Flash Fiction: Trashish


For twenty years we keeps our Old-Land items in a compartray. Bits of trashish, we always thinks.  Jims takes them to look and say when he was youngone, and even the robo-teach laugh. Sighs. We surely have lose some or else were suck away through the HousHoove.

My GranUncle says the odds and bits came off a beach.

‘What’s beach?’ I says.

‘A place beside the sea.’ he says.

‘Sea?’ I says.

‘Lots of water,’ he says. ‘No MeasureDripTM back then.’

‘Sighs,’ I says.

Jims takes the trashish to Antiquated Fly-way Show. Turns up they’re worth 230k Eurodolls. Wowsbows!


A few weeks ago Neil MacDonald challenged me to write a funny, or at least happy Friday Fictioneers. Sorry, Neil, but this is the closest I could get! This week the picture selected by Rochelle is one of mine (thank you!). Click here to write your own 100-word story inspired by the picture, or click here to read other people’s.


I recently interviewed my literary agent about her job. Click here to find out what makes her heart sink when she reads a manuscript submission.

Publishing Interviews: The Literary Agent


This is the second piece in a new interview series with people from the publishing industry. I’ll be asking them exactly what their jobs entail, what they like about them, and what they don’t. I’ll be interviewing editors, designers, publicists, sales people and many others. This week I’ve been speaking with Jane Finigan, a literary agent, and Partner at Lutyens & Rubinstein. The agency is based in Notting Hill, in London and represents a broad range of authors and books including fiction, non-fiction, cookery, YA and children’s. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say Jane is my literary agent.


Claire: You’ve been with Lutyens and Rubinstein [L&R] since 2006, and recently you’ve been made a partner. Congratulations! What does your role involve; what’s an average day like for you?

Jane: My role involves working with authors at every stage of their career, from helping to develop and shape a first draft, to negotiating a publishing deal and holding their hand through the publication process and beyond. I’m always looking for new talent Continue reading

To stet or not to stet


I read an article recently in The Guardian about how the UK and US versions of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell have large sections which are different to each other.  Mitchell is quoted as saying he ‘didn’t go to the trouble of making sure that the American changes were applied to the British version (which was entering production by that point probably) and vice versa’.  To be honest I wasn’t that surprised.

I have just come to the end of about four months of checking copy edits and making proofreading decisions for my novel, Swimming Lessons which will be published early in 2017. The work calls for precision, meticulousness and reading the whole book somewhere between ten and twenty times, and that’s after the main edits have been signed off.

For me, the issue is complicated because I have different publishers in both countries: Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin in the UK, and Tin House in the US. And both publishers have their own schedules, their own ways of doing things, their own style guides.

Juliet Annan, my editor at Fig Tree, passes copy editing and proofreading management to a Penguin Editorial Manager, while at Tin House, this process is managed by my editor, Masie Cochran (although both publishing houses use an external copy editor and proof readers).

Fig Tree bought Swimming Lessons first and consequently its publishing process started and ended sooner than Tin House’s, which meant that I wasn’t able to work on the text for both countries at the same time.

You might think copy editing and proofreading would be as simple as checking for errors and changing British English spelling and phrases to US English spelling and phrases. But writing and editing books is never that easy. Swimming Lessons is set in England, and I am an English author, so quite rightly Masie didn’t think for example that ‘pavement’ should be changed to ‘sidewalk’, or even ‘colour’ to ‘color’. (Although a fellow author who wrote a book set in England told me that her US editor did want her to change ‘pound’ to ‘dollar’. She resisted.)

This is the process:

  1. I work with my editors to make the book as good as it can be in terms of structure, plot, character; all those things that make a novel a novel
  2. The manuscript is sent to a copy editor who feeds back changes which I work on or reject (with the editor getting involved in major decisions)
  3. The manuscript is laid out as a book
  4. The book is sent to two proof readers
  5. The copy editor (in the UK) or Masie (in the US) checks the proof readers’ changes
  6. I’m sent a print out of the book on A4 paper (UK), or a pdf (US)
  7. I accept or reject the proof readers’ changes (involving the copy editor or Masie in any large decisions) either actually on the page, or in a Word document

As I write this list of actions, it still sounds simple. But there are up to 10 changes per uk-proofreading-picpage in a novel that’s approximately 307 pages long, with over 86,000 words. And the changes made by the UK will often be completely different to those made by the US.

And because of the different publishing schedules, I don’t work on just one document for both countries; I work on two. The UK copy editing and proofreading changes for Swimming Lessons were finished and approved (or not) by me a few months ago, while I finished the work for Tin House earlier this week. Penguin’s copy is ready to go to print. It is up to me to decide which of the changes we incorporated in the UK version should get transferred to the Tin House copy and vice versa. Of course, it’s easy with spelling mistakes and major inconsistencies, but what about the grammar? Commas go in, and commas come out; colons change to semicolons and back again; speech marks are double or single, titles of books are italicised or they’re not…

But it’s also not just up to me. There are the style-guides to remember. These are documents the publishing houses use to create consistency across their own books. Interestingly, Penguin’s style-guide even for UK books mandates the use of z’s: realize, recognize, authorize. But because Masie and I decided that Swimming Lessons is an English book by an English author, we’ve used realise, recognise and authorise. So oddly, the book will have some US spelling in the British version, and some UK spelling in the American version.

The copy editor and proof readers at Tin House also use the Merriam-Webster dictionary for clarification. So, the UK version will have ‘sing-song’, whereas for the US version Merriam-Webster suggests ‘singsong’; and it’s up to me whether to agree that change or not. What about ‘candlestick maker’ or ‘candlestickmaker’, ‘mid-sentence’ or ‘midsentence’, ‘fish-like’ or ‘fishlike’? And on and on.

Luckily I enjoy dealing with this level of detail. (I prefer editing to writing a first draft.) But my spelling and knowledge of grammar is poor. When I’m deciding what changes to accept and which to reject, or ‘stet’, I try to consider clarity, consistency, syntax, (my) style, and rhythm before I think about whether the grammar is correct. (I rejected every ‘whom’ where it would have been technically correct in favour of the ‘who’ that I wrote.) And my overall objective when we’re down this deep in the text is to create words, and sentences and paragraphs that keep the reader reading.

If you’re a writer, let me know how copy editing and proofreading works for you, and if you’re a reader, did you know this already? I’d love to hear what you think.

But if you do read Swimming Lessons when it’s published and you spot any typos or grammatical errors, actually I don’t want to know.


Flash Fiction: The Lake


I never liked to think what lay under the water: probably more than pond weed and duck poop. I swam in the lake because I didn’t want Peter to think I was afraid, or worse, boring. He liked to jump in, but I never even put my head under.

I heard they sent the divers in, or dredged it, or something. But that was much later, of course, after my swimming days were over. And after Peter’s days were over too.

I never learned if they found anything. I didn’t read the papers; I knew what had happened. I’d been there.


Listen to me read my story: 


A Friday Fictioneers story. Hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Picture supplied by C.E.Ayr


How many manuscript submissions does a reader in a literary agency receive in a month? What kind of cover letters do they like best? Read an interview I had with Susannah Godman, Reader at Lutyens & Rubinstein literary agency in London.

Publishing Interviews: The Agency Reader


This month I’m starting a new interview series with people from the publishing industry. I’ll be asking them exactly what their jobs entail, what they like about them, and what they don’t. I’ll be interviewing editors, agents, designers, publicists, sales people and many others. To kick off, today I’m posting an interview with Susannah Godman, the person who reads all the manuscript submissions received by Lutyens & Rubinstein, a literary agency based in London.


Claire: What exactly is it you do as a reader for a literary agency?
Susannah: I work at home so all our unsolicited submissions come into an email address.  I log them onto paper for my records (which I type up for the office grid), have a quick look, call anything promising in, highlight anything else that is promising to read first, reject anything completely unsuitable and then they get read and considered in turn.

C: Roughly how many submissions does Lutyens & Rubinstein [L&R] get in a month, say?
S: I’ve never counted them, but well over three hundred…

C: And then you call in the full manuscript from those you like? How many is that? How much of them do you read before you decide whether it’s a yes or a no? What percentage of them get through?
S: Whole manuscripts I’ve called in?  No more than ten a month probably.  I try and stop as soon as it is a no, sometimes carry on.  Oh, too tiny a percentage to measure I’m afraid.

C: It sounds like a perfect job: to be paid to read. How did you get to do this for a living?
S: I went to work at L&R nearly 20 years ago as office assistant (I was a Waterstone’s Bookseller in Charing Cross Road before that), when I was their only full time employee. With their help I worked my way up to being the Foreign Rights person, and eventually had a few clients of my own too.  All that time I also read the submissions pile, which was a proper tower of paper then, so am quite good at knowing what every agent at L&R would like.

C: What’s your average day like?
S: Sitting at a laptop in the dining room.  I’m part time self-employed now, so try not to spend all day on it, although I do more than my designated hours because I love it and sitting down is nicer than housework.

C: Most things are nicer than house work. Do you actually call the unsolicited manuscripts you get sent a slush pile?
S: I might do…

C: What kind of person do you think you need to be to be a reader?
S: I’m not sure I could read for anyone else, but am well attuned to what the agents at L&R would love.  Usually.

C: What about your own preferences for books you like to read? Do you try to quash them?
S: I don’t really need to.  I like all sorts of things.

C: Do you also see the covering letters and synopsis?
S: Yes, If they’ve sent them in. I try not to look at the synopsis until I’ve read the chapters, but a good letter does make one prick up one’s ears.

C: Interesting. What makes a good letter for you?
S: The sort that makes you quite want to meet its writer:  warmth, lack of bumptiousness, unforced humour if appropriate, about the writer as a person rather than a form letter (I don’t mean screes and screes: all this can come across in a couple of sentences).  Some letters are brilliant but then the book isn’t, which is always a huge disappointment and one just wants to say, gently, Just Be You.  Oh and DO find out who to address your submission to, if you can.

C: What do you love about what you do and what’s not so good?
S: I love reading, and there is such variety coming in, I love it when I find something wonderful and pass it on to the office, and I try to make my rejections bland but kind.  A cross rejectee once responded with ‘Lick my boots, bitch’ but that is mercifully rare, and she apologised a YEAR later, claiming to have been hacked…


The agency is in the basement of Lutyens & Rubinstein bookshop in London

C: Hah! Sounds unlikely. What about the craziest submission you’ve received?
S: Oh, guided by the spirit of Lady Di, or the actual crazy stuff from people who clearly have mental health issues, which actually is the worst thing about this job because it does make one worry about them.

C: Are there things that put you off a manuscript?
S: Sometimes you can just tell the writer is a wrong’un (sexist, racist, that sort of thing).

C: Do you ever manage to read for pleasure now?
S: Of course, but not as much as when I lived in London and commuted for upwards of two hours a day.  I sort of miss that. Unhelpfully, I recently read an old book about donkeys called People With Long Ears by Robin Borwick, and Miss Mole by E.H Young, and A Big Storm Knocked it Over by Laurie Colwin.

C: Thanks so much Susannah. One final question –  what advice would you give to unpublished writers who are submitting their work?
S: Write a nice, human letter to the right person if you can.  Do multiple submissions rather than one at a time (the beauty of computers, no stamps).  Gently nudge if you’ve waited forever.

To submit a manuscript to Lutyens & Rubinstein, visit their website to find out exactly what they’re looking for and how they’d like to receive it.

Do let me know what you think about this interview and my plans for the series, in the comments below.


Read my interview with a literary agent.

Flash fiction: Mrs Jellico


The teeth grinding and sobbing wake me. It’s disconsolate, broken-hearted, a funeral kind of weeping. I hear it through the wall, and I pull the cord with the red triangle. The nurses’ station buzzer sounds and shoes squeak on linoleum. The crying stops.
‘Where’s the fire, Mrs Jellico,’ the girl asks, although she knows I have no words left.
When she’s plumped my pillow and gone, the noise starts again. Keening, moaning, grinding. I rap on the wall.
The nurse is back, syringe in one hand, eyes kind. ‘Shh,’ she says. ‘Shh, Mrs Jellico. Not long now.’

The crying fades.


Hear me read: 


I’m not sure exactly how I got from the photo to this story; perhaps milling = grinding = teeth. Anyway, I got there. This is a Friday Fictioneers story of 100-words inspired by a weekly photo posted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. This week’s photo is provided by Shaktiki Sharma. Click here to join in and write your own story, or here to read other people’s.


Last week I was asked by Penguin books to provide some tips about writing flash fiction, and they’ve just gone live on the Penguin website. Do take a look. I will be posting this piece on my own website in the future, so if you have any you’d like to add, please comment below here, and I’ll add them to the post, credit you and link to your website.

Bleak Books


I love bleak books. Novels where only sad things happen, and then they get more miserable. Not the weepy kind of fiction where you know the characters will overcome their troubles at the end of the book, or grisly horror, just pretty relentless grimness. A few days ago Lissa Evans author of Crooked Heart wrote her top 10 bleak books and inspired me to do the same. These aren’t necessarily my favourite books ever, just my favourite really unhappy ones. You can look for our lists on Twitter using #bleakbooks, but here’s mine below.

Continue reading

Flash Fiction: Once You Sat And Sewed


I wake with my eyes still closed and hear the squeak of the treadle that you asked me to oil, the hum of the wheel under your hand. I imagine the needle, ticker, ticker, tickering, in and out of the hem; your pursed mouth and concentrated frown. I smile when you swear, almost see the pins falling from your lips, the pricked finger, and the thread snapped.

But your chair is cold when I rise, the machine still. Only the stain of faded blood on the edge of my shirt proves that once you sat and sewed.


This is a 100-word (or so) piece of flash fiction written as part of the Friday Fictioneers Group, hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. This week the picture is supplied by the wonderful writer Sandra Crook (go and look at her writing – it’s very good). Click here to join in and write your own story, or here to read some more.