The Inner Reader and the Alchemy of Editing

My Inner Reader and Editing have rather taken over my life in the last few months. This is for a range of reasons. The reasons were all pleasant – or , at least, interesting. But her arrival was a surprise. And, as it turns out, a game changer.

Enter the Inner Reader

inner reader, mystery womanI should explain about my Inner Reader. She’s bit of mystery woman. I’d almost forgotten about her, to be honest.

When an agent took on my first book, I had a day job in the City of London. It fascinated me and I  learned a lot in this new-to-me world of finance. I was even solving problems, in a minor way. Don’t think of me as unhappy in any way.

But I wasn’t writing,

without inner reader

Well, I was writing – stuff my employer wanted: analyses, reports, draft letters for someone senior to sign. Letters that had the force of law, too. They came with set forms of words that I could dictate in my sleep.

And my Inner Reader knew that, except to a very few specialists, those words would mean absolutely nothing at all. Zip. Zilch. Nada. They conveyed as much information as chemical formulae would to a non chemist. It was code.

Now, there is a charm to writing in code. It’s the key to a secret society, after all.

I told my Inner Reader she wasn’t a member.

Ignoring the Inner Reader

inner ReaderFor a few months I went on happily writing this stuff and getting my life together – finding a place to live, catching up with friends. I refused to listen to the bit of me that was used to writing stuff  with delight because I knew that I was going to enjoy reading it later.

But then something happened. (I got rheumatic fever. Maybe I hadn’t been as happy as I thought.)

The need to write was back and it was urgent.

Inner Readers and the Urge to Write in the first Place …

My new agent gave me a Talking To and took me to a PEN meeting. In those days it was in Dilke Street, Chelsea. The place was full of writers whose works I knew. Over-awed, I heard Lettice Cooper and Diana Pullein-Thompson agree that they’d started to write because they ran out of books they wanted to read.

My half forgotten Inner Reader gave me a mighty kick in the solar plexus and said, “LISTEN.”

Disraeli's Inner ReaderLong before this, my mother had told me about Disraeli saying, “When I want to read a book, I write one.” We’d both thought it was peacock posturing, not meant to be taken seriously. But here were two eminently readable and distinctly non-posturing ladies, saying the same thing.

And I realised – the carefully crafted, edited and re-edited book that I had given my agent to sell was NOT WHAT I WANTED TO READ.

Toni Morrison satisfying her inner readerThese days, of course, I know exactly how important that is. Toni Morrison has said “I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.”  Nora Roberts told The Guardian in 2011 “I started to write the kind of stories that I wanted to read. It was very instinctive. You just wanted the heroines to be a bit feisty.”

…And Editing

My own Inner Reader has fought her way out of the shadows and come back punching her weight this year. Three times.

after the inner editor et alThe first was when I wrote The Prince’s Bride and made a complete horlicks of revising early drafts. Editors and fellow authors shook me awake on that one. Going through their comments, I slowly felt my way back to the book wanted to read.

Second, the woman in the mask started popping up in my dreams, talking about books that are so nearly finished it hurts.

“You know you want this character to do dance,” she said about one. “Cut to the chase NOW.”

Looks as if she’s right.

Inner reader does jigsawAnd third, finalising with Joanna Maitland next weekend’s editing workshop, I realised that there was a piece of the jigsaw I had been ignoring when we talked about making choices.

“You’ll have to handle that,” I told Joanna. “I always keep my characters’ options open far too long.”


mysterious inner editorThat  mysterious woman, my Inner Reader finally lost her temper at that.

“Stop letting the bloody characters bully you. What do you want to READ?”

She was right.

Trust your Inner Reader. Always.


Falling in Love with Someone Else’s Hero

We all do it — fall in love with someone else’s hero. We always have. Robin Hood. Ivanhoe. Mr Darcy. John Thornton. Raoul de Valmy.

Also, in my case, Brian de Bois Guilbert, Humphrey Beverley, Faramir and Captain Carrot. I like geeks, loners and oddballs. Even those with the occasional dash of villainy, at least as long as I could redeem them. What can I say?

Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that a heart-stopping hero constitutes a good slug of the fun of fiction.

Liz Fielding’s Hero

Royal Bodyguard heroSo I don’t really know why I was so surprised when I fell hard for the hero of an unpublished novel by one of my favourite romance authors, Liz Fielding. Except that the book was not only unpublished, the story was still on the drawing board.

But there was something about the way she talked about her Fredrik…

He had that inscrutability. Something was going on underneath his supremely controlled competence. I could feel it. My fingers itched to get at him.

It felt faintly shameful. I recognised it. I had hero envy.

Essential research

Manor of hero

For I had joined three stunning authors to write a quartet of linked books set around a royal wedding in an English country church, published by Tule.

The four of us got together to talk about our characters and the world we were going to create. 

Visiting Castle Combe, a perfect English village, and having lunch in at the Manor House Hotel was just necessary research. Tough job, as Jessica said. But it had to be done. 

Jessica Hart’s Hero

Baronet heroSo we all went back to writing our books. I told myself that Fredrik belonged to Another Woman. And I needed to stay loyal to my own Prince Jonas. Concentrating hard, I managed it too.

Until Jessica Hart (she also writes as Pamela Hartshorne) sent me the first draft of her story.

And up came Max. And he was this wonderful, practical, grumpy, responsible, inarticulate Englishman who drank terrible coffee and worked all hours and loved his children and his dogs and his decaying stately home…

Yes. OK. In love. Again. 

And he wasn’t mine either.

Anne McAllister’s Hero

Bridegroom heroNow, Anne is the writer who convinced me to look again at cowboys, which was no mean feat. They really weren’t my fantasy until her skilful, principled, competent guys crossed my bookshelf.

So I knew I was going to love her hero. Well, of course I was. He was my hero’s best friend and best man at the wedding.

But did Jack have to be this much of a heart-breaker?

He gives up ranching to play his music. Even exhausted on tour, he can give a Greek god a run for his money. And he’s lost the woman he loves.

And there I go again, handing over my heart.

My Hero …

… had some competition, as you see.

Normally, while I’m writing contemporary romance, I will read biography or crime or adventure stories, for just that reason. But this time I was, as Anne’s Jack would say, hog-tied. I had to read those books to make sure I was staying consistent with our world.

hero on Pinterest - JonasSo how was I to keep my focus on my own guy and not get seduced by these itinerant hotties from my colleagues’ books?

Well, I could already hear Jonas and he quite often made me laugh.

Also, I knew that he has this quicksilver charm which some people might not even see because he keeps it banked down unless he is with people he really likes and trusts. And a whole lot more intelligence and passion than he is quite aware of himself. It takes my heroine to wake him up to both!

We authors had agreed to share images on Pinterest that reflected our main characters and I found just the right one for my prince who was also a volunteer forest Ranger.  Whenever I felt Jonas slipping away from me, I would go and have a look to remind me.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, I did stay loyal to His Serene Highness Prince Jonas. Just.

He’s published on Friday 13th but you can already order him.

So a question : which fictional hero have you lost you heart to?

Stirling Castle & Mary Queen of Scots’ Dad!

Stirling Castle, sitting on extinct volcano

Apologies for the tongue-in-cheek title to this post. I’m guessing that if I had headed it “Stirling Castle and James V”, quite a few of our readers would have said, “Who he?”

Stirling's statue of James V as Old Testament prophetHe is James V, King of Scots. Yes, he was the father of the rather better-known Mary, Queen of Scots.
James V and Stirling Castle had quite a relationship. (And did you know that the mound on which the castle sits is actually an extinct volcano?)

Portrait of James V of ScotlandBoth these images represent James V. In the statue, he has a long flowing beard, like an Old Testament prophet, ready to usher in a golden age for Scotland. In the portrait, he has his normal neat beard and gorgeous clothes.
He didn’t make it to prophet status. James died when he was just 30, leaving one legitimate child (Mary), who was only 6 days old. James also left at least 9 illegitimate children, so he was definitely neither saint nor prophet 😉

In addition to all those bastards, he managed two wives. The first, Madeleine, daughter of the King of France, died soon after arriving in Scotland. “Of the cold”, the guide told me, and it may be true. James’s second French wife, Mary of Guise, gave him 3 children in 4 years, but only Mary survived.

Stirling’s Royal Palace of the 1540s

Stirling Caste: James V's Royal Palace of 1540s

Perhaps because of the problem of the cold, James commissioned a new royal palace inside Stirling Castle, in the French style, which Historic Scotland has spent 12 million pounds restoring. (Some of the scaffolding is still visible in these pictures of the exterior.)

Stirling Caste: James V's Royal Palace of 1540sStirling Caste: James V's Royal Palace of 1540s from courtyard

The Restored Interior

The outside of the palace is in the standard grey  granite. But the inside? Judge for yourself. This is the Queen’s State Bedchamber, complete with real, live Lady in Waiting…

Stirling Royal Palace: Queen Mary of Guise's State Bedchamber

The pictures in this slider show you some of the other rooms, including the magnificent wall paintings above the fireplaces and the spectacular ceilings.

  • Entrance Hall to the Royal Palace
  • Antechamber fireplace decoration in the Royal Palace
  • Antechamber ceiling decoration in the Royal Palace
  • Ceiling of Queen's State Bedchamber
  • Queen's Outer Hall in the Royal Palace

Tapestries: the jewels in Stirling’s royal palace crown

In spite of all these marvels — and isn’t the palace visually stunning? — I think the best reason to visit Stirling Castle is to see the unicorn tapestries. The Scottish crown owned many fine tapestries, including (we believe) a set of “Unicorn Hunt” tapestries. They would have been carried in the royal baggage train and hung wherever the royal court was in residence.

As part of the restoration of the Royal Palace, Historic Scotland commissioned a copy of the seven unicorn tapestries that are currently hanging in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The hand-woven copies used medieval techniques, taking several years to complete, and now hang in the Queen’s Inner Chamber.

Stirling Royal Palace: Queen's Inner Chamber with tapestries

I had the privilege of watching some of them being woven in the Tapestry Studio at West Dean College — the remainder were woven on site at Stirling — and I marvelled at the skill of the weavers. They were using their threads with the artistry of painters, some specialising in human figures, some in flowers, others in animals. There were three weavers, working full time, and they managed just a few inches a week. So no wonder it took years to complete. But the results are spectacular and even more vibrant than the New York originals because these tapestries have not faded.

  • Fourth Tapestry: the unicorn is attacked
  • Fifth Tapestry: the unicorn is captured by the virgin
  • Sixth Tapestry: the unicorn is killed and brought to the castle

My only complaint about Stirling is that the tapestries are quite high on the chamber walls so it’s difficult to see the detail and the artistry that went into their creation. I’m therefore doubly grateful that I saw them close up, while the weavers were still at work.

More about Stirling’s Restoration

If you’d like to see something more of the restoration of the Royal Palace in Stirling Castle, click on the YouTube video below. I promise you that it is fascinating. And the images in it are better and clearer than mine though not all the tapestries were in place in the Queen’s Chamber when the video was shot. On the other hand, Historic Scotland managed to leave out the wandering tourists!


What Copy Editors Do and How They Save the World

Dickens and editorFor some time now, people have been asking me to write about what copy editors do and why they’re important. This is a companion piece to last year’s little trot through the origins and history of publishers’ editing: “What Editors Do”.

Why now? I have just actually been reviewing the copy editor’s changes on the text of my new book. So the mind is focused on what I did and what it felt like.

I should point out that, like my blog on editors, this is highly personal. Though I have also drawn on conversations with copy editors and a great talk, some years ago at an RNA Chapter, by jay Dixon, a trained copy editor. Continue reading

Lessons of a Serendipitous Editing Week

By pure serendipity, this last week has turned out to be all about editing.

It wasn’t supposed to happen. I had finished the substantial edits needed on my new book, The Prince’s Bride. I felt they made the story hugely better. The publisher’s editor accepted them. The book went up on Amazon for pre-order. It should all have been done and dusted.

But … Continue reading

Forth Bridge #3 — the Queensferry Crossing

Forth bridge #3 the Queensferry Crossing

Forth Bridge #3 the Queensferry Crossing

A few days ago, on 4th September 2017 to be exact, the Queen opened the #3 crossing of the River Forth, at Queensferry. The date was chosen, I assume, because it was 53 years to the day since she had opened the #2 crossing, the original Forth Road Bridge, back in 1964 (shown below with the Queensferry Crossing beyond).

Forth Bridge #2 the Forth Road bridge

The Queen did not, of course, open the original Forth Bridge; that was done by her great-grandfather, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) in 1890. Continue reading

Resolution for Writers?

resolution needed to endI don’t know if I’m a particularly picky reader, but I do like a novel to have some sort of resolution. It doesn’t have to be a traditional happy ending – though, as a writer, I always end up with my characters looking forward hopefully. But that’s my quirk.

I can take bereavement, despair or the end of the world in other people’s books. Even enjoy them in a Having a Good Cry sort of way.

What I can’t be doing with, is to turn the page and find that there’s no more book. And in the last few months I’ve found that happening more and more.

Is a Resolution purely a Matter of Taste?

Continue reading

Reeling, Precision, Storytelling

Reeling dancing aloneReeling is an odd concept. In one sense the word means staggering, lurching violently. Also, losing one’s balance, as when under the influence of illness, shock or alcohol.

In another it refers to the controlled performance of a dance. But not just any old dance, where you have one partner, or none, and do whatever takes your fancy. This has a pattern which conforms strictly to bars of music. Every performer co-ordinates with a number of other people in a variety of figures. It employs both travelling steps and dancing on the spot. The result is a shifting pattern, like a kaleidoscope, only you’re in the middle of it instead of watching from above.

Believe me, there’s no room for the first definition in the second activity. There would be blood on the floor. Reels are nothing if not precise. Continue reading

Diane Pearson, In Memoriam


So very sorry that wonderful Diane Pearson, seen here on the left, with the equally legendary Patricia Robins, has died.

Best Selling Novelist

Yes, she was a genuine, gold-plated, international best selling novelist. Her greatest work, Csardas, was called the European Gone With the Wind.

It was reprinted a couple of years ago. And, in spite of her increasingly debilitating illness, Diane saw no reason not to give one of her justly famous parties to celebrate.

It was a lovely summer evening, she was on gossipy top form and the new edition had a spectacularly beautiful cover. One of many delicious memories I have of Diane.

And Editor …

Continue reading

Sloppy Genre Novels, a Reader’s Perspective

sloppy genre novels NY Times Book reviewIn a recent piece in the New York Times Book Review a well known British novelist is scathing about what she calls “sloppy genre novels”.

I’m currently in Reader Mode. (I’m editing. That always sends me to reading for consolation.) Writerly reaction will have to wait.

But Facebook has shown me that several genre novelists have raised an eyebrow at this apparent attack.

The phrase is racy and moderately memorable. Memorable enough to make it into the puff paragraph, anyway. It is, alas, imprecise. Continue reading