Tag Archives: writing tips

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  


Nice words: he Rats, they Badger, but does anyone Mole?

animal words create images in hearer's mind

Language is a writer’s basic toolkit. Writers — novelists, playwrights, poets, lyricists, and all the rest — use words to trigger emotional responses or to paint pictures in the minds of their readers and listeners.

How can we fail to see layers of meaning in creations like these?

  • the wine-dark sea (Homer, Ancient Greece)
  • sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care (Shakespeare: Macbeth, 1606)
  • nursing her wrath to keep it warm (Robert Burns: Tam O’Shanter, 1790)
  • moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black (Dylan Thomas: Under Milk Wood, 1954)

English, a pickpocket stealing words?

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Love among the Thrillers: Alison Morton guests

Alison Morton, author of Roma Nova series of thrillersToday, we welcome our first guest blogger of 2017, Alison Morton, author of the acclaimed Roma Nova series. Her novels are set in the alternate reality of a breakaway Roman state that survived the fall of the rest of the Empire — and it’s run by women! There are six novels in the series, all edge-of-the-seat thrillers, but all involving at least one love story as well. So Alison is well qualified to blog here on the subject of…

lovers - but can love survive in thrillers?Love among the Thrillers

Love. Ah, love! Nothing like a breathless heroine falling into the arms of her strong, yet conquered hero.

Yes, heroes are conquered by that heart-pounding, visceral but tender feeling as much as heroines are. But that’s just in romances, isn’t it? The classic “happy ever after” ending?

Er, no. Continue reading

Lonely, struggling writer in garret? Not necessarily

frustrated writer alone in garret

Joanna struggling in her garret?

The poor, lonely writer in her dark and dingy garret, struggling with her words…
Olaf the troll, and garret companionMakes you want to weep in sympathy, doesn’t it?

Except that I have to admit that my garret…er…isn’t. Continue reading

dedicated to the one I love

Dedicating to the One You Love – or Are You?


Trumpets dedicating

Dedicating a book to someone is powerful. It’s an announcement with trumpets.

We’ve all read the thanks that go on for several pages. They embrace everyone from the author’s family, agent and editor, to anyone who gave them help with research or did the typing.

Justified? Probably. Sincere? Mostly. But a dedication? No. Continue reading

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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That Unique Moment – Making a Story Special

That unique moment — we all know what it is when we come across it in a book or a movie, an opera. We recognise it the moment we see it.

smell evokes memoryAlthough feel it would probably be a better word. And sometimes we don’t even realise what it was until we’re describing the story to someone else.

Lots of people try to analyse it. But essentially, it’s visceral. More like a fleeting scent or a snatch of music than anything we can explain. Continue reading

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

THE Romantic Scene: Writing Rules? — Maybe

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