Ten Reasons For Rejection:

1. There isn’t a strong enough hook to draw you straight into the story.
This is vital. The reader will only buy the book if she’s caught up from the very first paragraph. Give an indication of the problem on the first page and make it strong. Don't ever overload your first pages with too much back story. Start the action with a bang and slip in any necessary details and explanations later as and when needed.

2. Unsympathetic, weak characters.
Readers must feel able to identify with the viewpoint characters, and care about them. They must be strong and well-thought-out. The hero must be heroic. The heroine too. But they must also have flaws, be human, fallible, and likeable so that the reader understands the motivation behind all their actions. Make a biography for each and every major character so you don’t make the mistake of changing their eye colour in Chapter Five. You will learn more about them as you write, which you can add to your bio. Decide whose story it is. Whose viewpoint works best for any particular scene.

3. Lacks Spark.
This may have something to do with your prose style. Are you trying too hard? You’ve read all the how-to books and now you’re carefully following the rules. The danger is that it could end up seeming mechanical or wooden. The quality of the prose is vital. Don’t settle for less than your best. Dialogue must be sharp and engaging. Find your voice and make your writing special.

4. Not compulsive.
This may mean that there is a problem with pacing, plot or character. Have you varied the pace or laboured some points, wallowed in a quagmire in the middle? Does the narrative drive have the energy to power the story along? Or have you run out of plot? Problems, tension, conflict and complications. This is the stuff of fiction. Make a list of all the obstacles you could put in the way of your key-character achieving her goal. Give your story pace. Milk the scene, push it to its limits. Make your characters strong, your love scenes sexy, your story exciting.

5. Poor structure.
 Check that your story has a beginning, middle and end. It should build to a climax and finish with a satisfying denouement in which the problem is resolved.

6. Lacks credibility.
Have you fallen into the trap of using coincidence to get your character out a sticky situation? Banish it from your story. Life is full of chance, coincidence and random actions, but fiction must have motivation, logic, order, and a cohesive whole. Character motivation needs to be sufficiently strong to make their actions logical. Have you done sufficient research to help you handle an idea in a realistic fashion? Don’t fudge. Find the answer. Make it real.

7. Not emotionally compelling.
Are you nervous of digging into your own emotions or simply of putting them down on paper? Forget what people you know might think of your book, your mother, your daughter, and write what you feel. Banish all negative thoughts, all those little voices over your shoulder which ask ‘What will my dad think of this!’ Examine the inner conflict of your main characters. How are they are reacting to what is going on around them? How do they feel? Is there sufficient tension between the hero and the heroine? The reader should care about those characters and want to keep turning those pages.

8. Unimaginative.

The editor may not quite put it that way, but it is a common reason for rejection. They’ve seen it all before. It isn’t fresh, the characters don’t come alive, the plot is predictable and lumbers along. True, they’ve seen every plot before, so don’t expect to come up with something unique. But don’t give them time to think about that, keep the pace moving, and never settle for your first idea. Write down every possibility you can think of, and then dig deeper. Eventually you’ll hit on a different angle, a new twist. The best ideas come when you are actually writing. Strong characterisation can guide you through the mire of plotting. They should be able to tell you what is going to happen next. See below for ways to stimulate your imagination.

9. Not commercial.

Is it written for a market? Have you done your market research? It’s vital to know who would want to read your book. The bookseller or etailer, as well as the publisher, will want to know where he is going to put it on his shelves. The reader will wonder if she will like this book? What sort of book is it? If you don’t know, why should they? Publishing is a competitive world. If you are to succeed you must aim to be as good as the best in any given genre.

10. Spelling and grammar issues.
 Don’t think these aren’t important. If you don’t take the trouble to present your manuscript as well as you can, using a dictionary to check every spelling, check every fact at least twice, why should an editor waste time even reading it? Polish, polish, polish.

Most important of all - if you get a rejection - don’t give up. Cry into your coffee, then read the rejection letter again. Listen to their comments, heed any advice which seems appropriate, then send it out again.


What should dialogue do?

1. Reveal and explain character.
a) Who speaks - this must be clear.. b) What they say should be relevant to the story c) How they speak should be distinctive for each character.

2. Advance the action - within each scene and within the novel.

3. It must create conflict. a) Between the protagonists. b) Against a character’s own inner thoughts.

4. Provide information - background detail or motivation.

5. Add pace and suspense through giving pointers, and vary the rhythm of the book.

6. Show viewpoint, emotion and mood.

7. Show inner thoughts alongside or instead of speech - But does it reveal everything, or only a part? What is not told?

8. Weave essential detail and action in with the dialogue. Great blocks of research interrupt the flow of dialogue and readers tend to skip it.

9. Dialect and historical slang. Absolutely no gadzooks type of speech. Aim always for straightforward clarity. Where it is necessary, don’t overuse - Make it fit the speaker and period. It’s safer to use only one character if a particular way of speech is needed to add the right sense of place.

10.Dialogue should add sparkle and life, colour and tone.

An ear for dialogue is important in any story. If you don’t have it, acquire it. Listen and take note verbal patterns, body language, what is left out or not explained, punch lines, how people who know each other well need fewer words. How people interrupt, discuss two subjects at the same time, get at cross-purposes. How people argue and react to confrontation. The gender divide - men and women differ in conversation, in what way? Listen to puns and syntax, dialect twang, regional idioms, favourite sayings and old saws. Notice how class, occupation, age and character are revealed in conversation. Listen also for the effect of emotion: Frustration. Anxiety. Anger etc. Most of all, keep it brisk, clear and to the point. If it doesn’t have a purpose, take it out.

Exercise: If you have trouble writing dialogue, take a piece of your own narrative, the aim of which is get across certain information to the reader, and rewrite it as dialogue which will impart the same information in a more interesting way. Show what the characters are doing while they are speaking, and how they feel about what they are saying.


Fowey Festival of Words and Music (formerly known as the Du Maurier)

Pont Pill

Last week I enjoyed a fabulous week at the Fowey Festival of Words and Music (or the Du Maurier Festival - as it used to be called). Can't think why they would need to change such an important international name. The Festival takes place each year in early May in Fowey, Cornwall, directed by Jonathon Aberdeen, but much of the work done by local volunteers.

It was wonderful to be back in Fowey, where we lived for 13 years, and where I ran a little gift shop on Fore Street. Good to meet up with old friends, and revisit favourite haunts, of which there are many in beautiful Fowey. My slot wasn’t until the end of the week so I could relax and enjoy the many events on offer at the Festival village, specially erected at the top of the town.

The first one of these was Liz Fenwick on Sunday afternoon. Liz gave an interesting talk about her journey to publication, and of her new title The Cornish Affair, which was most interesting. How she fits everything in to her peripatetic life style I cannot imagine.

Another fascinating talk was by Sarah Dunant, talking about her new historical novel on the Borgias: Blood and Beauty. As always, Sarah was bubbling with energy and enthusiasm, and full of fascinating and intriguing facts about this controversial family. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Judith Mackrell talked to Helen Taylor about the Flappers, a biography about six extraordinary women: Diana Cooper, Nancy Cunard, Tallulah Bankhead, Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and Tamara de Lempicka. For anyone who loves the twenties, this book is a must have.

I also enjoyed Hilary Boyd talking about her unexpected bestseller, Thursdays in the Park. A love story that features a grandmother as the heroine, and is now to be made into a film. I think lots of women are now taking their grandchildren for walks in the park.

Lynne Gould gave a most interesting slide show on the settings for Daphne Du Maurier’s famous books, interspersed with snippets of information about her life and events that inspired incidents in the books. 

Ferryside where Daphne wrote her first books

Polridmouth (Pridmouth) Bay where the wreck took place that features in Rebecca, based on an actual event that took place a few years before she wrote the novel.
The next day we listened to Jane Dunn talking about the Du Maurier sisters: Angela, Daphne and Jeanne. Angela, the eldest, was also a writer, although not as famous as her sister, and Jeanne an artist who settled into the St Ives community. All three were passionate about Cornwall.

Other authors at the festival included: Joanna Harris, Michael Morpurgo, Piers Brendon, Ken Livingstone, Kathy Lette, Fern Britton, Robert Powell and many more.

David enjoyed Wendy Cope reading from her wonderful poems, and Simon Hoggart being witty about MPs. And we also saw two plays: The Little Hut by St Austell Players, and Memory of Water, by Troy Players. Both were of an excellent standard, and the former very funny indeed. And of course there are boat trips (the only way to view Fowey) plus many interesting walks and other events.

Enjoy a Wind in the Willows boat trip

We loved the musical evening with Cantabile, a quartet of singers who sang with harmony and humour. I’ve never seen anything like it, they were great fun, singing Lambeth Walk backwards, and another song like a stuck 78 record. Hilarious!

On the Saturday afternoon I gave my talk on my life as a writer set against the changes in technology. Though I'm not quite old enough to have used a quill pen, I did write my first novels on a sit-up-beg typewriter. I finished by discussing how the revolution in ebooks is changing the landscape for writers.

My talk took place at the town hall and yes, that is a bed behind me, not for me to take a rest but part of the set. It seemed totally weird to be standing on that stage again after all these years. The last time I trod those boards was as a spice girl (or rather old spice) in Sinbad the Sailor, the pantomime 'what I wrote' . Fortunately I only had to produce the basic script as the rest of the Troy Players chipped in with the jokes. Excellent teamwork and great fun.

I also might have made a passing mention to my new book:
My Lady Deceiver, which is set in Cornwall.

1905. Rosie Belsfield feels as if her life has ended when she is rejected from Ellis Island and put on the next boat back to England, leaving her family behind. But fate gives her a second chance when she befriends Lady Rosalind. Having boarded the ship with one identity, fate decrees that Rosie leave it with another . . . As Rosie arrives in Cornwall as ‘Rosalind’, she finds herself increasingly trapped by her deception and the cruelty of those around her. Her only hope seems to be the enigmatic Bryce Tregowan, with whom the promise of a new life beckons. As she falls deeper into love and lies, can Rosie keep up the act, or will her secrets reveal themselves? And to what consequences? 

Published by Allison & Busby
Available from Amazon

The week ended on a high with a fabulous one-woman show by Ruthie Henshall, international musical star of Crazy for You, She Loves You, and Chicago. What a wonderful voice she has, and a delightful rapport with the audience. A brilliant evening, and a brilliant Festival. Can’t wait for next year. Not only a fun event but the marvellous Fowey River and town to enjoy.

The Voyager cruise ship at anchor in Fowey River


Questions every Writer should ask over the main Character’s Journey

1. Who is your main Point of View character?

2. What is the inciting incident or problem and in what way does it effect her life?

3. What emotional state is she in at the beginning? And at the end?

4. What does she want? What are her aims and goal, and what does that tell us about her?

5. Many obstacles must stand in her way. What is her flaw that prevents her from attaining her goal, and which traits will help her to overcome them in the end?

6. What is at stake? How high are the stakes? What will she lose if she doesn’t achieve her objective?

7. Why should the reader care? They need to be emotionally involved, understand her flaws and be willing her to succeed. Motivation. Motivation. Motivation is the secret.

8. What does she learn along this hazardous journey? How does she confront her demons and develop as a person?

9. The darkest hour will come when it seems as if she has lost everything. This will be followed by the climax when, largely by her own efforts and certainly not luck or a Prince Charming riding to her rescue, she wins through.

10. How does her story end? Redemption and resolution. Major problem finally solved and a satisfying end for the reader.


A Sense of Place

There is no better way of getting the feel of an industry, occupation or area than to talk to the people who have lived it. Ask them about their routine: daily, seasonal, annual. How they got started? How did they acquire their skills? How have things changed? What are the problems and dangers in the work? Where did they ache after a long day?

Oral history tapes and transcripts in local libraries are also a useful resource. These sometimes have to be booked in advance. Most libraries have a catalogue or summary sheets of what is available so you can choose before ordering which you actually need to listen to.

I often interview people when I’m working on a book, and they readily find time to talk to me and share their memories of times past, the work they used to do whether in the mill or munitions, farming or forestry, in war or peace. I like to be able to properly describe some activity for my heroine during a particular scene or while a piece of dialogue is taking place. What special skills, hobbies and interests does she have? Is she being interviewed for a job in a smart London office, learning how to ski, mowing a suburban lawn, operating a machine or building a dry stone wall? Show your character at work. Nothing can give a better feel for the place.

One lady I interviewed was 92 at the time. She started in the mill as a doffer at 14, knocking off the filled bobbins, or cops as they were called, replacing them with empty ones. Her real name was Mary Ann but she was more affectionately known to her family and friends as Dolly because she was so small. ‘

'I were the scrapings up off t’mill floor,’ she told me, chortling with glee. ‘Eeh, it marvellous it were in t’mill.’

 Dolly wore a pinny, or apron, with a long pocket in front in which she carried the tools of her trade: sheers, for cutting the ends off; a piker, which was a long implement with a hooked end used to get the travellers out. She always carried a sharp knife to slip down the bobbin to get to where it was threaded. These were tied on to a string round her waist, or in her pocket, making her look permanently pregnant.

She wore clogs, of course. ‘You could hear them coming a mile off up from the mill. Clattering on the setts,’ she said.

If I’d asked her what she’d had for her dinner she might not have been able to tell me but she recalled her days at the spinning mill vividly. She took me through her day, how the cotton was spun, fleas and all, the heat in the mill, the constant danger of fire. Where and how they had their dinner. And any number of anecdotes about meeting Gracie Fields, singing in a band as Dolores, climbing down a drainpipe with her dance frock over her arm, which her mother made for her, and the tricks they used to play on each other in the mill, one being to roll a spindle on the greasy floor and send you flying.

Dolly told me she learned to be tough because she was put on and bullied for being small and felt the need to prove herself. As a small person myself I can identify with that. And her attitude to the bosses was: ‘I wouldn’t ‘humble meself to ‘em. They were always saying - don’t do this and don’t do that - but we got them round to our way of thinking in the end. We larned em.’

She very generously allowed me to name the character in my book after her, as it seemed so appropriate. It is not her story, but I hope some of this fine lady’s spirit lives on in Dolly Tomkins.

Here she is in Watch For The Talleyman following the incident with the spindle:

Dolly stood at her frame, concentrating on the task of winding yarn from hundreds of spindle bobbins on to the larger cones. She was skilled at her job after two long years but it still required concentration to control the speed and make any necessary adjustments, if breakages were to be kept to a minimum. She was hot and tired and ringing wet, the air full of cotton dust, the atmosphere uncomfortably humid from the steaming water sprayed between the rows of frames to keep the cotton damp and pliable. A constant working temperature of seventy degrees or more was necessary as otherwise the cotton threads would tighten and break, which meant that time, and therefore money, was lost.

For Dolly it had been a long and difficult morning, trying to avoid putting too much pressure on her strained ankle and worrying over the situation at home. Even so, she loved her work and enjoyed a bit of a laugh with her mates. Not that many of them were laughing today, the first day back following the disastrous strike. Tempers were short and morale low, and no one was saying much to anyone, with only the singing of the spinning frames to be heard.

On top of everything, her cotton this morning was of a poor quality, filthy with fleas and, as the yarn twisted and drew out, these were caught up in the slender rope of parallel fibres which was the roving, and wound onto the cones. Later, they would be woven into the fabric and finally dissolved and got rid of in the bleaching process but she hated the feel of them on her fingers. The older women, Dolly had noticed, were adept at feeling the cotton and choosing the best quality for themselves, probably because they were more dependant upon the wages than young girls such as herself.

Except that in Dolly’s case this wasn’t true at all. The Tomkins family needed every penny it could get, since most of it ended up in the bookie’s pocket. Only when they were free of debt to the talleyman would she be happy.

She’d seen Nifty Jack standing at the door deep in conversation with Mam, handing over more money and a new card, indicating that this strike had cost them dear. And poor Ma Liversedge was to be buried on Wednesday, her unexpected death coming so close after Nifty’s last visit it made Dolly shiver.

 He’s after more than your money…

Dolly Tomkins knows what it’s like to live hand to mouth. In the mean streets of 1920s Salford, the only one making a decent living is the talleyman - and Nifty Jack has a moneybag where his heart should be. Dolly’s mam is in hock up to her ears, but when Jack offers to wipe the slate clean in return for Dolly’s favours, she just can’t bring herself to do it.

Instead, she takes him on at his own game, and in the process is in danger of losing the love of her life.

Amazon - currently number 4 in Historical, and in Family sagas.And thanks you to all my readers who helped it get as high as number 2.