Another Way to Write Your Memoir

Many’s the person who’s thought to themselves, “I’ve had an interesting life. I should write my memoir.” And they’re right: there’s a book in every one of us, whether we’ve lived what to the ordinary world would seem an interesting life or not. As the famous psychiatrist Carl Jung said in his book Memories, Dreams and Reflections, “My life has been singularly devoid of outward happenings.” Yes, but he had the most remarkably rich interior life. And maybe, so did you.

So, where to begin?

Most people make the mistake of beginning at the beginning — you know: I was born in Hampstead in 1952 on a rainy Sunday. Both my mother and father were doctors. This start will often gain the writer a few chapters, but then, something very mysterious seems to happen: the memoirist runs out of steam.

What has happened here?

What has happened is that, when writing a memoir (and sometimes, even, a novel), beginning at the historical beginning is not always the best way to go about it. By trying to follow a chronological path, the writer often finds the work has become bland, a mere retelling of facts. It doesn’t live. There’s no passion. Realising this is the kiss of death for most would-be memoir writers. At this point, most begin to lose interest. Perhaps they don’t want to write a memoir, after all.

This happens. And it happens a lot. What to do if this happens to you?

The best thing to do is to stop trying to write it chronologically. Just write whatever scene you feel like writing that day. Anything from your past at any stage will do. That way you will bring passion to the work and it will not become bland. With this method, you’ll probably have a lot of writing to do later to link all your various scenes together, but seeing the vivacity and worth of what you’ve written will give you the strength to do this in the later stages.

If you’re stuck on a memoir, try it. You might be surprised at how much more interesting the work you produce this way will be.

Need help? Don’t hesitate to contact me.

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Using Commas with As, Since and While

This is actually very easy, but people often get it wrong.

Most people whack in a comma at the end of all opening clauses that contain a verb. In Australia, at least, this is not the right way to go about things. Sometimes such clauses take a comma; sometimes they don’t.

If you’re Australian and you want your editing to be above reproach, read on. It isn’t hard to get your head around. There’s actually a simple rule you can follow. It is:

Clauses introduced by as. since and while that express time, don’t take a comma. When these same clauses express a cause, they do.

For example:

While he was waiting for her to get ready he drank three martinis. (Time)

While you might think otherwise, I’m convinced I’m right. (Cause)

As he was thinking these thoughts a butterfly flew past the window. (Time)

As you no longer wish to go to the moves with me, I will go alone. (Cause)

Since World War One ended society hasn’t been the same. (Time)

Since you no longer wish to be president, I nominate Susan. (Cause)

There’s only one thing you need to watch out for. Sometimes clauses introduced by as, since or while and involving time can be confusing if a comma isn’t used.

For example:

Since the new boss took over the place hasn’t been the same. (Time)

If you follow the rule slavishly, you won’t use a comma. But without a comma the reader tends to read: Since the new boss took over the place … Round about now they realise the sense is meant to be different from this, and they have to backtrack. To avoid readers backtracking (never a good thing), break the rule and use a comma.

Since the new boss took over, the place hasn’t been the same.

And that’s all there is to it.


Sometimes when is used in the same way as while. For example:

When we were walking in the forest we saw two foxes.

On occasions where when is used in a clause to convey time, the same rules apply.

And there you have it.


Posted in advice about writing, advice for indie publishers, advice for writers, advice on commas, Australian manuscript appraisers, commas, Danielle De Valera, editing, editors, fiction editing, good editors, Patrick de Valera, Since and While | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Producing a Print Book’s a Hard Journey

Some time ago, I investigated Indie publishing, particularly the publishing of Print on Demand (POD) books with CreateSpace, a subsidiary of Amazon. This investigation and my own experiences with it were most illuminating, and I thought I might share my discoveries with you on this site.

If you’ve already published a POD book, stop reading now, I won’t have anything new to tell you. If you haven’t, gird your loins, and read on.

For most writers, the journey into indie publishing follows a certain pattern. First, we have:

1.   The Sylvan Glades of Writing the Novel, where the Wellsprings of Hope bubble to cheer the fiction writer on his/her way. The writer thinks the going is tough, but they ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Emerging from this glade, the writer who chooses to indie publish must traverse:

2.   The Desert of the Last Copy-edit, a fearsome place littered with the bones of writers who didn’t know what they were doing with commas.

Crawling out of this desert, writers encounter:

3.   The Fork in the Track, where the writer must decide whether to do only an e book (much cheaper, and easier on the nerves), or to take their courage in hand and rapell into:

4.   The Dizzying POD Chasm. Should the writer choose to do only an e book, Nos 6-10 will still apply, but they will, to some extent, avoid:

5.   The Slough of Despond, where the writer realises that s/he must either format the print book themselves or pay someone else to do it. Even if they decide to pay someone, as I did, they will still have to traverse:

6.   The Forest of Dread, where they must choose two categories for their novel. A great deal is riding on their choice, especially the novel’s findability. Having negotiated this forest, and there is no way around it, the writer comes to:

7.   The Hill of Bewilderment, where s/he must choose seven keywords which Amazon buyers might (the operative word here is might) use to discover the writer’s novel — again, very important for the novel’s findability. After this, they arrive at:

8.   The Lakes of Confusion, where they must set a price for their beloved novel and try to understand Amazon’s royalties system. If, after this, the men in white haven’t taken our writer away, s/he must then cross:

9.   The Bridge of Tears, where, if s/he is a non-US resident, s/he must attempt to prevent the US Internal Revenue from taking 30% of his or her earnings. To do this, she must do battle with monsters ITIN, W-7 and W-8 BEN. Easiest way out? Long distance call the US Taxation Department and get an EIN. It’s worth the money; without one you’ll continue to pay the dreaded 30%. Finally, the writer comes to:

10.   The Well of Disappointment, which s/he quaffs while contemplating the novel’s sales figures. If you think I’m being unnecessarily gloomy here, Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords says that, for most writers, the average number of e books sold per title is 100.

What does all this mean? In a nutshell it means that the average indie writer/producer of a POD book will be flat out getting their money back. There are hidden costs to producing a POD book. These exist regardless of whether the newbie writer outsources, or designs the cover and interior themselves. But oh! the thrill of holding a print book in your hands, there’s nothing like it.

So you see I didn’t write this to put you off, but rather to warn you that indie publishing can be a hard journey.

Forewarned is forearmed.

So they say.

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Conflict in Novels

Every good novel needs conflict, something that prevents its hero from achieving his or her aim.


Superman wants a safe world, Lex Luthor wants to take it over and doesn’t care who he kills to do it. Girl wants boy, but they are prevented by their fathers’ ongoing feud.


The hero must have a goal. It’s not necessary for the plot to slavishly follow the hero’s journey as laid out in Christopher Vogler’s book on writing, entitled The Writer’s Journey (though, by golly, this works), but the hero must want something — even if what s/he wants is for something not to happen, e.g. the comet hitting the planet and ending the world as we know it.

By the way, what the hero wants usually defines the genre. For example, boy wants a particular girl (Romance). Sherlock Homes wants to find out who dunnit. (Crime/Mystery). sherlock-holmes

Real conflict is where the hero encounters circumstances — or people — who prevent him from saving the world, solving the crime, getting the girl. It is NOT the hero having an ongoing personality conflict with another character so that the novel is filled with lots of petty arguments between these two.

two-people-arguingThis is not what the mavens mean when they talk about conflict. It does not advance the plot, and becomes mighty irritating after a while.

Beware also of writing scenes that deliver information, rather than containing conflict and moving the plot along. I see this one a lot: two people sit down at a table, and over cups of tea talk about something the writer wants us to know. Maybe it’s the hero’s childhood, why he is like he is today. If all your scene does is convey information, watch out. Every time you do this, the momentum of your plot slows to a crawl.

There are usually better ways to convey information rather than through dialogue. While I’m not a big fan of flashbacks because they interrupt the forward motion of a story, a well written flashback is a more interesting way to present back story information than via dialogue. But of course, anyone who’s good with dialogue finds it much easier to write a conversation with that information in it, rather than actually writing the scene these people in the kitchen are talking about— which could’ve been a real scene with real conflict.

Think about it.

“Oh dear, Mavis, he must’ve been soo scared, him being only five an’ all at the time” is not nearly as exciting as showing us the scene in which our five-year-old hero is scared.

There’s an even better way to tell the reader something and that’s to tell it. Yes, I know: tell has become a dirty word these days. But if you do it succinctly, in one or two sentences, you’ll get away with it: Jimmy was traumatised at the age of five by his mother’s lingering illness and death. There, it’s done. Without interrupting the forward flow of the novel and taking an entire scene to convey.

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Free editing ‘til 2017!


Comma, happyFor one week only. First three writers to apply.

I’m offering free editing to the first three writers who apply to have a 5,000 word sample of their work-in-progress edited.

What’s the catch?

Only this: I edit on paper, so you will need to pay me for printing out your 5,000 words (20c/page), plus the postage to return it to you.

Why am I offering this?

  1. Hey, it’s Christmas!
  2. In twenty-five years of working as a manuscript evaluator and editor, I’ve found there is never any work in the last weeks of December; people have too much else on their minds. But I don’t like to be idle, so I thought I’d offer this as a little present to struggling writers. The cost of printing out the sample, plus the return postage, is the only cost you’ll have.




NB I WILL ACCEPT EXTRACTS only FROM THE FIRST THREE WRITERS WHO APPLY. Do NOT send your extract with your query email.

Wishing you the very best of the Season! Hope 2017 is good for you and your writing.

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Finding an expert you can trust

If you’re an indie writer, these days you’re often dealing with people you’ve never met and probably never will – cover designers, interior designers, manuscript assessors, editors. I have never met the woman did the cover and the interior for my escapist novel, MagnifiCat; she lives in the US. I have never met Marty Norman, the US artist who did the wonderful drawing the cover uses.


I have never met Paul Salvette, the kindly e book designer of B B Books, who lives in Thailand. And so it goes on. These days we choose off the web, and hope our choice will turn out to be a good one. What can we do to make this process a little less of a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey affair?

Well, word of mouth is still the best way of choosing an expert for your book. If you know someone who used so-and-so and thought so-and-so was great, then you’ve gone a long way towards finding someone who’ll do a good job for you.

The next thing to do, if it’s an editor you’re looking for, is to look at this person’s website. If there are testimonials, read them carefully — very carefully. If the person happens to have another website, even if it doesn’t seem relevant to your search, read that, too. If they’ve written any books, have a look at them. At least read the back covers and avail yourself of the free Look Inside extract that Amazon provides. What kind of themes does this specialist you’re considering espouse? What kind of world view has s/he? Many people, in spite of their technical expertise, in spite of your friend’s good experience with them, will not be the right fit for your manuscript.


In my opinion, this is particularly important in the case of novelists starting out. They tend to have a less secure grip on the structure of their work and are more likely to need assistance in the early drafts. But the right assistance in these cases is assistance that bears in mind what the writer, not the editor, would like to convey. So read up on everything you can about an expert before committing yourself. That way, you’ll both be in tandem when you’re working on your book.

To sum up: when looking for an expert in one of the many fields of book pre-production, after the usual areas of competence have been investigated, make sure you choose someone simpatico, with a compatible take on the world. Bear it in mind as you’re searching, particularly if it’s an editor you’re after. Even if they have wonderful skills in their particular field, it can be more important than you think, especially when you’re starting out.

Posted in advice about writing, advice for indie publishers, advice for writers, Australian manuscript appraisers, Danielle De Valera, editors, fiction editing, good editors, how to find a good editor, manuscript assessments, manuscript assessors, Patrick de Valera, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Collateral Damage as Amazon Applies the Thumbscrews to Reviews

Have you spent more than $50 on Amazon in your lifetime? (I think it’s in your lifetime.) They’re now instigating this rule where they won’t let you post a review, even though you’ve bought the book, unless you have spent that amount.

Guess which dog has not spent $50.

Guess which dog has not spent $50.

 The $50 rule

I was recently emailed by someone who’d bought my collection of short stories Dropping Out at and went to post a review, only to discover they were not allowed to do so because of Amazon’s new $50.00 rule. This rule is as follows:

“To post a review, customers must spend [must have spent] at least $50.00 [with Amazon] using a valid credit or debit card. Prime subscriptions and promotional discounts don’t qualify towards the $50.00 minimum. Customers in the same household cannot submit a review for the same product.”

I had heard of this rule, but hadn’t known any instances in which it had been applied. Until now. It’s an interesting rule, and one that is well intentioned. There are paid review mills out there who, using one or two credit/debit cards, can post hundreds of reviews under different names, thus pushing up an author’s chances of having his or her book bought.

OK, I see that. But I wonder about all the new people coming along, who are only just finding their way on the web and only just beginning to buy online. These people will be excluded. For the moment, at any rate. And when they’ve chalked up $50 (Will they be counting?), will they remember to go back and post a review for you? Don’t think so.

Collateral damage.

Review swapping

Another little rule, especially designed to catch out writer friends, is the long established habit of review swapping.


people-exchanging-gifts Amazon has always frowned on this but made few active attempts to police it. No more. Be aware, oh indie writers out there, that this has now changed. And even if you’re not a bestseller, you’re still not safe. I know of instances where Amazon has actively pursued small-time writers who swapped reviews (and some who hadn’t), removing favourable reviews —and in the process sometimes mistakenly removing reviews by people the poor writer had never even heard of.

More collateral damage, pay no attention.

The online world is a hard world, especially where money is concerned. If you’re an indie writer, watch out for these two things. The first is obvious. The second might just catch you unawares.

If you would like to read more about the new Amazon rules, Anne Allen has a very readable post on this subject at:


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