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Separating a subject from its verb with a comma

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With very few exceptions, commas should not be inserted between the subject of a sentence and the verb.

A comma indicates a break in the sentence, and since the subject is linked to the verb (the subject carries out the action expressed in the verb), it is incorrect to separate the two by using a comma.

Writers may be inclined to insert a comma in speech because the speaker may pause at this point in the conversation. With regard to narrative, however, the insertion of a comma between the subject and the verb separates the direct link between them. This makes for awkward reading as the reader has to understand the reason for the break, and if there is one, it can spoil the flow of the sentence and then the enjoyment of what is being read.

Just to put all of this in perspective, recently, I had to proofread a novel that had already been copy-edited by one of the largest publishing companies in the world. The copy-editor persisted in placing commas between the subject and the verb.

Here are just a few examples of what I found:

Doris stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the hall, and sighed.

The pain was slowly making its way up his jawline, and was now pounding like a pneumatic drill in his temples.

She didn’t argue this time, but slipped outside the workshop and spoke with the two men waiting outside.

He felt so guilty, and vowed never to abandon his brother again.

He glared at her, but didn’t speak.

Suffice to say that in none of the above examples should the comma appear.

Useful websites


Using the adverbs any more and anymore correctly

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In the last two books I have read the adverb any more was used instead of the adverb anymore. Is this correct? Here are some examples of what I read:

I tell him I don’t want to talk any more.

She didn’t love Alexander any more.

Nobody was singing any more.

Nothing mattered, not any more.

She felt nothing for Hugh any more.

Any more and anymore have related meanings but they are not interchangeable.

Any more

We use any more as a determiner to mean an indefinite quantity of something. Any more is similar to ‘some more’ in some contexts. And any more is common in questions, in clauses with if, and in sentences with negative words such as hardly, never, and scarcely.


Do you need any more advice?
Would you like any more wine with your meal?
If you find any more stains on the carpet, will you tell me, please?
We’ve hardly had any more rain than last month.
We were never any more than good friends.


Anymore may be used as an adverb, meaning ‘no longer’ or ‘in the past but not now’, ‘still’, or ‘any longer’.


The cost of our central heating is not cheap anymore.
We don’t go abroad anymore.
He used to be a good, solid worker but not anymore.

Notice that as an adverb anymore, more often than not, comes at the end of a sentence.


Use any more when talking about quantity and use anymore when talking about time. And when using the adverb any more, ask yourself how important the word ‘any’ is. Is the word ‘any’ really necessary?

Useful websites

Dialogue in Fiction Writing 2

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The basics

For all direct speech, quotation marks are used. The central question is to decide on whether the novel will use double or single quotation marks. Once this decision has been reached, the format to use single or double quotation marks for speech within speech can be made. Use single quotation marks for a person being quoted within a sentence which contains double quotation marks and vice versa for quoted material which uses single quotation marks as the main style. A preference for double quotation marks in the main dialogue and single quotation marks for speech within speech has one advantage at least. If a sentence concludes with an apostrophe it is easier to see the possessive punctuation.

Let’s use the rules.

1 Keep punctuation within the quotation marks.

‘Good morning,’ said John. ‘How’s it going?’ [correct]

‘Good morning’, said John. ‘How’s it going’? [incorrect]

2 Use a new line for a different speaker, and even if the other speaker isn’t named, it is best to place him / her on a new line.

‘I’m off to the cinema this evening,’ Sally informed Helen.

‘That sounds nice. Can I come along?’

‘Only if you’re buying the popcorn,’ replied Sally, rather cheekily.

3 Long dialogue

Keeping the dialogue short is best, if you want it to be punchy most of the time. Where the dialogue becomes quite lengthy, you need a dialogue tag in early. Here is an example:

‘Now we are ready to start the lesson, I suggest you all listen up, if you want to pass this exam,’ Mrs McFadden said to her class. ‘Right, the relevant section is on page 134, so everyone, find it quickly, please.’

If it needs to be any longer, you omit the speech marks at the end of the first paragraph like this:

‘My father was an intellectual prig who thought he could win every time at poker, and usually he did. He had a knack for bluffing his opponents, but he really came into his own when he kept the game going so long everyone needed plenty of drinks to keep them refreshed.
‘What they didn’t realise, though, was that he was a dab hand with drugs. A chemist by profession, he was able to mix the drugs himself and slip them into his opponents’ drinks without them having a clue what was going on. The drugs would work their magic, making the players lethargic and unable to concentrate properly.’

4 The em dash and ellipsis

The em dash is useful when speech is truncated for some reason, perhaps due to an interruption by another person.

The ellipsis is also a powerful weapon for the writer, in that it can be used for pauses in conversation (and in narrative) and to show conversation trailing off at the end of a sentence. The ellipsis usually shows three equally spaced dots, with a space between the last word and the first dot and a space after the last dot and a form of punctuation. A final full stop or other form of punctuation may be used or not, depending on the writer’s choice.

‘Please, please . . . listen, I don’t want to fight, I came to . . . ’
But I thought we were meeting on Saturday . . . ?
On entering the interview room, if looks could kill . . .
‘Jenny, I’ve a house in London, a nice place. I’ll put it in your name. It was out of Ruth’s estate, and besides, I owe you half of everything—’

5 The use of flashy dialogue tags

Let me be clear. There is no rule here but the following may help. The number of alternatives to said is mind-blowing. One website which I have included on the list below ( puts forward an argument for only using the word said in the dialogue tag as the main one and argues that using alternatives distracts the reader from the story. This is the only source where I have seen this, though. Most websites suggest variation is a useful approach.

6 When things aren’t so simple

Quoting inside the main quote:

First consider whether what is quoted is a full sentence or a phrase.

A full sentence:

Sometimes you come up against a straightforward sentence in dialogue which includes the person quoting something that someone has said. Here are two ways of showing this, the British English way and the US method.

Jim said, ‘That guy Malcolm is a right card. He said to me, “You don’t want to buy that designer five-grand handbag from that shop ’cause I know a guy who can get you one that looks exactly the same for twenty quid”.’ [UK]

Jim said, ‘That guy Malcolm is a right card. He said to me, “You don’t want to buy that designer five-grand handbag from that shop ’cause I know a guy who can get you one that looks exactly the same for twenty quid.”’ [US]

The US convention would have the full stop placed inside the quotation marks (as for quoted speech) while the British English method in theory is to place them outside the quotation marks.

In my experience, however, I have not seen much evidence of the British English method being used. And it is likely that the US method would be used here simply because what is quoted is a full sentence.

When it comes to a word or phrase, though, the two methods do differ.

A word or phrase:

Where the quoted material is a word or phrase, the full stop would be placed outside the quotation marks using the British English method and inside the quotation marks using the US method. For example:

Richard dismissed David’s allegations as merely ‘wicked lies’. British English method.

Richard dismissed David’s allegations as merely ‘wicked lies.’ US method.

Quoting titles of certain publications and when writing about a word or phrase:

Here’s another issue, where the writer is referring to the title of the song. Record (CD) titles are written inside quotation marks. For example:

She turned on the radio and sang along to the new song ‘Perfect’ by Ed Sheeran.

Both the British English and US styles, though, agree on the same rules for colons, semicolons, exclamation marks, and question marks.

Dialogue is an interesting area of fiction writing, and I will probably return to this topic in the future.

Useful websites

The following websites give very helpful information for further reference. The second one includes practice exercises to test your ability.

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Ugly Truth

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Ugly Truth is the third and final novel written by Kerry Barnes in the Kelly Raven trilogy.

After all the heartache that Kelly Raven has gone through, she can finally enjoy her life. The business is lucrative, her family are happy, and in a few months, her baby will be born.

However, in one evening everything changes . . .

The old firms have plotted to bring the Ravens’ down, in retribution for Eddie Raven’s reckless reign.

Detective Valerie Campbell has escaped capture and is on the run, with vengeance on her mind.

Another Raven is out there, determined to step into Kelly’s shoes and take over her empire.

But behind the masked gunman lies the ugly truth.

Kelly Raven will have to fight alone — or at least die trying.

After suffering the cruel secrets and the wicked lies, the ugly truth may kill her yet.


Less versus fewer

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Here are examples of where the two words are used incorrectly:

The town has less cars entering the centre, now that it has decided on a policy of pedestrianisation. [Incorrect]

The town has fewer cars entering the centre, now that it has decided on a policy of pedestrianisation. [Correct]

There are less runners in the race today. [Incorrect]

There are fewer runners in the race today. [Correct]

The express lane is only for shoppers with ten items or less. [Incorrect]

The express lane is only for shoppers with ten items or fewer. [Correct]

The rules:

Less should only be used with mass nouns that cannot be counted, such as less money, less time, or less energy.

Less means not as much.

Fewer is used with countable things such as people, books, or clubs.

Fewer means not as many.

Over ten years ago, Tesco had signs in its stores saying “10 items or less” for customers wanting to avoid standing in lengthy queues.

This came to the attention of the Plain English Campaign. Their members came up with an alternative which was “Up to 10 items” to avoid the grammatical error.

Are there any exceptions to the rules above?

Well, yes there are!

The tendency is to use less than rather than less. This phrase is correct when less than is used before a plural noun.  


He has less than 5 minutes to finish his speech.

They had less than three miles to complete the race.

She earns a salary of less than £20,000 per year.

Useful website

The Choice

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The Choice is the third and final novel in Kerry Barnes’s explosive trilogy involving Mike Regan and Zara Ezra.

This is the brand new, gripping, gritty crime thriller that will have you hooked.

The wrong choice may just get you killed . . .

Mike Regan and Zara Ezra believe the so-called Governor is safely locked away — in Zara’s hangar.
But less than twenty-four hours later, the Governor is loose and out there, wreaking havoc.
After what Zara made him do to his own son, she knows he’ll be back with more than murder on his mind.
Moving the families to a safe place was all the firm could do to protect them. But now one of the boys goes missing. It can only mean one thing — the Governor has started his revenge.
Zara is faced with an unimaginable choice, just as she forced the Governor to make his — only this time, it could cost the man she loves his life.

The Use and Abuse of Dialogue Tags

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Dialogue tags are used in different ways and to varying degrees in fiction writing. One writer, I noticed, regarded them in a metaphorical sense as ‘seasoning’ and not ‘the main ingredient’ in writing. A dialogue tag is also called an ‘attribution’ — a small phrase that is used before, or after, or in between the dialogue. And this is important because it enables the reader to identify the speaker, which can be quite difficult if you have more than two people having a conversation. 

The said tag is probably the most common one, having the advantage of being neutral in its application. It becomes almost a silent tag — one which the reader resonates with but one that equally becomes almost invisible in its use.

However, the said tag is often criticised for its overuse in fiction writing. And the maxim ‘Show, don’t tell’ is not easily followed when using said bookisms.

The purpose of this post is very briefly to look at ways in which the said tag works well and where it doesn’t and to look at alternatives such as said bookisms.

The said tag for identification

Example one:

‘Hi,’ said Richard. ‘How’s it going?’

‘What do you mean?’ Jessica said.

Richard said, ‘Well, all I wanted to know is how’s the revision going?’

‘What? You must be joking!’ said Jessica sarcastically. ‘Sod that! I’m going down the pub. Are you coming with me?’

As one can see, the overuse of the said tag is quite overwhelming. It becomes repetitive, stilted, and very annoying. It also takes the reader away from the point of the conversation, making them focus on the said tags. It does a disservice to the writer in trying to communicate their story because if the focus is on the said words, the point of the story is lost!

Where there are only two people having a conversation, the said tags are only necessary for identification unless there is a considerable amount of conversation taking place.

Example two:

‘Hi,’ said Richard. ‘How’s it going?’

‘What do you mean?’ Jessica said.

 ‘Well, all I wanted to know is how’s the revision going?’

 ‘Sod that! I’m going down the pub. Are you coming with me?’

Here, the said tag is almost invisible in so far as it has any noticeable effect on the reader. Used sparingly and appropriately, it works well.

The use of said bookisms

A said bookism is a way of avoiding the word said in the tag. Go on the internet and you will find literally hundreds of these alternatives to the word said. It is even possible to purchase said books, hence the name said bookism.

Verbs like laughed, sighed, replied, exclaimed, and hissed will be familiar with readers as alternative ways of overcoming the repeated use of the word said. Some verbs like asked, and, to a lesser extent, replied are perfectly acceptable substitutes.

However, verbs such as laughed, shrugged, or smiled are not acceptable at all because the character cannot say these words.

Actions in place of said tags and said bookisms

Using phrases in place of said tags or said bookisms is a great way to keep the reader interested in the story and not become irritated by the way the action is spoken. Here is the same set of speech written in a different way.

Example three:

Richard came bounding over to Jessica, who was on her way to the university library to revise for her sociology exam.  

‘How’s it going?’

Richard was keen to coax his friend Jessica to go into the library with him to revise for end-of-year exams.

Jessica flung her bag over her shoulder and flicked her head towards Richard, somewhat annoyed by his enthusiasm. He always studied, she thought bitterly. Richard was the college bookworm. She waited for him to come up to her.

‘Are you coming with me, then?’

 ‘Where to?’  She knew that was a dumb question to ask.

‘The library, of course.’

Picking up her bags she gave Richard a cold stare.

‘Sod that! I’m going down the pub. Are you joining me?’

Looking at the above conversation, the verbs said, asked, replied, and exclaimed could have a place in the story, but they are not needed. The actions of the characters speak for themselves.

Remove unnecessary dialogue tags, which slow this part of the story down, in favour of emphasising the action

Example four:

‘I want you to keep me company tonight,’ Max said. He kissed his girlfriend on the lips.

But better still and easier to follow:

‘I want you to keep me company tonight.’ He kissed his girlfriend on the lips.

Don’t use dialogue tags to repeat what the dialogue has just told the reader

Example five:

Sam and Alice, who were engaged, were embroiled in a fierce argument about Sam messaging a girl on Facebook.

‘Who is she?’ asked Alice.

‘Just someone I knew years ago,’ replied Sam.

‘That’s not good enough. You’re always so evasive. Tell me her name and where she lives. I’ll throttle the bitch!’ exclaimed Alice.

‘No you won’t because she’s your best mate!’ hissed Sam.

As can be seen, the use of each dialogue tag is completely unnecessary.

A good tag doesn’t impair how natural the speech sounds

Example six:

The said word makes perfect sense when the writer wants to focus on the way a character speaks and on what he / she says without using said bookisms.

Mike forced the gun into the back of Raff as they walked into the lounge and said, ‘Ya know I’m going to shoot ya, if you so much as open that big gob of yours, don’t ya?’

‘Please, Mike, mate,’ said Raff. ‘Do I look that bleedin’ stupid?’

The said words could be replaced with said bookisms such as whispered, hissed (Mike) and spluttered, whined (Raff), but the context and the action renders such words as unnecessary.

Useful websites

The Rules

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The Rules is the second novel in Kerry Barnes’s explosive trilogy involving Mike Regan and Zara Ezra.

Do you live by the rules or die by them?

Holed up in prison, Mike Regan is offered a deal — his freedom in exchange for his firm taking down the gang that is supplying a new dangerous drug that has hit the streets. What starts as a game soon becomes a shocking revelation with devastating consequences.

Meanwhile, Mike’s fiancée, Zara Ezra, has her own firm to run. But when the so-called Governor is out to take her down, she has her own decision to make — either fight, run, or write her own rule book . . .

The Double Possessive

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This is the first of two parts, in that I believe it is easier to grasp somewhat complex grammatical issues in bitesize chunks wherever possible. At least that is the theory.

One of the websites below discusses this issue in the encapsulating title Double Genitive: Twice as Much Possession.

Here we go then.

My author, Kerry Barnes, wrote these sentences in her latest book: The Rules.

‘Victor was a close and trusted friend of my father’s. He’s now on my payroll, so we can speak freely in his company.’

‘You hoped to brainwash me into believing that you had my back, that I couldn’t survive without you, while you picked and clawed away at my business and my money, but, most of all, my name and that of my father’s.’

Why, you might ask, does a second possessive need to be included in the phrase trusted friend of my father’s and my name and that of my father’s?

Isn’t the fact that the word ‘of’ is sufficient by itself to imply possession in each of the above cases? The purpose of this post is to answer this question.

So, what is a double genitive?

It occurs when the preposition ‘of’ and the apostrophe plus s are shown in a phrase, clause, or sentence.

Grammar has structure, and so you won’t be surprised to find that there are rules here that help a writer to get the double possessive right every time!

One rule is that what follows the word ‘of’ will be definite and human. Where it is inanimate, we do not use the double possessive.

The second rule is that what precedes the word ‘of’ will be indefinite.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • Where the double genitive is used

The chambers contain photographs of the judge’s.

  • Where the double genitive is not used

The chambers contain photographs of the judge.

Immediately one can see why a double genitive is needed in the first case but not in the second. The double possessive enables the reader to distinguish very clearly the semantic meaning of the sentence. In the first example, the reader should grasp that the photographs in the judge’s chambers belong to the judge. In the second example, the reader is expected to interpret this as meaning that in the judge’s chambers there are photographs of the judge.

Clear then, I take it?

Well, let’s see, shall we? What about the examples below?

I am a friend of Kerry Barnes’s.

Actually I am her editor, but I am also a friend of hers.

I am a friend of Kerry Barnes.

Are these meanings the same? Actually, they are not, and so the double genitive has a useful purpose in avoiding ambiguity.

In the first example, I am saying that Kerry Barnes looks upon me as a friend of hers. In this example, the reader will interpret this as Kerry Barnes being instrumental in having a more active role in the relationship. In the second example, I am saying that I see her as a friend of mine.

As alluded to above, when referring to inanimate objects, the double possessive is not permitted.

So, for example, he is a friend of the cricket club’s is incorrect: it should read he is a friend of the cricket club. The clue here is in the word ‘a friend’ which makes this definite and of course ‘cricket club’, which is inanimate.

The second and related post will look at possessive pronouns: mine, thine, his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs.

Useful websites

Sat versus Sitting … and Stood versus Standing

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Sat versus Sitting . . . and Stood versus Standing

I cannot count the number of times I have heard a reporter use the phrase was sat instead of the correct phrase was sitting. And here’s another incorrect phrase: he was stood at the bus stop instead of he was standing at the bus stop (unless, of course, he was physically put there!). Broadcasters, newspapers, and writers, it seems, are at fault for the misuse of these verbs. So do people say these phrases because they do not realise they are speaking ungrammatically, or do they say them because they are seen as an acceptable form of speech?

Personally, and this is anecdotal, I feel these words have crept into misuse only in the last few years. And as more and more people see these words in print or they are heard on the airwaves, they will be accepted as correct. As far as dialogue is concerned, if this accurately portrays the person, I haven’t a problem with it, but I feel writers have a duty to write correctly in narrative.

Here are some examples I have read. Both books, incidentally, are published by worldwide publishing companies. God help us all!


Daisy was sat on the edge of her bed, done up to the nines.

Her children were sat at the table behind her, throwing their food around like hand grenades, and she just didn’t have the energy to stop them.

Saskia was sat bolt upright in the single easy chair . . .

But right now she was sat in the kitchen of a man who’d said his wife was out . . .

Useful website