Franz Kafka: a Dead Man Writing

I’m sitting in my shed at the bottom of our garden with the doors and windows open, revelling in what passes for peace and quiet in an inner-city. Next door’s runner beans are dying, but the ash trees which thresh and rustle overhead have survived the...
White Rabbits, Wonderland and Writer’s Block

White Rabbits, Wonderland and Writer’s Block

Recognise this little fellow? Said to be carved in approximately 1330 and wearing the distinctive satchel of the pilgrim, he graces the archway of St Mary’s Church in Beverley, Yorkshire, a town where Lewis Carroll stayed while he was preparing to write Alice in...

Twenty Questions about Characterisation

Do you remember playing that car game, brilliant for long journeys, where one of you assumes a character and the others have to guess who it is by asking twenty questions? When we were little we whiled away hours playing it on the autobahns and autoroutes of Europe,...
Monet, Monet, Monet…

Monet, Monet, Monet…

Because it’s high summer (!) I thought I’d share with you this picture of Monet’s garden at Giverney just north of Paris. He is reputed to have regarded it as his greatest work of art and if you gaze at it through half-closed eyes you can almost see...

An Exercise in Sensory Deprivation

The sun is shining, I can hear birds singing outside my window and it’s the longest day, so the last thing you probably want is a writing exercise for the weekend, but if you think that the longest day will, by definition, give you more time to write, and allow...

Why I Hate Fantasy Fiction

I’ve never been a great fan of fantasy fiction. I don’t like its expedience or its lack of boundaries – the way that rules can be endlessly changed to suit the author’s creative intent. It’s too geeky for me, too concerned with form rather than...
A Light Touch – A Lesson in Characterisation from Mark Chagall

A Light Touch – A Lesson in Characterisation from Mark Chagall

On a recent trip to France we stumbled upon a stunning window by Mark Chagall in a restored chapel in the town of Sarrebourg. Peace, his extravagant bouquet of scenes from the Old and New Testaments, takes your breath away when you first walk into the room. Although...

How to Make Your Fiction Faultless (Read Your Work Aloud)

This may not occur to you when you are starting out as a writer, but any time spent reading your work aloud is time well spent. Usually, when you stumble over a phrase, it’s a cast iron indication the phrase does not ring true.  Perhaps it’s the literary...

Fracking for Fiction

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” Ernest Hemingway’s description of the creative process sounds a bit like fracking to me –...

In Defence of Flashback

I know that some writers – and editors – view the use of flashback with some misgivings, objecting to it because the reader is made to look back at events which have already happened and therefore knows there is a positive outcome (your heroine is still alive and...
Hot Off the Press…

Hot Off the Press…

…my picture of the statue of the renaissance man who invented it – Johannes Gutenberg – standing proudly in the square named after him in the centre of Strasbourg. Gutenberg was a goldsmith by profession and modified existing screw printers while adding...

Punctuation – To Be Punctilious, or Not?

I was chatting to a writer friend last night who had recently been doing some editing and she remarked how much the rules of punctuation seem to have changed since she started out. Should you use double quotation marks or single, for example? Though strict grammarians...
Wanted : Goethe’s Dog

Wanted : Goethe’s Dog

Wandering through the rain-soaked streets of Strasbourg recently, we passed a house where the playwright Goethe lived for a time… …and I was reminded of a remark that he once made: wanted, a dog that neither barks nor bites, eats glass and shits diamonds....

Summer Reading

I’ve had a rush of summer reading – well, let’s just call it reading: not much sign of summer here – and it’s made me realise how much I miss feeling besotted by a good book. I’ve done a lot of work reading over the winter, which is always...
How Detail and Context Work Together in Fiction Writing

How Detail and Context Work Together in Fiction Writing

We’re currently stuck in the rain on a broken boat in eastern France, so whiled away an afternoon in Strasbourg. In the cathedral we spotted this mason’s moment of madness, or sentimentality, or rebellion, or joie de vivre… This little dog is tucked...

Telling the Difference Between Showing and Telling

This is a tough one, the mistake most writers, but new ones in particular, are most likely to make: telling the reader something, rather than bringing it to life by showing it happen. In a sense it’s the art of dramatisation; it’s certainly the raising...

Plotting – Taking Affirmative Action

I’ve recently finished reading My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young. You’d think that everything  which could possibly be said about the First World War has already been said, truth, in this instance, being considerably stranger than fiction, but...
Rainer Maria Rilke’s Rubbish Lorry

Rainer Maria Rilke’s Rubbish Lorry

I’m just back from New York and still dazzled by the vibrancy and brightness of the city – the vast electronic hoardings that pulse with colour in Times Square, the vivid yellowness of the taxis and…this! It’s an American garbage truck and even in...

The Three Rs of Creative Writing

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I’d passed the the first three chapters of my Work in Progress to my writing mentor to see if she thought I was working along the right lines. Like a good friend, she responded incredibly swiftly with some trenchant and radical...

It’s There in Black and White – and Grey?

We are complex beings and our behaviour frequently lands us in complicated situations, something you should try and reflect in your fiction writing. Things are rarely cut and dried in the real world, so it is a good idea to tie some intriguingly complicated knots in...
A View from the Bridge…

A View from the Bridge…

….in this case, the bridge in question is on the Queen Mary 2 and the view is of the North Atlantic, where I’ve been busy on a press trip hence my silence on the blog front this week, but am now safely back home and full of literary inspiration… As...

All at Sea

Literally! I’m writing this in the mid Atlantic, where I’m on a press trip for the travel pages of www.dailymail.co.uk so intermittent posting for the next few days, but worth it in pursuit of a wonderful story!In the meantime, I’m trying to think of...

A Small Slice of Research Lite

I love a good bit of research to get me going with a book, whether it’s set in the present or the past, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, digging around for information is a great stimulus of the creative juices.  Things that I unearth can often help in...

Breaking the Spell

As a writer, you’re an illusionist: you create brave new worlds for your reader and go to great 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 Laxative Powers of Catharsis?

Weirdly, my dictionary (a lovely old Chambers that my mum and dad gave me in 1989) defines catharsis as purgative medicine having the power of cleansing the bowels – they missed that bit out in my drama degree.  It does go on to say that it can also mean the...