Author of Tipping The Velvet, Affinity, Fingersmith, The Night Watch, The Little Stranger, The Paying Guests
Sally was one of the earliest readers of my first novel, Tipping the Velvet, while it was still in draft form: she gave me brilliantly helpful feedback, encouragement and support, and really helped to keep me committed to the book in the face of the various rejections I was receiving from publishers and agents. Since then, Sally has seen early drafts of all my novels, and her astute, sympathetic readings have never failed to inspire me. She’s a wonderful critical reader and a great communicator. I heartily recommend her to any writer in need of honest, constructive feedback on their work.
Musician, writer, artist
Sally was the very first person to read the very first chapters I wrote for Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys. She was kind and firm. She understood all my references from Lucozade bottles to masturbation. When I was scared or despondent I called Sally and she talked me back to a place where I felt confident enough to keep writing. Sally was my champion and my confessor and I’m so glad she has said yes to doing it all over again for my next book.
From the Acknowledgements for To Throw Away Unopened: “Special thanks to Sally O-J, my first reader and a constant guide and rock throughout the writing of this book.”
Novelist and script writer, TV credits include EastEnders, Casualty, Holby City, Peak Practice
My agent put me in touch with Sally, because my current manuscript just wasn’t working, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. Sally was an absolute inspiration. She was an enthusiastic supporter of the book but gave me honest and constructive criticism where it was needed. Being a scriptwriter, my focus was on dialogue; Sally identified very quickly the lack of descriptive passages in the book and set about showing me where and how I needed to tell the reader about the world my characters occupied. I know that the final draft worked because Sally gave me the benefit of her advice and experience. I would recommend her without hesitation.
As a journalist with long experience on national newspapers and magazines, I was arrogant enough to think that I had nothing new to learn about writing. Sally showed me otherwise. She has applied her expertise to two very different books of mine, and in both cases she has not only highlighted my shortcomings as a novelist but also shown me how to fix them. If you want an easy ride, don’t go to Sally. But if you seek a dispassionate assessment of your writing, with no punches pulled, and you want to learn and improve, she’s the one.
I went to Sally at the early stages of developing a TV series, based on an existing short film I’d written. It was a fantastic experience – Sally understands the medium of film and TV so well but more importantly than that, she simply understands storytelling and is able to see and communicate very effectively what is and isn’t working. I really appreciated the honest, constructive and inspiring feedback and came away with renewed enthusiasm for my ideas and the work that needed to be done with them. As any good script editor should, she doesn’t give answers, but the right questions to ask myself as the writer. I would not hesitate in recommending her.
Sally is an inspirational mentor and an editor who really cares about the reader’s experience. She is annoyingly knowledgeable and hyper-aware of continuity and anachronism, but I always feel that her comments come from caring about my characters and their stories. I was daunted when she handed me a huge pack of notes on my last draft, but she’s been with me all the way on this one. Sal’s very proactive help has given me a lot of confidence in the manuscript, whilst holding me to all the rash promises I made!
I’ve been working with Sally for several years, with clients ranging from absolute newcomer to established. The writers have found that she not only brings them a new range of skills, but is encouraging and inspirational. I’d recommend Sally to anyone.
Novelist, Motohuma the Firehead, The Vegetable Moonsamy
Sally O-J took my poor embryonic novel and turned it into a readable, saleable book. She was incredibly helpful throughout the whole process; adjusting the plot, picking up anachronisms and anomalies, developing the style, teasing out the characterisation and pushing me continually to go further and try harder. She brought out the best in me, knowing instinctively that a good writer was buried in me somewhere. Most importantly, Sally believed in me and my book when nobody else did. She used her contacts to help me, and without her encouragement I would probably have given up. I love Sally wholeheartedly! Having started as a mentor, she became a friend – even though she sometimes made me cry.
I found my session with Sally extremely useful. My manuscript had become moribund and I had almost abandoned the project. Having Sally critique the work changed all that. Although she was tough she was also inspirational. I felt I could trust her expertise and loved the fact that she was passionate about my book despite its dossier of errors. I would happily recommend her to any writer at any level. Sally is a safe pair of hands.
Sally is an imaginative and painstaking editor, who succeeds in being unfailingly positive, even when identifying areas to improve. She has a remarkable ability to focus on the minutiae of individual words and sentence punctuation at the same time as keeping track of the overarching progress of plot and character. Without question my book is better and, more importantly, my writing is better as a result of my time working with Sally. The challenge of developing my writing with her has been both pleasurable and deeply rewarding.
I wrote a humorous fantasy manuscript that I thought was brilliant, but Sally soon pointed out, diplomatically, that brilliant ideas do not make a brilliant story. Her advice and very detailed recommendations helped transform those ideas into a coherent plot and make the fantasy world I had in my mind, come to life in words. Her advice has also made me much more aware of the styles and techniques used by the authors when I am reading, helping me continue to develop my writing ability.
I am grateful to Sally for her thoughtful reading of my manuscript. Her comments and suggestions helped me immeasurably as I worked through the final edits of my novel. She pushed me to bring out certain key aspects of the plot that were buried in my mind. I feel much more confident in the story after her help and counseling. If there is a queue of other submissions before yours, I can attest that she is worth the wait!
Sally was the voice of encouragement and enthusiasm I needed when my faith in my novel was floundering. And, crucially, she has exactly the sort of sensible straightforward approach that I trust entirely. Her insight and attention – from detail to fundamental plot points – are a relief (given my over-close perspective) and her generosity in time and spirit is truly appreciated. I would highly recommend Sally – a wonderful editor!
There are certain arts that have a particularly ‘lonely’ component built in. While creating the art, which can span a long period of time, it is not possible to know if it will ultimately bring pleasure or enlightenment to anyone else. However, artists do not have a choice about producing their art. It is in them, bursting to come out, and nothing can stop it. My art is writing and I have found that a very lonely experience as it is so difficult to get openings for sharing it and feedback to know if you are going in the right direction. In asking various professional people for help I was eventually directed to Sally and it proved to be exactly what I was looking for. I needed to have my work read and professionally assessed and most importantly given guidance as to where to go next. Sally provided this to a very high standard, and still is, as she makes it clear that once engaged with her she will continue to work with you as long as it is deemed useful.
If I have to describe my experience of Sally as an editor and mentor in just one word, that word would be honesty.
Now honesty, commendable as it may be, often holds hands with pain: being made to see the shortcomings in your creation, and especially those bits that you think of as ever so clever, and which Oscar Wild, I think it was, termed as your darlings, and advised you to kill. However, Sally seems to cradle those darlings while she gently nudges you to kill them.
I also find Sally an amazing sniffer dog: sniffing out every little inconsistency and omission, highlighting issues that I have never even thought off, and which, when considered and worked upon, could make the whole story come across just so much more authentic – tiny little details that opens up and fleshes out the story, integrating what goes on inside the character with the broader environmental and political circumstances of that time.
Sally builds confidence. She is quick to appreciate what is good in the work, and not shy to express it either. So the focus is on the positive and a vision of what could be achieved by implementing her guidance.
I feel I have learned so much from working with Sally, and usually once I have mourned the loss of my ‘darlings’, I do really enjoy mending the script. It is stimulating and creative. I certainly can recommend Sally as an editor and mentor.
Sally has been inspirational in helping me understand why the first draft of my novel felt flat. I was not successfully conveying what was in my head onto the page, and Sally’s honest critique and expertise has given me the toolkit I need to work on this, especially through character and plot development. She also helped me crack the issue of ‘Show don’t tell’, and I can already feel the improvement in the quality of my writing. Most importantly, I feel as though Sally understood what it is that I am trying to achieve with the novel, and encouraged me to keep going. Sally’s input has energised my writing process, and I would wholeheartedly recommend her.
Novelist, Young Adult Fiction
Sally is delightful, smart, articulate and diplomatic—but honest. I used her as a sounding board when I felt stuck in my manuscript, and she gave me the most helpful tips to figure out where I wanted to go next in the story. She also gave me extremely useful feedback about what elements worked well, and what areas of the plot construction needed more development. I highly recommend Sally to writers at all levels of experience.
A baptism of fire it may have been, but it was completely, utterly worth it. After Sally had worked with me, the next book I sent to my agent came back with the comment that it was amazing how my writing had improved in such a short space of time. Sally’s comments didn’t just help me with the book she worked on, but with everything I’ve done since. I will always be grateful.