Posts Tagged ‘Editing’

The White Camellia 2

A few days ago, copies of my book arrived from my publishers, Honno Press.

It’s beautiful. I tore open the packet and lifted out the top one, and sat down and stared. I couldn’t quite believe it was real. Of course, I’ve been looking at the White Camellia 1cover of ‘The White Camellia’ over the past months, and I’ve been working on story for over two years, and this is not my first book – but it still has that punch-to-the-stomach astonishment that it’s there at all.

Holding it lovingly in my hands is a reminder that the creation of a book is such a long, intricate, and at times agonizing process. I love that first moment when an idea hits, like an explosion in the brain, sometimes apparently out of nowhere, and you just know it’s going to work. Then comes the long, hard slog of getting that story down, revising, and revising, and revising until it works. I always find the first rush of enthusiasm inevitably turns to despair at some point, as the whole thing begins to feel like a seriously bad idea, and it just becomes a slog to get to the end, because I’m stubborn like that.


Then, just as you get it to where you think it’s right, its time for the first outside view. In my case, it’s my editor, the wonderful and totally perceptive Janet Thomas, and the whole process starts all over again. I’ve said before how much I love the editing process. With each book, I’ve also found that each time is different. Each time, I’ve learnt a little more, but also I’m stretching myself, trying something new, and so with something new again to learn. I might pretend to myself that I don’t, but I usually find that the bits that are picked up are the ones that were niggling at me, along with the bits I haven’t thought of at all, and Cadnantwhich are usually down to me still living in the story, and forgetting my reader. Which is where an editor comes in, as a mediator between writer and reader, so that story gets out there just as you want it to be.

I get such a buzz from the to and fro of refining the story, ironing out the glitches and the bits that don’t make sense, and being pushed and pulled and prodded into going places (particularly emotional depth kind of places, where your very soul is ripped apart and hung out to dry) I never thought I’d dare. Then finally, after the line edits and the copy edits, at the point where you loath the story and wish you’d never started this writing lark in the first place, this miracle appears. A real, beautiful, book.

The White Camellia 3

It’s quite strange, glancing every now and again at the copy of my book propped up on my Welsh dresser to be adored as I pass. At the moment it’s in limbo, waiting for publication day. Very few people have seen it, even fewer have read the story. It hasn’t met its readers yet, so it stands there, in a curious kind of existence, both exquisitely real and not yet quite real at all.


When I saw my first book, ‘Eden’s Garden’, I couldn’t believe it was so small. After all that blood, sweat and tears, it felt it would be at least size of a building. It still felt a bit the same with my second, ‘We That are Left’. With ‘The White Camellia’ it just felt beautiful. It wasn’t any less hard work, but it wasn’t such a totally overwhelming experience. I’ve grown in my writing journey.


Juliet in Cadnant

So, while I wrestle with the soggy middle of the next book, and wonder why I ever though this was a good idea in the first place, while making notes for the one after that, which is in the totally pure inspirational state (as in, I haven’t started writing it yet), I’m getting ready to send my latest baby out into the world. I’m enjoying having ‘The White Camellia’ all to myself for a couple of weeks, before she sets out to find her own way in the world, in her rightful place among her readers, and doesn’t really belong to me any more.

Because, in the end, it’s readers who make each book really live – and that, I’ve realised, is the whole point of the editing process, after all.

I can’t wait until September 15th – publication day for The White Camellia’, when Sybil and Bea, and all my beloved characters (even the ones that make your skin crawl) finally become real.

Going home 1

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we that are left draft 6aug13 sm

No, it doesn’t get any easier.

When I said my final goodbyes to my characters in Eden’s Garden I was sad and bereft. I grieved for weeks. Of course they were still with me – they still are – but I knew I would never live in their heads and breath with them they way I had done over such a long time.

Well, that’s it, then, I told myself. Part of the learning experience. Part of the overwhelming, author-changing, life-changing experience of working closely with an editor. It was one of those ‘firsts’ that would never feel so intense again.

How wrong could I be!

Elin's rose

Last week I sent my final edits for We That Are Left into the ether. Phew. It’s a bit unnerving seeing your gorgeous cover up on Amazon, and therefore REALLY coming out next February, as you tousle with the last bits that won’t fall into place, and (with the usual writerly utter lack of confidence) are quite convinced they never will and then you’ll be found out, and who were you fooling anyway? (This, I should add, is two minutes after you have been busily penning your acceptance speech for the Booker…)

So I sat down with my gin and tonic (well, you have to make room for the sloes in the bottle) to celebrate. And this wave of utter anguish came over me, even worse than for Eden’s Garden. I ended up swallowing two gins (my equivalent of getting roaring drunk these days) while listening to Freddie Mercury singing ‘These Were the Days of Our Lives’. Phoebe did her best to be sympathetic, having obviously decided that being an author’s dog was seriously hard work at times.


I felt a bit of a fool for a while. Then I realised. It’s not just that I have lived with my characters for the past eighteen months. Thanks to my Literature Wales Writers’ Bursary, I was able to spend three months full time with them, too. We That Are Left begins in 1914 and ends in 1925, so I’ve been through an entire war with them. I’ve lived the danger and the fear and the horrible uncertainty, and I’ve been to some pretty dark places with some of them. And while my characters are fictional, they have been borne of real experiences. My dad was born in 1915 and had memories that stretched back to the Great War. It’s that far, and yet that close. That still brings a tingle to my toes.

Writing about the women of WW1 also brought it home. It brought up inevitable questions of how would I feel, and how would I cope if the unthinkable happened?


But it’s not all doom and gloom. Having learnt so much more about the lives of the courageous, skilled and indominable women who kept a country going and proved themselves as managers, organisers, drivers, farm workers, ambulance drivers and surgeons, I am more aware than ever of the debt I owe to them. I can vote, I was able to go take a degree, I was able to have a career. No one questions my right to be myself, rather than merely the meek and solicitous helpmate of a husband.

I’m still grieving a little, but my characters are still with me, in a different way. And now I can be excited at the thought of the book being out so soon. Meanwhile, I’ve some fun bits to do. Part of my research for the book was to find and cook the recipes of WW1. The recipes that are actually in the book are a closely guarded secret, but there are plenty of others, gleaned from newspapers of the time, that I am going to try. With results posted here first.

So watch this space for the shortages of wartime in World War One to bite, just as they did in the Second World War. The Edwardians were heavy on meat and suet, which is a bit of a challenge to a life-long vegetarian. But there’s vegetarian suet, and meat was eventually in short supply. I’m not sure about the horse meat and the rabbit pie, but fruit and vegetables I can deal with. The one with the two raw egg  yolks (freshly laid or no) whisked with sugar then stirred into hot tea has been voted a definite no-no. And as for the hog’s lard …..

But that is for another day. I’m off to source some vegetarian suet and see if the rosehips are ready yet for rosehip syrup to keep those coughs and colds away!


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So what does a girl do after finishing the draft of a novel? My garden needed weeding, my house needed hovering and my office need sorting. So I painted the outside of my house.

This is not quite a daunting as it sounds. I live in a stone cottage that has only one upstairs room, which is a tiny ‘crog’ loft under the eaves where I do my writing, so most of it can be reached without even the help of my little stepladder. But I’m still a woman in my mid-fifties, who’s not supposed to embark on such a thing.


My cottage as it was

Says who?

The thing about writers is that we are creative, used to thinking outside the box, forever coming up with solutions, and as bone-headedly, do-or-die stubborn as they come, or we’d have given up years ago. Besides, there was a cheap offer of masonary paint in a local store, and the existing colour was too dark and doing my head in. Anyhow, it wouldn’t look good in publicity photos, so it was really to do with writing. Unlike cleaning the bathroom and tackling the filing, of course.

The paint was delivered, mixed with a darker colour to give it a bit more warmth, and I began. A bit at a time, pausing for dog walks and lots of cups of tea and the odd piece of cake, naturally. I brushed down the walls but didn’t do masses of preparation. I was aiming for the overall effect, not perfection. You see, my cottage doesn’t do perfection. As the brush swept over the rendering, I thought quite a bit about the people who built my cottage in the 1840s or so. It was originally a row of quarrymen’s houses. Six of them in all, along a slate-paved little street. One has been knocked down, and of the five remaining, three have made one house, and my cottage is two knocked into one. My living room (large but not huge) is one entire cottage. As late as the 1960s, there were no bathrooms, not even running water, but a standpipe for each cottage and a toilet at the bottom of the garden. The gardens were long strips, not for pleasure but to grow as much as the families could on the thin soil to supplement their earnings. True subsistence.

The thick walls of my cottage are built of stone because it was the material at hand. And free. The fact that I could reach to the eaves from the ground is down to that being just enough height for a room. No scaffolding. So in the same spirit, when it came to the one bit I couldn’t reach, I tied two brooms together with a paintbrush on the end. Not perfect, but it worked.


Finished! (well, almost)

I had a whale of a time painting my house. I proved to myself I could do it and the colour sets off my beloved garden to perfection. My house will never be picture-postcard pretty, but I like it like that. The best thing about it was seeing the transformation in front of my eyes. It’s so hard to see the finished product when writing a book. You go over it again and again, and then again, trying to achieve something that you are never quite sure is there, and your readers are going to see in quite a different light in any case. By the time you finish the edits and the copy edits you never want to see the wretched again, and are already thinking of the next book. Of course you fall in love with it all over again when it appears gleaming and new in your hot little hands. But if you are like me, the first thought is – blimey, did I do that? Can I ever do it again? Supposing they all hate it? Can I run away now?


My new little party area, all ready for good company!

When I’d finished painting my house, I just sat and looked at it. It wasn’t perfect, there are still bits to be done, but it looked wonderful. All ready for garden parties. And that huge boost of satisfaction sent me back with renewed enthusiasm to the next lot of edits.

So here’s to everyone who built and lived in my little cottage over the past 150 years or so, creatively making the most of what little they had. You’ve given me my mojo back, my friends.

Mind you, if you don’t mind, Wisteria might be a bit grand, but I am considering planting Virginia Creeper any time now…. 🙂


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The bar. Limbering up for the party to begin!

I spent last weekend at the Romantic Novelists’ Association summer conference in Penrith.

This was not my first RNA Conference. The last time was twelve years ago. I’d just made the decision that if I was going to be a writer the time was now or never and joined the RNA. At that time, being published at all felt like an impossible task. The odds against it were overwhelming. I wasn’t young, sexy, or had ever slept with a rock star. The publishing world felt like a closed one and I had no means of crossing the threshold.

My first RNA conference changed all that. I still knew I was a long way from being published, but I’d found a friendly, supportive group of professional women who didn’t seem to mind if you were a household name or unpublished. I came back from my first conference with a flickering hope that maybe, just maybe, my dreams could come true. It would take hard work and persistence and a totally professional commitment to get there. But at least I didn’t need to have a megaboob job or get up to unspeakable things with any convenient MP. So I stood a chance!

The gala dinner.

Going in to register for my second Conference was a bit of a strange experience. The noise level was exactly as I remembered it. Slightly overwhelming at first, but then exhilarating. This time, I was meeting up with old friends as well as meeting new ones. I’ve been to RNA parties over the years and I’ve met so many new friends online, so it was great to get back into the swing of things.

The beautiful countryside just outside the campus.

The strangest thing was remembering that this time I was one of the speakers, and that I was going to be giving a talk about my experiences of working with an editor. It was one of those moments that make you stop and think. So it is possible, after all. Thanks to the RNA and the wonderful New Writers’ Scheme, I was coming back as a published author. Indeed as two published authors, if you count my alter-ego, Heather Pardoe. Wow. Can I just say it again: WOW!!!

The gardens. A place for peace and contemplation

I loved every moment of the conference in Penrith. Good company, good food and wine. A chance to talk in true writerly-obessive way about all things bookish. And to learn once again that I’m not alone – keeping up with promoting one book while writing the next, keeping up with the day job and having a life isn’t easy. Phew.

I hope that every new writer at Penrith this year had the same feeling that I did, all those years ago: with hard work and determination, everything is possible. Because it is. And if I can do it…..

Here’s to another year of inspiration!

Inspiration is a horticultural college!

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Well, ‘Eden’s Garden’ is one step nearer to being a real book! In fact, it’s about as close to being a real book as you can be, without being actually printed.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the past weeks, it’s just how much work goes into producing a single book. I’m not talking about the writing of it, now, but the actual turning of the final copy into a book. All the years I was working towards getting published, I kept on being told just how sure a publisher needed to be before they took on a new author. Now I can see exactly why.

At the end of December, I finished the copy edits, the final tweaks and corrections. This is how ‘Eden’s Garden’ looked then. It’s how it’s looked for the past year or so. A manuscript. Usually slightly more dog-eared and scribbled over, and with the tell-tell stains of coffee (wine, chocolate, tears, paw-prints …… more coffee, more wine).

This is the final version, so not quite so scribbled over. It’s an odd process, this final one, to try and detach yourself from the story (and still trying to tweak it in writer-obsessive fashion) and see it with an outside eye. I still couldn’t spot missing words and sentences that made no sense. Thank heaven for the professional proof-reader, and for my heroic friend who offered to be another fresh pair of eyes.

And so to the next stage. The Proofs. This is the bit I’ve just finished. Time to go through the whole thing yet again. This time with an even more detached eye (is this possible? That bit there, that could just do with a bit more- down girl, down!) for final typos. Now I know what writers mean when they say they get to a stage when they never want to see the dratted thing again. Thank heaven again for the professional proof-reader and another heroic friend who went through it as well. Well, at least that bit in Victorian London where a ‘moped’ appeared has been firmly squashed. I seem to remember I did not set out to write a steam-punk novel of any variety. The lady in question is now safely back to her mopping instead of dodging the horse-drawn carriages on the back of a futuristic machine. Phew.

The thing about the Proofs, though is that this is the first glimpse of how the book will look. This is where the heart beats faster and the stomach gets that little flutter in there. This is a book. A real book! And the next time I’ll see it, it will be a REAL book. And a real ebook. Wow.

And so is how it looks.

Because the story takes place both in the present day and in Victorian times, I used italics in the manuscript to make the different sections clear. In the printed pages, the two times are shown by beautiful little flowers. I love them both! This is the present.

And this one is the mysterious voice from the past, who leaves a trail that will eventually lead Carys to the coast of Cornwall in a search for the truth …..

While I was writing this post, I had a first glimpse of the final cover, which is utterly and totally gorgeous. I can’t wait until next week when it arrives in its final form.

And that is when the whole thing will come together.

Now I am getting seriously excited!

There may be snow on the mountains behind me, but  my garden (not nearly as grand as Plas Eden’s, despite the polytunnel that is still valiantly giving me rocket for my tea) has declared that spring has begun…

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Today, I am saying goodbye to my characters.

I should be happy. Over the moon. Jumping for joy. You see, my edits for ‘Eden’s Garden’ are finally finished. That’s the writing part of the book done. I should be eating chocolate and swilling champagne and lying on the sofa demanding my dog (bored and inclined to start being seriously naughty) peel me a grape.


But I find I can’t. Not yet. Instead, I’m feeling rather lonesome, and a bit sad. It began last night, after I’d written the last word. I started finding myself going slightly sniffly. Then this morning I realised: it’s because I know that this is my final goodbye to my characters.

These are people who have lived in my head and in my dreams for the past six years, on and off, and constantly for the past twelve months or so. I have lived through their darkest moments. Their heartbreak and their struggles. I’ve glowed with the ones who’ve found happiness and shared their plans for the future. Even the ones who seriously need some attention from a cattle-prod have stayed in my head and are part of me.

And now I will never live with them again. I will never feel with them, weep with them, or laugh with them. My children have gone out into the wide world, to take their chances and live their own lives. They will never again be so utterly part of me.

And then, while I was dog walking this morning before sitting down at my desk again, I realised: this isn’t really goodbye. All the people I have ever known and ever loved are part of me. I think of them every day. And it will be the same with my characters. Even more so, perhaps, because every single one them – even the ones in need of cattle-prod attention – are me. They are all some aspect of me.

There will be moments in my day when something happens and I’ll think of one of my characters and remember when something similar happened to them and how they felt about it. And how I felt about it when I was looking through their eyes and feeling through their skin. And they will be back with me one more.

And, of course, I already have a new set of characters, banging on my head, demanding to be let in with promises to behave impeccably – with their fingers firmly crossed behind their backs, as always. Before long, I shall be swept up in new lives and new experiences, all of which will again be some aspect of me.

Besides, I shall still be attending to my characters out in the world. I shall be busily fighting their corner and talking about them endlessly. And I shall be so proud to see them in their new form, in the pages of a real book with a real, beautiful, cover.


But for today, and even tomorrow, and even the day after that, I shall be quiet and say my goodbyes to this stage of my characters’ lives.

I might not have champagne (yet), but I’ve a glass of wine lined up for this evening. So tonight I shall raise a toast to my characters, thanking them for the amazing rollercoaster ride they have taken me on, and wishing them the very best of futures.

Cheers! Iechyd da! Skål!

And let’s see what tomorrow will bring …..


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Thank you to Samantha Stacia for inviting me to be her guest blogger for her Blooming Late Journal. Those were some great questions and I had a great time answering them!

You can read all about the first piece I ever wrote, plus all the things I feel I’ve learnt over the past year about becoming a better writer and finding a publisher for ‘Eden’s Garden’  here .

Or click on the link at the side.




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