International Women’s Day 2018

It’s International Women’s Day and I feel oddly pressured to jump onto the bandwagon and write something topical. After all, I’m a woman, so it feels as though I’d be letting the side down if I didn’t at least mention it!

I don’t want to go down the boring route of ‘X female authors you should read’, though. I did that a couple of years ago for Help For Writers, if you’re interested. Other female authors I enjoy are Jan Mark, Diana Wynne Jones, Agatha Christie, J. K. Rowling, Jane Austen, Annie Proulx, Virginia Woolf and S. E. Hinton. I’m sure there are many more but you know how it is when you come to write something — my mind’s a blank!

So … being a woman. I’ve had an easy time of it so far. I’m white, I’m healthy, I’m cis, I’m (arguably) middle-class (I didn’t start out that way, but I have a desk job and a mortgage now so …). I live in the UK, where, while there is plenty to complain about, the standard of living for people in my position is actually pretty damn good. I’m middle-aged, so for the moment I escape most of the stereotypes about the old and the young. In many respects I lead a charmed life. I recognise why we still need an International Women’s Day, but really, who am I to talk about prejudice or sexism?

During my time in the non-profit sector, women outnumbered men in my workplaces and were just as respected by their peers. Then I moved into the publishing industry where, again, women are known to outnumber men, although not necessarily in the most senior roles. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been on the receiving end of sexist behaviour. (Disclaimer: it is quite possible that there were incidents that I simply didn’t notice, because I’m unobservant and socially inept and these things tend to go over my head.)

However, not being totally stupid I can see that not all women have it as easy as this privileged white woman, and in some countries women have few rights and are treated appallingly. There are more ‘issues’ than you can shake a stick at, but ‘honour’-based violence is particularly concerning — and does happen in the UK, too — so a few years ago I made a piece of artwork on that theme.

woman writing names, painted backwards so it is as though the surface of the painting is the glass she's writing on artwork

It’s acrylic paint on top of a photograph, and the writing is the names of all the women killed in ‘honour’-based crimes in the UK that I could find at the time. 

My motivation for doing the painting was to help raise awareness (although my little exhibition probably didn’t get more than a handful of visitors!), but that’s not much concrete help. If you want to help in some way, Karma Nirvana is a great charity that is always looking for donations and volunteers (trustees and community champions). To help women in the UK more generally, please consider supporting Women’s Aid.

If you’re a writer and a woman and you’re facing prejudice or disadvantage, I can only say: don’t give up! If you want any help with your manuscript please feel free to get in touch. I’m afraid I don’t have any magical contacts in the publishing world, but if you’re interested in self-publishing to get your work out there, I can certainly point you in the right direction and I’d be happy to have a (no-obligation!) chat about your options.

Events London Book Fair

London Book Fair 2017

This year’s London Book Fair was a totally different experience for me than last year’s. I had my baby daughter with me this year, but at least I could trundle her in a buggy instead of schlepping her around in my belly! As I said in my blog post for Help For Writers, I conducted several meetings sitting on the floor, but I think most authors appreciated the fact that I don’t stand on my dignity all the time. At least, I hope they did …

I wasn’t on a stand this year, either, and I enjoyed being able to roam free. Out of all my scheduled meetings there was only one person who didn’t show up at all, with no warning – and they contacted me afterwards to apologise! This made quite a change from my previous experiences in a different industry. What a nice lot you authors are! I hope to give everyone the same respect in return.

I also popped over to see the folks on the SfEP stand – always nice to say hello and put some faces to names. 

So, what’s new in the publishing world? There was a bigger emphasis on self-publishing this year, with the expansion of the Author HQ area and more services targeted at self-publishing authors. It’s good to see that there isn’t any technology that can do the copy-editor’s job … yet! I don’t think there ever will be, but by the time I’m 90 I might be eating my words (hopefully not in paper form).

I’m conscious that I haven’t been blogging as much as usual since the sproglet was born, and I hope to get back into the groove with more regular posts. You can look forward to some tips about how best to proofread your own work. And if there’s anything specific you’d like me to cover, please contact me and let me know!

baby sitting at the start of the yellow brick road
Someone wanted to follow the yellow brick road …

Coming up: writing & literature events

I’ve had my nose buried in a tricky copy-editing job and only just surfaced for air. In the name of professionalism I can’t post about work I’m actually doing, and I’ve been living and breathing this particular subject for several weeks. I’ve even dreamed about the references!

As a result I’ve fallen behind on finding out what is going on in the world of writing and literature, so in the process of catching up I thought I would compile a few of the writing/literature events taking place in the UK in August to October.

Steve Bowkett workshop story grids

One event I’m particularly looking forward to is Leicestershire author Steve Bowkett’s workshop on ‘Story Grids: Techniques to Improve Your Writing’, which will take place on 3 October, 14:00-16:30 at The Dock, 75 Exploration Drive, Leicester, LE4 5NU. Steve aims to help you form a narrative organically and ‘take your mind by surprise’. The workshop will look at building the key elements of a story and sustaining reader involvement. It’s not specific to any particular genre, so there should be something for everyone! Book onto this workshop.

Steve’s workshop is taking place as part of the Everybody’s Reading Festival.

Help For Writers Networking Writing

Networking for introverts & special snowflakes

people talking in conference setting
Me (L) attempting to network at the London Book Fair.

I just wanted to share a couple of really useful articles I’ve read recently which touch on both networking and writing your novel.

‘A Survival Guide for Introverts Networking’, a blog post by Abi Saffrey, is aimed at people going to the Society for Editors & Proofreaders conference in September, but it applies equally to any conference or event you might be going to. I’m not actually an introvert, but this post is full of helpful tips like ‘Pre-break the ice’, ‘Don’t wear new shoes’ and ‘Prepare some opening lines or questions’.

I found Randy Ingermanson’s explanation of the ‘Snowflake Method’ of writing a novel clear and inspiring. It made me want to start planning my own novel! I don’t have a plot or theme or any characters in mind, but reading Randy’s article made me feel as though I could write about anything. Remember, folks: ‘Good fiction doesn’t just happen’!

If you have any especially useful blog posts or articles that you keep going back to again and again, let me know in the comments. Helpful resources for writers are always welcome in these quarters!



The 4th Self-Publishing Conference

On Saturday 7 May I attended the 4th Self-Publishing Conference, organised by Matador.

self-publishing conference brochure

As a Leicester City supporter I was feeling particularly proud of my home city, so it was nice to see people converging on Leicester from all parts of the world – even from Spain!

University of Leicester flowers
Leicester boasts many beautiful scenes around the city as well as on the football pitch.

The keynote speech was by Caroline Sanderson, Associate Editor of The Bookseller. She talked about what self-published authors can do to maximise their chances of getting noticed and promoted. There was a strong emphasis on the importance of good cover design, and she highlighted various examples, talking about what made them stand out.

I attended a workshop by Louise Jordan of the Writers’ Advice Centre. She talked about structuring a children’s book. I dived into the exercises, despite not having a children’s book on the go, thinking, ‘I’ll just have to make something up.’ It then occurred to me that that’s exactly what writer’s do! Her advice was so useful that you might be seeing my book on a shelf near you soon! (Well, that last bit might be a slight exaggeration.)

Next, I listened to Rachel Gregory from Troubador and Barbara Scott from Surrey Libraries talking about how to maximise your ebook’s potential. Most people know that you can borrow ebooks from libraries, but they don’t take ebooks directly from authors. Barbara was a great advocate for libraries. It might be free for people to borrow books, but the libraries have to buy the ebooks in order to stock them, so it’s still worth getting your book into libraries if you can! It was heartening to hear that library loans of self-published material are growing.

Professor Alison Baverstock from Kingston University gave an excellent plenary session about her research into self-publishing. I felt like jumping up and shouting, ‘Yay!’ (I didn’t. I just went up to her afterwards to say it in slightly more articulate words.) When I was planning the marketing for Help For Writers I noticed that there’s a lot research into readers – demographics, habits, what they like – but precious little about writers. Alison’s work helps to fill that gap. I can also confirm one of her findings from a personal perspective – editors enjoy working with self-publishing authors!

Prof. Alison Baverstock
Professor Alison Baverstock talks about her research.

Mike Bodnar, author of humorous travel book Against The Current, talked to us about self-promotion for self-publishers. He gave us loads of useful information with a few jokes thrown in. I covered several pages with notes – thanks Mike!

Cressida Downing of The Book Analyst probably thinks I’m stalking her, because this is the second time I’ve been to one of her workshops in a short space of time. She’d asked people to submit synopses in advance, and she read out excerpts and gave some insightful criticism of each one. Don’t get your synopsis confused with your blurb – it’s perfectly OK to give away spoilers in the synopsis; in fact the whole point of a synopsis is to tell the reader what happens in your book!

After the conference came the drinks reception, where we mingled and talked.

Group of people talking
Networking in progress.

One of the authors I spoke to was Julian Jackson, who has written his own account of the day. Apart from Mike Bodnar’s talk, he attended different sessions from me, so it’s well worth a read if you want to find out what was going on elsewhere!

Thanks to Matador for putting on an informative and well-organised day.


Events London Book Fair

The London Book Fair 2016: Beautiful pigs & lots of colour

My first London Book Fair was an amazing* experience. It made me realise how lucky I am to work in the field of books and writing. Being surrounded by so many books – and, more importantly, people who love them – was energising.

The world of books is a colourful one. Lush displays of children’s books, coffee table books (some of which were large enough to actually be coffee tables) and art books reminded me why the industry hasn’t mirrored the music business in its rapid move from physical to digital formats. There’s something especially attractive about an origami book, a book you can scribble in, or a book that includes balsa wood. It’s also useful to own a book that you could use to knock an intruder unconscious.


Origami animals at London Book Fair 2016
You can’t make these out of an ebook.


I was there to promote Help For Writers – I’ll be writing a more detailed blog for them soon – but I couldn’t stop my enthusiasm for copy-editing from surfacing from time to time. I hope I managed to convince a few writers of the importance of a good copy-edit!

I found the the wonderful unexpected around every corner – including beautiful pigs.


beautiful pigs London Book Fair 2016
You never knew you wanted this book, but now you do.


I was honoured to take part in an Author HQ panel on ‘How to prepare for self-publishing’. I hope people found it useful. Thanks to Fiona Marsh (Midas PR) for chairing the session and to my colleague Nikki Halliwell (Marketing Executive at Help For Writers) and self-published author Will Green (Default Setting) for being on the panel with me. You can’t beat advice from someone who has ‘been there and done that’. Luckily there was only one mic between us so I couldn’t interrupt them too much.

Now it’s time to get some caffeine into my system and start the follow-up…


London Book Fair 2016 How to prepare for self-publishing Help For Writers panel Fiona Marsh Will Green Nikki Halliwell Catherine Dunn
Will imparts some words of wisdom on the ‘How to prepare for self-publishing’ panel. L to R: Fiona Marsh, Catherine Dunn, Will Green, Nikki Halliwell


(*Dipping into the thesaurus in search of a less clichéd word to replace ‘amazing’, I was confronted with the suggestions ‘shocking’ and ‘prodigious’. That, my dear reader, is why you can’t write well by following a set of rules.)


Looking forward to the London Book Fair

London Book Fair Help For Writers graphic ebook distribution self-publishing


This year I’ll be at the London Book Fair for the first time, and I’m excited about it!

I’ll have my Help For Writers hat on, but I’ll also be looking out for opportunities to get involved with new proofreading and copy-editing projects. If you’re a writer, please do stop by stand 1F50C and have a chat – I’m always happy to talk about proofreading and copy-editing! I promise not to come over all salespersonlike. It’s just good to talk to fellow writing geeks from time to time.

If you’re feeling really brave, you can ask about my ‘words I would ban from erotica if I had my way’ list. Settle down for a long ride … no pun intended.

I’m also on a panel. That’s right! I’ll be talking about ‘How to prepare for self-publishing’. The panel will take place on Wednesday 13 April at 12:45 in the Author HQ. The session will be chaired by Fiona Marsh (Midas PR, ex-HarperCollins) and I’ll be joined by self-published author Will Green (Default Setting) and Marketing Executive Nikki Halliwell. I’m really looking forward to it! Come along if you’re there, and feel free to fire questions at us afterwards.

Events Midlands Writing

Writing East Midlands conference 2016

On 5 March I went to the Writing East Midlands conference. I came away feeling as though I’m equipped with all the skills to be a successful writer … except writing skills!

I learned about self-promotion, working with an editor, creating a web presence, and writing crime fiction. I’ll be sharing my pearls of wisdom in bite-size chunks (to mix my metaphors!) over at Help For Writers during the next few weeks, so I can’t give everything away here. I can give you a few tasters, though.

It was a blast from the past to visit Loughborough University, as I graduated from there in 2001. I was based in the art department on the other side of the road, but I visited the Martin Hall building for my ‘Music & the Visual Arts’ module and it was good to see the old alma mater again!

The opening keynote was delivered with energy and enthusiasm by Mike Gayle, who made us all laugh and root for him as he told us the story of how he got where he is today.

"Asking for help is not an admission of failure."
“Asking for help is not an admission of failure” – Pete Mosley


Pete Mosley on The Art of Shouting Quietly

Pete is a business coach for creatives, and his workshop on self-promotion for introverts was full of quotable gems like: “Embrace your non-conformity”, “creative people fuel the world”, and “asking for help is not an admission of failure”. I may have been a little bit biased because I loved his illustrated slides – like me, he studied Fine Art at university – but he came across as a thoroughly nice person.

Top three take-home points:

  • Define what success means to you
  • Move out of your comfort zone
  • Do your market research


Cressida Downing on Working With an Editor

Cressida (a.k.a. The Book Analyst) specialises in deep structural editing and clearly knows her stuff. “The point of editing is to get you a beautiful book” – can’t say fairer than that! She gave a good explanation of the difference between a ‘read and review’, a deep structural edit, copy-editing, and proofreading. Lots of people think they need the last two when they actually need the first two. I try to be clear that I only offer copy-editing and proofreading – structural editing is a different thing and needs a different set of skills. Cressida was the source of the day’s most inspiring quotation: “You never get worse at writing.”

Top three take-home points:

  • Don’t edit as you go along. Get to the end first
  • Make sure your editor works in your genre
  • Editors charge by length, so cut your manuscript as much as you can before sending it off


Shreya Sen Handley, Dan Simpson & Alice Graham on Shouting Loudly: Creating a Presence on the Web

Considering the discussion was pitched around ‘shouting loudly’, there were a lot of mentions of not shouting! There was a general consensus that you need to listen, reciprocate and participate in online communities, not just shout or blow your own trumpet.

Top three take-home points:

  • Do one or two things well; don’t try to do everything
  • Avoid sharing the same content on multiple platforms (guilty as charged!)
  • If you blog, end your posts with a question to encourage comments
Stephen Booth, David Mark & Sophie Hannah
Stephen Booth, David Mark & Sophie Hannah


Stephen Booth, Sophie Hannah & David Mark on Writing Crime Fiction

After this and the closing keynote by Sophie Hannah I’m a bit of a fan, and I haven’t even read one of her books yet! I did buy her collection of short stories, which I got signed – and the next day I discovered that I’d already bought The Narrow Bed on Kindle! Her descriptions of her plots made them sound right up my street. I love a good psychological thriller.

What struck me most about this discussion was that all three participants started writing at a really early age. Stephen finished his first novel at the age of twelve! Their different approaches to location were interesting too – it was crucial to David, who’s novels are based around Hull (even those which aren’t set there!), whereas Sophie uses fictional settings as “human beings are the same everywhere.”

Top three take-home points:

  • Getting a huge advance can be a poisoned chalice if your book doesn’t sell well enough
  • Avoid being too self-critical and enjoy your successes when they come
  • “The only thing you can control is how good you can make the book” – Sophie Hannah
I saw this rainbow immediately after the conference. Cause for optimism?
Artwork Authors Midlands Writing

Meeting writers

Every now and then I like to get out of my cave and meet people face-to-face – especially writers, naturally! Today I went to the Leicester Writes Writers Meet Up (see, I resisted the temptation to insert an apostrophe and/or a hyphen there!) and saw a few familiar faces from the festival back in June, as well as meeting some new people too. I always find it inspiring to hear writers reading their work; this evening was no exception.

I have to big up Farhana Shaikh from Dahlia Publishing for organising these events – she does a great job.

If you live in the Leicester area and are interested in attending writing-related events, I recommend you join the Leicester Writing Events Facebook group, which pulls together everything writerly that’s happening in the area.

I don’t have any photos from this evening, so here’s a completely unrelated doodle.

Pen doodle that looks a bit like chains

Authors Cheltenham Literature Festival Events Reading Writing

Cheltenham Literature Festival in more detail

I already wrote a summary of my experiences at the Cheltenham Literature Festival; now I’ve gone into a bit more detail over at the Help For Writers blog.

I didn’t mention my coughing fit in the middle of the Simon Armitage event. The woman next to me looked very disapproving indeed and offered me a cough sweet (I’d already had three, but perhaps they were too rustly for her comfort).

During the Alexander McCall Smith event I was sitting on the left hand side of a lady with her left arm in a sling. I spent the whole hour trying to sit as still as possible for fear of knocking it.

I found the audiences very genteel. Hardly anyone seemed to take photos or use their phone during the events – which was nice in a way, but made me feel very conspicuous. I always keep my phone on silent in events and turn the flash off, but I’m surprised there weren’t more people live-tweeting – at the beginning and end of events, at the very least. (I try to be polite and considerate and restrict my phone-fiddling to the first and last couple of minutes. I’m not a total philistine.) There was much less activity than I expected on the #CheltLitFest hashtag. Maybe I should be thankful for small mercies, but I don’t think it has to be an either-or between highbrow literature and social media – I enjoy both!

In Cheltenham itself I recommend the Queens Hotel, which is right next to the literature festival and has a great bar with very friendly staff and loads of different gins, as well as amazing wallpaper designed by Pugin in the stairwell. At the time of booking it was the same price as the usual ordinary chain hotels!

I also highly recommend John Gordons whisky bar. If you love a good single malt you’ll be in heaven.

signed copy of simon armitage's book walking away
Simon Armitage: My fangirl moment immortalised.