Living with a Copy Edit


My copy edit has arrived.


Give or take a few bits of blue, it looks like this for 450 pages.




Fortunately, a few things  prevented me from lying face down on the available carpet space of my home ‘office’ and refusing to move for the next three months.

Jeff Collyer, the very able and patient publisher of Impress Press said helpfully:

  • In the end, this is your book. I’m not requiring you to make all the changes.
  • Every copy editor will respond slightly differently to a text.
  • As an author it hurts every time!
  • I will put you in touch with the copy editor, Matthew Baylis by email so that you can be in direct communication with him.


Meeting the Copy Editor

Having some communication with Matthew was vital to me.  It felt awkward  asking for this especially as I didn’t quite know what to say but it was important that I sensed a human being there before he disembowelled my text.  After all, this is a book which I spent years writing and here I was, trusting a stranger to read it.

There were two other things that also really helped.  Firstly, several people had already read the draft and loved it and secondly Matthew took the time to send me a cover email with the copy edit, in which he wrote some very precious praise and finished, ‘Please take it as read, I rated this book highly. But obviously I had plenty to say about the bits I felt were not working so well.’

I treasure those words especially when I am working on the text and can’t seem to get it right.


Copy Edit Early on:

I find myself caught on paragraphs like a fish on a hook and it’s hard to wriggle free.  The editor suggests an alternative turn of phrase to clarify a sentence – it is definitely not a phrase I would use but he is right that clarity is needed.  I sit rifling through my memory for words or phrases.

Then my mood dips because it’s now lunch and I haven’t even got half way through one chapter.



The major issue that Matthew raised was ‘tenses.’ Apparently, I change tenses not only mid-paragraph but also mid-sentence.  I need to clarify when I’m in ‘the present,’ what that ‘present’ is (before or after Stephen has died) and when I’m in the past.


What you don’t expect

When I started out on this book, I thought I’d just record and write about Stephen’s past life.  Not too difficult.

Yet while I assiduously recorded his past, it rarely occurred to me to record what was happening to him in the present time, between 2012 and 2018.   I did make notes of phone calls almost as a side issue because he didn’t like me talking.

I didn’t expect to be writing about him for 8 years.

I didn’t know that I would fall into the book, into the narrative.

Maybe none of us know what will happen when we start to write a book.


Working out the real problem

The real problem is not the tenses. It takes me a while to unravel. I worry that as Annie Dillard says (The Writing Life) I’ve come across a hair line fracture but I don’t think so because that generally happens when I’m in the middle of a first draft and I can’t find the way forward.

I worry that if I tidy the text up too much,  the energy will dive.

I worry that if I don’t, I will confuse people.

I need to do something.  But what is it?

I worry.

Then my worry expands, stretches to: corona virus, world inequality, the environment, our beautiful world being destroyed.

I stop, become aware of sitting, noticing my feet on the floor.  Then I look out of my upstairs window at the bare branches of the huge beech trees opposite, their delicate sprays of twigs outlined against wispy, white clouds and a gentle blue sky.  I feel a surge of aliveness firing up from my belly, up through my chest, lifting me.



The real problem is in having confidence in my voice.  I take the editor’s views as huge criticisms and sit pondering them for hours.  It takes a while to realise that I wrote in this style for a particular reason, not because I’m an idiot.  The editor is here as a ‘critical friend,’ pointing out inaccuracies and asking awkward but interesting questions.

When I recover from the ‘must get it right’ stranglehold that part of my psyche is holding me  in, energy comes back and a sense of adventure.

I can live with this copy edit.









Writing is Impossible!

Writing a play is impossible.

I thought this.

It was too long, too complex

To hold the structure.

Yet one day I began.

I wrote short sketches

5 minutes long

10 minutes long.

Others performed them.

First, they grew like daisies

Then they grew like roses.

The smell was glorious,


I began to write more.

They became knotted wood

And branches,

Saplings swaying to the music.


Writing a book is impossible.

It is too long, too intricate

To hold the structure.

How do they do it?

And then one day I began.



On Friday 9th October, the day before World Mental Health Day, I completed my penultimate draft for the book, ‘Stephen from the Inside Out’!   Here is an extract from the back cover ‘blurb’:

‘From the outside…  Stephen struggled for most of his life with severe mental health issues, endured 25 years inside British psychiatric wards and never felt acceptable in the ‘normal’ world.   From the inside… here was a man with powerful convictions, deep longings, wide interests and an incapacity to be anything other than himself, whatever the cost. This is his story, inside and out; a story of grave injustices, saints and bigots, a faithful dog, a wild woman, a fairy godmother and angels hidden in plain sight. It is also the story of the author, Susie, who started off by wanting to ‘help’ Stephen ‘get better,’ but then found out it was somewhat more complicated than she’d anticipated.

In 2012, this book was a seed in my mind.  Stephen agreed to me writing the book but how to begin? We met up regularly and I recorded our conversations.

In 2014  Kate Clanchy, author and poet, agreed to mentor me. Every now and they she would issue vital advice.

At the beginning: Weave in the history of mental health in this country but only sparsely – keep the story moving forward.

Which I did.

Then: Go on an Arvon Course to complete your first chapter.

Which I did.

Near the end of my first draft: Send it out and get used to rejections. 

Not so easy. But I began.

You might like to apply to a competition run by a publisher.

I applied to the Impress Prize for New Writers.

And got to the last 10. But I’m not going to win.

And then I won.

Won £500 plus the promise to publish.

Now 10 months later, in October 2020, after 14 drafts,  I’ve handed in my draft to a copy editor, to be ritually disembowelled. I’ve spoken to him and trust him to use a clean sharp knife.

I’ll see you on the other side.