Welcome to a new series on my blog! Lexical Unravellings is where I’m going to get into the nitty gritty of crafting a book that your readers will think is magical: plot, structure, characterisation, voice, writing craft… all those details that add up to create a book that will stay with the reader long after they read the last page.
I often find myself reading published books which had the potential to be truly brilliant reads but just didn’t quite get there. My aim with this series is to unpick common areas that could be tightened up, and to offer helpful and clear advice which you can take away and apply to your own writing. It’s the sort of feedback I’d offer in a developmental edit but, of course, considerably more generalized.
Although I’m going to be unpicking issues that I’ve noticed in books I’ve read, I’m not planning to name these books or their authors (unless it’s anyone super famous – someone of J. K. Rowling’s stature is hardly going to be affected by my little blog posts). Writing is hard and finishing a novel is a significant achievement, so I am definitely not here to pull apart anyone’s work.
I’m also planning to chat about some editing stuff: how I approach edits, what to look for in an editor, do you really need to book a developmental edit – those sort of things.
I hope to finish each post with a list of resources for further reading. This might be books on the craft of writing which cover this topic, or books/authors I thought tackled it well, or blogposts on a similar topic.
I’m looking forward to diving deeper into some writing chat over the next few weeks and months! If you do have any particular topics that you’d like me to discuss, feel very free to drop me an email.
(Yes, I am posting this one two weeks late. There’s been a lot going on and I am amazed and somewhat appalled to discover we are nearly halfway through July already!)
What I’ve been working on:
Last month I worked through a copyedit of a non-fiction book. It was a translation, and I always enjoy the challenge of working on translations: it can be a delicate line of preserving the author’s voice and retaining their meaning and emphasis, whilst keeping all the grammar neat and tidy. This one was made more tricky because I was only in contact with the translator, not the author, so I had to be even more careful that the changes I made were only tightening the wording up and didn’t involve changing it in any way. The translator and I were both really happy with the final version; it’s an important book which deserves to be more widely read, so it was brilliant to be involved with it.
I’m currently working my way through a developmental edit of a paranormal romance for Jennifer Lawler’s Advanced Developmental Editing course. Development editing really is my love and joy, so I’m really enjoying improving my skills and making the most of being able to learn from someone with as much expertise and wisdom as Jennifer has.
I’m also about to start copy editing a collection of short stories to help get them all ready for submission. This is for a repeat client whose stories are expansive and hugely imaginative, and I’m thrilled to be working with them again.
Looking ahead, I’ve got space for a manuscript critique during August, so if you’re a fantasy writer or YA writer looking to get some developmental feedback on your work, please do get in touch.
What I’ve been reading:
A recent fave was Treacle Walker by Alan Garner, which I am not entirely sure I completely understood but I did very much love. It’s definitely the sort of book that needs to be read at least a couple of times, so I’m looking forward to going back to it at some point and unravelling more of it.
I finally managed to grab Cal Flyn’s Islands of Abandonment from my local library. I’ve been intrigued to read this for ages and it certainly didn’t disappoint – it’s a fascinating account of several places left abandoned and, in some cases, forgotten. In my head this sits nicely alongside Robert MacFarlane’s Underland in a category of ‘nonfiction books which feel fantastical’.
And I’ve just finished All the Stars and Teeth and All the Tide of Fate by Adalyn Grace – a fun fantasy duology involving a pirate, a magical boat and a vengeful mermaid, so basically all my favourite things. I actually really like duologies and being able to stay in that world a little longer than a standalone allows but without the commitment a longer series requires.
What I’ve been doing:
I’ve been away quite a lot with a relaxing holiday up in Mull followed by a couple of trips over to Jersey where some of my family are.
When I’ve been home, I’ve been doing lots of sport climbing. I’ve battled a lot with psyche levels and my headgame over the last couple of years, so it’s been amazing this summer to finally feel fully motivated and committed on routes.
I’ve also just been enjoying being in the outdoors without any agenda. In Mull I went for a long run in the mountains, meandered my way up Ben More and had some delightful (if chilly) sea swims. My sea swims in Jersey were much warmer! Unfortunately it’s jellyfish season on the North Wales coastline, so any swims here mostly involve me jumping out of my skin at absolutely anything that brushes past me in the water.
Do you have a manuscript that’s ready for a developmental edit? If you’ve written a novel and improved it to the best of your ability but know that it could be tightened up further (maybe you don’t feel the villain is very convincing, maybe you know the middle section feels a bit slow, maybe you’re worried that the dialogue doesn’t feel realistic…), this is a great opportunity for you to get in-depth editorial feedback at a significantly discounted rate.
I'm offering one developmental edit for 50% off in June. Read on to find out if your manuscript is a good fit for this offer...
I’ve got a bit behind on blog posts after a very busy few months – but I do really enjoy putting these together and having a look back at the last couple of months, so hopefully they should be appearing more regularly now!
What I’ve been working on:
I’ve worked on some brilliant manuscripts for lovely authors over the last few months, and really do feel so lucky to get to do this for work. During February I was busy with two short story collections – one of these is being published as a collection, and the other is a selection of short stories which the writer is planning to submit to literary magazines. I’ve been working on some of my own short stories recently and was amazed, as ever, by how much easier it is to edit other people’s short stories than to fix your own.
Recently I’ve been busy with a copy edit of a fairytale retelling which has just been a delight to work on.
In other editing-related news, I hosted a CIEP discussion for editors who work on young adult and middle grade books. It was great, as always, to have a space to discuss approaches to editing and share tips. Amongst other things, we chatted about where the boundaries are between MG/YA/NA (new adult), content and language issues, and what trends we’re seeing in these genres.
What I’ve been reading:
The best fiction I’ve read recently is Ithaca by Claire North. I loved this and felt it was written so well – the narrative voice was really clever, and Claire is incredibly skilled at letting each character’s words and actions speak for themselves to convey emotion.
I also read Jordan Rosenfeld’s Make A Scene for a chat with other CIEP fiction editors. I’d hesitate to recommend this book to newer writers as following her advice for every scene would make a book feel rather formulaic, but it’d be a great read for more experienced writers looking to tighten their narrative. I was really intrigued by her advice on how your character’s actions should be influenced by their setting – so how the character responds to an event/information should be different if they were moved to a different location. I hadn’t really thought about that specific interaction between setting and characterisation before, but it’s something I’m looking forward to considering for future edits and in my own writing.
What I’ve been doing:
The sea has been a real source of joy for me through this winter. I’ve managed to keep up with swimming twice weekly, and the cold water is starting to feel a bit more like a friend now.
Most weekends have been spent in the hills – the end of March means a big ski touring trip and I’ve been concerned about keeping up on the ascents! We’ve had a little bit of snow in North Wales, so I’ve managed to get my skis out a few times locally – I can’t say it’s the best skiing I’ve ever done, but thankfully I am generally happy to ski pretty much anything regardless of quality. And when the weather’s been too bad to get out, I’ve been busy working away at my own writing. Long warm evenings don’t feel too far off now though; I can’t wait to get back to spending evenings at the crags.
I'm fully booked for novel-length manuscripts for April and May, but currently have editing slots available for June or later; drop me an email if you're interested in chatting about an edit. I'm particularly keen to book more developmental edits in, and can often fit short stories or essay-length pieces in at much shorter notice.
What I've been working on:
It’s been a busy couple of months! I’ve completed a copy-edit for a publisher, and I’m currently working through a developmental edit of a YA fantasy novel which I’m particularly enjoying.
I also attended the CIEP conference. I’m really grateful that this was available as a hybrid conference; I attended online, and was pleasantly surprised to make plenty of new editing friends despite not attending in person.
When I explained that I wasn’t around for the weekend because I was at an editing conference, quite a few of my climbing friends asked, quite understandably, what exactly there could be to talk about at an editing conference.
The answer is: an awful lot! Session topics included working with self-publishers, how the English language is changing, editing sex scenes in fiction, working with inclusive language and reducing the environmental impact of editing. Katherine May, the author of Wintering, gave the opening talk which was a real highlight for me; she discussed how putting ourselves in a place of ‘artificial’ challenge (like going on a long walk) allows us to cope with actual challenges in life.
I also participated in a discussion on Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward. This was so valuable: the essays in this book have helped me re-think the way I write and edit. I’d really recommend it for anyone looking to make their writing more inclusive.
What I've been reading:
I read Octavia Bulter’s The Parable of the Sower for a local bookclub. I did find this a slightly disconcerting read given the state of the world at the moment, but I’m glad I read it and hope to get round to reading the sequel at some point.
Where There’s a Hill by Sabrina Verjee was a great read and very inspiring for those damp and cold autumn runs. And last weekend I read Chosen Ones by Veronia Roth. I thought the concept of this – a group of characters continuing with 'normal' life after they’ve saved the world – was intriguing, and I’d happily read more novels along these lines.
What I've been doing:
It feels like only last week that it was too hot to climb, and now I'm already wondering if it's time to get the heated chalk bag back out. I've resisted so far, but its time will come any day now...
I’ve made the most of all the lovely dry weather and long summer days, and was able to take some time off to enjoy the mountains locally. I was really disappointed that a planned September trip to the Alps had to be cancelled, but there’s so many routes to enjoy up here that it’s difficult to be too sad about it (although I am, of course, devastated to have missed out on all the croissants and baguettes). After two years battling with long covid, it’s great to feel like I’m finally getting some climbing fitness back. I'm not quite ready to be done with summer (even though this one feels like it's gone on forever), and I'm still just about managing to squeeze in a couple of hours of sport climbing after work before the light goes!
A bit of a delayed one this time; I wrote it at the end of July and put it to one side until I had a moment to track down photos, then promptly got sidetracked by a big copy-edit and now somehow it’s most of the way through August!
What I’ve been working on: