December 2022

Hi there,

Welcome to the final Word Count of the year!

When I started this newsletter in May, I didn’t think I’d manage to keep a weekly rhythm going, but I’ve found writing this newsletter a real joy. I hope you’ve found it a joy to read as well!

I’m taking a two week break over Christmas, so the next newsletter will land in your inbox on 10 January. I intend to spend the second half of that fortnight working on Tag, the six part urban fantasy TV series that I promised you I’d finish by the end of, oh, yes, er, January. I haven’t done a thing in the three weeks since I made that promise, so I think there’s going to have to be an intense flurry of work after Christmas to make any kind of progress at all. But it’ll be good to get back into it!

Don’t forget The Gates of Balawat

The Gates of Balawat ebook cover – an open temple door leading out to a view of London in the distance.If you missed last week’s newsletter, you’ll be delighted to know that you can now download your free copy of my urban fantasy novella, The Gates of Balawat (for those not subscribed to my email, just sign up now and you’ll get a download link as soon as you’ve confirmed your subscription).

Ella stumbles on a strange mystery in her favourite museum. To resolve it, she must make a life-changing decision.

An aspiring artist, Ella spends a lot of time wandering round London’s museums and art galleries, learning from the masters whilst trying to pick up the courage to turn her passion in to a career. Sketching in the Assyrian gallery in the capital’s biggest museum, she becomes entranced by a fellow artist who is struggling with the same career challenges and who shares her habit of daily practice. But why does he never remember her? And what is it about him that’s always just slightly wrong? 

Those of you who did read last week’s newsletter might be thinking, “Wait a minute! That’s a different cover!” and yes, yes it is. I’m not the world’s best graphic designer, and it’s amazing what you can do with Canva, but the first cover just didn’t bring me joy. I’d gone to the British Museum to get a photo of the replica of the Balawat Gates, but I’m also not the world’s best photographer and all the photos looked rather lacklustre.

Enter Dall?E 2, an AI that produces images based on a text prompt. After half an hour of refining prompts, I managed to get a reasonable image that I think conveys the heart of the story quite well. It’s perhaps a bit wobbly in places, if you look too closely, but it’s a step up from the photo.

So do pop along and grab your copy of The Gates of Balawat to read over the holidays. And if you know someone who might also enjoy it, please encourage them to sign up for my newsletter so that they too can get the free download link!

Tiny books!

A tiny copy of Alice in Wonderland

I love tiny books. In fact, I used to make my own tiny book pendants to wear. But these tiny books are exquisite.

This Alice in Wonderland is just 38 x 53 mm, has 512 pages, and comes with its own perfectly formed slipcase. And at just €24.80, or about £21.60, these are a bargain. The company that makes them is German, but they do have a selection of English language titles as well as three Shakespeares. They even have a ‘micro minituren’ category, which are even smaller at just 18 x 26 mm.

Possibly too late for Christmas, but definitely something to put on your birthday list!

Sample The Sample

If you loved that bit about tiny books, I found it in the Say, Oh Say! newsletter, which I in turn discovered via The Sample, a newsletter of, well, newsletter samples. Every day, The Sample sends you a new issue of a random newsletter and if you like it you can subscribe there and then.

Lots of people are starting newsletters now. Social media is disintegrating around our ears, and those platforms that aren’t actively falling apart are stopping people from reaching the very audiences who have chosen to hear from them. You can follow a person or a page on Facebook, but that doesn’t mean that Facebook’s algorithm is ever going to show you their posts. Newsletters allow us to give you what you’ve asked for – our news!

But finding great new newsletters is easier said than done. That’s why I’ve signed up for The Sample, both as a recipient and as a newsletter. And if you subscribe via my link, my newsletter will get sent to an extra The Sample subscriber!

Why not give it a go?

Obligatory cat picture

It was Christmas 2009. Grabbity and her brother, Sir Izacat Mewton, were not yet a year old. We took them with us down to visit my parents in Dorset and left them there for a few days over the New Year as we took a holiday in Lanzarote.

Here, Grabbity sits demurely under the Christmas tree, having not yet realised how much she loves to eat tinsel. She discovered that joy a year later, when she ate a length of tinsel and yacked it up into both my walking boots at once. We now have to be careful to keep tinsel and foil ceiling decorations away from her, or risk lashings of sparkly vomit.

That’s it for this year! I hope you have a delightful holiday season, however you celebrate.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


A young tabby and white cat sitting under a Christmas tree surrounded by tinsel.


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Hi there,

I’m very excited to finally be able to share The Gates of Balawat with you! It feels like an important milestone and one that I shall celebrate with delight.

Suw’s News: Download The Gates of Balawat

The Gates of Balawat ebook cover – an open temple door leading out to a view of London in the distance. 
Yes, it’s the newsletter you’ve been waiting for, the one with the download link for my novelette, The Gates of Balawat! (Though because you’re reading this on my website, your link is to sign up to my newsletter.)

I discovered a print-out of The Gates of Balawat earlier this  year, when I was clearing out my notebooks and files before moving back to the UK.

I’d written it in 2015, sent it out to a few of my old newsletter subscribers and then promptly forgot about it. When I rediscovered it, I read it over and was quietly surprised that I still liked it. So I tidied it up, made a cover, and here it is for your enjoyment over the holidays.

Ella stumbles on a strange mystery in her favourite museum. To resolve it, she must make a life-changing decision.

An aspiring artist, Ella spends a lot of time wandering round London’s museums and art galleries, learning from the masters whilst trying to pick up the courage to turn her passion in to a career. Sketching in the Assyrian gallery in the capital’s biggest museum, she becomes entranced by a fellow artist who is struggling with the same career challenges and who shares her habit of daily practice. But why does he never remember her? And what is it about him that’s always just slightly wrong?

If you like it, please tell your friends that they, too, can read it if they sign up to my newsletter via my website. As soon as they confirm their subscription, they’ll get an email with the download link.

Stop, look and listen: The Creative Penn, The Anatomy Of Genres With John Truby

Author and self-publishing expert Joanna Penn talks to John Truby about his new book, The Anatomy of Genres. As the title suggests, Truby’s book takes a deep dive into genre fiction and sounds like a must-read for all genre writers. It’s certainly on my Christmas list!

In this episode, Truby talks about how he defines genre, the importance of transcending genre and how to write cross-genre. The latter point was, I thought, rather illuminating. We often hear that cross-genre books are a hard sell, because agents, publishers and booksellers don’t know how to categories them. Truby’s advice is to understand the characteristics of the genres you’re mashing up, then pick one main genre to which you add aspects of another genre. It’s like having an A Genre, which largely defines the way that the book will be shelved, with touches of your B and C Genres, which give it colour and originality.

Stop, look and listen again: Write-Off with Francesca Steele, S3E1 – Bonnie Garmus

This episode of Write-Off with Francesca Steele in conversation with Bonnie Garmus was just a delight. Garmus’s recent debut, Lessons in Chemistry, rocketed her to the top of the besteller lists at the tender age of 64 and is currently being made into a TV series. She talks about her writing journey, rejection and how to get moving again when you get stuck in a story.

Maybe I’m showing my age, but I love stories of people who found their success later in life. Like me, Garmus had wanted to be a writer all her life, although I have yet to rack up 98 rejections for a single book, as she has! So if you’re heading into (or through) middle age and wondering if you’ve left it too late to kick off your writing career, this conversation will warm the cockles of your heart.

Stop, look and listen to this as well: Scriptnotes, Ep 576 – What You’re Looking At

Honestly, podcast episode recommendations are like buses – none for weeks and then three turn up at once!

It has been a while since I recommended a Scriptnotes episode, but this one is really good, regardless of what you’re writing. John August and Craig Mazin talk about the craft of “how sentence structure and word choice translate to camera direction, allowing writers to direct the reader’s eye”. If you’re writing novels, then this is about how you’re directing your reader’s mind’s eye, which is just as important.

Most commentary on word choice tends to the trite. All those Pinterest posts about “alternative words for ‘said’” really do steer writers the wrong way. But as you’d expect, August and Mazin go beyond the thesaurus to look at what words are implying and how word choice can focus the reader’s attention, shape what they ‘see’, and even imply motivations and intention.

Read this (or not): Horribly depressing news about UK writers’ earnings

This might be the season to be merry, but the latest survey of writers’ earnings, commissioned by the UK Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) makes for some fairly miserable reading. The median income of a professional author, ie someone who devotes at least 50 percent of their time to writing, is now £7,000 per year. The survey includes authors, journalists and screenwriters.

The top 1 percent of authors earn 24 percent of the income, with the next 10 percent earning the next 24 percent. That leaves just 53 percent of income to be shared amongst the next 90 percent of authors. As with other parts of the economy, it’s clear that wealth is being transferred to a small minority of very successful people and away from the ‘long-tail’ of the rest of us. And, worse, publishing companies are posting record profits.

As author Stephen Cox points out, writers write because we enjoy it and it gives us purpose, but where an actor can expect their earnings to increase as their career progresses, authors do not necessarily see the same dynamics at play. You can have decent success with one book only to see your next tank and your career disintegrate.

It’s no wonder that so many authors, yours truly included, are looking for ways to develop stable income from sources that aren’t publishers, whether that’s by using Patreon or Ko-Fi, developing paid newsletters, or doing other work on the side. Because now only the most privileged writers can spend all their time just writing.

Copurrnicus lying on his back on my lap with all four paws in the air. Obligatory cat picture

After that, we all need a cute pick-me-up, so here’s Copurrnicus as a kitten, when he was small enough to sleep on my lap for hours as I worked.

That’s it for this week! Don’t forget to download your copy of The Gates of Balawat and, if you like it, please do encourage your friends and family to subscribe!

All the best,


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Hi there,

It’s a bit parky round these parts right now. Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey, in fact. The urge to work from actually-in-bed is strong, though I fear that my back wouldn’t like it very much, and it would be a bit tricky to do conference calls. 

Suw’s News: Another rejection

I got my rejection email from the Channel 4 Screenwriting Course 2023 competition on Sunday evening.

I remember when I first started getting interested in screenwriting, just after the turn of the millennium. I had joined the Zoetrope screenwriting community and there I met some really good writers, all of whom were struggling to get a foot in the door. Most failed, despite their talent and perseverance. I won a Zoetrope competition for a feature film script, but seeing what my friends were going through, I decided that the whole endeavour was a hiding to nothing and gave up. 

I’m beginning to feel the same way again. Surely there’s a better way to discover and bring on talent than forcing people to enter an endless stream of oversubscribed competitions from which you, as the entrant, learn absolutely nothing? I find writing screenplays far easier and more enjoyable than writing novels, but at least with a novel you can self-publish if you can’t find an agent. 

WTF is ChatGPT?

There has been a huge amount of talk this week about ChatGPT,   which is a… well, I’ll let ChatGPT tell you itself.

Prompt: What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is an AI chatbot powered by OpenAI’s GPT-3 natural language processing engine. It can be used to generate natural language conversations and responses to questions.

Most people have been taken aback by ChatGPT’s fluency, because it really can produce content that sounds like it was written by a human being. For example, I asked it to write a novel synopsis for me and it produced something that would be quite plausible for a children’s book: 

Prompt: Write a novel synopsis about a magical cat who has to save her family from a group of evil ferrets.

In the small town of Maple Grove, a magical cat named Sprinkles is living an ordinary life with her family. But when a group of evil ferrets arrive in town, Sprinkles must use her special powers to save her family from their sinister plot.

The ferrets have come in search of a powerful magical artefact, an ancient stone that is rumoured to be hidden somewhere in Maple Grove. They will stop at nothing to find it and use its power to take over the town.

Sprinkles and her family must race against time to find the stone before the ferrets do. Along the way, Sprinkles discovers her own special powers and meets other magical animals who help her on her quest.

As the ferrets close in, Sprinkles must use all of her courage, strength, and magic to protect her family and save Maple Grove.

Not only has it taken the concepts I gave it in the prompt, it’s added names, places, a MacGuffin and sketched out a basic plot. Whilst its ideas might be a wee bit trite and formulaic, they are functional. You could actually write this book. In fact, with enough patience and the right prompts, ChatGPT could probably write this book for you. 

I think it’s immediately apparent why some people are concerned. One person in a Facebook group for screenwriters that I’m in suggested that it’s only a matter of time before screenwriters are replaced entirely, because scripts are more structural than, say, novels and thus lend themselves to being written by AI. 

Tech luminary Simon Willison had a poke at ChatGPT’s limitations. It can write poetry, jokes and code, and can even explain concepts, but it won’t suggest crimes for you to do. Unless you trick it, which turns out to be quite easy. 

Gary Marcus points out that it’s basically a giant pastiche engine which mashes together things that humans have said and then relies on synonyms for colour, rather than constructing answers from first principles. As plausible as it is, it can’t tell the difference between information and junk. And, like a lot of AI, sexism and racism is baked in, likely along with a lot of other prejudices that are common in human discourse.

Other people, such as Andrew Mayne, novelist and sci comms guy for OpenAI who made ChatGPT, are more excited by the opportunities for it to help with brainstorming and planning. I started playing with it for exactly that purpose last night, and it was interesting, to say the least. But I wouldn’t take its word for anything. Perhaps we need an AI that can factcheck output from AIs, as Charles Arthur tweeted.  

ChatGPT is impressive, and whilst it does have some fairly significant flaws, it’s only going to improve. So what will it mean to be an author in an era, coming soon to an Earth near you, where computers can write as well as humans?

Read these: Why was Top Gun Maverick such a surprise hit?

The internet threw a couple of links in my lap this week about Top Gun: Maverick and why it’s been such a huge hit, particularly given that the 1986 original was a fairly simple, one-note affair. 

The BBC’s Nicholas Barber points to a heady combination of nostalgia and excellent structure, pacing, dialogue and action. But also important is the fact that there has been no sequel, prequel or reboot: 

None of this emotional heft would have been there if other Top Gun sequels and reboots had been made already. The 36-year gap ensured that Top Gun: Maverick was about more than just a nifty fighter pilot with a killer smile. It was about ageing and mortality, memories and regrets, holding on and letting go. It was about time passing – not just for Pete, or for us, but for cinema.

Collider ran a piece by Joshua Bateman earlier in the year listing 6 Things Top Gun: Maverick Does Better Than the Original, which explores the way that Maverick leans on nostalgia, echoing key scenes from the original and using the same music. Hell, even Goose’s son’s callsign of Rooster rhymes (ish) with his dead father’s. 

But the main thing Maverick gets right, which the original failed on, is emotional depth. It’s not just that the characters are more well-rounded, but also that their relationships are deeper and their motivations more fully explored. It’s because of this that the nostalgia works – the relationships evolved over both films, so memory of the original primes us for resolution in the sequel. 

There is, I think, a lot to learn from Top Gun: Maverick. So, out of curiosity, I asked ChatGPT what it thought were the film’s most important lessons: 

Prompt: What can screenwriters learn from the film Top Gun: Maverick?

1. Know your audience: Top Gun: Maverick was made with the same core audience in mind as the original Top Gun, but it also took into account the modern audience and their interests. Screenwriters should always be aware of their target audience when writing, and strive to make sure their stories resonate with them. 

2. Show, don’t tell: Top Gun: Maverick was great at showing the audience the characters and their relationships, rather than just telling them. For screenwriters, this is an important lesson: try to show the audience what is happening, rather than just describing it. 

3. Balance nostalgia and innovation: Top Gun: Maverick was successful in bringing back the nostalgia of the original Top Gun while also introducing new and fresh elements. Screenwriters should strive to strike a balance between the familiar and the new, as it can be a great way to keep their audience engaged. 

4. Use visuals to tell stories: Top Gun: Maverick was full of stunning visuals that told stories and moved the plot along. Screenwriters should take note of this and use visuals as much as possible to help tell their stories.


Or, possibly, generic advice you could give about any sequel. 

Review: The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

The cover of Naomi Novik's The Last Graduates, which is deep green and features an illustration of a lock and keyI powered through The Last Graduate, the second book in Novik’s Scholomance series, in just four days, though in part that was because I had a fair amount of train time to kill, which helped. But mostly it’s because this is just as much of a page-turner as A Deadly Education (review here). 

El Higgins has survived through to her senior year in the Scholomance and is finally shucking off her reputation as a scary loner and building up not just alliances but a circle of actual friends. As the senior students work towards their final graduation ceremony – which essentially involves running a gauntlet of monsters and trying not to get eaten – she begins to realise that the tradition competitive approach might not be the best way to survive. 

I love this series so much. It’s honestly one of the best I’ve read in ages and I can’t wait to read the finale! 

Meantime, I asked ChatGPT to whip up a review for me. Well, perhaps our jobs aren’t at risk just yet. (Give it time, though.)

Prompt: A review of Naomi Novik’s novel, The Last Graduate.

Naomi Novik’s The Last Graduate is a captivating tale of adventure and fantasy, set in a university on the brink of chaos. The main character, Celeste, is a brilliant young woman who is determined to get her degree and live a life of accomplishment. Along the way, she discovers secrets and mysteries that threaten the very existence of the university and its inhabitants.

Novik’s use of vivid imagery and descriptions of the university and its students brings the world of The Last Graduate to life. The characters are well-developed and the plot is fast-paced and engaging. Celeste’s journey is filled with danger and excitement, as she struggles to uncover the truth and protect her beloved school.

The Last Graduate is a thrilling and engaging read that will leave readers wanting more. Novik’s writing is crisp and engaging, and her characters are three-dimensional and believable. The novel is a great choice for readers of all ages who enjoy fantasy and adventure stories. Novik has created a world that is both thrilling and thought-provoking, and readers will be left wanting more.

Obligatory cat picture

I’m down in Dorset again, so this week’s photo is of Cassie. And I shall give ChatGPT the final word: 

Prompt: A calico cat is curled up on a sofa, tail over her nose. What is she thinking?

She is contentedly dreaming of chasing mice and birds and playing in the grass. She is content in her cozy spot, happy in her own little world.

And in all honesty, she probably is. 

All the best, 


Cassie, a calico cat, curled up with her tail over her nose

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