Category Archives: writing craft

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?

No collaborator? Cold, lonely and possibly lostBut long before I had any sort of day job — heck, before I went to school — I was a writer.

Writing came straight out of my head onto the page. Nobody else had any input. How could they?

No planning sessions, no critical path analysis or team update meetings, nor any project evaluation group, either.

It never occurred to me that there was any other way to do it. I was all on my own.

Sometimes it felt cold, foggy and very lonely.

First Time Collaborator

Elizabeth Hawksley, my collaborator

Elizabeth Hawksley
(photo: Sally Greenhill)

Then my very good friend, author Elizabeth Hawksley, who teaches creative writing, said that her classes badly needed a plain book on punctuation. Two generations had missed out on grammar and style at school. They needed a guide book that took that into account. We could write one.


I admit, I didn’t see how it could work. But Elizabeth, who had worked in (AND written plays for) small scale theatre, was made of sterner stuff. We’d just sit together, discuss and then write it down and see what it looked like, she said.

What, both of us?

One would type, she conceded. But the point is there would be two voices behind the words.


Collaborators Haddon & Hawksley, Designer Harriet BuckleyIt sounded completely loopy to me. But I respected Elizabeth, trusted her judgement, and if she said it could work…
I closed my eyes and jumped.

For several months Elizabeth and I met a couple of times a week. The thing evolved. We consulted  authorities. All the time, we talked to people who might use the book — there were more than either of us had imagined! We argued a lot.

Novelists both, we knew where we wanted to end up. In this case, it was a book that would help people write clear and effective prose, be that letters, articles, essays, or even three volume novels. And we didn’t have a proper plan until we had a first draft.

Collaborator Issues

coffee to fuel collaboratorI’m not going to say it was all plain sailing. For one thing, we talked, tweaked, talked again and read it aloud. Wrote it down and came back to it next time. It was slow.

For another, our body clocks are very different. I’m at peak performance before the streets are aired. Elizabeth is much more civilised. She hits her stride after the first coffee.

When stuff got really difficult, we took it away and worked on our own versions alone and brought them back for discussion. A couple of things were highly individual. Elizabeth’s inspired Train To Edinburgh, on how to organise a piece of factual writing, was like that. In those cases, one of us would write the whole and the other was effectively beta reader/editor.

Collaborator Benefits

collaborator team workWe kept each other going.

From time to time, we each lost belief that we could complete the project (not to mention concentration). That’s when the other would just carry on climbing and then hold out a helping hand, if necessary.

We laughed a lot.

I learned more than I would have believed possible, particularly:

  • it’s a serious high when two people share a successful chapter
  • re-read on Day 2 and you can always tighten the ‘final’ version
  • how to organise a piece of factual writing
  • stop before you’re exhausted
  • muddle is creative; you just have to treat it right and not be ashamed of it.


Getting the Point has been useful to lots of people, not just creative writers, and they laughed along the way, as we hoped they would. That’s been a real buzz. It’s out of print now (second hand prices are sometimes eye-watering!) and Elizabeth and I are looking at a revised edition.

happy for collaborator to see the messI became much more relaxed about letting other people see what a horlicks I made of my stories in the throes of composition.

I really enjoyed myself. Indeed, so much, that, now I’d done it once, I was, very cautiously, willing to look at doing it again…


to be continued  


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

Pedantique-Ryter: who or whom?

Last time, I gave you four whom examples from the sainted Georgette Heyer. I said the number of mistakes was somewhere between zero and four.

And the answer? ONE. But which one? And why? Read on to find out.

Do I have to use Whom in written English?

who or whom in written English can matterWritten material can pose difficult questions. If you’re emailing your mates, no one will care. If you’re writing your thesis or a letter to the pedantic godmother who will (you hope) leave you money in her will, you probably don’t want to make mistakes. They could distract your reader from what really matters, like giving you the top marks you deserve. So follow my tips if you want to be sure you can get it right when it matters. Continue reading

Pedantique-Ryter: English Daftisms

Occasional Writing Tips from Dame Isadora Pedantique-Ryter :
#2 English Daftisms: Do I practise in my practice?

Of course, as I type this, the spell-checker — in American English — is giving me a loud red underline to tell me that practise is wrong.

star prize for English daftisms?Well, no. Not in British English it’s not. And, funnily enough, on this side of the pond we tend to think that English is OUR language and that Brits make the rules and get the shiny star.

If pushed, though, Brits would usually admit that some British English is plain daft.

I’d say that the distinction between practise and practice is one of those daftisms. I’d add that license and licence are daftisms, too. (“Daftism” is one of my own words, by the way, a Pedantique-Ryterism! It can’t be any dafter than practise/practice.)

American English is much more sensible on this kind of distinction and just uses practice/licence all the time. That being so, American visitors are at liberty to skip to the puzzle at the end — unless, of course, they’d like to have a laugh at the daftness of Brits. If so, feel free to read on.

English daftisms: when is it S and when is it C?

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Beware the Apostrofly! says Pedantique-Ryter

grocers apostrophe

Occasional Writing Tips from Dame Isadora Pedantique-Ryter : #1 The Apostrofly

The apostrofly is a nasty but industrious little insect. She can lay her eggs almost anywhere — she’s not picky about nest sites, though she is rumoured to be fond of the greengrocer’s veg display — and her eggs hatch out into little black maggots that try to crawl all over a writer’s perfect pages.

apostroflee beats apostrofly


There is, sadly, no easy solution. Wouldn’t it be great if we could use a can of insecticide and kill them all off?

One quick spritz of Miracle Apostroflee and all the incorrect apostrophes disappear from the page while any missing ones are inserted in exactly the right places.



Not a chance. Continue reading