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Being an editor 21 January, 2011

I'm reading and loving Diana Athill’s Stet. She tells a wonderful story of the first book she ever really edited - in the sense of rewriting every sentence because the author, although well versed in his subject, simply couldn't write interestingly or engagingly. In the end, when a reviewer had praised the quality of the writing, the author sent her a note saying, ‘This confirms what I have thought all along, that none of the fuss about the writing was necessary.’

She makes a comparison that I have often used with reference to the editor’s role: ‘We are only midwives.’ I've been very lucky - with a few notable exceptions that remain etched Calais-like on my heart, most of my authors have recognised that I played a role in delivering their babies and been touchingly grateful. If anyone burgling my flat really wanted to upset me, they would steal the signed copies of books that I have worked on over the years.

If you are a burglar reading this, please don't do that.

About reading 19 January, 2011

In the current issue of Mslexia magazine, Amanda Craig, judging the latest 'new writing' competition, remarks on the number of entries whose authors don't seem to have read widely. I don't know how she can tell, but it brings to mind something that I know makes tutors of creative writing despair: would-be writers who don't read because they don't want to run the risk of being influenced by someone else and thus losing their own ‘voice’.

This is palpably crazy: how can you possibly produce good writing if you don't know what it is? And how can you know what it is if you don't read both good and bad writing and learn to tell the difference? And, come to think of it, where did you get the idea that you wanted to write in the first place if it wasn't from reading other writers?

These are not entirely rhetorical questions. I'd be very interested to hear any answers.

Another small rant 13 January, 2011

When I wrote Her Ladyship‘s Guide to the Queen’s English last year, I quoted ‘a magazine catering to the book trade’ as having written that one major company had formerly registered its objection to the activities of another. It hadn’t, of course - it had done it formally. The latest edition of this same magazine has produced the wonderful word unaminously and indulged in another of my pet hates, the misrelated participle. Am I turning into Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells, or am I right in objecting to ‘Superbly structured, the reader pieces together the narrator’s life...’ in a book review? I don’t know the reviewer, so I assume she doesn’t know me and certainly doesn’t know whether I am superbly structured or not.

Winchester Writers’ Conference 11 January, 2011

Just to let you know that it has been confirmed I am going to be there on Saturday 2 July - giving a talk on how to get published and also doing a session of 'one-to-ones' for anyone who would like personal advice on their work. The programme for the conference should be sorted by the end of January and the web address is

A rant about proofreading 06 January, 2011

I've just finished reading the much-admired The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas and I am going to say something really girly now. It is clever, intelligent and well-written, but has no characters with whom I could sympathise - no nice characters - and to me that is a problem. But that isn’t the point I wanted to make. Which is, that it has been shockingly badly proofread.

This isn’t Mr Tsiolkas’s fault. He's the storyteller - it isn't his job to know how to spell. But in addition to more typos than I have seen in a published book in a long time, it contains the non-word ‘conjoled’ when it means ‘cajoled’ and refers to ‘just desserts’, as if these were something you had at the end of a meal rather than something you deserved. The cumulative effect was really irritating.

One of the arguments in favour of traditional publishing (as opposed to self-publishing) is that it guarantees some level of quality control. This normally means that a published book is not going to be ‘any old rubbish’. But it should also promise that someone whose job it is to be able to spell has read it closely and got rid of this sort of mistake. Publishers are some of the most important guardians of the nation’s literacy and we should serve our readers better than this.

Message for Cianna 04 January, 2011

You sent me a message through the 'contact me' page sometime between Christmas and New Year and I deleted it without reading it. Sorry! If you'd like to send it again, I'll try not to be so careless.

Happy new year/Winchester conference 03 January, 2011

I hope everyone has had a jolly time and that 2011 brings health and happiness.

My Christmas post has brought an invitation to return to the Winchester Writers’ Conference, which is on the weekend of 1-3 July, but also has a week of writing workshops from 27 June. They are hoping that Bill Bryson will be giving the Plenary Address on Saturday 2 July. That's probably the day that I shall be there, too, though not giving the Plenary Address.

The conference website is and I'll tell you more about what I am doing when it is confirmed.

It’s nearly the new year 30 December, 2010

Belated Merry Christmas to all. Everyone I know seems to have been either snow-bound or struck down with the lurgi last week, so this week is full of frantic socialising to catch up on what we missed last week. However, I've had time to discover a new (to me) author - Colin Cotterill. His central character, Dr Siri, is an unwilling official coroner post-revolutionary Laos. More complicated than The No 1 Ladies Detectives, but still great fun.

My first post 07 December, 2010

I’ve just started work on a new book for Michael O’Mara, about business clichés. Its working title is Pushing the Envelope and I have to finish it in April for publication next autumn. So in between getting the website up and running, I have been trying to get my head round the difference between a quantum leap and a paradigm shift.

Well, it's a living.
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