When I first started corresponding with agents and reading authors’ blogs, there were a few terms I was not familiar with. Most of them are common sense, and you probably aren’t as clueless as me, but I thought it would be helpful to do a glossary of the main terms and abbreviations used in the editing process, as I’m going start editing The Cartographer’s Daughter with Hellie this week (gulp). I’ll add to it as more come up.

Beta readers: People who read your ms for you in order to make suggestions for edits, characters etc. My family and friends are these lucky people! This is also sometimes used in a professional context.

Blurb: Essentially a pitch – what you’d find on the back of a book in a shop. It’s often useful to include a one- or two- sentence blurb in your cover letter/email to an agent.

Copy: Another word for the ‘text’ of your book in printed or electronic form – can be referring to a section of a chapter, or to an entire manuscript.

Extent: The number of pages in a printed manuscript/book.

Full: Often used by agents to request the full manuscript. ‘Duh’ but it had me stumped the first time.

Manuscript: An unpublished/unbound text. I always feel a bit pretentious when I’m discussing The Cartographer’s Daughter and call it a novel, or book. And I’m right to, because it’s not really either (yet). And I’ve recently adopted the term ‘WIP’ for the book I’m currently working on, my second.

MS/ms: Abbreviation of ‘manuscript’.

Submission: Traditionally three chapters and a synopsis. When and agent is submitting to publishers, they usually send a pitch letter first, then the ms.

Synopsis: A brief but full account of the significant incidents of your ms. Not to be confused with ‘blurb’.

Partial: Usually applies to the traditional three chapters you initially submit to an agent.

 WIP: Work in progress.

Poetry Corner

If you are here for news of the prose ilk, I apologise – today’s post is a deviation into my other life as a poet. There are lots of photos to keep your attention!

Two days ago, I got back from Tuscany. Tom’s parents have just bought a house in Orciatico – it’s beautiful and amazingly located, forty minutes from Pisa and an hour and a half from Siena. I completely fell in love with the latter, and have an idea for a new story set there…it’s an excuse to go back more than anything! Just look at this library, in the cathedral:

IMG_4732I want one!

The view from the house looks like this:


And only this afternoon I was walking the Long Mynd, Shropshire, which looks like this:

IMG_4963Spot the difference.

 The similarities are striking. I love that lush green, especially when it’s mixed with heathery shadows. I’m here in Shropshire for the Much Wenlock Poetry Festival, and thought this was as good a time as any to talk about ‘the other woman’ in my life, which was the only woman until The Cartographer’s Daughter came along. In fact, to use my friend Sarvat’s analogy, I suppose poetry is my ‘wife’ discipline, and prose my ‘mistress’. I’ve been writing poetry for about four years now, and you can find out all about my publication etc in the relevant section on my website.

Recently, there have been a few exciting developments and occurrences that I wanted to share. First off, over the past two days I’ve read at two brilliant festivals. My poor brother John is my chauffeur for the weekend, as I cleverly made his birthday present a trip away with me. He got me back slightly by dragging me up a rather large hill in rain:

IMG_4952Not my hat. Not happy.

But I intend to make up for the summiting with a very large meal this evening:
IMG_4971Thinking of all the food I will eat.

Last night, I read at ChipLitFest, Chipping Norton’s celebration of all things word-y. I was invited by Dan Holloway, author, poet and someone who has been instrumental in in my own development as a poet, and performed alongside Vanessa Kisuule. She is quite simply a revelation. I’m going to ask her for permission to reproduce a poem on this blog, because her work really is something else. The lovely Helen of the T’ai Chi Room sponsored the event, and the audience were great:

IMG_4937(l-r): Dan, me, Vanessa, Helen

I managed an hour of after party with Dan, Vanessa, and Rohan Quine, before John and I got incredibly lost driving to our hotel for the evening, the lobby of which looked like this:

 IMG_4934Thanks Mum!

Then we were up bright and early to get to Much Wenlock. The reading came courtesy of Andrea Porter, fellow Gatehouse Press poet and all-round superwoman. She won the Much Wenlock Poetry Prize last year, and kindly decided to share her reading with Sarah Law, Andrea Holland and me. It was a real pleasure to hear them all, and I’d really recommend checking out their work. The Pottery was a very atmospheric venue, and what’s more I spotted Daljit Nagra in the audience:

IMG_4942(l-r): Andrea P, Sarah, me and Andrea H

Also, I found out I have poetry accepted to Cake Magazine, and Lighthouse, but most excitingly of all, my retelling of the Eurydice myth, Splitting the Seed, has been shortlisted for the Café Writers and Ink, Sweat & Tears Commission! It’s an ekphrastic collaboration with Tom, and has become a bit of an obsession. We’re up against stiff competition, including Canal Laureate Jo Bell, but I’m keeping everything crossed.

1881048uObligatory crossed-eyed Spangles image

I hope you haven’t minded the poetry trespassing. I may make poetry corner a monthly occurrence – let me know what you think!

Purrrgatory, or, How I came to have an agent – the short version

I’m sorry I’m not sorry for the cat gifs. And the needless* cat pun in the title. I really, really like cats, and it is a somewhat damning love for reasons you will discover. And yes, this really is the short version.

*Not as needless as it may appear – explanation post pending.

July 2013

Met The Agent at my creative writing course showcase. Despite only being about halfway through my first draft of my first novel The Cartographer’s Daughter, I send her my submission within a week of talking.

Mistake counter: 3


The Agent requests the full ms two weeks later. Too panicked to celebrate, I send excuses-laden email asking for two months’ grace to actually finish the darn thing polish the manuscript. The Agent probably sees straight through my grovelling, but through the kindness of her heart, she agrees.

Mistake counter: 4


Write. Eat. Sleep. Write. Eat. Sleep. Repeat until…holy hotcakes, Batman – first draft of first novel done! Feel feelings. Make friends/family read and suggest edits. Edit. Eat. Sleep. Edit. Eat. Sleep. Edit.

Mistake counter: still 4, though maybe I deserve an extra half point penalty for the sheer stupidity of what I was trying to do. 4.5


Send the polished draft. Attempt to re-engage with relationships, usual sanitation etc. Get an email back two weeks later (I sense a pattern) to arrange a meeting. Could this be The Meeting?

cat_image6The anticipation is killing me-ow!

…no, but it is hugely energising. The Agent and her junior agent (Agent A) talk through their thoughts, and suggest edits. I largely agree with their suggestions, and knuckle down to the second draft.

Mistake counter: 5.5

January 2014

Finish the second draft. My novel grows from 56,887 words, to 105,306, and back down to settle at 68,223 during this time. Send to The Agent and Agent A. Receive an email from The Agent to say Agent A is taking over the reins as she is really ‘championing’ my book. Feel even more feelings – someone is ‘championing’ my book!

Mistake counter: 5.5


Meet Agent A on Valentines’ Day, wearing red. It doesn’t quite have the desired effect, but I do leave with more edits. At the end of the meeting I woman up and ask if representation is on the cards. She says maybe if the next draft is good enough, and that I am welcome to approach other agents. I get the edits done within two weeks (67,349 words) and send the revised ms to Agent A, and three more agencies, including one with a Big Fish Client.

Mistake counter: 6 (another half point penalty)


Big Fish Client agency requests full, then a meeting. Meeting is politely postponed three times. Attend creative writing course weekend retreat. First speaker is an agent from an Established Agency. In the Q&A session, I ask what the protocol should be for applying to other agencies if you are already working with an agent on your ms. He looks shocked. He said if he liked an ms enough to work on it, he thought it was only fair to offer the author some security in the form of representation. Immediately after, I email Agent A and Big Fish Client agency, as well as submitting to six other agents from my Dream Agent list. For the first time in ages, I feel back in control.

Five days later, I have two requests for a full. One is from Hellie Ogden at Janklow and Nesbit.

Mistake counter: 7


Hellie reads my manuscript over the weekend and organises a meeting for the following Thursday. I also speak to another agent that week, but as soon as I meet Hellie, I know. We talk about possible edits, her upcoming marathon and my love-of, and allergy-to, cats. She offers me representation. It sinks in very slowly, until:

h29E3A3B4Me after A LOT of cocktails.

I just about contain the urge to say yes straight away, and take her advice to email everyone else it’s out on submission with, to say I have an offer. (I have an offer!)

I should take a moment to say that this was happening the week between Bologna and London Book Fairs, two of the largest events of the publishing calendar. So it would have been understandable if the agents hadn’t found the time to respond to, let alone read my email. But all but one of them did. And all of them requested fulls. What’s more, all but one of them made me an offer. Including Agent A, who I met again.

I felt completely overwhelmed. I talked to everyone I knew about the decision, and they all said the same. They already knew which agent I should go for: the person I had been gushing about since I met them. It was a real ‘trust your gut’ moment. So, I declined the other offers. Emailing Agent A was surprisingly sad, but I’m learning that it’s a strange quirk of the writing world that although it all feels very personal, it’s mainly business.

Two weeks after our first meeting, I signed with Hellie at Janklow and Nesbit. Here’s the evidence (bin not included):

1044649_294737304017451_3921772827540166293_nStrangely like signing marriage papers.

Mistake counter: -3 (surely signing with a Dream Agent is minus at least ten mistake points?)

Now the real work begins. I can’t wait!

“Many years later, in front of the firing squad, colonel Aureliano Buendía would remember that distant afternoon his father took him to see ice.”

The above quote is the opening line of Gabriel García Márquez‘s first novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. García Márquez’s death yesterday means an ending of sorts, but his work will continue to inspire, so it felt right to revisit a beginning. One Hundred Years of Solitude is my joint favourite book*; the subject of two fumbling, clumsy dissertations and consistent re-reading. It permeates everything I read, and everything I write.

My own first novel, The Cartographer’s Daughter, is at heart an adventure story, but magical realism snuck in at every turn. For me, it is the best way to make extraordinary things feel true, and to make truth feel extraordinary. It owes so much to García Márquez and his writing – a version of the ice incident seeped into my own pages – and I am very sad to know that my dream of running into him in a Colombian bar must finally be shelved. I feel like I’ve lost something in ways I can’t quite explain – Katya Kazbek puts it better than I can in her beautiful post here. I have already moved One Hundred Years of Solitude back to the top of my reading pile, its spine cracked, pages loose, story waiting.


*what it is joint with warrants a whole other post – to follow!