A Matter Of Punctuation

Earlier this year, as part of a flurry of competition entries, I entered A Thousand Rooms, my standalone women’s fiction novel, in the 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.

It was a long shot. I knew that. One of the most respected independent book competitions around, the contest attracts thousands of entries from around the world. However, you can’t win the lottery if you don’t have a ticket, so I thought it might be worth a try. Another attraction was the fact that I would get, as part of my entry fee, feedback from the judge assigned to my title.

Well, I didn’t make the final shortlist. Oh well. However, I recently received my promised feedback and was very pleased. Feedback scores are ranked from 1 to 5, with 1 being ‘needs improvement’ and 5 being ‘outstanding.’

My scores were as follows:

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 4

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 4

Production Quality and Cover Design: 5

Plot and Story Appeal: 5

Character Appeal and Development: 4

Voice and Writing Style: 5

Furthermore, the judge offered the following comments:

I was really very excited when I discovered that the author has a fantastic writing style and a voice that is perfectly suited for the genre. This is a good book… I love this type of plot line and it certainly kept me entertained and turning the pages. The author has done a great job with strong, fast pacing that doesn’t lag. And an equally great job of realistic dialogue that also presents with a nix (sic) mix of dialogue and narrative. I wish that more authors would focus on this element when it comes to fiction writing. A nice, satisfying ending left me with a smile on my face. This was just simply a solid entry… Best of luck with this book and I hope to read more from this author.

I was very pleased with this feedback, as you can imagine.

However, I haven’t written this post just to sing my own praises 🙂 One of the things I lost marks on was spelling, punctuation and grammar. Now, I had this book professionally edited, so I doubt that spelling was an issue, unless the American judge didn’t like my use of colour, favour, etc. While they didn’t specify spelling as an issue, they did point out one specific issue they saw – my use of single quotation marks throughout the book, which they described as ‘incorrect and an unnecessary distraction.’

Incorrect? Not in this country. In fact, I’m currently reading The Essex Serpent, a British bestseller from last year, and the quotation marks throughout? Single.

Perhaps, had the judge realised I was a UK-based author, they may have been more lenient. However, it was a lesson to me, as a writer who sells books around the world, that I might want to reconsider my use of quotation marks. It’s a small thing, but it may have made the difference to my entry. (Or not, more than likely – I really don’t know).

So, not the end of the world. I received excellent feedback, and I learned a lesson. Not bad for a competition entry. And I thought I might share it with you.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.


#BlogBattle – Silver And Black


One of the things I enjoy about blogging is the number of challenges offered by bloggers throughout the community. For writers there’s everything from sixty second flash fiction to short story competitions, and photographers could post something every day of the week and never run out of different blogspirations.

One writing challenge I’ve noticed is Rachel Ritchey’s #Blog Battle, and this week I’ve decided to give it a go. The theme is ‘Forest,’ so it’s right up my alley. The story below is a shorter section of a book which seems to be coming to me in dribs and drabs – it first appeared as part of a Flash Fiction Challenge by Ali Isaac, then another piece came along as one of Sacha Black’s Writespirations. This piece appeared when I saw the word ‘Forest.’

It’s a vampire story. I never thought I’d write a vampire story. I mean, I quite like them, loved the Lestat books back in the day, but my fantasy imaginings lean more towards  fantastical otherworldly stuff. So it’s been kind of neat to get a new kind of story in my head and I’m embracing it as it comes. Perhaps I’ll write the whole book as a series of blog challenges!

So here is my entry for this week’s Blog Battle:

Silver And Black


He held out his hand, a darker silhouette against trees silvered by the moon. I knew his eyes were a similar shade, but I couldn’t see them. I couldn’t see a damn thing, really, other than faint lines of pale branches against a clotted blackness.

‘You know I can’t-‘

‘Can’t?’ The silhouette tilted his head. I knew he was smiling, could hear it in his voice. But I couldn’t hear as well as he could. Another thing that pissed me off. And I had to be so careful how I moved, what expression showed on my face. I smoothed down my skirt with damp hands. This was stupid. I should just go home.

All at once he was in front of me, and I glimpsed a faint gleam in his silvery eyes before he bent his head to kiss me, sharp teeth grazing my lips, hot/cold breath turning my insides to honey. Okay, maybe I could do this, I thought as I clung to him, my hands sliding inside his jacket.

Then he was gone, just as fast, leaving me alone in the clearing. I froze.


No answer. I tried to control my breathing, but I was starting to panic. Was this a trap? I strained my ears, listening, eyes wide against the darkness under the trees. Was something moving there?

Okay. Screw this.

I kept my face smooth, just in case he was somewhere, watching me. The branches creaked, eerie in the cold night, the forest whispering around me. I unzipped the pocket of my leather jacket, pulling out my phone. My mouth twisted a bit then, I couldn’t help it. But I had no choice. I had to call my mother.

The screen came to life under my fingers and I scrolled through. Not that there were many contacts on my phone. But before I could make the call arms came around me, and I felt teeth grazing my ear. I jerked involuntarily and the arms softened, letting go. Then Kyle was in front of me, one hand coming up to touch my cheek, smoothing away a tear that had snuck out, despite my best efforts.

‘Hey,’ he said. His voice was soft, all the teasing gone. ‘I’m sorry. I forget.’

I couldn’t say anything for a moment, mingled relief and anger choking me. I shook my head, tucking my phone back in my pocket then swallowed, clearing my throat. ‘I want to go home,’ I said, my voice higher than normal.

‘No.’ He breathed the word, his arms coming around my waist, his body close to mine. ‘I really am sorry. Will you stay with me, a while longer? There’s somewhere I’d like to show you. And then I’ll take you home, I promise.’

I purposely didn’t look at him. I didn’t need him trying to glamour me. Did I want to stay with him? My body was screaming, yes, Ohmygod, are you crazy, staystaystay. Then my mind joined in. Damn.

‘Fine,’ I said. Possibly a little ungracious but then, hey, he was the one who’d left me out here alone. ‘But,’ I went on, looking at him. ‘Don’t leave me again, or I am going.’

‘I promise,’ he said, taking my hand and bringing it to his mouth. I tensed. He smiled, his tongue flicking out against my fingers before he kissed them and let go. I took in a shaking breath.

‘So, where are we going?’


Check out the other#BlogBattle entries, or maybe add one of your own!

Finding the Angle


Sydney Opera House is full of interesting angles…

When you write freelance, you’re often required to write about subjects that may not hold much interest for you. For me, the key to keeping it interesting is finding the angle, that point of interest where you and the subject matter meet. Once you find that common point the work becomes much easier, keeping the writing fresh.

For example, I had a client once who needed brochure copy for her new beauty salon, which offered Botox and enemas and other treatments which all sounded dubious to me. However, it was paying work and, as a professional, I had to deliver. So I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone who would seek out these treatments, finding phrases that would appeal to and comfort them, making them confident in the services being offered. Once I found that angle, I was able to write the copy and the client was happy.

I actually found it easiest to write interview pieces, because the angle was created as soon as I spoke to that person and gained an impression of who they were. Often my interview subjects would be pleasantly surprised by my finished article, saying they hadn’t realised the impression they’d conveyed in just a few words. I would spend time doing research before each interview because it was important I chose the right questions to ask, especially when I often had only ten minutes in which to ask them.

When it came to writing my own fiction, I found the angle was the place where my own experiences and that of my character met. In A Thousand Rooms, the entire book is told from the point of view of my main character, who happens to be dead. Even though I don’t know what it’s like to be dead there’s still quite a bit of me in her, including a recount of a disastrous date that I only embellished slightly, the remembered reality of it quite awful enough. I suppose it’s an extension of the idea to ‘write what you know’ – when you add in something you’ve experienced personally, it’s a lot easier to convey the emotion and surroundings of the scene.

My Ambeth books are told from multiple points of view, each character’s story eventually merging together. This time, the angle came in finding which character was best suited to tell each scene, the meeting point being my gut feeling and the characters themselves. I know Ambeth inside and out, and I also know what motivates each of my main characters, so it became an instance of matching my own knowledge with what the characters were telling me would happen next, while balancing this enough to ensure that one character didn’t dominate the narrative. In some ways this goes back to my interview technique, where I used my prior knowledge to tailor my questions for the best results – this time, I base my decision on who the characters are and how the scene will affect each one of them going forward.

So there you go. Do you have any little techniques or tricks of the trade you use when writing? I’d be very interested to hear 🙂