How to write a book

Diary of an audiobook: lessons learned in the making of Ever Rest

Last month I released the audiobook version of Ever Rest, my third novel. All creative collaborations bring surprises. There are things we’re glad we did and things we’re glad we didn’t do. Here are the lessons learned.

Meet my narrator

My narrator was Sandy Spangler, who narrated my other two novels. Sandy is a longtime friend who designs computer games, but I didn’t know she had also trained as a voice actor. In 2014 I had a generous sponsorship offer from Amazon’s ACX to make the audiobooks of my first two novels, but couldn’t find a suitable narrator – you can read about the struggles here. Then I discovered Sandy could do it. She was perfect.

We recorded My Memories of a Future Life and Lifeform Three in 2014. You can read about our adventures making those audiobooks here.

We talked about doing Ever Rest if I could get another sponsor. And, late last year, I did. (You know who you are and… thank you.)

So if you want to know how an audiobook is made, here’s the complete guide.

Sales platform

How do you get the audiobook to customers? You need a sales platform or distributor. I chose Findaway Voices. It reaches a huge range of retailers and libraries and has a good rating from the Alliance of Independent Authors watchdog. When my ACX contract expired for My Memories of a Future Life and Lifeform Three, I moved the books to Findaway.

If you don’t already have a narrator, Findaway has a process for putting narrators and authors together.  

Working method

There are two possible ways to make a book with Findaway. You can upload a finished set of files, or you can use Findaway’s author/narrator portal to share and approve files. There’s a small fee for this. There’s no fee if you upload a finished book.

Sandy and I decided that, as we’d already worked together well and were used to working in creative teams anyway, we could figure out our own sharing and approval system. I have a Dropbox subscription so we used that for sharing files.

Here’s one we made earlier.

Set up your system and stick to it obsessively

You need to keep track of where each file is in the recording and approvals process. Is it waiting to be reviewed? Does it need corrections?  Is it passed for final production?

I created a set of folders in Dropbox.

  • For Roz to approve
  • Corrections for Sandy
  • Pickups for Roz to approve
  • Passed by Roz
  • Final mastered files ready for upload

This is very bossy, but Ever Rest has 86 chapters. We needed to stay completely in control of where everything was. Also, I thrive on control and detail.

So many weird names

All audiobooks need pronunciation guides. Ever Rest has a really chewy vocabulary. There are Nepalese place names. Argentinian place names. Mountaineering equipment (karabiner: where does the stress go? KaraBEEner? What vowel sound? KAHRaBINer?)

Powder snow avalanche in the Himalayas – pic by Chagai at English Wikipedia

None of this mattered when the words were shapes in a reader’s mind. Now, there were pitfalls galore. Sniggers or scorn if we got it wrong.

I wrote a pronunciation guide, using phonetic spellings and links to YouTube videos.  

Closer to home, there was another troublesome name: the Long Mynd, a hill in Shropshire. The local pronunciation is ‘minned’, not ‘mind’. On the page, it looks like it could be ‘mind’ and I wanted the reader to feel both versions. At times, this was an important resonance, so how would we handle it in the narration? I added some lines to the text to make the reader aware. Then Sandy, in her narration, judged perfectly when to say ‘mind’ and when to say ‘Mynd’. It’s a joy when your actor is so in tune with the book.

Style of narration

Our next task was to establish the style of narration. How fast should it be read? How emotional should the reading be?

Sandy sent samples at different speeds and emotional registers. I’m glad we did this, instead of plunging straight in, because the book didn’t work as we expected.

At first we kept it low key because the prose has a lot of emotion. That approach is good for some audiobooks and lets the writing do the work, but Ever Rest sounded flat. So Sandy went the other way and it came alive – a rich, expressive reading that we could dial up and down for the different characters and tones.

Once we had the energy and emotion, we thought about the space between the paragraphs. When I was writing, I used paragraph spacing very precisely as a poetic device. I realised as I listened that we sometimes needed a longer gap between paragraphs to let a moment settle. Sandy gave me several versions and we found the perfect paragraph pause.

It’s essential to tackle these questions at the start. Even if you’re not used to directing actors or listening critically to audio, you’ll have a feeling when something is off. You might not know what it is, but discuss it with your narrator. If you make a suggestion that’s dumb, the narrator might have a good solution to the problem. Listen to your gut and discuss any concerns as early as possible, before you’ve got a heap of chapters you’re not happy with.

We had found the novel’s style and voice.

Leave room for the reader: 1 Regional accents

One of the characters, Elza, has an Australian accent. We wondered: should Sandy do that?

My instinct was no. And anyway, if we’re getting picky, all the characters have accents. Elza’s is the most striking, as she’s Australian, but another has an East London twang. Another has Shropshire, probably with layers of Nepal, where he’s lived. Another is French.

But accents can be intrusive. And in an audiobook, the narrator doesn’t need to ‘do’ the characters’ voices to make us feel their reality. Their presence is so much more than accent. Their natures are expressed through word choice, thoughts, feelings and reactions, especially when they’re pushed out of their comfort zones. What makes them real is their inner life.

We wondered, though, if Elza might need different treatment because characters occasionally mention her Australian intonation. Her boyfriend, Elliot, talks about the ‘amused lilt of her accent’. What should we do about that? We certainly don’t want Crocodile Dundee. Perhaps an upward inflection, just on the preceeding line, which is a very Australian characteristic?

I’ll leave it to you, I said to Sandy.

When I listened to that chapter, Sandy read those lines exactly the same as the rest of the text. They worked perfectly.

Leave room for the reader: 2 Song lyrics

Ever Rest is a novel about a rock band, Ashbirds. Where there are bands, there are songs. So how should we read the lyrics?

Did they need a melody?

I did have ideas of some of the melodies. They came as I wrote the lines. But I never intended to share them with the reader.

As usual, Sandy made a sound judgement. She read them with a light sense of rhythm, as though they were lines of poetry, to let the listener imagine as much or as little melody as they liked. 

Once you’ve made a decision that feels right, you realise what the wrong decision would have done. To add melodies might make the songs feel less serious. It would break the spell of the reader’s personal version, what they were imagining.

I had an example of this at a recent book event. Readers asked me who was the real-life original of the band, Ashbirds. Absolutely nobody agreed with my version. Some thought Ashbirds were heavy rock. That wouldn’t work for me because I mostly dislike guitars – cries of horror from some readers. My Ashbirds would be a bit Peter Gabriel, with his intricate samples. A bit Massive Attack with their soulful synths and beats. A bit Pink Floyd with their introspective darkness. A bit late Police, seething with anger. A bit Simon and Garfunkel, with their voices that sounded like one. 

Howls of disagreement from everyone, who all had their own Ashbirds.

That’s the value of not saying too much, not adding too much.

Big lesson: in voicing the book, you must leave room for the reader.

Oh dear I forgot to mention… words I invented

As we worked, we realised I left some important info out of my pronunciation guide.

Some characters had unusual names that could be pronounced in several ways. Paul Wavell… was he WAYvell or WaVELL? said Sandy. It wasn’t important, but it held Sandy up while she wondered which I wanted.

Also, band names. Ever Rest is a complete ecosystem of rock bands. I had such fun inventing names that looked great on the page. Sandy had to figure out how to say them.

‘Roz, about Vidalvine. Veedal Vine or Vyedal Vine?’

‘The rap star Hobemian. Hoe-BEM-ee-an? Hoe-beh-MY-en? Hee-beh-MEE-en? Rhymed with ‘bohemian’?

Big lesson: add your made-up names to the pronunciation guide. I’m looking at you, fantasy and sci-fi authors, and absolutely everyone else too. We all invent names. Your narrator doesn’t need to play guessing games. They already have enough to do (see below).

Oh dear I also forgot to mention…

Some English place-names.

Sandy is American, so names that were familiar to me were not familiar to her. The London region of Holborn. The Yorkshire town of Scarborough, which is not Scarburrow.

Even if your narrator speaks the same variety of English as you, you might want to add pronunciation notes for any name that has right and wrong options, or options that indicate the character is local. For instance, Shrewsbury – locals call it ‘Shroo’ and everyone else calls it ‘Shreau’.   

Clicks and repeats

The chapters read beautifully, and occasionally I glimpsed the hard work under the polish. In one chapter, Sandy accidentally left an outtake where she was surprised by a line of adjectives. I could hear her faltering as her brain said, blimey, when does this sentence end? Then I heard a couple of hard clicks, her code for a retake. A breath, she repeated the line, back in the flow, perfectly inflected.

Big lesson: when listening back, stay alert for moments that have been accidentally left in. Every hour of finished recording takes several hours of preparation, recording and editing. Mistakes can happen.

I discovered only one such instance in the entire book, which is a tribute to Sandy’s careful work, but you don’t realise what can go wrong until it does. Watch for outtakes!

When you write a big book, it’s big work

This audiobook took a long time. Eighty-six chapters, about 110,000 words. It was a huge undertaking. Sandy remarked that whereas she’d usually take four to six hours per finished hour of work, she was taking six to eight. 

We discussed why this was. The amount of dialogue? The shifting tonality of the different scenes? The changing narrators? All of these gave Sandy a huge range of emotions to express, sometimes all in one chapter. The book took me, as the writer, seven years and 23 drafts (here’s a post about the seven steps of a long-haul novel). Sandy had to digest that complexity in just a few passes.

Sandy tells me she often recorded several versions of a line, then decided later which to use.

‘I did this very often with dialog. As a reader you can get to the end of a character’s sentence before you realise that you have read it with the wrong tone, or sometimes even the wrong character voice. Even if you aren’t doing strong voice differences such as accents, a well-written character has their own communication style and when reading aloud you want to keep that consistent. Or sometimes I would get to the end of a conversation and decide the energy or pacing of the exchange felt wrong, so I would do it again. The majority of the time the later version was the better one, like a tiny rehearsal followed by a performance. This book had a lot of intense dialog, which made it especially challenging.

‘I also recorded multiple versions of the more dramatic story passages whenever it felt necessary in order to get the emotion across – or at the end of a chapter. For those I always recorded multiple takes to sum up the energy of the moment. I feel words followed by silence need to hang in the air just right.’ 

In case you’re wondering what takes all the time.

The preparation showed. I remember when Sandy presented the final chapters. ‘That argument really took it out of me,’ she said. ‘I kept wanting to scream at her.’ This was exactly what I needed the reader to feel. And the pent-up pressure comes through in the performance. 

Endmatter– to record it or not?

Ever Rest has a discography after the final chapter. We wondered: should we record it? Several readers told me they’d enjoyed it as an unexpected bonus. But it was devised for the page, not for the ear.

Sandy recorded it. It didn’t work. We didn’t include it.

Ever Rest also has the usual endmatter. Acknowledgements, a brief piece about the author, teasers for my other books. We decided not to record them. On the printed page they’re nice as a leave-taking. But read out, in the voice of the story, which is so intimate, they would be jarring.

That’s just my opinion. You may think differently about your book.

Titles and other bits

Audiobooks need various official bits of start and end matter. The title, a copyright notice etc. To make this simple, Findaway Voices suggests a format that’s accepted by all the retailers. This is the recommendation for endmatter:

This has been [Title], 

Written by [Author Name],

Narrated by [Narrator Name], 

Copyright [Year of Manuscript and Name of Rights Holder],
Production Copyright [Year of Audiobook Production] by [Rights Holder]


The audiobook cover has to be square, so I pulled up my design file for the paperback and prepared to tweak. I saw this, the record sleeve visible in its entirety, before I cropped it to book proportions. (See the blue outline.)

Gasp. When I was designing the cover, I dearly wanted to use all the record sleeve. If only the book could be square. Now it could be. Did I dare? It would be quite a departure from the actual cover. Did that matter? And the titling would be small. Did that matter? It might not. The sales platforms would show the title and author anyway.

I put it to my Facebook friends.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, they said. It’s unusual. It’s got impact. Do it.

So I did. I also added the rosette for the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize.

Choosing a sample for the sales page

The sales platforms give readers a sample, as they do with ebooks. For ebooks it’s automatic – the beginning of the book. For audiobooks, you get to choose an excerpt.

With choice comes… dithering.

We deliberated about the sample for all the time we were making the book.

There are seven POV characters. Who gets to be on the sample? Will listeners think the book is only about that person? There were many chapters that seemed to transmit the book’s themes and dilemmas, or so I thought, as the author. What would someone think if this was their first taste of the book? I found it impossible to tell, I was too close.

There were some chapters that worked well as standalones but were far too long – the limit was 5 minutes.

Eventually I chose one, which was an important interior struggle for one of the main characters.

Nooooooooo, said Husband Dave. It won’t be memorable enough because it’s so interior. Can you find something where two characters meet or do something weird?

Eventually we got it. You can listen to it here.

Check everything madly, a lot of times

When all the content was correct, Sandy did her post-production work, then messaged when there was a complete set of files in the Dropbox folder, ready for me to upload.

Then came an orgy of checking. I double-checked I had all the chapter files, and the beginning and end credits. As there were 86 chapter files I checked them twice. If one was missing, now was the time to know, not when a hugely stressful error message came in from Findaway. Or from a reader.

I uploaded the files. Immediately we had a formatting glitch. However, Findaway’s help pages are so clear that I was able to discover the reason, told Sandy, she sorted it out and sent the files back to me.

Comforting note – Findaway’s help pages are really good. Their help team is also very responsive.

I checked again I had all the files. Any time you’ve done a mass upload, download or anything, something could go missing. You can never check too many times. It’s always worth it.

When I uploaded the novel, I saw its length for the first time. A whole 11 hours, 45 minutes. Again, no wonder it took a while.


When you upload the files, Findaway Voices suggests a retail price and a library price according to the book’s length. I saw no reason to argue! You can set discount pricing for launch offers and generate codes for review copies.  

We’re live

A few nailbiting days while Findaway did some technical checks of their own. Then hurrah – we passed. Findaway has a page with all the retail links. There are loads of them, as there are with ebooks. I have a universal link for each of my titles via Books2Read, and hurrah it as a section for audiobooks.

I also updated pages on my website and my newsletter welcome sequence, to let people know the audiobook is available. Now I keep coming across other random mentions on my website and blog that need updating.

Note for next time – make a comprehensive list of links or pages that need updating whenever I have a new release. Try to streamline where possible. We live and learn.   

Those audiobook lessons

  • Set up a workflow process and stick to it obsessively.
  • Create a pronunciation guide – any names and words you’ve made up, technical terms, foreign words and names.
  • Do a trial run to establish pace, level of emotion and pauses between paragraphs.
  • Look out for instances where important resonance might not translate. Perhaps adjust the text – remember mind and Mynd.
  • Discuss a policy about accents, unusual text like song lyrics but remember less is more.
  • Leave room for the reader!
  • Get your cover adjusted – and perhaps explore exciting possibilities that weren’t possible in the paperback or ebook edition.
  • Watch out for repeated sections and other kinds of outtake.
  • Check and recheck everything madly.
  • Make it easy for people to find your new audiobook – update your buy links and any pages or newsletter materials that mention your books.

And here they are, the magnificent three. My Memories of a Future Life. Lifeform Three. Ever Rest.

There’s a lot more about writing in my Nail Your Novel books – find them here. If you’re curious about my own work, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

How to write a book

New release: Ever Rest in audiobook!

Very quickly… The audiobook of Ever Rest is available!

Immense thanks to my narrator Sandy Spangler, who voiced my text with such care and sensitivity, and to Talitha and Jack whose generous sponsorship made this production possible. I’m incredibly lucky to have you all.

The link will take you to a range of audio stores and subscription services. If it’s not yet at your usual store, it’s going through the back channels and should be visible shortly.

Don’t forget you can get my audiobooks at libraries. If you can’t see Ever Rest listed at your library, just request it.

What’s Ever Rest? All about it here.

And that’s it for now!

How to write a book

How to build a reading list around a subject – and discover the best titles about the allure, tragedy and majesty of mountaineering

I’ve discovered a great site for building a reading list around a subject – Book Shepherd. It invites authors to list their personal favourite titles in subjects that they’re passionate about, whether through personal experience or diligent research. If you’re a writer, you can find what’s been written in your genre or subject area, and discover books that have made a deep impression on your favourite authors and might have influenced their work. (Psst… my Nail Your Novel workbook has sections for organising your research.)

If you’re a reader, you can, obviously, follow your nose to delightful titles you’ve never heard of.

I’ve just contributed a list, based on years researching high-altitude mountaineering. It began as burning curiosity and became my novel Ever Rest. That reading journey took in countless travelogues, factual books, websites and memoirs – and probably every novel that features a mountaineer. Certain titles really left their mark on the story and characters. Here they are. Do come over, either to check them out or to begin your own personal odyssey.

If you’d like help with your own writing, my Nail Your Novel books are here. If you’re curious about my work, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

How to write a book

Seven voices – how to write a novel in multiple points of view

I was chatting on a writers’ Facebook group and this question was asked: how many points of view have you used in a novel?

I used several in my most recent novel Ever Rest. Seven, actually. (Splutters in the group. And they were right; it was tricky to do.)

I didn’t plan that way at first. I imagined the novel would be one point of view. Then I wrote a scene where my viewpoint guy had an awkward meeting with another character, and the air was seething with unfinished business. I couldn’t do justice to it if I stayed only with him.

So I wrote her side.

I resisted at first. It seemed a waste of time because it wouldn’t be used. It couldn’t be; Ever Rest was not her book. I hadn’t inhabited her life in the way I had inhabited his. I knew his childhood. I didn’t know her life beyond this brief scene. It was a blank, and a blank is always worrying for a writer. A blank might be temporary, or it might not. But there she was, protesting about being forced to meet this guy.

She began to live on her own. I now had two narrators for the novel.

It happened again. As I worked on her, a person who belonged to her became more significant. He looked kind and mild, but inside, there were deep uncertainties. A third voice began to speak.

On it went, with more people revealing their complicated hearts. Until there were seven.

By this stage, you might be wondering if I should have written it as omniscient, but that didn’t appeal. For this book, I wanted deep third-person. I wanted the reader to know when one person was badly misreading another, or underestimating them. I wanted the reader to scream no you’re too naïve, or too suspicious, or simply mistaken. Each character was in their own private muddle, trying to find their way through, and none of them truly knew anybody else. The best way was multiple points of view.

But how many is too many? It’s too many if you can’t handle them properly. Otherwise, go for it. Here are some rules.

Some rules for multiple points of view

1 They don’t all have to be heard equally.

Like all characters, you’ll have a hierarchy. Some characters are secondary. Their situation is not as fraught and tormented, or they won’t go through very much change.

I used one character’s point of view to occasionally give an outsider perspective. He wasn’t seen as many times as the others, but we sometimes went to him for a grounding scene. Sometimes he was sympathetic to them, sometimes exasperated. It was a welcome relief from the characters who were facing the defining moments of their lives.

2 Take time to make them individuals.

I really made a rod for my own back here. I had seven viewpoint characters, which meant seven distinctive voices and outlooks. It meant a lot of revising. (This is one of the reasons the novel took six years to mature.)

3 When it’s their turn to speak, write them from the inside.

With two of the characters, I realised I was unsympathetic to them myself. I was writing them from the point of view of other characters in the book. X thought y was a tin-eared narcissist, and that was good, but I wrote y’s own sections like that too, which was a mistake. While x might think that of y, y would not think that of himself. So I gave my tin-eared narcissist a fair hearing. He became highly sensitive and often distressed.

4 Remember what they know, including their ideals.

You have to keep careful track of continuity. There are the obvious mechanics of who knows what. What x thinks of y, as we’ve seen.

And this knowledge also has a deeper level – characters’ attitudes. In Ever Rest, a key aspect was the characters’ attitudes to romantic love – what they thought love should be. X feels love is a shattering thunderbolt. Z feels love is educating the person about how to be in love, and watching them in case they get out of line and make themselves unhappy. I drew charts of these, so I could easily compare them.   

5 Manage the reader carefully.

Make it clear when we’re in a new point of view – unless your purpose is to deliberately obscure this. (I can’t think of a good example right now, but for every general prohibition, there’s always a person who’s broken it to great effect.)

Otherwise, make sure we know whose POV we’re in. Establish a system that will let the reader know. I began a new chapter each time there was a new POV. Some chapters were very short – a mere few paragraphs – and that was fine.

Also, I made the viewpoint clear in the first sentence so the reader knows how to interpret what they’re seeing. Each character had very different views and feelings about the action, so it was important to know whose emotions we were sharing. Is it the character who is mortally offended by this action or the character who thinks it’s a storm in a teacup?

6 Ask if you need all those POVs.

Why make it so complicated? Most things are better if you strip away complication, especially when making an artwork. However, they are not necessarily better if you strip away complexity and richness. I found I needed each of my seven voices to give the story its most lifelike treatment.

BTW, this is Ever Rest.

And speaking of managing big projects, don’t forget I have a course this week at Jane Friedman’s – Standalone or Series: how to grow your novel concept to its full potential. You can watch it live or catch up later.

If you’d like help with your writing, my Nail Your Novel books are here. If you’re curious about my own work, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

How to write a book

Would Ever Rest suit your book club? Here’s a FREE book to help you decide

My third novel Ever Rest, is now shortlisted, with honourable mention, for the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize 2022!

Several reviewers have mentioned they’d like to introduce it to their book clubs, so I’ve created these crib notes, to use as a primer before reading, or a refresher afterwards. I’ve included key themes, suggested questions for discussion, and an interview by Garry Craig Powell at Late Last Night Books where I explain my inspirations and intentions – which, of course, might be entirely irrelevant to your own reading of the book. Spoilers are flagged in case you’d like to avoid them.

The title is more ponderous than I would like. I wanted to call it Sleeve Notes, but Amazon’s rules require the words ‘Study Guide’ in the title, and prominently on the cover. There were other options, but they were even more earnest. So Study Guide it is.

Anyway, it’s formatted as an ebook and a PDF and you can download it free from all the major ebook retailers. Find it here.

PS For more of my creative doings, you might like my newsletter, here

How to write a book · Interviews · podcasts

Making my honest art – writing and publishing literary fiction: interview at @thecreativepenn

Today I’m at Joanna Penn’s now legendary podcast, The Creative Penn, talking about writing and publishing literary fiction.

We cover the writing process for a very long-haul book (ie Ever Rest), the research process, creative revision, how you battle on when you’ve lost your way, and how you design a cover for a book that doesn’t have established genre parameters.

We also cover another big question – if literary fiction isn’t the most predictably lucrative kind of book, and marketing is tricky, what are the guaranteed rewards? Hence the line about making honest art.

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed our discussion. Do come over.

If you’re curious about my creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s been going on on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

How to write a book · Interviews

How do you like to talk about books? Themes, juxtapositions and the complication of being human – an interview at Late Last Night Books @L8NiteBooks

I have a Bachelor’s degree in English literature, but if I’m honest, I didn’t enjoy the course. However, I loved studying English literature in the final two years of school, at A level. (Note for non-Brits: you probably call this high school, age 16-18.)

My degree disappointed me because it was too wideswept; it seemed chiefly to value an author for the way they represented a historical period, a concern of the age or a step in the evolution of a form. I was disappointed because it gave little priority to the literary work itself – the novel, poem or play as a creation of beauty and power, enduring resonance and relevance.

But A level was mainly about appreciating the work. While context wasn’t ignored, each novel, poem or play was examined in its own right, as an entity worth detailed attention. We learned to notice how the author might be playing with our hearts and minds. We discussed themes and juxtapositions and narrative devices. We might have found patterns the author did not intend; we might have overthought things. That did not matter; decoding this richness was part of the joy, a quest to discover why this work enspelled us so. We were discovering a wondrous thing – the author’s craft.

I still love this. It’s my favourite way to talk about a book.

If you like that too, you might enjoy my interview here at Late Last Night Books,

The subject is Ever Rest and my interrogator is Garry Craig Powell, a former creative writing professor and author of the prizewinning short story collection Stoning The Devil (which you might remember from his appearance on The Undercover Soundtrack).

We talk about juxtapositions. Why I put this with that. The man frozen in the ice, as young as the day he went in, and the people who remember that day and are now 20 years older.

We talk about themes and narrative aims. We talk about places where we can be gods (playing music to a crowd of 10,000) and places where we are too fragile to survive (the top of Everest). We talk about love and death and loss, the massive complication of being human. And things I wasn’t aware of until Garry asked. Do come over.

Do bring your own questions too if you’ve already read the novel – or you can drop them in the comments here.

Would you enjoy Ever Rest? Here are a few reviews to help you decide.

If you’d like more concentrated writing advice, my Nail Your Novel books are full of tips. If you’re curious about my own creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s been going on on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

How to write a book

Comments from experts… how to use factual feedback wisely in your story (and not go mad when your plot falls apart)

For the novel I’ve just released, Ever Rest, I needed a lot of expert input. I consulted musicians, artists, doctors, priests, music lawyers, morticians… the most significant, of course, was mountaineers.

I’ve been reading about Everest, high-altitude climbing and lost climbers for more than 20 years. I also had help from my friend Peter Snell (my bookseller co-host on So You Want To Be A Writer), whose brother Robin went trekking in Nepal and sent a tireless stream of photos.

Robin sent me domestic details such as teahouse menus.


Near the end of his trip, Robin had a brief mishap that required a hospital stay. Trooper that he is, he continued to send despatches. So even the scene in a Kathmandu hospital came from actual experience.

So I was well set up to write the Nepal sequences. But my ghostwriting experience has taught me to check everything, even when sure. For this, I was lucky to find a mountaineer who has summited Everest. And despite my painstaking care, he found numerous glitches that confirm the value of actual feet on the actual mountain.

Feedback can look daunting, especially when it runs to several pages. Especially when some might seriously disrupt the book.

I got to work.   

Small errors of terminology and fact

There were two ways I dealt with these.

1 – I marked the errors I should correct, lest I look like a numpty.

2 – I marked the errors I decided not to correct – these errors were made by characters who did not have specialist knowledge, and would credibly make the same mistakes as non-climber Roz. However, my expert was right and conscientious in pointing them out because he wanted to make sure I knew. If I knew, I could then decide if the character should know. Big takeaway – not all your characters will be experts.

Bigger problems that made plot sequences impossible

There were bigger problems. My expert made several suggestions for solutions, all ingenious. But none of them fitted my dramatic needs.

Sleepless night.

I looked again at my expert’s solutions. Some would be too cumbersome for the narrative. But still, something had to be done. So I analysed the reasons for my expert’s objection, went back to my reading, now with more understanding, and found solutions that were possible from real-life examples. And, as often happened, these solutions eased a few other issues.

Sometimes you have to do a lot more thinking and research… but your expert gets you there.

Emotional corrections

Sometimes I had underestimated how strongly characters would feel about events. In this case, my expert also turned out to be a sensitivity reader. And his feedback allowed me to adjust the characters’ reactions according to their natures. Some were sensitive; some could be obliviously offensive.  

Points where we disagree!

What’s at the top of Everest? In my research, I found mention of an alloy pole at the summit. I liked that. I put it in. My expert commented that there wasn’t an alloy pole at the summit. I double-checked my references. In my novel, the characters climb the mountain in 1994. Two sources from 1996 mention a pole at the summit… one of them is a documentary, so I’ve seen it for myself. My expert was there in the 2010s, by which time the pole might have gone. So I could decide whether I wanted a summit pole or not. I chose to have a summit pole.

Facts… are only half of it

David Mamet said: ‘It’s not our job to explain.’ An expert will deluge you with generous details, but you as a writer, a storysmith, have to decide how to use those details – here is Mamet, explaining the difference between information and drama in loud capitals (see below)

But Roz, most readers won’t know it’s wrong! Look at the physics in The Martian

The physics in Andy Weir’s The Martian is somewhat squiffy. Or so I’m told, because I know a lot of physics graduates. So is the physics in the movie Gravity, apparently.

Most readers and viewers don’t know; that’s true. But I will know. I don’t want to release a book that I know has inaccuracies. And knowing about them has pushed me to find better solutions that fit my dramatic needs and keep the book’s credibility and truth.

Meanwhile, here is Ever Rest. Find it in all print and ebook formats.

What’s it like? Here are a few reviews to help you decide.

If you’d like more concentrated writing advice, my Nail Your Novel books are full of tips. If you’re curious about my own creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s been going on on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

How to write a book

I made this! Ever Rest is now available

Trust the process. Although there has been much muddling and rewriting; although I started with a short story and wasn’t sure how I’d make it into a long one; although I had to learn about the technicalities of two artforms (music and visual art) and one elite sport (mountaineering)… I got safely and securely to The End.

Ever Rest, my third novel, is now available.

What’s it like? Here are a few reviews to help you decide.


Reading as a duty and reading for pleasure… plus the oldest book on my shelf. At @jaffareadstoo

A quick interview at the online home of book blogger Jo Barton, aka Jaffareadstoo. The questions are lighthearted, but they raise interesting issues about reading.

Writers and book bloggers have something in common – a TBR pile that’s neverending. We’re reading to keep up with recent releases. We’re reading as research. We’re reading to help our friends. And we’re reading a lot – an awful lot – to do our jobs. When do we read for ourselves?

Do you have a rule that if you start a book, you finish it? I used to. It was a habit instilled at school – abandoning a book was bad manners. I almost felt the author would know I’d sneaked out before they’d said their piece. I remember there was a moment when I decided I had to let go of that rule or I’d never get everything read that I had to. And I’m a slow reader. I like to appreciate a book, not bolt it. That raises another question – if reading is our job, do we still allow ourselves to read for pleasure? I know plenty of people in publishing who have lost their joy of the written word.

Anyway, tell me your thoughts, either here or at Jo’s blog. You’ll also see Jo and I discuss this, the oldest book on my shelves.

If you’re looking for writing advice, try my Nail Your Novel books. If you’d like to know more about my own creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk (and my very exciting new novel), look here. You can subscribe to future updates here.