Grouching Therapy

By Barry Langdon-Lassagne (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsOf all the different types of writers in the world one thing above all unites us: the need to be heard. We want some recognition. This chapter assumes you are already writing and sending your work to publishers in the hope of becoming a successful author. It’s here near the start of our creative writing section because many writers feel at ease with non-fiction; and by sending articles to a variety of destinations, you glean confidence before embarking on a longer work of fiction. If you’re not yet sending off your work to prospective publishers this chapter will show how accommodating you might need to become.

Article writing is valuable for learning to meet the needs of potential readers. You might feel you are regarded as creative one minute and a jobbing writer the next. Doing anything to obtain a living wage. It’s a lonely job, though, and we’re all sensitive to the way our ‘babies’ are handled. It’s therapeutic to talk about it and to hear others’ experiences.

Whichever way you do it, writing – and getting those words noticed – is hard; but for all that you also need to consider the task of the editor or publisher – we are all human.

Remember editors are writers too. It is vital to have empathy with readers, and that means your work must first pluck a chord with the editor.

What to Expect?

If you’re a trained journalist you’ll know how much of your copy might be changed, censored, or cropped to suit the readership. You will have learned to see good work cut, and will know what level of alteration is acceptable to you.

If you’re a specialist writer – chosen for publication because of the knowledge you can impart – then you can set reasonably strict boundaries. If you’re wise, you’ll know the editor is always right. If you’re on the best terms, you can discuss, not dispute.

Creative writers who are trying to earn a crust have to learn by listening and trusting their hearts. Your mistakes are your best teachers. Here are some writers’ experiences from which you may glean insight, ideas, hope or succour.

From a specialist writer:

“There was a new editor and I was commissioned to write a double-page spread about my subject, on top of my long-standing regular series. I sent it off in good time, its arrival was acknowledged; but a day before the publication was due to go to press, I received the galley proof. This was most unusual – my copy was normally accepted and planted straight into the magazine verbatim. I looked closer and found that three of the headings and whole paragraphs had been changed – offering totally wrong, inappropriate advice.

I hadn’t found my letters until mid-afternoon so it was in shock and panic that I phoned the editor – who was conveniently absent. Speaking to the sub-editor I realised that saying ‘why?’ wasn’t the way forward. I suggested I rewrite those paragraphs, to be more in keeping with what the new editor evidently envisaged, agreeing a very short deadline – next day I think. Failing that, I said, the article would have to go under a pen name as I couldn’t possibly endorse the new editor’s advice. I wracked my brains and supplied fresh copy, so all was well. I could only thank the sub-editor for her unusual action in sending the galley proof. The inappropriate revisions would have destroyed my good name as an expert.”

Keeping Privacy:

“I was researching for a book and I appealed to members of the public to write to me with their experiences. The result was about 25 letters but they mostly said the same thing – there was clearly not enough material in the subject for a book. I tried to sell the idea for an article to one of the sensationalist weekly magazines, and the features editor was very interested. However, he insisted on having real names and photographs.

As I’d promised total confidentiality to all who responded to my plea, I couldn’t now ask them to participate in this.

The features editor pleaded with me, very sure it was a worthy subject. He even offered me a ‘kill fee’. These were new heights in my writing experience so I said I’d see what I could do. I played around with ideas, and wrote the whole thing very convincingly, all about myself, but using a pen name. I duly sent the manuscript with a promise to be available for the photos they wanted, as I’m not photo-shy. It would be worth the money!

The article was rejected and I heard nothing. A month later I sent an invoice for the kill fee – asking for half the amount they would’ve paid for publication. This was all done by guesswork; I had no one to turn to for advice. The kill fee was paid within days, without question. I wished I’d put another nought on the end.”

Sub-editor inserts mistakes:

“The girl phoned me and wanted to clarify some details of the recipes I’d sent in with an article. ‘Should it be Self Raising Flour?’ she said. We discussed a few ways of saying various things and her suggestions were all fine so I said go ahead and put those in. I thanked her for taking the trouble – because sometimes even I can’t make head or tail of what I’ve written and she’d picked me up on it.

“When the said publication appeared, the dear girl had inserted ‘Self Raising Flower’. Luckily, the image of it made me laugh. I wondered what the readers thought!

“I think a beginner would have been mortified. It takes confidence and determination to live down someone else’s mistake.”

It’s easy to get an inferiority complex:

  • “The reader had clearly been doing something else when he read my work and rejected it. He told me the title didn’t fit the story. I don’t think it was a case of obscurity in the story – he got the character’s name wrong as well!”

  • “A Theatre Company cut great swathes from the script – I wished I’d agreed to go along to rehearsals, even though there was no money available for my expense.”

  • “My TV film was selected for further development and by the time we’d all finished with it and made the thing, it wasn’t much like the original idea. But I’d got a foot in the door. You do these things for progress: you have to.”

  • “I had a TV Director interested in my screen play. He lived near enough for us to spend sessions together getting it right. There was a call for submissions that we were aiming for, and the TV company had already expressed interest in my little play. It all looked pretty hopeful. As a writer ‘new to TV’ they wanted me to choose and work with a director, and I felt lucky to find someone very keen and based near my home.

  • “Every time he turned up he had a different idea to pursue, and we produced numerous draft versions to try to find the right one. Four months of sleepless nights and sixteen drafts later I discovered he’d never previously directed a drama. The submission date was only days away when he broke it to me (as if he’d never realised it himself) that all his previous experience was with documentaries.”

  • “The version we finally submitted got nowhere. My original idea was so contaminated I haven’t touched it since.”

You learn to know when you are ‘nearly there’

“A good rejection is when you get a non-standard letter. Or better still, some hand-written (and constructive) notes on the title page. A bad rejection is when it comes back pristine clean as if unread, without even a compliment slip. Even worse, I suppose, was when my MS was returned covered in coffee stains, reeking with tobacco, very well thumbed but finally someone had scribbled ‘Not for us’. This was after 8 months.”

Write from the Heart

If you’re trying to write and get recognition, it isn’t all doom and gloom. As a creative writer rather than jobbing journalist you will undoubtedly be writing, first and foremost, for your own satisfaction or sanity. There are plenty of reasons for writing (see Diaries; and Literary Clout) where money takes the back seat.

Write what you want to write! There are ways of finding your niche. All you have to do is research your markets well, hit it off with someone high up the ladder, or – resign to that old cliché – sleep with editor. Remember, clichés are such because they’re well used and common.

The View from ‘Up There’

An editor writes:

“Yes I’ve got my favourite writers, people I can rely on. There’s one in particular who I know I can call on in emergencies. She’ll produce something relevant, the right length, right style – you name it.

“Yes the ideal is to receive unsolicited copy ready to be planted straight into the column, something that really fits the bill. A piece of writing which takes the readership forward in the direction our magazine wants to go – but this kind of thing is like gold dust.

“We all want to be able to write great work, and unfortunately those who have the freshness to do it, just can’t tailor their writing to the style and length and everything we have to produce.”

Another editor says:

“Everywhere you look in the How To… books and mags, writers are told to send hard copy in double spacing, wide margins, pages numbered – but do they do it? You wouldn’t believe the number of MSS I receive that totally ignore the ‘conventions!

“No numbers on the pages, no names, no covering letter, no SAE. We’ve started putting SSAE because people don’t put the stamp on!

“I can’t cope with phone calls from hopefuls – well – I have to be in a thoroughly happy mood if I do. People expect me to know what they’re talking about without my having the copy in front of me. Well it might be, of course, but which one – in a pile a foot deep? Oh if it were so memorable that I could find it and fall-in with their conversation straight away!”

And another:

“If I sense a professional, reliable approach to life, and potential for more of the same quality, then that writer stands a chance with me. I’ve got a job to do, a readership to satisfy, and a boss who demands the best – which is why he chose me. Writers I can’t rely on or who are so damn snooty about their precious work – they fall by the wayside very quickly indeed.”

Agents have the same problems

Carole Blake, Literary Agent and partner in Blake Friedmann Agency says in her book ‘From Pitch to Publication’, “Publishers and agents are not welfare organisations: they cannot offer detailed editorial criticism for books they will not publish or represent.”

Editor of a voluntary group magazine says:

“I have one chap who writes local history that’s very relevant to our publication. He is terrifically succinct and very good at making bare facts sound as interesting as a good gossip. He doesn’t type or even write in longhand, and his work arrives on torn-out reporter-pad pages. It’s very hard to read all capitals scrawled in soft pencil, but you know, his offerings are worth all the work they entail. Certainly for me, publishing this local magazine. And to see his face when it’s all printed within the book – I almost relish his next idea.”

It’s up to you

How precious are you with your work? How far will you compromise? How serious are you in pursuing that particular publication? These are the questions you learn to answer for yourself.

Writing as Therapy

By privat, von Magdalena Maya Ben (von der Künstlerin zur Verfügung gestellt) [CC-BY-SA-2.0-de (], via Wikimedia CommonsI’m grateful to Bernie Ross for the content of the following pages. We worked on this book aeons ago and it can be difficult to distinguish who did what but I’m sure Bernie wrote most, if not all, of this blog.

It could be said that all writing is therapy. Whether you write about your problems, or write something completely distant from your experience, the act of writing is like an elixir. This magic potion might seem like medicine, but it won’t necessarily be a cure for all ills. You have to do it for yourself to find out.

Don’t worry about spelling and grammar

There are enough internal and external censors without the mechanics of writing getting in the way. Let computers, dictionaries, grammar checks and a thesaurus do that, much later. For now, just write – anything that is in your head. If you stop to check the spelling the magic can be lost, the creative streak will slip away. In any case you are just using it as an excuse to prevaricate – you know how to spell that word!


Make sure you are away from others, with nobody looking over your shoulder, with the risk of interruptions at a minimum. Sitting in the park or in a vehicle can be ideal. It doesn’t have to be for long, five minutes can yield 200 words or more when you’ve got something to express. When you haven’t, try ‘automatic’ writing, mentioned in Diaries (as Freewriting) and also in Visualise.

Ways to Avoid Embarrassment
  • Even if you have no trauma to exorcise, it can be hard to show your feelings in words, and even harder to see them yourself, let alone let others see them.

  • Disguise yourself by writing as if this were not you, but someone wearing a bright red coat or a hat made of green leather.

  • Write in third person. Did you just flush the loo and open the curtains? Write: He flushed the toilet and went to open the long blue curtains, letting in daylight

  • Write in metaphors. You fell out with your best friend? No, you severed the flower head. Will you be able to make it up again? Perhaps: the cut was below a leaf joint so a new root might just grow. Continue the metaphorical story…

  • Write a symbolic account. The love affair is over but it was great while it lasted: the cruise ship pulled out of harbour and the adventures on board began. The end of the journey is the end of your story, or it could be a new beginning.

Stand Back

Put a distance between yourself and your writing. Distance means time as well as space. When you walk away from it, you remember what else you could have written. You can go back to it with a freshness that would have eluded you if you’d stuck at it for too long. The funny thing is, if the writing is your therapy, then standing back means you’ll bound into a fresh mind-set after every spurt of work.

Give your experiences shape

One of the hardest things about life is making sense of it as you go along. Writing about your experiences, whether in disguise or as a plain diary or journal, will show you some truths about yourself. What are your goals in life? What stands in the way? The answers to how to stop these conflicts may inadvertently come through and hit you between the eyes. See Get a Life! for some suggestions on solving problems.

Understand Your Friends and Relatives

In the same way, writing about past experiences will reveal shape and meaning that you never thought existed. It might even cause you to act on a forgotten (or nagging) piece of unfinished business.

The Heart of Good Writing

Writing Therapy is a stepping stone to writing good prose – fact or fiction – because the writer must connect with the reader. When you write for personal therapeutic reasons you’re practising a skill that could take years of academic tuition to achieve, and still the important ‘melting point’ with the reader might elude you.

The best writers share what is in their heart as well as what’s in their head.


Diaries and Journals

George Grossmith [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

from Diary of a Nobody

Diaries and Journals

All writers should probably keep some form of diary or journal. They are the start of the process of being a writer.

Even if you don’t know ‘famous’ writers for their novels or factual writings, you will probably have read or heard extracts from their diaries. You might think there is nothing special enough about your life that’s worth recording, but think again. You’ve probably got more profound things to say than all the celebrities, often non-writers, whose memoirs are piled high in the bookshops.

Ordinary life is the main ingredient for every work of fiction, and the ability to put detail, explanation and subtlety into any piece of writing, hinges on the skill of interpreting actions into words on the page. The expertise is gained through practice. Even if the diaries you write never come to anything more than practice, you will gain a great deal by writing them.

Other People’s Diaries

Diaries take many forms, from poetic exposition through personal experiences to love letters. There are personal viewpoints from, for example, expectant surrogate mothers: if you can find a diarist writing about your specialist interest, then reading these diaries can be the very best research for your own writing.

Write about yourself

There is no doubt that writing about yourself can help to define who you are by outlining your beliefs and what you want to do with your life. This may demand an honesty that you have not needed previously in your life. Your mind will become focused and it will bring peace and organisation to your life.

Writing a diary will sort out problems, collect ideas together, organise your life and offer a sanctuary from the chaos that surrounds you in the life outside of your diary. In these writing focus pages you’ll find that personal writing is of the utmost importance in finding your voice and your style in being a writer.

Your diary will become an uncritical ‘shoulder to rely upon’, allowing your inner mind to express itself more clearly. Look at the positive and joyful parts of your life examining what makes you really happy.

As the years roll by the diary will provide a record of your life, an aide-memoir for clarity, a record of events and of tasks you have accomplished. It will show that your life has not been wasted. It will show patterns of events in your own life and will surprise you when you look back to discover a certain thing happened to you within the same week as a world event was taking place.

Making you a better person

A diary will help you to communicate more effectively, because it is practice in putting words to something that might be incomprehensible to other people. As a spin-off it will serve as a family history for future generations to enjoy.

Now what follows are not really diary entries but they are little moments in your life that will help to give you some structure:


Put pen to paper to write everything that comes to your mind. Don’t stop to correct or read what you’ve written. Keep going, mistakes, rubbish and all for 10 to 30 minutes.

Focused Freewriting

Pick a topic before you begin and try to write everything that comes into your mind about that topic. Write for at least ten minutes.


Draw a shape (such as a box, oval, or circle) in the middle of a blank page and write the topic you wish to write about inside it. Draw lines branching off from your topic, ending with more shapes, each filled with sub-topics relating to the main topic. Some people call it a ‘Starburst’ of ideas. For a better explanation go to

Writing Prompts

Use a word bowl or a list of questions to spark ideas. A word bowl is a container full of words that you’ve cut out of magazines, or slips of paper you’ve written words on. Just like being at primary school!

Ask someone else to give you a word or theme to get you going. The ‘distance’ of someone else’s perspective can provide you with an unusual freedom.

Making Lists

A list makes you only consider specific topics. Expansion is then easier, next time you come to write.

Descriptive Writing

This involves writing in vivid detail how you perceive the world around you. Write from your point of view. Sit down with a pen and pad and write what you see, just as an artist might set up easel and paint the landscape before him. It makes you look properly. You may be surprised at what you see. It’s a good way to build descriptive prose to add colour to your writing


Capture another person on paper: their personality, mannerisms, opinions, relationship to you. Describe facial expressions and the way these change when they feel cold, miserable, happy, excited. Add some excitement to your portrait by saying what you feel about this person (just don’t mention their name!).

Reflective Writing

Pause after several weeks of writing to reflect on your past thoughts and actions, and consider your future. If a diary is to be for self examination it’s important to write down how you feel about events.

Altered Point of View

Try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Change sex, or become the omnipotent third party. This can really be quite an eye-opener, and will certainly make you a better person in that you’ll be able to empathize with those around you.

However much you try to write a total fiction, there will always be an element of yourself, your hopes and fears, within the pages. Don’t fight it. Your experience is good; and contrary to what you might think, if it came from the bottom of your heart then it will meet with your readers’ minds, and that’s where it matters.

Meditative Writing

Be very relaxed and clear your mind of all thoughts. This is meditation. You can start with a breathing exercise. Close your eyes and count slowly. One, breath in, wait a few moments, breath out, then Two, repeat breath in, wait, breath out. Go to ten, relax your body, and your mind. If a thought comes to mind, just push it away. When you are ready, start writing.

You can use an image to create fantasy, think upon the tranquil, serene or peaceful. Or you may be able to draw a picture, from intuition, drawing without thinking of what you are doing. Doodling is a version of this but instead of doodling while you talk on the phone or listen to a lecture, try doodling to simply fill a blank page. By the time the page is filled, your mind will be buzzing with ideas worth writing.

Intensive Writing

Writing can be a cathartic process, clearing out all the rubbish in your mind to produce clarity and peace. Highly emotional writing that is freely expressed but really says what you want to say. Scream at the page as you write. Very good way to relieve tension, and if ypou want to cry – do so.


Conduct a conversation in writing, representing both points of view. Talk to yourself, apparently George Sand did, and what works for her is good enough for the rest of us.

Unsent Letters

Another way of clearing out the detritus in your mind, to tell someone how it really is, in writing, knowing that you will not send it. No need to be polite, to consider feelings – just sock it to them!

Audio Diaries

Radio can be a lot of things: Radio can be a news report. Radio can be a commentary. Radio can be a conversation. Radio can be an audio postcard. Your story can be a combination of all this and more.’

They provide lots of good information and advice to help use this medium. Well worth a visit.

Talking into a recorder is very different to writing, and you might baulk at the thought. However, you’ll be surprised at what comes out of your head when you get used to talking to yourself.

Try keeping an audio journal. Start by sendingMP3 files to a friend. Your mobile phone probably has a recorder. It can be an electronic diary. Start with yourself then talk to your family and your friends; ask them to tell their stories. The politician Tony Benn used this to record every event in his life and left an enormous collection of recordings.

Very quickly you will be sticking the microphone under all sorts of noses – and finding that people are quite happy to answer your questions, often very frankly.

Soon you could be making radio documentaries, letting the audience participate and experience things as they happen, and carrying your recorder wherever you go – like a press photographer and reporter, ready to record events as they happen.

Journals versus Diaries

Whereas a diary is thought of as a regular record (and consequently sometimes mundane), a journal is an occasional occupation. You write up an entry in your journal whenever you feel like putting something into words. It might be an observation you want to remember, or an occasion that deserves recording in complete detail.

Your journal entry will be more thoughtful and more discursive than a regular diary. Listen to (or read) the Diaries of Alan Bennett.He records all sorts of observations, and frequently admits his feelings about what he has seen. His accounts of a day with his mother are every bit as interesting as his meeting famous actors and directors, because he reveals what the rest of us might say about our own circumstances. I’ve used my web sites and blogs for similar purposes for years. It gets it off your chest, and personally I’m not bothered if nobody every reads my moans and groans.

Diaries and journals keep you in the habit of writing and are a constant way of teaching yourself to write. Sooner or later the completed diary will be opened again and its subjects can be aired within the pages of your fiction or your documentary.

Audio Diaries are similarly useful as time goes on. A writer must seek detail to help make his work seem authentic, and sometimes the detail of a private life can only be found in a diary.

Learning to write

Diaries and journals are an excellent starting point. Keep a freewriting notebook and take it anywhere, everywhere. Keep a diary of special events, holidays, and hectic days when it will be useful to reap hindsight of the way events unfolded. By their very nature, daily diary entries are subtle in the telling, yet lively and concise. Reading them later will reveal secret crevices.

Record your dreams and your maddest ideas because they, too, will become useful in your writing.

One of the greatest ways to start feeling confident as a writer is to record your thoughts on how your writing feels to you, and monitoring – in words on the page – how you progress. As your writing career develops, so will your appreciation of your collection of diaries and journals that are loaded with meaningful source material.

This blog will form part of a new book based on material provided by Bernie Ross and Trevor Lockwood. We’ve been in the writing and publishing arenas for a long time.


“If you have a good idea, use it so that you will not only accomplish something, but so that you can make room for new ones to flow into you.”
― Deng Ming-Dao

Overraskelse_RAVNEN1896You want to be a Writer?
Of course you do, why would you want to be anything else? With that question out of the way this book does little more than offer comfort and support. It will not solve your obsession although it does indicate possible pathways. You may have many reasons for wanting to write, our hope is that you write for yourself. Nobody else really matters.
That said we assume that one eventual aim is for the writer to reach a reader. Showing writers how that can be achieved is an interesting prospect. To satisfy the reader the writer must work steadily through a number of processes. We want you to produce something that will be read by someone other than its creator.

These blogs, when they appear, will follow a central pathway but will allow deviation – plenty of it – as you and other writers contribute, as different styles of writing and of presentation are all examined. Your latest project will never end.
Let’s start at an end. One aim may be to produce a book; just an ink-smeared-on-dead-trees book. You may choose a different format.

There’s plenty of choice, and we will describe each in turn.
Printed Book
Online (content management software)
DAISY (for blind and partially sighted)
Blogs and Web sites

There’s plenty to choose from.

Whatever process is finally chosen, the production of the final book must be as good as you can make it.

It’s not just about content, which, importantly, should always be subjected to close scrutiny by a disinterested third party, preferably a professional editor or proof-reader, but also the physical quality of the work.

Unless a book looks and feels good, with a well designed cover, the correct choice of paper, of font and of page layout, it will fail. No matter how good the content. There remains a prejudice against self-published work that can only be overcome by ensuring that the standards of preparation and presentation are rigorously maintained.

For too long badly produced booklets, with mono-spaced type, smudged photocopy and bent staples hanging onto a flimsy card cover have dominated the image. That must stop. It is no longer acceptable. We have the technology!

In the production process many obstacles have to be overcome but unless the work itself is relevant to an audience no amount of colour, graphic design, expensive paper or hand-crafted binding will hide egotistical, crass or illiterate words on a page.

Being honest to yourself is vital, and the questions asked must be truthfully tackled. What is most important to you? Consider that question carefully, before jumping on a plane to Honolulu with your lover.

How will you accomplish your aims and objectives with this publication? What are the priorities and what is your relationship to others, to relatives and friends, and to the community at large? How will your ambitions change these relationships? Importantly, consider where your writing fits into the world? What would be missing if it had never existed? What messages do you have?

Deliberately there is little encouragement here because you must realise that writng and publishing are both very hard work, and are not steps to be taken lightly. For the writer it can be particularly difficult as insecurity and doubt lingers behind the need to learn new tricks; those of management and control, production and cost control, marketing and distribution.

Why Write?
You must ask that question of yourself and answer with absolute truthfulness. Why choose to write at all? Why not go watch the television like everyone else. Go find a lover. Go and be something!

Why write? Why condemn yourself to loneliness, to a bad back, to hunched shoulders, to frustration and penury?

Take some time to consider that question. Reject any hopes of fame and fortune. That is a dream world upon which you must not rely as the average writer fails to receive any adequate recompense for their hours of labour. Look instead at more esoteric goals; to explore and perhaps improve yourself, to provide some explanation to others, to reveal a burning passion, just for the love of words or even because it really is so much better than watching TV. All are logical reasons. A good first step to identify your own reasons.

What to Write?
Fact or fiction. The choice is yours, though the distinction is not always clear-cut. I’ve been helping writers publish their own work for many years and have found (this sounds stupid but it is relevant) writers write for many reasons, but for most people non-fiction work is often strongly biographical or there is a specific subject area that is dear to the heart of the writer. Both forms of non-fiction require creativity, for if they are to work both will demand that the inner soul of the writer is revealed. The writing focus section of this book must be read with that in mind. Writing non-fiction is a creative process.

Then ask yourself one vitally important question. One that must be repeated as you continue to write, ‘Who am I writing this book for? Who is the intended reader?’ Without some understanding of that audience writing becomes a totally self-indulgent activity. That may be the real reason for starting to write, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It can be a useful exercise, often a cathartic form of therapy. It may be why you start, and then continue to the end of the piece but in the middle somewhere is an altruistic passion to share something with the reader. If there isn’t then put your words in a drawer and let them fester for a while.

Mission Statement
Prepare a mission statement that reveals why you want to write. Once the initial thinking is out the way this should probably be your first task. Your dreams and aspirations must be identified and then closely examined. No matter that they cannot easily be achieved. All writers should prepare a mission statement which states in clear unequivocal terms what they want to do, where they want to go, and what they want to accomplish along the way.

Form of Statement
The mission statement should be short, a single paragraph or a simple list. My first stab came up with, ‘to achieve immortality’ which over-reaches itself but makes some sense to me. That statement could be improved if the needs of a wider world were also considered. For me, simply to make money is not enough, perhaps should not even be included, for when personal greed takes precedence, non-financial goals can be difficult to identify and the successful writer (however that is defined) is usually concerned with more ethereal concepts than just mere gelt (money). Whatever your approach try to make a simple statement that describes how you feel.

The heart of the matter
These are important questions that take us to the soul of our work. It is easy enough to churn out words but why do we do it? What does it achieve? How does it fit into the world in which we live? Would it be missed if it had never been published?

The Result
So, the mission statement, a few brief yet carefully chosen words that express why we want to publish our work, may help us to find an acceptable perspective.

To allow a start to be made let us assume the concept for the work is already in place. You know what you want to write, even if it is only a simple construct in your mind. The final version is still a long way off.

At this stage allow your imagination considerable licence. All is possible. Any journey starts with one small step. The finished work can follow the accepted formats, or can offer some unusual perspectives.

Full-length fiction normally assumes a work stretching beyond 60,000 words, so with about 400 words per typed page there will be over 120 pages in the pile of paper on your desk or in your word processing program.

Short stories are shorter (obviously) with no set length, and can be collected together to make a bound work that is close to the size of a novel, let’s say something over 100 pages.

Poetry books are often slimmer, a poem a page with just 30 works in a slim volume presents a romantic tinge.

Works of non-fiction, good and stolid, factually correct are of indeterminate length. They have taken as long as it took the author to explain the subject matter – even though that is often too long, but more of that later.

These are conventions that often remain unstated and are not sacrosanct. They refer to printed books, the ink smeared on dead tress variety. Later we will venture into other worlds; ebooks and onwards. For now let’s keep life simple.

It is useful to go to any library or bookshop and look carefully at the books on the shelves. More importantly look at the books that are selling in the bookshops; at those books that people are looking at with interest. Your book could look like those, perhaps it should, whether it will be a suitably acceptable clone, whether it will sell, these are all matters you will have to control.

The commercial book trade has changed considerably. Online book stores and supermarkets are dominant. That brings competition, and the power exerted by large companies, who have marketing muscle.

It’s suggested that only seven companies are in control. The publishers imprint, the name you see on the book’s spine may change but behind these are behemoths out to make a profit.

That does present us all with a quandary. Does the pursuit of profit make a suitable partner for our literary heritage. Not a question to be seriously tackled here, but it is one worth asking.

As a publisher, for in following this book to its conclusion that it what you are about to become, both a published author and a small publisher, you may feel free to experiment with the approach. Try, at this stage, to free your mind from the idea that this manuscript (MS, plural MSS) will pass through the hands of a trade publisher, be printed into a book and be sold through a bookshop. That is only one of several pathways that could be followed. Increasingly that is the most difficult.

For the ‘little author-publisher’ opportunities remain. In some cases an Internet blog has been enough to spark interest, and some writers make a living from their blogs. Certainly they can provide a platform, for anyone.

They can be good places to experiment but the writer will soon recognise that they must do much more than scribble a few words on scraps of paper. Reaching people is a business. It’s even harder task to get them to read what you write. One of my closest friends has worked in a bookshop for years, and always has a pile of books beside her that she intends to read, yet she admits she never reads any of my online blogs. That’s painful but understandable. You probably don’t have the answer to the world’s problems, you are not writing a classic that will stand the test of time, it is unlikely that you will make much money from writing.

Don’t let that stop you. How do I know? Prove me wrong.

Short snippets of your work on a blog can give the reader an idea of the writing style, the characters and plot. The titles of subsequent chapters can be shown, with pertinent sub-headings, to encourage the reader to subscribe to your site (more about that later) and eventually buy the completed work.

The Internet has changed our world. There’s too much information. There’s a lot of dross. You have to decide what you want. One of the functions of trade publishers is to act as a filter for book buyers. They make choices. The reasons behind those choices may be suspect but at least you can expect to buy a book that is well-presented, written in readable language.

Electronic publishing is demonstrating its potential and versatility. It provides opportunities, as will short-run printing methods, audio presentations and multi-media projects. Your words could end up just about anywhere. For now, let them just arrive like the fresh growth of a glorious Spring day.

It is this lack of lateral format that makes author-publishing so exciting for the writer. Modern trade publishers are constricted by the need to make money, and to disregard any other reason for bringing a creative work to the attention of a wider public. They forget about ideas, about breaking new ground.

Next time I’ll take a look at the Tools of the Trade.


BBC is Dying

bbc is dyingThat we will soon lose the British Broadcasting Corporation is now more than just a rumour raised by the awkward squad. Several factors are making it increasingly obvious. At least it appears likely if you look at the signs.

Daytime television is now beyond ridiculous. There is a paucity of talent and the schedule appears largely unchanged from week to week. Programming choices show that viewers during the day are hardly considered. The schedule rarely changes and the present selection of shows is contemptible.

The audience at that time of day is likely to be elderly or housebound so BBC1 TV sets out to exploit that group of people. ‘Sell your house darling. Move to the country. Retire to Australia or somewhere warm. Before you go sell your antiques.’ Then add a touch of danger. A silly little man, once known as a secondhand car salesman, warns of house security. Another highlights the dangers of stepping outside your front door. Helicopters land on front lawns to spirit accident victims away. We are shown the sordid undergrowth that infests our cities.

They all help to promote insecurity.

‘Move to the country darling. Houses are cheaper there. Yes, you will need a car. No there are no shops. The doctor is miles away and the locals are smelly.’

There is a small army of egotistical presenters of these shows, most of whom are now looking antique themselves. Are there any old items left hidden in attics that haven’t been churned through these programmes? It shows how little pride we have in ourselves. Antiques are old. They were made by experienced craftsmen now long gone.

The makers have died and so, very often, have the skills. We now buy disposable plastic substitutes from abroad.

When do we hear about our brilliant young folk and what they are doing? The vibrancy of creation is ignored as money overrides everything. How much can I make takes over from usefulness or delight in craftmanship. Short-term profit has replaced sustainability and pride.

Daytime TV is a disgrace. The evening programmes are not much better. Repeats Rule OK! Once you have a formula and a set of popular presenters the producers can set off for even more exotic places with a full film crew. Presenters of anything vaguely scientific can be seen walking along the skyline, frequently there are deserts, mountains, or jungles as they hack towards the traces of ancient civilisations. Too often the only shots are of presenters walking away from camera, or entertainingly walking towards camera. The worst shots have the presenter standing still whilst the camera slowly traverses around them.

Such programmes don’t need video, nor do they need foreign travel. They could be more entertaining with a good audio script fronted by lots of pretty pictures. Especially during the day. The decrepit daytime viewers like pictures.

It is tempting to accuse Beeb folk of being too middle class. Their images of ordinary people ensure we have a bewildering range of accents, with story-lines that reveal just how stupid the hoi polloi really are. Lowest common denominator TV may produce high audience figures but the years have shown our population has become submissive and will tolerate rubbish. Just look at the soaps, some show our world is constantly arguing, in conflict with neighbours, and spends a fortune on alcohol.

BBC Radio is expensive. Not quite sure why that should be the case. BBC Radio 4 spends £91 million a year. All BBC radio costs £650 million. That’s a lot of cash. Of course, there’s all the technical bits, and they tend to cost money when purchased by the BBC. Digital radio is a failing joke but the BBC hangs on, unable to cut its losses. The average community radio station, and we now have over 300 with broadcast licences, spends about £65,000 a year. A local BBC station, and we have 44, has 45 staff and spends millions. Yet BBC local radio stations only broadcast for about 13 hours a day, with the same old presenters, and a music playlist of 300 tracks specially selected by the management.

The BBC relies upon the Licence fee for most of its income. Over 98% of households have a licence. It’s a criminal offence to receive live TV broadcasts without a licence. Last year 181,880 were prosecuted. That is 12% of the workload of our Courts. Two-thirds were women, probably because they were at home when the inspector called.

In addition the BBC sells its products abroad through a number of marketing companies. That income is falling, from £222 in 2011 to £155 million in 2012. Is this one measure of the growing disenchantment with BBC programmes?

One small gripe is BBC World Service. It is a superb marketing vehicle for our country. It is trusted, and listened to because it provides unbiased reports. That is changing. There is now a regular slot called ‘Boston Calling’ which promotes the United States of America. In addition far too many US programmes are broadcast by our state broadcaster. Our writers will not find space for their short stories to be read as too often you’ll hear an American voice with a story that does nothing to support the British way of life. Should that be a reason for selection by a State broadcaster? Is that why we pay our licence fee? There is too much content provided by USA.

Europe – have you heard about Europe? Probably not. The BBC ignores 450 million of our neighbours, many of whom are intelligent and stimulating. When given the chance we respond with enthusiasm. Denmark is one of the happiest places on earth. Even when they send us dire detective stories we are receptive and entertained. The USA murders 33,000 people every year with guns. It is a juvenile delinquent. Yet the BBC is obsessed with US news and content. Is it just because they speak English? If that is the case we need more content from our old Commonwealth partners. They speak English.

The list of complaints could be endless. It is best to finish, but there is just one more gripe that eats at my soul.

Every morning BBC Radio 4 has an ‘In Business’ section about 6.15am. This never talks about business it is just updating information that will assist the unproductive to make more money by buying and selling shares and commodities. It forces us to think globally whilst half of British commerce is sold to foreigners. That tactic will see our workers subjected to the whims of foreign owners, turning us into a nation of wage slaves.

That’s the nub of the question. Does the BBC realise what it is doing? Is the lack of attractive programming, the endless repeats, the American influence, all a sinister plot.  The BBC Charter will be renewed in 2016. Without a doubt the present government, if it regains power, will privatise the BBC. It is already happening. More content is to be externally produced. Sports programming is allowing advertisers access all the time. Stadiums, equipment and players are plastered with the ephemera of marketing.

Instead of paying a licence fee perhaps we should all become shareholders of the BBC. It makes a profit selling abroad. Shouldn’t we share in that revenue? Is it time to realise that the population, as a whole, can make better decisions than the privileged incompetences who currently pick up huge salaries – for doing what?

It’s a discussion that should be started now before the leeches drain us dry and open the door to those wishing to exploit us as consumers rather than support and encourage us as individuals and citizens of a great country.

A Great War?

The AhgroveIt is a beautiful sunny morning. A day when I realise that my part of the world is just perfect. With the sun starting to warm I stroll to the bakery at the end of my road to buy breakfast rolls. On the way I exchange greetings with neighbours. It is the start of a perfect day.

It is right to remember that many people do not share my good fortune. For me to enjoy such pleasures there have been many sacrifices.

This year we remember the start of the Great War 1914-1918.

It was a stupidly unnecessary war during which millions died, and millions more lives were seriously damaged as a result.

Today there is friendship shared by the people whose relatives were destroyed by conflict. New arrivals to our countries shout about their rights and the plight of the refugee. We sympathise whilst wondering how many of them realise the heavy price we paid for our freedom.

My view was reinforced by listening to Diney Costeloe, the author of The Ash Grove, at the Felixstowe Book Festival. Her book is a fictional account of the effects of the First World War on a small village. One reviewer said, ‘It is a story full of history, dedication to duty, love, comradeship, compassion, sacrifice, and misunderstanding; telling of the futility of war, and the bonds between classes, ranks, and family members across generations, and the affect of war and separation on all of them.’

It is a sadly tragic story that is a reflection of destructive force of wars. Wars which have rarely solved anything.

We need to reconsider the logic of threatening and then killing another person. What has ever been gained?

This book bites at the very core of us all and the messages it contains must constantly be brought to mind.

Too often politicians forget the social impact of their decisions. I’m reminded of the statement that General Douglas Haigh, the man responsible for the Somme Offensive of 1st July 1916 when 20,000 Allied soldiers were killed on the first day, a total of 60,000 Allied casualties, making it the highest number in history. It is alleged that he said, ‘We will win the war, despite our casualties because we have more men than they do.’

Thanks Haigh. Thanks Scotland for giving us such a fool. Let’s all celebrate with a tot of Haigh’s whisky.

That war started for no good reason, yet it left 22,062,147 casualties on the Allied forces and 15, 404, 477 for Germany, Austria, Bulgaria and Turkey. Over 65 million service personnel were involved with over half (37 million) killed or wounded. What crass stupidity!

Yet shortly afterwards the warmongers were allowed to exercise their lust for power yet again, with further loss of lives.

Remembering those dreadful times in Europe is why I want us to stop posturing and start to work together, with enthusiasm and companionship, to make Europe the best place on this earth.

It is already, all we need t do is make steady improvements.

Diney Costeloe books at Amazon

Books and the Economy

Felixstowe bok festivalThe Felixstowe Book Festival took place last weekend. It was the second year of the event, which is already growing in popularity and attracting both speakers and audience. The organisers, notably Meg Reid, are to be congratulated and hopefully they will continue enabling both the town and the event to prosper.

It raised some interesting questions for me, some which moved outside of the publishing industry. Writers are often isolated folk, hunched over screens in darkened rooms. In most cases they are independent entrepreneurs who dedicate much of their lives in pursuit of a dream. They want to write, indeed most will tell you they have to write.

The moving hand having writ must move on. For too many that’s where the real problems start. They need help if their creation is to be read by others. For nearly two centuries manuscripts have been submitted to publishers, who have selected a few scribbles from a growing pile of submissions. It was not always the case. Writers once employed publicists to promote their books, paying them a small commission. That quickly changed as publishers became rich they were able to pick more than one cherry from the submissive trees.
Of recent years publishers have learned that real profit comes from just a small number of titles. The trick is to select which ones. That’s become much easier as the costs of production to an ever-widening market have been steadily reduced.

Today publishers could take a chance, and publish more titles. There is less risk. In some respects that’s true. The independent publisher could once survive by publishing a small hardback edition aimed at public libraries, in the hope that a paperback publisher could take it on if sales showed it was popular. Libraries have largely stopped buying such books.

Twenty years ago this country published perhaps 100,000 titles a year, that’s now risen to 160,000. Demand is still there, and may even be growing. Not all of these titles are published by the established industry, there’s a growing army of small publishers, often authors just publishing their own work.

The conventional response is that self-published books are invariably rubbish, poorly written, without any editorial control, and badly produced. That may be true, but as any young damsel will tell you, you may have to kiss a lot of frogs before a Prince appears, but that will not stop her looking.

In many cases that is a lie spread about by publishers scared that the need for their services is being eroded. The author is concerned to produce a good book, and can now find support from independent editors and proofreaders, skilled folk who were dismissed by the trade and forced to work on short-term contracts.

Today we have the technology. The author has much more freedom. A simple computer will allow word-processing, from that ePub software can create an ebook to serve the growing band of ebook publishers. If it looks worthwhile the ebook can be turned into a printed book, best printed by demand (POD). Such books are only printed once they have been sold. Offered for sale or promoted through internet book shops, the authors blogs and web sites and through social media, an audience can be reached. On Amazon ebook downloads now exceed book sales.

Our bookshops have been reduced in number, and those that are left tend to stock titles produced by the agglomerated collection of imprints which are now owned by about seven large corporations.

Such companies are obsessed by money. Perhaps, somewhere, our literary heritage is being considered but mass appeal is much more likely to be attractive. Besides books are now cheap to produce. A marketing campaign is followed by careful monitoring of sales. If expected sales figures are not quickly achieved that title can disappear from the shelves. Large distributors tend to have book pulping machines to deal with such economic failures. Not that they will always disappear from the system. POD can often step in to help support the backlist, titles for which there is no longer any real demand.

The structure mirrors that of much of the retail trade. Supermarkets have replaced independent grocers and specialist food suppliers, be they butchers, bakers or delicatessens. Haberdashers and the wide variety of general suppliers are now all pushed into retail sheds, and private transport is needed to buy ten screws when you only wanted one.

One of the economic problems that England must overcome is our dependency upon retail trade. Making us all buy more ‘things’ than we need makes for a weak economic system, one that is over-reliant upon the idea that ‘growth’ is really important. Strangely enough growth is at the heart of our weak financial systems. We only have one planet, growth assumes that we already have at least two. If the whole world consumes at the same rate as the USA we’d soon run out of, well, everything.

We are now told that we must save money. We have all behaved badly and must now pay the price. Another viewpoint could be that the bankers are really to blame. They stood on our street corners handing out loans and mortgages like sweeties. Debt was OK. You can pay it back later. So we could, for a while.

Remember that none of this money has ever really existed. Loans are just a line of figures on the banks accounts. The loan is just a number, plucked out the air by the bank. All that really exists is the debt incurred for lending this fictitious sum and the consequences of failing to repay the interest when due. That demand falls upon the hapless debtor, and we have seen houses repossessed, businesses fail, just because a bank recalls a loan. A loan on a sum that never existed in the first place.

The Gold Standard, which ensured the banks must be able to cope with demands for cash, was abolished in 1971 by pressure applied by the USA, and the $USdollar became the new standard. You may recall that in 1968 Prime Minister Harold Wilson bought as much gold as this country could afford, flying it in to airfields in Suffolk, and storing it in the Bank of England. He was condemned and soon removed from office.

Now we are told we are poor yet the British government has spent at least £850 billion so far bailing out the banks – where did that money come from? In addition quantitative easing (QE) has watered down our currency by introducing £375 billion in ‘new’ money. The pound in your pocket is not worth what it once was.

Incidentally the QE cash was given to the banks who were to lend it to industry. So far from every £1 given to the banks they have lent just 8 pence to industry. Most of that money has been given to speculators. The Stock Market has improved but that market does not make anything, except profit for the small number of investors who can afford to gamble. They are just leeches stuck on the backsides of British workers, sucking out energy, destroying creativity.

Now over half of British industry is foreign-owned. Inward investment is heralded as a lifeline. Such investment sees profit leave our country and our workers dependent upon the whims of international conglomerates. It creates a nation of wage slaves.

It’s not enough to moan and groan. We need alternatives.
A discussion about those will follow tomorrow. You’ve read enough for today. Make yourself a cup of tea and have a lie down.

Felixstowe Book Festival

OK, you didn’t make it. That doesn’t have to be the end of the world. you can find me on this page, somewhere.

You can listen to what I said right here. Well, not exactly. this is a recording of what I thought I would say, no idea if it will be (or was) anything like the real world.

And, as an extra bonus, here’s my Powerpoint presentation (which I didn’t use).

Sabine Baring Gould

Mehalah ebook

Sabine Baring-Gould’s life is a story in itself, with his unconventional childhood, his marriage to a mill-girl half his age and his dedication to antiquarian pursuits alongside his life as squire and parson. He was one of the top ten novelists of his time, also writing prolifically on travel, religion, historical figures and on many other topics. Over 1200 publications are listed in his bibliography.

He was an early archaeologist, respected for his work on Dartmoor, in Cornwall, in Wales and in France. He was also a folklorist, but he regarded his greatest achievement to be his collection of songs, most of them heard from singers in Devon and Cornwall. Beside his writing he re-created the twin hearts of his beloved parish of Lew Trenchard – his home, Lew House and the beautiful little church of St Peter, Lewtrenchard. For these he was his own architect.

At his death in 1924 he largely dropped out of the public’s memory and, if he was remembered at all, it would have been for his best known hymns such as ‘Onward, Christian soldiers’ and ‘Now the day is over’. In recent years members of the Sabine Baring-Gould Appreciation Society, with the help of the descendants of his 15 children, have searched out forgotten manuscripts and letters which help to give a better picture of the life of this remarkable man.

I re-edited his text of Mehalah whilst living on Mersea Island in 1990s.  At that time it was out of print, and I thought it was too good to be lost. Mersea Island sits off the mudflats of Essex, with its causeway flooded at high tides. That gives it some exclusivity. The families included in his story are still to be found on the island.

It’s not for me to say, or allege, but he clearly had an affiliation with the wild gypsy girl who is the heroine of the tale. I’m not willing to speculate further.

He was Vicar at East Mersea at the time. He disliked the place and had low regard for its people. They remain grateful that he has left an accurate record of life in 1880-90s

I’ve also produced an ebook.

A D Wraight (Dolly Wraight)

A D WraightI first met Dolly Wraight when she taught at William Tyndale Primary School in Islington in 1975. There was a furore about the teaching methods being adopted and as a police sergeant in that area I came into contact with several of the teachers, including Dolly Wraight.

Years later we met again. This time it was at a meeting of the Richard III Society, an historical question that interested us both. I quickly discovered she was a woman of immense talent and her true value as an historian was revealed in her books about the Elizabethan poets and playwrights.

The Story The Sonnets Tell book coverShe wrote the best book about Shakespeare’s Sonnets: The Story the Sonnets Tell in which she painstakingly categorises the sonnets suggesting there were three sponsors: William Hatcliffe when he was elected ‘Prince of Purpoole’ by his fellow law students at Gray’s Inn, the young Earl of Southampton, for whom Lord Burghley commissioned 17 sonnets for his 17th birthday, and the man who could be called the True Patron, Thomas Walsingham, who was Christopher Marlowe’s patron.

Marlow is at the centre of much of Dolly’s research. She privately stated that Marlowe was the true author of Shakespeare’s work. Christopher Marlowe, the main creator of the Elizabethan blank verse drama, was allegedly murdered during a pub brawl in 1593, days before he was to be re-arrested for investigation by the Star Chamber – which meant torture, and probably death. He disappeared, and later research has shown that Marlowe and Shakespeare used used identical language and word techniques. In 1925 Leslie Hotson discovered Coroner Danby’s report on the murder of Christopher Marlowe, a report which in 1925 that proved to be a fake. In 1955 Calvin Hoffman suggested that the murder of Christopher Marlowe had been a set-up to save Marlowe’s life.

A.D.Wraight’s “The Story that the Sonnets Tell”, is the most thorough study of the Sonnets ever made and the only one successfully explaining the mysteries of most of them. Her work shows that the Sonnets fit Christopher Marlowe perfectly and no one else.

The suggestion is that Marlowe was not murdered but worked as a dramatist under the cover of William Shakespeare, maybe also under the cover of others like John Webster, perhaps collaborating with Beaumont & Fletcher, perhaps borrowing even other occasional names. If it was he, he most probably spent some years up in Lancashire under the protection of Derby, where he learned much of Lancashire expressions demonstrated in plays like “Hamlet”. And most probably, Francis Bacon must have been one of his associates and maybe his protector. Bacon and Derby had much legal business together.

This is a wonderfully complex story. A good account of the complex web is at It’s difficult to read, but clearly stated, and is less dismissive than many of the academic works, which often tend to be biased.

My copy of The Story that the Sonnets Tell is signed by Dolly ‘To Trevor – a very real guy! With admiration, Dolly’ that’s a compliment I treasure, and I’m glad to have spent time with this wonderful woman.