Everything you wanted to know about copy edits

The copy edit on Behind Closed Doors is DONE, my friends!

And this time it was a complete delight. Yes, there were stressful moments. There was even a brief ‘I am never writing another sodding book as long as I live’ moment. But there were also many moments of abject joy, too, in seeing the plot tangles smoothing out, realising that things can be fixed, subplots make sense, there are no loose ends left. None!

I was very fortunate this time to get Linda McQueen as my copy editor. She worked on my first three books, and so she knows my writing well: she knows what mistakes I always make, and we are almost at the point where she knows what it is I am trying (and failing) to say.

Thanks to Linda, I am hugely proud of Behind Closed Doors again, and I think (hope) you will like it when it comes out. At the moment, the e-book and the large format paperback will be released in the UK on 29th January 2015, and in the USA on 30 March 2015. That may well change, but the good news is that it is on its way!

This time I’ve been able to pay more attention to the process, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot about how editing works, particularly with regard to crime novels, and I’d like to share this with you. (I should point out that these may well be bleeding obvious to most people, but for me they were real lightbulb moments).


Why Editing a Crime Novel is Particularly Tricky

I’ve always thought that writing a crime story is similar to investigating a real crime. After all, something’s happened, you need to find out what it is, and make sure there’s enough evidence for the perpetrator to be brought to justice. Simple, no? No. In real life, there are FACTS. However little the investigators know, something definitely happened and nothing they can do will change the facts of what actually took place. It’s as if the events surrounding the crime are bedrock, and the investigation floats somewhere above it, trying to get at the truth.

In a crime novel, there is no bedrock. You have ‘facts’ of what happened during the course of your crime, but they are just as shifting and nebulous as the investigation. Even with the assistance of a timeline, if something doesn’t work for the investigation, you can go back and change what happened. In other words, you are working on two shifting timeframes: the events of the crime, and the investigation. And if you change something in one timeframe, it will affect other things, in both timeframes.

In other words: NIGHTMARE!

(I think it would be good if I was better at planning…)

Secondly, My Editing Analogy

Occasionally someone asks me what the editing process involves, as there are many stages to it, and something Linda said made me think of an analogy to explain it.

Writing a book is a bit like building a boat. You finish writing it – so your boat has a hull, sails, oars, a rudder, everything it needs to get it on the water. You’ve been over it a couple of times yourself, and it looks pretty water-tight. Then you put it in the water – in other words, you show it to someone – and instantly it starts to sink. At this point you may well lose heart. But you still have such a lot of work to do! Your editor is the one who shows you where all the holes are, because you’ve been looking at it for so long you can’t even see the holes. In fact, some of the things your editor suggests might not even look like holes to you, they might look just fine as they are – so there is an element of trust involved too. Together, you go over the whole thing and plug all the holes, starting with the big ones and moving on to the little holes. Sometimes, in order to fix a hole, you find that you make new holes elsewhere. These, too, are sometimes hard to spot. For a time it feels as if your precious creation is more hole than boat. You go over the hull with your editor, fixing holes, making new holes, fixing them too, over and over again until you’re sick of the sight of the thing. But then, eventually, just as you start to think building a boat was a stupid idea and you wish you hadn’t bothered, it looks like there is no more water coming in. Yay! If you were to try and steer your boat now, it would work. It floats – kinda – and it isn’t going to sink spectacularly in the middle of the lake. If someone were to read your book now, it would be fine. But you’re not finished! It’s time to move on to the copy edit.

You move on to the copy edit because what’s happened is that, whilst you are floating, you are still sitting in your boat in a puddle of water. What the copy editor does is a different process: effectively she takes the boat out of the water, drains it, and finds all the tiny little holes that are still left. The only way she can do this is because all of the big holes have already been fixed. So there should be no more character development issues, no more dramatic changes – just little tiny issues that most people might not notice, but for the few who do, they are intensely annoying. Missing or extraneous punctuation, incorrect grammar, inconsistency, but more importantly inaccuracies – continuity errors, if you like – are all spotted and fixed here. All the little incidental things that add flourish to your boat are checked to see if they are letting water in. Thing is, when you’ve been working on the entire hull for such a long time, it’s almost impossible to see the little holes yourself anymore. And the same goes for the main editor – they’ve spent so long working on your characters, your story, keeping the suspense levels up – they might not notice that on page 16 you said your subsidiary character is an only child, but by page 255 she has an older sister.

Fixing these little issues is hard work and for a time it makes you panic a little, because if you missed all these holes, having worked on it for so long, how will your boat EVER be watertight? But you persevere, and you trust your copy editor to find all the tiny little cracks, and eventually you get to the stage where you are not fixing things, you are making the boat look pretty again.

And that, folks, is when you move on to the proofreader. There should be no more holes. But if your copy editor is human, there may be one or two tiny cracks that even she cannot see anymore, and now you need a fresh pair of eyes to find them.

I think after the copy edit you are proud and excited about your boat again. It’s no longer something that’s doomed to sink without trace; it’s not just finished, it’s perfectly functional, but even better, it’s beautiful and YOU MADE IT YOURSELF.

You made it, but it took a team effort to keep it floating…


Things that amuse me on a Sunday

Beyond stressed this morning over the humungous tosspot Will Self proclaiming that George Orwell is ‘literary mediocrity’. Can’t even begin to respond (and I won’t include the link because I don’t wish to draw attention to such utter drivel). I have consoled myself this morning by turning to the inside staples of my copy of What’s On TV magazine.

You know the sort of thing. A catalogue of wonders, people, clearly aimed at those who do not have easy access to shops, or the internet.20140831_133744

I try hard not to marvel at who on earth would buy this stuff, because it’s people like my mother, who tried to suggest that a one and a half foot tall Thomas Kinkade style ceramic Christmas scene complete with music and moving woodland train at a cost of ONE HUNDRED AND NINETEEN POUNDS would be the perfect Christmas present for her 11 year old grandson. ‘Where would we put it?’ was my stunned response. I was quite proud of myself for not fainting. She means well. (The scary thought is that, whatever my response, she may well go ahead and buy it anyway).

Back to the magazine full of SUPABARGAINS! Are you ready, folks? I thought you’d like to see what you seriously cannot live without!20140831_133751

‘Gumrunner’ snow boot/trainers at Now Only £14.99! I could be wrong, but it looks like a helicopter to me.


Snap shot belt? I’m kind of hoping they mean snap-shut – or is this some kind of hidden personal safety device, firing bullets from the trouser? But wait, there’s more. You can buy a Thermal Fleecy Pet Cave!

20140831_133811 Just the thing for winter. I was almost tempted, until I realised that the picture of the beagle looked like it might just have been photoshopped into the Pet Cave. I mean, I call me fussy, but if I’m going to spend TWELVE POUNDS FORTY NINE PENCE on a ‘snug cavernous bed’ I’d like to feel reasonably confident that it’s something my pet might enjoy. If they can’t get an animal to sit still in it long enough to be photographed, I start to feel a little concerned.

(It reminds me of those pictures of above-ground swimming pools you see with laughing people shrunk to the size of munchkins to make the pool look bigger. Five adults and three children in a 10ft pool! All of the shadows defying the laws of nature and pointing in different directions. I’m not at all peturbed by such sorcery.)

Which brings me on to the subject of fashion. Now I’m not claiming to be up to date, but someone please tell me ON WHAT PLANET are these beauts considered ‘deliciously fashionable’…?


Okay. By this stage in the catalogue I was on the verge of losing it. This didn’t help.


But don’t worry, my darlings. I have saved the absolute best till last. This one made me actually dribble helplessly onto the tablecloth. Are you ready? No, seriously, ARE YOU READY?

Okay then.


Read it. Read it, people.

Men’s hankies fleetingly went out of fashion! Who knew? But don’t worry, they are back… with a BANG!

And in case you can’t cope with that, let me reassure you that they ARE THE PERFECT SIZE FOR A MAN’S NOSE.

…nearly sixteen inches square!

OMG *weeps*

A perfect set for the nose on the face of the man in your life.

He’ll love you for it…. honest.

I’m going to go and have a lie down.



In all seriousness though, I don’t like poking fun at things and it isn’t the things themselves that are amusing but rather the cunning marketing that makes them funny. All of these wonderful items and many more fabulous treasures can be found at http://www.brightlife.co/. That’s not a typo. There isn’t a ‘uk’ on the end.

Procrastination Device of Choice

In recent months I have become much better at getting on with things. I seem to be able to sit down and work when I need to (more about THAT in another post…) and I am also doing considerably less Farting About. That said, Farting About (or as other people call it, procrastinating) is actually an important part of the creative process. Sometimes I need to do an activity that is still creative, but in a different sort of way.

I currently have two go-to sources for this particular need, and the first one is Minecraft.

Now, I realise that users of Minecraft are probably not this blog’s target demographic, and unless you are an eleven year old or the parent of an eleven year old, you may not have come across this word before. Until about a year ago, my only awareness of it was that it was a computer game that involved zombies and creepers and endless YouTube videos, some of which seemed to involve characters called Stampy Cat and squid (or, with the benefit of knowledge, Stampy Longnose and his trusty sidekick iBallistic Squid).

(I should point out, in case you’re a Minecraft expert, that I’m going to spend the rest of this post explaining things in pretty basic, and possibly incorrect, terms. My knowledge of it all is still very small. So please bear with me and please don’t tell me off if I get something wrong. When. I mean when I get something wrong, not if.)

So I started to become a tad concerned about my son’s growing obsession with this game. By way of example, our early conversations consisted of:

Son: Mum….?
Me: Yes?
Son: You know when you’re in the Nether, and you get the ender dragon, did you know you can only defeat it if you have an enchanted bow and arrows….[or something like that anyway]
Me: Is this in Minecraft?

And gradually became more like this:

Son: Mum….?
Me: Is this going to involve Minecraft again?
Son: Never mind.

After a while I thought I’d better have a look myself, you know, just to make sure this wasn’t some clever cover for paedophiles to groom children online. I went in blind – that’s pretty much the only way to go in, unless you buy a book, because there isn’t a tutorial. I’d heard the first night was tricky. I lasted about two minutes before the zombies got me. Didn’t like it, much. And then my son told me, a while later, that it’s possible to turn the zombies, creepers and whatnot (collectively known as ‘hostile mobs’) OFF by changing the difficulty level to ‘peaceful’.

Well, dear reader, that was the moment my eyes were opened and my life changed. You see, without the zombies and skeletons and whatnot interrupting you all the time, you can just get on with the fun stuff – building things! Mining! Exploring! Discovering wonderful things!

Now as well as playing ‘peaceful’ difficulty level, it’s also possible to play in ‘creative’ mode or ‘survival’ mode. In survival mode, you have to find everything you need to build with. This is a challenge, but it means you just have to get out there and dig, or climb, or make things yourself. In the alternative, creative mode, you have absolutely everything in your inventory from the word go.

At first, I played in survival mode. Creative felt like too much of a cheat. What was the point of doing anything, if it was all there on a plate? Bor-ring.

I was fine with survival, then, right up to the point where I decided I needed to build a minecart/railway combo (mainly because I wanted a rollercoaster). For that, you need a lot of iron, and potentially a fair bit of gold if you want to power your tracks – resources which take a lot of finding. I grumbled inwardly about this for a while and pottered about building things, even experimentally opened a new world in creative mode just to see how I got on, built a super-house, that kind of thing…. SH1

Here it is, if you’re interested.

It has a working fireplace and a pool complex in the basement.

So far, so good, but I was still mourning the rollercoaster I wanted to build in my existing, survival-mode game.

Then my son told me that it was possible – easy, in fact – to transfer an existing game from one mode to the other.

Well, dear reader, forgive me for sounding like I’ve lost my grip on sanity, but I was so overwhelmed I nearly cried with joy (in my defence, this revelation came about just after I’d finished a particularly traumatic bout of edits).

A new minecraft world opened up to me – one with infinite creative possibilities. And now that I’m waiting for the copy edit to come back, I’ve been a busy bunny and I thought I’d share the fruits of my activities with you!


This is my house (on the right). I nicked it off a witch, and then tastefully decorated it.




I’ve recently acquired a cat, by taming an ocelot using a fish. This is actually my second cat. The first one decided to follow me when I was trying to create an underwater house, and it didn’t make it.


Underwater HouseHere’s an aerial view of my underwater house, with the railway line in the foreground. I haven’t put much in the house yet, but I have a lovely set of sandstone stairs leading down to it, and lots of glass so I can see the squid swimming around, and the sun setting through the water above.


WaterslideHere is my waterslide, which I created when I was still doing this in survival mode. It represents a LOT of mining to get all that cobblestone.






Talking of sunsets, this is the view from the sun terrace of my other house, just before bedtime. Nice, isn’t it? Sunrise is gorgeous too.



rollercoasterAnd this, everyone, is the first try at a rollercoaster. It links in to the railway system so you travel from the top of the mountain all the way to my house (and back again, because I haven’t worked out how to stop it yet. Can’t seem to manage the buttons). I’m planning to do a ‘dark ride’ next which goes right through the middle of a mountain and outside again. Because, well, why not?


Now, I know what you’re thinking. I’ve just been sucked into the same maelstrom of computer-based pointless activity as my son, right? Well, okay, fair point well made, but there are benefits to this. It takes careful thought to build these things – you need to calculate how many blocks you need, the best way to go about it, you need patience, determination and persistence. More than anything, it means I have a common ground with my son in which we can discuss things, not just about building and battling spider jockeys, but also about other important things like determination, persistence, and creating your own adventures.

I do think I’m regressing a bit.

Remember I mentioned that I have two go-to activities at the moment? Well, the other one is this:


And my level of obsession with creating loom bands is another matter entirely…