Reading aloud in Microsoft Word

We read our stories aloud, and can’t recommend it enough to other writers.

No matter how many times you read something on the screen, you will always pick up extra problems reading aloud. Awkward sentence construction, words that don’t fit, repetitive sentences and other issues. Even so, we still read what we expect to read, so sometimes we miss glaringly obvious bloopers, particularly words that don’t belong.

For example, until the second edit, the first sentence above was (my emphasis):

We read the our stories aloud

That’s why we love it when our mother comes visiting and takes part in the read-throughs, for she reads every word.

Alas, she’s gone home now and we’re looking for alternatives.

One such alternative is the ‘Speak selected text’ function in Microsoft Word.

‘Speak selected text’ works well for finding words that shouldn’t be there, and really well to show pacing.

How it works

Use Andrew Gordon’s You Tube video How to enable Text To Speech in Microsoft Word 2010 to add the ‘speak selected text’ button to your Quick Access toolbar. You only have to do this once. Once it’s on the toolbar, it stays there.

Then, highlight the text you want read aloud, and click on the ‘speak selected text’ button. Voila, spoken words.

Some things we have learned

It works better in Windows 8 than it does in Windows 7. Our desktop PCs are Windows 7 and some words are spoken normally but some are spoken really fast. It’s quite strange. Windows 8.1 is lovely. Both our laptops are Windows 8.1.

Also, with Windows 8.1 you have a choice of three narrators. One male, two female (David and Hazel), and one of the females (Zira) has a British accent. With Windows 7 you only have one female narrator.

You can change the Narration settings in the control panel to make the reader faster or louder, or change the pitch.

Speak selected text has helped identify out-of-place words, but it also helps with misplaced commas. The narrator pauses at every comma.

The only weirdness you have to accept is the way the names are pronounced. I’ve gotten used to Ean being ‘Een’, but I can’t wait to hear what the narrator is going to do with Tinatin.

Posted in Microsoft Office

So, what does your character look like?

We’re 80% of the way through our second major draft of LINESMAN 2, which has the working title of KARI WANG, named for the secondary point-of-view character.

“What does Kari Wang look like?” I ask Sherylyn.

She thinks for a moment, before she admits, “I don’t know.”

Either do I.

Some writers would shudder to be so far into the story without having a complete view of such an important character in the book. Some writers can’t start if they don’t know what their character looks like.

Not us. We know the important things that make her who she is. Like how she insists on walking even though her legs are too weak to hold her up. That she’s a captain in a military fleet, so she stands straight (when her legs will let her). That her arms are muscled and strong, because she works out on the bars. Not so her legs, which are lily-white and weak, because they’ve just given her a new pair. That her body is scarred from all the operations she’s had. That she’s good at her job.

We know what uniform she wears, for she’s part of the Nova Tahiti fleet.

But as to the colour of her eyes, or the shape of her chin, or how she cuts her hair. It’s not important to the story yet. It’s not important to anyone in the story. As a result, it’s not important to us yet.

We know she is 20mm too tall to fit comfortably under the bulkheads because that’s something we need to know.

By the time we’ve worked through another couple of drafts we’ll have a good idea of what Kari Wang looks like. We may even put some of that into the book.

We may not, either.

Posted in Characters

Talking to a linesman

Lots of fun at our house last night. Power surges, lights flickering, and blue sparks coming from seemingly everywhere.

One set of lights went out, but the rest of the power stayed on. A fuse, we thought. Then everything flickered again. And again. Another set of lights went out. But some lights were still on, as was the power. Things were starting to look bad.

Another surge. You could hear the hiss of the electricity. This time the power on the computers went out, and we could see blue sparks coming from everywhere. And we mean literally everywhere.  Under the house, even from the garage, which is timber, and half of which has been converted to guest quarters. Not only that, our mother is visiting.

We run outside where Mum has just got to sleep, and drag her inside to sleep in the front room.

We’ve just got her settled in bed when two fire engines turn up and block off the street. Red and blue flashing lights, shining right into the room where she’s sleeping, and there’s no way she can block them out.

That lasts for two hours while the firemen work out what the problem is, and work with the electricity company to make the area safe. The firemen leave, and we’re left with the flashing orange light of the electricity company van as they fix the power lines.

At 2:00am in the morning all the lights come back on, and there’s someone with a torch at the front door.

I stagger out of bed to see what he wants.

He’s at the meter box, which is just outside the door.  “Nothing,” he says. “I’m just turning your electricity back on, and checking to be sure everything is working.”

“I’ll leave you to it then.” I go back to bed, turning off the lights as I go.

Just before I drift off to sleep I realise.  I’ve just been talking to a man whose job title is ‘linesman’.

Posted in Writing

I like it when an author takes a story in a different direction, but …

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain?

I enjoyed Big Hero 6, but there was a moment in the movie—where Hiro is turning everyone into superheroes—where I went, “What, get out of my movie. You’re spoiling it.”

The first part of the movie was everything I wanted it to be. Heartwarming, with smart, entertaining characters and a good story.

And then … Hiro takes all these great characters out of the lab and turns them into common, garden-variety superheroes.

Nooo. Disney, you didn’t need to. Couldn’t they have worked out of their lab? Couldn’t they have simply used their brains instead of putting on klutzy costumes and gimmicky weapons?

I know, of course, that was the whole point of Big Hero 6. It’s a Marvel comic. They’re superheroes. This is their origin story. But still.

That same week I received a novel I’d had on pre-order for months. I’d read the initial excerpt of the book, loved both the story and the protagonist, and was looking forward to reading more. I dived in, only to discover that a quarter of the way in the book turned into a run-of-the-mill ‘lost heir will save the kingdom’ story.

Normally, I love it when an author takes a story in a direction I’m not expecting. And half-way through a story you’ll follow where the author takes you. Most times you enjoy the ride, too.

There will be some people who adore the novel I put down three-quarters read. There will be some people for whom creating the superheroes was the best part of Big Hero 6.

I think that for me, both of these stories were going well until the writers got to where they ‘had’ to be, and then the story fell apart. “Plotline says we turn them into superheroes here. Let’s do it.” Or, “My plotline says he discovers he’s the heir to the kingdom now. Make it happen.”

To be fair to both stories, I don’t think either of them were badly done. It was more that the stories were chugging along nicely, entertaining and refreshing. Then suddenly they seemed to be pulled back into the mundane.

This particular reader/viewer found it jarring.

Posted in Technique

Things I wish I’d written in 2014

My annual shameless plug of other authors’ work, and why. These are things I read in 2014. Note that the books weren’t necessarily published this year, I just read them for the first time in 2014.

There are minor spoilers below.

Best cover

Ancillary Justice, Anne Leckie

I loved the cover. Interestingly, it’s not Sherylyn’s favourite, and while we were looking at covers in bookstores around the time our own was being designed, most of the booksellers here in Australia said it didn’t attract attention at all.

MistbornBest creature

I wanted to choose ancillaries, from Anne Leckie’s Imperial Radch series. They’re dead(ish) humans, thawed out and controlled by an AI.

But no-one could call Breq anything but human.

My second-favourite creatures were the mistwraiths in Mistborn. And the ‘grown-up’ mistwraiths, the kandra.


The story that makes you think long after you’ve finished the book

No surprises here. This book made a lot of people think.

Ancillary Justice, Anne Leckie.

I know a lot of the talk around this book was how Leckie dealt with gender, which was refreshing and well done, but I got used to that very early. For me, the thing I loved about the book was how she took a truly repulsive regime and turned it into something sympathetic. I mean, the Radch destroyed whole races, they took people and effectively killed them, storing their bodies in deep freeze, then thawing them out and plugging them into a computer brain as required.

Biggest surprise book (most unexpected)

Fuzzy Nation, John Scalzi

I like John Scalzi’s books. They’re clever, they’re fun, they’re easy reads. But for some reason,Fuzzy Nation particularly resonated. It’s good, old-fashioned science fiction with a modern twist.

And I still can’t work out if Jack Holloway was just a bad guy who did good deeds, or a good guy I didn’t really like much. Either way, it was excellent characterisation.

Books re-read

There are some books you love so much that you pick them up again and re-read them. Often more than once. Often, not long after you’re read them the first time.


Sage Blackwood’s Jinx’s Magic

I love the repartee between Simon and Jinx in the Jinx books, and the way you know, without being told, that Simon cares for Jinx. Any author who wants to study up on ‘show, don’t tell’ should check out how Blackwood does it.


Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Sword.

We both re-read Ancillary Sword. Not Ancillary Justice, which was surprising.

Looking forward to next year

Based on the above, I think you can tell that the two books I’m looking forward to most next year are

Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy


Sage Blackwood’s Jinx’s Fire.

Honorable mention

Last year, the book I was looking forward to most was

Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor

It lived up to expectations.

Posted in Books

Clothes for writing in

The first time we attempted NaNoWriMo both Sherylyn and I went out and bought ‘writing pants’. Sherylyn bought a pair of soft, cotton jersey trousers with an elasticised waist. They were grey, with a pink pattern, and they’ll double as spare pyjama pants any time. Me, I was more practical (I thought). I bought a pair of light, three-quarter length cotton trousers.

They were cheap, and the idea was to wear them over November while we did our writing sprints.

Mine lasted about three days. They had a zip and a button at the front and were not at all comfortable for sitting in for long periods. As for Sherylyn’s, she still puts them on occasionally when she’s writing because they are so, so comfortable.

We call them her Jorry pants, because that year she wrote Hero’s Apprentice, and the point-of-view character was a boy called Jorry.

Today, I got my own pair of Jorry pants.

These pants are not flattering. But Jorry pants aren’t meant to be. The trousers come just above the ankles. They’re patterned and they have an elasticised waist. When I put them on it’s like looking in one of those fun-fair mirrors that squash you up and make you look fatter than you are, and I’m not exactly svelte in the first place.

But, oh, so comfortable.

I’m ready to write.

Posted in Writing process

Linesman cover

We’re delighted to finally be able to show off our cover for LINESMAN, the first book in our brand new science fiction series. We are delighted with it. Doesn’t it look great.

The artist is Bruce Jensen.

Linesman cover

And … it’s appearing on book sites, And … it’s available for pre-order. Six months out. Yay!

Posted in Linesman

What book am I reading – answers

Answers to last week’s mini-quiz are:

I adopt a kitten this Christmas and name her Penwiper?

An oldie, but a goodie. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis.

And yes, the name does come from Jerome K. Jerome’s, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog).”

I set up an automated fireworks show (I know, permits) and let my dog press the button to start the show?

Fuzzy Nation, by John Scalzi.

I describe my new boss as, “younger than me, with hair blonder than mine, but her close-cut beard is black”?

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

While driving, my mother hits a man wearing a rabbit suit; but there’s no law against hitting rabbits, is there?

Hard Eight, by Janet Evanovich

My parents get upset with me when I turn into a snake?

Blue Dragon, by Kylie Chan. Or I’ll accept Kylie’s Red Phoenix instead if you had it.


Posted in Writing

What book am I reading?

Christmas food - Australian-styleMangoes and Australian cherries have arrived in the supermarkets in quantity. They’re dropping in price and rising in quality. You can buy trays of avocados and mangoes, big punnets of strawberries, reasonably priced peaches and nectarines.  And, of course, big tins of chocolates and lollies.

Christmas food in Australia.

It is less than three weeks to Christmas. Friends, family, holidays. Food. And more food. Work slows down (for some of us, at least).  The papers and the internet are filled with guides to presents, and holiday quizzes.

I’m starting early, doing my own pre-Christmas mini-quiz.

Mini quiz

What book am I reading if:

  1. I adopt a kitten this Christmas and name her Penwiper?
  2. I set up an automated fireworks show (I know, permits) and let my dog press the button to start the show?
  3. I describe my new boss as, “younger than me, with hair blonder than mine, but her close-cut beard is black”?
  4. While driving, my mother hits a man wearing a rabbit suit; but there’s no law against hitting rabbits, is there?
  5. My parents get upset with me when I turn into a snake?

Answers next week.

Posted in Writing

Reflecting on the sale of Linesman

The domain name renewal for* arrived the other day, reminding me that it’s been twelve months since our agent started shopping the revised version of Linesman, the one that finally sold. It didn’t sell straight away, mind. It took some months more of to’ing and fro’ing, but it’s a good time to reflect on the emotional ups and downs of selling a book.

When the “Good news … ” letter from Caitlin arrived we read it, and re-read it and finally absorbed it.

“How do you feel?” Sherylyn asked.

How did I feel? Numb, shaky, nervous even. But the overall emotion?

“Relieved,” I said, and I still felt relieved, days later.

There was none of that instant euphoria that had come when Caitlin had finally agreed to be our agent. No frantic high like those that had come as we’d had to scramble to create synopses for future books.

Just relief.

I think we had both been trying to convince ourselves that no matter how much we loved Linesman, we were unlikely to sell it.

We’d started a new book outside the Linesman universe. Self-doubt was beginning to creep in. The new book we were writing—would Caitlin even like it, let alone want to sell it? Would it be good enough for her to sell? Were we trying too hard to be funny/world build/give depth to our characters?

We still get those book highs, and sometimes they’re over the weirdest things. Like the time our agent said she needed a copy of the revisions we were making, because once it gets into PW or Locus the agency may get foreign rights enquiries and she needs the latest copy for that. The first time you see your book cover. When someone gives you a quote for your book. The first time you google your author’s name and find, high on the search list, a link to a page on

It’s been a while now, and we’re deep into book two, so it’s become part of life. But for both of us, those first few days after learning the book(s) had sold, the predominant feeling was relief.

* Why did we wait so long to purchase the domain name? It should be the first thing an author does. And we had, except that we planned on using a pseudonym. It was only after discussions with our agent, and the editor who finally bought the book, that we decided to use our own name.

fyi. We’re going through our old blog posts now, checking for broken links (or links we’re about to break). Once we’ve fixed these, we’ll move the whole A Novel Idea blog ( across to

Posted in Linesman, Writing
January 2015
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