story, science, technology and creativity


Writing without editing

Takeshita Demons discoveryI’m starting a new experimental writing project.

Usually a new writing project means I’m full of enthusiasm and excitement, but the “experimental” part of this project means I’m trying to write fiction for ages 6-8,  an age group and style I’m not experienced with, am not especially well read in, and that doesn’t really suit my natural voice.

Some call it torture, I call it practice.

Writing in a foreign style means the writing hurts. I’m having to embrace the “am I any good at this? am I just wasting my time?” phase of being a writer. And BTW, I hate that phase.

So, why am I doing it?

Because I’m writing another practice novel. Recently, every time I write, it’s for publication. So this is permission to sit down, shut up and just write for a change.

Writing for children aged 6 to 8 means a short book: I’m thinking ten chapters, maybe 7000 words all-up. This is a very achievable goal.  It’s also a reasonable amount of work to do and then desert. I don’t expect this book to be publishable. I certainly don’t expect this book to be read.

I just want to see what happens.

What happens if I forcefully shut up my inner critic and write a mini chapter per writing day? What happens if I forge a story out of words without worrying about how well those words sound (or unwell, as the case may be).

I have a vague idea of what should happen in each chapter, so my plan is to just make those things happen and forget about the rest. I don’t have a voice for the book, I don’t really even have much of a character.

Both of these things are absolutely essential for a marketable, commercially viable early reader.

So what? Maybe, just maybe, these things will develop as I write, and I can go back and edit the first draft. Maybe, nothing will develop but a sense of pride that I have finished a draft, given something new a shot, and can now move back to my comfort zone: lovely, funny, quirky middle grade (sigh :-))

I’m afraid I’m writing a PILE OF RUBBISH.

But I’m writing it anyway.



3 habits of bad writing: Not useful…AT ALL; A BIT superfluous; PRETTY awful

Over the next month, Takeshita Demons is being featured in editing and writing workshops held by Seven Stories in the UK, as part of promotions for the 2011 Diverse Voices children’s book award (which you should enter if you are an as-yet unpublished children’s author)(It’s INTERNATIONAL and FREE TO ENTER and you can ENTER BY EMAIL!)(Go! Go! Go!)

EDITKarakasa yokai umbrella demonING TAKESHITA DEMONS

As part of these workshops I was asked to think about what changes occured as a result of the editing process for Takeshita Demons:

The big ones, of course, were my editor’s request for another chapter (can you guess which one?), and the request by my First Draft Reading Team (=my parents and husband) for a more comprehensive and satisfying conclusion to the plot (I have a horrible tendency to rush my first draft finales).

But I’m also surprised by what a HUGE difference the little changes make.  I’ve discovered my three worst writing habits, and am curbing them thanks to extensive use of the DELETE key.

These habits are:


AT ALL. It is not useful at all to add this phrase to every sentence. Nothing at all is gained. It just takes up extra space that could be used to do something more interesting. There is no reason at all to include it.


A BIT. I get a bit worried when this phrase crops up. It’s a bit of a waste to include it. I used it when I was trying to build a bit of tension, but it doesn’t add anything. It’s a bit superfluous.


PRETTY. It’s pretty annoying to see my first drafts are covered in this word. I use it pretty much every time I want to sound cool, but it’s pretty easy to see that it doesn’t do much to earn its place in the sentence. Now I’m pretty hardcore about deleting it every time it crops up.


Argh. It hurts me just to read those sentences now. But it’s been extremely useful to have someone wave the red flag over these TERRIBLE HABITS. If I get annoyed with them, imagine the effect on my readers!

It is very useful to have someone with skills, experience, knowledge and passion look through your work and make suggestions.

My Takeshita Demons editor also picked up on some grammatical/spelling errors I’ve been repeating for years and (hopefully) I repeat them no longer.  (Keep in mind that I also work as an editor, so having simple errors highlighted was both embarassing and useful.)

Also, I was surprised by how much discussion went into small things (the flavour of pizza that the Takeshitas might have in their freezer), but was also very happy to realise that most of the book was working for most people. What a relief!

Takeshita Demons: The Filth Licker proofs will be out in a few months and I’m almost finished the first draft of Takeshita Demons: Monster Matsuri, so editing time is rolling around for me again. This time, I’ll be armed with more weapons than ever before!

Anyone have any TERRIBLE writing habits they’d like to share?


Taking advice: Better late than never

It’s a funny thing, asking someone else to read your book manuscript. Sometimes they say things you want to hear, and sometimes they point out problems you can easily fix. And sometimes — awful but useful times — they point out giant issues with your plot or characters or story. Those are the occasions that require most courage, and the most time.

About four years ago author Julia Lawrinson read through my first ever children’s book manuscript, One Weekend with Killiecrankie, and she gave me some brilliant advice. Some of it I heeded straight away, but other bits — more crucial, time-consuming, plot-wrenching bits — I chose to ignore.

Since then I have reworked One Weekend with Killiecrankie about a million times and never quite got it right. The small changes Julia suggested were easy to make and improved the book hugely, but I kept resisting the big changes. Instead I worked on tweaking small things, faffing around instead of taking a chainsaw to the story and rewriting large chunks.

Recently, I finally got the courage to take a proper look at what Julia told me all those years ago: One Weekend with Killiecrankie is a cool story, but the ending sucks!

I have spent the last little while completely rewriting large chunks of the story and recreating an entirely new (and super-fun) ending.

I LOVE IT! I’m so much happier with the entire story and all its characters. The first ending was rubbish because I needed to finish my story in a rush and I couldn’t think of anything better. The second ending has been brewing for ages and all it needed was a bit of courage. Out with the dead wood, in with the good times!

Of course, I’ll need to rewrite that ending about a million times too, but still…We’re on the way!


How to write a synopsis: four big secrets and an example

First of all, congratulations to @LiiaAnn, who has finished writing and editing her book draft of 60,000 words, a huge effort and awesome success.  Now the fun bit: how to take all that work and mince it down into 60 words that make an agent or reader or publisher go: YES PLEASE! I WANT MORE.

Writing a synopsis used to be a pain in the rear for me, but I tried and tried and tried, and failed and failed and failed (see below for my “before” and “after” effort at writing a synopsis), and then gradually failed less often. I’m still not very good at it, but I think there are four big secrets:

1) Write your synopsis like you write your novel.
If you write in a sassy voice, use that same sassy voice in your synopsis. If your book is funny, use humour in your synopsis. And if you’ve crammed 10 tonnes of back story into the first sentence, cut it out and start again (just like writing a novel ;-))

2) Write your synopsis, then close the file for a week or three.
Just like your novel draft, a synopsis needs time to breathe. After three weeks of working on something else, you’ll see new mistakes and new room for improvement.

3) Make your words work.
Synopses are short, so pick active verbs and play with your sentences over and over until they are short, snappy, to the point, saying more with every letter.

4) Introduce your main character, what they want, and why they can’t get it.
Character development is the main jist of all stories, and if your reader knows who they’re dealing with and what drives them, there’s a bigger chance they’ll identify with your character and adopt their cause. Which means getting on board with your story and your book.

Want an example?
When I was first faced with writing a synopsis I couldn’t find a decent example anywhere. So, at great personal expense (cue red face), I’m reproducing a couple of synopses I wrote for a book I wrote a few years ago, called Beyond The Safe Zone (a zombie adventure; unpublished and will probably stay that way ;-)).

BEFORE: My first attempt at a synopsis (200 words)

Beyond the Safe Zone is an adventure thriller for readers aged 13 and up, tracking the exploits of protagonist Chase, headstrong foster brother Ari, and pals Vaio and Ben in their escape from the Safe Zone, a closed community where Walls protect living people from the horrors beyond.

Once over the Walls, the friends face a post-Outbreak world, infested with the undead and dangers they’ve only ever imagined. With Ben out-of-action and Ari injured, the four must work hard to stay alive, depending on each other, lying for each other, and challenging all they’ve known of the world within the Walls. When they discover the truth about the Safe Zone and the Mercy who run it, each must choose where their loyalties lie.

Set hundreds of years into the future of a post-Outbreak world, Beyond the Safe Zone is a human thriller, a page-turning ride written for young readers. Beyond the Safe Zone is 50,000 words and my third (unpublished) childrens novel. I am a full-time non-fiction writer and have been writing popular science for young adults since 2002, including time as editor of two national magazines. I have also worked as a roving high school presenter for two years.

(Excuse me while I die of shame; reading that (blogging that!?!?!) makes me cringe!)

AFTER: This still isn’t uber-fabulous, but it’s closer to what I want… (190 words)

Twelve-year-old Chase has never had so many reasons to lose her lunch. She’d never questioned the rituals of the Safe Zone, but then her older brother Ari climbed the walls. Even thinking of climbing was ridiculous, illegal, impossible. But try telling that to Ari. And there was no way she’d let him climb alone.

Now Chase has seen the world beyond the Safe Zone, and it’s enough to turn her stomach. But life within the walls is killing Ari. He wants to leave, to live on the other side. But it’s never been done and there’s no reason to think Ari can do it. So try telling that to Ari.

When Ari’s plan goes wrong, Chase, Ari and schoolpal Ben find themselves hunted on both sides of the walls.

Packed with adventure, friendship, terror and betrayal, BEYOND THE SAFE ZONE is a thrilling read for younger readers. Think the apocalypse behind THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, the adventure of ESCAPE FROM SHADOW ISLAND and the cutting voice of THE MEDUSA PROJECT. Take a peek beyond the Safe Zone. Life will never be the same.

So what do you reckon? Does that help?
Does anyone have other before/after efforts they’d like to share?

Other posts you might enjoy:

Why I’m self-publishing: Takeshita Demons 4 has risen from the dead

Self publishing: How to design a cover in 5 easy steps

How to keep your New Year Resolution: Papier mache daruma dolls

Takeshita Demons: help us choose the cover art

8 cool myths about dogs, and why the inugami dog-god didn’t make it

Do you love monsters? Check out these Japanese monster activity ideas. Have fun!

takeshitademons_blog-cover 4


I finished a second edit of The Filth Licker!

Woo hoo….   I’ve just send the latest version of Takeshita Demons II to my editor at Frances Lincoln Childrens Books, and I think it’s terrific! It was a rocking story even before Janetta gave me her feedback and ideas, and now, after a good going over complete with new exciting ideas, it’s even better than before.

What do you think? The Filth Licker
One major change, suggested by the sales team and prompted by Janetta, is the title. The working title was FORESTS AND FILTH LICKERS, but for reasons that will be apparent when you read it, we changed the title to THE FILTH LICKER. And I love it. Sometimes simple (if a little gross) is best.

And more great Takeshita Demons news:
, the artist behind the awesome cover for Takeshita Demons (and the manga-style art scattered throughout its pages) is working on more amazing art for The Filth Licker.  I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

And in techno-toy-joy news: We have an iPad!
And it’s soooooooooooooo cool. Fergus is already playing piano and flicking through photo albums. And his parents are pretty hooked too.

This, my friends, is more of the future than I ever thought I’d see. I had no idea things this cool already existed.

And guess what? I’d happily read a book or manuscript on this baby. They’re coming, people. The e-book, with all its  incredible potential (for rubbish as well as brilliance, just like the internet) is on its way. As writers and readers, we are so lucky to be around for this.

So what’s next?
Well, I have an itching. The first scene of Takeshita Demons III is an exciting one, and I can already see it unfolding. But first, some changes to the  plot outline are required, since some pesky characters (and yes, Alex and Cait: that means both of you!!) acted completely out of turn and didn’t stick to the script in The Filth Licker. Don’t you just love fiction!!



I have fabulous news!

I have fabulous news! And I’ve been buzzing all week because of it.

Fabulous news #1: FORESTS AND FILTH LICKERS is finished!!! Well, the first draft is with a Very Special Group of Reviewers (one is reading it as I type). So far the feedback has been good and there’s not too many fatal errors to fix. (Although I will probably AXE two entire chapters!!!!)

Fabulous news #2: I’m meeting with Sarah Foster from Walker Books at the Perth Writers Festival in late Feb. Walker Books will  be distributing TAKESHITA DEMONS in Australia. (I was too late to get involved in the festival as a presenter, but I’ll be attending every second of it that I can. Some amazing writers will be there! See you there!!!)

Fabulous news #3: I attended the book launch of a WA writing champion and friend Julia Lawrinson, met some terrific people, bought some great art from WA author/artist Matt Ottley,  grabbed a copy of Julia’s new book, and generally had a terrific time. It was great! I’m also attending the “2010 Night with the Stars” later next month (celebrating local authors published last year)(I’m down to be one of the “Stars” for the 2011 night next year)(woo hoo!).

Fabulous news #4: I’m not allowed to say!!! But it’s great!! Will let you know as soon as I’m allowed, I promise 🙂

What fabulous news! That’s really great and I’ve been buzzing all day
because of it. Thanks to you and the FL team for making it happen. If
I can help in any way (creating resources, sending images, doing
interviews) please let me know. I can work around the time difference
too (I once interviewed for a job at midnight ;-))

I’m meeting with Sarah from Walker Books at the Perth Writers Festival
in late Feb. I was too late to get involved in the festival as a
presenter, but I’ll be attending every second of it that I can. Some
amazing writers will be there! I’m also getting busy in the local
writing scene. Last week I presented (3 minutes!) to a meeting of
Youth Librarians about Takeshita Demons and my availability to do
workshops. And I’m attending the book launch of a WA writing veteren
and friend tomorrow night (without Fergus…how exciting!) and then a
“2010 Night with the Stars” later in the month (celebrating local
authors published last year)(I’m down to be one of the “Stars” for the
2011 night next year).

Can I blog about the Children’s Book Week thing or is it not yet public?

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Editing your own work is like diagnosing your own heart disease

In this week’s post I’m probably going to include more mixed metaphors and cringing clichés than a pig has had hot dinners: I’ve spent most of the week editing Forests and Filth Lickers (we’re about 2/3 through the first draft!) and I just can’t be bothered editing anything else. Apologies in advance. At the end of the day, to be honest, you’re just going to have to grin and bear it.


If you’d like to see a truly great post on editing, check out Allison Winn Scotch’s What Exactly Does an Editor Do. She nails it. Because sometimes your own surgery just isn’t enough to save a manuscript. Sometimes you need an all-new surgeon. Practicing all-new techniques. The kind you wouldn’t practice on your own manuscript because they’re just too risky and you might throw the baby out with the bathwater. But at the end of the day, the baby learns to swim, and that’s what it’s all about, don’t you think? Ah, just read Alison’s post. You’ll get what I’m trying to say.


Luckily, in these early stages of Forests and Filth Lickers, things are mostly going well. Of course, when I’m in the early stages of writing, I almost always think things are going well…it’s only when I’m mostly finished than I can see gaping wounds or missing organs. In this sense, editing your own work is like diagnosing your own heart disease: by the time you know you’ve got a problem, it’s serious life-and-death and only by applying a thousand volts of electricity in just the right place and at just the right time will you ever find out which.


The draft has moved ahead leaps and bounds thanks to some tricksy editing moves. If we speak (metaphorically, of course) in terms of kitchens, this week I’ve constructed some new cupboard doors and polished up a shiny new fridge. I’ve not had to do any kitchen sink transplants or wall-rippings-out. Hopefully, I can build a kitchen that’s so good all it needs is a bit of paint and the gas switched on. (When I’m not writing or juggling Fergus, I’m house hunting, can you tell?) Sometimes I’m able to do this, and other times I’m so in love with what I’ve written that I can’t see the blockages need more than just plumbing: they need demolition and/or renovating.

So yeah.

A great editor doesn’t faff around with the nuts and bolts of commas and colons; you should have faffed those into shape long before your manuscript goes near an editor. A great editor steers the entire ship into bluer waters. Only sometimes you’re so intent on your original route you can’t see the wood for the trees and you resist. And, at the end of the day, the manuscript suffers.

So hats off to Allison for making me realize: I can fiddle with the metaphors and fix the clichés in my work. But I’m going to need someone with fresh eyes and a good dollop of genius to read through and offer suggestions. And, of course, I reserve the right to wave off those suggestions as trollop for at least the first week. And, doubly of course, I reserve the right to embrace them thoroughly once I have mourned the death of the original idea.

And PS:

If anyone’s selling a solid house with a nice yard close to the city, wave your flag in our direction!


5 signs of an extraneous character: writing out Ruby

While Takeshita Demons is ticking away in the background I’ve hauled an old manuscript out from the bottom drawer and been working to polish it. The book’s called Beyond the Safe Zone and it’s longer than Takeshita Demons, and maybe scarier too, with zombies, a walled community and children living in a post-apocalyptic world.

I wrote it a couple of years ago and it’s been through a few revisions, but with the current trend towards the supernatural in children’s fiction (vampires and werewolves, anyone?), now is a good time to embrace the children’s zombie novel and make this book work.

The biggest and most recent change to the story is the “death” of my protagonist’s best friend, a character I called Ruby. Except that Ruby didn’t really die. I killed her. I tapped on keys and buttons until any reference to Ruby was utterly gone. Ruby has left the manuscript. She was boring, and we don’t miss her.

So why? What might possess an author to write-out or delete a character? How do you know if your own manuscript is harbouring an entirely useless two-dimensional space-sucker?

I ran through this checklist:

1 Does the character have his/her own distinct role?
Ruby was like Batman’s Robin…a bit unnecessary. Superman doesn’t have a Robin. Spiderman doesn’t have a Robin. What’s so special about Batman? By the end of the book I realised my protagonist didn’t need a best friend; she already had a brother and they acted like best friends. Ruby brought nothing new or exciting top the story. Goodbye Ruby.

2 Does the character grow or learn during the novel?
All characters, not just main characters, should grow. They should move through personal challenges, meet with failures, work through tensions. In the lingo of fiction, they should have a unique “story arc.” Ruby had nothing. She just wandered along, following the rest of them. Goodbye Ruby.

3 Does the character have the required number of dimensions? (Three, in case you were wondering ;-))
Was Ruby afraid of mice? Did she like jam sandwiches? Did she dream of being free? Did she carry secret hatreds? Dunno. She just liked to hang out with the other kids and be a sounding board for other people’s dialogue. Boring. Goodbye Ruby.

4 Does the character ever spend quality time alone with the protagonist?
Ruby was always a hanger-on-er. She had nothing secret to share, no great wisdom to impart. She didn’t really experience a bonding moment or play an essential role. She had no real reason to exist. Goodbye Ruby.

5 Will the character leave a space in the story if they leave?
I took a hard look at my manuscript and realised: no one would miss Ruby, not even me! Killing her off was sometimes hard, but mostly exciting, and now that she’s gone, I can’t believe she was ever there. She left no space. Goodbye Ruby.

It took a lot of courage and energy to go through my entire manuscript and hunt for bits that didn’t work, but the rewards have been great. Beyond the Safe Zone is much tighter and more exciting now that Ruby’s been dismantled. Here’s hoping Ruby’s demise is a good thing for the book’s future!

Have you ever edited out a character? Or performed major surgery on an old story to create a new and better story? Was it painful? Successful? Did it help you get published?

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Update from publisher land

Ōkubi by Toriyama Sekein c. 1779

Yesterday was my meeting with Janetta, my publisher, and all seems to be going well. She’d read my second-edit of the manuscript, loved some bits of it, didn’t like others. I’ve now turned it completely over to her for a thorough edit under the pen of experience.

I’m hoping that this combination of my “raw” storytelling and Janetta’s nose for what works and what doesn’t will lead to a super-duper manuscript that shines far brighter than anything I could’ve produced alone. I guess that’s the point of having an editor look over it, but still, it seems amazing that someone is actually reading my stuff and taking it seriously. Cool!

We talked contracts for a bit…I don’t have a literary agent so am feeling my way as I go.

I totally need to do some research (there are places to go for advice on publishing contracts…the Society of Authors for a start), but for now I’m 100% sidetracked by plotting and planning for a Takeshita Demons sequel. Janetta’s going to hold back on the contract stuff until I can get back to her with my proposal for a sequel (and beyond?)…Apparently it’s not normal for them to offer a multi-book deal, but a lot depends on the quality of the story/writing.

So I’m putting together a killer proposal, with gripping plots, evolving, likable characters, and the right mix of fun, fantasy and bizarre Japanese monsters…what could go wrong? Watch this space 🙂

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Writing a sequel? Writer’s block?

Just heard from my publisher that we’ll be meeting on the 21st May; I’ve volunteered to give the manuscript a onceover before then, so will aim to email her the new-improved finished product by the 19th.

In the mean time, I’ve started thinking about a Takeshita Demons sequel. But where will I even begin?

For some inspiration, I checked out this video, featuring a host of Japanese yokai, otherwise known as demons, monsters, supernatural beings…you name it. You just don’t want to meet it. Don’t watch just before bed!!