Word Count

Plus James Capel’s end of year round-up, Word Count’s book list, and Copurrnicus watching some dolphins.

Hi there,

Bit of a short email this week because technically I’m on holiday. My husband had a bit of time to use up before the year end, so I’m taking a week off to lounge about, sew, and generally relax.

Talking of holidays, there’ll be one more Word Count before the end of the year and then I’ll be taking a proper break over Christmas, so the first newsletter of 2024 will be on 16 January. I’ll also organise another Grist webinar for January, skipping December completely because I’m sure we’re all too busy/tired. I also have some more author webinars lined up for next year, which I’m very excited about!

Stop, look, listen: Not Too Busy To Write – Katherine May on writer boundaries

I loved this episode of Penny Wincer’s Not Too Busy To Write in which she chatted with Katherine May, the author of bestseller, Wintering. One of the issues Penny and Katherine discuss is how hard it is to get paid for writing and how writers, especially women, are socialised to believe that our writing has to be free. Penny has a post expanding on that point which is also well worth reading.

Katherine also talked about how exhausting it was to do all the promo for Wintering, how she came to outline the accommodations she needs in order to do promo work as an autistic writer and how difficult it can be for early career writers to ask for what they need.

Read this, two: How to write an action sequence

Julian Simpson has written a very helpful piece on how to write action sequences, where an action sequence is a part of the story that isn’t based on dialogue and which “conveys or continues story”.

An action sequence which does not move the story along just breaks the flow. We should be in a different place at the end of the sequence to where we were at the beginning. If you can cut the sequence without having any effect on the overall story, then it shouldn’t be there.

Julian breaks action sequences down into three acts and outlines the various phases they have to go through in order to work as an integral part of the story, rather than just fluff that’s expensive to film. His advice works just as well for novels as well.

(This post is for Julian’s paying subscribers, but you can read this and his other paid posts with a 7 day free trial.)

Read this: Comparison is the thief of joy

Screenwriter James Capel, who is also the founder of Scribe Lounge, shared an end-of-year recap that I think we can all relate to, detailing all of the challenges he’s faced and rejections he’s had.

Okay I’m going pretty off-brand for a second because I want to offer some balance. Let’s be honest, when things aren’t going well it can be hard to see your peers flourishing when you’re feeling stuck. So, you want know how my writing year has been? ????

It’s been shite. I’ve been pummelled with rejections, had projects stall in development, missed out on rooms and generally felt I’m going backwards. I’ve doubted my ability, doubted my place in the industry and questioned how much more I can take. BUT…

Read the full thread on Twitter.

If you’re buying books for Christmas

I have a Bookstore.org list of all the books and authors I’ve ever mentioned on Word Count, so if want a few recommendations, take a look! I do get a tiny commission on every purchase, so if you buy from Bookstore you’re helping authors and me at a time of year when we need it the most.

Obligatory cat picture

In the spirit of being sort of on holiday and therefore refusing to work at my desk, I am sitting on my sofa and this is a real time shot of Copurrnicus snuggled beside me and watching the dolphins on the AppleTV screensaver.


Right, that’s it for this time! See you again just before Christmas!

All the best,



Plus resilience, Dan Sinykin’s Big Fiction, Warner Bros. Discovery’s Zaslav dicking about, and birthday boy Copurrnicus on a treadmill.

Hi there,

As I’m sitting here on a lovely, sunny day, gazing out of my office at the robin perched in our apple tree, I’m feeling really rather chirpy. Perhaps it’s down to having had a lovely weekend, or to how much I’m enjoying novelising Tag, or maybe it’s anticipation of the fact that I’m really only spending two days in my office this week due to a conference and two days off for Thanksgiving (as a transatlantic couple, we always celebrate).

Whatever it is, I shall savour it, and I hope that you have something fun to savour this week too!

Grist: Expanding our emotional vocabulary

Don’t forget, the first Grist session will be held on Monday 27 November at 19:00 GMT, and will focus on expanding our emotional vocabulary. We’ll take a look at the ‘emotional wheel’ and discuss the physicality of emotions via Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus.

If you’re a paid subscriber, or on a seven day trial, you can find details of how to register for the Zoom call in your email or on the Substack website.

Stop, look, listen: Draft Zero, E102 & E103 – Game of the Scene

One of the things I love about the Draft Zero podcast is that they often make me think about what I’m writing through a totally different lens. These two episodes deal with the idea that characters can be playing games with each other. Not Trivial Pursuit or Doom, but psychological games of power and status.

In these two episodes, hosts Stuart Willis and Chas Fisher “look at how considering the game that characters are playing — its rules, arenas, players, referees, and win conditions — can help you write more dynamic scenes.”

Both episodes are utterly fascinating and more than worth your time.

Read this: Michael Marshall Smith on writing (for TV)

This list of observations on writing for TV that Michael Marshall Smith shared last week contains wisdom for writers in pretty much any medium. I particularly like this bit:

If you don’t make them care about the characters, then you could be selling the meaning of life and they still won’t buy it.

And this bit:

It’s a partnership — together, you may get shit done. Find the smart people you trust. Work with them. That’s how things happen.

WAIW?: What does it really mean to be resilient?

Over on my other newsletter, I wrote about how some slightly difficult feedback combined with some fairly awful perimenopausal hormonal crap sent me into a six-day rage. I have spoken before about resilience, but this post is about the experience of exerting it rather than thinking about it as a shiny abstract thing that I never have to actually tap into.

Resilience is not just about working through negative emotions, it’s also about setting all that negativity aside and reaffirming your belief in yourself by getting on with the job at hand. 

Book: Big Fiction by Dan Sinykin

This review by Scott Stern of Dan Sinykin’s Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literature is a fascinating read in and of itself. Sinykin’s thesis is that the “the increasing consolidation and corporatization of the publishing industry” has had a significant impact on the type of fiction that authors now write as they adjust to the realities of a more profit-driven publishing industry.

The review reminds me a lot of Cory Doctorow’s writing on enshittification – the process by which tech products, amongst other things, gets worse and worse as tech companies shift their focus from serving the users to serving business customers and then to pandering to investors.

At least Stern/Sinykin leave us with some level of hope, pointing out the benefits of WW Norton’s collective ownership model, the HarperCollins worker strike for fair wages, and “the rise of artists’ and freelancers’ unions, the flowering of writers’ collectives during the pandemic”.

Definitely a book I’m going to have to get!

Read this, two: ????

David Zaslav, who is not only the CEO Warner Bros. Discovery but also the main baddie on the studio side during the writer’s strike, has now said that the writers were right and that he has “never regretted overpaying for great talent or a great asset”. Well, why make the writers suffer through a 148-day strike then, you cockwomble? Also, he’s a fine one to talk about overpayment, given his compensation for 2021 was $246 million.

Zaslav has also done a full reverse ferret on Coyote vs. Acme and cancelled its cancellation. The film was not just completely finished, it had also tested incredibly well, yet WBD decided to can it in order to benefit from a tax write-off. I mean, firstly, how fucked up is it that? And secondly, this is a really great way to encourage the talent that Zaslav thinks he’s “overpaying” to avoid the studio completely in future. Who wants to put years of their life into a project that comes out really, really well and then gets binned in order to pump the quarter’s earnings?

Can someone please yeet Zaslav and his pals into the Sun?

Obligatory cat picture video

Back in late October 2021, I bought a cheap treadmill. In February of that year, my husband had wiped out on some black ice whilst out running and turned his little finger into a corkscrew-shaped mess. The treadmill was literally half the price of what we spent on healthcare and physio for him (two and half years later, it’s still not quite right) and it would mean we could both exercise more during the deep, icy Ohio winter.

So obviously, as soon as it was set up, I tried to encourage the cats to walk on it. This video is Copurrnicus’ first interaction with the treadmill and, as you can see, it did not go brilliantly! I did eventually get him to run on the treadmill, but it required huge amounts of inducements in the form of toys to pounce on and treats to reward the attempt. My hope that he’d find it fun and run on it willingly to burn off some energy were never fully realised, although that did also make me glad that I never invested in a cat wheel as he would never have used it and I wouldn’t fit in it.

Now we have an enclosed garden Copurrnicus can go outside whenever he wants although, right now, that doesn’t seem to be very often. We’ll all have to just put up with him tearing up and down the stairs instead.

Yesterday was, by the way, Copurrnicus’s 5th birthday which he celebrated by sleeping.

That’s it for now! If you’re a paid subscriber, I hope I’ll see you next Monday, and if you’re not, why not try a 7 day trial and join us for what will be a fun and fascinating conversation?

All the best,


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Fieldwork: Adding improv to the mix

by Suw on November 14, 2023

What do you do to get yourself back in the game after an enforced break from a creative project?

It’s been a while since I last wrote about Fieldwork, the short film script I’m writing for the i-COMET project, largely because over the summer I was either interviewing ecologists or checking their transcriptions, which isn’t very newsworthy. Then, once mid-August arrived, I was almost wholly focused this year’s Ada Lovelace Day Live event at the Royal Institution.

But now it’s time to dive back in.

Back in May, I came up with a four part plan for how this project was going to shake out, and I’ve largely been focused on Part 1, background research. Talking to ecologists turned out to be a delightful experience, always the highlight of my week. I’m going back over the transcripts now and highlighting the sciency bits that catch my eye, or sections that feel funny to me or that seem to illustrate some aspect of character.

I have to admit, I’ve been feeling a bit apprehensive about starting the actual writing, because this whole project doesn’t fit in with my normal creative process. Usually, I start with an idea for a person who’s dealing with a particular scenario and then I explore what might happen through plot logic: if this happens, then that results; and through character: this person would do this sort of thing.

But with Fieldwork, what came first was the context: ecologists working in the field; and the genre: comedy. My brain has been noodling over this for the last several months, despite the fact that I was focused on other things, and building up quite a head of anxiety over whether I can actually write in this way. I haven’t written comedy for, er, quite a long time, so the question of whether I can still be funny has also been weighing on me.

To get over this, I’ve decided that my brain needs a bit of creative shakubuku – “a swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever”.

So, to that end, I’ve started improv classes. There is a weekly class held not far from me and last Wednesday I went to my first one. It was huge amounts of fun, but I can also see how it has the potential to rewire my neurones a little, get me back into a mode of more spontaneous thinking, and help me re-find my funny.

Improv (though they seem to have shortened it further to ‘impro’!) is predicated on saying the first thing that comes into your head and not worrying about whether it is good or bad. Even in my first session, once I started to feel the flow, it stopped feeling stressful and started to be a lot of fun. It’s like opening a direct conduit between your subconscious and your mouth, giving your brain a huge playground to just throw stuff up and see what happens. It’s about being open to possibility and responding instinctually to what the people around you are saying and doing. And, most importantly, it’s about refusing to be self-judgemental.

That’s the perfect mindset for playing about with character ideas, plot snippets and humour, and it’s the antithesis of how writers often think.

I remember once being told to throw away the first solution that comes into your head when you hit a problem with your plot or character. Throw away the second one too. The logic is that these are the obvious solutions, and you want to dig deeper to find the surprising solution. But if you take that too much to heart, it becomes crippling as your brain refuses to come up with a first solution at all, for fear of it being crap.

Where writing is rewriting, improv is blurting out all your first thoughts without any opportunity to rethink. And that is, in my opinion, also the first step on the road to comedy.

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Plus Arts Council, BFI and Uncertain Kingdom funding, Big Comedy Conference, Realms of Imagination, and guest cats Archie & Sid.

Hi there,

It’s an absolutely glorious day here in the Home Counties as I write this. I’m continuing my 18-month long campaign to attract more birds to the garden, and have been delighted to see a robin eying up my fat balls. Sadly, only the magpies are regular visitors to the feeder, with the robins, blue tits, great tits and wrens staying in the apple tree and looking wistfully on from the safety of the foliage.

Introducing Grist, a new training program for your imagination

You might have seen my email last week introducing Grist, a different kind of author support and training program for my paying subscribers. Every month, we’ll get together for an hour to talk about topics that will improve your basic authorly skills: observation, feeling both physical sensations and emotions, listening, and intentional reading/watching.

The first session will be held on Monday 27 November at 19:00 GMT, and we’ll spend the hour talking about the ‘emotional wheel’ and Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus. If you’d like to come along, upgrade to paid and you’ll get an email with the details of how to register when I send the first one out in a few days.

Suw’s news: Would you like to be a beta reader for Tag?

I’m working on the novelisation of the first episode of Tag and am looking for a handful of beta readers who would be available in a few weeks to give it a once over. I’m looking for people who:

  • Know that they’ll have time to read and provide feedback on 10k – 15k words in late November or early December.
  • Like urban fantasy – if you watched Buffy and Highlander when they first came out, this may well be for you.

Although not necessary, you do get bonus points if you’re perimenopausal or menopausal, and extra bonus points if you’re Welsh.

If this sounds like you, reply to this email and let me know! I’m hoping to have finished the first draft towards the end of this month, and will need to get feedback in fairly quickly so that I can make changes and polish it up before the Discoveries deadline on 8 January.

Fiction: Argleton will be in your inboxes on Thursday!

I’m excited to be re-releasing Argleton, the first novella I ever self-published and the first fiction project featured in the first Kickstarter newsletter!

Matt is fascinated by the story of Argleton, the unreal town that appeared on GeoMaps but which doesn’t actually exist. No one, not even GeoMaps, knows how the mistake made its way into the most widely used map in the world.

Matt can’t resist a puzzle so persuades his friend and flatmate Charlie to drive them to the non-existent town. When they are standing on the very spot, at the exact longitude and latitude that defines Argleton, Matt sets in motion a chain of events that will take him places he didn’t know existed… and which perhaps don’t.

There’s a fascinating back story to Argleton. It was originally a copyright trap – a fake town added to a commercial map to catch copyright thieves – used by Google Maps and Google Earth. Although it was removed by 2010, its ghost still exists in Google Maps: if you search for it, you’ll find Argleton Village Hall, Argleton Football Field and even Argleton Heritage Commercial Building.

Inspired to write this story when Argleton was in the news, I launched a Kickstarter project to fund printing and the development of a geogame in May 2010, and produced a number of hand-embroidered silk-covered hardbacks, as well as paperbacks, for my supporters.

Although it’s been on my website for the last 13 years, it’s been a while since I last read it and I am happy to report that it has stood the test of time! If anything, improvements in tech make it more plausible now than it was then.

As with The Gates of Balawat and The Lacemaker, you’ll be able to either read each chapter as it’s released weekly or download the full ebook. The first chapter of this techno-magic realist romp through the English countryside will land in your inboxes at 10:30 GMT on Thursday (if you’re signed up for the Fiction emails – check your settings to see!).

Funding: Arts Council, BFI and Uncertain Kingdom funding schemes

Arts Council

The Arts Council’s Developing Your Creative Practice funding scheme will be opening its doors to applications from 16 November to 14 December, and will be awarding grants of between £2,000 and £12,000. They support a variety of art forms, including literature, although sadly they won’t fund you to just sit and write. Rather, you have to have a plan to develop your audience, skills and activities beyond your writing. They fund approximately 20 per cent of applications in the literature category, and you can only submit twice in four years, so think carefully before you apply.


The British Film Institute’s Early Development Fund is now open to previously producers writers with short film credits who are now in the early stages of development for a debut long-form project. The fund is for “writers who do not yet have the first draft of a script (or equivalent format for immersive work), to produce an initial treatment”.

You can apply, with or without a producer, for a grant of between £3,000 and £5,000, but you must be based in England and not have had a feature film produced and distributed in the UK before. You should also have already written “at least one short film that has been produced” or “if you’re working in other creative media, you’ll need to have made work in television, documentary, theatre, immersive or other art forms”. Read the full eligibility criteria on the BFI website. This scheme is open year round, except for August, when I assume everyone goes on holiday.

Uncertain Kingdom

The Uncertain Kingdom has a scheme for teams making short films on the theme of ‘belief’. Five teams will be given up to £20,000 each to make their short, which will be released “as an anthology by Verve Pictures towards the end of 2024.” Applications open on 1 December and close on 21 December.

Ahead of the application window, Unsolicited Scripts is running a matchmaking program to introduce writers, producers and directors so that they can create teams eligible for funding.

Event: Big Comedy Conference

Early Bird tickets are available now for the British Comedy Guide’s Big Comedy Conference, to be held on Saturday 16 March 2024 in Holborn, London (speakers TBC). I went to this event last year and it was really enjoyable, so will definitely be going again.

Event: British Library Realms of Imagination exhibition

I found out about the British Library’s current Realms of Imagination exhibition too late to get tickets for either of Neil Gaiman’s talks, but did get to see Susan Cooper talking about her fabulous The Dark Is Rising pentalogy, which was a real treat. The exhibition continues until 25 February 2024, and displays notebooks from Gaiman and Ursula le Guin, amongst many other things.

Please do note, however, that the British Library’s website is currently unavailable due to a cyberattack, which means that you can’t currently book online.

Obligatory cat photo

Today’s guest cats are Archie (left) and Sid (right), who were recently looked after by my very good friend, Caroline Ferguson. Archie and Sid captured Caroline’s heart so comprehensively that she wrote an entire post about their different personalities and how their behaviour illustrates their different approaches to the world. It’s a lovely read – do take a look! 

That’s it for now. See you in a couple of weeks!

All the best,



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Plus Black Women’s Non-Fiction Manuscript Prize, what it takes to become an agent, the light at the end of the frog, and an update on Grabbity’s eyes.

Hi there,

I’m back at my desk after a week off to recover from Ada Lovelace Day, and my brain’s not quite working yet. I could have done with another week or two, but time and tide wait for no one.

Suw’s news: So much writing to catch up on

Whilst Ada Lovelace Day might have been dominating my To Do list over the last few months, my brain was still throwing up ideas for new Word Count posts, so I’m going to have to have a little sit down very soon and just plan everything out. But I have lots of treats in store for you over the next few months, including the serialisations of my two novelettes, Argleton and Queen of the May.

Meantime, I have to finish the edits on E1 of Tag, and then novelise it ready to submit to the  Discoveries writer development program, which has a deadline of 8 January 2024. I’m quite excited about this process – a large part of the reason that I’ve been working on all six episodes is that I think I stand a greater chance of this story seeing the light of day as a novel than as a TV series.

I also need to get back on track with Fieldwork, which means finish polishing up the transcripts for a couple of research interviews I did a while back and get the consent forms signed. I’ll print out all transcripts and annotate them, pulling out themes and ideas that I find funny or inspiring. Then it’ll be on to character development and writing some vignettes to try to get a handle on who these people are and how they behave.

Plus I need to write some more posts for the Fieldwork sub-newsletter – if you’re not signed up to that already, just head to your account settings and make sure you’ve elected to receive Fieldwork emails.

Read this: The Story Loom

I found this post from Simon K Jones about how he plans his stories, which he publishes serially on his newsletter, really fascinating. Writing a serial means that you need to have some level of planning, otherwise you can end up taking your readers down dead ends. But too much planning can take the fun out of writing, so Simon has landed on a halfway house that he calls the Story Loom which brings strands of story together at key turning points but still leaves enough flexibility to be spontaneous whilst writing.

Give it a read. Simon has diagrams and everything.

Stop, look, listen: The Lovecraft Investigations

I spent most of my week off drafting a sewing pattern, a time-consuming process which requires some attention, but not too much. That meant that I had a lot of time to listen to The Lovecraft Investigations on BBC Sounds, an HP Lovecraft-inspired audio drama from Julian Simpson that’s part of his Pleasant Green universe (much of which you can hear here).

I have to admit that I’ve not previously been all that into audio dramas. Podcasts, yes. I’ll listen to those til my ears fall off. Maybe that’s why I like The Lovecraft Investigations so much – they’re written as if they were a true crime podcast, although they are far better produced than most podcasts. The writing is fantastic, as are the performances, but what elevates this series is the sound design. It’s immersive without being overwhelming and it helps to really guide your understanding of what’s going on in a scene, rather than getting in the way.

It’s worth comparing to The Dark Is Rising from last winter, which I found underwhelming. I said at the time:

[U]ltimately, I was a bit disappointed. The adaptation felt a bit overwrought at times and the soundscape could be overwhelming.

[…] The problem with the adaptation was that, in order to stop it being dominated by narration, they had to put some of the action descriptions into the main character’s internal monologue. The result is lots of slightly odd interjections and a halting nature to some of the dialogue. And when you compare this functional dialogue, if you will, to the speech Susan Cooper actually wrote, it stands out a mile.

I have to admit, The Lovecraft Investigations had made me want to learn about writing for radio now.

Opportunity: Black Women’s Non-Fiction Manuscript Prize

Cassava Republic Press has just announced its Black Women’s Non-Fiction Manuscript Prize, with a prize of $20,000 and a publishing contract with Cassava Republic Press up for grabs. The prize is open to “Black women writers who bridge the gap between ‘creativity’ and ‘theory’ with [non-fiction] work that is both rigorous and beautiful, creative and thoughtful.”

To apply, submit sample chapters and a pitch letter, by 23:59 GMT on 31 March 2024.

Read this, two: What does it take to become an agent?

As authors, we all want an agent, but what does the life of an agent look like? Leigh Stein asked herself whether she wanted to pivot her career to become a literary agent and, in doing so, gave the rest of us a really important glimpse into agents’ lives.

Bear in mind whilst reading all the reports of writers’ advances going down, because as writers earn less so do agents.

Tip-top tip: Light at the end of the frog

Congratulations to this year’s Hugo Award winner: Ursula Vernon, writing as T Kingfisher, for Nettle & Bone.

Unable to attend in person, Vernon’s speech was read by Arley Song at the Chengdu Worldcon in China, but to be honest, it needs to be read by everyone. It’s not long, and you should click through right now and learn something about beetles and frogs that you will never forget.

Obligatory cat picture

Grabbity and I went back to the vet for another check-up last week, but the news wasn’t great. The corneal ulcer on her left eye has come back, possibly because the Maxitrol eyedrops we were using had become unavailable so there was a three week gap in her treatment. We’re now on some other drops which she absolutely hates.

This doesn’t seem to be a condition that’s going to clear up quickly, and at the moment it’s looking like we’ll be spending £30 a month on eyedrops for the foreseeable future. Thank goodness for pet insurance. I have to say, ManyPets have been amazing, sometimes paying out the same day. (If you need pet insurance, then use my referral link and we’ll both get a gift card.)

Thankfully, Grabbity seems fine in herself. If she’s in pain, she’s hiding it well – she doesn’t fuss with her eyes, they aren’t weeping, and they don’t seem to be causing her any problems. But they do look like the surface of the moon, and I can’t imagine that they can be such a mess and not at least uncomfortable. But she’s stoic, and we will continue treatment for as long as needed.

That’s it for this week. Now that ALD is over, I might go back to shorter emails on a weekly schedule. Let me know what you’d prefer via the poll on Substack!

All the best,


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Plus congrats to Dr Lucy Rogers, behind the scenes of Ghosts, and build your confidence.

Hi there,

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, which means that I’m writing this last weekend, in a quiet moment, a bubble inside the panic. The run up to big events is always stressful and every year I ask why I do this to myself, and yet every year I seem to do it again.

Webinar: Lauren Beukes in conversation

I’m going to be chatting with the award-winning author of Zoo City, The Shining Girls and this year’s Bridge, Lauren Beukes, about how she uses her journalism skills to research her novels, the ethics of research, and how to reach out to and set up interviews. She’ll also be talking about how her diagnosis of ADHD changed her life, the impact that moving to the UK had on her writing, her experience of seeing The Shining Girls adapted for TV, writers block, plus a lot more!

Join us online at 19:00 BST on Monday 23 October. Tickets are free.

WAIW?: What can writers learn from football? 

Last week’s Why Aren’t I Writing? was an exploration of the meaning of ‘practice’ for writers. Many might think that practice, in the way that footballers and musicians mean it, for writers is writing, but I disagree. You don’t start learning to play footie by diving straight into a match and you don’t start learning clarinet by playing a symphony. You do exercises first. But what does that look like for writers?

Putting that post together provided me with a surprising bit of inspiration, not just in terms of my own practice, but how I can help other writers rewaken their observational skills. So keep your eyes out for an email soon (ie after Ada Lovelace Day!) introducing a new program for premium subscribers.

Read this: US author incomes dip below poverty level

Author income surveys never make for inspiring reading, highlighting as they do how little writers bring in from practicing their craft, but this new survey from the Authors Guild in the US is particularly depressing. They found that “median book and writing-related income for authors in 2022 was below the poverty level”. Ouch.

The survey, which drew responses from 5,699 published authors, found that in 2022, their median gross pre-tax income from their books was $2,000. When combined with other writing-related income, the total annual median income was $5,000.

This is why I so often talk about how I’m trying to find a way to support my writing habit, given it seems unlikely that writing will ever support me.

Read this, two: On the other hand…

Publishing often feels like a lottery and like all lotteries it runs on the unfettered hope that we might one day get lucky. I’m as guilty of this as the next person, but it’s still delightful to see that Dr Lucy Rogers has sold Up: A Scientist’s Guide to the Magic Above Us to Transworld for six figures. Well done Lucy!

What I’m watching: Ghosts, the final season

Ghosts (UK) is drawing to a close and I’m enjoying the final season with a mix of delight and bittersweetness. S5E1 was honestly some of the funniest comedy I’ve seen for a while and I shall be gutted when the final episode airs at Christmas.

Writer Julia Raeside got to visit the set whilst Ghosts cast and crew were filming and has written pieces for The Times (£) and her own Substack, so if you’d like a few behind the scenes insights and photos, those are the links to click.

Tip-top tip: Build your confidence

Short tweet thread from LJ Ross about the importance of developing your own self-confidence. Confidence may feel like something you either have or don’t, but it’s not, it’s something you can work on and develop. And as Ross says, if you want to be a writer you’re doing to need to find ways to nurture your confidence.

Obligatory cat picture

Copurrnicus comes to cuddle me at my desk nearly every morning now, sometimes more than once. He likes to tuck himself in between me and my keyboard, or, as he did last week, drape himself over my arms, which can make it somewhat challenging to write!

That’s it for this week. Keep an eye out for a special email once ALD is over about my new offering for paying subscribers, and maybe consider becoming one yourself!

All the best,


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Plus David Koepp on his Jurassic Park first draft, WGGB calls for residuals, Bookshop.org to branch out into ebooks, killer Barbie stats and more.

Hi there,

It’s a gorgeous autumnal day as I write this, with the sound of power tools humming outside as the neighbours get a new fence and shed put up. Good job I’ve got no calls in my diary for the next fortnight. Of course, the big victim in all of this is Copurrnicus, who won’t be allowed out until the works are done. He’s going to get very, very grumpy about that.

WGA strike breakthrough

The WGA announced on Sunday night that it has reach a “tentative” deal with the studios after 146 days of strike and five days of intensive negotiations. Although the exact terms of the deal haven’t been released as of time of writing, the WGA said that the deal was “exceptional – with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership”.

Before the strike can actually end, the WGA needs to finalise a Memorandum of Agreement with the AMPTP, then “the Negotiating Committee will vote on whether to recommend the agreement and send it on to the WGAW Board and WGAE Council for approval. The Board and Council will then vote on whether to authorize a contract ratification vote by the membership.”

These votes will happen today, so hopefully the strike will soon be over. Fingers crossed, now, for similar progress in the actors’ negotiations.

WGGB urges UK streamers to pay residuals

Sandi Toksvig speaking at the TUC

Perhaps inspired by the WGA strike, Sandi Toksvig, the president of the Writers Guild of Great Britain has called for streaming companies to pay residuals to British writers the same way that TV, film audio and theatre already do, and for an end to ‘buy-outs’, where writers sign away the right to create other works based on their intellectual property.

The WGGB tabled a motion at the Trade Union Congress in Liverpool earlier in September, where it passed. However, it’s not clear how much good it will do.

Unlike the US, closed shops have been illegal in the UK since the anti-trade union legislation of 1990 and 1992, meaning that it’s basically impossible for writers to strike. In order to force the famously recalcitrant and miserly streamers to share a bit more of their massive profits with writers, we’d almost certainly have to see legislation put in place. Chances of that happening anytime soon is nil, sadly.

Suw’s news: BAFTA Rocliffe submission submitted

After a fairly intense bout of work, I got my BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Competition entry safely submitted. It was a useful process, not least because it forced me to start refining my plans for what happens in each episode of Tag, which will help when I restart my rewrite, which is currently on pause due to Ada Lovelace Day.

Once ALD is done, though, I have to focus on converting the pilot into prose for the Discoveries prize (more on that below). That really will be an interesting process, as it will either make or break the whole idea of writing the series and novelising it. At this rate, the first 10,000 will the most polished thing I’ll ever have written, but it remains to be seen if they’re polished to a high shine or still a turd.

Opportunity: Discoveries 2024 is open!

The Discoveries writer development program, organised by the Women’s Prize for Fiction along with Audible, Curtis Brown Literary Agency, and the Curtis Brown Creative writing school, is open to submissions until 8 January 2024. That gives you more than three months to get your entry together, which is plenty of time!

Discoveries is open to unpublished and unagented women writers in the UK or Ireland who can submit:

the opening of a novel in English – up to 10,000 words – across any genre of adult fiction for the chance to take part in a bespoke creative writing course, secure personalised mentorship packages, an offer of literary agent representation and a prize of £5000. Unlike most initiatives of this kind, writers are not required to have finished their novel, and Discoveries is completely free to enter.

Find out more about eligibility and how to submit on their FAQ page.

Charlotte Duckworth on why the size of your advance matters

I’ve seen so many authors talking about how tiny advances are these days, but not so much chatter about why getting a larger (but not too large) advance bodes better for your book than a small advance.

“The truth is, the size of your advance is the biggest indicator of how likely your book is to be successful,” says author Charlotte Duckworth, because it indicates how much marketing budget your publisher is likely to allocate to your book. So is it even worth accepting a low advance?

Stop, look, listen: A Script Apart, Jurassic Park with David Koepp

I really enjoyed this conversation between A Script Apart’s Al Horner and Hollywood screenwriter David Koepp about the first draft of Jurassic Park, how Koepp wrote it and how it differs from the final film.

Jurassic Park was an adaptation of Michael Crichton’s book and although Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum in the film) is in the book, Koepp didn’t put him into the first draft of the screenplay because he felt Malcolm would be too challenging of a character to include. The section about how this actually helped Koepp to flesh out the other characters first, and then how important it was to the story overall to re-insert Malcolm back into the story is fascinating.

Tip-top tip: Get your order of operations right

I found this piece on how to write nonverbal communication by Shaunta Grimes really interesting. Grimes examines the impact on pacing, tone and meaning of swapping over dialogue and action descriptions.

When you put the action before the dialogue, the reader will make the shift to the action and dialogue happening in conjunction. Seamless.

When you put it after the dialogue, it reads like first there is dialogue and when that’s entirely over, hard stop, and then the action.

I had honestly never really thought about this, but not only is Grimes right, this is actually a really useful thing to internalise and apply when you need it.

Bookshop to branch out into ebooks?

Bookshop.org, the online book retailer which has passed on a $28 million share of its in profits to indie bookstores, is going to start beta testing ebook sales this November. The ebooks will be available on Apple, Android and web-based platforms.

Hunter hopes to gain an edge over Amazon by making content from e-books more sharable and social, as well. “E-books have been too walled off from the rest of the internet and need to be more a part of the online conversation,” he says. “They are filled with interesting ideas and should be out there and given an opportunity to go viral.”

Finally, an ethical alternative for ebooks!

Barbie wins

The numbers are in, and Barbie has won a number of notable firsts. Barbie was:

  • Biggest hit ever for Warner Bros.
  • First movie solely directed by a woman to become the biggest hit of the year.
  • One of only 53 movies of all time with worldwide sales over $1 billion.
  • Highest opening weekend in the US for a movie directed by a woman.
  • Bigger hit that Frozen.

Maybe now we can put to bed the idea that movies made by and for women won’t sell.

Obligatory cat picture

Copurrnicus sitting on my fabricI have spent much of the last few years learning how to draft my own sewing patterns, primarily because I’m one of the approximately 15 per cent of the population for whom store-bought clothes just will never fit properly. I am in the process of sewing a top that I can wear on Ada Lovelace Day at the Royal Institution, so of course Copurrnicus had to come and help me cut out.

That’s it for now! The next issue of Word Count is due on Ada Lovelace Day itself, which might pose a few issues, so don’t be surprised if it’s a little late that week!

All the best,



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Plus BAFTA Rocliffe, Channel 4 Screenwriting Course 2024 & Cheshire Novel Prize Kids, Scriptnotes on character and voice, Amazon’s AI guidelines and Taylor Swift vs Hollywood.

Well, hello there!

After too many days of obnoxiously hot weather, I’m relieved to say that my office is no longer a sweltering 30C. My brain doesn’t really function at such temperatures. (Although, truth be told, my brain being cooler doesn’t guarantee it will function better.)

Read these: We need to talk about blurbs

Book blurbs, ie the praise from authors and reviewers that’s plastered all over the cover, have been the subject of quite a lot of conversation recently after it came to light that Penguin, publisher of right-wing motormouth Jordan Peterson’s new book, had taken a critical review by James Marriott in The Times and made it sound positive on the book’s cover. They’d done the same with reviews from Johanna Tomas-Corr in New Statesman and Suzanne Moore in The Telegraph.

The Society of Authors described this misrepresentation as “morally questionable”. I’m sure that will put paid to the practice.

Barry Pierce, in GQ, argued that these reviewers don’t “have a leg to stand on” because they had “decided to throw Peterson a bone” and that they should have gone full scorched earth instead. The problem, he argues, is literary criticism is too nice, rather than that Penguin misrepresented three people’s views on Peterson’s book. Uh huh.

Helen Lewis, in The Atlantic, pointed out just how absurd blurbing has become. More contentiously, she suggested that the cause is the loss of “traditional critical culture”, replaced by online influencers, and that blurbs are really for “literary editors and buyers for the bookstores”.

Esquire’s Sophie Vershbow also weighed in, pointing out that “Authors hate them (both asking for them and being asked), agents hate them, and publishers hate them”, and that authors can give glowing blurbs for books they don’t believe in because to the social pressure to do so.

And publishing PR expert Kathleen Schmidt said that, in her experience, “Blurbs do not help sell books because the average consumer doesn’t care about them. Blurbs also do not help publicists secure reviews or other publicity.”

Like many things in the publishing industry, blurbs are irrevocably broken, but don’t expect to see change coming any time soon. Despite the fact that everyone hates them, readers don’t care, and it’s questionable as to whether they serve any purpose within the industry itself, FOMO will prevent any publishers from deciding that, well, perhaps we should just stop this nonsense. Like meetings that could have been emails, everyone does it because everyone does it.

Event: Susan Cooper in conversation at the British Library

Susan Cooper on the left, looking windswept and interesting, and Natalie Haynes.

Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series is one of my favourite of all time, so I was excited to see that she’ll be in conversation with author Natalie Haynes at the British Library on 27 October. In-person tickets are a very reasonable £14, with many discounts available, and it’s just £6.50 if you’d prefer to watch online.

The British Library has a load of really interesting events, many of which are also streamed online, so take a look at their calendar.

Opportunities: BAFTA Rocliffe, Channel 4 Screenwriting Course 2024 & Cheshire Novel Prize Kids

The BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Competition is closing to entries at 17:00 BST on Monday 18 September, a fact I’m painfully aware of as I try to whip my entry into shape. Costs £49 to enter.

The Channel 4 Screenwriting Course 2024 will be open to entries from Monday 18 September until Monday 2 October. I won’t be entering this one again, because they don’t take reworked scripts and I’m still working on Tag. No entry fee. Indeed, if you’re successful they’ll pay you!

The Cheshire Novel Prize Kids is a competition for un-agented writers which accepts picture books, first chapter books, middle-grade novels and young adult novels. Costs £29 to enter.

Stop, look, listen: Scriptnotes Ep 609 – Dialogue and character voice

I love a good craft episode, and this clip compilation about dialogue and character voice is no exception. If you find it difficult to work out if your dialogue sounds natural, and whether your characters are each distinctive people with their own voices, this episode might help.

Craig Mazin and John August talk about aspects of dialogue such the impact of power imbalances, emotion, and subtext, and how to get characters to provide exposition without sounding like they’re only there to provide exposition. There’s also a fascinating look at how dialogue has developed from plays to silent movies to the talkies to TV, and the impact each format has had on how speech is written.

And if you’d rather read than listen, you can read the transcript instead.

Amazon releases AI guidelines

Amazon’s Kindle platform has long had rules about the quality of books published on its platform, but it has now added explicit rules about the use of computer generated text, images and translations.

We require you to inform us of AI-generated content (text, images, or translations) when you publish a new book or make edits to and republish an existing book through KDP. AI-generated images include cover and interior images and artwork. You are not required to disclose AI-assisted content.

I honestly can’t see this making the slightest bit of difference to the flood of computer generated crap that’s being published on Kindle. Software that claims to detect computer generated text just doesn’t work, to the point where OpenAI withdrew theirs because it was rubbish, so it’s hard to see how Amazon is going to be able to tell that the rule has been broken.

Read these, two: Taylor Swift cuts out the studios, and cable TV’s broken

Gotta say, I was highly amused to learn that Taylor Swift has ignored the studios and cut a deal direct with AMC Theatres to distribute her Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour film. Apparently, the studios are seething, with Universal Pictures “extra-pissed”, but it’s their own fault.

According to a report by Puck News, the Swift family hired director Sam Wrench to shoot “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” for a budget of around $10-20 million, and were directly discussing distribution with studios. However, at least one distributor was thinking of a 2025 release, long after the live tour had ended, and the Swifts wanted it to play in theaters alongside the tour. So, they began negotiating directly with AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron, put together a deal in secret over a number of weeks, and announced it without any of the studios getting a heads-up.

Taylor Swift is sharp, and it seems like the studios massively underestimated her ability to know what’s best for her business and to go get it.

Meanwhile, major American cable company, Charter Communications, has finally (finally!) realised that cable TV packages are too expensive and that’s why people are cutting the cord and going streaming-only, thus undermining the whole cable TV business. Charter’s in the middle of negotiations with Disney, which appear not to be going too well. Disney wants to charge Charter more than Charter wants to pay for bundles that include channels Charter’s customers don’t watch, and Charter knows that if it bumps up prices to cover the extra cost, they’ll lose even more customers.

Both of these stories have one thing in common: The Hollywood studies are so big and so used to setting the terms of business that they don’t quite know how to handle it when someone either does an end run around them (Swift) or is prepared to just walk away (Charter). You can see the same dynamic working in the writers’ and actors’ strikes. It’s not that the studios can’t afford workers’ demands, it’s simply that they believe that compromise is death. Reaching a deal would, in their eyes, show weakness, but their real weakness is that they don’t seem to understand the reality they are now living in.

So is this the year that Hollywood is humbled? We can but hope.

Obligatory cat picture

My husband and I went up to North Wales again over the long weekend and were delighted to meet this glorious fuzzball, Indi, who was incredibly difficult to take a photo of due to the fact that she didn’t stop moving.

Indi is extremely affectionate and was very keen on getting scritches from any human who’d give them. Which was us, with great relish.

Right, that’s it for now! See you in a couple of weeks!

All the best,


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Plus podcasts about The Good Place and Asterix, some writer’s strike news, and extremely fluffy snow leopard cubs.

Hi there,

This issue of Word Count is brought to you from the past! I’m going to be spending the weekend in what is promising to be a very rainy Llandudno, where I will be saying an enthusiastic ‘Diolch’ to every shopkeeper, regardless of whether they look like they might speak Welsh or not, so I wrote this last Thursday. Let’s hope it ages well!

Arthur C Clarke Award winner announced

Venomous Lumpsucker book coverThis year’s Arthur C Clarke Award, which is presented for the best science fiction novel published during the previous year, was won by Venomous Lumpsucker by Ned Beauman.

The venomous lumpsucker is the most intelligent fish on the planet. Or maybe it was the most intelligent fish on the planet. Because it might have just gone extinct. Nobody knows. And nobody really cares, either. Except for two people.

Mining executive Mark Halyard has a prison cell waiting for him if that fish is gone for good, and biologist Karin Resaint needs it for her own darker purposes. They don’t trust each other an inch, but they’re left with no choice but to team up in search of the lumpsucker. And as they journey across the strange landscapes of near-future Europe – a nature reserve full of toxic waste; a floating city on the Baltic Sea; the lethal hinterlands of a totalitarian state – they’re drawn into a conspiracy far bigger than one ugly little fish.

Chair of the Judges, Dr Andrew M. Butler said:

“Ned Beauman’s Venomous Lumpsucker, is a biting satire, twisted, dark and radical, but remarkably accessible, endlessly inventive and hilarious.”

And Award Director Tom Hunter said:

Venomous Lumpsucker takes science fiction’s knack for future extrapolation and aggressively applies it to humanity’s shortsighted self-interest and consumptive urges in the face of planetary eco-crisis. The result is a bleakly funny novel where the only hope for our species is working out the final punchline before it’s delivered.”

Read this: The music of Guardians of the Galaxy

I loved this article from Cole Haddon about the music that writer-director James Gunn chose for his Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy.

It had never really occurred to me that the music might have meaning, but Haddon makes a convincing argument that Gunn uses it to explore the stories of “children trapped in adult bodies, crippled by arrested development, almost all of them struggling with (typically lethal) parent issues” and the “dangerous allure of nostalgia”.

I really need to sit down and watch all three again now!

Stop, look, listen: Comfort Blankets 6 and 12 – Asterix and The Good Place

I listened to two utterly delightful episodes of Joel Morris’s podcast, Comfort Blanket, last week. The first with comedian and writer Bec Hill about Michael Schur’s comedy, The Good Place, a show that I love so much I’ve seen it from beginning to end five times now. There were two particular insights into the show that utterly blew me away and that I was slightly cross I hadn’t spotted myself. I won’t tell you what they are, though – you’ll have to listen to find out!

The next episode I listened to was with comedian Jay Foreman, who talked about his enduring love for Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix. Again, I learnt so much not just about Goscinny and Uderzo themselves, but about how smart these books really are – that’s not necessarily something you notice as a kid. I had three Asterix books at one point, but I now have the disturbingly strong urge to go buy the whole lot.

Anyway, subscribe to Comfort Blanket. It has become one of my favourite podcasts, not least because it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Strike news: AMPTP’s offer doesn’t impress

I’m taking a bit of a risk writing this now, days before this newsletter will end up in your inbox, as it’s likely to go out of date before it gets sent!

However, the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Discovery-Warner, NBC Universal, Paramount and Sony) went back to the table a few weeks ago.

Finally, early last week, the studios published their response to the WGA’s demands in a clear attempt to do an end run around the Guild and appeal directly to the writers themselves. The Wall Street Journal writes, “Some members of the AMPTP hope that if their offer is seen as compelling by a significant amount of the membership […] it will create tension within the union.”

Despite both sides agreeing to a media blackout, the AMPTP has repeatedly leaked to the media. The WGA, on the other hand, has generally been reserved in its response, but the statement on this offer from the studios is full of quiet fury:

We accepted that invitation and, in good faith, met tonight, in hopes that the companies were serious about getting the industry back to work.

Instead, on the 113th day of the strike – and while SAG-AFTRA is walking the picket lines by our side – we were met with a lecture about how good their single and only counteroffer was.

We explained all the ways in which their counter’s limitations and loopholes and omissions failed to sufficiently protect writers from the existential threats that caused us to strike in the first place. We told them that a strike has a price, and that price is an answer to all – and not just some – of the problems they have created in the business.

But this wasn’t a meeting to make a deal. This was a meeting to get us to cave, which is why, not twenty minutes after we left the meeting, the AMPTP released its summary of their proposals.

This was the companies’ plan from the beginning – not to bargain, but to jam us. It is their only strategy – to bet that we will turn on each other.

Strikegeist has the AMPTP proposal, and Deadline an analysis, though to be honest, I don’t know enough to pass comment on whether that analysis is even-handed. Defector.com certainly isn’t impressed with the trades’ coverage of the strike, pointing out that Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and Deadline are all owned by Penske Media Corporation.

In a follow-up covering the WGA response, Deadline says, “its seems the AMPTP and top CEOs may have strategically overplayed their hand.”

On Friday, UK time, the WGA released a more detailed statement, saying that the AMTPT was “seeming to give while limiting the actual gains” and calling their proposal “neither nothing, nor nearly enough”.

And if what I’ve seen on Twitter is anything to go by, all that the AMPTP has achieved is to stiffen writers’ resolve.

Obligatory cat picture

Snow leopardsIn April 2018, Cleveland Zoo’s snow leopards Sombra and Amga had three cubs –Bodhi, Omid and Zara. We went to visit them in the August, and oh my word they were the cutest, fluffiest things. Just look at that ear furniture! (That really is what the fluff inside a cat’s ear is called, btw. Ear furniture!)

One of the adults was asleep on a roof, though I very much advise not yanking the bell pull.

Right, that’s it for this week! I’ll be back in a fortnight with another round-up of interesting links.

All the best,


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Plus BBC Writers Room Open Call, Kindle Newsstand closes, fake books on Amazon & Goodreads, FTC lawsuit could break up Amazon, Filmmakers Podcast talks to Christopher McQuarrie, and Grabbity update.

Hi there,

I’m writing this on a grey and dismal day and it feels like we’ve not had a summer at all this year. Good job writing isn’t weather-dependent, eh?

Suw’s News: Tag and the Six Act Structure

Prompted by the BAFTA Rocliffe Competition deadline looming, I’ve started really, properly rewriting Tag, my six-part urban fantasy TV script. As you’ll know if you’ve been reading along for the past five months, it has been giving me a hard time, but I think I’m finally coaxing it into shape.

As I was searching for advice on how to structure a six episode TV show, as opposed to a movie or novel, I stumbled on Marshall Dotson’s Six Act Structure and his book, Actions and Goals. I’ve read quite a few books about writing, but this is possibly the most useful analysis of story structure that I’ve ever seen. Better still, it comes with a six act template, so my first step was to download and work on that.

I like working on paper, so I printed the whole series out, cutting and gluing the pages together so that each sequence (sometimes a scene, sometimes a few scenes that are related) was one piece of paper. As you can see, I do have some sequences that are, ahem, too long.

Then I went through the pilot and marked scenes for deletion, shortening or moving, and made notes regarding how to clarify character, goals and action towards those goals. I transferred those notes into Highland 2, and have started the hard work of actually making the changes. So far so good, but I just need to finish it in time for deadline of 18 September, which seems far away, but really isn’t.

First Five Minutes: Sex Education

As you might have seen, I have a new occasional series of essays exploring the first five minutes of a TV pilot. We all know that it’s crucial to hook your audience within the first five minutes, but what do we learn about the characters, their relationships, conflicts and themes within that time? How much information can a writer feasibly cram into just five or six pages of script?

I’ve kicked off with Netflix’s fabulous comedy, Sex Education, which takes a sometimes racy but always hilarious look at the sex lives, insecurities and relationships of a group of teens.

Written by Laurie Nunn and featuring Asa Butterfield, Emma Mackey, Ncuti Gatwa and Gillian Anderson, it treads an interesting transatlantic line, pulling out aspects of American teen culture to weave in with its ineluctably British attitude.

Opportunity: John le Carré Scholarship with Curtis Brown Creative

Curtis Brown Creative represented master spy novelist John le Carré (David Cornwell) for many years, up until his death in 2020. To honour his legacy, they run a scholarship “providing the full course fee for one talented writer of limited financial means to join our three-month online Writing Your Novel course (13 Nov 2022 to 11 Mar 2023)”.

Applicants will need to submit the first 3,000 words of their novel in progress, along with a one-page synopsis, via the application form. Deadline for submissions is 29 October 2023.

Opportunity: BBC Writers Room Open Call

If you have a script just waiting to be discovered, you have two months to get it all polished up ready for the BBC Writers Room Open Call, which will accept submissions  between 12 noon on Tuesday 7 November 2023 and 12 noon on Tuesday 5 December 2023.

They are looking for “Drama or Comedy/Drama scripts written for Film, TV, Radio, Stage, Online or Children’s TV/Radio scripts which are a minimum of 30 pages long (excluding title/character pages)” from writers who are over 18, based in the UK, and who have written an original script.

You cannot re-submit a previously submitted script, no matter how much you’ve worked on it, which is kinda pants in my opinion. How are writers supposed to grow if we can’t re-submit substantially improve scripts? Still, that’s a row for another day.

Read this: Kindle Newsstand closes

Not new news, but bad news nonetheless. Amazon is shutting down its Kindle Newsstand subscription program in September, which will be a major blow to literary magazines and other publications that have depended on it for revenue.

Clarkesworld have been banging the gong about this for a while, and hopefully their subscribers will move to their other subscription options, but because Amazon doesn’t share subscriber information there’s no way for Clarkesworld or other publishers to just port people over. Some publications will still be available via Kindle Unlimited, but as Clarkesworld points out, they get a lot less money that way.

Read this, too: Fake books turn up on Amazon & Goodreads

A slew of fake books about writing and self-publishing, probably written by people using LLMs, have turned up on Amazon under author Jane Friedman’s name and, on Goodreads, attached to her official profile. Friedman says in her blog post:

A reasonable person might think I control what books are shown on my Goodreads profile, or that I approve them, or at the very least I could have them easily removed. Not so.

If you need to have your Goodreads profile corrected—as far as the books credited to you—you have to reach out to volunteer “librarians” on Goodreads, which requires joining a group, then posting in a comment thread that you want illegitimate books removed from your profile.

When I complained about this on Twitter/X, an author responded that she had to report 29 illegitimate books in just the last week alone. 29!

Goodreads did remove these fake books from her profile, but when she reached out to Amazon, they were less helpful:

“Please provide us with any trademark registration numbers that relate to your claim.” When I replied that I did not have a trademark for my name, they closed the case and said the books would not be removed from sale.

The next day, however, the books were removed from Amazon as well.

Now imagine you’re an author without a big, public profile trying to get the  famously recalcitrant Amazon to behave. Honestly, is it any surprise that there is a lawsuit coming.

Read this, three: FTC lawsuit could break up Amazon

There’s no doubt that Amazon is a behemoth of a company, dominating not just book sales but online shopping in general as well as being a major cloud computing provider. It’s hard to really quantify the damage Amazon has done to the publishing industry and retail in general, but when a deserted mall near us in Cleveland became an Amazon distribution centre, the irony wasn’t lost on me.

Now the Federal Trade Commission is putting together an antitrust lawsuit against the company, according to Politico which says:

The FTC has been investigating the company on a number of fronts, and the coming case would be one of the most aggressive and high-profile moves in the Biden administration’s rocky effort to tame the power of tech giants.

Although the lawsuit would likely take years, it’s possible that it could result in the giant being broken up.

Just a few days ago, Reuters reported that Amazon is meeting with the FTC before the latter decides whether to file the lawsuit.

Amazon is expected to argue at the meetings with the commissioners that the FTC should not file an antitrust suit against the company

Well, duh.

Stop, look, listen: The Filmmakers Podcast – Christopher McQuarrie

You’d expect a conversation with writer and director Christophe McQuarrie to be interesting, not least because of his involvement in Mission Impossible and Top Gun: Maverick, but this interview from Giles Alderson and Dom Lenoir includes way more practical storytelling tips than I had thought it would.

One of the more surprising insights was about how important it is to set your exposition scenes in locations that are easily to recreate because if you need to reshoot to cope with a plot change, it’s easier to do that in a car than halfway up the Burj Khalifa! His anecdote about how trying to ramp up the pressure on Pete “Maverick” Mitchell during the beach volleyball scene in Top Gun: Maverick threw off the following love story scenes was also fascinating. The temptation, he explains, was to cut the love scenes, but the solution to the problem was actually to ease up on Maverick a bit instead.

This interview is just so thought-provoking, from the way McQuarrie works to cut a gag that would cost $15 million to shoot, to how flexible the script remains throughout shooting, and how collaboratively he works with actors.

Obligatory cat picture

I have good news: We took Grabbity back to the vet to see how her corneal ulcers are getting on, and the ulcers themselves have healed! Yay! Poor girl has had me putting ointment or drops in her eyes nearly every day for 2.5 months, and although that’s not going to stop for another two or three months yet, at least now we’re down to once a day.

The damage to her cornea has been quite significant, so that’s going to take a long, long time to properly heal, if it ever does, but at least the ulcers are now in the past and we can focus on her recuperation. She certainly seems much bouncier and brighter than she has been for months, which is a huge relief.

Right, that’s it for now. See you in a couple of weeks!

All the best,


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Word Count 55: BAFTA screenwriting comp, GQ shenanigans, streaming’s candle sputters…

August 1, 2023

Plus massive Bloomsbury profits, a brief history of Marvel Studios, TikTok owner ByteDance becomes a publisher, two writing craft podcasts, and the escape room someone ought to lock me in. Hi there, This newsletter was actually written a few weeks ago, just before I went on holiday. But whilst I was away, the SAG-AFTRA strike […]

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Word Count 54: SAG-AFTRA has entered the game

July 18, 2023

The actors are striking and it matters for all of us. Note: I’d already written this week’s newsletter, because I’m technically on holiday, but this all felt rather time-sensitive, so you’ll get that newsletter next time. I’m also really jetlagged so any incoherency is because of that. Honest. Hi there, Well, it happened. Last week, […]

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Word Count 53: The state of AI and the Goodreads fiasco

July 4, 2023

Just two main topics this week but one is important and the other is mindboggling. Lots of articles about so-called AI have crossed my field of vision over the last two weeks, so I thought now might be a good time to do a round-up. It’s really, really hard to keep up with all that’s […]

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Word Count 52: Ada Lovelace Day is back! Fieldwork update, Clarke Award shortlist

June 20, 2023

Plus Alex North webinar available for catch-up, visualising plots, Blackadder lost pilot, why it’s hard to hear dialogue, group dynamics and more! Hi there, A couple of weeks ago, when I decided to move to a fortnightly schedule, I didn’t think it would be difficult to just write less. But did I really miss writing […]

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Fieldwork: Do you know where your keys are?

June 19, 2023

Are you sure? Absolutely sure? Because I know I don’t have them. I’m just over a month into the background research for Fieldwork and have already carried out half a dozen interviews with ecologists in a wide variety of disciplines. We’ve talked about everything, from the challenges of surveying plants in highland bogs, to working […]

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