Tag Archives: editing

Is it worth revamping an old book?

TDADD-ebook-webHave you ever gazed forlornly at your first ever publication and wondered whether you could have done a better job? I know some of you have. I guess that’s one of the wonderful things about the ease of electronic publishing – fixing errors and typos is so easy. So when the rights to my one and only historical fiction book, To Die a Dry Death, were returned to me, I decided to give it my best.

TDaDD has had a chequered history, moving from one publisher to another three times, each without much sales success, despite a number of excellent reviews. During the years since I first wrote the book, I’ve been able to visit the Abrolhos Islands, and I described that visit in a post. At that time I wondered whether my descriptions of the landscape matched the reality, so when my rights were returned I wanted to check. Accuracy in details are so important when describing something that really happened.

Bear in mind that each time the book changed house it was edited and copy edited before it was re-released. Even so, I’ve written quite a few other books since TDaDD was first launched, and practice in writing might not make perfect, but it sure does help. I started reading from page one (as you do) and soon found myself thinking I could have expressed a few parts a little better. I soon built up a head of steam and ended up adding over a thousand words to the MS.

I thought it was worth pointing out the main faults I found – especially bearing in mind this book has been edited at least six times. It’s a useful lesson in self-editing.

‘Said’ isn’t as invisible as you might think

Sometimes it’s just plain unnecessary

Here’s an example:

“I believe it,” said Pelsaert. “It’s just the sort of thing Adriaen was capable of. Fancy offering a woman like Lucretia gold to submit to his will.” He jerked his head at Cornelisz. “Go on.”

This could just as easily be:

“I believe it. It’s just the sort of thing Adriaen was capable of. Fancy offering a woman like Lucretia gold to submit to his will.” Pelsaert jerked his head at Cornelisz. “Go on.”

Telling instead of showing

It takes more words to paint a picture, but it’s usually worthwhile.


A soldier approached with a canvas collar, brought from the Sardam. It sat tight around Cornelisz’s neck, a funnel all the way around his head to above the level of his nose. That done, they strapped him to a frame built for the purpose so he could not move or tilt his head

Became this:

The men approached with a canvas collar, brought from the Sardam. They fastened it tightly around Cornelisz’s neck, forming a funnel all the way around his head to above the level of his nose. That done, they strapped his arms and legs to a wooden frame built for the purpose so he could not move, then fastened the funnel to the frame so he couldn’t tilt his head.

Poor scene transition

By that I mean from one sentence to the next we’re suddenly somewhere else, forcing the reader to work it out. No-one ever mentioned that as an issue, but I noticed it, so I’ve fixed it.

Not enough in the character’s head

This was interesting, because at the time I thought I was doing that, revealing the character’s thoughts to the reader. Sometimes I did, but sometimes I didn’t. This isn’t a fault per se; not everyone writes like that. But I do, and I felt it would add to the reading experience.

In the end, I’ve added about one thousand words. Which means I added rather more than that, since I took out a lot of ‘said’s. But I have not changed the plot, or the characters in any way. The cake was baked. I just added a bit of icing.

Was it worth doing? I think so. I believe I’ve made an already good book a little bit better. I hope readers will agree. And I really, really LOVE the new cover. Thanks to Rebecca Poole of Dreams2Media for her patience and skill in realising my vision. I also rewrote the blurb, which I believe reflects this incredible true story much better than the previous versions.

So here it is, for better or for worse. Any bets on whether it’ll now be a best seller? Let’s just say I ain’t holding my breath.

To Die a Dry Death

TDADD-ebook-webSurviving the shipwreck was the easy part

1629. Shipwrecked on an uncharted reef thirty miles off the coast of Australia, two hundred men, women and children scramble ashore on tiny, hostile islands. There is no fresh water and the only food is what they can salvage from the wreck, or harvest from the sea.

The ship’s officers set out in an open boat on a two-thousand-mile journey across uncharted ocean to seek help. But there’s not enough food and water for everyone on the islands to last until a rescue ship arrives. One man will stop at nothing to ensure that he is among the survivors.

But adversity throws up heroes. Soon there’s war between two groups, both determined to be there to greet that rescue ship when it arrives. If it arrives.

The terrifying true story of the Batavia shipwreck. Contains graphic violence.




Is the extended edition of The Hobbit a better movie?

Hobbit posterFinally! My very own copy of the extended edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey arrived! I spent a happy afternoon watching the movie and I’ve had some time to think about it. These things are all about editing, are they not? And we writers can learn from what the pros do. So this is my opinion on the extras. Pretty obviously there will be ‘spoilers’ if you don’t wish to know what the additions are.

Right, so they’ve left the room, we can continue.

The process of editing is all about driving the story forward, making the whole a satisfying experience. Of course, my favourites will be other people’s blerghs, and vice versa.

Jackson had actually edited back the very long prelude, where the background to the story is laid out. In this version, we see Bilbo going out to buy the fish which he never gets to eat, we see a few more pretty pictures of hobbit boys and girls doing hobbity things. Yes, I reckon I would have edited out those scenes, too. They really didn’t add anything.

However, there is a sequence in Thranduil’s visit to Thror which I felt added a lot. Thror effectively taunts Thranduil with a box of jewels and Thranduil and his people march out in a huff. Not quite the same message as came out in the original movie.

Not much changes until we reach Rivendell. There, we see more scenes of the Dwarves behaving disgracefully, a repetition of their behaviour at Bilbo’s house, complete with food fights and bathing in the fountains. Yes, I could live with that being cut. We also got to see Bilbo really enjoying Rivendell, pretty much on his own. He comes across the shards of Narcil, and the painting of Isildur facing Sauron. There is also a brief conversation between Elrond and Bilbo, where Elrond says Bilbo can stay as long as he likes. These scenes add to the gap between the Dwarves, Bilbo and the Elves, and also show the passage of time. The Dwarves don’t just stay overnight at Rivendell, an impression you’d be forgiven for in the first release. Yes, much of it didn’t add to the story. In fact, when I saw the footage of a bunch of naked Dwarves cavorting in the fountains, I wondered why Gandalf was never shown in a change of clothes, with at least clean hands. Did you notice his fingernails? However, while I thought the scenes of Bilbo really enjoying Rivendell explained a few things, it would have been hard to leave them in if the food fights etc were taken out.

One other scene added information – an overheard conversation between Elrond and Gandalf where Thorin’s parentage is discussed with references to mental instability. Bilbo and Thorin both hear what is said, and the words had this watcher’s brain ticking. I’m betting we get to meet Thrain in the next movie, and (having read the Hobbit many times) I know that strand of insanity is important.

Let’s move on to the Misty Mountains. It seems Jackson had more of the fight between the rock giants to entertain us with. Ho hum. Then down we go to Goblin Town. I’ll bet Barry Humphries had a ball playing the Goblin King. The extended version treats us to a rap rendition of the song Tolkien wrote in his book for this section, performed by the Goblin King and his band. Mistake. The Goblin King comes across already as a figure of fun without making it worse.

And that’s about it. Unlike the extended version of LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring, I don’t think this extended version added a great deal. So overall, the extended edition isn’t a better movie. It’s a pity that Jackson reduced the confrontation between Thranduil and Thror to an almost king/vassal situation. The hints of other happenings in the overheard talks at Rivendell would have helped. But for the rest (most especially the Goblin King and his band) the red pen was right.

These things are always a matter of opinion, though. I’d love to know what you thought.


Can you call yourself a writer before you’ve written one million words? #amwriting

IMG_7874Okay, it’s rant time again. I regularly pop around the blogoverse to see what’s what and I’ll often read a writing-related post. I did that yesterday (sorry, can’t find the post in question) and read the whole damn thing even though I started rolling my eyes pretty early in the piece.


Apparently you have to write a million words before you can call yourself a writer. It’s one of those bits of advice that does the rounds from time to time. This article went even further and said you should write ten one hundred thousand word novels and only try to sell the last one. Oh, I have to be fair. After you’d done that you could go back and re-hash the first nine because then you’d know how to do it. And the analogies were trotted out. It takes one million name-your-poison to achieve whatever. One million hours of practice to be a great violinist/pianist/guitar player. One million dabs with a paint brush to make a great painter etc etc.

So what makes a ‘good writer’?

Everybody knows Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling can’t write for toffee. But James Joyce, Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway can. Uh-huh. I’m a Philistine. Classifying something as ‘literature’ is enough to have me headed for the hills. I have not and will not read any more of Ulysses than the couple of pages I tried years ago. I never liked Dickens, despite having the books inflicted on me at high school and the one year of English Lit I should never have taken at university. No, I don’t think much of Dan Brown’s books, or Stephenie Meyers’. I wonder if they care? On the other hand, I loved Harry Potter and still do. My taste is for ‘genre’ fiction – science fiction, crime and fantasy. I love Tolkien, Asimov, Agatha Christie, Peter Robinson.

I’m quite willing to believe many of those writers I just listed wrote more than one million words. But not before they published their first work. And if you think you can’t sell your first novel, have a look at this list of ‘first novels’. I can add a few more, writers I know who have done exceedingly well out of their first novels. Toby Neal, whose Lei crime series has become a best seller and Elspeth Cooper, whose first two books were both nominated for the David Gemmell award. And yes, I know that Tolkien virtually rewrote The Lord of the Rings many times. I believe we refer to that process as ‘editing’.

Have I written one million words? Probably. A bunch of essays and a dissertation for my honours degree in history, a few short stories that disappeared somewhere, some fan fiction, numerous shopping lists, analysis reports for clients. Do they count? I had to learn to spell and use grammar correctly for some of those. Though I can’t vouch for the shopping lists. Few people are likely to realise that ‘ums’ on a shopping list at our house actually stands for ‘what are we going to have for dinner tonight?’

By now you’ve probably realised that I don’t think you need to have written a million words before you try to be published. Which does not mean that I don’t think it’s a good idea to hone your skills. Of course it is. However, you can be technically the best writer in the world but if you write a lousy story – you’ve lost the plot. Pardon the pun. In fact let me give you some examples. Asimov’s Foundation series is a classic of science fiction. However, I believe he took the series one or two books too far. I loved The Lord of the Rings but gave up on The Silmarillion. I’m sure we can all name examples where that’s happened.

Which simply illustrates the ONLY Rule of Writing that has any real credibility.


Ends rant. Got anything you’d like to add?