A La Recherche du l’Eau Perdu…

A La Recherche du l’Eau Perdu…

Am skittering around on the River Yonne in Burgundy as I write and thought that the Proustian illustration above would give you a sense of the challenges we face in the drawn-out drought in central France. We’ve never seen the waterways so low and are bumping...

Out of My Comfort Zone

Our strange, dislocated summer goes on: kind of homeless and yet not, everything up in the air and unsettled, and although sailing through the French countryside is one of the most profoundly relaxing, inspiring and spiritual things I know, it does have its moments....
Taking a Break…

Taking a Break…

In the spirit of my last post about RSI and the importance of taking regular breaks, I’m off on holiday for a while, boating in Burgundy, doing a bit of  research and idly dreaming.  I’ll keep posting when I have access to the Internet, but it may be a...

The Best Advice for a Writer…

…isn’t how to get published, or how to find an agent.  It’s simpler and more mechanical than that.  Make sure that your workspace is arranged as ergonomically as possible.  If you become as obsessed with writing as I have done, you will sit for hour...

Reading Aloud

When you are reading aloud and stumble over a phrase, it could be because that phrase does not ring true.  I think it’s the literary equivalent of the flicker in the gaze which betrays a lie. It’s a foible you can put to good use in your work: when you...

In the Beginning Was the Word (or how I came to write).

I’m always interested in how people become ensnared by writing, what it is that tips them over the edge into the skewed and intense world of the creative arts. With me, it was a kind of curiosity.  I was in a play (Rookery Nook – my finest hour) and...

Inflation Warning

I had to phone a call centre the other day and was reassured by a recorded voice that one of their experts would be with me shortly.  While I waited…and waited…it occurred to me that given my query wasn’t exactly rocket science, talking to an...

Summer Shorts – Tension

Here are a number of suggestions for ways in which you can notch up the tension in the story you are telling: Plot twists Cliffhangers Red herrings Change the tone Change the pace Change the point of view Change the location Finish a paragraph Finish a chapter...

Summer Shorts – Originality

The great David Lodge’s fantastically helpful book The Art of Fiction contains some interesting and original thoughts on, well, originality.  He says, “The essential purpose of art is to overcome the deadening effects of habit by presenting familiar things...

Summer Shorts – Form

Here’s a toughie (although the end result will only be eight lines long, but you’ll have to sweat blood to get there). Sometimes it can be helpful to constrain yourself, so that once you cast the constraints off, the liberty to write as you please feels...

Summer Shorts – Endings

Plan a narrative that has one ending and then write a second equally feasible conclusion.  Once you have decided which one you prefer, you may be able to incorporate elements of both, which will help you to structure the plot of your story with greater subtlety,...

Summer Shorts – Authenticity

With the call of the great outdoors sounding loudly in my ears — the sun is shining as I write and it’s a perfect drying day – I thought that this week I would do a series of summer shorts: quick thoughts and ideas to stimulate your creativity.  Here...

Plotting with Polonius

In Hamlet, Polonius suggests tso his son Laertes that he should, “by indirection find direction out.” In other words, it can be helpful to take a lateral approach to something, that by going the long way round you will eventually arrive at the heart of the...

Verisimilitude, or the Magic of the Footlights

My first job in the theatre was as Acting Stage Manager — general dogsbody, gofer and maker of tea.  I used to help at fit ups, when the set was assembled on stage for the first time, and was always amazed at how rough and ready it looked.  The floorboards were...

It’s All in the Edit

When I worked as an actress, I once met a film editor who said rather mischievously that in the movies, all performances were made or broken in the editing suite and that he could sabotage an actor’s reputation with one flick of the razor blade (this was in...

Literary Terroir

I’m still writing in my little Devon bubble, away from the real world, and in the last couple of days we’ve visited Greenway and Coleton Fishacre, homes of Agatha Christie and the D’Oyly Carte family respectively. Coleton was more beautiful (and the...

In Favour of Flashing

One of the challenges of writing a story is the question of where you start it.  In order to hook the reader’s attention, the received wisdom is that you open with a moment of drama, but that can leave you with the knotty problem of how to fill in the back...

Tools of the Trade

I went on a breathtaking walk yesterday, from Kingswear to Froward  Point, delving into green clefts, glimpsing patches of Mediterranean blue – sea?  sky? – we could hardly tell which was which along the brush stroke blur of the horizon. Walking through an...

Expectation is All

I’m about to start reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and I’m really looking forward to it. I devoured The Corrections and absolutely adored it and I can’t wait to lose myself in the vast landscape of his new book. I’m filled with that prickle of...

The Gender Gap

Is it over-ambitious (or to presumptuous) for a man to write about a female character or a woman to write about a male protagonist?  Maybe subconsciously I’ve thought so myself, as I have sometimes found myself praising people in my writing class for pulling it off,...