happens to them I become interested in the story itself. It is arguably the key reason ‘Homeland’ spawned three series; the plot is terrorism the watchability is Carrie and Brody.

Plot v Character

Luminaries of the literary world such as Robert McKee, John Gardner, Stephen King and many others have fought over what is most important in writing, is it character or plot? It seems an unnecessary battle. Both are equally important and the genre chosen partly decides which if any has the upper hand. In a thriller, for example, the action may drive the story more than the characters, but it is the characters that really hook us, they are who we care about. It is trite but true that without the plot they would have no reason to be there.

Some Gentle Suggestions

Identify your main character in the story:

  • What does he or she look like?
  • How does he or she behave in different situations?
  • Are there any specific moral lines that he or she will cross?
  • If so, under what circumstances?
  • Are there any inner responses to different situations, i.e. mental reactions that could surprise us or underline just how that person ticks under different triggers?
  • If he or she has an antagonist, how do both characters differ and what traits are similar about them?
  • Does the way he or she speaks reveal social class, education, or how he or she sees life?
  • If told in the first person what does this say about how he or she interprets events, surroundings and people?
  • What is his or her main motivation, would this motivator appear as reasonable from the readers’ perspective as it does to the protagonist?
  • If his or her responses could appear unreasonable, what does this say about the main character (MC)?
  • Does the MC really understand what he or she is setting out to achieve?
  • How does the character change in response to the events in the story?
  • If the character does not change, how is he or she tested, and are you sure there has been no change?

John Gardner

‘In the final analysis, what counts is not the philosophy of the writer (that will reveal itself in any case) but the fortunes of the characters, how their principles of generosity or stubborn honesty or stinginess or cowardice help them or hurt them in specific situations. What counts is the characters’ story. A profound theme is of trifling importance if the characters knocked around by it are uninteresting, and brilliant technique is a nuisance if it pointlessly prevents us from seeing the characters and what they do.’

E. M. Forester

He described characters as ‘flat’ or ‘round’, depending on if the author had sketched or sculpted them with words. Sometimes we want to highlight just one thing and create a character as a vehicle for this; it is a way of narrating a message that we show rather than tell.

Katherine Anne Porter

‘By the time I write a story, my people are up and alive and walking around and taking things into their own hands.’

W.C. Fields.

‘A woman drove me to drink and I never even had the courtesy to thank her.’

In summary, study the protagonist, or any other figure, that you are creating. What makes this person different from the others in the story? The way characters speak can immediately reveal more facts, social class, education etc. and can reveal important things about their values, belief systems and behaviour.

Those of you who attended the last writers’ workshop remember you have until 2nd January to submit your short pieces, fiction or non fiction up to 2,000 words.


Five Minutes of Flame. – When Nigella’s Twinkly Lights Go Out.

Nigella Lawson; as divisive as Marmite on a good day, but at the moment her once revered culinary abilities and the poetic descriptions of her creations are the last things on anybody’s lips.

So where did it all go wrong?  How could our love affair with the twinkly-lit muted scenes of conviviality turn sour overnight?

Was it because we discovered to our horror that Nigella is only as human as the rest of us?  Can we not forgive somebody who we have put so high upon a pedestal?  Not even at Christmas?  Not even when we have all – and frankly, we’d be lying through clenched teeth if we said otherwise – stolen some of her whimsically festive ideas?

Nigella hasn’t changed.  We have changed.  We’ve changed our minds.  We’re no longer willing to love her unconditionally.  She’s not this glossy, flawless creature after all.  It was all just a show for the cameras, an illusion.

We are the fools to have ever thought otherwise.

But I have an affinity with Nigella.  No, it’s not just because I happen to have her cookbook open on my wanabee kitchen island – sadly it’ll never rival hers – musing at the Baked Alaska, wondering where I can get myself one of those kitsch skier models that she has snowploughing down her meringue.  It’s because Nigella’s current debacle is actually a hammed up version of my past.  And I suspect a highly-dramatised version of many a person’s past, present, and sadly, future to come.

I used to live two lives, became quite a master of it.  We all have an actor inside as it turns out.

Nigella’s pristinely applied cosmetics; the pillar box red lippy and doe-eyes; that was me glammed up for a business trip.  Nigella’s flirtation at the camera to every male viewer in the country was my cry for salvation from the horrors that lay waiting for me at home.  I scoured the cities of Frankfurt, Bologna, Paris and Hong Kong for a Knight in Shining Armour instead.  Nigella’s – alleged – substance abuse?  That’s the metaphor for my cake addiction to numb the pain.  Not just cake.  Biscuits, chocolate, 500ml tubs of Haagen Daz, I wasn’t fussy.  Bolstering came in all shapes and sizes.  Okay, drugs might be the most harmful of those – if indeed Charles Saatchi’s allegations are founded – let us not forget the gas-lighting ways and the manipulative workings of a perpetrator’s mind.  The cocaine, the chocolate, the wine; ultimately they’re all a symbol for the same thing:  the outlet.  When you are alone in that dark place, in the dark days and nights of the soul, you will turn to anything for some bolstering.  It’s just a shame Nigella didn’t lean toward her delectable snow-flecked brownies.

Yet there’s a silver lining to be found in the cloud that hangs over Nigella:  she has finally, publicly, broken the taboo.  Domestic violence – and the ways we resort to dealing with it – goes on in every walk of life, every culture and every circle.  Now we have it in writing.

We’re a nation of celebrity junkies.  No not all of us, but those of us who are, are many.  We wouldn’t even abandon our favourite football team with the disdain we dish out freely to the likes of Nigella.  Does the underdog rule not apply to our kitchen heroines as well?  Is it – dare I say it – because she’s a woman?

‘She’s a toff.  She should know better.’

Since when did upper class status and money buy happiness?

‘She’s a celebrity.  She has to accept the intrusion of the paparazzi into her life, it goes with the territory.  She’s asked for it.’

Has she?  Is that why she frequently chose a seemingly discreet corner of a trusted restaurant to dine out as inconspicuously as possible?  Do we often see her splashed all over the front pages of The Sun with all the panache of a Z-lister wearing a belt and a see-through bra whilst snorting a line?  The last time I recall her being snapped up in private prior to her downfall, she was wearing a hideously unflattering all-in-one UV suit paddling on the Australian Gold Coast.  Hardly a contender for the me-me-me syndrome that plagues some of our ‘stars’.

What we give out we get boomeranged right back at us.  This is Newton’s Law.

The greatest gift we can give to ourselves then; is to quit deflecting from our own inadequacies.  Nigella’s situation is but a mirror of our own.  We have all had our Nigella moment.  It’s the very reason we act so strongly, so bitterly towards her.  Nigella is the icon of the shameful skeletons lurking in our own cupboards; the juicy stories we know would be aired if only we had our five minutes in the limelight, too.

And the greatest gift we can give to Nigella is the opportunity to dust herself down, pick herself up and get back to what she does best; giving us permission to indulge In glorious cake hot out the oven… and buying fairy lights.

Sam Curtis

Mind the Gap, NLP and Me

Guest blogger Andrea Myers is a certified master practitioner of NLP and her blog  focuses on mind maps and filters.  Before you dismiss this as “pseudo science with quack factor stats” remember this, we learn, read and write in different ways. If we can increase our readership, or inject credible characterisation from looking at how others think, it has been worth the journey.

‘He searched her eyes with deep emotion – it was the mention of his childhood that brought the flood of memories and finally moved him to act…’

George sighed, “I just do not get this author. I am not on the same wavelength at all I feel I have just wasted my time trying to read this, and what a waste of money!” and with that, he slammed the book shut and tossed it into the bin.


Oh dear, not the reaction we authors want at all! So what went wrong? George and the author were indeed “not on the same wavelength” and the reason is this: Our author used the word “childhood” as a huge emotional turning point to his story – but “childhood” means something different to every one of us. Some of us had an idyllic youth, others a busy hectic time as part of large bustling family, others were very alone, perhaps an only child. So we need to be aware as authors that our language and our use of it is totally coloured by our own, individual map of the world. A world made up of our own very unique experiences and emotions. And when we use key words we need to ensure our readers get onto our wavelength. Try using the phrase “How specifically?” to ask yourself what you mean and ensure your reader has understood. Had our author said “tortured childhood” or “soporific” perhaps our reader would have stayed with him.

NLP or Neurolinguistic Programme is the study of the effect of language (linguistic) on our brain (neuro) patterns, created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970s.They studied how the pathways or filters into our neuro system worked and how the language we use mirrors our own personal world. They created a set of models that can be used to achieve excellence in everyday life: business, education, health, sport as well as psychology.
If you look up “NLP and writing”, you will see that there are dozens and dozens of courses being offered to writers and journalists, using NLP as a foundation. Many scriptwriters use NLP in their work – in particular in TV series and films. This year over 1,200 teachers were trained in NLP and it is also used in education, medicine and in many different aspects of therapy.

At our last Writer’s Workshop I spoke about the two basic tenets of NLP – Our Map of the World and the filters we use to take in information. The example given above with George explains Our Map of the World. Let’s look now at filters.

Bandler and Grinder found that we take in information through 5 basic filters Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, the primary filters, and Gustatory, and Olfactory the secondary filters. What filters we use as our primary ones are very individual. But if you try to communicate with someone without using their primary filter – you may again find “we are not on the same wavelength”.

You have only to ask a group of people who have just come out of a film what they liked about the film – and some will say the photography was fabulous (Visual) some will have noticed the musical score (Auditory) and some will have said the film made them feel great (Kinesthetic) And we cannot help using the words that actually give away what filters most influence us. For example, at a meeting, if something is decided, and the individuals are asked for their understanding, some will say, “I hear what you say” others will say, “I see what you mean” and others, “feels good to me”.

Returning to our reader, George, he gave us a clue as to his primary filter with his words “I feel I have wasted my time” He may well be a kinesthetic. If a writer totally ignores his kinesthetic readers, this could well be the outcome. If you try to sell a car to a kinesthetic and you focus on the visual qualities – you might not get a sale! Mention the comfort of the seats, the smooth ride, the heated seats and fabulous climate control and the sale could be yours.
I found another very interesting aspect to the VAK filters – I am a Visual, and I found to my surprise that my writing was lacking the visual aspect – too much dialogue and not enough scene setting. The reason must be that as a visual I just assumed everyone would be able to create the scene in their minds and didn’t need me to describe things. Not so! When I reversed things, and “told less and showed more” I got a far better response.

How can we use this information for us as writers? My suggestions are:
When you are doing your first edit of your writing identify the key words or turning points in your writing – and ask yourself, “What specifically do I mean by this word or phrase?” Remind yourself that your map of the world is unique to you and that to engage your reader you need to expand or illustrate your meaning.

Again, at your first edit stage ask yourself what is your writing style? – Have you engaged the Visual Auditory or Kinesthetic filters in your overall approach? Is there a balance?

I have only skimmed the surface of NLP and its practices and philosophies – but I close with one of the ten basic tenets of NLP:

‘The meaning of your communication is the response that you get, which may be different to the one you intended. There is no such thing as a resistant person, only an inflexible communicator.”

Andrea Myers


The Wonderful World of Foreign Rights

The guest blogger this week is Sam Curtis and her mission, which she chose to accept for thirteen years, was Foreign Rights.

Over to you Sam

Foreign Rights


Foreign rights is a specialised field of publishing, whereby the translation rights for a specific title or project are sold in another language.

I was lucky enough to work in the F.R side of the children’s industry for thirteen years; first for a small novelty book packager, then on to Bath where I headed up the department for a medium-sized mass-market publisher, another stint with a non-fiction publisher, and then finally I ran my own agency for a couple of years.


The usual route is by starting out at junior level as an assistant, ideally with a second language.  I was extremely lucky.  After a degree in Modern Languages, I took a risk and applied for a job I wasn’t at all qualified for!  Nobody else from London was prepared to move from The City to The West Country… and the rest is History.  I started out at managerial level, looking after my own list of countries, whilst answering the phones and packing parcels for a company of 6.


The front (and backlist) are presented to customers at the three main book fairs; Frankfurt (largest fair in the world), Bologna (largest children’s fair in the world) and London.  A customer will request to be sent samples of the book(s) for further consideration, along with prices and schedules.  The sale can happen in one of two ways:

1)       Co-edition

2)      CD/royalty

Co-edition is the most usual route when selling board, novelty, pop up books etc.  In the ideal world, several F.R editions  will ‘piggyback’ onto the US/UK print run, keeping costs down and achieving one nice, uniform printing.  But nowadays, the likes of France, Germany and Poland are in a position to print alone, satisfying their own particular delivery requirements.

Once a contract has been signed, the customer (usually they are also the editor!) will be sent a disc.  This contains high resolution images for the cover and title page; so the font can be changed, their logo, barcode and imprint details added.  The inside files are in low resolution, so only the translated text of the customer can be input onto the disc.  The customer then sends their translated files back to the F.R team.  They are given a cursory glance by the production department, before winging their way to the printer in China.  Hopefully every country’s material has been sent in on time so the schedule will be adhered to…  The printer will produce ozalids (or blueprints as they are called nowadays).  A set goes to the customer, and a set to the F.R team.  There will almost always be corrections to be made!  Even with a one sentence per page board book.  Editors are notoriously overworked.  The process is repeated again until everybody is happy.  Then an advance copy will be sent.  Checks will be made and the OKTP (okay to print) will be given.  A pre-production sample will also be sent just prior to shipment.  This is the very last opportunity to check for mistakes!  The F.R team would also add their PPS to the ever-growing archive – something which should be kept religiously as a source of reference for future reprints.  Are the cover and binding the same?  Is the paper quality up to scratch?

Most customers will buy on a CIF (Carriage Insurance and Freight) basis, meaning the F.R department will arrange the shipping from Hong Kong to their port of entry for them.  This is fairly common for Europe.  Other customers, such as those in the Far East, will pay a slightly lower price and work on an FOB (Free On Board) basis.  This means they arrange their own shipping, to say Tokyo or Manila.

For a CD/royalty sale, a percentage per copy is paid 100% in advance (on the retail price of the initial print run).  The high resolution disc (containing four colour files for both covers AND insides) is sent to the customer.  In this situation they have a little more flexibility with regards to the format, meaning they can change it to better suit their market; they could also change the font and cover design to allow it to ‘travel’ in their particular country.  This kind of sale happens mostly in South Korea, China, Brazil and Eastern Europe with non-fiction, but also compilations of stories – a Bedtime Story Collection for example.  It was largely trust based.  A royalty statement should be sent once a year, and hopefully there is no piracy going on!


A Foreign Rights Manager (in the heyday) could expect to be on a plane every 6 weeks, either to a book fair or for a sales trip.  In addition to the 3 big fairs, there is a lesser book fair somewhere in the world, each and every week; Moscow, Warsaw, Prague, Tokyo, Taipei and Guadalajara to name but a few.  In days gone by, attendance at the fairs with the company stand would be critical to sell.  In the age of the internet and aftermath of the global recession however, it’s becoming much more common for buyers to spend less time out of the office – some even shunning both Bologna and Frankfurt, making all of their acquisitions for their children and adult lists in London in one fell swoop.



The hardest thing of all is finding one common style that suits all pre-school, mass-market novelty books!  Germany is one of the trickiest markets, with an extremely refined style that is very difficult to emulate.  We found that our backlist was extremely popular in Eastern Europe (and some Southern European countries).  But if you wanted to sell into Scandinavia, sophistication was critical.


Every now and again, a ground-breaking idea would come along that EVERYONE wished they had thought of first.  More often than not, it would see itself reincarnated in the guise of various rip-offs by other companies (no names mentioned).  As the years went on, and the competition and cost prices increased, coming up with a novel novelty grew harder and harder.


–          Selling our carnation of photographic First Word Books into 24 languages (including Icelandic!)

–          Making the first ever sale (so I was told) of Papiamento language text books into the schools of Aruba.  Prior to that, all books were in Dutch.

–          My record-breaking, eye-brow raising 25,000 copy ‘New Suit for Santa’ deal with a Finnish book club.

–          My Arabic edition Farm Pop Up made it onto the official top 10 list in Israel… for several weeks in a row.

Okay, I’ll stop blowing my trumpet now.


I once approved a shipment of well-overdue Argentinian/Venezuelan edition books to Hamburg instead of Buenos Aires!

I’ve committed the ultimate faux-pas by foolishly going against the advice I gave to my employees:  Never, ever berate a customer in an internal email.  You never know when you’re going to send it to the customer instead by mistake…  The Swedish client, who I fortunately never did meet, took it extremely well under the circumstances.  But I do believe it was THE ONLY set of non-text board books he bought from us.  We never did get to the bottom of why he wanted to purchase blank books…

A certain set of company directors decided to go against the advice of myself and my former boss.  Instead they thought it would be wise to put all eggs in one basket, selling everything to one giant client in Belgium, working with them on a Bill of Exchange basis, too, and authorising them to collect their goods from Antwerp before they’d even sent shipping documents that we could have used as ransom!  The client eventually went bust for the third or fourth time in a row, owing our company just shy of a million Euros.  Ouch.

I could go on.


The era of the ‘good old days’ is sadly long gone.  No longer can a prepared contract be taken to a book fair meeting ready for the client to sign on the dotted line!  And in the words of my former F.R director:  ‘It is now 10 times harder to get a sale.  You even have to beg and plead sometimes.’  Chinese print prices rose sharply for the novelty book market, and along with the global recession, this resorted in many of the big companies sadly swallowing up the little independent fish.  I don’t think anybody would venture into F.R for the jet-set lifestyle anymore, either.  The travel budgets must be a shell of their former selves.

But I do believe the demand for F.R for older children’s books (as well as the adult market) will continue after this blip.  The world has an insatiable hunger for books, in whichever medium we are choosing to read them.

The Ebook and self-publishing have also created their own tides of change.  I don’t think there will ever be an on-screen substitute for a good, old, interactive novelty book… there just might be a lot less of them!

‘Silence’ – Stream of Consciousness

An example of the literary technique ‘stream of consciousness’ by SW member Emma Wilson that illustrates the benefit of free-flow writing. Getting down what comes into your mind without interruption can be a powerful stimulus that can help to kick-start the creative process and help you get inside the mind of a character.


I dream of silence.

Tap Tap, Scratch Scratch, Tick Tock, Cough.

That’s the sound of my life.

No wait, that’s just the dark hours. The evenings. The darkness.

Darkness means silence right? Nope.

Tap Tap, Scratch Scratch, Tick Tock, Cough

My days are not like this.

Oh no, they are much worse.

I DREAM of silence.

I rise from my bed to the ear piercing scream…


I lift my body unwillingly and lurch toward the high pitched screech,

Inevitably followed by the clatter of cereal bowls and cups in the kitchen.

Here we go again.

Oh god I dream dream dream of silence.


Tap Tap Bang Bang “I want juice!!”

I glance longingly back at the bedroom door and my inner clock starts the countdown.

How many hours until we are re-united once again in silence.

Tap Tap Bang Bang Hiss Bang Screech

Oh God I dream of silence.

“Darling, where are my car keys?” It starts again.

Oh Lord just give me five….

“Mummy I want my…. Honey I cant find them – Jesus is that the time?”

 The day drags on, the air filled with noises. Screams and cries, giggles and groans.

The darkness of the coffee pulls me in… darkness, stillness, black and thick. Oh god im dreaming of silence.

As their heads hit the pillows and their eyes slowly close, little breaths and whispers escape their dreams.

Tick tock tick tock – counting down. Nearly time for sleep.

We meet again my dear old friend, a million noises have kept us apart.

Tick tock, click click and suddenly its dark.

His tinnitus takes over and tap tap here come the noises.

“Today in the news” – Lord above here we go again.

 Tap tap scratch scratch Cough tap tap.

Finally he slips into sleep and the radio clicks one last time, finally the start of silence…

But then it starts…

I fear the silence.

“Is the oven off, is that bill paid. Did she clean her teeth – what was that noise, is that her out of bed?”

Holy hell I just want to sleep.

I dread the silence, because that’s when it starts – that’s when my day begins.

All the worries, all the questions, in the silence my fears sing.

I fear the silence.

But then the birds begin to sing.

Tap tap bang bang “mummy I’m thirsty”

I sigh, and rise and look to the bed – breath in and out and take a beat.

I dream of silence once more… that is until it starts again.

Blogged by Emma Wilson

…And look at why she did it…

Hi [Jo and Tracy]. I dont generally do this, but i blame both of you. It seems since joining the group my brain simply wont stop. The dam i put up around my creative brain has been ripped down and i cant stop the flow. I woke up last week (at around 3am) and my brain just would not stop. So for the first time in a long time i wrote it all down and didnt think about it again.

Last night i took a look at what was written. To be honest i don’t even REMEMBER writing the words – reading it over last night it made me giggle.

It is completely stream of consciousness but really does sum up the life of a mother of two in my eyes.. i thought it might interest you to see it. Normally i would simply leave these musings in my notebook never to be seen again – but after meeting a fellow “compulsive writer” in Lindsey last week i think it might interest people to see they are not alone when they write nonsense words on scraps of paper in the wee morning hours.

Hope you like it


Revelations of a Notebook

The following guest blog was posted by the elusive Lindsey who not only loves to write, but needs to write. She was unable to make the inaugural meeting of the club and this is now in the guest slot in the hope that she contacts us. Mystery Blogger, Come in from the Cold…we can help you.

‘I wanted to share this that I found this evening. http://www.jackiemorris.co.uk/blog/writers-notebooks/ – I hope this might work as a link and save a few Ctrl C, Ctrl Vs. Either way, as a writer, you should look at that page.

It has inspired me to comment on your website. And accept that my modus operandi (or is it: operandum?) of writing is not so different to other writers, but how would I have known before? Only my children really know the extent of the chaos which surrounds my need to help the words escape and I know little of other writers’ methods. I had never really considered the subject until tonight.

How do you write? Longhand, computer, haphazardly, super-organised, on parchment and with a quill, perhaps? Could we all share our notebooks or glimpses thereof? I feel I need to know, now, how others write. Not the words nor the discipline, but the method, the hardware….. the biros you use.

These photos of notebooks led me to a moment of introspection. After all, it is the Equinox and a time of change, seasonally if not spiritually. And I’ve just arrived here so I feel new, naive, nervous. And I am homesick, but not for home, nor friends, nor family, although I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss them. (And they might read this)…….No, I miss, painfully, a vast wodge of paper I left behind. Said a forever goodbye to.

On finally moving out of my house last year – which I rented out on Facebook after meeting up with a long-lost old friend and imbibing a bottle of wine whilst looking at her most recent paintings – I had to say “adios” to over 10 years of scribblings. Reams and reams and reams of notes, ideas, moments of genius. (Or so I suspect and can hope, against hope but don’t know, not for sure and never will). Pages of captured meetings, memories, dark moments of self-doubt, and worse – half-written, unfinished, interrupted outpourings – what would those have led to? I can only wonder.. Where was that sentence going? Oh, the anguish at a lost thought.

Literally scores of black bin liners full of A4, envelopes, hurriedly ripped shreds of tree bark used to jot down my thoughts. All etched in multi-coloured biro, pencil and…. was that blood?

I went to a friend’s farm in Lancashire and there, with the help of Grandad, the firestarter and Boss, Mum and assorted grandchildren – pyromaniacs, all – we burnt every sheet, almost religiously ardent in our task, in a rusty, well-used and capacious iron firepit at the edge of the field, yet still in the garden to help the roses. And next to grandma’s grave because she loved fires too.

Now, I miss not only my writing and recalling how it changed with time, mood, even the colour of the biro, but also I miss my writings. What, oh what, have I lost through consignment to the flames? Yet, I had no choice. It all had to go. I could not move on with it, we were downsizing and lightening up. It was also downsized, reduced in bulk and weight, and then became embers, turning to grey, light, floating, flaking ash, thrown onto the roses and carried by the wind, drifting across the farmland to nurture future growth.

And in amongst that loss of mine and gain for the countryside I love, lies the inspiration for many more hours of an unstoppable, unexplainable force that is …how I write and the words which quite simply have to escape. I might stick to ink and pass on the blood from now on though.’


Guest Post: Confessions of an Editor

Guest PostSpeaking to a senior player in trade publishing in London yesterday, I was struck again by how some fundamental attitudes have changed in recent years. It used to be around the bars of Frankfurt during the annual Book Fair that publishers would bare their souls and fess up sheepishly to the ones that got away. Which books that went on to be runaway bestsellers did they pass on, didn’t like or more importantly didn’t think the general public in any number would like. We all make mistakes, even the most successful amongst us, was the general consensus. But our experience and instinct will make sure we don’t blot our copybook again.

Times have changed. The precarious nature of the economy in the UK, with amongst other things, just one privately backed, stock holding high street book selling chain of any size, undergoing almost constant restructuring, is just one reason editors will be expected by their bosses to be more risk averse. When an editor takes to Twitter to confess she passed on JK Rowling’s recent crime novel written and submitted under a pseudonym, no one slaps their forehead and says “fire her”. Of course she passed on it. As I’m sure many others did too. It was yet another good if not utterly outstanding, well-crafted genre crime novel. Which, if you are writing such books that would have more been more likely to find a publisher and a decent five figure advance ten years ago, must sound depressing.

But self-publishing has also changed the game. Led inevitably by the US market, acquiring editors no longer feel that literary agents represent the only source of potentially publishable content. Part of the editor’s job now is to make sure they spot books which might be starting to create a buzz and take off within niches and communities online before they have found an agent or a publisher. CEOs and Financial Directors will forgive gambling less and missing the odd bestseller. Missing the next 50 Shades of Grey bubble however probably would be a sackable offence.

John Bond

Co-founder whitefox

whitefox is the UK’s largest curated publishing services network –