Metaphorically Speaking…

Technically speaking, a metaphor is a comparison made without using like or as — for example, instead of saying as red as blood (which would be a simile) you say blood red. As descriptive techniques go, a metaphor is more turbo-charged than  an adjective because...
Going with the Grain

Going with the Grain

On our recent travels my eye was caught by a small carving of a face on a mediaeval building in a Burgundy backwater. The colour is visible, in spite of all the years which have passed, and the features and character are clearly discernible.  What I like about it is...
The Power of Words

The Power of Words

It’s a literary thought and it’s written on a door — two of the things I like best in all the world.  Roughly translated – very roughly – it means Words are arrows for the Indians, which is a wonderfully vivid metaphor for the power of...
Hitting the Timeshift Key

Hitting the Timeshift Key

When I’m writing, I find structure one of the hardest things to tackle.  Stories, situations and characters, and the language with which to describe them, come to me reasonably easily — but structure!  I think I’m with David Lodge, when he says in...
A Green-Eyed Monster Moment

A Green-Eyed Monster Moment

I think that sometimes there’s an intersection between character and strong emotion which can seriously enhance the way that you plot your novel.  If we are talking mathematical formulas (and remembering that I failed my maths O level twice) it might look...
Digging Deep for Symbols

Digging Deep for Symbols

On our recent trip to France, we rounded a bend in the canal, those winding curves sinuous with promise, and were confronted with this! The French waterways board were doing maintenance work, dredging up mud from the bottom and we had to doodle around a bit until they...
Lost for Words?

Lost for Words?

I saw this on a wall in Charite sur Loire.  I think it roughly translates as a word separates and repairs; it signifies a loss and a return (with apologies to Patrick Granville).  Apart from being such a lovely thing to find on a wall — so much better than No...
Be Controversial

Be Controversial

I’ve had a line from one of James Fenton’s poems kicking around in my head for ages now: Every victim is an accomplice.  It’s such a chilling thought – that in a way we collude in our own misfortunes, and I am sure that some who have been...

In Praise of Books (and Deborah Harvey’s in Particular)

I’ve just read Deborah Harvey’s luminous book of poetry, Communion. Actually, I’m being a bit disingenuous here, because Deborah joined a writing class I was teaching in Bristol in the late 1990s and I’ve had the intense pleasure of reading her...

In Praise of Books

While we were noodling around in France we visited Charite sur Loire, a town devoted entirely to books (and pilgrimages – it’s a way station on the route to Compostella, and as reading is a kind of pilgrimage, a journey of faith in the hope of acquiring...

Action Stations

In his deeply philosophical and thought-provoking book How Fiction Works, James Wood talks about the danger for apprentice writers of showing their characters in static mode, and I can see where he’s coming from.  It’s tempting to describe the appearance...

On Not Gettng Published (Playing the Glad Game!)

We are moored up somewhere near the Loire in a little village called Rogny Les Sept Ecluses, which derived its name from a flight of seven locks commissioned by the much-loved French King Henri 1V in 1604.  Yes, 1604,just after Shakespeare died.  It was an astonishing...

Common Pitfalls # 4

I can’t begin to count the number of times a student has read out a story in class and I have said I’m not sure that bit where John meets up with Jenny after thirty years really works (or words to that effect) and the student has said, Aah, but you see,...

Common Pitfalls # 3

When I started writing, I had no idea what hard work it was.  I thought it was just a matter of telling a story. Hah!  And now, when I am reading the work of other beginners, although I often feel a little shiver of excitement when someone obviously has potential, I...

Common Pitfalls # 2

Another aspect of writing which can trip up the beginner and often betrays their lack of experience is characterisation.  I suspect that people are too fixated on appearance (in life as well!) and feel that once they have covered hair/eyes/complexion/colouring/natural...

Common Pitfalls # 1

After many years of teaching creative writing, I’ve learned to spot work from people who are inexperienced reasonably swiftly.  A number of things give them away and I thought it might be helpful to talk about these, so that you can try and avoid what are fairly...

Lost in Translation

On the menu in the only cafe in the little village of Gurgy we saw ( Oh jubilation) Eggs stink to a smoked salmon house, a starter to be sampled at all costs and then followed up with Net of trout in the green cabbage wipes French blue-veined cheese.      What a...