Unveiling ‘Losing Kui’: the story of the story, or how writers need good editors

Losing Kui -Final

Cover: Kathleen Collins Howell




I am trusting that this is the final version of this novella. But then with stories you never do know. It’s  both the pleasure and the pain of e-publishing: you can tinker with your text until the end of time, re-posting the updated versions. I anyway have a tendency to re-make earlier works: putting them into new forms, re-shaping them for different audiences and purposes.  With this story, though, only length and title have changed, oh yes, and  in this final version I have started at a different point from two earlier versions.

The first published version came out in 2008, in the  Nov/Dec issue of Cicada, a US literary magazine for teens to adults. The title then was El Nino and the Bomb. For those of you writers who do not know  about Carus Publishing/Cricket Magazine Group (founded by Marianne Carus in 1973 and “won more awards than any other children’s publisher”) you can find out more HERE. If you are learning your craft as a writer or illustrator, and have an interest in children’s and teen publishing, then you can learn a lot from these magazines. The general ethos is multicultural, and each  title – Babybug, Ladybug, Spider, Cricket, Cicada caters for a specific age group, thus nurturing a life-time’s habit of good reading.


Cricket Feb 2001 vol 28 no 6;  Art: Ann Strugnell


Cicada have published a number of my short stories over the years, works that started off as 5,000-word entries for adult short story competitions. This was how Losing Kui began, although back in the early 2000s the title was Material Days. In this form it was short-listed in  Carve Magazine’s Raymond Carver Short Story  Contest. The then editor, Melvin Sterne, sent me a very sweet email, saying he was sorry that it did not make it to that year’s anthology. 

I still like the Material Days title, although it perhaps means more to me that to anyone else. When I was living in Kenya it was a phrase I read often in newspaper crime reports. At the time it chimed with my sense of indignation at the then government: the way it abused its people, and the poverty it so wilfully inflicted upon them.

And so, spurred on by Melvin Sterne’s email, and still nursing that sense of indignation over the state of things in East Africa (a situation that Great Britain and other donor nations have long had a hand in), I began an expanded version of the story with the idea of submitting it for Cicada’s novella slot. They accepted it too, although there was a wait of several years before it was actually published. In that long interval I was fortunate to work with Cicada’s then Senior Editor, Tracy C  Schoenle, and Executive Editor, Deborah Vetter. I learned a lot from their thoughtful and  respectful editing.


Cicada Nov/Dec 2008 vol 11 no: 2.  Art: Home by Eamonn Donnelly


But there was a bigger lesson in store than seeing how best to trim excess words, or make meaning sharper. It was Marianne Carus, Editor in Chief, who was responsible for a major change in the story. She suggested, very delicately, that I had left the protagonist  Kui in too bleak a place and wondered if I might consider a more positive ending. At first I huffed to myself: I liked my ending. But then once I was over my fit of writer’s pique, I knew she was right. The last third of the story was thus written in response to Ms Carus’s comment. I remember it flowed out at some speed, as if my subconscious had also known that I had not finished the story. 

Time of course had passed by then, and I wasn’t quite so angry. Instead of hopelessness (relieved by elements of dark comedy) I saw possibilities for redemption; my characters began to take charge of their lives, and rise above their misfortunes. And that was the moment when I truly understood just how much writers can learn if they have the chance to work with a good editor.

More recently when I was working on cover ideas with my good friend, and illustrator Kathleen Collins Howell (Associate Professor of Art, Emeritus SUNY at Buffalo), I also began to see the story in quite a new way. I suddenly understood that the lost child Kui represents something far bigger than her own self. She is far from home, frightened and abused and yet…and yet…

Here’s the blurb:

Things are going from bad to worse in Ingigi village. No one knows why five-year old Kui has gone missing. Nor does Sergeant Njau want to find out. He has his own problems, pressing matters that are far from legal. Then there is the endless rain. Will it never stop? Some Ingigi folk think it means the end of the world. Old man, Winston Kiarie, has other ideas. He senses some man-made disaster, and when it happens, it is worse than his worst imaginings. The fierce storms are causing landslides and throwing up British bombs, unexploded for forty years. Their discovery is giving the Assistant Chief ideas: how to make himself very rich. And then there’s young Joseph Maina and the primary school drop-outs thinking they have found treasure, and about to do something very, very foolish. Meanwhile, is anyone looking for Kui?

Losing Kui -Final


Losing Kui by Tish Farrell

Out on Amazon Kindle

Available also on ePub Bud for Nook, iPod/iPhone etc HERE 

Frizz’s tagged ‘U’ for more bloggers’ stories

44 thoughts on “Unveiling ‘Losing Kui’: the story of the story, or how writers need good editors

  1. You are spot on in your assertion about e- publishing: the pleasure and the pain.

    I found that my writing has changed over the past few years; as I edge toward maturity (the gods forbid 🙂 )

    Several sections of my book were rewritten for the e-version and on reflection I am glad. What I thought were “…such great lines” in the print version were maybe not so great after all.

    Although a novel is a reflection of the times and should be judged on this I often wonder about the appeal of a writer such as Virginia Woolf, whose prose I am sure were a mirror of her chronic depression and eventual suicide and what little I have read of her is so “heavy” .

    1. Yes, some writers do have more staying power than others re both style and content. I remember more of a struggle with Woolf than pleasure. But as to one’s own writing – I’m not sure whether the power to able to keep tinkering with it is good or not. It means we’ll be tempted to update, rather than to let the work stay, as you say, a reflection of its time. Interesting dilemma, Ark – to add to the other few dozen.

      1. Pratchett made note of this ‘reflection of the times’ in the re-issue of one of his novels: one of the Johnny series, which contained several references to things kids would likely be unaware of, including a reference to a time sans mobile phones and a mosh pit and heavy metal!

        I am pleased to hear someone else say they found Woolf a struggle. I thought it was just the Neanderthal in me.
        Why is it such novels/writers are so often considered must reads?
        I know Virginia Woolf is credited as being “…one of the foremost British authors of the twentieth century,” yet I, like you, found her a real struggle.

        Another thought on tinkering….didn’t Joyce change his work frequently? And Homer took ten( ?) years to complete the Illiad.
        Maybe we are in good company after all! lol….

    1. Celestine, that is such a lovely thing to say, and you really do not need to thank me. I think I’ve possibly set myself the (unasked for) task of doing my bit to unpick colonial creep which, despite what people outside Africa may think, still seems to hold fast in many unfortunate ways across the continent.

  2. Enjoyed reading about the evolution of your novel. I love the cover. And the excerpt is certainly enticing! Good luck Tish.

  3. hi Tish, unveiling the long way of your publishing levels the favorite song of my English teacher (R.I.P.) came into my mind: “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”

    1. It does indeed feel like a long way, Frizz. A long and winding road, in fact, with this and just about all my work. One needs stout footwear and good knees 🙂

  4. Congratulations, Tish! The Carus Publishing group has been instrumental in bringing the work of many writers and illustrators, known and unknown, to a wide audience of children, my own included. I’m happy to say that I have also benefited from their excellent editors and learned valuable writing lessons along the way. Hope you have many more stories to share. I’m off to download your kindle version!

    1. Thank you for your very encouraging words, HW. Sometimes I think one can talk too much about the writing process, but perhaps when it deals with the actual happenings, it can be useful – for me that is 🙂

  5. Very interesting to learn how your story has evolved. And it’s indeed interesting how different e-published stories exists compared to stories published in a traditional way. And you own process shows so much of how one should approach creativity. It’s so easy to dig oneself deep down and defend what maybe in the end isn’t the best solution.

    1. Thank you for this thoughtful comment. Otto. The interesting thing about e-publishing is that it lets you take control of your work. Making yourself visible to the reading public though is a whole new challenge though.

  6. Hi Tish, I find your post so informational as you share your e-publishing experience. I couldn’t agree with you more, writers indeed need good editors. All the best with your book.

  7. I’m glad that you had such a wonderful experience with your editor. A good writer editor should be a hand in glove relationship. Wishing you all the best with your book.

  8. It’s hard to stop tinkering with stories. I’ve heard of Cicada. Nice to hear that the editors are so dedicated and hard-working. Congrats on getting published there (even though it was a few years ago) and on your novella being published.

  9. Two points. (I usually then go on to make three)

    One, picking up what Ark says – and not on Woolf – about tinkering. I often think first drafts can be better. Sometimes fiddling can lose the initial spontaneity and for little or no added value.

    Two, the author/editor relationship is such a delicate balance. Editors need to be diplomatic in suggesting changes, not inflict their own style, and say exactly what they are going to do as part of the editing process. But equally so, authors need to be aware of what they are contracting for (I’m talking outwith publishing houses and in-house editors here) and realise that it is a two-way process. Authors need to decide what they want an editor to do for them, and make sure they employ accordingly.

    It’s a difficult balance finding a good editor, who does what you think you want, makes suggestions you hadn’t thought of, and with whom you can enjoy a good working relationship. It’s no good getting on with someone if they don’t do a good job, eg I know of a few people who have been asked to ‘edit’ books by friends, but it’s no good having a good editor if you hate their guts 😀 although that’s possibly the slightly preferable option out of the two.

    I am always saddened when I see self-pub books that have been edited and are full of mistakes. Not just basic proofing ones, although those are irritating too, but fairly simple editing ones. On the up side, plenty of people do find an editor they are happy with and establish a good working relationship.

    1. Lots of sound thoughts here, RS. I’m lucky now to have a lovely editor at Ransom for the quick teen reads. It helps when you both have the same objectives for the work. Bigger publishing house editors often have accountants breathing down their necks which can create an altogether less pleasant agenda. But in the end, so much of publishing is a lottery.

      1. Have to say I enjoy polishing a diamond, rather than cutting, or worse re-cutting it. I want to make a book sparkle by dusting off those missed little bits and making it gleam perfectly. Sorry, bit over the top with the metaphor, but it is rewarding to be able to make a decent book into a professional product.

        I think you are right about the accountants too. I know I do more read throughs than would be acceptable, but I can afford the time, and it’s my name that goes down as editor, so my reputation too. I think the difficulty for self-pubs who are truly independent is finding decent people, whether it is editors, proofreaders (if the editor doesn’t do the final read), graphic designers, formatters, publicists… Sometimes word of mouth and recommendation works – but not always. I’ll say to some people, if I read their book full of mistakes ‘get an editor, I don’t care if you don’t use me, but do yourself a favour and get one’. Maybe slightly more subtle, but it is so disappointing to see such poor quality work out there. Even moreso, when people offer a free book as an incentive and it is so amateurish. It leaves me scratching my head. I go ballistic when I find one typo in work I publish, let alone something full of them. /rant 😀

    1. Yes, that is an extraordinary inside view, isn’t it. A very different ‘feel’ from the Hollywood finished product. Do you know Powell and Pressburger’s other films. Favourites of mine are ‘I know where I’m going’ set on a Scottish island in b & w. And ‘A Canterbury Tale’ set in England’s Kent countryside during WW2. Both romances in the fullest sense of the word, but much more besides.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.