Aug 31st

Writing with flowers

By Squidge

Some cloudies might remember me 'writing with flowers' a couple of years ago at our church flower festival.

Well, we've just done it all again, and this time we've used the words of worship songs and hymns to inspire some amazing arrangements. So if anyone feels a bit word-weary at the moment, click on THIS LINK to see something a bit different.

Needless to say, I've done no 'real' writing as a result of the festival, so I'm hoping that going to York in a week or so's time will kickstart me off again. Fingers crossed!


Aug 31st

How Long Should a Book Word Count Be

By Lady Lorraine


Between 80,000 and 89,999 words is a good range you should be aiming for. This is a 100% safe range for literary, mainstream, women’s, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror. Anything in this word count won’t scare off any agent anywhere.

Now, speaking broadly, you can have as few as 71,000 words and as many as 109,000 words. That is the total range. When it dips below 80K, it might be perceived as too short—not giving the reader enough. It seems as though going over 100K is all right, but not by much. I suggest stopping at 109K because just the mental hurdle to jump concerning 110K is just another thing you don’t want going against you. And, as agent Rachelle Gardner (Books & Such Literary) pointed out when discussing word count, over 110K is defined as “epic or saga.” Chances are your cozy mystery or literary novel is not an epic. Rachelle also mentions that passing 100K in word count means it’s a more expensive book to produce—hence agents’ and editors’ aversion to such lengths.

In short:
80,000 – 89,999:       Totally cool
90,000 – 99,999:       Generally safe
70,000 – 79,999:       Might be too short; probably all right
100,000 – 109,999:    Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000:           Too short
110,000 or above       Too long

Chick lit falls into this realm, but chick lit books tend to be a bit shorter and faster. 70-75K is not bad at all.


Science fiction and fantasy are the big exceptions because these categories tend to run long. It has to do with all the descriptions and world-building in the writing.

With these genres, I would say 100,000 – 115,000 is an excellent range.  It’s six-figures long, but not real long. The thing is: Writers tend to know that these categories run long so they make them run really long and hurt their chances. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it short (say, 105K) in these areas. It shows that you can whittle your work down.

Outside of that, I would say 90K-100K is most likely all right, and 115-124K is probably all right, too. That said, try to keep it in the ideal range.

(Is it best to query all your target agents at once? — or just a few to start?)


Middle grade is from 20,000 – 55,000, depending on the subject matter and age range, and the word count of these books has been trending up in recent years. When writing a longer book that is aimed at 12-year-olds (and could maybe be considered “tween”), using the term “upper middle grade” is advisable. With upper middle grade, you can aim for 40,000 – 55,000 words. These are books that resemble young adult in matter and storytelling, but still tend to stick to MG themes and avoid hot-button, YA-acceptable themes such as sex, drugs and rock & roll. You can stray a little over here but not much.

With a simpler middle grade idea (Football Hero, or Jenny Jones and the Cupcake Mystery), aim lower.  Shoot for 20,000 – 35,000 words.


Perhaps more than any other, YA is the one category where word count is very flexible.

For starters, 55,000 – 69,999 is a great range. 

The word round the agent blogosphere is that these books tend to be trending longer, saying that you can top in the 80Ks. However, this progression is still in motion and, personally, I’m not sure about this. I would say you’re playing with fire the higher you go.  When it gets into the 80s, you may be all right—but you have to have a reason for going that high. Again, higher word counts usually mean that the writer does not know how to edit themselves.

A good reason to have a longer YA novel that tops out at the high end of the scale is if it’s science fiction or fantasy. Once again, these categories are expected to be a little longer because of the world-building.

Concerning the low end, below 55K could be all right but I wouldn’t drop much below about 47K.


The standard is text for 32 pages. That might mean one line per page, or more. 500-600 words is a good number to aim for. When it gets closer to 1,000, editors and agents may shy away.


I remember reading some Westerns in high school and, if I recall correctly, they weren’t terribly long. There wasn’t a whole about this on agent and editor sites, but from what I found, these can be anywhere from 50K to 80K. 65,000 is a solid number to aim for.


Memoir is the same as a novel and that means you’re aiming for 80,000-89,999. However, keep in mind when we talked about how people don’t know how to edit their work. This is specially true in memoir, I’ve found, because people tend to write everything about their life—because it all really happened.

Coming in a bit low (70-79K) is not a terrible thing, as it shows you know how to focus on the most interesting parts of your life and avoid a Bill-Clinton-esque tome-length book. At the same time, you may want to consider the high end of memoir at 99,999. Again, it’s a mental thing seeing a six-figure length memoir.

Aug 29th

On the Avoidance of another Great British Write-off

By Jenni Belsay

Whisks’ recent blog (Nothing Stops an Endeavour In Its Tracks like Having all The Answers Beforehand) was especially interesting for me because I’m at a similarly early stage with a new novel. I haven’t stalled in the same way as her, but I’m a bit stuck regarding structure.

If I were to compare my last novel with a dessert, I’d say that it started with a glace cherry and, over more years than I care to count, went through a sherry trifle phase, morphed into an apple charlotte, decided it wanted to be a Christmas pudding, but ended up an Eton Mess-with-dried-fruit-and-a-sixpence Flambé. Perhaps it was the sprinkling of chilli dust that finally transformed it from dessert into curate’s egg.

For this new one, I want to get the raw ingredients and method as close as possible to right first time. I also think this approach lends itself to my genre (crime) and to me. I know I must still allow for some plot threads to change a bit, and I won’t put my characters in straitjackets; I’m also prepared for numerous drafts (it’s the editing, layering, tweaking and honing I enjoy most), but please: no complete rewrites.

So I recently completed a detailed outline and character profiles. Scenes - even some dialogue - are now rolling through my head, even in my sleep. So far so good.

This plot is much less complicated than the last, so, arguably, shouldn’t it be an easier story to tell? My current stuckness concerns structure and presentation. I’m clear about POV1 (amateur sleuth). But do I go dual timeline or not? Would it be better to present the murder victim through the victim’s own eyes real time (POV2), or through the eyes of suspects/witnesses (multiple POVs) as our heroine investigates? (Rhetorical questions.) I don’t want to write the whole thing one way and discover it would be better another, so I’m experimenting with opening chapters, but the answers are annoyingly elusive still.

Coincidentally, yesterday I came across this quote from Truman Capote. He is talking about short stories but it must equally apply to novels:

“Since each story presents its own technical problems, obviously one can't generalize about them on a two-times-two-equals-four basis. Finding the right form for your story is simply to realize the most natural way of telling the story. The test of whether or not a writer has defined the natural shape of his story is just this: After reading it, can you imagine it differently, or does it silence your imagination and seem to you absolute and final? As an orange is final. As an orange is something nature has made just right.”

It’s that word “simply” in “simply to realize” that makes my heart sink. I’d love to write an orange.

Aug 28th

Going Over the Wall

By Caducean Whisks

This is a difficult blog to write. It’s going to sound like so much trumpeting and while part of the inner Whisk (aka me) is tap-dancing like mad, the other part is cringing: a crab without its shell, a goat tied up in an arena so baying crowds can watch it torn to pieces by lions. 

I’ve always been private; secretive, even. Although I’m not. I’m also sociable and - in the right circumstances, occasionally (dare I say it?) - popular? When I feel safe with someone, I’ll tell them anything - but there’s something about genies and bottles. 

Not sure where I sit on the introvert-extrovert axis. I think it’s perfectly in the middle. I’m happy with my own company, deep in thought. I can do nothing all day, talk to nobody all week. Then I need an injection of energy from outside, to prevent the glums from taking hold. Not too much energy, though. A little bit goes a long way, and too much turns to white noise in my head, goes zizzy, Then I need to withdraw, process recent events, re-group and find my balance again. 

I’ve loved Whisks, my alter ego, and protected her fiercely. She’s been on the Cloud since the beginning - over seven years - and many of you know that I’ve asked for no ‘outing’ if you will, no named photos, no revelations of private details about me, such as my name. But stuff does inevitably leak out. How can it not. When I’ve met internet friends in real life, they’ve been unequivocally lovely and I’ve relaxed somewhat. Indeed many of you have become firm friends and we’ve met lots of times (and you’ve guarded my privacy: thank you for that). But still, every drop of the veil in public is a Big Deal for me. 

You see, as Whisks, I’ve been able to reveal the real me and feel safe. I’ve hidden behind her all these years, comfortable with my pseudo-anonymity and free to express whatever I like. 

When I ran the series of Woody Magpie blogs five years ago - replete with photos - I cropped each one assiduously, to make sure I wasn’t the star of the show. Nor the clown.

Last year, after The Manor, the first named photos of me emerged. To my surprise, the world didn’t entirely end; but it wobbled. This year, I posted my first one of me, myself. The reaction was nice, but I counselled myself, ‘Don’t get too big for your boots, Whisks. Pride comes before a fall.’ 

I feel safest on this Cloud; trust Cloudies the most. I still haven’t got a profile pic of me on Facebook, nor on Twitter. 

Now, all that might change. And it’s happening so fast. *Might* - remember, ‘Pride comes before a fall.’ And the other one: Don't tempt fate. 

So I must gather my courage, forget about feeling vulnerable, and tell you all what’s been happening. You’ve stood by my writing journey all these years, cheered and commiserated and supported, so of course I want to celebrate - if that’s the right word - with you. 


I started my first proper novel in 2002 with gay abandon, thinking, ‘How hard can this be?’ and typed half a page before running out of plot. I blogged it a while ago, here:


Real Life intervened and a few years elapsed when I wrote nothing at all, save business documents. I picked it up again in 2008 by which time I’d done a few writing courses and read a few writing books, finished it, thought it was marvellous, and sent it off to agents. 

While I waited for them to ring the phone off the hook, I envisaged the Booker Prize, the interview on Newsnight Review with Kirsty Wark, and how I’d deal with the frightening publicity that would ensue. 

Two friends had read Foxing the Hourglass, loved it, and even been in tears.

The first rejection was a surprise; a small downer, but not to worry. There were six others who would surely be clamouring, then that first one would be sorry. You can’t call yourself a rider until you’ve fallen off your horse, nor a driver until you’ve had your first prang. Par for the course.

As more rejections came in, I felt more and more uneasy. There was one that was encouraging; personal. I took heart. Then came a terse email from someone’s assistant: ‘XXX can’t see the point of continuing with this.’ or words to that effect.That was crushing. 

Two of the seven never even replied. And these were the days when you had to print the MS off, pay postage and send return postage. It had cost me seventeen pounds in stamps for each throw at an agent. How dare they keep my stamps?

I joined the WordCloud during all this, began critiquing in earnest. It’s amazing how much you learn when you critique. It forces you to notice and analyse what doesn’t work - and why - and also, what does work - and how. You also begin to notice irksome writing tics in others, and then in yourself.

For the whole of that first summer of the Cloud, I critiqued every single thing posted. Whether it was to my taste or not, whether I thought it was good or not, I had a go at expressing my views and reaction and learning ferociously all the while. 

It became apparent that nobody was snapping up Foxing the Hourglass and shouting, ‘Yes!’ I tripped over my lower lip for a long while, wrote a few more short stories. Tried to find homes for them. Failed.

I started my next novel, Songs of the Suburbs, and took it to the first Festival of Writing in York, in 2010. My first meeting with a real life agent was full of trepidation. His comments were lovely: Strong prose, great dialogue, excellent characters, she can definitely write. But his words to me? ‘But where’s the story? You’re not writing the right book for you. It’s not big enough.’ Instantly, I knew he was right. I think I’ve always been (over)ambitious in my Big Canvas stories. The vast, sweeping themes appealed. This one wasn’t big enough for me. The enthusiasm for it waned and disappeared. 

Meanwhile, I’d written a short, whimsical blog about some new chicks. It went down surprisingly well, so I wrote another - and another. I started to wonder if I didn’t have a book in my chicken stories after all. I accumulated these tales as a side-line. Whenever something interesting happened or the fancy took me, I wrote another one. 

When I’d amassed about 60,000 words on chickens, I sent them to a couple of non-fic agents then a couple of non-fic publishers. Even a few country-life-type mags. I thought I could run a column in the Sunday papers, perhaps. I had a nice reply from the editor of the Financial Times, but still, no.


I didn’t really know what I was doing back then. Proposing non-fiction is a whole different box of birdseed. You have to answer swathes of questions which didn’t really fit my chicken stories:

  1. What’s your book about? - Chickens
  2. What qualifies you to write it? - I keep chickens
  3. What special access do you have to your subject? - They’re my chickens
  4. Which expert sources do you rely on? - Me - I’m writing about my own chickens
  5. What research do you still need to do? - Watch my chickens some more
  6. List five comparable books and explain why yours is different. - Er, there aren’t any really
  7. Why does the world need this book now? - Er,
  8. Who is your target readership? - People who keep chickens and people who don’t

And so on. Plus chapter breakdowns. Plus introduction. Plus conclusions. Plus Summary. Plus supporting information. Plus Further Reading.

With one of ‘em, he’d asked for a new page for each section; my proposal ran to 44 pages.

Got nowhere.


I’d been writing more short stories and entered a few writing competitions. Got nowhere. Getting harder to pick myself up every time.


Then one morning in 2011, a half-dead, naked, baby bird arrived on my doorstep. I expected him to die, but he wasn’t dead yet. I tucked him down my cleavage to keep him warm. By afternoon he’d revived a little, appeared hungry. What to feed him? I didn’t even know what he was. So I posted a picture on the Cloud to ask if anyone knew. 

Five days later, he was still with us - and I was fielding so many separate enquiries and speculations and emails that I decided to blog it. Why not? Seemed there was interest, and I was extremely interested. 

And so my Little Bird Diary was born. I committed to write up his progress every day until he died or flew, and his supporters cheered and wept as the drama of Woody Magpie unfolded. Across the summer, this turned into a massive tome of about 150k words, hundreds of pictures and thousands of comments. 


At FoW the following year - when I wasn’t even there - a few lovely Cloudies at the bar were discussing my Chicken Nuggets (as I’d later termed them) and my story of Woody Magpie. An agent was within earshot (THANK you so much, those lovely Cloudies). JtF (THANK you) asked me to send her some chicken stories. I did so, and she agreed they were gorgeous, warm and witty and charming, but, but. Who would read them? If only I’d written about cats and dogs.

She wasn’t keen to take on my non-fic by itself, and asked to see my fiction. Sadly, I didn’t have anything suitable. There was my first, beloved opus, but I knew by now that it needed work. There was my second unfinished novel. Unfinished. I had some short stories, which she kindly read - but they weren’t enough on their own. We left it that she’d read whatever full-length fiction I came up with next. Which was a long time coming.


At the end of 2011, I attended a free workshop given by our Debi (THANK you, Debi), wherein we did a writing exercise. Out of nowhere, a character emerged, a situation, an inspiration. I continued it that night. Soon I had a page or two, the glimmer of an ending, and thought it might be a half-decent short story. Ten pages in, I was nowhere near concluding. Stuff kept on happening. I tried to bring it to a close but it wouldn’t shut up. The more I tried to end it, the more it fought me and the stronger it became. This turned into my third novel, Sleeping in a Teacup


Then in 2012, Real Life took a dramatic turn for the worse and I was otherwise engaged for the next two years. Wall-to-wall fitted stress, poverty, darkness. I struggled to to write anything, so mired was I in the crudity of life; but I still edited for others, privately, when I could. There were times when I wondered what was the point; wished it were all over. But that little candle glimmered still, surrounded by crashing, angry waves.


The Writing Life was still bursting with disappointment and dashed hopes, then subtly I began to do slightly better at competitions. A few short-listings, a placement, and then I won AlanP’s competition. Wow. Might I be inching my way forward after all this time? 

I joined Twitter, started actively engaging with the Writing World again. Cautiously. 

Meanwhile, my Real Life plumbed new depths of despair. How much could one person take, I wondered. 

‘Yet more,’ came the answer. Plod on.

I wanted just one thing to go right. Please? Soon? 


Then just one thing did. I couldn’t even afford petrol for the car, nor a haircut, nor a meal out. I had one pair of wearable shoes.

Yet somehow, I managed to get myself to the Festival of Writing in York in 2013 on a discounted ticket and a huge dose of timely serendipity. I even booked my chickens and guinea fowl into a chicken hotel for the weekend, so I knew they’d be safe. It had been surprisingly cheap. 

I took Sleeping in a Teacup and found out it had been selected for Friday Night Live. Wow. 

After my performance, I wasn’t surrounded by clamouring agents, even though two other finalists were; but never mind. My star was ascending at last.

Life Giveth and Life Taketh Away. The next morning - Saturday - I received a phone call from the owners of the chicken hotel. A fox had got in during the night. Four of my flock killed. 

I could barely take it in. Reeled. Half my family dead? Just like that? However, that is another story. It’s even another Nugget, although I’ve never, ever read it. Couldn’t even edit it. Just wrote out What Happened as my own pain release, and put it away. One day I may have to look at it. 

Suffice to say that it was Cloudies (again) who picked me up and put me back together. And a couple of hours later, I walked into the 1-2-1 room with a tear-streaked face, to meet an agent about Teacup

She stood up to greet me, holding out her hand, saying, ‘I’m so pleased to meet you.’ 

Wow with wowwy knobs on. No agent has ever done that to me before.

She told me how much she loved it, loved it; the prose, the characters, the story - how editors were looking for just this kind of thing right now: an older protagonist, an interesting story suited to book-groups - her praise went on and on. Mine was the last session and she invited me to sit on a while longer after the bell rang, to tell her more about the book and me. She even asked about how my fox-rescuing squared with chickens. That was a hard one in the immediate circs. She asked if I’d been offered representation, said all the things I’d been longing to hear.

Then I had to admit. I was only 20,000 words in to it. Her face fell, but she offered me her card, said I should send it to her when I’d finished. 

It was a huge boost to my confidence, but muddled up with the events of the morning, I hardly knew how to react. My emotions had zinged off both ends of the scale. Life giveth and life taketh away. 

Anyway, I returned to the glummery of stressful life, which kept on getting worse as my house started to fall down. No shower, no gutters; doors I couldn’t even open. Plumbing done by Noah’s granddad. 

A few months later when I was almost having to eat one of remaining shoes, I saw on Twitter the WoMentoring project. For women writers of promise who couldn’t afford to go the normal route to editorial help. Oh why not. I qualified, didn’t I? Hope on the horizon would be most welcome. 

So I applied for Sarah Rigby, a Senior Editor with Penguin Random House, and sent in a sample of Teacup which was on its second draft by then.

One exciting night. I saw she’d just followed me on Twitter. Then came the email. Of all the applicants for her time, she’d picked me! I’d won her! THANK you, Universe.

She said lovely things about Teacup, and once more, my cup overflowed. 

Even though she’d initially offered only two hours of mentorship, she generously read the whole of the second draft of Teacup, and we met up (for tea!) a couple of times.

What she gave me above anything, was the great and precious gift of confidence in my writing, my story. That it was worth her time, and might finally be The One. THANK you Sarah.


Then as dramatically as it had come, my period of purgatory went. Over. At last. I offered to pay Sarah for her time now that I could, but she brushed the offer away, saying it had been her pleasure. 


Draft Two turned into Draft Three. I didn’t want to make the mistakes of the past and go off half-cocked. I wouldn’t let anyone read Teacup, I wouldn’t send it anywhere, until I was absolutely sure it was as good as I could get it. I couldn’t take another round of rejections. Too thin-skinned. 

But I admit I was stuck. I didn’t feel it was ‘as good as I could get it’, while having no idea how to make it better. 

Then along came the the Authors for Nepal auction, where those in the writing world offered their time and expertise for a price, to be donated to the Nepal Earthquake. 

I bid for Jane Rusbridge, and won her. She’d offered a crit of the first fifty pages of a manuscript. 

I was fairly confident of my first fifty pages - it was the rest I wasn’t sure about; but the opinion of a prize-winning author I admired was valuable, and perhaps the beginning wasn’t as good as I thought it was. 

I sent her my fifty pages.

Then blow me down with a feather, but I received this (quotes from her emails are with her permission):


“Well, I've read it - and I'd love to read more, if you feel like sending it. You're right, the first pages are polished, well paced & lively. I found only a couple of  teeny weeny points I will mention when we meet, nothing that counts as a critique! I was enjoying it & v sorry to come to a halt. I can see why an agent has shown interest. You are clearly an accomplished writer and from rereading you emails just now I'm wondering whether it might be more use to you if I read the whole thing and gave more general feedback on overall structure and impact? It's finishing which is the issue, you say. I know this feeling (and the fear!)You mentioned working on the denouement and final scene - this is what intrigues me. What you are aiming for & how you'll achieve it.


How do you feel about sending me the whole thing? I've got plenty of reading time for the next week.”


Crikey Moses. Overwhelming. I must have read that eleventy million times. She wanted - WANTED - to read it all? And FOR NOTHING? Remember, she’d donated her time to Nepal. I’d paid, but she’d received no fee. And now she was offering MORE? So incredibly kind. THANK you, Jane. 


So off went the rest and I stopped breathing. 


Then only a few days later, she said this: 

“This is just a quickie to let you know I've read & really enjoyed your thoroughly engaging novel, and that the ending packed a punch - which was a relief for me, as it was the ending I was wondering about (you were quite mysterious about it!), whether it would live up to the tension in the opening scenes, and whether it would be something weighty enough (for my own taste, I mean) - and it did/was! I found the Mabel story line particularly poignant and moving.” 

And this:

“And congratulations on writing a moving and original novel!”


We arranged to meet up for lunch (my treat of course - little enough for such enormous help freely given). And spent four hours discussing little else but Teacup

She generously wrote me a report as well, starting:

“Congratulations on writing an original novel which treads lightly through some heavy themes with skill and touches of humour as the reader shares Margaret’s journey from passive ‘mouse’ to someone more actively in charge of her own life and sense of self. The variety and breadth of event and emotion carried in the episodic nature of her journey is enlivened and enriched by a cast of captivating characters. The denouement, as I have said, packs a punch, and the final scenes are tenderly written and moving, while the narrative as a whole has a good forward momentum.”


And ends:

“So – just a couple of things to think about, but mainly I want to congratulate you on your achievement.  It’s a great read, and I’m pretty sure if it landed on the right person’s desk just exactly as it is, it would be snapped up. Those opening pages make it quite clear you know what you’re doing on a line by line level, and the novel as a whole is a wonderfully rich and engaging read. Well done!”


FYI, It wasn’t all unequivocal praise; there were plenty of constructive suggestions too, and it was incredibly valuable to discuss things I hadn’t been sure about. She was astute, Jane.

Could life get any better? Yippee!


For years, I’d watched my friends move forward with their writing, saw them get agents, publishing deals, gone to their book launches. Was it my turn? At last?


So I tinkered with the manuscript and sent it off to the agent who’d expressed interest at York, confident it was in the bag. 

And waited. And waited. 

SIX MONTHS went by.

This January, I received a rejection from her. 

I appreciated a reply, but life had moved on for her, I’d missed the boat. She’d moved into Children’s Fiction. She ‘didn’t love it enough.’

This was a huge blow. I have to start querying all over again? Do I even have the stomach for it? 

I was tired of picking myself up, feeling left behind. Time to hang up my pens? F&F kept asking when I was going to be published. It was embarrassing.

But owing to some judicious nagging from friends, I did pick myself up, and sent out a round of agent queries. 

The rejections trickled in. But a better quality of rejection, if I may say so. Even one hand-written in a letter. Those who replied, said lovely things. Complimented me on the writing, the unique story, and said it was one of the strongest submissions they’d seen lately. But still, No. Didn’t love it enough. 


What do you do with ‘don’t love it enough’? The few non-agents who’d read it, DID love it enough. 

I had email conversations with some of the agents; I felt so close to the jackpot. Please, would three cherries just align, and not three lemons? 


As a last-ditch attempt - and I do mean last-ditch because I’d gone as far as it appeared I would go - I sent my opening to Writer’s Workshop at Easter. Please tell me why nobody’s asking to read more. 


The report - by Susan Davis - opened thus:


“It was an absolute joy to read this opening extract of your book. Witty, wise, and beautifully observed, I read it in one sitting, chuckling all the way through and getting odd looks from my husband – although not quite a Sidney-type I’m glad to say.

The premise is strong. After a lifetime of submission to a bullying husband, sixty-something Margaret fights back, and is forced to flee the marital home which has sheltered/imprisoned her all these years and survive on the streets. The ensuing road-trip is a trial by fire, revealing strengths she never dreamt she possessed. The reader can’t help but cheer her on in her journey of self-discovery. She’s joined by a cast of amazing characters, at least, if Cressida and Glory Be are anything to go by.”


And ended: “I’d have no hesitation in flagging it up to Writers Workshop suggesting they submit on your behalf. Believe me, it’s not often I do this, maybe one a year, so this says a lot.” 

THANK you, Susan!


And so began the next round of submissions, this time with Susan and Nikki from WW, holding my hand. I’d homed in on the ‘right’ person for Teacup: A woman, a mature woman, was ideal to love this story, not a fripsy-bitsy twenty-year-old. And women in the 50s are the main book-buyers after all. I was assured it was only a question of it landing on the right person’s desk at the right time, and looked to demographics. 

There were requests for the full manuscript. I was getting so, so close; I could feel it, smell it, my nose pressed against the glass. 

But still, nothing firm. I was tired of waiting for the right one, tired of it always being at the back of my mind, tired of being ignored so rudely (and yes, there were those who didn’t have the courtesy to reply).

Then I went to the launch of Claire King’s latest book. That’s Claire King, who wrote The Night Rainbow to rapturous acclaim. 

I noticed her agent there, Annette Green. Liked the look of her. 

So the next morning, I sent off my submission package. 

She replied immediately, saying she looked forward to reading. THANK you, Annette.

Then came a snail mail, saying I’d been short-listed for the Yeovil Literary Prize.

Then TWO HOURS later, Annette replied again, to say ““I love the opening chapters so very keen to read the rest.”

Had my time come, at long last? 

A few days went by. WW sent my MS to someone else (THANK you Nikki); again, TWO HOURS later, she asked for the full. 

Then last Friday, an email from Annette (also reproduced with her permission):

“I’ve just finished reading this morning and have loved every minute.  Could I give you a call to discuss ?” 

And another: “I loved this novel very much as it so life-affirming and I’d love to take it on and try to find you a publisher.”

We had our conversation last Saturday. I wilted that she loved Teacup so much, but pulled myself together and asked if she’d be interested in my non-fiction too. I hadn’t sent it anywhere for years, and ideally I’d like an agent who wanted all my writing. She asked me to send her some, which I did last weekend and minutes after we hung up, a contract was emailed through. 


Then on Monday, Annette emailed again: “I have been reading the Chicken Nuggets just now and they are very, very lovely: funny and appealing and insightful, with things to learn about chickens into the bargain (I didn’t know they only had one hole for everything): and your writing here is superb.

Got to be a bestseller in here surely…..”


So my cup really did runneth over. 

To calm down the butterflies in my head, I flicked round to Twitter. And blimey o riley, but what did I see? A tweet from Annette:


The agency has fallen in love with Susan Chadwick's CHICKEN NUGGETS #futurebestseller @WhisksTweets


Summat about running cups running me over? Mega-wilt.


We met on Thursday. By this time, she’d read the bit of Woody Magpie that I’d sent her - and raved about that as well. Asked for the rest, so she could take it on holiday.

Gulp and golly gosh. Is this really happening? THREE books, all at once? AND, she’s asked about my first book.

So there’s value in having a back catalogue, folks. Truly, no writing is ever wasted.

Then the next day, I had another agent contact me. I had to say no, sorry, too late. I’m with Annette Green. The reply? “Damn, slipped through our fingers.”


It’s been such a roller-coaster, truly. My brain is spinning round and round. It’s taken me fourteen years to be an overnight success *hollow laugh*. But I did - and do - feel that I’ve served my apprenticeship, slogged at my craft. Taken the knocks and got back up. I’m still learning but the axis on my world has shifted. 

I can only liken it to getting your degree, losing your virginity, buying your first house. The world looks different. You’ve moved into another dimension. Something you’d wondered about for so long, has now happened. For real. You’re no different on the outside, but there’s a sea-change within. 


So I’d like to thank all you Cloudies, past and present, who have held my hand too, who’ve cheered and taught and encouraged and supported and protected and commiserated and cared. I’m sorry this is so long, but it’s a long story.



Since Annette has now publicly outed me once and for all, I’d like to introduce the new me: Susan Chadwick who was the old me. Here I am, blinking in the sunlight. I’m very fond of Whisks and shall keep her close, to duck behind when I feel the need. But I’m out now. And so far, it’s not too bad.


Aug 28th

Repeated Phrases & Words

By Pinkbelt75

As some of you know, I have recently completed my first ever novel. Whoop whoop! Anyway, I was running through some edits and re-reading my manuscript on my kindle when I noticed something: I climbed in and out of cars a lot and pulled lots of things our of my pockets. Which would be fine if my protagonist is a rally driving magician. He isn't by the way but I'm claiming dibs on that idea.

I wondered what to do about it. Well I actually wondered if there was a simple way of spotting this and that's when I stumbled upon this website:

There is an option to spot phrases that repeat and you can change the length of the phrase. I've been checking 2-5 words. It tells you how many times you have written each phrase. 

There is another option for single words but I'm worried about seeing how many times the f-bomb shows up so I haven't used that one yet. I'll go out on a limb and say a lot.

Anyway, I thought it would be useful to share for anyone close to the editing stage. If you have any other editing tips or tools feel free to share.

One final question: If anybody has used the Hemmingway app, is it worth a tenner?

Happy editing


Aug 27th

the rise of the gingerbread men,

By mike

(replies on Word Cloud can be useful)

Some blogs on Word Cloud have been on legal matters.  I recently posted something on Forum and Bazbaron immediately pointed out the PC issue.  There is no need to read the post  - it is a first chapter I had written a few days earlier - but Bazbaron had been quite correct.  

   I think most of you are too young to remember this.

   Once upon a time, in the year of 1910, an entrepreneur saw some imported  American rag dolls and decided to use the image to promote blackberry jam.  The scheme was a great popular success.  You might say what a nice idea for a cartoon, but the project would land the writer in court for inciting racial hatred.

   I checked up on the internet and, surprisingly, this was still in issue in 2013,  A cafe owner had used the word Gollywog’ in reference to an employee.  His defense - that the word was used with comic intent - was no defense at all. The employee won the case. 

  The company  ceased to use this promotion in 1988.  

     The word is still used,  I have several recordings of Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk’  The title has not changed but, maybe, this had not been an issue in France?

   I used the image as a sort of visual shorthand as the plot concerns why the image is offensive. I cannot see how I have breached the respective laws as my intent is completely different.   

 The heroine is  black and 100% sassy . She is the precocious kid, and shots from the hip.  One of the slogans the company used was Golly Good’  which allows the riposte - ‘what bad taste.’  But I would have to re-write anyway.  (Ironically, to make the image on the pot similar to  that of the heroine)


    Incidentally, some word clouders have a South African interest.  Can anybody answer query about roobois tea - called redbush tea in England.  According to internet sources, afternoon teas etc had been a colonial import and redbush tea was developed by a Boer farmer.  But one site does mention the pre-colonial origin of roobois.   its roots are in a particular South African mountainous valley.   I am making an informed guess but, if this is true, the tea would have been brewed in a bowl and there would have been no  teapot or kettle.?  I can go to the British museum and ask there but, perhaps, there is a memory? I am looking for what things have in common,

    There will be an African teapot in the story.  Uncle Tom is the equivalent to a samover, bubbling  away in a corner.  Uncle Tom has a  low bass voice - basso profundo - which is warmed up by throwing logs into the samover - manuscripts if you are Strinberg!  Uncle Tom could sing spirituals or ‘Lazybones‘  Paul Robeson had a hit with it in 1933,






Aug 26th

Now & Then - A Writing Challenge

By AlanP

Feel like writing a short story? Good. Join this group and have a go. We've done these challenges a few times now and some good tales have arisen. Go to the new group, Now & Then  LINK have a read of the threads and if you're up for it, then join the group. It will all kick off in earnest in October. For now this is a recuitment message.

Let's have a good time and do what writers do.

I promised I'd launch the group around the holiday weekend so here we are. I'll pop up an occasional reminder in the form of a brief blog from time to time.


Aug 25th

Hacking the Neural Pathways


Reading the comments below Kipps' post and EmmaD's blogs on the subject of filtering, one way I like to think of writing is like a computer hacker, or one of those guys that sit outside people's houses and tap their phone lines. You know the sort. You've seen them out there, right?

I think effective writing is a little like getting on a line and pretending to be someone, or something, you're not. Because - think about the brain for a second. It doesn't have a direct connection to the outside world; those inputs are managed by the eyes, the ears, senses of touch and so on, which receive information, and set up a little electrical signal that goes whizzing down the wire to the brain, which then builds it all up and interprets it as a tree, the emotion of love, a character, anything.

I want writing that emulates those signals. I want writing to climb right onto those sensory routes, leaving me none the wiser that I'm not actually experiencing the things I think I am. If I can create words that form, in the readers' mind, the same scene or event I see in mine, or even to create from scratch the emotions I want them to feel, then I will have succeeded. And it doesn't need any pesky wires or nasty electrical currents or other sciencey weirdness to do it.

Isn't that like hypnosis, though? Manipulation, and the power of suggestibility? I don't know. It might be. Chances are I will fail but that is the goal. Don't worry though, I will only ever use my powers always mostly for good. ;)

Aug 24th

OK People!


You win again! The pack has its kill.

Trample, trample the intruder into the mud!  :-)

Bye, loves! 

Have fun with some other person you resent, I'm off.

PS AlanP - I presume the offer of meeting for a coffee in Hereford is no longer on the table?

Prop - sorry, mistook you for a comedy buff. My mistake!


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