Or more important, who's it for?

This website, still not quite two months old, took an enormous amount of effort to put together. Some from me—I'm responsible for the content—but even more from Andy Malone, my quite fabulous web designer, builder, master and custodian. Yet, at least in my mind, the question remains. (It's not Andy's job to worry about the philosophy!)

Who, for instance, did I have in mind when I decided we would have a section called On Writing with various short essays about the craft?

And didn't I realize that an abbreviation like “ms” only means manuscript if you're a publishing professional? Otherwise it's a modern equivalent of Miss or Mrs. Or maybe a disease.*

The answer is I never approached the concept that way. Here's what actually happened:

I've had other sites at various stages in my writing life. This time I wanted something less static. More dynamic. Like… well, like some of the food blogging sites I love and frequently visit. So the answer to the question about On Writing is simply that I thought of it as an equivalent of the “recipe” section on a food blog.

Yeah, but everybody eats. Everybody does not write books.

That occurred to me. So did the response. Everybody who eats does not cook, much less bake. But the audience for food related sites seems to be pretty much unlimited. And I remember years ago a dear friend who seldom went beyond scrambling an egg saying she was an avid reader of cookbooks. They satisfied her desire to eat spectacularly good food when she couldn't get it. (We were living on a small island off the coast of Africa in those days, but that's a whole n'other story.)

I also remember reading somewhere that people interview writers because mostly everyone loves stories. What the interviewers are really saying is, “Show us your magic.”

I can't do that because it isn't perhaps magic, but is so mysterious I can't claim to understand it, only share the journey. And hope that if you don't tell stories. you enjoy reading about them. As well as reading the stories themselves.

*We're working on a glossary. If you have any suggestions for definitions you'd like to see, please tell us in the comment section below.





I am not talking about writing. I'm convinced those of us compelled to tell our stories in words to be read can't stop doing it and remain our true selves. Writing is coded into our DNA.  Besides, talent—in whatever quantity—is a gift not to be scorned.

The giving up I'm thinking of has to do with those horrible times when a story just won't come together.

I've learned that sometimes a change of activity will make an appreciable difference. Having begun by applying backside to chair, I've had to make the decision to separate the two. Just get up from my desk and go do something else, preferably pleasurable.

Personally I usually cook or bake. By choice, something challenging. Croissants, a Pavlova, an old-fashioned Beef Wellington. (My husband always said he loved “plot problems.”) My drug of choice need not be yours. Walk or jog or go to the gym. Garden or knit or binge watch a favorite show. Whatever gets those analgesic endorphins going, that's what to do.


On occasion none of the above will work. Cue the kind of “giving up” to which I'm referring.

Sometimes the only way to find the direction a story (or a character, or a particular plot point) needs is to stop thinking so much about it. Sit down and start a scene. Any scene. Maybe the one you think should come next even though you have no idea of how it should actually be developed, much less how it should move the story forward. Perhaps a scene you've been working toward without actually knowing how you're going to get there. That critical moment when A confronts B, or C decides to leave D, or E writes the letter or finds the key or buys a ticket… A place in this ms you have known must come eventually, though just now you don't know how to get there.

In City of Dreams that's how I wrote the scene where Christopher tries his first blood transfusion (using dog blood). In Bristol House I did the scene where Giacomo the Lombard drags his daughter to Smithfield to watch the witches being burned in slow fires—at least fifty ms pages before it occurred—because I could not figure out how to bridge one of the transitions from contemporary to Tudor London. In 27 Sin Eaters Street… well, I'll tell you about that after the novel is published.

My point is that sometimes a writer need to give up worrying about how to get there and just go.  Write the scene. At least begin it. Set it somewhere.  Anywhere. You'll figure out later how the characters got there. Write a conversation without thinking about what brought it about, or what it portends. If normally you're someone who works from a detailed outline, rip it up (or at least set it aside).

Don't think about anything. Let the act of writing be the thinking. Let it move you into the zone.

This is writing from inside, from the gut. Writing as a kind of meditation; mindfulness achieved, perversely, by lack of concentration. Once in a while this sort of giving up and giving in leads to an enormous and quite wonderful breakthrough in the life of a particular ms. A blessing from the writing gods.

May they smile on us.

A Room of One’s Own…

The view from my office. Which I religiously do not face when writing!

A fairly long time ago I remember someone telling me that the way to start writing each day—which every writer knows to be the hardest part of the job—is to, “apply backside to chair.”

All these years and books later I think there's more to it. Yes, essentially you have to commit to it and do it, but there definitely are ways and means that can serve as effective jumpstarts. Aids to getting you into the zone, if you will.

One that underpins pretty much everything else, is where will you write. For me, Virginia Woolf's famous advice is unbeatable. A writer requires “a room of one's own.”

Woolf was speaking of women at a time when they were unlikely to have a study, much less a home office – such were the domains of men – but the issue remains one to be addressed.

I have written in a number of different settings because I've had to, but even when I couldn't claim an entire room (living in an inevitably cramped Manhattan apartment for example), I've carved my working space out of my home.

I know writers who rent office space, or go to a café, or arrange for a writing desk at a library or some other public venue. But it strikes me they're mostly men. Getting away from the kids and the cooking and the cleaning.

Women, not so much.

Daisy, in my office, doing her share of the work.

I wrote my first novels on an old LC Smith manual typewriter and thought bliss was an electric IBM. These days I dock a (heavy) laptop and have a full size keyboard and monitor on the old pine door with legs that serves as my desk. So I can free up the laptop and take it with me if I must, but I'm not tortured by the screen size or keyboard limits. (And if you're younger than I you may not have issues with what I see as limitations. Different strokes for different folks…)

Another critical component is a good chair. I bought an Aeron years back with an unexpectedly excellent royalty check from Norway. (On City of Dreams, a story set entirely in pre-Revolutionary New York City. Go figure.) As for the chair, best investment ever. They're cheaper now I believe, but the Aeron is worth whatever you have to spend for it.

Also, I must face a blank wall. Which I admit is quirky and maybe crazy, but there it is.

I have one other pre-writing ritual that works for me though I don't know that it would for anyone else. I play a couple of hands of solitaire (sometimes more!) before I get going.

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Last Updated: 6-28-2018


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TOO LONG—The Wrong Fix

Because the length of a book determines its cost of production and thus its retail price, publishers are extremely reluctant to take on a debut novel that runs more than +/- 100k words. If no one has heard of the author it figures to be really hard to get them to fork out $30 for the hardcover. Agents know this better than anyone. That's why they generally refuse to read a super long ms by an unknown. Time is an agent's primary working capital, one not to be wasted. 

I've found that when I make those points in a MS Analysis  the writer frequently comes back  with the suggestion that the novel be divided at some point, creating two books. Maybe, the argument goes, the agent could look for a two book deal. Or if not, the “second” book could be shopped to other publishers.

My answer is always the same: Can't be done.

No 21st century publisher and hence no agent currently alive and breathing would consider such an arrangement. Here's the unbreakable contemporary rule: EACH BOOK IN A SERIES MUST BE ABLE TO STAND ON ITS OWN, AND TO BE READ OUT OF SEQUENCE. That's important enough to warrant all caps. Moreover, each book in the series must have an entirely satisfactory ending that ties up 99.9% of the plot lines you introduced in the beginning. It's okay—maybe even desirable—to leave a couple of subtle hints about a story yet to come involving some or all of these characters and perhaps their general locale/situation, but if you leave serious unanswered questions your project is doomed.

And yes, I know about TV series that all the time do what I'm saying you cannot do. But that's them and this is us, the folks who deal in words and bookstores (whether bricks and mortar or online). Whether we writers like it or not, readers regularly, buy/read books out of sequence. If what they're reading makes no sense they are unlikely to bother with any other book in the series. Even the first one which would make everything clear.

Given those realities, both problem and solution are obvious. You created these 200k+ words because you believed you needed them to tell your story. Your fix needs to start by examining which plot threads you are actually developing in the second half (or even two thirds) of the ms and go back and take them out. Then you have to figure out how you're going to write a thoroughly satisfying ending to the story involving the characters/situations that remain.

Later, when it's time to create another novel out of the material you eliminated from the first ms you will have to find a way to write a new beginning that feels like exactly that, not a continuation. Then you'll need to find a craftsmen-like way to feed into this second ms that material from the first (hopefully already published!) novel which readers of this new story need to know for everything to make sense. And without revealing so much you kill the sales of your first novel.  (And if I may be forgiven a bit of self-promotion: it's situations exactly like this that I address in a MS Analysis and help you to work through.)

That's the long and the short of it. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) You have to recast the too-long ms not simply divide it. But look at it this way: you've got huge chunks of the novel-writing work done for two (maybe three) new mss. The rest should be…well, not easy, but easier.


I will read the first ten pages and the last ten pages of your ms (I won't make editorial suggestions, but I will have some idea of your voice). I'd also like to see a single paragraph synopsis of the story. Then I'll probably ask some questions. After that I will make agent suggestions with info about the agents and my thinking, and then work on the query letter with the writer. The cost for all this is a single all-in price of $469.00. You can order that service here.


Price : $469.00
Agent Research with Beverly


This is not my first rodeo…  I have had at least two other author sites and one devoted to a particular book (my Simon & Schuster novel, CITY OF DREAMS). To the best of my knowledge none are still able to be contacted. If they are, they're imposters and have nothing to do with me.

Those old sites were well designed and maintained for the Internet of the time, but that was then. In today's online environment being hacked is a constant and scary danger. (See no longer available websites above.)

Additionally, I lived through the online saga of my late husband's company, Agent Research & Evaluation.  When it first came into existence AR&E was truly ground breaking for writers—objective information about agents and their accomplishments on behalf of their clients when for decades there had been nothing but self-promoting fog.  Complicated by a shocking number of scammers who claimed to be literary agents but had never actually sold a book to a legit publisher.

To buttress the ground breaking argument: When Bill initially put the site on the web he had a terrible time finding a bank that would allow him to open a merchant account so he could do something almost unheard of, take credit card payments online!, because in 1997 pretty much the only other e-commerce sites were in the porn business.  That changed after a year or two and still later he switched to PayPal. It charges fair prices to the merchant and offer clients free and safe payment options. I still use them to accept payments when clients want to use a credit card.

After Bill's sudden death in early 2015, his site was hacked and its web address thoroughly corrupted (I had a lot on my plate and was not vigilant). Nowadays the only legit connection to Bill's original business is It takes you to the very site you're on now. What I do under the AR&E banner is geared to my particular skills. As for general agent information, it's available elsewhere.

All of which is to say I have learned the hard way to stay on top of what's out there in my name. And to be very careful about who does what when venturing onto the web.

This site uses the tried and true Word Press platform.

I am responsible for all content, except where otherwise noted (usually in the Other Voices section).

The site was built by the quite brilliant Andy Malone, who is also responsible for its day-to-day guardianship, promotion, and nurture. If Andy were a restaurant he'd have three Michelin stars. You can contact Andy here:

Terms and Conditions TERMS AND CONDITIONS

Last Updated: June 21, 2018




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Michael Anthony Martin October 11, 1963 – February 10, 1997

A Eulogy delivered by Andy Hobsbawm on the occasion of Michael's Requiem Mass, Sacred Heart Church Wadhurst, Sussex, England

The first time I ever saw Michael was at college in Canada – he met a plane-load of us at the airport having flown out ahead of time – I thought he was one of the teachers. At a fresh faced 17, the image of this somewhat grizzly, barrel-chested young man really didn't fit my image of a classmate. But he quickly revealed himself to be the big kid he always remained.

Michael was such a huge, larger than life presence not just in our lives but on this planet. Such a chunk of passion and energy and sheer talent missing from life – it really feels like the world should suddenly tilt off balance. He filled up so much life space that it makes it almost impossible to believe he's gone.

I think Michael would approve of the service here today – he'd be so upset at everyone's grief because he couldn't bear injustice and suffering – but I think he'd be very happy at the sense of occasion – all the people who loved him, his friends and colleagues past and present, the readings, not to mention the Catholicism mixed in with a bit of Hebrew and Tom Waits all on one bill in his honour. Michael loved a good show.

He would also, I'm sure, have chosen nowhere other than Wadhurst churchyard as his resting place (with its quintessential, romantic Englishness). Living in Wadhurst with Jennet was where he felt most at home. Finally he had found somewhere to settle with the friends, cats, cricket, beer and, of course, the woman he loved. He was the happiest I've ever known him in this place, and it’s right that he should be at peace here.

It’s so difficult to know how to do justice to the rare and wonderful person Mike was. A eulogy by nature focuses on and magnifies the best qualities in its subject. As Lindsay so rightly said: “everyone knows he made a difference, that he mattered, that every minute of being around him was extraordinary”. But I still wanted to somehow cut through the clichés and get the point across that he really was that special and that unique a human being. There was and will never be someone like Michael.

For one thing he was certainly the most creative and talented person I have ever known. Sure there are plenty of ultra-smart, gifted people out there, but Michael could've eaten most of them for breakfast. He had such a clear and consistent barometer of what was worthwhile and what was not, and this focused his highly original and articulate mind and made him such a creative force to be reckoned with.
He had such ideas upon ideas upon ideas – “and there's a million more where that came from” he'd say. But ideas on their own can be ten a penny, “yeah, yeah, – that and a dime'll buy ya a cup of coffee” he could also have said. The thing about Michael was that he always saw the Big Picture, and he could think it up, write it down, pitch it and then just get on and do it – all with the same flair and dynamism, and to the same consistently high standard. On this playing field he just kept hitting everything for six.

He was also, a great listener and very egalitarian. He had equal time for a Director or a Runner, as long as they had something to talk about; and he would apply all his enthusiasm for a conversation about your new curtains as long as it was something you were interested in.

Everyone will have their own memories of Michael's long and impressive professional career. Friends and colleagues from Mike's music video past will certainly remember a time when his uniform was the trademark hat and Mickey Mouse tin briefcase. They may also remember a particular heavy metal video he directed where the prowling gothic wolf turned out to look just a bit too much like a friendly alsation – he would always get so wound up if ever that was mentioned. Colleague Ben Woolley of the BBC has this to say about Michael in his Film and Television years: “He was perhaps the best person to have a row with of anyone I have worked with. I spent hours, days locked in dark editing suites with him, and we would spend the whole time arguing, yelling at each other, trading insults, hurling abuse, and I loved every minute of it. Somehow we always ended in total agreement, as well as fits of laughter. It was wonderful.”

To me, Michael really came into his own working in New Media and the Internet. He had a unique understanding of both the old and the new disciplines, how to transfer skills and knowledge between them, how to challenge the limitations and exploit the possibilities. He was quite simply brilliant at it and had, I believe, found his true calling. He had universal respect, admiration and acclaim from colleagues and fellow professionals and he relished every moment.

Talking with Jennet's brother Tim we were struck by the surreal idea of God being a bit confused about Internet technology and needing to summon someone to explain what this Information Superhighway business was really all about, and this led to visions of a very frustrated Michael somewhere up there going through the process again that a few people here will have experienced “Tsk, look, its like this, your computer is connected to a phone line…and then you click on links to information on other computers…”. And probably God would be doing the same thing as many of us “yup, right, got it…err…what was that middle bit again”.

What I find particularly poignant is that the industry Michael had such a whirlwind enthusiasm for is still so young, and the promise of what the Internet could become is very exciting and as yet unfulfilled – and Michael had all sorts of plans for what we should be doing and where to go. In my mind there is no doubt that he would have helped shape and define the industry, he would've been one of the greats – the Orson Welles of New Media.

Just as much outside of work Michael was a man of passions – some might say obsessions. I think we can safely say that cricket fell into that category. As an armchair analyst and fan Michael had no equal. As a player for the Rascals, Mickey “lost ball” Martin as he was known was not, shall we say, a natural born cricketer. But he was always the first name on the scoresheet – a solid number 11 in every way. The wonderful thing was that he had such an unbridled, infectious enthusiasm for the game, he lit up the entire pitch and it was just a delight to be a part of. Michael enjoyed the whole ritual of cricket which included the very serious and solemn business of tea. He was always a sharp critic of the tea… IF Jennet hadn't made it. He'd pick his way around the plates and invariably have complaints. It was a fact that Jennet made the best teas.

He did once, just once hit a six, which was, as Paul describes it, “a very, very big moment in everyone's lives – and a massive moment in his. He didn't say it was better than sex but it was definitely close.”

One occasion last summer Michael misunderstood the instructions to bat until tea, then declare. He was batting for all he was worth and came in for tea, nought not out and with his personal century firmly in his sights. Ready to continue the most glorious innings of his career, he learned of the cruel decision to declare. For the rest of that match Michael was a beacon of utter fury on the pitch. With his hat pulled low on his head he kept furiously sulking to Benny the other batsman: “we could have carried on mate, they should have let us carry on”. Even though friend and Umpire Mark had nothing whatsoever to do with the decision, Michael wouldn't even acknowledge his presence for a week.

One thing about Michael everyone who knew him would agree on:- he was incredibly funny. Not ‘good sense of humour' funny, but stand-up-comedy, make you laugh so hard you felt like your face would fall off funny. He loved a great performance, in the things he liked to create and the things he liked to experience. Certainly what enabled him to put on such a good show was his ability to perform one himself. He could, if you were lucky, sing and dance you a song or ten from Fiddler on The Roof, and many other assorted music and musicals – from Screaming Jay Hawkins to the Jungle Book (he was, I think, quite aptly called Balloo by the young daughter of his friend Julian).

Another of Michael's great passions was Polar exploration – he had a whole library of books on the subject and often said, having been born in an old whaling town, if he was anyone in a former life it must have been a Polar explorer – that was the only explanation for his complete fascination and sense of affinity with the subject matter and the history.

I find it comforting to speculate on the various guises Michael could come back in. And if I come across a stray black cat with John Wayne eyes or an incredibly hassled Arctic adventurer looking to raise money for his next expedition – I'll be sure to give them the time of day.

There was only ever one person in the world who could shut Michael up instantly – with no back-chat. Only one person who could turn him from a domineering colossus into a puppy, belly-up on the floor by just one look (usually a sideways glance), sometimes just a silence – hardly ever a word. One thing's for sure, Michael loved Jennet as much as any one person can love another. As everyone who knew Michael and Jennet and their time together – he utterly adored her, loved her unconditionally, and with all his heart.

I believe it's true that people really do live on in the memories of those that they loved – and Michael will be such an easy person to remember. I know his reactions, his opinions, his loves and his hates – what would have made him cackle with delight and what would have infuriated him with its worthlessness. He will still guide and influence how I live my life with his unique, consistent and unshakable view of the world. I will still hear his voice.

I'd like to read something that I found only last night – it was written by Michael aged 17 while we were at college in Canada and is dated February 6, 1981 – almost exactly 16 years ago from the day he died. I think the passage is extraordinary because it explains in Michael's own words many of the things we all knew about him – and it seems so appropriate for this moment.
“Everyone always thinks I'm big-headed because I know what I can do well and I'm not ashamed of it. I love having a dance floor to myself because that's when I shine. And most of all, I have got something inside me to say to the world and I won't shut up till I've figured out what it is and said it. But my best trait is that I believe life is the best trip there is and I act accordingly”.

Well, I believe even in the short time he had, Michael did figure out what he wanted to say to the world and he said it – and he always lived life to the fullest.

I'd like to finish this Eulogy to Michael with a poem by Dr. Maya Angelou that I think might just sum up what some of us who loved him are feeling – and that I'm sure Mike would have liked.

Ailey, Baldwin, Floyd, Killens, and Mayfield

By Dr. Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

Goodbye Michael.

MS Analysis Service

For the past dozen-plus years and on a strictly limited basis, I have occasionally agreed to read the ms of another writer and report back on what I see as strengths, weaknesses, and possible fixes. These reports are detailed, extremely frank, and substantive, but while I frequently edit segments of the ms in order to illustrate what I'm suggesting, this is not an edit. It is an overview of how a promising project can be raised the required number of notches to bring it to the point where an agent and a publisher are most likely to take it on. Call it an extended and very detailed Master Class.

I bring to this effort the experience of 30 years and some 18 novels – published by the likes of Random House, Bantam Doubleday Dell (before they were one and the same) and currently – as Beverly Swerling – Simon and Schuster and Viking Penguin. (Who are now, of course, Penguin Random; my writing life has come full circle. ) Before that I was a free lance journalist working for major publications. My fiction has been translated into over a dozen languages and is for sale in Europe, Asia, and S. America.

I take two weeks to read and report, then you and I will confer about revisions.  If you wish I'll stay in e-mail contact with you until you've finished whatever rewriting you're doing.  Finally, and presuming the ms is at a point where we agree it's ready for prime time, I will take it with my personal recommendation to a selection of agents (up to seven or eight) whom we both agree are right for the work. I can of course make no guarantee that you will be offered representation, much less that the agent will sell the book to a publisher, but I can guarantee the agents will take a serious look.

The charge for this service is $3,000, payable in advance (the slot isn't promised until payment is received).

I am also happy to look again at a ms for which I've already done a Ms Analysis on the following basis:

• I am always happy to communicate by e-mail while you are rewriting. There is no charge for this.
• I will read a specific scene or scenes up to a total of 3000 words (generally 10 – 15 pp) at no further charge.
• For lengthier material that is sent to me as discrete scenes, or is highlighted or otherwise marked for reading within the ms, I will happily do so and edit/annotate if necessary at my customary rate of $200 per hour, billed on completion. I try to turn such projects around in a week or two.
• If a full second reading is required the price is the same as for the first as the same amount of my time is required.

If you are interested in pursuing this possibility, please fill out the email contact. I will write back asking some questions and requesting to see some sample ms.  If I think I “hear” you (everything isn't for everyone and if I don't get your voice I'm of no use to you) I'll write back telling you of my times of availability and we can arrange for payment. (Check or credit card is fine.)