August 2022

Hi there,

Welcome to this week’s Word Count!

I’ve decided to shift this newsletter to a fortnightly schedule in the run up to the final Ada Lovelace Day (and if you like science and tech, get your free tickets here). Much as I love writing this newsletter, I need to make sure that I get everything done for ALD, focus a bit harder on finding a new job or some freelance work, and make more time for my own writing, which has certainly taken a back seat over the summer. I’ll go back to weekly once things have settled down a bit.

Suw’s News: I’m now a trained script editor!

Having tested negative for Covid last Tuesday, I was able to finish up the script editing for TV course with Yvonne Grace in person this weekend. And it was fabulous!

We had been given quite a bit of homework to do, which included editing a script written by a very successful TV writer, reading a Holby City script, and writing our own storylines for a fictitious ongoing drama. The first two were fascinating and hugely enjoyable, but the last I found quite hard, as I’m really not an ongoing drama kind of a person so my mind doesn’t automatically go to interpersonal conflict when I am thinking up stories.

It’s hard to summarise how much I’ve learnt as there was just so much to take in. I’m looking forward to applying it to my own writing. I need to go back to my fantasy TV series and not only rework the pilot, but plot out the story arcs for each character, think about how their relationships change from episode to episode, and make sure that I’ve got enough subtext in there to drive the plot. Indeed, if I had to choose one lesson to share, it’s that subtext – how your characters react emotionally – drives everything. It’s all about what people want, hate, love, fear… It’s all subtext.

I’m going to start putting feelers out for jobs as a script editor. It might not be easy to break in at my age, but I really enjoyed the script editing more than anything else, so it’s got to be worth a shot.

Tip-top tip: Giving feedback

A big part of script editing is finding a diplomatic way of giving feedback. We can all be sensitive to criticism of our work, but whilst gracefully receiving feedback is a core part of being a professional writer, it’s easier when that feedback is gracefully given. It is important to find a supportive and positive way to communicate feedback to a writer.

For example, it’s easier to ask questions rather than make negative statements. In the script we were given, there was a mother-daughter relationship that was quite paint-by-numbers, but rather than say “I found this relationship weak and unrealistic”, it’s better to say “I’d like to see more depth in this relationship. How long have they been at loggerheads? Is this a new development in the relationship or have they never seen eye-to-eye? Are there moments of warmth that could be expanded to give a sense that there’s more to their relationship than just arguments?”

When it comes to giving feedback, I think this infographic from Mary Robinette Kowal provides a great guide. It’s aimed at book authors and their beta readers, but it’s actually relevant to everyone, including script editors.

Stop, look, listen: Scriptnotes Ep 563 – VFX Deep Dive

Have you ever wondered about the process for turning script directions into the VFX (visual effects) you see? Then you need to listen to this episode of Scriptnotes!

If you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy, or you’re dreaming up anything that’s going to require VFX, then understanding how VFX artists translate what you’re writing on the page into what we see on the screen may well change how you write certain scenes. Even things like wounds, which we tend to think of as being done through practical effects, can wind up needing VFX, so it’s worth thinking hard about how we describe them, so that we make sure there’s enough information to guide VFX decisions.

Obligatory cat picture

Grabbity playing with some packing paperWe are still unpacking here and will be for months to come. But the cats are over the moon with all the packing paper. Both Grabbity (right) and Copurrnicus just love tearing into the stuff. It’s fabulous to see them so playful!

We’re also getting a new sofa today, which is extremely exciting as we’ve been sitting on a wingback chair and a camping chair for weeks (although they were a step up from the garden loungers!). I’m sure that the cats will also love having somewhere more comfortable to sleep.

Right, that’s it for this week! I’ll see you again in a fortnight (that’s in two weeks, for my American readers!).

All the best,


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Hi there,

Last week, I took everyone’s advice and did as much of nothing as I possibly could. My four Pfizer jabs, (the US offered a second booster to the over-50s just before I left), have stood me in good stead and my experience of Covid has been no worse than a bad cold, although the cough does linger. I have been very lucky to have got away so lightly.

Suw’s news

Unfortunately, I did not test negative on Friday, so could not attend the Script Advice script editing course with Yvonne Grace in person. But, thankfully, I was able to attend by Zoom, which was just as good.

It has been an absolutely fascinating weekend and I’ve learnt a lot about how TV episodes are structured and how the script development process works. There has been just so much to absorb, I’m going to have to go over my notes again before the second half of the course next weekend. Fingers crossed that I test negative soon, so I can do it in person.

Review: The Cut, by Christopher Brookmyre

Confined to bed as I was, I asked some friends for book recommendations and Christopher Brookmyre’s The Cut was at the top of the list. Although it took me a while to get into it, it did settle down into a very good read. The characterisation was spot on. The protagonists are an elderly woman who did time for murder and a young film student trying to escape his past as a petty thief, and both are beautifully drawn.

Millicent Spark, who went down for murdering her boyfriend despite claiming innocence, is a particularly powerful character: damaged by her time inside, we see her slowly regain her confidence and, indeed, her will to live. At the same time, she helps young Jerry break away from his history of crime by, ironically, committing much, much larger crimes.

The way Brookmyre develops their relationship is warm-hearted and compelling, and it’s a great example of how a relationship has its own arc and is, very nearly, a character in its own right.

Review: The Appeal, by Janice Hallett

Written entirely in emails, texts, WhatsApp messages, notes, letters and diary entries, this murder mystery really shouldn’t work as well as it does. Hallett’s ability to draw characters so clearly from a few short emails is really quite something, and The Appeal is worth a read just for that. Hallett establishes personality and, again, relationships between characters with great economy, and then slowly subverts your understanding of a character’s personality by dripping additional nuggets of information in via other people’s opinions.

I didn’t find the murder mystery bit all that mysterious and had sussed the twists long before they arrived, but it was still a very satisfying and quick read. I’d say if you’re interested in non-standard story formats and how to establish character quickly, this is well worth your time. If you prefer be surprised by who the murderer is, this might be a bit too on the nose.

Tip-top tip: David Wappel on using design to tell story

Today I saw a great thread from screenwriter David Wappel on using elements of design to tell your story. By design, he means everything from set dressing to costume to location choice. Wappel echoes a point that Yvonne Grace emphasised repeatedly over the weekend: TV is a visual medium, so don’t use dialogue to explain things when visuals will do the trick.

In Grease, imagine at the end Sandy was described as “more rebellious, a new gleam in her eye, she’s different” or something like that. Completely unnecessary.

Leather jacket. Smokey eye shadow. Shoulders bared. Hair curled.

We see everything we need to know. That’s design.

Insight: What does “I’m not right for this book” mean?

This is a very helpful thread from Helen Lane, an agent with The Booker Albert Literary Agency, about what exactly an agent means when they say that they “like a book, but don’t love it enough to represent it”.

Being rejected is par for the course for authors, and indeed anyone who is creative, but the most frustrating form of rejection is “I loved it, but I’m still passing”. Not that I’ve ever had that myself, but it’s something you see authors bemoaning all the time. In her thread, Lane explains what that really means, and why authors should take it as the compliment it is. Read the full thread!

Read this: The Disappearance of John M. Ford

There is a fascinating piece on Slate from 2019 about how a seminal science fiction author fell from view, and how the journalist researching his story ended up helping bring his work back into print.

John M Ford was an immensely talented, inventive and enigmatic SFF writer whose career was cut short by that brutal combination of ill-health and America’s savagely expensive healthcare system.

“He would make art in the most surprising places,” Gaiman told me. “Once he wrote a short play based on the invitation and directions to my annual Guy Fawkes party. There was a typo, and he took that as the grounds for a play.”

Many, many obligatory cat pictures

Not long after I wrote last week’s newsletter, young Cici decided to give birth. The first kitten arrived easily, but after a four hour gap, Holly and her fellow fosterer Jenny decided that Cici needed some help. The vets gave her some calcium and oxytocin to help things along and she successfully gave birth to another two kittens, which is what we were all expecting. Then she gave birth to another four kittens, which no one was expecting at all.

Cici and her kittensCici cuddling one of her kittens

Cici and her kittensAll Cici's kittensCici and her kittens at dinner time

Seven kittens is a lot for a litter – it’s normally more like four – and sadly the smallest didn’t make it, despite getting lots of care and attention and extra food.

But Cici is now happily nursing her brood, who are all doing very well indeed. There are three tabbies and three tuxies, and they are all adorable.

That’s it for this week!

All the best,


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Word Count 14: The one where Suw has Covid

by Suw on August 16, 2022

Hi there,

Well, today sucks. I’m writing this Sunday morning because I just tested positive for Covid and I might not feel up to it later. My temperature is also creeping up, so I also have a fever to look forward to later today. When it’s 33C outside. And already 29c in our bedroom.

This positive test could not come at a worse time. My much anticipated screen writing course is next Saturday and Sunday, so I have just five days to clear this bollocks virus from my system. If I don’t, and I feel I can’t go, I shall be utterly gutted. With Ada Lovelace Day over, I need to find a new career sharpish, and the boom in TV production here in the UK made me wonder if there might be an opportunity in script editing. This course isn’t just a “Oh, fun thing to do that might improve my storytelling”, it’s more “Is this a potential career move for me?” so there’s a lot riding on it.

I’ve had four vaccinations, thanks to getting my fourth just before leaving the US, so I’m hoping to get off lightly. Apart from the incipient fever, I’ve only got a very mild sore throat, which started yesterday evening. I’ve already learnt not to cough because my lungs do not like that. My out of office is on, and I’m going to spend as much time resting as possible, as everyone says the fastest way through this is to just do nothing.

Please keep your fingers crossed for me!

Stop, look & listen: The Writers Panel with Tony McNamara

Whenever I come across a new writing podcast, I skim through the episode titles to see if there’s one that particularly appeals. The Writers Panel, hosted by Ben Blacker, has so many amazing guests that it was hard to pick an episode. I plumped for the one with Tony McNamara, creator of The Great, because it’s a show I love. And I’m glad I did.

McNamara raises a point about storytelling that I had never considered before: You mustn’t judge your characters if you are to write them effectively.

If you haven’t seen The Great, firstly, go and watch it now because it’s amazing, and secondly, it’s loosely based on Catherine the Great and her marriage to and then coup against Peter III of Russia. Throughout, Peter is a complete dickhead. A barbarous, murderous, cruel dickhead. But he thinks he’s wonderful, a kind, compassionate and generous leader.

McNamara explains that it would be impossible to write Peter if you had already judged him, because then you have no empathy for him and no way to properly get inside his head and see the world as he sees it. Indeed, much of the comedy in The Great comes from the conflict between Peter’s view of himself and Catherine’s (and ergo ours, as viewers) more realistic understanding of his character and behaviour.

“You’ve got to find what’s good about everyone and why they are coming from a place that makes sense to them […] you’ve got to believe that they believe they’re coming from a good place. […] So why is everyone right? Or think they’re right?” says McNamara.

I’ve always struggled to write villainous characters, because I’m a bit conflict averse and I find it difficult to write situations that I personally would avoid or work to de-escalate. I think it will be a bit easier if I focus less on how awful or obnoxious or nasty I think the character is, and more on where they’re coming from and why they think they’re right. Not judging the bad guy is definitely going to be a skill I’ll have to develop.


Read this: Hemingway’s Tough-Love Letter of Advice to F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings) features the best bits of a letter from Ernest Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald about Tender is the Night (full letter here). Hemmingway has a lot to say, but the best quote is this:

I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.

I mean, I’m not sure I produce anything that could be described as a masterpiece, but I definitely produce ninety one pages of shit.

Read… all these? 18 books about writing

It’s always fascinating to see people listing their favourite books about writing, and I always check off the ones I’ve got and have read (because we all know that owning and reading books are two very different things).

This list from Tor’s Leah Schnelbach includes many books I’ve never heard of, and one that I own and started reading but didn’t finish. At the moment, all my books are in a box, somewhere. Possibly in the loft. Maybe in the garage. Potentially in storage. Perhaps I should borrow one of these from the library and give myself some inspiration.

Bonus listen: Rule of Three, Ep 60: Andrew Hunter-Murray on The Meaning Of Liff

If you love Douglas Adams, John Lloyds or The Meaning of Liff, you need to listen to this episode of Rule of Three with Andrew Hunter-Murray (May 2020) simply because it’s both fascinating and hilarious. QI elf and co-host of the No Such Thing as a Fish podcast, Andrew Hunter-Murray also wrote for John Lloyd’s Afterliff, the most recent book in the Liff series, and gives us a first hand insight into the creation of a Liff.

Obligatory cat photo

At the time of writing, Cici has not yet given birth, though there are signs that she is going into labour. Given that I may well be full of fever by the time photos come through, here are Copurrnicus (left) and Grabbity (right) sitting on an antique red velvet settee we inherited from Kevin’s grandparents.

The throw isn’t that stylish, but given how much they both shed, essential. Since we unpacked the settee and put it in the dining room, they’ve both been glued to it. It’s nice that they have a spot that’s theirs and that they are both happy to share with each other.

Hopefully I’ll see you next week! But if not, don’t worry, I’ll email again as soon as I’m better.

All the best,


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Hi there,

It’s been another week of unpacking, sorting, putting things into storage and, because we clearly do not have enough stuff, visiting my Mum and picking up some of my late Dad’s belongings. You know, the usual stuff you inherit, like a vintage oscilloscope. I have absolutely no idea how it works or what I’m going to do with it, but it was something my Dad regularly used and I couldn’t bear the idea of it being thrown away.

Suw’s News: Change of career on the way

As some of you know, I have been running Ada Lovelace Day, an annual celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths, since 2009. In 2015, not long after I moved to the US, I got enough sponsors to turn it into my full-time job. It has been an amazing experience, and we – myself, some freelances and a couple of volunteers – have achieved a lot over the years. But this year I just haven’t been able to get enough funding to carry on.

I’m not sure exactly what is going to happen next. I’m launching a gender equity consulting service and hope to be able to share all that I’ve learnt over the last 13 years with companies that value women’s talents. But I’m also looking for other opportunities that are more in line with my writerly ambitions.

In two weeks’ time I’ll be at the Script Advice script editing course in East Sussex, eagerly learning all that I can about script editing. I’m hoping to improve my own scriptwriting but, also, hoping that there’s some work to be had. TV and streaming are having a bit of a boom at the moment, so maybe there’s an opportunity. I am impatient to find out!

Stop, look and listen: UK Scriptwriters Podcast, Ep 74 – Hayley McKenzie

Staying with the script editing theme, I was fascinated by the UK Scriptwriters Podcast’s conversation with Hayley McKenzie (Dec 2020), who is a screenwriting coach, script editor, and founder of Script Angel. She talked about what a script editor actually does and shared her insights into the industry.

For those of you who aren’t screenwriters, she also gave some great advice on how to approach a story edit when you’ve read it so many times you can’t see the wood for the trees: Don’t try to edit the whole story all in one go, but instead do a number of focused passes. So, for example, you can do one pass to see whether each scene genuinely earns its place, another pass looking at the story just from the protagonist’s point of view, and other passes for other key characters.

Breaking an edit down into manageable chunks like this does make it feel much less intimidating.

Read this: Why a WIP can make you more productive

Every writer has some sort of unfinished work lurking in a drawer or on a hard drive somewhere. It’s part of the job, but it’s often seen quite negatively. Dr Hannah England suggests that a project’s unfinishedness can sometimes be exactly what makes us more productive. She says:

Unfinished tasks can feel overwhelming, leading to procrastination and slowing your progress. On the other hand, the annoyance of having all of these unfinished tasks on your to-do list may motivate you to tackle them at the next opportunity.

The trick is not letting unfinished tasks linger too long. Obviously, for writers, ‘too long’ can be anything from a few months to a few decades, but the key is knowing when something is past its sell-by date and then graciously allowing yourself to abandon it. Perhaps another trick is acknowledging that ideas never really die, and that you can come back to one at any time, should you choose to do so.

If you want to use unfinished tasks to make yourself more productive, just follow the five rules that England suggests in her article.

For popular science writers

Anna Ploszajski is a freelance materials scientist, writer, presenter and podcaster (and ALD alumna), and she’s just launched a new online course called How to Write a Popular Science Book Proposal. If you’re a STEM professional, journalist or science communicator, this course will help you to develop your idea for a popular science book and help you turn it into a proposal you can send out to agents.

Obligatory cat photo

You might remember a few weeks ago that I introduced you to Cici, a stray with three kittens who had already fallen pregnant again. Her vet suggested that she might give birth around 27 July. Well, we’ve been on Kitten Watch for the last two weeks and she’s not giving anything away. Here she is looking somewhat rotund and about ready to pop.

Cici, a cat, is very pregnant

If you’re lucky, next week there’ll be kitten photos. Come on, Cici!

That’s it for this week!

All the best,


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Hi there,

This week’s newsletter is a bit shorter than normal, due to the absolute chaos currently reigning in our house now that our belongings have been delivered from America. I have my desk and computer set up but am sitting in the middle of a sea of boxes with little idea where everything’s going to go.

Worse, the dongle for my keyboard got lost in the move, so I’m using another which has the page up button where the shift should be and it’s causing me a world of pain. New dongle should arrive this week, though, and typing will then be back to full speed. I am unreasonably excited about this.

Suw’s News: Racking up the rejections

It’s a good thing that I’ve become inured to rejections because I just got another one from Coverfly’s The Writers Lab UK & Ireland.

I don’t feel bad about it at all, possibly because I have other exciting writing things coming up. I’ve got a proposal to finish up for a project that could be a lot of fun and which, crucially, isn’t going to be judged on a treatment. I’ve got the two-weekend script editing course in the latter half of August to look forward to. And I need to finish up the Gates of Balawat for you all.

So I have a very full plate already, and that’s without thinking about all the unpacking I’ve got to do, or the bit where I’ve got to spin up a whole new consulting business before the end of the year.

Save the date: The Clarke Award

The Arthur C Clarke Award has just announced that this year’s award ceremony will be held on Wednesday 26th October at the Science Museum, as part of the Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of Imagination exhibition.

The shortlist is:

I have a very squishy soft spot for the Clarke Award, having collaborated with them on a number of projects. My favourite was The Science of Hypersleep panel discussion that we organised for Ada Lovelace Day 2021. If you want to learn cool things about hummingbirds, how humans might once have been able to hibernate and why we can’t now, take a look!

And of course, if you want to stay up-to-date with Clarke Award news, subscribe to their newsletter or follow them on Twitter.

Tip-top tip: What makes a short story?

Editor Farhana Shaikh wrote a great Twitter thread about what makes a short story stand out. Her list of ten things to consider when you’re writing is extremely on point. It’s well worth internalising before you start writing and checking over again before you start editing. Her advice also applies to longer stories, imho.

Good short stories, she says:

1. Know their purpose

Stories with a clear purpose from the outset really shine through from those which are well-written (around 99%). These pieces are stories, rather than extracts, outlines, descriptions or something else.

So first ask yourself is this a story?

Read the rest of the thread.

Obligatory cat photo

I have gone back deep into the archives, to July 2009, for this week’s photo. Grabbity has always loved sitting on shoulders, which worked fine when she was a young kitten, but now she’s a 13 year old heffalump is a bit more problematic.

Here she is, sitting on Kevin’s shoulder and watching him do the washing up.

That’s it for this week. A small newsletter but perfectly formed, I feel!

See you next week!


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