Blake Out In A Cold Sweat


Bill Keeth’s considers some writers’ reference books he has found to be useful and otherwise

Escaped teacher that I be – and glad of it too: glad of the effected escape, I mean; not my erstwhile handy government whipping-boy of an undervalued profession – I remain to this day, despite all efforts to the contrary in these twenty years past, an awkward cuss whose working year still begins, as does the English academic year, in September.

Not for me, come the English autumn, a wistfully Wordsworth-like contemplation of mists and mellow fruitfulness in Alkrington Woods in my home town of Middleton, Greater Manchester. True, my good friend, the writer Carl Spiers may well tempt me to sample coffee and small talk mid-morning mid-week at the Pavilion Café, Chadderton Park – particularly if he intends tipping up for the Bill Keeth titles he has so far held in stock on account. But this potentially lucrative social outing apart, rather is September-time my time to begin again. – Time to look out, as follows (ref. Write It Self-Publish It Sell It: Appendix 9), the reference books I need – and hold most dear. Namely . . .

Chambers dictionary ISBN 0550101853
English Made Simple ISBN 04911019203 and/or 0385174837
The Elements of Style ISBN 7609200544
The Chicago Manual of Style ISBN 0224103897
Eats Shoots and Leaves ISBN 1846680352


The MHRA Style Book ISBN 0947623612
(Wonderful to relate: a FREEBIE, should readers so choose!)

Because this excellent handbook is also pdf downloadable from

’Tis time, too, come September, to set Peter Pointer and Tommy Thumb to work once more via my PC keypad, commencing all over again with those twin Enemies of Promise that it never once occurred to Cyril Connolly to concern himself with –  I refer, of course, to the word “Chapter” and its pursuivant (and similarly worrisome) numeric, the word “One” . . .

Incidentally, one writer’s reference book I never use (that is to say, nevermore) is From Pitch to Publication by Carole Blake ISBN 0333714350.

From Pitch to Publication is a “how-to-get-your-book-published” instruction manual that is widely revered as a masterpiece of its kind – invaluable in the extreme, comprehensively knowledgeable and hugely informative, in addition to its being adjudged (elsewhere at any rate) the ideal literary vade mecum for anyone who is hell-bent upon getting their unpublished work commercially published.

Hey, and so it is – and so it should be too. Because Ms Blake is only joint managing director of top London-based literary agency Blake Friedmann, and she obviously knows what she’s talking about.

‘Or does she?’ whispered a tiny voice from the bottom of Ms Blake’s slush pile ‘Consider, if you will,’ the voice persisted, ‘Yes, consider page 7 of this book wherein Ms Blake complains about being “regularly offered novels that are 50,000 or 60,000 words”.’

By which Ms Blake means novels that are too short by far.

The sub-slush pile voice gave way to a wheezing laugh. ‘Oh dearie, dearie me! I mean to say – a mere 60,000 words, eh? So there’s A Clockwork Orange, The Great Gatsby and Death in Venice in the dustbin for starters. Not to mention Ian McEwan’s Chesil-beached 40,000 worder, a brace of Jeanette Winterson’s stuff, I’m sorry to say, and a swathe of Amis fils gear that would never have seen the light of day, if Ms. Blake had had any say in the matter.’

At this point the slush pile shrouded laughter became a tad more hysterical: ‘Then on Page 9, you’ll find, Ms Blake posits the question: “Is the world that I have created in the novel one my readers will want to spend time in even before they know the story or the characters?”

‘Uh-oh! In the dustbin with A Clockwork Orange again (that unpublishable Mancunian is nothing if not persistent), quickly followed by Brave New World, 1984, and The Grapes of Wrath.’

Then for a time no sound was be heard other than the tumultuous trashing of unpublishable typescripts by the score.

‘So,’ said the same slush pile-smothered voice as Ms Blake collapsed with Repetitive Strain Injury: ‘I wish all you unpublished writers better luck with Ms Blake and all her house than Thomas Mann, F Scott Fitzgerald, Anthony Burgess, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, John Steinbeck, Ian McEwan, Jeanette Winterson, Martin Amis – or I ever had. Nevertheless, you may well find it otherwise reassuring, as did I, courtesy of Ms Blake, to be elected thereby, however briefly, to the ranks of such exalted company for once in your life,’

PS In fairness I must confess to reading somewhere or other that another self-published author would take issue with me about From Pitch to Publication.

“While [From Pitch to Publication] contains sound commonsense,” says he, “it is chock full of grammatical errors . . . When [the] book first came out . . . I praised it to the heavens (I still think it’s good) but pointed out the hundreds of grammatical mistakes. [The author] didn’t like it!”

Ooh, er . . . Best omit, t’other author’s identity, methinks, lest internecine literary strife blake out, so to speak!

Bill Keeth’s books, Every Street in Manchester ISBN 1859880649 & Write It Self-Publish It Sell It ISBN 97809558863 are available from Amazon and all good book shops. Bill can also be contacted via his website,

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