#WritersResources: Edit Out Loud

One of many discussions I’ve had with David is the subject of audio books and their narrators. Personally, I’m a massive fan of Stephen Fry’s reading of the Harry Potter books, and David has spoken in glowing terms of Kobna Holdbrook-Smith’s reading of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series.

But …

I’ve given up my subscription to Audible more times that I can count, for I struggle to find books which translate as well to being heard as being read. I’m absolutely certain this isn’t just a one way street of pointing the finger at the narrator, especially after completing Hilary Mantel’s final part of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy The Mirror and the Light, where I struggled tremendously during earlier chapters to figure out what piece of dialogue was being spoken by which character. As a narrator, I guess it could be possible to save the listener from that confusion, or it might prove just as confusing a process to figure out as to a reader.

That said, this is about writers editing, rather than readers listening, so …

One thing which struck me when listening to the audio of a couple of Cormoran Strike books (from J K Rowling’s nom de plume, Robert Galbraith) was how many times I heard “he said” and “she said”. I did manage to read past, for the characters were well crafted and the story line interesting enough, but it proved to be a most helpful learning around the whole subject of dialogue tags.

That experience added extra weight to the advice given to writers of reading our work out loud – a practice I now generally follow. The problem is, I know where I intend the inflection to be … so I place it there when reading aloud. Whereas, having tested the Edit Out Loud app, it’s clear the matter at hand is whether I’ve used the correct punctuation and sentence structure for that to be clear to my reader.

The Edit Out Loud app was one of those things I fell across somewhere, made a note of on my phone, having every intention of trying it out when I had time. At the end of 2019, I rummaged through the notes on my phone, after accepting it it was high time I made the time to do something about all the ideas I’d stored there. It became pretty clear that a number of the items had been time sensitive … and that certain ships had long sailed. One good clear-out later, and my note to check out Edit Out Loud shot right up the list.

Edit Out Loud Trial

The software is available to download for use on your desktop – be that an Apple or Windows platform. For mobile devices, it’s currently only available for Apple, but an Android app is currently in development. I chose to download the software to both my Windows desktop and my iPad. As my writing is done on the desktop, it’s easier to upload it from there, but I listen to the app on the iPad for the purposes of editing.

There are four levels of membership – for the purpose of this trial, I used the Free version, and in all honesty, cannot see from the features listed, that I’d either need or want to upgrade.


You can select from a number of computer generated voices – there are three UK English options – 2 male, & 1 female. Similar is available for US English, and there are a vast range of other languages to choose from. It’s also possible to alter the voice’s speed.

So, what did I learn? The major learnings did turn out to be around my use of punctuation. The first observation is that either the software doesn’t cope with dialogue, or I’m not doing it right. Sadly, I suspect the latter is correct, for I have issues with punctuation marks appearing inside of quotation marks AND outside; I’ll no doubt be put straight by a professional editor on that subject in due course 🙂 I’m also not using commas correctly for indicating where a reader should pause for breath, and the app also made obvious when a sentence of mine has gone on for WAY TOO LONG. But I was absolutely delighted to discover the app copes well with hyphens and with my favourite ellipses, as none of the other options I tried did.

While you’re being read to, a highlighted block moves across the text, and you have the option to add a comment, or to “mark” the text with the following notations :

  • Make Shorter
  • Add Details
  • Redundant
  • Grammar

To review the marked up manuscript, simply tap on the little fin-like markers in the left-hand margin, and a new window opens to let you know which of the listed options above you selected to mark the text (for multiple markers in the same paragraph, just tap the fin again for a second/third etc window to open).


In order for this to be an entirely fair trial, I decided I needed to compare it with other free options available. My first attempt was with the Narrator feature available in Windows. Unfortunately, it read aloud Every.Single.Thing as you try to set it up, meaning I quickly decided it would drive me totally nuts before I got anything useful out of it. While there’s also a similar feature within Microsoft Word, since Microsoft Office decided adopted the subscription model, I no longer have a copy and so cannot comment. Adobe Reader also has a ‘Speak Out Loud’ feature, but it is horrendously slow and, as I could find no option to amend the speed, it was also rejected. Finally, I tested the ‘Read Aloud’ extension to Google Chrome using the ‘Simple Text to Speech’ option, and it wasn’t at all bad. The major drawback being once that it starts to read, there’s no option to pause or annotate the file as you go.

The only other software option I found worthy of further note was Natural Reader. Like Edit Out Loud, it has a number of membership options, including an entirely free version. Of note, one of the premium membership options offers natural voices, and the sample readings provided do sound a lot easier on the ear when compared with the digital voice options available in Edit Out Loud. The cost for the natural voice option was $19/month or $119 annually at the time of writing. One drawback for me, is that Natural Reader didn’t cope well with hyphens, and my favourite ellipses absolutely mystifies it. However, if computer-generated voices drive you to distraction, this option may be worth considering, if your budget will stretch to it.

The outcome of my trial is that I’ve deleted all the trialled options, with the sole exception of Edit Out Loud. At the ideal price-point (free), there were enough learnings gained for me to decide it’s worthwhile using as a quick and easy editing tool.

I hope you find this helpful – please do share you experience with this (or similar) software, or add your own suggestions below in the comments.

© Debra Carey, 2020



#SecondThoughts: Characters and transition to other media

Debs and I first met through a bookclub.  Fairly regularly, but not at the end of every meeting, we would round things off by playing the “who should play the main characters in the film?” game.  Sometimes it would be fairly clear cut, with consensus achieved within a name or two.  Sometimes, it was much harder.  Now that Debs and I are working on a shared writing project, sometimes the only way to match up what a certain character looks like is to think of who would play them in the film or TV series.  For me, the easiest character to cast in this setting is Cledwyn Cadwallader, better known to his friends as Tinkerbell.  No spoilers here, but the mental image I have is Brian Cox (the actor, not the musician/physicist), and Billy Blind started out in my head as being some sort of cross between Sid James and Dick Van Dyke, although I think now I would like to see Toby Jones in the role (although I’m not sure Debs and I have yet reached a consensus on this!).  Some of the other characters have been harder to place, and from time to time, impressions change.  Jack Runward, despite being one of the key characters for kicking off the story in my head was quite hard to think about.  I had a flash of recognition when rewatching the 2011 film version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  There is a scene early on when Jim Prideaux (played by Mark Strong) is walking down a street in a town in the then Czechoslavakia.  It is possibly a trick of the camera work, but there is a quality to the way that Prideaux/Strong walks down the street, apparently unhurriedly, but such that he is moving deceptively quickly.  For me, this mapped perfectly to a description of Jack that Debs wrote, and suddenly I could see Strong playing Jack.  I think the only failure that we have had is Michaela: she has proven very difficult to cast, for a variety of reasons.

Getting the casting right, so to speak, is easy when you are able to cast anyone you like, but of course if there is one adaptation, then there might well be others, including stage adaptations.   Google estimates that at least 43 people have played Sherlock Holmes in various adaptations.  Basil Rathbone is the one that I grew up with (repeats, repeats), but I think Jeremy Brett was possibly one of, if not the best.  Still, Michael Caine in ‘Without A Clue’ gives a solid and completely appropriate performance (even if he is really Reginald Kincaid, an actor hired by Dr Watson).  We can also look to Willy Wonka: there are two very different performances, one by Gene Wilder and the other by Johnny Depp.  Neither are the Wonka of the book, so a definitive portrayal is still to be given, but both acted the role in a way which fit with the adaptation that was being made.

When multiple adaptations are made, sooner or later there will be some casting decision that will cause furore amongst those with an emotional investment in the story.  For example, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the stage play based around the children of many of the main characters, saw Hermione being played by a black actress.  JK was quick to support the decision, commenting that nowhere in the books does it say that Hermione is black or white.  But that, as they say, is another story.  Except for one slight digression, if you’ll permit me.   I went to see the new production of Oklahoma last year at the Chichester Festival Theatre, and it was an excellent.  The casting had been done ‘blind’: I don’t know if they had done anything in terms of seeing if the actors gelled at all, but they filled the roles with the best actors that auditioned regardless of any other factors. But I can’t help wondering about this, because whilst two of the key characters were black, none of the chorus were, and I couldn’t help feeling that this was a mistake. Further, the black actors played Jud Fry and Laurey, which added an unexpected, perhaps even unwelcome dimension to their relationship.  We need more diversity in story telling and in the dramatisation of those stories.  We also don’t want particular plays to become bastions of racism because you ‘can’t cast that actor in that role’.  But there does need to be some thought to the whole picture that is being presented. Diversity is not having two actors, out of a cast of fifty or so, not looking like the rest.  /Rant.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently with the announcement of the new BBC America series, The Watch, based on the characters and back story of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.  The novels (Guards! Guards!, Men-At-Arms, Feet of Clay, The Fifth Elephant, Jingo, Night Watch, Thud!, Snuff) are some of my favourites.  The casting announcements and some of the pictures coming out of the production have been quite divisive amongst the fan base.  There are some raised eyebrows and much profanity on social media, at one end of the spectrum, and soothing noises and interest in the interpretation at the other.  For myself, with every announcement, I’m moving more to a position of ‘I’ll take a look, but this is not Terry Pratchett’s City Watch’.   Leaving aside issues with story-line that has been revealed so far, there are one or two decisions, which individually could have been made to work. Many of the roles have been selected through gender-neutral casting, including, for example, Anna Chancellor who is to play Lord Vetinari.  This I can imagine working, and could be convinced by, although Charles Dance was near definitive in this role in the Sky adaptations of several Discworld stories.  On the other hand, I think they have not only got the casting completely wrong for Lady Sybil Ramkin, but have missed an opportunity.  Lady Sybil is of an age with Sam Vimes, whom she marries in due course, is robust and Rubenesque, and has little interest in current affairs, being more interested in breeding dragons.  She went to a jolly hockey-sticks kind of private school.  Imagine Ruth Jones (Nessa in Gavin and Stacey) chanelling Joanna Lumley.  Instead we get someone who is much younger than Vimes, slim, and is apparently some kind of vigilante.

I also find myself deeply disappointed in the treatment of Cheery (later Cheri) Littlebottom.  Pratchett had an excellent grasp of narrative and cliche, and subverted them wherever possible.  He also did his best to scotch stereotypes and reveal the humanity in all his characters, even the ‘baddies’.  With the little information I have, it feels like BBC America have tried to make things easy on themselves by removing any species that makes life a bit difficult for the props/sfx department.  So Cheery is now human.  They’ve tried to deal with this by making the character non-binary.  Cheery had her own prejudices to overcome, and whilst there are those who would argue that it’s great that this issue is being addressed, I can’t help feeling that it’s being done in a cheap and ultimately limited way.

It’s difficult to know how the series will play out without seeing the actors in action, but from the simple perspective of the stories, it’s already a disaster.  The characterisations will be a mixed bunch, with several characters apparently edited out, some miscast (IMO), and others moving amongst an unconvincing set, in ‘the wrong’ costumes…

The chances of The November Deadline transitioning to either the big or small screen are quite small, but the conversations that I have had with Debs have been useful for driving the writing forward, and have helped keep us consistent.

How about you?  Do you ever play the ‘who would play that role in the film?’?  Have you ever been disappointed in a piece of casting?

© David Jesson, 2020

#FlashFiction: Project Gutenberg

Indian Summer

Leaning against the rail, Ivy felt a trickle of sweat make its way down her spine. Although the early evening temperature was considerably less than that at midday when they’d docked, she was grateful for the slight breeze from being underway once more. She couldn’t linger long, for it would soon be time to freshen up before dressing for dinner.

Musing with an affectionate smile over the care Jonathan had taken to warn her not to be shocked at the advice contained in that delightful letter from Valerie, Ivy ruefully admitted how much gratitude she felt towards someone she’d not met. Tucked into the same envelope as one of Jonathan’s regular missives, it had expressed how much Valerie was looking forward to meeting Ivy – but the most welcome part of it had been the clothing advice, that on undergarments in particular.

She’d mistakenly believed her wardrobe from that long Indian Summer when she’d met Jonathan would stand her in good stead for the journey. Nevertheless, she’d acted upon Valerie’s advice, and her suffering had been considerably less than that of her fellow travellers as a result. A number of the ladies had been most unwell on the journey, with fainting becoming an almost everyday occurrence. Indeed Alice, the young lady who shared Ivy’s cabin, was suffering horribly with heat rash. She’d been especially distressed at the thought her husband would see her looking so defaced after their long months apart, so Ivy had felt moved to share Valerie’s excellent advice. She was pleased to see Alice had received a package at their last stop, and hoped she’d be sufficiently recovered before reaching their final destination.

Smiling as she strolled along the deck, Ivy recalled that early September day. The weather had been simply glorious, unseasonably warm and sunny. Eleanor had suggested they walk to the river, for while the hostel had a small patch of grass at the back, it was crammed with bodies, each vying for space to enjoy the sun on their bodies. On their return, they’d found him standing by the open front door, chatting to one of the men. Eleanor had given a shriek of delight, before running to hug him. As she made the introductions, Jonathan’s face had broken into a broad, friendly smile. Ivy remembered chiding herself later that evening for behaving like a silly romantic, but couldn’t pretend her heart hadn’t given quite the lurch.

They’d fitted a lot of living into that Indian summer. Jonathan would arrive from his digs early every morning carrying fresh bread rolls from the local bakery. Pouring himself a mug of tea, he’d spread the rolls with thick layers of butter and jam, having arrived laden down with jam from the family estate, much to Eleanor’s glee. After they’d served lunch at the hostel, he’d turn up with a picnic basket and drag them away for a proper break. The basket contained all kinds of little treats his careful questioning had established Ivy liked, not just things he knew would please Eleanor. He’d taken them to pretty riverside pubs, persuaded them to watch a film or two, and always made them laugh. When he’d gone, Ivy realised she didn’t just miss the fun and the laughter, she missed him. After envelopes with matching handwriting arrived for them both, she’d sat with a foolish grin on her face reading that he felt the same way.

Ivy’s family had taken to him right away, but there’d been a fair old to-do with his parents. Through it all, Eleanor had insisted her brother was made of stern stuff – and so it turned out. They’d plans to get married on Jonathan’s next leave home, but in the meantime, Ivy was going to Egypt. He’d found her somewhere suitable to live and lined up a job for her, helping a retired diplomat writing his memoirs. Ivy was looking forward to getting to know Egypt, the Embassy routine, to meet his friends, and to reassure everyone still in doubt that this was the future they both wanted.

© Debra Carey, 2020


The Blue Behemoth

Tophe straightened up and wiped his hands on an oily rag.  In these strange times, he’d been lucky to have a project to work on.  He could have easily filled his whole time with this, but he’d tried not to let it become all consuming.  There were still exams to pass, after all.  He’d had tentative plans for the summer hols, volunteering in Africa, but the current situation had put the kibosh on that.  There was still time for that, other summers.  For now, he was working to a deadline.

He’d found the VW campervan completely by accident, several years before.  It had been chocked up in a field, between two villages, quietly mouldering.  Out for a long cycle ride to get some peace and quiet, he would probably have missed it completely if he hadn’t glanced over his shoulder in preparation for overtaking a car pulled in at the side of the road.

The little scene had gone into his brain, and lodged somewhere.  He hadn’t really thought about, not in an active way, but it had clearly stuck, and been reinforced by repeated exposure.  From then on, every time he cycled that route, his eye unconsciously sought out the rusting vehicle.

The plan had come upon him unexpectedly when he was home for Christmas, and he’d talked to his parents about it.

“Oh yes, I know the van you mean.  I’m surprised the council haven’t taken it away.  There are rules about abandoned vehicles” his father had said.

“Do think you could get it back on the road?”  His mother had been more practical.

“Yes.  But I’m not really sure how much it will cost.  It might need a new engine for example.  And given that it’s been a few years, it will definitely need new tyres.”

“I tell you what dear, you go and work out what the worst case will be, and we’ll have a think.”

He’d already spent a little time on the internet, looking at other people’s projects, now he set to work and started thinking about everything that could go wrong, what tools he would need what he might need help with.  It was a more than a little daunting.

What he didn’t know was that whilst he’d been doing all this research, his parents had been doing their own.  They were under no illusions.  This was a big project.  But Tophe had been throwing himself into his studies (not that they would be of much use here), and he was clearly determined in his plans for the future.  Even if the whole thing was completely unfeasible, surely it would be good experience?

In the end, it was Tophe’s godfather who settled the matter.  A high-powered lawyer, he’d been a soldier in the Territorial Army since university.  It was not something that he tended to talk about too much, but he’d just hit 60 and had to retire.  When he’d popped over for a visit between Christmas and the New Year, he’d talked of finding a new project to work on.  It turned out that he was surprisingly knowledgeable about cars and engines and no sooner had the van been mentioned than he was practically dragging Tophe out to the Aston Martin, to go and have a look.

By the same evening, various people had been called and arrangements made.  It was by no means a done deal by the time that Tophe had gone back to halls, but he talked to his godfather and his parents every day.  By the end of January, everything was set.  Tophe headed home straight after his last lecture on the Friday and on the Saturday was there to help get the broken down campervan on the back of pick-up truck, and deposited in a barn-like outbuilding in one corner of his godfather’s land.

What was left of the paintwork was a faded-blue, and his brother Jonno, on a visit, had dubbed it the Blue Behemoth, and the name stuck.

And then there had been the threat of lockdown.  The word ‘unprecedented’ had become stale through over-use, and eventually his university had moved to online teaching and all but told everyone to go home.  It had been decided that he would go and stay with his godfather, allowing him to work on the VW campervan in his spare time, of which there was rather a lot.

Today was the day.  Lockdown was over, and the family he’d been talking to on video were coming over to see what he’d done.  He walked round to the front and turned the key in the ignition.  The engine rumbled to life and he went back round to the engine, watching and listening intently.  Everything seemed to be working perfectly.  The van had been repainted and was now a deep, luxuriant blue, a behemoth revitalised.  He’d worked on the interior, too.  Everything was clean and well appointed.

“Hey, there he is”



There was a babble of excited voices as his parents, Jonno, and his littlest brother Tom were shown in by his godfather, who was saying “Yes, it has turned out rather well, hasn’t it?”.

He turned off the engine, hugged them all, and showed them what he had been up to.  Tom was wide-eyed with wonder; Jonno was trying to play it cool, and very nearly succeeding.

“She really is a Blue Behemoth now” Jonno said.

“Happy birthday, little brother” Tophe said, holding up the keys, with a twinkle in his eye.

Jonno’s jaw dropped.  Tophe showed him how he’d fitted out the back of the vehicle so that it could be filled with art supplies, or used to transport Jonno’s work, and tactfully ignored the tears at the corner of his brother’s eyes.

Later, over a beautiful birthday cake, his godfather had asked him if he’d like to work on another project together.

“I know a chap whose got a classic car rusting away in his garage.  Can’t have moved in 30 years, at least.   What do you think?  It would be a shame to let all this equipment we’ve put together go to waste!”

Tophe wasn’t a social media influencer, yet, but his blog and his YouTube videos had made him a little money on the side, not enough to cover all the costs of rebuilding the van, but these had been taken care of.  He’d planned to use his savings, but his elders had forbidden this, and made the arrangements themselves.  So, he still had some money in the bank.  Africa still beckoned.

© David Jesson, 2020

Post your story on your site and link to it here in the comments below, or drop us a line via the contact us page and we’ll post it for you.


#FF Prompt – Project Gutenberg

I can’t remember now exactly what gave me the idea for plundering the titles of the recent additions to Project Gutenberg for prompt ideas, but I can remember that Debs took some persuading to add it to our list, and was reluctant right up to the point that it actually went live.  She soon came round thought and now we see this as very much a Fiction Can Be Fun USP.


This is a deceptively simple #FlashFiction prompt but does require some active choice on your part…

To select your prompt, go to the Recent Books section of the Project Gutenberg website. Pick a book whose title makes you go ‘ooooh I know what I want to write about …’ and there you have it – your #FlashFiction prompt for this month.

Do have a good browse while you’re there – you could find even more reads to add to your massive TBR lists – and all at no cost!


Word count: 500-750 words
Deadline: 8 am GMT on Sunday 14th June 2020

Don’t forgot, if you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page.

A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line.  

Two caveats if you want to go down this route: if you want to retain the copyright, then you will need to state this, and this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.