63. How I chose my star-spangled editor for my latest novel Spark Out

VERY rarely do I look at, let alone read, direct messages on Twitter. Normally they are from people imploring you to watch their “hilarious” YouTube channel, employ them as a life coach or join their network on LinkedIN*.

Anyway, I must have been going through a nasty case of Writers Block or something because one morning I found myself wading through this list of wannabes and never-was’ers.

Then to my pleasant surprise I came across Night Owl Freelance, offering editorial services at a time I was mulling over who to pick as editor for my second novel, Spark Out.


Perhaps it was fate but I decided to investigate further. Night Owl is a small operation run by the very talented Vanessa Gonzales, and one look at her personal website persuaded me she would at least be worth an inquiry.

For a start, I don’t imagine there is any situation that would phase her – her back story including such diverse life experiences as having been a mormon and a porn shop worker. Currently she travels around the US in a motor home with her husband, seeking out adventure along the way.

The line that resonated most with me in her bio was ‘I want to fall in love with characters I sympathise with, want to sleep with, and want to punch – in a really great story, those last two are the same’.

One thing a writer needs is an editor who has empathy with their main characters, and I immediately thought the relationship would work. I have spent hundreds of pounds and hours of anxiety waiting on people to “critique” my work, only to find that for the large part they have missed the gist or failed to “get” the point.

After some correspondence between us and a sample “edit”, I felt Vanessa understood where I was coming from, even if I did have to include a short glossary of Cockney Rhyming Slang to help her out with some of the dialogue.

I decided to take the plunge and asked her to do a developmental edit, as my wife Liz – a qualified proofreader as I have mentioned before – would sort out the line editing.

Within a month Vanessa had provided me with a comprehensive 13-page analysis of my work, covering every detail of plot and character. Taking her views on board I did a few tweaks here and there, adding to some chapters and removing stuff from others and now I am on the last leg. Liz is at the moment proofreading my latest draft and I’ve sent out a few copies on word documents to chosen BETA readers, though I am looking for more before I set a launch date of sometime this summer.

If anyone is interested please comment on this blog…


I’m looking forward to including a big thank you to Vanessa in the credits. My decision to choose her for the edit would have certainly shocked some of my bowler-hat wearing, umbrella-toting colleagues over this side of the pond, but I’m happy I took the plunge. She has been a good sounding board – even helping me adapt my previous title from Headers to Spark Out.

Can’t wait for the launch…

(* EDITOR’S NOTE: I tried LinkedIn once and couldn’t see the point. What made it even more annoying was the fact it was so bloody hard to Link Out!)

55. The proof is in the pdudding

Spot the deliberate mistake in the heading?

As a career journalist and a newspaper sub-editor since the mid-80s these things have become second nature to me.

That’s probably why the one thing that is guaranteed to put me off reading a book – and this can happen in traditionally published novels, too, though mainly I am talking about indies – is when I find loads of grammatical or silly literal mistakes in it.

A few people have encouraged me to read their books in the past and I have found myself grimacing and swearing under my breath at the silly mistakes that have been allowed to slip through the net.

In one particular book the protagonists’ names kept changing or the wrong person was credited with speaking a line not meant for them.

The thing is that these things are so easily avoidable. The more people who read your work before you sign off on it, the better.

An editor is important to help the book flow and make sure you don’t get bogged down in too many details, but if you feel they are suggesting changes that you consider detrimental to your story you can always over-rule them. Beta readers, too, particularly those who agree to read your work but don’t particularly have a close relationship with you, can give really helpful advice.

A spelling mistake or glaring punctuation error is not a matter for discussion, though, which is why a professional proofreader is so important.

My wife Liz has just passed a proofreading course and the fact she is a production journalist with years of experience means she already has a head start. She proofed my book, her father’s and has recently taken on some independent work. Why not check out her website and make an inquiry? Her fees are very reasonable but if not Liz, make sure you seek out the services of a professional in the field.


Plug over. The reason I am writing this is that last night after a busy shift in the day job we got talking about a friend who set up a magazine. It is all going quite well but he is tearing his hair out over some of the silly errors that creep into it. His partner is an enthusiastic techie who can handle all the layout and print issues, but lets silly mistakes slip through the net through carelessness and the desire to do things quickly, failing to realise irreparable harm is being done to the overall product.

I’ve just found this article on a website which gives plenty of stats about why people are likely to stop reading books and most of them can directly or indirectly be put down to the editing and proofreading process. Check it out here



33. Ways to deal with life interrupting NaNoWriMo

THE new novel went on hold today. Four days into the project and I officially hit a brick wall. It was all down to a bed.

When I say that I don’t mean I just couldn’t face getting up, going downstairs and sitting in front of a laptop until the words came.

I mean that my wife saw a bargain bed for our 5-year-old to replace the cotbed she has had since birth.

Admittedly the bed has been “upgraded” a couple of times. It’s not like she still peers at us through the bars.

But when your little ones feet are hovering perilously close to the end of the bed yet she is one of the smallest in her class, you know it’s time for drastic measures. Or, rather, my wife does.

So late last night we took delivery of the bed, and first thing this morning my little one noticed it and got all excited.

I was quite prepared to leave the assembly, plus rearranging of bedroom furniture and 15 boxes of seldom used toys, to my wife as a nice chore for the weekend. The rugrat was having none of it though.

So today, when I should have been firmly engrossed in my Nanowrimo story adding to the 5,000 words I had painfully eked out so far, instead I was performing back-breaking tasks of manual labour.

I’ll be honest. It’s not my forte. Infact, I hate it. Still, what I hate even more is seeing the look of abject disappointment on a 5-year-olds face when you tell them “Sorry, honey, daddy was just too busy to put your new bed together today”.

Anyway, the point of this long-winded tale of parental guilt is that the new bestseller took a back seat and I added exactly zero words to it today. I could, I suppose, be working on my masterpiece now but it seemed far easier to tell you the story.

I do, however, have a recipe for writers block and will aim to catch up tomorrow. I’ve already a plan in place for much of the book which I can follow, but as I am expecting to stumble tomorrow my first task will be to throw together some dialogue.

I have a few characters involved in the next scene – chapter 4 in a writing project I would loosely term “science fiction” which I’ve called State of Reality – and the way I shall endeavour to make progress is to construct a long conversation between them.

Like people in everyday life they will shoot the breeze, discuss the weather and – like certain people I know – enjoy the sound of their own voices. No doubt, while this frank exchange of views takes place some germ of a good idea will come about on how to progress the plot.

Even if it turns out to be poor material it won’t matter too much. Nano is about the first draft and you can include all sorts of crazy things, many of which will hit the cutting room floor when you start the editing process.

So don’t fear. If you are in the same position and life has already interrupted your best laid plans, adopt this catch up formula. Pick a couple of characters and imagine they are meeting up to discuss life, the universe and everything. You never know, they may just give you some very good ideas.

If not, well at least you’ve gone some way to understanding your own characters.

Happy writing and if anyone wants to touch base on NaNoWriMo feel free to look me up and become my “buddy” (a term that makes me want to put my fingers down my throat – I imagine the Americans are to blame!).

Best of luck.