Category Archives: writing craft

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.


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

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?

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Considering Cliché: A Writer’s Unforgivable Sin?

The very first piece of advice that I remember anyone giving me about writing was, “Avoid cliché.” I was ten. I had to look up “cliché”. So now I have a question.

Dickens father of clicheA cliché is a word or phrase so worn out by overuse that it has deteriorated until it is meaningless. It may once have been striking. Today it is white noise.

The gentle reader ignores it. The ungentle critic berates the writer for laziness and lack of originality.

Dickens got away with “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done,” because he thought of it first. After that it became popular, then heard widely, then untouchable by any writer with pretensions to respectability.

Cliché, the Reader’s Friend?

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Pedantique-Ryter: Less is More. Or Is It Fewer?

Less? Or fewer? This Pedantique-Ryter post is dedicated to that Disgusted of Chelsea (no names, no pack drill) who had this exchange on Twitter recently, after shopping in Marks & Spencer:

exclamation mark in fire for less or fewerDisgusted of Chelsea:
My faith in @marksandspencer is shattered, I tell you, shattered. Their ad at checkout:
“Less worries. More sandcastles.” AAAARGGH.
Is there anything we can do to help?
Very kind but am in shock. Civilisation tottering.
Ideally change wording to “fewer worries” or “less worry”?
Probably not cost effective?
We’re sorry you don’t feel we’ve got our ad right.
We’ll share your comments with the team. Thanks
It’s like a needle under a nail to me.
Team could try Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage?

Civilisation tottering? Well, maybe DoC’s irony went a bit far there, but Pedantique-Ryter admits to feeling the needle under the nail, too.
Fewer? Less? Are they interchangeable? If not, how and when should they be used?
Read on to find out the Pedantique-Ryter answer. Continue reading

Magic Moment and Creative Chaos

Mysterious woman in magic moment

I’ve always been fascinated by the chemistry of the magic moment and the creative chaos out of which it so often emerges in works of the imagination. And I mean always.

Long before I analysed A-Level texts or read any of the learned works on story structure, I knew there was a point in my favourite fantasies where time seemed to slow. Everything became both more meaningful and more mysterious.

They were the places in the book which I re-read, again and again. The moments I went back to in the CD. The words I waited for, breathless, in the theatre.

 Amid Nonsense

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Collaborator and Writer, First Steps in Doing it Together


Collaborator with colleagueBy temperament, I’m one of nature’s collaborators. Show me a team and I’m spitting on my hands and doing my bit. With enthusiasm.

In my various day jobs, I’ve loved the sense of shared enterprise. OK, I could get a bit testy when we had meetings about meetings. But mostly interaction with other people buoyed me up when I was tired, focused me when I was floundering and made laugh a lot.

And I work a whole lot better than I do on my own.

…or Loner?

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Suspend disbelief? Unancounced ghost

Disbelief and Our Willingness to Suspend it

Coleridge author of Suspension of Disbelief It was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he of Ancient Mariner fame, who coined the phrase “suspension of disbelief” in 1817 in his Biographia Literaria or biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions. He did so referring to his contribution, more than twenty years earlier, to  the Lyrical Ballads. Published in 1798, these are generally taken to mark the start of the romantic movement in English literature. William Wordsworth wrote most of them, of course.

Suspending Disbelief to Embrace Marvels

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Pedantique-Ryter: Exclamation Marks Shriek

Do you use exclamation marks? Often? Maybe too often??!!!

pen in razor shape, text critic, for exclamation marksSome readers HATE exclamation marks

Exclamation marks used to be all the rage. Once.

But tastes change and, nowadays, some readers count exclamation marks and scream abuse on all the social media platforms if they think an author has used too many. Quite a few of my clients — including bestselling authors — have suffered at the hands of the exclamation mark police. And many have sworn, as a result, never to use an exclamation mark again.

Ever. Continue reading

Pedantique-Ryter: may or might?

May or might? Many writers (and journalists who should definitely know better) have been flummoxed by that one. It seems, increasingly, that may is used all the time, even when it’s actually wrong.

Queen Elizabeth with Mounties. Who may or might she have married?Try this for size:


The Queen may have married someone other than Prince Phillip.

Stressed Woman Pulling Her Hair


Right? Or wrong? Or something in between? Continue reading