Hi there,

January is finally over so it’s a good time to take a look at how the year has started. I don’t do New Years Resolutions, I do habits and, looking back on the month, I’ve done pretty well. I’m still practicing my Welsh and flossing daily, averaging 6,500 steps a day (1,500 more than January 2022), writing at least 5 days a week, and doing physio for my dicky back. My habits feel firmly set, so I’m hoping for a productive year!

Read this: Why writing deadlines are good for writers

Over on Shore Scripts, Olivia Brennan extolls the virtue of deadlines. ‘Deadline’ is a bit of a dirty word for a lot of people, bringing up memories of school or university projects done hurriedly at the last minute. But deadlines, even self-imposed ones, are helpful and something to be embraced. They make you pace your work, keep you focused, and help you prioritise. If you’re not already using deadlines, take a look at Brennan’s article which is full of good tips.

You might at this point be wondering if I hit my own deadline for finishing the edit on Tag, my urban fantasy script, and I have to admit that no, I did not. But having that deadline at the end of January forced me to really knuckle down and sort out the plot and issues with my MacGuffin, which was what had been holding me up. All I need to do now is get on with it, although it’s clear that there’s a lot more it to be getting on with than I had previously thought. That’s fine. I’m in the groove, I’ll get it done.

Read this, too: Top 10 tips from Neil Gaiman on being a writer

Neil GaimanNeil Gaiman is one of my favourite writers and, indeed, one of my favourite people. He is a prolific writer across multiple formats and genres with far too many comics, books, films and TV shows to list (and anyway, Wikipedia has done a pretty comprehensive job of that).

Bang2Write has compiled ten of Neil’s tips for writers and, as you might imagine, every one of them is a gem.

I particularly like No. 3: ‘Emotional truth is everything’, though for reasons additional to those that Bang2Write gives. Emotions drive stories. Characters make decisions and take actions based on the emotions they are feeling. But if your characters’ emotions aren’t true, then the whole edifice falls over.

Thread of the week: Quenby Olson on self-promotion

Quenby Olson, author of the fabulously titled Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons (which I must now read!) wrote a short-ish thread on the fact that in publishing, the cream does not rise to the top without promotion.

One of the greatest lies in publishing is that if your work is good enough, people will discover it on their own. It makes self-published/lower trad-pubbed authors look bad when they have to promote their work, and implies that if readers don’t find you, you suck.

We all know that we have to become comfortable with self-promotion if we want people to find our work, but Olson points out the snobbery around self-promotion is predicated on the lie that people will naturally find good work. They won’t. So don’t judge yourself or others on the fact that you have to self-promote.

New project: Why Aren’t I Writing?

OK, OK, I know I probably shouldn’t be starting a new project right now because I have more than enough going on, but after spending some time chatting with a friend on Friday about Substack, I’ve decided to start one as an experiment.

Why Aren’t I Writing? will explore the different types of things that get in the way of our writing and what we can do to either remove or climb over these blocks. I’m hoping to post every couple of weeks, so head over there now to make sure you don’t miss out!

As a result, this newsletter might have to get a bit shorter or move to a fortnightly schedule, just so that I have time to fit everything in. But I’m excited to see whether Substack is as good as they say it is.

Obligatory cat picture

Back in 2009, when we first adopted Grabbity, our plan was to just have one kitten. She came from a litter of eight, but all the others were spoken for and we weren’t sure we could fit two cats in our flat.

A week after we picked her up, my friend called to say that they had a kitten going spare because he had a heart murmur and the adopters had said they didn’t want ‘a cat that wasn’t perfect’. I took 30 seconds to think about it and said yes. We went to pick Sir Izacat Mewton up the next weekend.

Cats do not have familial memory. Once separated, they don’t have the ability to recognise a littermate as related. So Grabbity, having had two weeks on her own, viewed Mewton with extreme suspicion. Mewton, having come straight from a home where he was still surrounded by siblings, did not care one jot what Grabbity thought.

The Introduction

Grabbity and Mewton cuddling on the sofaAfter a slightly rocky reintroduction, we shut them in the lounge together overnight and hoped for the best.

I was somewhat nervous, come the morning, to see how they had acclimatised, but I was greeted by this slightly fuzzy heap. That’s Mewton on the left and Grabbity on the right. We knew then that they were going to be fine!

All the best,


PS Please don’t forget that if you want to find new newsletters to subscribe to, The Sample is for you. Every day, you’ll get a new sample newsletter delivered to your inbox and if you like it,  you can subscribe. And if you join using this link, then they’ll forward my newsletter on to more people. It’s a win-win!

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Herewith my second round of finished projects!

The colour work blanket had originally been intended to be one for our bed, but I chose the wrong yarn. The acrylic might be cheap and cheerful, but each square rolls up into a tube which is just far too annoying. So I downgraded it to a little blankie for the kitties, and finished it up with an i-cord join between squares and an i-cord edging.

The blanket is currently on Kevin’s grandma’s rocking chair.

I then ran out of knitting to do, which was tragic, so I whipped up a pair of cuffs for next winter. The pair I have, in baby alpaca, got a lot of wear last winter, keeping that bit between my coat sleeve and my gloves warm, so I wanted a second, slightly longer pair with a slit for my thumb.

I have to say that I really like them, and they’ll be great for cooler days when full gloves aren’t necessary.

Since my last update, I have also made progress on two picture frames and the chest of drawers, all of which only have minor things left to do on them. And I restarted work on the Knight & Snail embroidery, which I’m hoping to finish by July when I want to take it to the UK to give to my friend.

It feels very good to get two projects finished, and four more progressed!

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C17: Day 184 – A tale of two frames

by Suw on July 3, 2017

I love my Millennium Frame from Needle Needs. It does away with a lot of the faff involved in setting up fabric for embroidery and is far superior to the embroidery hoop. The fabric slots under a rod in a groove in the top and bottom bars, and then the side stretchers extend to pull it all taut, the rod lifting up against the too-small edges of the slot and holding the fabric firm. It’s brilliant. It appeals to the lazy in me.

The only problem is that my two frame width options are currently “slightly too small” and “quite a bit too big”.

Ideally, I want to leave a few inches of fabric beyond the edge of the mat so that it can be wrapped around stiff card or foam-core and laced taut. That’s how you mount embroidery, and it’s definitely one of those things you don’t want to get wrong because it’s hard to fix.

If the smaller bars were slightly wider, I’d be able to roll the fabric on to them like a scroll, but the corner joints will get in the way if the silk is as wide as it needs to be. I’ll have to see if I can either fold in the sides, or just not do the scrolly thing and let the edges flap loose.

I’d prefer to use the slightly smaller frame because the big one is so big and so unwieldy without a stand, but we’ll see when I come to mount it all up. I might just have to deal with unwieldy.

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C17: Day 38 – Arcade stitch

by Suw on February 7, 2017

Arcade stitch is a very pretty one, and I do like it! The written instructions aren’t very clear, but the video is better. It looks a bit wonky in the bottom left because I miscounted the number of double crochets in the that loop. Oops! However, once I got into the pattern it’s really quite simple.

C17 Day 38

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There has been, and will continue to be, a lot written about the publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman by HarperCollins over the months since the announcement of its discovery. There are many questions remaining over how and when it was discovered, and over the decision to publish it, but right now the focus is on the book itself.

I’ve read a few reviews and the comments under them, and if there’s a theme that jumps out at me, it’s confusion around how Lee could have turned Atticus Finch from being a fair, just, upstanding man to an old racist in this book set 20 years after the events of To Kill A Mockingbird. The Finch we know is defined by his commitment to racial equality and justice, and yet here he is in Watchman, an almost completely different character.

I have seen people trying to rationalise this away, talking about how people change over 20 years, or how Scout was a child in Mockingbird but an adult in Watchman and thus seeing things without the rose-tinted glasses of childhood innocence. But these attempts to impose coherence are missing a vital piece of context:

Go Set A Watchman is not a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird.

Go Set A Watchman is not even Harper Lee’s “second book”.

Go Set a Watchman is the first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird, a draft she extensively revised and changed. We cannot look at Watchman as any kind of continuation of Mockingbird, we cannot expect the two books to share a coherent world view or think of the characters as the same people who’ve ‘changed’ between books, because Watchman is not a deliberately planned out sequel to Mockingbird at all. It is not set in the same universe, but an earlier, related one.

Watchman is like an ancestor of Mockingbird, sharing much of its genetic material with the bestseller – you can see examples of passages that Lee decided were good enough to make it into the new draft in this Quartz analysis. But Watchman is no more a sequel than my father is my son.

HarperCollins very carefully does not use the word “sequel” in it’s publicity. As Neil Gaiman said on Twitter:

But the HarperCollins press release muddies the waters hugely about what this book is, calling it “a newly discovered novel”, and implying – but not saying – that it’s an entirely new book and a sequel:

“My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel from the point of view of the young Scout” –  quote from Harper Lee.

“Go Set a Watchman is set during the mid-1950s and features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later.”

“I, along with millions of others around the world, always wished that Harper Lee had written another book.” – quote from Michael Morrison, President and Publisher of HarperCollins US General Books Group and Canada.

“Reading in many ways like a sequel to Harper Lee’s classic novel…” – quote from onathan Burnham, Senior Vice President and Publisher, Harper.

One would be forgiven for believing that this was a different novel, a sequel, something that Harper Lee had worked on as a separate enterprise to Mockingbird. But it isn’t. To repeat: Watchman is the first draft of Mockingbird.

This first draft was written through 1956-57, after Lee was given the financial support to allow her to take a year off to write. The first 49 pages were given to agent Annie Laurie Williams on 14 January 1957, and she had the complete draft by 27 February 1957.

Williams and her husband and business partner Maurice Crain thought that Lee’s draft was interesting but needed work. Crain worked with Lee to revise the draft, and it was sent to publishers J.B. Lippincott. They liked it, but again felt it needed further revisions. From the Washington Post, we hear from Tay Hohoff, “eventual editor of the book”:

“First of all, the element in the original manuscript which was unmistakable: it was alive, the characters stood on their own two feet, they were three-dimensional,” Hohoff wrote. “And the spark of the true writer flashed in every line. Though Miss Lee had then never published even an essay or a short story, this was clearly not the work of an amateur.”

That said, noted Hohoff, who died in 1974, the effort was very, very flawed.

“The manuscript we saw was more a series of anecdotes than a fully conceived novel. The editorial call to duty was plain. She needed, at last, professional help in organizing her material and developing a sound plot structure.”

The upshot?

Lippincott did not offer to buy the manuscript. The editors sent Lee home to make revisions. They hoped she might come back.

It took two years of hard work revising the book closely with Hohoff for Lee to produce Mockingbird. Lippincott accepted the manuscript on 10 November 1959.

Harper Lee wrote no further novels. In fact, over the decades since Mockingbird was published, Lee chose not to rework into a sequel the bits of the first draft that didn’t make it into the final version, despite the fact that there would have been a huge appetite for it. It might be tempting to say that this was because the first draft was lost, but it certainly wasn’t lost in 1959 and had she wanted to write a sequel, she easily could have in subsequent years. Lee cannot have been ignorant of the commercial opportunity afforded by her success, but she decided that she preferred her privacy to the lunacy that would undoubtedly result from publishing a second book.

Furthermore, as far as I am aware, Lee has not revised Watchman. There have been some questions as to her cognitive capabilities, and the NY Times wrote:

Ms. Lee — known to many as Nelle, her legal first name — had a stroke in 2007 and has severe hearing and vision problems. But friends who visit her regularly say she can communicate well and hold lengthy conversations if visitors yell in her ear or write questions down for her to read under a special machine.

It does not seem likely, therefore, that she was able to read the manuscript and give it the kind of hard edit that every single first draft in the world needs in order to turn it into a viable novel, let alone a sequel to Mockingbird. If she had, at some point, decided to revise what was left of Watchman into a true sequel, we could reasonably have expected it to be as different from that first draft as Mockingbird is, not least because she would have taken into account all those changes she made back in the late 1950s.

Watchman has some value as a literary artefact, as a window into Lee’s early thinking behind what eventually became Mockingbird, and as a testament to her tenacious reworking of her first draft. But it is unfair to Lee to publish it as if it were a finished novel, or to in any way represent it as her second novel or as a sequel.

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I’ve written a piece for The Writing Platform on why I think all self-publishers should control at least one point of sale and sell direct to their readers

The self-publishing process has become pretty well established by now, a received wisdom that shapes every entrepreneurial writer’s secret dreams:

1. Write book

2. ???

3. Profit!

Amazon is the secret sauce that many self-publishers rely on to propel them to the authorial stratosphere, hoping that they will become the next breakout bestseller. But for the other 99.9% of us for whom the lightning doesn’t strike, Amazon turns out to be a double-edged sword. Whilst it gives you access to vast numbers of readers, it cuts you off from them too, divorcing you from your fanbase in a singularly unhelpful way.

Read the rest!

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Want to read Argleton?

by Suw on August 28, 2011

Well, now you can! You can from that page download html, txt or PDF versions, or just read it here on CnV. It’s published under a Creative Commons licence, so feel free to share!

And remember, if you enjoy it, please do consider signing up to my writing and bookbinding newsletter (or sign up in the sidebar there to your right).


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Proofreading the Public Domain

by Suw on April 1, 2009

For the last few months I’ve been working with Book Oven, a Canadian start-up whose aim is to make it easier to prepare long texts for publishing by making it a simple, collaborative process.

The first thing we’ve focused on is how to proofread a manuscript for typos. The problem with reading a whole book all at once and looking for typos is that you can get so caught up in reading that your brain starts to skip the mistakes, seeing what it thinks should be there instead of what actually is. But what if you were presented with just one sentence at a time? You’d lack some context, it’s true, but you don’t really need a lot of context to know if “teh” is a misspelling of “the” or that “their” should be “there”.

That’s what we’ve built at Book Oven, and we’ve called it “Bite-Size Edits”. It presents you with a random snippet of text, with a sentence above and below for limited context, and if you spot a typo you can suggest a correction by editing the sentence and clicking “Suggest changes” (click on the images for a closer look or visit our complete How To).

You can also tell us that the snippet is OK as it is by clicking “No changes”, or that there’s something confusing about it by clicking “Skip”.

If our calculations are correct, it will take 100 people just 10 minutes to proofread a 100,000 word book, and we want to bring that collaborative power to bear on on the public domain. Thousands of texts have been uploaded to Project Gutenberg, but although they have been very carefully proofread some still have a small number of errors. Michael Hart, Project Gutenberg’s founder, called for help in removing these errors, so we’ve set up a version of Bite-Size Edits, which we’ve called the Gutenberg Rally, to focus just on texts from Project Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreaders (Gutenberg’s proofreading site).

If you’d like to pitch in, all you need to do is pick an invitation code from the list below and visit the Book Oven Gutenberg Rally site to create a new account. When you’ve successfully signed up, please leave a comment with the code you used and I’ll cross it off the list.
Now, just a little word of warning. The site is in alpha, which means that you will almost certainly find things that are broken! We have a feedback form that you can use to let us know and a forum to discuss things (which, is itself something that’s not entirely finished, as it’s not yet fully integrated – just sign in with the same username and password that you create when you join the main site). We’d love your feedback, so don’t spare the horses!

If you explore the site, you’ll find that you can start your own projects, upload your own text (.txt files only at the moment) and can send it to Bite-Size for the community to proof. Please feel free to experiment, but be aware we’re still ironing out bugs and that we have a lot more social functionality still to unveil!

So, for the love proof-reading, get cracking! Oh, but be warned. Bite-Size Edits has been described by one usability tester as “evilly addictive”. Don’t say we didn’t tell you…

(I’ve added some more codes, but obviously can’t update the list whilst I’m asleep! If you pick one that doesn’t work, list it in the comments and try another!)

Invite Codes

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Two types of progress: wrists and writing

by Suw on November 2, 2008

First, the wrists
After nine days of no serious pins and needles overnight at all, which I thought was terrific progress, the last three nights have been very disappointing. I’ve had very bad bouts of pins and needles, and last night’s just seemed to go on forever. I’m trying to figure out if it’s something I’ve done during the day that has affected what happens overnight, but I really can’t pinpoint a possible cause. Indeed, I’ve done less typing over the last few days than normal, so am totally perplexed. Next physio appointment is on Tuesday, so I’m hoping that the next two nights see an improvement so that I can avoid the steroid injection.

Second, the writing
Over the last seven days, there’s only been one evening where I haven’t written something, and that was spent carving pumpkins instead (will post photos shortly). I’m now up to nearly 40 handwritten pages, which I estimate comes to about 7000 words. I suspect that the finished first draft is going to come in at about 10,000 words, which will likely increase when I type it up as I keep thinking of additional scenes and descriptions that I want to add in. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up coming in somewhere under 15,000 words, which will put it firmly in that very awkward category of novellette, according to Fiction Factor.

Not that it matters. I’ve already decided that if after a couple of redrafts I think it passes muster I’m just going to chuck it up here under a CC license and whatever happens to it happens to it. If you like it, that’s all to the good. But either way, I’ll just get on with the next one. (Not that I’m sure what the next one will be. Maybe a children’s story about a cat called Llew and his Magic Catflap. I really just want an excuse to write the counterrotating sheep scene…)

The funny thing about writing a short story instead of a novel is that you go through all the stages of writing a novel, only faster. The first six days were the I’m So Excited I’m Writing A New Story phase. Friday was the I’m Too Knackered To Think stage. Saturday I got through the Oh Dear, This Is Shit And No One Is Going To Want To Read It stage in about an hour. Now that I’ve roughly plotted out how I’m going to get from where I am to the end, I feel like I’m about to enter the Last Downhill Push To The Finish stage. Mind you, yesterday I intended to write a lot more than I did, but ended up honing my procrastination skills instead, which I’m happy to say haven’t waned in the years it’s been since I last did any creative writing.

Of course, one stage that I’ve never been through before is the Typing Up Your Hand Written First Draft stage, because I’ve either written stuff directly on the computer, or I’ve not entirely reached the end of whatever it was that I’d written. I already know that I have dashed through some of my scenes far too quickly. I am still slightly surprised that I wrote a one in the grounds of the castle without ever actually describing the castle itself. A travesty!

I think I’m still on target to finish this within my four week deadline, which means finishing the first draft before 22nd November (which also happens to be the day that Kev and I go on holiday to the US for Thanksgiving). Then it’ll go out to various friends for comment, and hopefully I’ll get the final thing up here before Christmas.

I’ve noticed a couple of my friends are doing NaNoWriMo: Nat and Danny. Danny’s even posting his draft up in public, which I think is incredibly brave. I considered doing NaNoWriMo. I never have before, but this year it seemed like maybe it might be a good idea. Then I had a chat with a couple of friends, who independently pointed out that unless one has a novel-length story already in mind it can get a little bit stressful, and I decided that rather than trying to think up a novel on the fly I’d just work with what I’ve got, which definitely doesn’t have enough flesh on its bones to produce 50,000 words.

I’m enjoying myself immensely though. As I mentioned to Vince yesterday, the story continues to surprise me. I didn’t think the cats would have such a big role to play. And I wasn’t expecting a flashback to 1588. Didn’t see that one coming! I have also had to wrestle with my McGuffin, but I think I’ve beaten it into submission now. In fact, I’ve just realised that it might not be a McGuffin at all, but could in fact be a character in its own right. Hm, that’s an interesting thought.

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Valuable advice for writers

by Suw on October 27, 2008

Whether you are taking part in NaNoWriMo or not, Mr Neil has some valuable words of advice. I blog this not just because there may be people out there who need it, but because in a few weeks time, I’m going to need it myself. I’m not doing NaNoWriMo, but I am writing again. Which means I am going to hit a crappy patch and am going to need someone’s sage advice to carry me through it.

And, by the way, I’m up to 14 hand written pages in my FOWA journal, which may not sound like much, but it’s enough to feel really very good.

FOWA journal

I’m writing long-hand with my lovely LSE Parker fountain pen and very bad handwriting. I can’t begin to explain how happy this makes me. And it’s not the fleeting happiness of a lolcat, but a deep, abiding, existential happiness that comes from allowing oneself to be who one truly is.

Anyway, enough of that. I have a scene with a kitten to write.

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More thoughts on daydreaming

October 25, 2008

I had a conversation on Twitter this morning that segued nicely from my video last night about daydreaming. I hope those that took part won’t mind me replicating some of their Tweets here: dominiccampbell: Trying to remember what life was like before being online 24/7. I think it was nice. Suw: @dominiccampbell it was nice. […]

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Hello world!

November 3, 2007

Time to import old posts… the excitement!

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One slip

May 9, 2005

Funny how sometimes the soundtrack to a phase of your life appears from what's current, and sometimes your unconscious demands something else. I have suddenly started listening to Pink Floyd on heavy rotation. Not all of it, just some of it. A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Wish You Were Here and Dark Side of the […]

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