Wednesday, 15 November 2017

From the Heart of a Copy Editor

Hi everyone.

I’m delighted to introduce to you my writing colleague, Sheila Glasbey (aka Rosalie Warren), whose new non-fiction book ‘From ­the Heart of a Copy Editor – The 10 Most Common Mistakes and How to Fix Them’ was published today. The book is a really useful guide for writers on copy editing and Sheila has kindly agreed to talk to me about both the subject and her book.

Sheila Glasbey aka Rosalie Warren

Can you start by telling us what copy editing is?
According to the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, the aim of copy editing is to make sure that a piece of writing is ‘accurate, easy to follow, fit for purpose and free of error, omission, inconsistency and repetition’. I like to think of it as bringing a piece of work to its very best, in line with the intentions of the writer. It involves such things as removing inconsistencies (and I’m not just talking about the eye colour of your lead character, although that’s a big one) and ambiguities, and correcting grammatical and stylistic errors, while preserving as far as possible the writer’s individual style.

And why is copy editing so important for writers?
Copy editing is important because communication is important, in every part of life. No one wants to be misunderstood or to have their readers scratching their heads trying to work out who is speaking or to distinguish between a character called Catherine and her daughter, also called Catherine. People still call their characters Pete and Peta in the same book, however, and when you’re reading at speed it gets very difficult to follow. Sensible naming, as well as paragraph setting and punctuation, can make everything clear, as well as easier and more enjoyable to absorb.

So what made you decide to write a book about copy editing?
When I’m not being an author I work as a copy editor and proofreader, and I find that most of the work I’m sent involves the same mistakes, over and over again. When I send a client their completed work, I always include a summary of the main changes I have made or I should say ‘suggested’, because a client is always free to reject them, of course. This summary ends up being the same, or very similar, for most of my writers, and that’s what prompted me to write the book. Many of the problems involve dialogue, punctuation and the interplay between the two. If writers could get this right first time, their lives would be much easier and their editing bills lower.

Are you worried that you are going to put yourself out of a job by having written this book?
As I say in the book, I recommend that every writer, however experienced, has their work professionally copy edited and proofread, but believe me, the quotes they receive will be lower if they can put at least some of these things right for themselves. Don’t worry. I don’t see myself or any other editor being out of work. There will always be plenty left for us to do. It can sometimes take an eagle eye to spot the smaller problems, and that’s what we’re here for.

An eagle eye is important in copy editing

I understand that pet pigs feature quite prominently in the book. Can you elaborate further?
Ah, the pigs. Well, I’ve nothing against pigs but I didn’t especially set out to include them in my book. I suppose I was scrabbling around for an example of how not to punctuate a sentence, and suddenly a young couple appeared, arguing about their pet pig. The pig kind of grew as the book went on. I decided it would be good to have him on the cover, and my brilliant illustrator Alex Hallatt suggested making him the editor and drew the picture of the harassed editor pig. That’s it, really. Sometimes your characters take over and there’s nothing you can do.

Many people, particularly those of a certain age, were probably put off learning about style and grammar at school. Is there anything remotely interesting, or even fun, about the subject at all?
I’m tempted to say ‘no’. It’s a subject many people hate. But I suppose I get a kind of perverse enjoyment from teasing out problems and putting things right. I like slicing through knots of confusion and making things clear. I love good writing and, to change the metaphor, there’s something very satisfying about digging out a muddy lump of precious metal and polishing it until it gleams. Or telling a writer to cut back on the metaphors a bit.

Why did you decide to self-publish the book rather than go with a traditional publisher?
I saw the book as a self-published work right from the start. For one thing, it’s very short, and I’m not sure a traditional publisher would want it, for that reason. I see myself now as a ‘hybrid author’. I’ve had some books traditionally published and I’ve published some myself. In today’s publishing world, it’s easy to do this, and thankfully the stigma of being self-published has almost, if not completely, gone.

One of Sheila's novels self-published under her pen name

Do you have any tips for writers who are thinking of self-publishing and haven't attempted it before?
Speak to someone who has done it, and then buy one of the many self-help books on the subject. I had Chris Longmuir’s ‘Nuts and Bolts of Self-Publishing’ beside me as I did this one, although to be fair, Amazon are pretty helpful at explaining how to do it as you go along. It’s not just the practical tips though. It’s the sense that you’re not alone. Be prepared for a few hitches and problems. You’ll be very lucky if there aren’t any. Give yourself plenty of time and try not to scream too much. You need to retain your sense of humour!

At the moment, 'From the Heart of a Copy Editor…' is only available as an e-book. Do you have any plans for producing a hard copy version and if so, do you have a timescale in mind?
Yes, I plan to produce a paperback in January 2018.

Are you working on any new books at the moment and if so, could you tell us a little bit about them?
I’m writing a novel, but I don’t really want to talk about it yet. I’m kind of superstitious about these things. I believe you can literally talk an idea to death. Keep the brain guessing what happens next. That’s how I get myself to write.

Thank you very much for talking to us today, Sheila, and good luck with the book.

‘From the Heart of a Copy Editor – The 10 Most Common Mistakes and How to Fix Them’ is now available on Amazon as an e-book with a retail price of £1.99. UK version only.

If you are interested in finding out more about Sheila, who also writes fiction for children and adults under the pen name of Rosalie Warren, you can visit her website at:

You can find out more about Sheila’s freelance editing and proofreading services at:

Sheila is offering an extra price reduction, over and above any other ongoing offer, on her editing and proofreading services, to anyone who contacts her to say that they have read the book and can quote the Magic Code in Section 6.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

The Mail on Sunday Feature

Hi everyone.

Well, it's not every day that The Mail on Sunday runs a double-page spread about the book you are writing. This is what happened to me last Sunday, and I'm still recovering from the shock.

It was about three weeks ago that I received an email, completely out of the blue, from the paper's chief reporter. Apparently, he had been researching the issue of copyright on unpublished letters for something he was working on and had come across a blog post that I had  written about this very subject.

The post in question was about my own copyright issues concerning the large collection of letters and postcards I have inherited from my grandmother. These are not just any old letters and postcards. They were written to my grandmother by her close friend, Ethel North, who was lady's maid and companion to Lady Winifred Burghclere, elder sister of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, between 1919 and 1933. During this period, Ethel travelled all over the world with Lady B, as Ethel calls her in the letters, mixing with the great and the good, picking up fascinating snippets of gossip about everyone from Sir Winston Churchill to the Queen Mother and describing everything she saw and experienced in the most extraordinarily eloquent style.

One of Ethel's letters to my grandmother

I've been trying to get Ethel's letters published as a non-fiction book, called My Dear Elsie, on and off for the last seven years. There have been many twists and turns along the way, the problem with the copyright being one of them. On several occasions, I've been convinced that a particular event was "the key log", namely the thing that would finally secure a book deal and get Ethel's amazing letters out into the world. So, of course, when The Mail on Sunday wanted to do a double page feature on the letters and my proposed book, I fell into exactly the same trap again.

After being interviewed by the reporter and providing all the material I was asked for, I started to get seriously anxious about several things. What would I say if Hollywood came calling? Who would play me in the film of the book? (Meryl Streep, hopefully.) What on earth would I do all day if I never needed to work again? My concerns were fuelled by the fact that the reporter, a seasoned journalist of many years experience, was incredibly enthusiastic about the letters and no, I really don't think he was spinning me a line to get the story, as I had already practically bitten his hand off in agreeing to let him use it.

When I saw a proof of the feature, a few hours before the paper went to press, I practically had the vapours. Because of The Mail on Sunday's readership, the feature was understandably slanted towards the angle of the letters being connected to the incredibly successful television series Downton Abbey. The piece flagged up Ethel's letters as "the REAL Downton diaries". I wandered round the house in a daze, wondering what on earth I'd done and envisaging the world's media camped out on my front lawn the following morning.

I needn't have worried. Apart from one literary agent, who contacted me at 9.15am on the day that the paper came out, the publishing industry has not exactly beaten a path to my door. I do realise it's still early days yet and I do have one or two irons in the fire as a result of The Mail on Sunday becoming involved, but I don't think I need to be getting in touch with Meryl Streep's agent, just yet.

So, it's back to the mundanity of typing up the letters, researching the footnotes and trying to earn money from other aspects of my writing. Meanwhile, I continue to wait for someone other than a very astute reporter on The Mail on Sunday to realise that there really is an amazing story here, and that it definitely needs to be told.

If you would like to read The Mail on Sunday feature online, here is the link:

You can also find out more about Ethel, Lady Burghclere and my proposed book at:

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Coffee Shop Writing Exercises

Hi everyone.

I'm not sure if it's the time of year, the time of life or the HRT I'm currently taking for the menopause but I seem to be in a clearing-out mood at the moment. I have all this energy that I've not had for years and nothing is safe any more, especially if it's been languishing in a cupboard for far longer than it probably should have done.

Writing is not escaping this "new broom" feeling either and I recently dismantled the notebook containing writing exercises that I kept in my handbag. I kept it in my handbag because I used to go into town a lot, sometimes several times a week, and write in coffee shops and cafes. The notebook was very useful for helping to kick-start my writing, especially when the lure of a second cappuccino and another chocolate eclair seemed too difficult to resist.

I thought it might be good if I shared a few of these exercises with you. Of course, you don't need to go into a coffee shop or cafe to try them. They are great for doing anywhere or anytime. And please don't be put off by the word "exercises". We're not talking mental aerobics here. They are just prompts, really. A fun way of getting some words down on paper, that may or may not lead to something which you could incorporate into a longer piece or which might work as the first draft of a stand-alone item.

So here we go. 

1. You are sitting in a coffee shop or cafe and a mysterious man or woman walks by and hands you a piece of paper. They leave before you get a chance to read it. What does it say? What do you do? Who were they?

2. Choose ten people you know and write a one-sentence description for each of them.

3. You acquire the ability to change in size. How do you use this power?

4. Write "The trouble with..." in the middle of a piece of paper and then brainstorm your ideas.

5. You go into a room and discover a cupboard that you have never noticed before. What do you find when you open the cupboard door?

6. Pick an object that you can see in front of you and describe it to a blind person.

7. Open a book or a newspaper at random and select the first noun you see. Repeat with two more random pages. Now write a piece of flash fiction (maximum 150 words) that includes all three nouns in the order in which you found them.

Have fun!


Sunday, 23 July 2017

Self-Publish And Be Damned

Hi everyone.

I hope you are having a good summer if it is summer in your part of the world.

Today I have a big announcement to make. After years of railing against self-publishing and resisting it with every fibre of my writing being such as in this post, I have finally decided to throw my principles out of the window and give it a go after all.

I am currently dusting off all eleven (yes, eleven) of my unpublished children's books which are currently sleeping peacefully in my filing cabinet, along with all the rejection letters from publishers and agents that they have accumulated over the years and starting the process of self-publishing them all.

It has taken me a long time to come to this decision but in the end, my reasons for doing so are as follows:

1. It seems a bit pointless having them all shut away in the filing cabinet when they might as well be out in the world getting rave (or not) reviews on Amazon.

2. Having recently started a new venture of helping other authors with their book publicity and promotion (more of that in a future post) I have realised that the more "products" you have in your shop window, ie your author website, the better.

3. The big Six Zero is looming and frankly, I don't think I have enough time or patience left to wait around while another set of agents and publishers take twelve months to decide to reject a manuscript.

4. Everyone else seems to be doing it and yes, I know the thing about not putting your finger in the fire but if I'm honest, I think a lot of those writers are considerably less experienced than I am.

5. I really like the idea of having total creative control over everything from the manuscript to the cover design to the publicity. It's perfect for a Control Freak like me.

6. The quality of self-published books has improved considerably over the last few years and although it is still difficult to get them taken on by traditional booksellers, there are so many more outlets for points of sale now, especially if you have a really good quality product.

7. The rise of social media and easier access to online reviewers etc means that anyone can do their own book publicity (or hire me to do it for them) without the need for a marketing department behind them.

8. I won't have to be "pigeon-holed" as a writer as I probably would have to be if I was being taken on by an agent or publisher. In other words, if I want to be a children's writer, a non-fiction author and a poet, with self-publishing I can be.

9. It will provide a valuable insight into the whole process of self-publishing which could stand me in good stead for future ventures and also help me to be more empathic to self-published authors who come to me for book publicity and promotion. And I'll have something to blog about.

10. I don't want to be published posthumously!

So off I go on my self-publishing journey and we'll see where it takes me. I'll keep you in the loop.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Publish And Be Damned

Hi everyone.

I hope you are having a good summer wherever you are in the world.

I wasn't expecting to discover this week that I have something in common with former royal butler Paul Burrell but it appears that I have. His book A Royal Duty published in 2003, is based on his experiences as butler to Diana, Princess of Wales who tragically died in a car crash twenty years ago this year. The book caused considerable controversy at the time because of the "revelations" it contained about Diana's private life based on personal letters that Burrell had included in his book.

Nothing unusual there then, given the apparent penchant of ex-employees for spilling the royal beans. What was different about Burrell's book however was that Burrell had not only included letters written by the late princess to himself, but had also included letters written by Prince Philip to his daughter-in-law in the early 1990s.

Princess Diana dancing with John Travolta at the White House
Photo Credit: Ronald Reagan Library (PD)

This brought into focus the whole question of who owns a letter once it has been sent. It's a dilemma that I've been wrestling with ever since I discovered a cache of about eighty letters and postcards hidden at the back of my late mother's wardrobe after her death in 2010.

The letters I found had been written to my grandmother by a close friend of hers called Ethel North. Ethel was lady's maid to Lady Winifred Burghclere, the sister of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who along with Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun's tomb. The letters were written between 1919 and 1933 while Ethel was travelling to some very exotic locations with her employer. Although obviously not in the same revelatory league as Burrell's letters, they do contain some fascinating gossip about many leading figures of the day including King George V, Sir Winston Churchill and General Haig.

George V and Queen Mary

As soon as I found the letters I knew almost immediately that I wanted to try and get them published. I started typing them up and researching their content with a view to publishing them as a non-fiction book called My Dear Elsie.

Everything was going fine until I discovered that although I own the actual letters themselves, I don't own the copyright to them. That still belongs to the "residual legatees" of Ethel's estate, in other words her legal heirs.

Despite my efforts to trace the copyright holders, I have reached a bit of an impasse, mainly because it is proving difficult to find out exactly who these legatees are. Ethel had five sisters and most of them had children so there seem to be quite a number of potential copyright holders involved.

Of course, the whole issue of copyright law is rather ridiculous in this situation anyway. It's not as if the copyright holders can do anything with the copyright as they don't own the actual letters because I do. And if I can't do anything with the letters because I don't own the copyright, then no one is ever going to find out what George V used to say to Prince George (later the Duke of Kent) when the latter had stayed out all night at a ball, or why General Haig could command the entire British army but fail to control his teenage daughter! 

A page from one of Ethel's letters

A fellow writer has urged me this week to "publish and be damned" as she feels I've probably already done enough to try and trace the copyright holders. According to an article she kindly sent me in relation to the Burrell book, there is some room for manoeuvre. Apparently there can be a legal defence when it comes to using copyrighted material of "criticism, review and new reporting" which was interesting to discover.

Of course, whether or not I can take the probably faint risk of an expensive lawsuit if any of Ethel's legatees decide to challenge my book, remains to be seen. After all, Burrell seems to have got away with it. On the other hand, I could wait another thirteen years and the letters will be out of copyright anyway as it will be 70 years after Ethel's death. So to publish or not to publish? That is the question.

What do you think I should do?

If you'd like to find out more about Ethel's letters please visit the website

Friday, 12 May 2017

National Limerick Day 2017

Hi everyone.

Happy National Limerick Day 2017! And sincere apologies that I didn't quite manage to "up my game" in terms of blogging as I said I would do in my last post which was way back in November. But "onwards and upwards" as they say.

National Limerick Day is celebrated annually on May 12th every year in recognition of the birthday of the poet, author, illustrator and artist Edward Lear who was born in 1812. His Danish father apparently ended up in debtors prison so Lear had to start earning a living at a very young age. He began as an illustrator for the London Zoological Society and then went to live on the estate of the Earl of Derby. It was there that he wrote his first book of poems A Book of Nonsense which was intended for the grandchildren of the Derbys.

Edward Lear by Wilhelm Marstrand 
Photo credit:

Although Lear went on to write many travel books, he subsequently became most famous for his humorous light verse including such well-known poems as The Owl and the Pussy Cat and The Dong with the Luminous Nose. He is also credited with being the creator of the form and meter of the limerick as we now know it. 

I must admit to having rather a soft spot for the limerick and I have always enjoyed writing them. Maybe it was because one of my first ever writing competition successes was when I won First Prize in the Leicester Limerick Competition run by my local evening paper the Leicester Mercury, way back in 1981.

This was my winning limerick and the prize was £20 which felt like a small fortune in those days.

There was a young lady from Leicester,
Who worked as a steam-roller tester.
One day she fell out
And gave such a great shout,
For she found that the job quite depressed her. 

Many years later in 2008, I was fortunate to have some limericks accepted for publication in The Mammoth Book of Limericks edited by Glyn Rees and published by Robinson. I've just looked on ebay and it's there for under £3.00. A bargain in my opinion!

Here is one of my limericks from the book.

There was an old writer called Reuel,
Whom everyone thought was a fool;
Till he wrote some huge novels 
About hobbits in hovels,
And now he's a literary jewel.

And here is one of my limericks that so far hasn't been published.

One thing that they say about food,
It's supposed to get one "in the mood".
Oysters won't do it 
And neither would suet
But chocolate could get me quite crude!

If you would like to find out more about limericks and try your hand at writing them, there is a useful post here which should give you some tips and prompts:

Have fun!

All the above limericks are Copyright Melissa Lawrence 2017.