Tag Archives: writing

A snippet: The Gardener

The start of something, or possibly just a snippet…I’m not sure yet!

It started with a doorway; and with a man, kneeling in the small garden, hands cupped around the fragile leaves of a tree just rising through the damp soil.

He glanced up, briefly, at the blocked doorway no-one could have come through, and the person standing there; and then rose to his feet, knees of his trousers damp from the grass and fingers mud-stained from the soil.

“I was expecting someone,” he said with gentle politeness, and gave a short nod.

Her eyes widened; whatever she had expected here, it was not the winter garden around, sleeping trees and evergreen bushes tangling with the too-long grass and unraked leaves. It was not the dilapidated wall and peeling door, the scarred wall and bricked-in doorway behind her. It was not this stocky man with his careful movements, reserved manner, sympathetic gaze.

But she hesitated, one hand on the brickwork, as if waiting to see what this world held before she pushed open the door to another.

“Would you like a cup of tea?” he added.

And she smiled. “I’d like that very much.”

~~~

The inside of the house was as shabby and run-down as the outside, and almost empty; a bed, a table and two mismatched chairs, some scattered kitchen utensils, and a desk with a closed laptop on it. The walls were faded white, and the floor clean but aged. She sat down on one of the chairs and looked at the man, in his jeans and old buttoned shirt, hair pulled back into a knot.

“Progress hasn’t been good, I’m afraid,” he said, carefully filling the kettle.

“Oh?”

“This site is slower than I’d like.” She was silent, as if waiting, and he weighed how to explain his failure. He didn’t want to turn and see what judgement was in her eyes. “It’s been hard to encourage anything.”

“Look, I – wait, I don’t know your name.” Whatever she’d been going to say, it was derailed with a smile and an easy laugh.

“I go by Fydor, here.”

“Ok. Well. I’m…apparently not what you think I am.” He carefully set down the mugs and tilted his head a little, waiting on her next words. “I don’t really understand what you mean by the site, or encourage. Do you normally have regular visitors?”

“They haven’t been for a few years, but yes. I had assumed that you were another, here to check on my progress.”

“And they’re…they come through the same door?” She suddenly relaxed. “That’s why you didn’t freak out. You’re used to it.”

“You arrived by distinctly unusual means, as they do.” His smile twitched the corner of his mouth and creased the corners of his eyes. “What were you expecting, then?”

“I didn’t really know,” she admitted, smiling again. “That’s…it was a bit of an…unusual doorway.”

She was looking at him, studying. He let the silence hang, filling both mugs and then finding a spoon to stir them.

“I followed the light,” she said eventually. “It opens to where I need to be, even if…I’m not sure why.”

“I understand that.”

“What do you mean?”

“I move a lot.” He looked down to the mugs, and then picked them both up to bring over to the table. “I…get drawn to places. That I need to help, to heal. So I’m never in one place very long. A year, two at the most.”

She was still watching him as he set one mug down in front of her. “But you said here hadn’t been making as much progress with the site. What do you do?”

And suddenly, the smile lit his face. It was like watching an unfolding leaf, a growing bud; it was a blossoming. “I make things grow.”

6 Months as an Editor: Thoughts

I’ve now been a Junior Editor (well, at least it’s not a minion!) with Rebellion for six months…and it’s still going great! A friend was asking me some questions, and I thought – actually, the answers are kinda interesting. Going from a writer and editor for friends to a professional editor and formatter… what have I found in the last six months as someone who’s just stepped into a pretty new world?

Am I a better editor? Well, yes. It still scares the hell out of me that I’m the one making judgement calls on others people’s writing, and to the level that I can input on if they get published or not…but at the same time, I’m mostly passing the buck (hi, commissioning editors!) and at the level I’m now working at, it’s not so much a question of if the stories are good – because they overwhelmingly are! – but whether we want to publish a story of that type. The one thing I have got better at is adding in a personal opinion to whether a story is any good; whereas before I’d just comment on the writing, I can now weigh in with my personal opinion – which is, I think, as valid a part of reading as the actual writing skill is! If a book is beautifully written but does nothing for me, then maybe it’s not for us; if it’s something that I want to absolutely rave about, then maybe it is! Being able to convince my boss to publish something – and, therefore, being able to wave my hands and squeak excitedly about how awesome it is – is as much a part of publishing as “the writing’s very pretty”.

Do my editing level-ups have any input on making my writing better? Well…no, not really :-/ if anything, I’ve learned that I’m even more right to know I can’t edit my own work! I’ve got more awareness of tropes and how other people do things, and more awareness of the fantasy and fiction world in general – but my ideas are still mine, and the way I write is still mine. I can’t see the flaws in my stories any better for having edited other people’s than I could before I started. The thing that has helped, though, which is advice given to every writer – READ MORE.

Am I reading more? Well, yes, but unfortunately it’s not reading that I can talk about yet – and I still need to keep current with fiction, too! The thing about the endless slush pile are true, though – I have to make sure I block out time to read! And also, to writers: you have to make a good first impression. I don’t tend to read the agent’s blurb more than to get a flavour (but then the ones I currently read have gone through the agents & my commissioning editor before I read it) but if you haven’t hooked me in the first three chapters, I’ll start skimming (and others might put it down). That’s not to say I can’t cope with slow starts – it’s the writing and the characters that get me in, but something does have to be happening. You need to be driving towards a story at least.

I am definitely seeing the benefit of agents! Yes, it’s frustrating to have another layer to go through; but they negotiate the contracts (and while a lot of the contracts stuff is important, it’s also dense – it’s definitely worth having someone on your side to tell you what the benefits of various options are, even though I’m arguing over a percentage point at times…) and also – a huge plus on my side – have already vetted the books I see. A minus in that they’ve already done one layer of skimming, but a plus in that I don’t have to try to fit reading that much into my schedule! Agents also learn what the editors like, so will send things based on our criteria. There seems to be a lot of hate for the agent gateway/chokehold etc, but I can definitely see the benefit.

Commercial considerations are frustratingly big. We have to make money – that’s the baseline. It costs time and space for editors, even if one of us does all the jobs of formatting/reading/covers etc… and for every book we take on as a “I really love this and I want it to be out there!” we have to take on a “people will buy this”. Also, sequels: I entirely get the frustration of not wanting to start a series without knowing the end, but we can’t risk paying for six books when we don’t know if they’ll sell (or, we’d pay such a low price that it’s not fair to the author.) We’d buy one with an option on the next, sometimes two, maybe (riskily!) three – but you need to be buying the first ones.

Short stories are definitely useful. Having your name in the industry and proving that people will buy your work is useful; any kind of track record is good just to show me that you are out there and can do this writing thing! Also knowing industry people, or being known; panels at conventions, interviews, or even just presence at conventions are all good. If you’ve pitched us with writing before, then we’ll also likely remember you – although this is for good or for ill!

Also, pitch. To all writers: keep pitching. Keep writing. There is so much truth in the “I love this book but it’s not quite right for me now” – the It’s Not You, It’s Me of the writing world! Sometimes the last fantasy Western didn’t do too well, and I can’t spin this one past my boss. Sometimes I don’t think the world needs another grimdark. Sometimes we have to choose between a (very good!) epic fantasy and something a bit weirder, and one has to win. There is so much timing and personality and market forces and…urgh. Seriously, just keep trying. If you get rejected, then you can always shelve the novel and come back to it later.

Be easy to work with. I know, there’s all sorts of personalities in the world, and most of the time people manage pretty good working relationships. But I was reminded of how useful it is to be able to work well with people by an author I gave some (fairly harsh!) feedback to recently – and they were very sweet and grateful, when I was expecting a tantrum. It means they’ve got up several points in my estimation and actually, even though I don’t want the book in its current state, I’m more willing to take a look at it again!

Think of it as a business and you’ll get further. As as an author, you are allowed to push back. It is your book and your writing: if you’ve got a contract and publication deal then it’s a bit of a different power dynamic, but there’s usually space for negotiation on editing tweaks. If you’re going to push back (and you may have to!) then do it gently but firmly; work out where your line is and why. There are clauses in the contracts for disputes, and if I think a book I want to take will need major changes then I’ll usually say in the negotiations – but for anything minor, you should be able to come to an agreement. (Of course, sometimes it’s a flat no from your editor, and that’s why you need to work out your boundaries.)

And, one for me:

I am allowed to be enthusiastic. I love the books and authors I get to work with. I love my job, even when it frustrates me and I have deadlines piling up. I love the work, even though I’m still learning – and I hope I’ll always be learning!

I’m allowed to get things wrong. That’s how I learn. I have to make mistakes: I just shouldn’t make the same one twice.

I’m allowed to grow. I’m a professional. I’m someone who now has larger shoes and a larger outline to fill – and damnit, I’m allowed to fill it.

So – I’m happy. I’m learning. I’m growing. And I’m loving my job! I get to read amazing books for a living – what more could I want?!

Writing: Snippets and Snatches

A mix of odd bits of writing from the last few months, including a draft of Home and some of the scribbles I’ve been doing for Badger

“You are making that face,” the Knight said with a hint of weariness to the visitor stood in front of his chair. “Why have you brought that face to my Court?”

The visitor in front did not fit the room at all. Tight trousers clung to his calves and thighs; a flowing shirt was open to reveal a loose vest underneath, and his hands were covered in spiralling green tattoos. His light eyes and wide lips were outlined in more lines, which spiralled across his cheeks and forehead and up into his intricately-knotted hair. He had his hands on his hips, displaying the multitude of bangles on his wrists; and he was pouting.

“I am not making any face. You are not doing your duty.” The younger man waved one hand, punctuating the sentence with jangles. “Anyway, I am an envoy. You can’t insult my face.” It was thrown out as an afterthought.

The Knight waved his hand with a sigh that said he didn’t want to get into the argument about what he could and could not insult in his own Court. “Which duty are you accusing me of neglecting?”

“You know what you are doing!” The young man actually stamped his foot. “They’ve been fighting for months. Why are you doing this?”


It was definitely an Evil Castle. There was a black stonework, with cobwebs dripping.  Guttering green torches. Gloomy shadows. Spiders.

“This is going to sound very strange,” a voice said, sounding somewhere between embarrassed, apologetic and annoyed. “But I need your help.”


My reaction obviously isn’t the sympathetic one that is wanted. I listen to the rant until he’s used the same swear words that I usually do and has descended into repeating bluster, and then interrupt. “Yeah, you’re going to find him and give him a piece of your mind, I get it. It’s not going to work. He’s someplace in Winter, and even then, he won’t give a damn.”

He grumpily turns on me. “Oh? You sleep with him enough to know-”

I laugh. “Yeah, actually. I’m his other half.”

His eyes widen. “He cheated on-”

“No.” I drop the word in with a steady, amused tone. “I’m literally his other half. He’s Winter. I’m Summer. Polar opposites.” And then I grin. “Believe me, if you want to punch him, then there’s a very long line…and I’m right at the front.”


Leave a fragment of yourself in every place you make a bed, and pick one up every place you stop for a breath; every heart a patchwork of shards that all say ‘home’.


“Oh, by the way, are you seeing Miss Goody-Two-Shoes ‘Saviour Of The World’ soon?”

“What’s it to you?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Can you deliver something to her?” He snapped his fingers, and a servant hurried over with a basket.

I looked at it. “A kitten? Aren’t you supposed to be Mister Evil?”

He grinned at me. “It’s been taught to pounce on big red buttons.”


Three scars on her arm. Had they known she was left-handed, or was it always on the left? She couldn’t see any scars on the man’s red jumper, although there were three neatly-stitched lines on his shoulder.

But he was moving again now, stepping closer to her; and she wondered if this was it. If the red-tipped knife in his hand would score across her throat, and she’d die in the golden forests, left amongst the splendour of the smooth trunks, sightless eyes staring up at the ever-falling leaves.

But he instead met her eyes, his expression unchanging; did it ever change, she wondered? Was there ever a flicker of amusement in the nut-brown, leaf-brown eyes?


And, finally, a teaser from the start of the new No Man’s Land

The really satisfying days start with a punch to the face.

Not usually my face – although there have been exceptions – but there is something very satisfying about kicking someone else’s butt. Sometimes literally.

Nat twirls with an easy grace and hurls a knife, then follows it up with a swift butt-kick that turns the monster attacking us head-over-heels into the nearest tree-trunk. It’s quick, effectively, and she looks exceptionally hot while doing it. I have to take a moment to admire her in her practical work trousers and t-shirt riding up at the hip; I’m ridiculously lucky. We’re two gorgeous girls who unfortunately prefer each other, as Luk said sourly when he found out we were dating. He’s always had a soft spot for Nat, ever since she pinned him to a wall with a knife at his throat.

And of course I’m his soft spot, or more likely his weak point, much as he likes to pretend otherwise.

But I can’t spend too much time admiring my girlfriend or thinking about my ex. I’ve got faces to punch.

Writing: Home

This was from a prompt I was given for Amsterdam – my fingers are twitching to amend it, so it may change a little…but I think it’s ok for a draft.

Home is turning a city over and over in your heart, jigsawing the pieces, wondering if you turn it the right way maybe it will somehow fit-

-and home is wondering what one piece you’re missing, what shape you’re meant to be, because nowhere feels quite right.

Home is a fragment of every place I’ve loved, swapped with a shard of memory, and welded with broken longing for something that won’t ever exist again, not like that, not like it was.

Maybe home should be a place where I look across rooftops and know every spire, every shortcut; have a heartache for every corner, a laugh for every golden hour, a secret for every drink.

Maybe home should be the way the wind ripples the water, the sunlight on tarmac and paving, the step around the crowd on a corner. The one cracked tile in the grand facade, the tiny alley leading to the best pub, the glare of orange lights as I turn into my street.

Maybe home should be the warmth shared over a meal; the one loaned book on a shelf of loved pages; the music that fills a silent room.

Maybe home should be the way you smile at me.

Tresha, Relief, and Writing

 “Tresha. It was the thankful, humble, vulnerable feeling that came after someone saw a truth in you, something they had discovered just by watching, something that you did not admit often to yourself.” – Becky ChambersThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

I have tresha, but also what feels like the reverse; someone doing something that lets you release a long-held breath, helps you let out something that’s been held inside; unlocks something that I’d known would come back, but I didn’t know when. And it’s from someone doing something completely unsuspecting; as a friend said to me, just by being you.

For the first time in over a year, I’d picked up a piece of Dresden writing again – I had to travel to Lymington this weekend, and just started thinking about plot as I drove. What if I jammed two unfinished stories together? What if the solution to one problem was killing someone (well, this is me: I’m not nice to characters) and seeing where it goes? It meant throwing out some writing – but that happens – and it meant thinking about motives again…

So I was poking it on Saturday evening, got a bit written, and briefly mentioned it to a friend who then asked about the world and the factions. I explained – and they upped and ran with it! We were up until 2am talking about a spin-off idea, looking for mood images, discussing motives and character traits and how the world and politics and factions might work…

Tangled Secrets by Kate CoeAnd it felt like letting out a breath.

If you’ve seen the rest of the site or read this blog for a while, you’ll know how much I loved the Dresden world; I loved the game, the characters, the intricacy, the factions. The fact that I have about 100k of fanfic words on Wattpad (either published or not yet) and more in a folder tells you how much I loved writing it. And it got locked away when Ryan left, because I couldn’t face it on my own. I’d lost my friend and my partner for that world, and I couldn’t tell those stories any more. It’s sort of been coming back, slowly; putting the words out there has helped, even though I haven’t really been able to write anything new.

And while this isn’t that world and partnership, and never will be – it was letting out the same breath. It was loosening the bands that held it all in. It was being able to talk about something I loved, and be back in that sort of world with someone who gets it.

I cried, and I laughed, and I don’t have the words to be able to say how grateful I am even for that small loosening of the tightness. For the small relief in the knowledge that says yes, this will come back. This can happen again. This feeling isn’t gone, and isn’t it wonderful?

And then I got hit in the chest with a bagful of emotions in return.

As you may know, I tend to be enthusiastic about encouraging people to write, and don’t tend to have much sympathy for excuses – in a nice way! I just don’t hold that you need to be good enough, or have An Idea, or be writing The Right Thing, or wait for whatever it is you’re hoping will make you write…I will always have sympathy for writer’s block, though, because just not having the words does suck (as I know!) But anyway, said friend had mentioned that they used to write, and now don’t, and they wanted to start again but

Well, that got short shrift from me when they mentioned it a few months ago: short enough that I actually started a document, filled in the first line and sent it to them – and they wrote something! WIN! But what I hadn’t realised until they told me was that it wasn’t me gently prodding (ok, not-so-gently prodding) that made them write. It was me.

It was the fact that I’ve been through depression and anxiety and still live with both. It was everything I’ve done in the face of that. It was the published books and short stories and words and blog and ideas.

It was the lack of excuses that I give myself.

I have to remind myself, when I’m not doing well, that the fact I’m alive is a huge thing. The fact I’ve made it another day is everything. And anything I can do, when I’m feeling like a failure for not doing enough, is all I need to do. I hate the idea of being inspiration because I feel like a failure, and I hate someone not being able to see that I’m a mix of both. But I need to acknowledge that I have done more than I could have, and maybe more than I should have. I keep going, even if it’s one step at a time through fog. I do this. I can do this. I have done it.

Kintsugi

Having someone else tell me that, outside of my own head, took my breath away.

Tresha.

And – and – I’m writing! Despite being a sounding-board, it’s not going to be my story to write (we can have the argument about that later, Badger, because I know you’ve just grumbled at the screen) but I have images and scenery and snapshots, and I scribbled a short piece as soon as I woke up on Sunday morning to send over. I’m used to rpg writing and so the idea of pieces being used, changed, discarded; that’s not a problem for me. But being able to put the flashes of scene onto paper, being able to scribble down a conversation, being able to write a chunk of description – even if it never gets used, it’s wonderful. It’s there. It is coming back.

It’s another infill of gold; and it’s a breath, held for too long, suddenly let out.

The words are coming back.