I recently received an email chain about sharing poems with 20 friends. I normally don’t get involved with email chains, but as it was poems I couldn’t resist. Before the day was out though, I’d been sent the email chain three times, and I realised when friends saw an email about poems they immediately thought of their writer friends!

I’ve found that in these difficult and sad times I have had less time, not more. When lockdown was first announced I had visions of me sat at home alone, with the hours stretching out before me, but the opposite has been true. If anything, I seem to have less time. I have never spent so much time keeping up with the news, talking to friends on Zoom, and getting involved with my community to help with food drop offs, etc. And as an identical twin, my sister and I have ended up involved in some of the Covid-19 research. As a result I’ve found finding time for writing and reading very difficult. And I found it hard to get the motivation to sit down and send the emails off to 60 different people, but like most things in life, it was completely worth the effort. I figured getting the odd poem back would be nice, but actually, it has felt like a lifeline. It is so lovely to receive poems from people who I’ve never even met and to rekindle my love of poetry with them. It has reminded me of the power of writing and how words can give us hope, transport us away from our current struggles for a brief time and give us strength in times of needs. Here’s to the poets, long may they kind inspiring us and I’m in awe of their skill and power over words.

Here’s one of the poems I received from another writer and it’s so true of life:

Good Timber

By Douglas Malloch

The tree that never had to fight
     For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
     And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
     But lived and died a scrubby thing.

The man who never had to toil
     To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
     Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
     But lived and died as he began.

Good timber does not grow with ease,
     The stronger wind, the stronger trees,
The further sky, the greater length,
     The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
     In trees and men good timbers grow.

Where thickest lies the forest growth
     We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
     Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
     This is the common law of life.

If you receive the poetry email I would recommend getting involved. And if you haven’t had it yet, here’s the template to send to 20 friends:

Dear Friends,

We’re starting a collective, constructive, and hopefully uplifting exchange. It’s a one-time thing and we hope you will participate. We have picked those we think would be willing and would make it fun.

Please send a poem to the person whose name is in position 1 below (even if you don’t know them), with the email subject Poem Exchange. It should be a favourite text/verse/meditation that has affected you in difficult times. Or not. Don’t agonize over it. If you’d like to send a poem in your own language and provide a translation, please do so:

  1. A friend’s name
  2.  Your name

After you’ve sent the short poem/verse/quote/etc. to the person in position 1, and only that person, copy this letter into a new email. Move my name to position 1, and put your name in position 2. Only my name and your name should show in the new email. Send it to up to 20ish friends BCC (blind copy).

Seldom does anyone drop out because we all need new pleasures. The turnaround is fast, as there are only two names on the list, and you only have to do it once. Stay safe and well.

Working with an editor is a great privilege and will undoubtedly make your book 100% stronger. All the writers I have spoken to on the matter say that their editors are wise people who must be listened to at all costs and I can’t argue with that. If you think about it, a writer takes a year (or more) to produce a book, editors are working with different authors on numerous books all year round. Their editing skills improve more in a year than probably an author’s skills do in a lifetime. It’s their job after all, so ignore them at your peril.

But to the uninitiated, working with an editor can be a shock to the system. It certainly was to me. Even with the knowledge that you’re in good hands and that your book will be sharper and stronger for it, editing is a tough process. I’ve yet to meet an author who hasn’t nodded in agreement with a knowing look in their eye when I’ve admitted that the first time I received my manuscript from my editor I cried a little. It sounds ridiculous, but it was the sheer amount of work I was facing when I thought I was almost there. Once I wiped away the tears I realised that as a writer I was being asked to level up, (as my tutor used to describe it to me), and leveling up is painful. But what do they always say? No pain, no gain. And after the hard work is done, you see the difference in your work, and that is a great moment. And as writers, we are always improving, with every word we write, with every mistake we make and with every triumph we achieve.

The best way to prepare before you get an editor is to join a writer’s group. There you will learn to accept constructive criticism, hone the editing part of your brain, and to distance yourself enough from your work to really see its flaws. You will also gain a small but insightful widow into how hard an editor’s job is, as they try to improve your work without putting you into floods of tears. A few tears are fine, floods of tears are not so good. But so you know you’re not alone, just know that editing is painful, and the odd tear along the way is expected and normal. You’re in good company, with just about every other writer around (except for the few rare exceptions who love editing – they have nerves of steel!).

For those writers who decide that indie publishing is for them, you can actually hire an editor to go through your work. Reedsy.com is a great place to look, and it’s a site that brings writers, professional editors and book designers together. The one tip I’ve been told if you decide to get an editor from this site is to search for an editor that works in your genre, as they will be best placed to edit your work.

I’d also recommend watching Ellen Brock’s YouTube channel, just search Ellen Brock editor. She is an editor who has kindly given up her time to film short 5-20 minute videos with tips on editing your work, improving your writing and there’s even advice on submission letters. So whatever stage you are at, there will be a video for you waiting.

Anyway, that’s it for now on editing. Good luck with the writing!

When writing a series my best advice is to start a character dossier immediately for each and every character. Even those ones who make a brief guest appearance. It can become quite a time sink trawling through your book trying to work out whether a character on the periphery has brown, hazel, green or blue eyes and their age!
Character dossiers are so handy, because if you’ve got writer’s block, it’s a great place to start to get the creative juices flowing again.
And it’s fun.
Creating characters from scratch is surely a writer’s chance at playing God and is a lot quicker and less expensive than creating actual humans (or so I’ve been told).
I have only just started comprehensive character dossiers, and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t do it at the start, when I could have just drip fed information into the document as the story grew.
It really helps you to breathe life into your characters, and although I originally scoffed when a friend told me he drew pictures of all of his characters, I now know where he was coming from.
It’s not procrastination. It’s creation. Or that’s what I keep telling myself whilst my word count remains stubbornly the same.

Here is a tip for when you decide to start your second book. Whatever you do, don’t read incredible books like All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, as they will leave you paralysed by feelings of inadequacy. These fantastic books are the sort of books that should be read when you are polishing your completed MS and you smugly think that it is done. Think again. You realise, after reading such titans, there is always more you can do and you throw yourself back into editing mode with keener eyes.

I am at that tricky stage where I am working on my debut, trying to make it the best that it can possibly be, whilst aware that the sequel isn’t going to write itself.  The age old dilemma, when to let the first book go and move onto the second. And is it possible to do both at the same time, an act of rubbing your tummy whilst patting your head?

Well, there’s only one way to find out in writing, and that is trying it for yourself (after trawling the internet for advice from other writers!). Writing is so idiosyncratic that even you won’t know what your method is until you’ve gone through a few attempts and finally, after much trial and error, settled on what works for you. But I guess that’s what makes writing so interesting, you are always learning on the job.

Good luck with the writing, and remember we’re all just making it up.


write-here-right-now-logo-awardIn April/May I went on a competition entering spree.

It meant pestering friends to proof read my entries and staying up until midnight to hit submit before the deadline bewitching hour hit!

I started thinking that I should be writing, rather than fiddling around with my first 3 chapters so that they were under 10,000 words. I was wrong. Entering competitions was precisely what I should be doing. They hone your editing skills, force you to look at your first three chapters like never before, (chapters you might not have looked at for months) and they give you enforced deadlines. It’s also a chance to take stock at how far you’ve come on your writing journey. You’re a real writer now, entering actual competitions!

And there’s always the chance you might win. Like I did. I’m ecstatic (and still in shock) to announce that I won WriteHereRightNow.

Competitions are the way forward.

It’s competition time and so far I’ve been shortlisted for 2 writing competitions.

First Novel and WriteHereRightNow. I’m very excited and feel like I’ve won just being shortlisted.

I recommend entering competitions when you’re at the point of submitting your MS to agents. It will give you a good indication of whether your novel is ready for the world and competitions are good deadlines to give yourself to get your MS up to scratch.

It is so easy in writing just to drift along and realise that a year has past and in many ways your no further forward. I need goals to keep the momentum going and to feel like I’m achieving something, be it an editing goal or getting a submission in for a competition.

A good website to look at to see what competitions are out there is Aerogramme Studio.

Good luck with the writing all!