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Working with Me

Find out a bit more about who I am, my background, and the values, principles and aspirations I bring to working with writers. Further down this section you can read some recommendations, and see examples of books I’ve helped along recently.

About me


I’ve worked with writers all my professional life. I started out in literary agencies, where I learned how to dig for the potential in story ideas, get manuscripts into saleable shape and support authors through all the ups and downs of a commercial writing career.

After an intense decade in London publishing I moved to Scotland, where I did a lot of freelance work, including talking about books on the radio, reviewing for the national press, editing for independent publishers and mentoring for the Scottish Book Trust New Writers’ scheme. In 2008 I was hired, along with former 2000AD editor David Bishop, to design a new Creative Writing MA for Edinburgh Napier University.

The MA we launched was pretty unusual: we put genre fiction at the heart of the course, replaced the usual peer-critique workshops with individual mentoring, and learned how to invent new teaching methods. Described by The Times as ‘a radical departure in creative writing’ and by students as ‘a life changing experience’ the MA now has an international reputation, recruiting aspiring novelists from all over the world. I also collaborated with the wonderful Nicole Peeler at Seton Hill University near Pittsburgh, on a new joint postgraduate programme in Writing Popular Fiction.

I love teaching — but after nine years of full-time academia, I felt it was time to do things differently.

This consultancy gives me the freedom to work directly with writers wherever they are and whatever their circumstances; to stick with them for as little or long a time as it takes to get to where they need to be, and to focus wholly on their work and on the unique development journey of each potential book.

I’m based in Blackford in the south of Edinburgh, which is a perfect spot for rambling around on breaks between manuscripts. When I’m not there, I can be found volunteering in Leith with the amazing Super Power Agency, working with writers’ groups and community projects around Scotland and giving all sorts of workshops.

There are some testimonials and examples below, but if you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you! If you’d like to talk about your work and see if I can help, contact me and I’ll be in touch as soon as I can.

My philosophy


  • Purpose
    The feedback I give is grounded in my understanding of your individual purpose and creative ambitions, not based on abstract, generalised rules.
  • Dialogue
    My work is a process of collaborative enquiry and inventive problem-solving. It’s about potential, not correction.
  • Development
    I want you to leave not just with a better book, but also as a more confident, technically informed and self-sufficient creative practitioner.
  • Challenge
    Aiming for breakthroughs means a mutual commitment to tackling big questions.
  • Pleasure
    From the fun of energetic conversation to the satisfaction of measuring your progress, what I do is designed to increase your lifelong enjoyment of your work.
 

Comments / Questions / Chat?
If you’re interested in the ideas here, I’d love to hear from you.

Quick Q & A


Who is this for?

I can help all writers, from tentative beginners, to professionals looking for a mid-career boost, and anyone in between.

What kind of writing do you work with?

My specialism is working on full-length narrative, across all aspects of idea development, technical decision making and artistic expression. Over the last twenty or so years I’ve worked with every kind of author there is — when it comes to telling a good story, my curiosity and enthusiasm are pretty universal! But here are a few types of project I particularly love:

Novels:

  • Crime, mystery or detective fiction: particularly if it features a non-traditional sleuth.
  • Science fiction, speculative fiction or fantasy: especially if comes with an awesome high concept, complicated worldbuilding challenges and powerful ethical / political / emotional aims.
  • Any novel which expands the range of lived experiences represented in commercial fiction. Diverse ethnicities, LGBTQ+ and characters with disabilities are all extremely welcome.
  • Experiments: of any genre, or none — if it hasn’t been done quite that way before, I’d love to help it happen!

Non-fiction, particularly:

  • Memoir based narratives with a strong social justice agenda. Stories that need to be heard.
  • Narratives driven by original research — the more unusual, the better!

What if I’m just a bit stuck and need some instant, free advice?

Be my guest! Email the Agony Column or suggest a topic for the Blog, and I’ll see what I can do. Keep an eye on the Events & Resources page too, and look out for free drop-in sessions — these will be occurring in Edinburgh and maybe even further afield in the coming months.

More questions? Get in touch, and I’ll be happy to answer them!

Testimonials


The manuscript review I had with Sam was of huge benefit. Sam was able to locate and give guidance on core structural issues with the novel that have cleared a path for me to resolve them. Based on this advice, I am confident of being able to undertake a rewrite that will deliver on my intentions and ambition for the novel. In essence, an hour spent with Sam can save months of work writing material that will not make the final cut because the core structure and plot is underdeveloped. I hold my hand up to that crime, and I’m grateful to have seen the light. These sessions are not only transformative for the current novel I’m working on, but the expertise gained will be used in future novels.

Stuart Tanner, manuscript assessment client

Sam was my mentor for two years during my MA. In this time I drafted two novels, including Truestory. Sam had the ability to see a novel in its entirety, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses and then asking precise questions to enable me to make it as good as it could be. She was highly motivating and stretched me as a writer.  I would recommend working with Sam to any writer who is serious about improving their work.

Catherine Simpson, author of Truestory (Sandstone Press, 2015) represented by Joanna Swainson, Hardman & Swainson

I recently engaged Sam to examine the first draft of my novel. I was not only impressed by her diligence and timeliness, but also by her insight. Her commentary was incisive and thorough and has greatly helped me improve my work. If you are looking for a careful, intelligent assessment of your writing, I recommend Sam without hesitation.

Peter Hormel, manuscript assessment client

The work I did with Sam on my first novel went way beyond the page. No matter what level we worked on, be it language, structure or concept, her insights were about more than showing me what worked and what didn’t — they got down to the heart of my creativity and decision making. I saw my work and myself more objectively, and left every session with a better book and a better sense of professional purpose. She gave me the tools to think with discipline and accountability, in a way that allowed me to innovate meaningfully.

Sam is the person who helped me professionalise my writing. She’s trained me in craft and technique where so many others preached to me on the nebulous ideals of ‘talent’ and ‘instinct’. I owe my current success to her commitment, enthusiasm and technical acumen.

Errol Rivera, co-author of the Ministry of Time series (forthcoming; three-book deal with Bastei Lübbe)

I’d had lots of positive comments from agents about my novel, and a number asked to see the full manuscript, but no one had agreed to take it on. The consensus seemed to be that the plot didn’t work ― the book, as one said, was ‘not enough of a ride.’

I contacted Sam when I felt close to giving up. I wish I’d contacted her sooner! Her enthusiasm for what I am writing and her clarity about what makes a novel work has been both inspiring and a kick-up-the-arse. Her support so far has enabled me to completely re-write the first section and develop a seam in the novel that I hadn’t been feeling confident about. These changes, and the new sense of purpose I felt as a result, gave me the confidence to apply for a grant to enable me to take time out of my other responsibilities to finish the book.

There are many different forms of support a writer can get for their writing, particularly if they can scrape together the means to pay for it. Sam’s considerable experience as an agent, a tutor and an editor ― and her wide knowledge of the publishing industry ― means that she has a real understanding of what makes a novel publishable.

As a result of Sam’s support, I am now relishing the challenge of working on the book and I have a much clearer sense of direction. In addition, her enthusiasm, her clarity and insight, her no-messing approach and her sense of humour mean that I really look forward to our meetings.

Kate Tregaskis, development editing client

Since starting mentoring with Sam, I have noticed a huge improvement in my writing skills and practise. Her experience and insight means she is able to ask exactly the right questions, and make the right suggestions, to get the very best out of me.

Working with Sam, I have produced some of the best writing of my career and I would not hesitate to recommend her guidance to writers at any stage of their development. I genuinely look forward to each session – not only do I get a lot out of it, Sam makes each meeting a lot of fun.

Melissa Hugel, mentoring client

Examples


Here are some examples of books I’ve helped along recently: three wonderful novels which were all developed using the methods I created for the Edinburgh Napier Creative Writing MA, before being taken on by agents and sold to commercial publishers.

Goblin by Ever Dundas

Goblin
Ever Dundas

Winner of the Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award 2017
Wasp By Ian Garbutt

Wasp
Ian Garbutt

Truestory by Catherine Simpson

Truestory
Catherine Simpson