Writers fish for the right words

“…like fishermen fish for, um, whatever those aquatic creatures with fins and gills are called.”

Those words are from my favourite Jarod Kintz. (Well, he’s the only one I know…)


Surely better to use familiar and simple words correctly rather than misuse other more complex words? (There’s an irony for you – misusing words when you’re anxious to appear to be clever. How to make yourself look like a numpty).

I love the way Howard Mittelmark offers a practical solution for us, in How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide.

“A Test: Do I Know This Word?

Ask yourself: ‘Do I know this word?’
If the answer is no, then you do not know it.”

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You could always be creative. Jarod Kintz again:

“Who needs a large vocabulary when you can just make up any word at any time? It makes life a whole lot more emeaglibop.”

I can honestly say that my life is particularly emeaglibop at the moment, in no small measure due to hearing some words on the radio, made up to fill gaps in the English dictionary – words created for occasions where no words exist.

For that moment when you’re waiting at the airport baggage reclaim and everybody’s suitcases have appeared except for yours:



To describe how you feel on those occasions when you’re with your friends and they’re constantly looking down at their mobiles:



And finally – you’re driving along the motorway and a huge truck pulls out in front of you and takes about half an hour to get past the truck in the next lane:



As a copywriter, I find the right words for my clients’ websites and marketing material.

That’s all.


New word in the morning

Everybody talks about a new word in the morning.


Well nearly.

My goodness this is 1970 vintage. My salad days, I think they call it. “My salad days, When I was green in judgement.” And that, by the way, was Cleopatra speaking. Oh yeah, you get it all here. Roger Whittaker and Shakespeare. Not often seen together in the same paragraph.

Anyway, on the subject of a new word in the morning, Caroline is upping her game, intellectually speaking.

Be gone Mills & Boon…


(I have to admit, I have never, ever in the neverever, read anything published by Mills & Boon).

With a view to becoming a student again – an MA in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Sussex, application in, waiting to hear if I’ve been successful – I’ve started studying again.

First foray into the heady heights (or desperate depths) of long dormant grey matter, The Uncanny by Professor Nicholas Royle – he who would be teaching me were I to succeed. He who exchanged a signed copy of aforementioned book with a copy of my Of Night and Light after our meeting, which seemed hardly fair on him, but was his suggestion. Gulp.

I have taken to The Uncanny with alacrity. It’s fascinating. But boy do I have to be firing on all cylinders…

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Sometimes, I may have to read the same paragraph several times.

Sometimes, I discover a new word.

Here is today’s, which gave me pause for thought.


Yes, a new word with no fewer than 29 letters.

What does it mean?

Answers on a postcard.

I’ll tell you when I’ve worked it out.

Don’t hold your breath.

Blame Jacques Derrida, if you will.

New word:





Reality can be beaten with enough imagination

Don’t think so, Mark Twain. Sadly, I have to agree with Philip Dick, despite his name, that “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

Distorted reality by Vladimir Kush

Distorted reality by Vladimir Kush

(A famous Caroline aside: “Why is it that I Google for images of reality and get this sort of thing?”)

So, the time has come for a reality check about the state of my creative writing.


Top and bottom, I haven’t been doing any. Not for a while now. I daren’t even speculate how long ago it was that I added a single word to the new novel, Falling Awake. 

I HAVE been a) unwell and b) very busy earning a living copywriting, so much so that my brain has been feeling like a wrung-out dishcloth at the end of the day…


and not at all inspired to produce additional words, as if by magic, from some deep dark recesses of somewhere.


A lot has been happening with work that I’ve written in recent times, so if I’m not inspired to continue now, I never will be.

Cleverest Thief - programme_print_hi res-page-001

On Saturday, May 16th, I was proud to go to London to see Libby Wattis perform the solo show about dementia that she asked me to write for her. Amazing! I’m lost for words, which is a great place to be for a writer.

AND, a monologue that I wrote as homework for my writing class was chosen by Debra Baker to go on her BBC Radio Drama showreel, so will now be heard by People Of Importance and suchlike. My work. BBC Radio 4. Dream come true. The piece, by the way, is called, My God and there’s a blackness and is about self-harm.

AND, I’ve been short-listed for a script-writing job for an immersive education company. Cross everything.

AND, a San Francisco film director called David Turner, whose work looks terrific, has requested some of my short screenplays. Cross everything again.


May I officially declare that, in reality, things are happening for me as a writer, and I’m allowing myself to be a teeny-weeny bit proud?

But you still haven’t written anything for ages, says Mr. Reality, which humankind cannot bear very much of, eh, T.S.Eliot? (And I bet he wouldn’t ever have ended a sentence with a stranded preposition. This is the sort of English up with which he would not put.)


A mind with dementia is a theatre set…

…in which there are but few practicable entrances.

Victor Hugo wrote the original quotation in Les Misérables,  not about dementia but about life. “Life is a theatre set in which there are but few practicable entrances.”


But it seemed to work in my head, thinking about dementia and ravaged minds – yes, few practicable entrances for someone outside to get a grasp of what’s going on inside.

A while back, wonderful actor friend, Libby Wattis did me the great honour of asking me to write a one-woman show for her – a theatre piece about the onset and eventual stranglehold of dementia.

I’ve known Libby ever since she played a fabulous corpse in my short film Go Grimly, produced in 2009. (No jokes required about the ease of learning the lines!) Here’s the trailer, but don’t be distracted.

So – dementia. Theatre. One-woman show. 45 minutes. Me. Write it.

Not much experience in theatre. However, the experience I had was terrific, thanks largely to another great actor, Debra Baker, who, much to my vicarious pride, has just won the Norman Beaton Fellowship and a 5-month contract with BBC Radio Drama. She played a brilliant Irene, school cook, in another one-woman piece, called Throwing Darts at Jamie Oliver, which got to the finals of the Daffodil Theatre Awards in, I think, 2010.

Theatre. One-woman show. Me. Write it. Yes.

The first practicable entrance to the theatre set of dementia was via my heart. My lovely father was stricken with Alzheimer’s in the latter couple of years of his life, so I could take a lot from his experiences as I witnessed them. An intelligent man, a doctor, who knew exactly, excruciatingly, the inexorable fate that would befall him and how oh so much happier he was, and we were to watch him, when he descended far enough into a different world to make his future unintelligible to him.


The second practicable entrance was to be presented with Libby’s research and to talk to her, at length, about how she wanted to portray dementia.

The title – I chose, with thanks to American writer Jarod Kintz – who said, ““Alzheimer’s is the cleverest thief, because she not only steals from you, but she steals the very thing you need, to remember what’s been stolen.”

‘The Cleverest Thief’ is now complete. It has a director attached – Paul Ratcliffe – Director of Theatre, Arts@Trinity. An extract has been previewed at a scratch night in Barnsley with great feedback, I gather.

Here’s what Libby has said about the experience so far:

“Caroline has listened – really listened. She listened to what I wanted the show to be, and then she listened some more, so that she heard my voice and the voice of Florence, the protagonist. Like any character played by an actor, Florence is both me and not me. She has her own distinctive voice, which is different from mine. 

The play, so far anyway, is easy to learn, because it flows, and because it is all written in Florence’s voice. An actor can tell good writing because it is easy to learn, and as you get more familiar with the text, you develop the sense that the words could not ever have been different. The Cleverest Thief  is like that; the words, phrases and scenes just belong together.

I said from the start that I wanted the play to be pitched right on the border between laughter and tears – and at the first scratch night showing of an extract from the show, one of the audience gave the feedback ‘I felt between laughter and tears the whole time’.”

We have performance dates now, in Leeds, in York, tbc in London.

I’m excited! Mainly, I’m honoured that I might in some way make a difference to the way people regard dementia, a debilitating condition, and its effect on everyone around it, this clever and despicable thief of the mind.

Image courtesy of Graham Crouch

Image courtesy of Graham Crouch


“When you undervalue what you do…”

“…the world will undervalue who you are,”says Oprah of the Winfrey.

Indeed, she is so very right, as always, I suspect. Sickening, really, people who are always right. It brings out the child in me.

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For my internal (now external) debate on whether or not I undervalue myself, blame Seth Godin, who kindly emails me every day with his thoughts, even when I don’t want to read them. This was from yesterday.

“Double and half (freelancer math)”      N.B. I think Seth means MATHS!

“Successful freelancers need to charge at least double the hourly rate that they’d be happy earning doing full time work. (In many fields, it’s more like 4 or 5x).

And they need to spend at least half their time getting better at their craft (and helping the market understand and appreciate what they do).

Your mileage may vary, but one sure route to becoming an unhappy freelancer is charging just enough and hoping that the low price will keep you busy all the time.”



I’m getting better at this but when I’m asked to quote for a job, everything inside screams, ‘Don’t charge too much! They’ll find someone cheaper. You won’t get the job.’ – so it’s a battle for me to come up with a realistic charge for my services and, yes, generally I DO undervalue myself and that means I don’t get paid as much as I might. Not that I’m an unhappy freelancer, you understand. My glass is always half full, or even overflowing, simply because I love my job.

But here are the recommended rates for freelance copywriters in the UK, as suggested by:


Hourly: £30-£100 depending on experience.

Daily: £250-£800 depending on experience.

I AM very experienced. My clients come back to me again and again, because they know I produce top quality work on schedule or sooner and that I work weekends and through the night, if necessary, to get a job done on time.

I have never dared to charge more than £30 per hour.

There is this little niggling doubt in my head that I should rephrase that sentence starting,’My clients come back to me again and again, because…’ to incorporate the sentence, ‘I have never dared to charge more than £30 per hour.’

There I go. Undervaluing myself again.


I’m not alone, which is something of a relief.

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I’m not sure about the second half of that statement.

I rest my case.

With writing – variety is life, uniformity is death.

This variety quote sounds so much better in French, (Doesn’t everything?), as said originally by that famous chappie, Benjamin Constant –  “La variété, c’est la vie, l’uniformité, c’est la mort.” Even if he wasn’t talking about writing.

(Benjamin Constant? Can’t resist finding out who he is  – a Swiss-French political activist and writer on politics and religion.  And how ironic that somebody espousing the value of variety has the name Constant…)

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Uniformity? Well, it looks pretty deathly to me.

This is why I consider myself to be so lucky. The luckiest writer in…my study, if not the universe.

There is variety in my writing life, in abundance.

In the past few weeks, I have been commissioned to write (or edit) pieces about:

  • Gluten-free pasta
  • A new apartment block in Watford
  • Advanced foam technology
  • Holidays in Zanzibar and Kenya
  • Residential building surveys
  • A local volunteer centre
  • Human rights in Pakistan
  • A health food shop for animals
  • Pre-paid cash cards for holiday travel
  • Direct mailing campaigns

I could go on…

Did I know anything about these subjects before I started?


Nothing,  or not very much. Therein lies the joy for me. I love, simply LOVE, finding out about things. A whole variety of things. Things that seem pretty dull until I’ve started researching into them. Things that ARE inherently dull so it’s a challenge to make them seem interesting, or interesting enough to ensure that other people will be delighted to read about them.

“Variety may be the spice of life, but consistency pays the bills,” said Doug Cooper. Yes, THAT Doug Cooper. The one I haven’t heard of.

Doug Cooper is:

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Except that consistency DOES pay my bills, in the sense of producing consistently good, sparkly copy for my clients, no matter what the subject.

But without the variety…


“Competition is a rude yet effective motivation.”

Yes it is! Both a rude and an effective way of motivating me, competition is…

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I’m going to beat the girls AND the boys, nyahhhhh!

Ironically, or maybe NOT ironically, the quotation was written by someone called Toba Beta, in Master of Stupidity. So, how stupid is it to enter contests? (And here, I’m talking about screenplay writing contests in particular).

To answer my own question, I think it depends on how seriously you take them and what your expectations are.

If you think that either winning or NOT winning a competition is much of a reflection on the quality of your work, then you’re sadly deluded. If you believe that the standard of a lot of judging and the reviews you receive from them is going to be constructive and help you to reshape your work into something eminently… better… than the piece you submitted, then you’re probably going to be disappointed. I say probably – I’m just going on my own experience here.

I’m not referring here to the top banana contests like PAGE International and the Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship – just most of the rest – and there are zillions of them. Zillions.

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I used to enter loads of contests and have to admit I used to get bent out of shape by them sometimes – anxiously waiting for the results, feeling that I was useless if I didn’t do well, railing at the unfairness of some of them – and that wasn’t just sour grapes, before you even think it. Sometimes, it may have been, but often it was not. I’ve been in contests where the most APPALLINGLY badly written, poorly spelled, incorrectly formatted, crass pieces of work have progressed when others (not even mine) which are aeons ahead in every way haven’t made it past the first round.

Judging is always subjective. It can’t be anything else. And mass judging of a competition where there are hundreds of entries, it has been my experience, is often carried out by…I don’t know, interns, students, children?… who wouldn’t necessarily recognise a good screenplay if it bit them on the bum.


My review for Round 2 of a recent contest submission referred to characters who didn’t even appear in my screenplay…however, they liked it enough to put me through to the next round. Ha ha ha…

I’ve just received the review for my entry into the semi-finals of the same contest.  This piece of work didn’t get me through to the finals. I had to write a comedy and what I did was a spoof of The Killing. Yes, risky, because would it work as a comedy if you hadn’t seen The Killing? Apparently it did, because I tried it out on several people who assured me it could stand alone because they thought it was ‘hysterically funny’ even though they’d never seen the aforementioned TV series.

The reviewer/judge plainly hadn’t either because the review made no mention of the (clever?) references – but hey…

The whole screenplay and its humour was built around the idiocy of the male detective. The reviewer completely missed the plot. He/she wrote:  “I think he needs to show some sort of competency otherwise his presence at a crime scene feels a bit jarring…”

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I DO realise, by the way, that it’s what someone reads rather than what I wrote that is the most salient thing…if I didn’t write it well enough for the reader to understand the plot and the subtext, then it’s largely down to me. But that somewhat rests on the reader possessing a certain level of critical acumen, too. I received stellar reviews for the first two screenplays, which didn’t merit it, in my opinion!

Do I now think that the screenplay was poor?

No, I don’t. I’m proud of it.

Do I think it was a waste of time entering this competition?

No I don’t. It motivated me to write three new screenplays. I had fun doing them. It got me back into this form of writing, which I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Do I think that the feedback was valuable?


Will I enter other contests?

Yes. In fact, I’m in the quarter finals of a feature length competition. The great thing was, I had completely forgotten I’d entered…the best and most healthy way to be.

This is me:


Distraction-free writing

I’m not sure how long it’s been available (I must have been too distracted to notice!) but WordPress kindly provides me with Distraction-Free Writing mode for this very blog.



How useful is that? As Henry David Thoreau once said, obviously referring to stuff like Facebook, Twitter and Gmail, “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.” Indeed.

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So – how useful is the Distraction-Free Writing mode? This started as a rhetorical question, but I shall answer myself anyway.

Not very.

Like Zen Writer, it does wonders for my computer screen, blanking the navigation bars out on both margins, so I’m left with a pleasing Shade of Grey – one of Fifty available?

The trouble is, it doesn’t have any power over my internal state, as described so eloquently by George Eliot last time we met: “Her little butterfly soul fluttered incessantly between memory and dubious expectation.”

Kesin by Zoe McIver-Underwood

Kesin by Zoe McIver-Underwood

Last weekend, I embarked on a 48-hour writing challenge where distraction-free writing was a necessity. Friday midnight EST, I received a genre, setting and object, (Comedy, A Public Library, A Prescription Medication Bottle) and had the next two days to craft a screenplay. Admittedly, only 5 pages (only?) but anyone who’s ever written a short will know that it takes a long time to compress an entire story satisfactorily into a mere five pages – beginning, middle and end, scene setting, character arcs and all.

I noticed how I operated. All day Saturday, a typical Caroline Coxon poor-planning demonstration, I was occupied with other things, – well, my body was and some of my mind. The rest was feverishly planning my screenplay.

Sunday, after the animals were fed and exercised (to be honest, I didn’t exercise the chickens) I sat down to write. I’d do a few lines, then be so wound up trying to find the right word or action for the next bit that I couldn’t even stay seated at the computer and had to rush downstairs and DO SOMETHING, anything – and then, magically, my mind processed the jumble and the right word popped out and I would rush back upstairs and do some more.

Stair carpet. Worn threadbare. Me. Fit.

Hilary Mantel wrote this, 25 February 2010, in The Guardian. It made me feel better.

“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”

It worked.

I finished


Distraction-Free Writing?


Distraction-ASSISTED writing.

“If you’re a good marketing person…”

“you have to be a little crazy, ” said Jim Metcalf. I can’t pretend to know who Jim Metcalf is. (Sorry, whoever you are).

Neither can I pretend to be a good marketing person. I can, however, vouch for the fact that I’m a little crazy. That’s what this last month has done to me. Sent me a little crazy.  Marketing and craziness – a chicken and egg situation?


Hence, no blogs recently. Not enough hours in the day or brain cells in the brain.

I’ve been researching in depth into the work of good marketing gurus. For which read, I Googled ‘good marketing’ which may or may not amount to the same thing.

One of them advocated this for novelists, in answer to the question how should we divide our time once the book is published:

70% for creative writing and 30% for promotion

(He forgot to mention the time needed to earn some money copy writing, unload the dishwasher, go shopping, walk the dogs, cook the dinner, clean out the chickens, exercise the horses, shave under the armpits, use the bathroom, sleep, breathe occasionally…you know, all those necessary little tasks which keep body and soul together).


Image by Anthony Falbo

I am proud of the marketing I’ve achieved. It has been good marketing.

Endless word of mouth…

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A book-signing event which could lead to other book-signing events and, certainly, Of Night and Light to be stocked by W.H. Smith…


Workshops at Bede’s School which will act as pilots for other workshops…


Thank you to everyone for the huge amount of support you’ve given me. I’ve been humbled and delighted in equal measure.

And, you know what? I feel as though I’ve been fed through a mangle!

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Good marketing? Yep.

Time for creative writing? Nope. For NaNoWriMo – 15000 words. A small triumph in the circumstances.

And now…

More good marketing but DEFINITELY some writing, or my brain will explode.

And that could be messy.

At this rate, you will finish on February 15th, 2015

Not finish until February 15th? YOU HAVE GOT TO BE JOKING! That should be November 30th.

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Oh, how I love NaNoWriMo!

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Seriously, I do.

It’s the ultimate reality check.

Each day, (if you dare!) you put in your word count and it tells you how far away you are from the target – which is 1667 words a day, to finish a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.

And it also lets you know when you’ll finish, if you carry on at the current rate.


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SO – I’ve written, let me see, 7672 words so far. To meet the target, I should have written 26,667 – well, some of the digits are the same. So, just a bit behind schedule then.

I tell you what. I’m feeling fine about it. Even though I went to a self-publishing conference yesterday and met several people also doing NaNoWriMo, who were tearing their hair(s) out and holding dramatic hands to brows and saying ‘I’m SO far behind. I’ve only done 18,000/20,000/25,000 words.’

I KNOW I’ve done as much as I can.

Stuff has happened. Unexpected stuff. Unavoidable stuff. And that has stopped me from spending time writing and I know there’s no way I can finish by the end of the month.

I have NOT been procrastinating, time-wasting, making excuses, not being in action whenever I can be.

It’s a great achievement for me to have written so much.

My new novel, Falling Awake, is off to a great start. It simply wouldn’t have happened without the discipline of NaNoWriMo – and I’m LOVING writing it.

That’s success!

And here’s my philosophy on a carefully-designed T-shirt:

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And I WILL finish. My self-imposed deadline is by the end of the year.

Go, Caroline!