COMPETITION: Win Cornerstone's Book

To go with my series of interviews with Helen Corner Cornerstones, her UK literary Consultancy, are giving away a copy of their book, how to write a blockbuster, as a prize in a competition.

The book is packed full of their expertise:

So Competition Question:

What do you think the four cornerstones of good writing are?

Leave your answer as a comment to this post.
Helen will pick the winner.

Closing date 14th Dec.

Make sure you don't leave an
anonymous comment if you want to enter, otherwise we can't contact you to say you've won!
(email Cornerstones at with your details if you prefer not to leave them in the comments)

Mike Interviews: Helen Corner. Part1

Mike Interviews
Part 1 of 3

Well here we are again with another interview. This time with Helen Corner the director of Cornerstones a Literary Consultancy based in the UK.

Cornerstones are one of the good guys out there. I've used them myself and Helen and her team are friendly, professional and without them my novel would have been twice the length. (So much to be thankful for that!)

Hi Helen, tell me a bit about yourself

I live in London with my dog. I love seeing my family and friends, enjoy the country, love traveling and meeting unusual people. And I read a lot.

What's your ideal night out/in ?

Where do I start? Dinner with friends, watching 24 or whatever the latest TV drama is; reading manuscripts on my sofa, drinking cocktails and dancing; sitting by the fire, cooking, although that’s always a bit hit and miss! I once cooked a bacon curry and served it up at midnight.

Tell me a bit about Cornerstones.

We’re one of the founding UK literary consultancies and have been going for ten years. We provide editorial feedback on manuscripts (MSS) for any author – published or unpublished; run self-edit workshops; and scout for agents. We work mainly on word of mouth with agents and publishers and writers.

What made you set up Cornerstones?

When I worked at Penguin part of my job was to process unsolicited MSS. They had an automatic rejection policy, as with most publishers these days, so my job was to reject all MSS. However, I would always have a peek before turning them down. Most were easy to reject: poorly written, unprofessional submissions - perhaps the layout was messy, or the submission was not targeted properly. Some of them sparkled with promise but even those could have benefited from some editorial shaping. It was these MSS that I itched to give feedback to the authors but did not have the time. Ways to improve the ms might be to cut chapter one and start with chapter two, write in a ‘show’ way as opposed to a ‘tell’ way, or there may have been pages of backstory to a scene rather than starting in the heart of a scene. The list went on.

In order to be a successfully published author the writer will have natural talent, but knowing how to shape writing is a separate skill, and that can be taught. So, with five freelance editors I set up Cornerstones. Ten years on we’re known for our teaching of these skills, have a 60-strong team of professional writers and editors and have a list of authors who are now published. Once a writer has mastered these skills his or her writing flies. And the best thing is when a writer no longer needs our help. Sad but true!

What is your view on the publishing industry at the moment?

That it’s a risky business where a publisher might not be remunerated for backing a book, and an author. A writer has to consider: would they put £10-50,000 of their own money behind their book? Can they sell enough copies to recoup that spend and to then start making a profit from it? Can they sell enough copies of their first book – usually within the first few weeks - so that when they sell-in their second book to booksellers their sales figures are healthy and where the bookseller has no reason to turn it down? It’s really tough out there. Therefore an author is going to stand out from the rest if he/she views publishing in a business-like way.

It’s often said that nowadays agents and editors have less time to spend on editing manuscripts. In many respects it’s the author’s responsibility – not the agent’s or publisher’s - to get their writing, self-editing skills and their ms, in the best publishable state possible, right from the beginning, and to let the publisher and the agent worry about the publishing process. The good news is that with the onset of electronic publishing authors can take matters into their own hands. Getting published nowadays does not mean having to go through the publishing giants’ hoops. But if you are considering going it alone remember the above.

That’s the unromantic view. The romantic and achievable side of being published is that nothing sounds sweeter than when you get an agent saying, ‘I like your writing and want to see more,’ or a publisher saying, ‘I’ve not read anything this good in years!’ to publishers fighting over your book, to receiving your first proofs before it goes to print, and your first royalty cheque. This makes the struggle worth while.

Next week part 2, where Helen talks about how the industry reacted to her company, explains how an author decides which consultancy to go with and tells us about some success stories from authors that have used Cornerstones.

Contact Helen on 0208 9680777 or email or look up to find out if she can help point you in the right direction with your writing. Please reference this article when you contact her.

For Part 2 click here.

You've got to be Honest

Simon Pegg being honest with how he feels in Hot Fuzz:

Being honest in your writing is vital.

How the characters express themselves and how the story develops needs to be written in a way that doesn't cheat or insult the reader. And, like in the clip above, sometimes that means you might insult or upset some people with the language you use or where you take your characters.

People can tell when things aren't true you see.

Then the illusion of reality around your fiction crumbles. So if there is sex and it is true to the story and character then you need to put it in. The same with swearing and violence. Otherwise you are just a writer that sings a hollow song that connects with no-one but the uptight and religious right. We need to connect with people's hearts and move them to laughter and tears.

To do that takes courage.
It takes honesty.

Be warned though, if you are not honest and put aside your personal views or embarrassment of how your friends and family will view you through what you write, your fiction is doomed.

There you go that was straight to the point I think.

Jogg on ...


Mike Recommends: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

"I try to think of other insane projects where belief has overcome reason and judgement: the Pyramids, Stonehenge, The Great Wall of China - the Millennium Dome."

Salmon Fishing in The Yemen is a brilliant debut book by author Paul Torday. In a series of diary extracts, e-mails, interviews, letters and news reports he tells the story of Dr Alfred Jones, a Government fisheries scientist who has to help with a private project driven by the Sheikh Muhammad.
A project to introduce salmon fishing in the desert land of the Yemen.

"I guess those fish,
will just fry and die."

It is a journey, told with humour and with a skill that makes you feel secure in the hands of an author who knows what he is doing. So good are the accounts of the governments political manoeuvring to associate themselves with the Sheikh, that you actually believe such a thing could have happened. (I even had to Google it just to make sure!)

This has been my favorite book of this year. The reason? I like ideas and I like emotional journeys . This book has both woven into each other, so that the progress of the salmon project runs alongside the journey of Dr Jones ...

"As I write this entry in my diary, I myself feel like a diary which has been left out in the rain, from which the moisture has washed away the cramped inky writing, the record of thousands of days and nights, leaving only a blank and sodden page."

Torday then takes up that page and shows us a changing man whose hard and defined world has been washed away. And instead of cramped inky writing, Torday writes with an easy style showing us a man being set free through the touch of love and the realisation of the something greater than reason alone.

"Credo, quia impossibile est."
I believe in it, because it is impossible.

Paul Torday lives in Northumberland and has travelled the Middle East for the last 10 years whilst working as an engineer. He has enjoyed salmon fishing for the last 15 years.

Read an extract

Read an interview with Paul Torday

Go to Salmon Fishing in the Yemen Web Site

Listen to an extract from Chapter 10

Paul Torday's Agent

Next Month: Men in Space by Tom McCarthy

The Freedom to Fly

I need the freedom,
My sky is set.
My wings are clipped,
I am cast like a net.

The sea rages below,
A song barbed with wit.
Dash all the clocks,
Light the wick.

I touch her fingers,
She tips her head.
Laughter spins,
From mounting dread.

What does it matter?
Her eyes meet mine.
They shimmer as we enter,
take to the sky.

Mike French
Nov 07

Photo Credit: jgwat


Well just picked up another award, must be the season!

Thanks to Buzzing with Ange, my new buddie from Go!SmelltheFlowers, for the award.

Be The Blog award

Mark, from MeAndMyDrum, who created the award says,

Earlier this year I was tagged with the blogging tip meme in which the tip I offered was “Be the Blog“. That phrase stuck with me because I think that really sums up what a successful blogger does. And what I mean by successful is that they make it their own, stay with it, are interactive with their readers, and just plain have fun.

Since then I’ve been thinking about creating an award of my own, but with so many out there, it’s hard to find a niche that remains untapped for recognition. So I said, “What the heck?”, and decided to shape the phrase into an award called (you guessed it): Be The Blog.

To accommodate a variety of blog themes, I have created three different “flavors” of badges: Creamy Cabernet, Midnight Oil, and Pink Smoothie.

So I pass it on to:

Paul Burman

Mr Grudge

Writing True

Paul is an author and friend, who has been interviewed here on The View From Here , and has just launched his own website


Mr Grudge has recently relaunched his blog, changing it to be about his passion: writing.


Writing true, well let him tell you himself:

For quite some time, I've agonized that, while outspoken, I color everything I say and write depending on the company or forum in which I find myself--in my community, on my campus, on a given discussion board and so forth.

Consequently, after long thought, I created this blog to write what I really think, honestly and without censureship.

so it seems a fitting award to give them.

Photo Credit (Modified!): Bitrot

Community Blogger Award

Aussie Cynic awarded me the Community Blogger Award yesterday. Thanks AC! And I love my awards so much I've put it up at the Tate gallery. ( See above)

The Community Blog Award celebrates people who reach out and makes the blogger community a better one. It also underlines the importance of a blogs readership community, one of the most rewarding parts about blogging. It’s the people that come back to comment, adding to the conversation, making you feel like someone is listening and interested.’

So time to pass on the Award to:

Check out their blogs!

Photo Credit (Modified!): Bitrot

It's all about Mike

Ange from Buzzing with Ange & a fellow Go!SmelltheFlowers writer, tagged me with a meme called It's all about Me.

I thought it was a good chance to have a bit of fun!

So get some popcorn, put your feet up and watch the film of the interview:

And now to tag some blogs to carry on the meme:

First up: Mr Grudge from New York, who says:

"Welcome to Mr. Grudge, the place to talk about writing. Writing is a craft which must be learned, practiced and honed so one day you might accidentally produce a work of art."

Second : Helen Ginger from the USA, whose latest post on her blog Straight from Hel is Self Publishing: A Cautionary Tale.

And third: Brigid who lives in Minnesota and writes and draws the cartoon strip, Mary Quite Contrary, with the tag line: Growing up has never been so surreal.

So you three ... TAG you're it!

There there go into the distance, another set of taggers released.

That was fun!


The Swap: Competition Winner

Winner of the Swap Competition

"What was your favourite comic as a kid and why?"


Jim from Go! Smell the Flowers

Fave comic as a boy was the Beano.

Why? Well it had bits of all my personality rolled into the covers of a colourful read. Scary hey!

Well done Jim, copy of the book in the post to you.

Photo Credit: mondoagogo

An Armed Response to Proof Reading

Proof Checking is not like:

You can go over your work time and time again, but typos are not soft bodied perps like in the clip above; they're hard and they refuse to die! Flick through later and there they are still smiling at you.

Don't know how to kill them. Best I can do is offer some tips:

1 Get a fresh pair of eyes to check the manuscript
2 Find someone who has a skill in this area to check it for free for you, say a local college
3 Do not trust a spell checker. This thing is not your friend. Most are sentient and have evolved so that they get a perverse kick out of tripping you up with typo suggestions.

I have placed my book in the middle of the street and have called the Police Rapid Response Unit.

They will be armed.
They will arrive in a car.
My typos are going to die.

Ha ha ha

I'm going for a lie down now.


This post was brought to you with the help of Blogger's inbuilt proof checker

Go! Write for Flowers

Well in case you haven't twigged from my post Half-Time Scores, I now write on the blog: Go! Smell the Flowers as well as on my own blog here.

GO! Smell the flowers aims to inform, entertain and enlighten people from all over our increasingly smaller world. Why wait until you'’re dead and pushing up flowers from the grave? Life is too short and we endeavour to inspire people and help them discover their reason to be.

Founders Jim & Em

So why not drop by and see what me and my fellow writers get up to there.


Writing Tips Unleashed: Winner

Allow your audience to draw their own conclusions:

Winner of the Writing Tips Unleashed is:

Sally Nicholls

Her winning writing tip:

Allow your audience to draw their own conclusions.

Understood by:
Reality TV shows

Not understood by:
Jehovah's witnesses

Well done Sally!

Stephen King's book On Writing & The Elements of Style will be delivered within the next few days by two smartly dressed Johovah Witnesses.