Today I’m chatting to Alice Smales, Consultant Editor for my agent at Creative Authors Ltd. Alice has also worked with me on my YA novel, The Wanderers, which is published by Sky Pony Press.
Kate Ormand: Hi, Alice! Thanks for chatting with me today. First, can you tell us a bit about your editing process? What do you look for/make note of when reading a new submission?
Alice Smales: Hi Kate, thanks for inviting me!
Editing, for me, is a mixture of objective and subjective. There’s the technical side of things – misplaced commas, spelling mistakes – and then there’s the way things feel. That’s where it gets interesting, when you really dig down into the meat of the story, put on its skin and walk around in it. I think that’s the most important bit, but it’s also the bit that’s hardest to describe. Sometimes things will leap out at me and I know they need looking at or changing, but sometimes it’s not until I take a second look that I know why that thing needs to be changed. It’s almost an instinctual thing, feeling my way through the rhythm and connotations that make up compelling prose.
When I’m reading a new submission, the first thing I look for is character. If you have an interesting and vivid character with a true real voice, then I will be with you until the final page. Good spelling and grammar are important, but if you’ve got a character who I can root for or be interested by, then I’ll look past pretty much any other mistakes you might make. It can be hard to show a character right from the beginning without an info-dump, but it can be done! Often I can tell from the first page whether I’m going to like a submission or not, so first impressions are vital.
KO: What stuck with you after reading The Wanderers for the first time?
AS: Flo’s transformation into a horse! I couldn’t think of another story with a horse shapeshifter – wolves and bears and other predators are more common choices. I loved that Flo’s animal shape was something that showed her vulnerability as well as her strength.
KO: How does editing other work help you with your own writing?
AS: It makes me a lot more conscious of what makes a story work. When you’re picking apart other people’s words and seeing what’s effective and what’s not, it means you can apply that same critical eye to your own writing. For example, since becoming aware of how important the first page is when reading submissions, I’ve spent much more effort in trying to make my own first page and opening line as strong and memorable as they can be.
KO: Flip the question! How does writing help you edit other work?
AS: There’s a knack to giving critical feedback that you become very aware of once you’ve been on the receiving end. If someone says, “Eh, it just didn’t click with me, I couldn’t sympathise with the character” it’s nowhere near as helpful as someone saying, “This dialogue here felt stilted, and here, why did the character act in this unnatural way?” Being specific is key.
KO: What do you write and what are you working on at the moment?
AS: I pretty much always write stories with a fantasy element, and I love taking a historical setting and adding something supernatural or paranormal. Currently I’m working on a novel set in Victorian London, where a guy from the streets with no magic is blackmailed into serving a rich wizard. Working together, even though they hate each other, they try to solve a case of kidnap and end up unravelling a conspiracy with personal roots for both of them and which may affect the whole future of magic in London. Fun features include demons, colourful insults, magic gangs, and fireballs.
KO: And to finish, can you give us a selection of your favourite books?
AS: Ooo, that’s a hard one. Robin Hobb’s Tawny Man and Assassin books are a firm favourite, as is anything by Rosemary Sutcliff, especially The Lantern Bearers and her Arthurian trilogy. Also, PG Wodehouse. His books make me laugh like a demented hyena.
Writing samples (as A.S. Olivier): asolivierwriting.tumblr.com
Kate Ormand: DARK DAYS, THE WANDERERS, and THE PACK (Fall 2017) with Sky Pony Press.
Kate Louise: THE UPSIDE-DOWN FISH, PIERRE THE FRENCH BULLDOG RECYCLES, and TOUGH COOKIE (3 Nov 2015) with Sky Pony Press.