Gone Fishing….

Gone Fishing….

I’ve done a hundred posts – YAY – which I think has earned me a short break, so I’m off on a research trip. Back next week….

Complimenting Your Reader

I had a tummy bug recently and spent two days in bed — plenty of time in which to devour Kate Atkinson’s new Jackson Brodie novel, Started Early, Took My Dog in a single sitting. It is a highly enjoyable, sympathetic read and made me feel a whole lot...

Literary Leger de Main

As a writer, you’re an illusionist: you create whole worlds for your reader and go to extraordinary lengths to make them seem as real and as plausible as possible — that is what writing good fiction is all about. The subversive in me is interested in the...

The DNA of Fiction

Gustave Flaubert once said, “We do not choose our subjects, they choose us,” and as the author of Madame Bovary and A Sentimental Education, it’s safe to assume that he knows a thing or two about it. When I’m writing, the situation is often a...
Time for a Change

Time for a Change

At the risk of coming over all algebraic here, most stories have change as one of their central themes and the agent for change is time – if I hadn’t failed my maths own level twice, I could doubtless come up with a neat formula to show this, but as it is...

My Adam Phillips Prescription

If you are writing about people in any shape or form, and you must be if fiction is your main concern, then you should have a little pile of books by Adam Phillips within arm’s reach pretty much all of the time. Top of my pile I have Monogamy and On Kissing,...

Atmospherics

When you walk into a room and there’s a bit of an atmosphere, it strikes you straight away.  Usually, it is generated by emotional tension between the people in the room, or the person entering it, but it can be quite fun to unpick this a little further and...
The Reckless Extravagance of Creating a Character

The Reckless Extravagance of Creating a Character

After my agent had read the first draft of my novel The Dragonfly, she asked me what the main character did.  As he’s retired, it’s not mentioned in the book, but I told her that he worked in insurance, because that was part of the life that I had created...

“Found” Art, or Literary Thrift

I’m still in overhearing mode (following on from an exercise idea in yesterday’s post) and it occurs to me that just as visual artists make works out of bits and pieces that they stumble across, writers can make stories or poems out of scraps of...

Making Sense of the Senses

I’ve just been reading The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers and was very struck by the bravado of having a central character who is a deaf mute, in her first book, what’s more, at the age of only twenty-three.  Respect! If your central...

Cliffhangers and Coquettes

Once you have got your hooks into a reader with a punchy, dramatic start to a story, the only thing that will keep them reading (apart from your lambent prose, of course) is the irresistible urge to know what happens next and it is up to you to dole out your plot as...

A Question of Attribution

When you’re writing dialogue, it’s easy to get bogged down in a he said / she said / he said / she said riff and although it can sometimes be used to stylistic effect, as with everything else, variety is the spice of life.  Here are a few ideas which...

Masterclass

I’d give my eye teeth to have gone to the masterclass on the art of fiction which Ali Smith gave under the auspices of the Royal Society of Literature but I only found out about it after the event, or Colin Thubron’s on evoking the spirit of a place, but...

I’m Feeling Extraordinarily TENSE at the Moment…

I’m tense about tenses. I’m always amazed at how many students submit work without first having a rigorous look at the tenses they are using: they wander, they meander, they double back, they go shooting forward and for a reader it can be extremely...
A Day out with Mrs Dalloway

A Day out with Mrs Dalloway

I’ve come over all anarchic following yesterday’s post — perhaps it’s because I’m getting excited about going on the TUC’s march against the cuts on the 26th and I’ve never been on a march before.  There!  I’ve admitted...

Anarchy in the UK

I sit here in my little room gazing across the road (forsythia fully out now, cherry tree in bud, spring hurrying to catch up with itself), occasionally pontificating about the dos and don’ts of creative writing and the thought has occurred to me, once or twice,...

“W-w-why are you telling me this?” she cried…

It’s Monday, so it must be…dialogue! (I know that last Monday’s post was on dialogue too – maybe I start the week in chatty mode.)  When you’re working on a passage of dialogue, it might be helpful to remember that it’s not...
World Book Night

World Book Night

I’m filled to the brim with a warm glow.  I’ve just got back from handing out copies of The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy, doing my bit for World Book Night.  It was auspiciously bright and sunny in Bristol and there was a sense of spring...

(Love Means Never Having to Say…) I’m Sorry, Sebastian

I think I might have been a little harsh on Sebastian Faulks in my post Glitterature.  The first programme in his series Faulks on Fiction was about the hero and seemed to be more travelogue than treatise, but I have just watched his episode about lovers in...

The Devil’s in the Detail

Still on the theme of the watercolour exhibition at Tate Britain — I wish, wish, wish that I could paint – another thing which fascinated me were two small pictures by Turner: Scarlet Sunset (1830) and Shields Lighthouse (1826).  Under each one...

Designer This, Designer That….

….but Designer Alliterations?? I did a double take when I saw this sign on a tired old building backing onto the tracks on the way into London Bridge station. I know I’m a person with literary preoccupations (not to say literary pretensions) but all the...
Watch this Space

Watch this Space

I went and saw the watercolour exhibition at Tate Britain last weekend and one of the most haunting images was  Ruin, painted by Uwe Wittwer in 2008, in which the artist overpaints a digitally copied shot of a Frankfurt bombing raid. It is extraordinarily stark: the...