A wonderful (superb, terrific, excellent, fabulous, brilliant, magnificent) writing tool

wordcloudPeter Mark Roget was born in London in 1779 and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Who knew? Not I, for all I live just down the road. Yet I make use of Mr Roget’s most famous achievement almost every day of my working life. We have so much to thank him for. Obsessed with lists from the age of eight, he used them to battle depression and while I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, I’m truly thankful that he turned to words for solace.

As writers we put thousands of words onto the page, and constantly finding new ways of expressing yourself is one of many challenges writers face.

Mr Roget’s idea was to make a catalogue (list, inventory, register, record, roll, index, directory, checklist) of words according to similarity of meaning (sense, signification, import, gist, thrust, drift, tenor, message, essence, substance, intention, purport). So when I want to describe my hero’s raffish air, I don’t need to repeat myself – he can be rakish, unconventional, careless, louche, dissolute, decadent, disreputable or even devil-may-care.

Mr Roget’s visionary (far-sighted, prescient, percipient, canny, discerning) idea not only reminds me of the many options available, I find that it also helps to stimulate my creativity, often taking me down avenues I hadn’t previously considered.


From Apple’s online Thesaurus.

Use of his wonderful Thesaurus requires care, however. Don’t use a word that’s suggested unless you are completely sure of the its meaning – and indeed, the nuances of its meaning. Smile is surely one of the hardest words for which to find alternatives – and, unfortunately, it’s in the group of words writers use most often. Mr Roget offers ‘beam’ and ‘grin’, either of which might be apt (though hardly elegant). But choose twinkle, dimple, smirk, simper or leer and you could find yourself in deep water! Fortunately, my online Thesaurus warns about this. “Choose the right word’ it tells me, and goes on to explain why.


What word would you use to describe this colour of eye?

Similarly, if I want to describe my heroine’s blue eyes, Roget’s suggestions include azure, cobalt, sapphire, navy, midnight, electric, indigo, royal, air force, robin’s egg, peacock, ultramarine, steel, slate and cyan, each of which will conjure a different image in your readers’ minds. But wait – ‘cyan eyes’? I don’t think so. ‘Electric blue eyes’? Hmm. Rather a startling image!

To be used with caution, then – but I confess that Roget’s Thesaurus is one of the most useful tools in my writing kit (equipment, gear, tackle, resources, toolbox).

As for Mr Roget, he spent most of his life actively involved in medicine. He was one of the founders of the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, which later became the Royal Society of Medicine. He later became this body’s Secretary and had a full and distinguished career, retiring in 1840, at the age of 61, to prepare his Thesaurus. It was, Wikipedia tells me, an avocation. I confess I had to look this up in a dictionary. It means a hobby a person engages in outside their main career and that often becomes the activity that defines them.

I looked it up in my Thesaurus, but it offered no alternative words. Mr Roget is unique in his own world.

Do you use a Thesaurus when you write?



What’s in a cover?

Do you pick up a book because you like the cover? I do. I suspect most of us do. Likewise, we may be put off so much by a cover that we don’t pick up the book at all. If you are an indie author, one of the first pieces of advice you’ll be given is, ‘Hire a good cover designer’.

Covers have to be genre appropriate. Just look at the covers on our header here on Take Five Authors. Ellie Campbell has a smart, sassy cover that’s absolutely right for the tone and feel of her book. Mary Smith’s No More Mulberries is intriguing, exotic, a little dark, absolutely real. Janet Gover’s cover puts her book immediately into the right setting – and boy, can you feel the heat!

withoutAs we’ve had two cover reveals this week (Sue Moorcroft’s wintry delight for The Christmas Promise and my own summery and reflective Mistakes We Make), it seemed like a good time to think about this question. Oh – and it was prompted, too, by blogger Joanne Baird (Portobello Book Blog), who reviewed a new book, to be published by Hodder. It seems that Hodder are trying to do something rather different – get us to read a book with no preconceptions whatsoever. There’s no clue about the author and very little about the content. Joanne loved it – but she was sent a copy by the publisher. Would you pick it up in a shop? It’s a great gimmick, sure. With a Twitter hashtag #readwithoutprejudice there’s sure to be a buzz of interest around the title. It’s got me thinking, hasn’t it? But, let’s face it, it can only be done once. A few hundred completely anonymous covers would be extremely confusing – how would we find anything?

PWL+MWMWhich brings me back to where I started. Covers in today’s market – even for the digital marketplace – have to be attention-grabbing, attractive, genre-specific, give a feeling for content and setting and right for the local culture. This last point is interesting, and probably a science in itself. I haven’t yet seen the covers of my Turkish translations, for example, but I can guess they’ll be completely different from the existing ones. What might a reader in Turkey make of my gorgeous but rather mysterious People We Love cover, for example? And I adore my latest, Mistakes We Make, but I wonder how it will fare in America, where covers tend to be bolder and brasher?

Jojo compositeHere are a few examples of covers from different countries. Jojo Moyes is a great writer, and I thought After You was even better than Me Before You. Here are her covers from (l-r) the UK, USA and Germany.

HMB compositeAnd here’s a title I picked at random, The first is the cover for the UK edition (published by Mills & Boon) and the second for the US edition (published by Harlequin). Obviously, each has been designed to fit with the imprint’s branding – but I still found the differences intriguing.

So come on, do tell – what makes you pick up a book? Does it need a hunky hero or a gorgeous bride? A couple embracing? Is the typography the most important thing? Or scene? A drawing? Pink shoes? Be honest now!


Look what just arrived!

books webMy new novel, Mistakes We Make, is due out soon – and my author copies have just arrived! It’s always a really exciting day, because for the first time you see all those words you slaved over doing together under one cover, and hopefully in the right order.

Mistakes We Make is the fifth novel in my Heartlands series, and is a follow-up to People We Love, which came out a year ago (although it can be read as a stand-alone too). It takes up the story of Molly Keir, best friend of artist Alexa Gordon, who was the heroine of the last book. Lexie’s life has moved on apace, while Molly’s is more or less at a standstill. Determined to move on, she accepts the offer of a glittering new job in London –  but it means moving away from family and friends. Is it a good move? Only time will tell!

Mistakes We Make is on pre-order on Amazon already. Meantime, here’s a short extract to whet your appetite.

Molly Keir rummaged in her handbag and extracted her glasses.

‘Yum, this looks amazing. Scallops, black pudding, Gravadlax, sole paupiettes. Wow. I didn’t realise how ravenous I was till I started reading!’

Lexie whispered, ‘Molly.’

‘Mmm? What do you think about beef?’


Molly looked up at the note of urgency. ‘What?’

Lexie’s face had turned an odd shade, and her brown eyes had a panicky look about them. She was staring over Molly’s shoulder at the doorway.

Molly shoved her glasses back onto the top of her head and swung round. A woman was walking into the room. She was Asian – Indian perhaps? – and classically beautiful. Her hair fell in thick, shiny tresses halfway down her back, her eyes were dark as treacle and dramatically outlined in black. She was wearing scarlet. Afterwards, that was what Molly remembered most – the stunning silky dress, hugging a perfect figure.

For now, the dress and the woman faded improbably into the background because there was a man behind her. Not just any man – Adam Blair.

Molly’s husband.

Order from Amazon, in paperback or for Kindle.

mistakes we make pre



A whole lot of romance

Take around 200 romantic novelists and what do you get? A conference, apparently! The Romantic Novelists’ Association conference at Lancaster University certainly didn’t disappoint, with an amazing buzz for the best part of three days.

The RNA is a diverse and incredibly supportive organisation. Writers of all ages, published, unpublished and self-published belong, and new writers are mentored through those painful early days towards publication. At the conference, there are talks and workshops on just about every aspect of writing a novel you can think of – but the best part of it is meeting new writers, making new friends and catching up with old friends.

Three Take Five Authors members were there enjoying the fun this year. Janet Gover and Jenny Harper and Sue Moorcroft.

A common pastime for me during the weekend. It's much better now.

A common pastime for Janet during the weekend. It’s much better now.


Janet says: I had a wonderful time and came back totally inspired. It wasn’t just the talks and workshops. They were full of useful information… but I learned something else this year. The night before conference, I hurt my foot, and at one stage thought I would be unable to go. I put out an SOS and so many of my RNA friends were there to help – with a lift to the venue, carrying my things, even dashing out to buy frozen peas to help my swollen foot. For me, that really sums up the friendship I find in the RNA.


Jenny says: The Conference is a great time for renewing old friendships and forging new ones – and I had a ball doing both. The only frustrating thing is that there are often two or more sessions running at the same time, so you simply can’t do everything. I’m delighted that I chose to attend the crime workshop. I don’t write crime, but I now know where to turn for accurate information if I ever need it – and it was fascinating. Roll on next year!

Janet and Jenny catching up at the conference.

Janet and Jenny catching up at the conference.

Sue says: I spent a lot of time catching up with my friends in the dining room, the bar and at kitchen parties (invaluable networking) but I also attended some great sessions. The two on commercial fiction were especially useful as I’m teaching a course on the subject in October and the ‘Together we stand panel’ of industry professionals was just fascinating. The conference always gives me a huge buzz!

Sue with RNA President Katie Fforde

Sue with RNA President Katie Fforde

That pesky ‘elevator pitch’ and why we need one


via Wikimedia Commons

You get into a lift. An agent you’d love to sign you steps in as the doors close. You have her exclusive attention for two minutes. Now is your chance. You tell her you’re an author, and you’ve just written a fabulous book and you’re looking for the best representation. You’d love her to take a look at it. The conversation proceeds:

‘How exciting. What’s your novel about?’

‘Erm, well, its about a woman who is separated from her husband but still loves him really, only he’s with someone else, so she decides to go to London and start afresh … but there’s a secret that someone else – like, another person – has …  oh, did I say her ex works in the same firm as her brother? …  and though we don’t know it yet, if she decides to spill the beans, well, it could have dire consequences for all of them and …’

At this point you reach her floor, the doors slide open and she steps out.

‘Good luck with your book!’ she calls, as the doors close again. You’ve missed your chance.

Ring the Alarm

Don’t hit the panic button! via Wikimedia Commons

This is what’s known as ‘the elevator pitch’. You have two minutes at most to sell your story. You need to be prepared for the moment. Hone your pitch finely, rehearse it and get ready to wow your captive agent. Let’s try again.

‘What’s your novel about?’

‘It’s about digging deeper than you ever thought possible to discover what your really need, then fighting for it.’

‘That sounds interesting. Tell me more.’

‘Molly doesn’t realise how much she still loves her ex until she sees Adam with another woman, but instead of fighting for him, she runs off to London to start a new job. Meanwhile, Adam’s life is torn apart by deceit and fraud in the law firm he runs. They both make terrible mistakes, but all the answers lie close to home, if only they can see them. It’s about working out what’s really important in a complicated modern world.’

The lift door opens.

‘I have to go, but here’s my card. Why don’t you send me something?’

Writing a novel is a long and extremely intricate business and it’s all too easy to get bogged down by character, plot, dialogue, setting, pace and the many other elements that have to come together to make a great novel. In all of this, we can lose sight of the main drivers. So although spending time thinking about your elevator pitch can seem like an unnecessary distraction, the exercise can bring huge benefits, allowing you to rediscover focus and impetus.

What’s your novel about? If you’ve got a great one-liner, do tell!