Sunday, February 27, 2011

Verbal tics

I like to make the dialogue in my books distinctive and interesting, so I’m a keen listener to what people say AND the way that I say it. I try to capture peoples’ verbal tics and give them to my characters.

Dave has a lot of verbal tics. They change over time. At present his favourite is to add “and stuff” to the ends of his sentences. Someone else in the family uses the word “obviously” a lot – often when it’s not obvious. One of my good friends frequently says “To be honest.”

I’ve been asking Dave for ages to spot my verbal tics, and he hasn’t been able to come up with any.

This morning he said “That’s a verbal tic of yours!”

“What is?”

How very odd,” he said. “You say How very odd, usually in situations when you’ve just been proved wrong about something.”

Me proved wrong? How very odd. 


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Roll of honour

Sometimes people give such great service, you want to shout about it, and today I am going to do just that.

1/ Thanks to my village shop – Caseys – for always being utterly reliable, helpful, efficient, cheerful, and for getting some pork scratchings for me from the wholesalers 

Book cover 048

2/ Thanks to Geoff Fisher, sales manager of CPI UK, for being friendly, helpful, professional and unfailingly patient, in the light of all my requests for advice and information about the printing of my new book – BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU. I must be a source of huge irritation to him and yet he has never shown a hint of it to me.

3/ Thanks to Dylan of 121 IT Services in Sheffield, for calmly rescuing me from a fate worse than death yesterday, when I thought all my emails had gone to never-never-land. (I would have rung Isaac, but he was on the other side of the clock, in dreamland.)

4/ Thanks to Rowan Wools for being responsive to a complaint about wool I bought for Zoe, which she knitted up into a jumper which pilled badly. Rowan Wools refunded all the money – a year after purchase  - and added some compensation. Hooray for excellent customer service!

Roll of shame

1/ Boo to Pipex Homecall for providing a crap service and connection speed and then denying it, sending BT round to check the line and then denying they had, etc etc etc ad nauseum. Now we are with Plusnet, who answer the phone and talk good sense and who (so far) have given a good connection speed.

2/ Boo to Chatsworth Farm Shop, who promised on two separate occasions to write to me about a piece of grit which we found in a veggie sausage roll. They did not do as they promised. I am disillusioned, and also aggrieved in the light of the honourable mentions they got in both Zuzu’s Petals and Plotting for Beginners.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


feb 11 065

I just got back from a great weekend in Paris with my big sister, Kath.

feb 11 064

The main purpose of this briefest of brief trips was to see the Musee d’Orsay and the Impressionists.

Mission accomplished.


I’m not a travel writer, nor an art critic, so apart from WOW, I would like to say

1/ I was very moved by Van Gogh’s La Nuit Etoilee, which I had not seen before,


2/ I thought the Musee itself was stunning (it wasn’t open when I was last in Paris in 1983.)

I would like to ask two questions

1/ Why do Parisians wear nothing but black, brown or navy in the winter? – It’s so dull!

2/ Why do hotels abroad offer you Liptons teabags in your room? (so far found in Paris. New York, Denver and Mendocino.)  Is it because foreigners don’t understand what constitutes good tea, or is it that Liptons  can only sell their stuff abroad, because self-respecting tea drinkers in the UK won’t touch it?

……..oooh, I am being contentious this morning……

Friday, February 18, 2011

Deleted scenes

Did you know that for litho-printed books, the number of pages in the book has to be divisible by 16? This means that if your book pages total 328 (as mine do) you are left with 8 spare pages.

I was brought up not to waste anything, so Dave’s suggestion to stop worrying and just to have blank pages at the end of the book did not appeal. But what could I put on those pages?

I thought about the scenes which Chrissie wants me to cut from the novel because she thinks they slow down the narrative drive, and then I thought about the deleted scenes you sometimes get on film dvds, and I thought ah-ha! I could put my deleted scenes in the blank pages at the back, and before I considered it further I fired off an email to Chrissie – what did she think?

Then I thought durrhh!  If I am cutting scenes from the book, I will be using fewer pages so if I stick them in the back I will still have roughly the same number of pages – 328 – and therefore I will still have 8 spares.

Then I got a reply from Chrissie, who pointed out:

My immediate response is that I don't think it is a good idea for a variety of reasons. But mainly because readers don't want to be reminded that this is a novel - they know it is, but they want to think of these people as real people whose lives go on when the novel is over. Having bits stuck on the end disrupts that and forces them to acknowledge that you made all this up.

A better idea it seems to me would be have these on your blog - but after publication - so that if readers want they can have more scenes from the lives of Fran and Sol. But, Sue, don't let your Quakerly thrift get the better of you. Just because you've written it, YOU DON'T HAVE TO USE IT. In the end some things just have to be thrown away.

……..It might be interesting for other writers to see what didn't make the cut, but you are writing for readers. Be proud that you had the courage to delete the bits that didn't work and leave it at that.

Oooh, doesn’t she talk good sense? You can see why it’s hard to resist her suggestions about my novel, can’t you?

p.s. and now I am off to Paris – so if you comment, please be patient till Monday.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The planets

Don’t tell me that astrology doesn’t work.
Yesterday I had Mars (energy/conflict)  opposition (in difficult aspect to)  Mercury (communication).
  1. I woke up from a nightmare in which someone was saying nasty things to me
  2. I spilled a full mug of tea all over the bed and the floor
  3. I crashed my laptop
  4. I went to the local library in Bakewell with my 5 page permission request to fax to David E Kelley Productions in Los Angeles, and when I got there realised I had forgotten the fax number
  5. so I Googled it at the library and sent the fax
  6. then got home and checked the fax number and found I had used the wrong one so had to go back to the library to fax again
  7. came home and had a spat with the family member who declines to be named.
Fortunately after that, things improved. I got to see Zoe and my grandsons. The six year old showed me the book he had written about the planets (astronomy is his latest craze) which has a contents page and what he calls a “blurb” on the back. How does he know what he knows? He is a marvel.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Things I have learned

One of the good things about this self publishing lark is how much you learn in the process.

Did you know that you have to purchase ISBNs in batches of ten? (Not good if you only have one book in mind.)

Or that people still use fax machines?

There’s a  quote from an American TV series in my novel, and yesterday I rang up the production company in Los Angeles to ask for a name to whom I could send my request for permission to quote it. Guess what? They don’t accept email requests. They told me I had to fax it. Why do you suppose that is? I have no idea, but I have no choice. I’m on the hunt for someone with a fax machine who is also discreet.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Progress report

After a hiatus while I’ve been ill, things are getting exciting again on the publishing front.

Several weeks ago my sister Jen went through the book and made her comments and suggestions for improvement. Thank you, Jen  - especially for your help with crossing out commas, and also for your no nonsense bullshit-detecting.

Now I have got my typescript back from Chrissie, who has had it for a couple of weeks for proofreading and copy-editing. She’s done rather more than the brief. There are pencil marks everywhere and not just where she’s crossed out commas (of which I am apparently over-fond). The margins are full of suggestions and criticisms and questions. I’m grateful to her: she’s spent a lot of time on it and done a thorough job. (Thanks, Chrissie.)When we crit each other’s work we always say to each other – “Take what you want and ignore the rest.”

I have accepted 90% of her micro edits and 10% of her macro ones. It has been a challenge to weigh her comments and to see if I agree with them and if I want to make her suggested changes. Sometimes I think her macro-suggestions come from her crime writer’s stance (where plot is king), sometimes from her personality (which is different from mine but which necessarily informs her characters’ motivations) and sometimes I embrace them as what works best in my novel. I could be wrong of course. Chrissie is better read than me and has a good eye: it could be that I should be embracing them all. But it’s my novel, and what I say goes!

Thankfully, now Dave and I are publishing it, what I say goes for the cover too.  (People outside publishing don’t realise that the writer usually has no control of the cover. And just for the record, when the publisher sent me the pink frilly one for Zuzu’s Petals I cried, because I think it makes the book look frothy and shallow.)

The second bit of progress is that the original artwork which Zoe designed and crafted so beautifully in Sheffield


has finally reached Isaac in San Francisco (phew, I thought it was lost in the post)

Isaac in Isaac and Wendy and Lux

so he can begin to work on the photography and the layout for the book cover. He emailed me his first photograph yesterday and I was blown away by the clarity and luminosity of the photo and yet again by his immense skill. I am VERY lucky to have such a talented, helpful and generous family. Thank you, dear Zoe and Isaac.

And as this post seems to be full of thanks, I also should say thanks to my friend Ella of deadasweknowit for the original idea which Z and I are making real.

This is sounding more and more like a Bafta speech.

Now I need to get the words tweaked and  perfect and ready. Onward and upward.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

One of the twitterati

I’ve done it. I’ve done that thing that I said I wouldn’t. I have tweeted. Why has it taken me so long when my son Isaac works for Twitter and even my 6 month old granddaughter

christmas 2011

has her very own twitter account - @thebeean  ? I explained why I didn’t want to  last October.

So why have i succumbed? I am doing it to promote the book – discreetly and subtly, of course, as befits a writer published by Delicately Nuanced. If you want to follow me, I am @suehepworth. I am going to give it my best, though I have to say that right now it’s freaking me out. I hate the fact that I can’t go back and edit my tweets. I have to make all my mistakes in public.


Friday, February 11, 2011

A new view

I went to see Rabbit Hole last night at the Sheffield Showroom. The film was about a couple grieving after the accidental death of their 4 year old son. When I told the family I was going to see it, they said “Why would anyone want to go and see anything so miserable?” which is possibly why my friend and I were the only ones in the cinema.
But the film did not make me cry. Nor did it move me. I was watching the characters and not engaged in their drama. And I came away wondering if that was what the writer intended.  And if so, why?

It was an interesting view of bereavement and grief, and an exploration of the loneliness and the damage it can do to relationships. My problem with the film may have been the lack of grit and earthiness. The people were beautiful and their house was beautiful. And everything was so clean. It didn’t feel real. Their glossy life put distance between them and me.  There was baking in the film and there was gardening, but there was no convincing earthiness. Was that why I didn’t feel engaged? Or was it because their four year old son did not appear apart from a  2 second video clip on a mobile phone?  I have a lot of questions.
Seeing films these days is rather different for me from how it used to be. If the film does not emotionally engage me, or inspire me or make me laugh, I can still get something out of it by thinking about it from a writerly point of view, and considering what does and doesn’t work. I don’t think this film worked – at least, it did not work for me.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Pet hate

A family member who declines to be named has lent me the entire box set of Frasier and I am working my way through them in a post-virus haze. But I’m not so hazy that I can’t  recognise that Daphne Moon’s Manchester accent is decidedly iffy. It’s always bothered me…is she even English? never mind is she from Manchester?

Now I’ve looked her up on Wiki and found that she’s from Ilford. That explains why some of her accent sounds OK and some sounds dodgy and over-hammed. (Like the genuine but over-played Geordie accent of the dreadful Ruth on The Archers – 

why didn’t they kill her off instead of Nigel? But that’s another story…and yet another story is how liberating it is to write on my blog these days in such an ill-disciplined manner with brackets here and dashes there and sentences that don’t begin with capital letters. I have been dotting i’s and crossing t’s on the typescript of my new book and so it’s great to break out of the straitjacket here.)

Anyway…my current pet hate is American films and TV comedies/dramas that have English characters with fake English accents. You would think that there were sufficient English actors in the US for casting directors to find one to play the few English characters that appear in their films and their programmes – and with the correct regional accent. Daphne’s ex-fiance (Clive) has just appeared in Series 4 and he is supposed to be from Manchester, yet he has a distinct south-eastern accent. And last night Dave and I watched a MASH episode in which there was an English character who was supposed to be upper class/posh and had the attendant airs and graces and verbal tics, and yet he had flat Northern vowels.

Ooh, maybe there’s a job for me in Hollywood – I could vet English accents for casting directors.


Monday, February 07, 2011


I’m sorry for the lack of posts at the moment. I am still feeling awful after that virus. Last week the virus was a bit like that one in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon story, The Speeding Ticket -

It’s the usual flu with chills, fever…achiness and personal guilt, but it’s accompanied by an overpowering urge to put things in order. Before you collapse into bed, you iron the sheets. Before you vomit, you plan your family’s meals for the upcoming week.

This week i don’t want to do any of that. I want to sit around and watch old episodes of Frasier. And I have a recurring yen for plates of roast meat and gravy – like my mother used to make.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Not my bag

Every day last week a friend or a family member phoned to tell me that Jon Snow – anchorman of Channel 4 News – was going to be on Desert Island Discs. Why were they calling to tell me that? Do they think that because Frances, the heroine of my new novel, hero-worships Jon Snow, it means that I do too? Why would they think that?

Yesterday I caught up with the programme on iPlayer and it was interesting to hear Jon Snow talk about his life and times. But his choice of music left me cold, so his new wife has nothing to fear -I shan’t be running away with him (and neither will Frances.)

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Weird that he didn’t grin

Look away now if you are not interested in the niceties of editing and the pedantic predilections of writers..

My good friend Chrissie has been examining my manuscript with her beady eye and her critical brain, and writing lots of notes in the margin with her sharp sharp pencil.
Yesterday I came across a place in the text where I’d described a character as looking “pretty pleased” and she’d suggested I make his reaction more specific. This was a good suggestion. The phrase “pretty pleased” was lingering from the draft of the book that I had written in the first person, so that the  first person narrator was saying her husband looked “pretty pleased” about something. Now the book is written in the third person, “pretty pleased” does not sit well.
Chrissie suggested that instead of “he looked pretty pleased” I should say  “he grinned.” This is a perfectly valid suggestion and “grinned” is a perfectly acceptable word. But when I read the word I mentally shrank away. No-one ever grins in my fiction. They smile, they laugh, they smirk, they might even do a fake guffaw, or put on an evil pantomime laugh, but they never ever grin. Or…at least…to be more precise…I never describe them as grinning. They may, just possibly,  have an evil grin – so I may use the word as a noun, but I don’t ever use it as a verb.
Why? There is no straightforward explanation. I think it is because when I read that a character grinned, it makes it seem like fiction and not like real life (and thus breaks the fictive dream) because in real life I don’t describe (in my head) people as grinning. That may be it. Or - who knows? - maybe I just don’t like grin as a verb. It isn’t in my writer’s voice. People may grin in Chrissie's novels. They don’t grin in mine. Weird, isn’t it?
p.s. if one of you can prove me wrong by finding grin used as a verb in my fiction then of course I will give you a prize! ( this antipathy to grin as a verb may be very recent.)

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Truths and untruths

The snowdrops are not out in my garden yet, but I did take the picture I’ve used for my February header in February. It was five years ago. And one day soon the picture will be true again.

I didn’t have flu. I had a nasty virus that has left me looking and feeling awful. Everything is a struggle, including thinking of things to entertain you. But I have just discovered some achingly funny sketches on Youtube. Try this one. You’ll have to watch past the advert.