Category Archives: just for fun

Rose and the Panther — a Cautionary Tale of Workshops

As some of our readers will know, Sophie and I gave an editing workshop — complete with black  panther — at the RNA Conference in mid-July 2017. (Fantastic conference, by the way.)
About 70 people attended. That’s a lot — we normally limit our workshop numbers to 12!

sparklers in the hands of a loving couple

Our topic was editing to add Sparkle to our writing in order to hook and hold readers. Since we only had an hour, rather than our normal 2 full days, it was more of a twinkle.
But it was fun. And we hope that those who attended found it useful.

We certainly did. It taught us some salutary lessons which I’ll share in a moment.
First, let me introduce you to Rose…

Rose meets her Match…

One of the examples we used was the first meeting of a heroine, Rose, with her unnamed hero. Crucially, would it hook and hold a reader? This is the text that we gave the workshop:

twenties flapper woman dancing Charleston

Rose felt out of place and a bit scared, since she didn’t really know her companions very well and, when the men had had too much to drink, they had a nasty habit of pawing any woman they could lay their hands on. She glanced round helplessly, wondering whether there was any escape route but knowing, in her heart of hearts, that there would be none when, suddenly, she saw him – she had never seen him before, she was sure, and he stood out because he was quite alone, his immaculate white tie and tails fitted his panther-like body like a second skin and he was obviously in total control of all about him. He strolled nonchalantly across to her. “Dance with me,” he said.
(125 words)

Participants were invited to spend 5 minutes deciding what to change in green text #1 above so that it sparkled enough to grab a reader. We told participants it didn’t grab us. We admitted we’d written it. And we said it was OTT. What we didn’t say explicitly — mistake #1 — was that we had deliberately written it to be so dire that participants would tear it to shreds.

…and the workshop meets a Panther

Mistake #2 followed from mistake #1. Here it is:

panther with glowing eyes in the dark

Four minutes into the 5 minutes of thinking time, we put up this panther slide. We intended it to raise a laugh, or at least a giggle. It didn’t.

On a blog page like this, it may look OK, but on an enormous screen, it didn’t work well because the image isn’t high-resolution. (We learned what a sin that was during Janet Gover‘s informative conference session on manipulating images.)

And anyway, our participants were working away so hard that they probably didn’t even notice that a rather fuzzy animal image had appeared on the screen.

red oops! key on keyboard

Mistake #3 was to underestimate how kind RNA members can be, particularly at Conference and particularly when they’re invited to criticise the work of fellow authors. Basically, RNA members understand how devastating harsh criticism can be, so our participants tried to be really, really kind about that dire green text #1.

Oops, indeed. That wasn’t the plan at all.

Shoot the Panther?

When prompted by Sophie, participants did agree that there was quite a lot that could be taken out of green text #1. Once they got into the swing of it, suggestions really began to flow. That wasn’t surprising, considering how dull and wordy green text #1 is. By the time Sophie had finished taking contributions from the audience, we had cut large chunks of text and we had suggestions for improving much of the rest.

panther on the prowl

The panther was still hanging on by his claws, though. I strongly suspect it was RNA kindness again.

Sophie had admitted the panther was her idea and I think our author colleagues were too generous to tell her that her animal metaphor should have been shot at birth.
(If only we had told the audience that we were doubled up with laughter when we originally wrote it. I couldn’t read the panther passage without corpsing into giggles. Still can’t.)

Exit Panther

The revised green text we offered to our audience came sans panther, I’m delighted to say::

Rose looked at the dance floor and shivered. I don’t know where I am with these people, she thought.
     Over a drunken shoulder, she saw a commotion in the doorway. A new man had arrived.
     He was a stranger. Controlled. Mesmerising. And staring straight at her.
     Suddenly, Rose couldn’t breathe.

     A second later, he was there.
     “Dance with me,” he said.
(61 words)

Green text #2 is nowhere near perfect — and there’s never a right or perfect answer to our exercises anyway, because all readers are different — but we think it has enough sparkle to grab a reader a bit more than the first version.

The workshop produced interesting discussions about how this shorter version — less than half the length of the first one — could be improved. Opinions differed over Suddenly, for example, and over the omissions of the hero’s physical appearance and how he got from the doorway to Rose.
But no one wanted the return of the panther.

Lessons from the Libertà Panther

  1. If an example is deliberately dire and is intended to be torn to shreds, SAY SO explicitly
  2. Don’t use low-resolution images on slides. EVER. [Thank you, Janet Gover 😉 ]
  3. Don’t distract the audience with jokey slides when they’re working hard
  4. If something is intended to be a joke, make sure the audience knows it’s OK to laugh and that laughter won’t hurt the presenter’s feelings
  5. Never underestimate how kind and generous RNA members can be to fellow authors

panther at rest but alert with JOKE text

I shall create a Joke Flag for future workshops, to be waved vigorously at pantherly moments. Message — it’s OK to laugh, folks, if you find it funny. It’s OK to groan, too.

Buffy, Her Librarian, Fellow Feeling and a Little Love

Buffy's Librarian 20th AnniversaryOn the 20th anniversary of Buffy, I want to celebrate the character who really got to me from the series — Buffy’s Librarian.

I’ve been tripping over fans’ favourite moments, measured academic evaluations, quotations, issues, the sheer energy of the fantasy, in the most unlikely places. Continue reading

Be My Valentine? I Don’t Think So

old laptop with valentineWhen email was new and spam was something you found in school lunches, I once got a message on my hefty laptop headed “Be My Valentine?”

I deleted it, unopened.

With a shudder. And I’d never even heard of viruses then. I just didn’t want to go there. Continue reading

Naming Minor Characters: Fun and Games with Names

One of the fun things about writing fiction is that you, the author, can really play with names for your characters. Hero or villain or somewhere in between? You’re in charge when it comes to naming.

And if you’re writing historical fiction, you have even more scope. Continue reading

Serendipitous Discovery — Just By Chance?

Horace Walpole coined serendipity and serendipitousLike serendipitous, serendipity is one of my favourite words, both for its sound and its meaning. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

And, like Brexiteer, post-truth and quidditch, it was a coinage. On this occasion the person responsible was gossipy Horace Walpole — another of my favourites. He was extrapolating from the now largely forgotten Persian fairy tale of the Three Princes of Serendip.

A present from the Universe, in fact!

Serendipity and Discovery

You could say that Columbus’s discovery of America was serendipitous. He was looking for a western route to Japan, after all. Continue reading

New Year’s Resolutions? Good? Bad? Or Just Unrealistic?

Resolutions! Resolutions?

unrealistic new year resolutions

Made your New Year’s resolutions yet? Do they resemble the ones shown here, by any chance?
If so, you’re not alone. The Libertà Hive is with you!

Unrealistic Resolutions? #1 Write Bestseller

Writers make that one every year, without fail. It’s a goody.

unrealistic resolutions? writing bestseller like pushing giant boulder uphill Continue reading

Libertà Christmas Wishes: Not Many Words, For Once

Last year, we gave you Town Mouse and Country Mouse.
This year, we’re doing something vaguely similar.
It’s up to you to decide which Hive member is which in our Christmas card, below.
We know, of course, but we’re not telling 😉

Since it’s Christmas Day, you’ve probably got plenty to do.
So we won’t add many words — mostly festive pictures that we hope you’ll enjoy. Continue reading

Opera, Opera, Opera — My Month of Three Operas

Opera!  July 2015 was my month of three operas. Unless you’re Eric the Phantom (of the Opera), this probably sounds a touch excessive. It did to me, too, when I looked at the diary and saw what I had done.

But they were all just a touch odd. And very different.

Opera USP

Venetian masquerade carnival. Could be operaOpera overwhelms me. I laugh, I cry, I sit on the edge of my seat at the drama. And there’s always a chance I will be exalted into out-of-the body bliss by the beauty of the music. The sheer power of an orchestra and chorus going quiet is tingle-up-the-spine time. I find opera mysterious, dangerous, sometimes almost threatening. Continue reading

Apostrophe Rules!

This is the tale of how an apostrophe changed my life. It made me open my mind, in spite of deeply entrenched prejudices, and endowed me with hours of reading pleasure I would never have expected in a million years.check that apostrophe


Don’t like thrillers

Some years ago a colleague whose taste in books hardly ever chimed with mine, recommended a thriller he’d just discovered. “Fantastic plot”, he said. “Great writer. None of that stodgy grammar and fancy image nonsense. Just a plain man speaking plain thoughts.”

Two little kids reading book under blanketI groaned in spirit. “Lots of action?” He nodded enthusiastically. That meant dead bodies. Continue reading

Hive Holiday : Severn Bore

The Libertà hive had a little holiday last week which included viewing the Severn Bore. Not, I hasten to add, as these guys do it,

Severn Bore surfers

but from the relative safety of the bank. Hive members and cold water don’t mix.

You have to be impressed, not only by the spectacle and roar of the Bore, but also by the guys — and they were all guys, we noticed, some young, some not so young, but not a female in sight — who turn up in wetsuits with surfboards in order to try their luck with the wave.

Severn before the Bore


Before the Bore arrives, the River Severn looks remarkably peaceful, as you can see, with a largish sandbank across about half its width. We were surprised at how shallow the water is here.

surfers await Severn Bore


Look at those intrepid surfers. They turned up, in ones and twos, slid down the muddy bank where we stood and trotted out to join their mates in the middle of the river. Continue reading