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Bookish. Publisher at Louise Walters Books. Reader, writer, and editor. Working class gal.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

First Paragraphs: Before and After - Fallible Justice

Welcome to the second of my First Paragraph posts, in which I share the opening paragraphs of my authors' books, before and after they were edited. This time I'm going to talk about my very first LWB title, Laura Laakso's Fallible Justice. There's a bit of a story behind the story, so we'll begin there...

In 2017 I helped "sift" entries to the Retreat West First Chapter competition. Amanda Saint invited me to help her, and I agreed. I needed the money, as I had decided to set up my indie publishing outfit, Louise Walters Books. I also thought the experience would be useful and at the back of my mind, I said to myself, "You never know what you might find..."


Cue A LOT of reading. Some chapters were good, some not so good. Then I reached an entry named Fallible Justice and here are the opening paragraphs I read:



I am running. The foot that touches the ground is a deer’s hoof, the foot that propels me forward a wolf’s paw. Between strides, the wings of a seagull hold me aloft. Running along the sandy hill, the wide paws of a lynx ensure my passing is silent. The wind is against me, whipping through the horse’s mane that is my hair. With the wind comes the smells of the land and the sea and I sift through them with the borrowed nose of a badger. In the distance, a bird takes flight and the ears of a dormouse pinpoint the source of the sound with ease. My foot lands in a grassy depression but with the balance of a squirrel I change the direction of my movement and keep going.
      I am running through the wilderness and the wilderness runs through me.
      The hills follow the curves of the coast and from a sheltered cove, I catch a whiff of decay. My stomach growls and it is the hunger of a vixen stalking towards a chicken coop, a pine marten pouncing on a shrew, a striped dolphin chasing a school of cod. As soon as the thought registers, the smell is gone.
      A hound bays in the distance. It is downwind from me and has recognised my scent. I bay back. Kin recognises kin.
      Although I run with the strength of an ant, the speed of a swift and the grace of a pond skater, there comes a point when I have to stop. I brace my hands against my knees, breath coming in gulps. In that moment, I am all human – only human. There is no sorrow in the change; the wilderness hovers on the edge of my consciousness, ever-present and comforting. I wipe a sheen of sweat from my forehead, a mixture of beads of dew and salt of the sea. Everything is connected, myself included. I smile at the thought as I begin the long walk back to my car. 


Well. I was stumped! But there was something... wonderful about the writing. And that line "I am  running through the wilderness and the wilderness runs through me" - surely that was a gift of a tag line? But was it too ambitious? Too wild? Too over the top? I asked for Amanda's opinion. "Is this fabulous or is it bollocks?" I asked her. She read it and replied: "It's fabulous. Let's put it through to the long list."

The chapter was also short listed, and eventually picked by the judge as the runner up in the 2017 competition. A few weeks later, my submissions inbox now open, Laura submitted another of her novels to me. I wasn't that taken with it, but I recalled her name, and I asked to read the rest of Fallible Justice. I read it twice, back to back. I was keen to kick start LWB with a wonderful author and I knew I'd found her. OK, fantasy and paranormal are NOT my things, usually, but good writing and good story-telling trumps everything else. I had found her! My first LWB author. I offered Laura a one-book deal which she accepted and away we went. 

Editing Laura is relatively easy. We start from a pretty elevated position - Laura writes tidy and clean! Structurally we don't need to do much as her books are meticulously plotted and she is pretty much in charge of that side of things. It's her show and my job is simply to ensure everything makes sense... which it tends to do! Laura has nailed the internal logic of her stories - in other words, she has created a world she knows inside out and she is the boss: she is totally in charge. Nothing random or bizarre or silly happens despite this being a fantasy series... fantasy is just a style. Storytelling is storytelling and internal logic is present in all good novels, no matter the genre. Indeed fantasy is incredibly hard to write well. It takes a great deal of control and it works best when it's character-led. Otherwise it quickly becomes stale. In my opinion, the best fantasy is always, always character-led. 

Edits wise, we didn't actually change much. I've marked in red where we made changes and deletions:

I am running. The foot that touches the ground is a deer’s hoof, the foot that propels me forward a wolf’s paw. Between strides, the wings of a seagull hold me aloft. Running along the sandy hill, the wide paws of a lynx ensure my passing is silent.The wind is against me, whipping through the horse’s mane that is my hair. With the wind comes the smells of the land and the sea and I sift through them with the borrowed nose of a badger. In the distance, a bird [my note to Laura: This could be more specific. Name the bird? You name all the other animals in this fantastic paragraph, so I think we should name the bird too. (It became a magpie.)] takes flight and the ears of a dormouse pinpoint the source of the sound with ease. My foot lands in a grassy depression but with the balance of a squirrel I change the direction of my movement and keep going.
      I am running through the wilderness and the wilderness runs through me.
      The hills follow the curves of the coast and from a sheltered cove, I catch a whiff of smell decay. My stomach growls and it is it's the hunger of a vixen stalking towards a chicken coop, a pine marten pouncing on a shrew, a striped dolphin chasing a school of cod. As soon as the thought registers, the smell is has gone.
      A hound bays in the distance. It is downwind from me and has recognised my scent. I bay back. Kin recognises kin.
      Although I run with the strength of an ant, the speed of a swift and the grace of a pond skater, [my note to Laura: I think this may be too much. Could we try just picking one? The best I think is the ‘grace of a pond skater’, as it’s the most surprising of the three] there comes a point when I have to stop. I brace my hands against my knees, breath coming in gulps. In that moment, I am all human – only human. There is no sorrow in the change; the wilderness hovers on the edge of my consciousness, ever-present and comforting. I wipe a sheen of sweat from my forehead, a mixture of beads of dew and salt of from the sea. Everything is connected, myself included. I smile at the thought as I begin the long walk back to my car.


And here are the opening paragraphs as they appear in the published Fallible Justice:

I am running. The foot that touches the ground is a deer’s hoof, the foot that propels me a wolf’s paw. Between strides, the wings of a seagull hold me aloft. The wind is against me, whipping through the horse’s mane that is my hair. With the wind come the smells of the land and the sea, and I sift through them with the nose of a badger. In the distance, a magpie takes flight and the ears of a dormouse pinpoint the source of the sound. My foot lands in a grassy depression, but with the balance of a squirrel I change direction and keep going. 
      I am running through the wilderness and the wilderness runs through me. 
      The hills follow the curves of the coast, and from a sheltered cove, I smell decay. My stomach growls and it’s the hunger of a vixen stalking a chicken coop; a pine marten pouncing on a shrew; a striped dolphin chasing a school of cod. As soon as the thought registers, the smell has gone. 
      A hound bays in the distance. It is downwind from me and has recognised my scent. I bay back. Kin recognises kin. 
      Although I run with the grace of a pond skater, there comes a point when I have to stop. I brace my hands against my knees, breath coming in gulps. In that moment, I am all human – only human. There is no sorrow in the change; the wilderness hovers on the edge of my consciousness, ever-present and comforting. I wipe a sheen of sweat from my forehead, a mixture of beads of dew and salt from the sea. Everything is connected. I smile at the thought as I begin the long walk back to my car. 


Don't know about you, but I find the ending here on the very mundane "long walk back to my car" is perfect: what is this world? Who is this character? Is she a human - she seems human. She drives a car. But she has just done all these extraordinary things. I want to know more, a lot more, about this character. Don't you?! 

Fallible Justice was published in November 2018 and its follow up, Echo Murder, is published this week, on Thursday 6th June. 



I'll do another of these soon, and it will be Helen Kitson's opening to her fabulous novel The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson.

See you soon! x



Monday, 20 May 2019

First Paragraphs: Before and After - The Naseby Horses

Time to get my blog back up and running! My last post was about Laura Laakso's book launch for her debut novel Fallible Justice... and now here we are, six months later, about to publish Laura's second, Echo Murder. Laura's Wilde Investigations series is going from strength to strength, and I should know: I've read and edited the third one, Roots of Corruption. It's an absolute corker. That's out in March and I know her fans are going to love it.




I'm planning a series of posts looking at each of my authors' first paragraph(s), sharing here the BEFORE version (how it read when first submitted to me) and the AFTER version - how it appears, or will appear, in the actual finished book. The editorial process can be a bit of a mystery if you haven't yet experienced it, so I hope these posts will be interesting.

I'm kicking off with Dominic Brownlow's The Naseby Horses. The novel was long listed in the Bath Children's Novel Award in 2016. It appeared in my submissions inbox back in late July 2018. A friend of mine had critiqued the novel and Dominic had tried agents, without success. My friend asked me if I would like to read it. I agreed to have a look... and am I ever glad I did! It's a cracking novel: multi-layered, beautifully written and loaded with atmosphere. However, that first version I read (twice, in succession) was a bit... choked up. Too many words, too much imagery, it was simply too NOISY. I remember mentioning to Dominic (at Laura's book launch party, glass of wine in hand) that we needed to thin the novel out. He looked a tiny bit... worried! I'm pretty sure I said something about less being more...




It took six months to tame this beast, but we got there, and the resulting novel is something I think both author and editor are very proud of.

So, here are both versions of the opening paragraphs of The Naseby Horses, followed by the rationale behind the changes we made....

Original opening:

It’s another day and a night before they let me leave the hospital. Uncle Pete picks me up in his black Rover, driving slowly over the chain of mini roundabouts that gets us out of Spalding onto the straight, lonely roads of the Fens. There’s still been no word from Charlotte.
‘Hobby,’ he says, ducking his head to look at a small bird of prey hovering by the side of the road. ‘Marsh harriers have been plentiful over Lakenheath and there’s been a golden oriole spotted Monday. Maybe we’ll get up there when all this blows over, hey?’ There’s little of the usual buoyancy in his Norfolk accent.
The hobby drops to the ground, bouncing back into view with a field mouse locked in its talons and disappearing low across the fields as I press my head against the warm glass, my mind weighed down with the hazy fug of medication, and watch the earth streaming by in an endless blur of yellow and green and gold. Above stretches millions of square miles of unsullied blue sky.

(177 words)


Edited final version:

It’s another day and a night before they let me leave the hospital. Uncle Pete picks me up in his black Rover, driving slowly over the chain of mini roundabouts that gets us out of Spalding on to the straight lonely roads of the Fens. There’s still been no word from Charlotte.
‘Hobby,’ he says, ducking his head to look at a small bird of prey hovering by the side of the road. The hobby drops to the ground, bouncing back into view with a field mouse locked in its talons, before disappearing low across the fields. I press my head against the warm glass, my mind weighed down with the hazy fug of medication, and watch the earth stream by in an endless blur of yellow and green and gold.
Above stretch millions of square miles of unsullied blue sky.

(141 words)


We reduced the word count by about 20%, which more or less continued throughout the novel. We got it down from almost 90k words to 75k. 

After reading just that short opening paragraph, I knew two things:

1. This person can write.

2. I like this writing.

The opening paragraph is pretty much perfect. It sets up the entire novel in three simple sentences. Therefore, it remains unchanged. My note to Dominic was: "Ideal opening paragraph. Lots to get the reader wondering from the start. This we do not need to edit!"

The second paragraph needed the cuts. I suggested we get rid of the bird talk, as it wasn't needed.  And the comment about Uncle Pete’s accent, likewise not needed. Not everybody (most readers, probably) will know what a Norfolk accent sounds like, so it was almost meaningless. I told Dominic this second paragraph was too cluttered. He fired back several comments about why it was all included... but he essentially agreed with me, and the cut was made.

We are left with just the one word of dialogue - “Hobby.” -  all that’s needed to convey the importance of birds, both in the novel, and to the protagonist, Simon. The fact that Uncle Pete recognises the bird tells us these people are bird spotters. Nothing else, I felt, at this stage, was needed. 

The sentence about the unsullied blue sky was interesting. I suggested cutting it; Dominic defended it, and I backed down. He suggested it should be a single line paragraph, which I liked. It just works better, it's more emphatic, and the huge Fenland sky is pretty much a fixture throughout the novel. So a single sentence paragraph was the right decision, and we both agreed. 

We changed STREAMING to STREAM to be, I think, slightly more correct grammatically, and of course slightly more economical.

So there you are, the opening section. It's followed by a double line break before proceeding with the rest of the novel. Hope you can see how less is indeed more; and how good writing is often good because of what isn't on the page rather than what is. I always tell the authors I work with editorially (of all standards) do not be afraid of the delete button! 

One of the most important changes we made was to edit the novel as adult literary fiction, rather than as a YA novel, which is what Dominic originally intended. We debated this quite a lot, in the end deciding the pace was more suited to literary fiction, rather than YA; and we also felt if published as a YA novel, we would risk not reaching some of its potential readers - those who I know are going to enjoy this book. So that was an important decision we had to make quite early on. That in turn informed the entire editorial process. 

Editing is a two-way thing: there is much debate and almost arguing, at times! It's also an exhilarating process and a learning curve, for author and editor. A great deal of honesty is required on both sides, and the ability to take criticism is a must. As an editor, I also have to know when to back down and allow the author - who knows the novel better than anybody - to have it their way.  

The Naseby Horses will be published on 5 December 2019 in hardback and ebook. More information can be found on my website https://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk/

I'll do another of these soon, which will be Laura's dazzling opening to Fallible Justice

Louise x