Health and Safety for Writers?

Health and Safety for Writers?

I took this photograph in a disused pottery in North East France. It’s a lovely old health and safety notice positively steeped in period atmosphere. Roughly translated, the exhortation reads, All injuries must be declared – good guidance for writers of fiction,...
Protective Clothing for Writers

Protective Clothing for Writers

In Scotland recently we visited Ballindalloch Castle, ancestral home of the MacPherson Grant family whose ancient coat of arms is carved above the entrance. I was intrigued by the family motto: Touch Not the Cat Bot a Glove, which I take to mean don’t do...

How to Create Tension – Am I Keeping You in Suspense?

Suspense is the tension that is created when you are waiting for something to happen. You might be waiting for news of a loved one; you might be waiting to see if the creak on the stair which sounded suspiciously like a footfall sounds again; you might be waiting,...

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...

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...

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 –...

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...

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...

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...

Normal Service Will Resume…

…but at the moment I’m hidden away in a remote spot without access to the internet – yes, such places still exist and the breathtakingly lovely Helford Estuary in southernmost Cornwall is one of them. It’s an inspiring place in which to think...

The Coffin and the Sharpened Stake – Accepting Criticism

I’ve just sent the first three chapters of my new novel to my writing friend and mentor, so I’m feeling a little unsettled and unstable. I want her to like it, but I don’t necessarily want her to tell me that she does, as I don’t think that...

Ghost Writing?

I went to visit my father’s grave yesterday. He is buried in a churchyard at the foot of the Cotswold escarpment, in a place that is haunted by memories: of my dad, of my son’s childhood which was spent in the village, of life as it used to be and is no...
In Praise of Criticism

In Praise of Criticism

Criticism stings; it hurts. Sometimes it makes you want to curl up into a ball, block your ears and go lah, lah, lah, lah, lah. It can feel as rejecting as someone slamming a door in your face, even this poor, rickety, broken thing. Yet criticism is one of the most...

Top Tips for Starting a Novel

I am – I think – on the threshold of starting my Next Major Work. If you detect a note of caution, it’s because I’m not absolutely certain that I’m ready to begin, even though I started making notes about possible ideas last May, so I’ve...

The Sessions – A Miniaturist Masterpiece

When you are writing do you work as a miniaturist, or do you prefer a sweeping canvas? Do you go large at every opportunity or hone in on the detail? There are pros and cons to both approaches, but I’m rather a fan of the small scale. I worry that if you...
Deep and Crisp and Even?

Deep and Crisp and Even?

I’m sitting in my little shed with a hot water bottle on my knee wrapped in a blanket and very toasty it is too. We are shrouded in snow where I live and when I inched my way down our hill to forage for supplies I was struck by the atmosphere – it’s...

Creative Contradictions

Jean Cocteau once observed that, “the spirit of creation is the spirit of contradiction,” an interesting avenue to explore on a Wednesday morning. You can think about this in a number of different ways. Writing fiction is often an exercise in polarity. You...

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas My True Love Sent to Me…

…Eleven Pipers Piping, an apt reminder that when you are writing fiction your prose will have a music all of its own. We are born with an innate sense of rhythm and the more you write the more you will develop a feel for the words you use. You will become...

On the Eighth Day of Christmas My True Love Sent to Me…

…Eight Maids A-Milking… that’s to say, eight young women doing something typical of their daily lives. When you’re writing fiction and about to introduce your hero or heroine, it’s important to show them in action. There are two reasons...

The Literary Chicken and Egg Question?

First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him, according to legendary sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury who, to be honest, makes it sound all too easy, but perhaps he does help to resolve the literary chicken and egg question of what comes first – plot or...

Exploring the Past by Degrees

Without getting too metaphysical and going way beyond my pay grade, we experience time in a number of different ways. How we relate to the present differs from how we relate to the recent or even the distant past, and all the way stations in between have their own...

Creative Writing – Making Plans

I’ve been appraising manuscripts for a couple of literary consultants in London recently and there is one thing which crops up time after time in the books that I’ve been reading and that is a lack of planning. The most brilliant conception is going to...
Writing Fiction – Keeping a Sense of Proportion

Writing Fiction – Keeping a Sense of Proportion

When you’re writing and the white heat of creativity is upon you, it is easy to get so caught up in what you are doing that you start to lose a sense of overall proportion in your work. Just as visual artists step back from their canvases to take in the bigger...

Free Critique of Your Creative Writing

All of us tell tales. We share our triumphs and tribulations with each other, we pass on gossip, we search for meaning and significance in our own experience and in each other’s. Sometimes this involves reading fiction, which at its best universalizes the...