Wednesday, 26 March 2014

This takes me back ...

... about 20 years to when I first started writing. I'm looking at stuff I was so proud of then and my face is screwing up into a Really? expression. I know I have the But, And, that and was diseases, but back then there were horrid little suddenly's all over the shop and you just couldn't move for the adverb infestation. I even had (gasp!) three adjectives plaguing one poor noun. Horrific stuff eh?
I reckon it's something we all go through and it takes at least a dozen stories (if they are mostly shorts like mine were) 'til you iron out all the rookie mistakes like the nest of vipers that is an unlimited omniscient narrator. *shudders*. Seriously, who has 3 pov changes in one page (let alone one scene). I did. And try as I might, I cannot see how to get round it. But I've met these wonderful ladies who have some superb ideas, I have every confidence they will help me out.
Now where's that axe? The scissors just weren't anything like vicious enough.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Another Brave Lady

Pat Gillis, who ABNA pitch threaders may know as Conservative Collie has very kindly let me loose on her first 555 words. Here's what happened:

It was many seasons after the upheaval when Bo first saw the signs. They were on the stall doors, the entrance to the barn itself and on the fence posts from which the gates hung. Even before he could properly read, he was able to recognize the shapes that spelled out the beginning of the Concept.
“In every living thing…,” the signs began, and Bo’s mother taught him to remember every living thing meant exactly that.
“Even the sheep?” Bo asked.
“Yes,” his mother said gently.
“Even the oxen?”
“Yes, Bo, even the oxen.”
“And the sparrows?”
“That’s right, Bo.”
It is not natural for people to use names when only two people are talking (they know who they are talking to). They especially would not use the name twice. The reader can easily work out who is talking. I know it’s a mother talking to a child, but even so it’s very distracting.– lose the last Bo. Also, in the name soup department that’s 5 Bo’s in 100 words – 5% - ridiculously high. Overall 22 in 673, which is 3.3%. Still ridiculously high 
As soon as he was able to travel, his mother took him to the information session near the foot of the Bridge. The Coops there were larger than any Bo had ever seen. As the rooster crowed, it startled Bo to see everyone near The Coops stop to recite the first line of the Concept together. On the other side of the Bridge, Bo saw the iconic phrase was also carefully carved into the doorway of The System Building itself. His mother explained that the words were there to remind them all of the promise of the new understanding. Bo was in awe of the beautiful building and could scarcely contain his excitement when his mother explained that the magnificent structure belonged to all of them.
I deliberately didn’t re-read your pitch so this would be like the first time I’d opened your book. You use Coops like I’m supposed to know what they are. My British brain read them the first time as Co-ops (my favourite grocery store chain), then the rooster made me think of hen coops, but I’m still none the wiser. You get one more chance to explain, then it’s slush pile. I get that I’m in a foreign world, but I need a bit of hand-holding until I’m happy there and Bo isn’t doing his job. Despite the adjectives you use to describe it, I’m not seeing this edifice. I need detail to give me a visual – glass/brick/steel – colour, architectural style –just one detail that isn’t vanilla. You are telling me its awesome, but you are not showing me. 
Bo found the signs on the doors of his classroom too, and when he learned they would be expected to recite the text on the sign each morning, he was eager to show his teacher that he already knew the words by heart. Owen, the youngster who lived on the other side of the Bridge, noticed Miss Agrestic’s approval and his jealous resentment toward Bo was resolved by a shove. Bo pushed back and, inevitably, one of the shoves crossed the line and the two ended up grappling in a fierce but youthful battle. Miss Agrestic stomped her foot and sent the two of them to different corners. After a few giggles, the rest of the class continued their work while Bo and Owen glared at each other from across the room. Bo’s mother heard of his antics, and in the evening, as the sun was setting behind the barn, she called him to her to discuss his behavior. He was a little sullen as he approached, for he was still smarting from his public embarrassment.
“Why don’t you tell me what happened today?” she began.
“Owen started it and he pushed me first because he couldn’t recite the Concept and I could and besides he started it.”
“Yes, Bo, you mentioned that part already. Do you know why Owen couldn’t recite the Concept today?” “Because he’s stupid,” Bo retorted.
“Bo, you mustn’t say that again. He’s not stupid; he just doesn’t know. You have to understand that some don’t. Not only have they not been taught the way you have, it might even be possible their family has forgotten how important it is to know. Why don’t you help Owen and teach him what you’ve learned?”
Bo looked off across the field, ignoring her suggestion. “I don’t want to go back to school,” he said sullenly.
“Now, Bo,” his mother said gently. “There are many things you need to learn before you grow up, and when you learn those things, then you’ll understand. I think you should help Owen.” She heard Bo snort. “You could teach him what you know, because it is important for all of us to understand. The System requires it, and you could help.”
Ok, this needs fixing good before you p-off all your potential readers. Why does Bo’s mum feel it necessary to rpeat his name in 4 out of 5 sentences? Has she forgotten who he is or is she worried he might not remember it? Is this something your parents did to you or do you do it to your kids? Sorry sweetie, but it doesn’t feel normal to me. 
 Bo stamped his foot. “But they want us to stay in this little room and all face the same way and listen to Miss Agrestic and we aren’t allowed to play or talk except at recess and…and…”. He stamped his foot again, rendered speechless by the injustice of it all. His mother turned away, resuming her supper, and Bo watched her carefully. Finally, convinced his case had not impressed her, he settled down to grazing beside her.

Please feel free to add your comments. Was I too harsh?

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Life after ABNA

So, another disappointment, didn't make it through, but who cares, there is so much good stuff happening around here it's not true. A huge congratulations to all of those who made it through, especially Shoshona, Jennelle, Lisa, Adina, Maggie, Don, Sue T, Rodney, Jenn and AK Mystery Mom - whoever you are!
Will be crossing fingers and everything else for the next round.

Well Done and Good Luck!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Healer, heal thyself.

OK, so a really daft idea: I'm taking 3 medium/short stories and gonna publish them as a package. So here's me taking stuff I wrote back in 1995 - and giving it a right good kick up the jacksie. It was a typical prologue - all internal monologue - kinda setting the scene and introducing the main characters.

I'm not gonna add comments, but the second version shows what I mean by an injection of "voice". You may think there is a fair bit in the first, but Tina's internal snark is not even in 2nd gear (you gotta drive a stick shift to get that one).
‘Rats!’ That was the third time I’d smudged mascara onto the eye-shadow. Well this time it would have to stay. Nobody would notice me anyway, not with Chloë’s silly hat drawing all the attention. I frowned at the blusher - the bronze tint was supposed to complement my brown eyes - and brushed it in the hollow of my cheekbones. Gazing in the mirror, I reflected on my childhood friend’s “last night of freedom” - what an outdated idea that was. “Hen night” wasn’t much better. It conjured up images of brightly dressed females clucking their concern over the poor little chick about to fly the roost. Except this little chick has no idea what she is letting herself in for when she gets married next week.

My attention was drawn to the array of photographs of us dotted around the mirror. What a contrast. At nine years old you could tell just by looking that she was a pretty, obedient child - butter never even got vaguely warm - but me? - the scowl on my face said it all. The shortest of mini-skirts, hideous false-eyelashes and tight, scoop-necked top in the photo next were evidence of a boy-obsessed puberty. She would be thankful there was no record of her late teens, spent in a wilderness where her personality and looks deteriorated as she desperately tried to please the love of her life, Justin. Of course it was all to no avail, his possessive jealousy gradually turned her into a frumpy mouse, afraid of her own shadow. Poor Chloë, she had really been through the mill. Now she’d come full circle, back to a slim, attractive young woman, whose self-assurance was growing daily.

Picking up the lipstick, I smiled, remembering her recent pleasure at mastering ice-skating. Justin had been working one Saturday, so she came to the nearby rink with me and a gang of friends. She soon forgot her embarrassment at being large and took to it like a duck to water. By the end of the session she was as good as any of us and I was pleased to see the way she fitted in. You wouldn’t think it was the same girl who dubbed us “the grammar school crowd”. There was just no stopping her then - one of the local show-offs noticed her, and after only ten minutes tuition, had her skating backwards fairly well. She went home elated and radiant, but as she worked most Saturdays, she only managed to come with us once more in the ensuing months.

I shook my head and began to outline my lips. If only Linda were here to talk it through with, but we were meeting her later in town. Yeah, Lin would get straight to the bottom of it all right, she’s so laid-back and she could be objective about things. I tried talking it over with Danny, but he’s much too close and anyway, he would never see anything clearly where Justin is concerned. I suppose he could be right, that we should let them get on with it, but I have good reason to doubt Justin’s suitability as a life-long partner.
And here's the second version with a real souped-up voice injection (look carefully - it's not just about putting things in italics, although a heck of a lot of that goes on):
‘Rats!’ That was the third time I’d smudged mascara onto the eye-shadow. Well this time it would have to stay. Nobody would notice me anyway, not with Chloë’s silly hat drawing all the attention. Sucking my cheeks in, I brushed bronze-tinted blusher into the hollow. Someone who knew about this stuff said it would complement my brown eyes and make my face look thinner. Fat chance! Gazing in the mirror, I reflected on my childhood friend’s “last night of freedom” – what an archaic idea that was. “Hen night” wasn’t much better – a bunch of brightly dressed females clucking over the poor little chick about to fly the roost. Except this little chick had no idea what she was letting herself in for

A photo slotted in the mirror frame caught my eye - it was the pair of us aged nine. What a contrast. You could tell just by looking that she was a sweet, obedient child – butter never even got vaguely warm. But me? The scowl on my face said it all. The next photo was evidence of her desperate, boy-obsessed puberty: the shortest of mini-skirts, hideous false-eyelashes and a tight, scoop-necked top. There was no record of her late teens; different schools meant we had grown apart. Her personality and looks deteriorated as she frantically tried to please the love of her life, Justin. It was all to no avail, his possessive jealousy turned her into a frumpy mouse, afraid of her own shadow. Poor Chloë, she had really been through the mill. Now she’d come full circle, back to a slim, attractive young woman, whose self-assurance was growing daily. 

Picking up the lipstick, I smiled at the picture of her with a gang of my friends at the local skating rink. Reluctant to mix with “the grammar school crowd,” she soon forgot her embarrassment at being large and took to it like a duck to water. Not that she looked like a duck or anything. Waddle, she did not. By the end of the session she was as good as any of us and I was pleased with how she fitted in. There was just no stopping her the next time – one of the local show-offs noticed her and by the end of the session, had her skating backwards like a professional. A different girl went home: elated, radiant and bubbling with confidence. 

I shook my head and began to outline my lips. If only Lin were here to talk it through with, but we were meeting her later in town. Her bubbly personality shone out of the next picture, a cuddly, street-wise girl with a wicked sense of humour. Yeah, Lin would get straight to the bottom of it all right. She was laid-back and could be objective about things. Unlike my boyfriend. My skin heated up at the picture of him looking rugby-player rugged in an Arran sweater, leaning against a Mirror dinghy with the classic red sail. Don’t get me wrong, Danny’s incredibly sensitive and well-balanced. For a bloke. But last time I tried talking it over with him, he blew a fuse. I get it, he’s much too close to the situation and anyway, he would never see anything clearly where Justin is concerned. I suppose he could be right, we should let them get on with it, but knowing what I know, there is way more than good reason to doubt Justin’s suitability as a life-long partner. ===========================================================

Ok, reading it through now, I realise that there is way too much plot detail in there for a realistic prologue, but as an exercise in voice injection, it's a doozy. What do you think?

Thursday, 6 March 2014

The First 555 words are the best ...

... or that's what I'm hoping. A very brave lady has taken up the challenge and set me loose on the first page of her darling child. I'm trying not to be too snarky - she is a relative newcomer. I've gotta say, I would have been so proud if my second novel was this good - see what you think.

My crits are small so they don't hurt so much. Here it is:
It had been a little over ten years since Michael tasted freedom, since he had the choice to feel love or love back. It had also been just as long since he hadn’t been forced to kill in the name of ‘his’ country, and so many others.
It had been a little over ten - passive, feels old. Use It was ten instead to make it more active, vibrant. 
It had also been just as long - Eyes glazing at the back story. Try a repeat for emphasis: Ten years since …

The “Collective” is a global multi-government sanctioned organization, which protects the innocent against tyranny. The Collective recruited Michael off the streets of Los Angeles at the age of eighteen. Pure backstory – drip feed it in with a reaction from Michael. Is this the Collective’s story? No. Put it in Michael’s pov. 

Michael had grown up in the foster care system and group homes since he could remember. At the tender age of fifteen he decided enough was enough, and got out. He survived those three years doing odd jobs for local gangsters and drug dealers until he got caught holding the bag, literally. Michael was found with enough heroin on him to send him away for a long time. While Michael was in prison a riot broke out and he took a shiv in his back and ribs. He was rushed to the local hospital with life threatening injuries. An hour later he was pronounced dead, or so the world thought. So after an allowable couple of sentences introducing Michael and hinting at his dilemma, we get 139 words of backstory. You, the author, telling us about Michael’s past ten years. It’s all history – nothing to grip, excite or intrigue me. It already happened in the last 10 years. It’s a great anecdote, but I’m not feeling his pain because it’s not now and immediate. 

The Collective turned Michael into the perfect killing machine, void of any emotions or regrets. After two long years of rigorous training in mixed martial arts, linguistics, weaponry and the latest technology, Michael graduated at the highest level an operative could, tier 3. To the Collective Michael was truly one of a kind. He followed orders without question and the mission always took priority, elevating him quickly to the top of the ranks at tier 5. Michael traveled often on the job, but the base of operation for his section of the Collective was located in the U.K., London to be exact. And yet another 102 words of pure backstory. Long dead history. A classic case of the writer telling the reader everything she thinks he ought to know. Kill it dead.

It was an early morning flight that had Michael heading home to the states for his next assignment. Passive, time stamping. If the time of day is germaine to the plot, let us see the effect on Michael. I need to know how this travel impacts on him physically, emotionally and/or mentally. Also, keep Michael at the forefront of the action – front and centre at all times – no-one wants to read about a hero who has stuff done to him.

He was to get close to a female FBI agent whose partner, Agent John Randolph, was suspected of working with the known terrorist group, “Black Hail”. Black Hail was responsible for several bombings in Eastern Europe and Asia and was said to be planning an attack on U.S. soil. Why would you tell the reader everything he needs to know about the bad guy in one fell swoop? Where’s the incentive to read on? Tease him by drip-feeding the info one nugget at a time. Make him work, it’ll give him a feeling of accomplishment, make him want to invest more effort in uncovering the gold. 

Michael took a seat in first class. Not passive, but not exactly inspiring me that I’m there on the plane with him. I need more sensory experience than just bland looking. It’s kinda like you’re watching the movie and telling me about it while I sit with my back to the screen. He had his choosing because all of first class was empty, the Collective saw to it. In the UK, we would say “He had his choice.” Could be a pond thing, so I’ll leave it. “saw to it” feels a bit like flabby telling, but it could be a voice thing so I’ll leave it. They bought out all the seats to give him the privacy he would need in order to study Agent Shyira Chandler’s file. Why would he need to study her file in private if he already knew her profile? (In the next graf you make it clear he’s travelling commercial because of her expertise) I’m confused. Normally Michael would fly on the private jet that the Collective owned, but occasionally the job required him to fly commercial, it added to his cover. This job was a prime example; if Michael knew Agent Chandler’s profile like he thought he did, he knew she was very thorough. If she was that thorough, wouldn’t she know that the Collective had booked the entire first class and only he had travelled in it? I need more. After that first showing sentence, the rest of this graph is pure telling – kind of a combination of backstory and world-building. The detail is all excellent, it’s the detached, passive voice that gets the eyes glazing. Michael isn’t speaking to me yet. Michael didn’t mind the flight, it made him feel normal for a short time. Aha. Now I get the briefest glimpse of who Michael might be. Not exactly happy in his work.

Agent Chandler is a tall, 5’7” beauty of mixed blood. Her mother is Caucasian and her father is of African American decent, and her features showed her mixed heritage. Shyira’s build is slim, but athletic. Her eyes are a deep green, and her lips full. Her hair is long, curly, and the color of brown sugar from what he could tell of her picture. And the reason for swapping to present tense is??? Again with the tell-all. 56 words of nothing but facts. Drip feed please and add reaction/ emotion. Her looks, however were of no concern to him, she was the mission. Nice bit of intrigue to end on – just a missing comma after however. I'm sure purists would want a semi-colon, colon or an em-dash instead of that final comma (depending on who you talk to), but I'm no purist. The very antithesis. Mean and dirty, me.

If you disagree with any of my crits I want to know - please add a comment in the poor girl's defence. We'll call her A because she is the first. Feel free to argue in A's favour - I like a good debate. I'm making this all up as I go along and the last thing I want to be is dogmatic or rule-bound.

If you want to risk your darling, you'll find all the details here.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Ro's little one-woman support network

Well, that's me caught with my panties well and truly round my ankles.
The truth of the matter is, I was taking a long, hot bubble bath with scented candles, 3 types of incense burning and Alice Cooper's awesome late-night Planet Rock show. Ok, there was no Journey, but plenty rockin' with Dire Straights, Purple, Steve Miler, Yes, Cream, then oodles of Bowie. A pretty good second best. So when I got a bunch of ABNA buddies saying yes please, I'm like - oops!

So what's it all about?
I would like to offer, for a limited time only, the chance to get the first 555 words of your manuscript up to the standard required for submission. What you find out from this little exercise can then be applied to the rest of your ms. Why 555? It's power of 3, 5 and so much more besides, but it will get most people near the end of the second page in a normal paperback.

All I ask in exchange is that you allow me to wash your dirty linen in public. I will post your original words and my suggestions in my blog so others can see how it works, then open it up to all of my super-talented crit buddies to pitch in with their suggestions. Best to buy the armour now, really.

If your first two pages have been edited to perfection and there is nothing for me to do, I could look at your query letter, pitch - basically anything that needs an injection of voice.

For more information, take a look at my Voice Coach page.

When I've finished teaching math for the next 2 days, I'll get some examples up of the sort of stuff I mean.

Launch Day for Reprisal

Today is the book launch for the wonderful Thomas A. Knight’s third book Reprisal in his awesome Time Weaver Chronicles. Many hundreds of writers all over the world know this man as Sir Thomas and I have to confess to having a small crush – I’d confess to a much larger one, but I think his wife would not be happy. Nor would my husband L

The thing that makes him so special is his unstinting support to new authors, guiding them through the awful process of writing a pitch and helping in so many other ways. With his ever-growing team of Pitch Doctors (amongst which I am privileged to count myself), he battles through the nightmares of flabby, passive writing and voiceless telling to turn each pitch into a tight, polished marketing tool that will convince readers and judges and literary agents to take a peek inside the book and enter the author’s world. Read about his amazing contribution to good writing at

Although I’m supposed to be doing boring school work, I couldn’t resist having a quick look at the first page. 7 pages later, I realised I had to stop now or I would be in trouble tomorrow. The first scene gave me the same kind of collywobbles I got in Lord of the Rings when they faced the Orcs at Helm’s Deep. That same awful terror that has you wanting to hide behind the sofa, but the writing is so compelling, you just have to keep reading to find out how they can possibly overcome such impossible odds. Sir Thomas treats his heroes to the worst kind of trials right from the outset – and then piles on the tension until you really can’t take any more, but dare not turn away in case the inevitable happens … I can see I’m gonna be an emotional wreck, yet again.

Just to tempt you, here are the first couple of paragraphs - now do you see why I'm raving about it?

Reprisal, Book III of The Time Weaver Chronicles

The bridge over the Algorn Canyon was less than an hour's travel to the west. It meant salvation for Malia Corsair and the exhausted remains of the Findoor militia. Her orders to them were simple: keep running, no matter what. The horde of undead pursuing them didn't sleep. They didn't eat. They ran, and killed, and ran some more. Nearly a thousand soldiers fell to the undead force before the militia realized what was going on. Another thousand fell in the retreat. The fallen rose again, animated by dark magic, and joined the growing undead tide.
“We are almost there,” Malia shouted to her troops between breaths. “Do not stop, do not look back. When you get to the bridge, just keep running, we can hold our ground on the other side.”
She didn't have to look to know her orders would be followed without question.
The hill before them sloped down toward the canyon which stretched from north to south, separating the Kingdoms of Findoor and Caldoor. The bridge spanning the canyon had stood for centuries. It was one of only a few crossings that led into Caldoor. The canyon itself was a long drop into a rocky river, created in some great earthquake thousands of years ago. It was too great a distance to jump, and a fall into the canyon was certain death. ===============================================================
Go and share in the fun:

You can check out the read-inside at, or if you've come here from the USA it's
You know you want to.

It’s already scaling dizzy heights in bestseller lists.

Have a wonderful day, Sir Thomas,
we are all rooting for you. J

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Who needs sleep anyway?

After pretty much two months straight of not going to bed much before 2am (and that's on a school night) and regularly hitting the 4/5am mark, the ABNA portal has finally closed. No more fretting away about whether to capitalise internet and second world war, worrying about whether people will get what a pell is if I describe it as an inanimate wooden stake, agonising about the number of that's, amazing's, well's, And's and But's in my MS. And as for the was infestation ... that's another story.
Also, no more staying up chatting to people from all over the world, snarking away at their lack of voice, passive telling and overdone backstory. So, time for bed said Zebedee. Ro need sleep. Night, night peeps.