Thursday, 29 April 2010


I hope that readers don't see the mistakes which writers  have made.  There are one or two even in the best edited, best written books, often the writer is just so close to the material that she can't see it objectively. Most of the mistakes which are made are sorted out by the editors but there can be things which even the most talented editor cannot find.

This was my first big saga, published by Hodder & Stoughton. I was so excited about it, I spent seven years, on and off writing and when it was accepted  I thought I had made a very good job of the whole thing and then oh, horror, we discovered that the heroine had been pregnant for a year!  The poor girl must have looked like an elephant. Luckily we managed to rescue her before we got the proof stage but missing mistakes like this causes nightmares to people in the industry.

I very often make mistakes with timing. It is so difficult to achieve and I can have people picnicking on the riverbanks in one scene and sledging in the next.  I do have to be careful.
There are problems with names. Saga writers do tend to have their characters' names ending in y or ie and in my first saga we had Lizzie and Katy and had to alter one.

While it should have been obvious it took us weeks to decide that Katy would be Kate because once you've named a character that's how you see her. As for men's names I have used my favourites over and over for my heroes.  My daughter bought me two Scottish name books, christian and surnames and they have proved invaluable because where I live lots of people have Scottish and border names and we are nearly all from Irish ancestry. You can scratch the surface of anybody's name here and somewhere among it you find a Leary or a McDonald.
My grandmother's family on my mother's side were originally from Londonderry.

This is the first book I wrote for Severn House and in it the hero comes to Durham from Scotland and he has spent time when he was a child having holidays in St Andrews. I described in this book the lime trees in one street in St Andrews and my clever editor knew that the lime trees in St Andrews did not grow there but in a different street. How's that for editing? You need to be a person of many parts.
I am forever changing the colour of people's eyes and then forgetting so that's another thing I have to be careful of.

My latest book, Snow Hall, which comes out in August,
has got to the proof stage.  We did the editing a few weeks ago and I had made a whole pile of mistakes which my copy editor found and now it seems funny but at the time it was very frustrating.

The main problem was that one poor character died in February and was still not buried in April. Oh dear! I had killed off this person and then inserted another chapter, forgetting that I had not put her underground and it put out the whole of the second half of the book including the fact that I had pregnancies in it which went on and on.

 Altering the seasons is very difficult as I try to be careful with my descriptions but I write about the season we're actually in because otherwise I have no memory at all for what the seasons are like so when I came to change it it was very hard. The proofs are almost upon me and I am keeping my fingers crossed that we have caught all the mistakes as it is costly to do anything about it now. The thing I have learned over the years is not try not to be a perfectionist because writing has so many different aspects and I could drive myself mad.

I think research can be hardest of all for saga writers because you have to imagine a world you never knew and can never know and try to get the period right in things like clothing and transport and attitudes and even language.  Georgette Heyer was famous for getting things like this right, I have always loved her books. Luckily for me I have lived in the Durham coalfield as they used to call it all my life and among men in industry and women with grit and one of the good things about getting older is that you can recall all sorts of things which you thought you had forgotten. Also it gives me a sense of place. Writers need a sense of place as much as they need any other aspect of their writing and one of the joys is to hope that the readers will learn to love the city and the countryside which surrounds it as much as I do.

Anybody else make mistakes like this, or different ones when they write?


  1. I made mistakes or misprint with recipes in Dancing at the Victory cafe, a teaspoon became a tablespoon. I hope no one tried it out.

  2. I realised when writing Fortunate Wager that one particular week had two Fridays.

    And there was a huge scene when I KEPT finding that successive things didn't exist historically so KEPT having to alter it.

    All before proof stage, fortunately!