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December 2011
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February 2012

January 2012

Reading like a reader, and the best feeling in the world

Back in the summer (remember summer? Difficult, isn't it...), when I was going to present the prizes to the winners of the Frome Festival Short Story Prize 2011 I was asked to talk about what made the winning stories win. And what I found myself saying was that I didn't really know. There wasn't a particular kind of story, a particular quality or technique: even retrospectively I can't see that the stories have anything obvious in common. What made the very best of this very good bunch win was that... I didn't notice how good they were. That isn't because... Read more →


Work in regress?

When I asked Twitter last night what I should blog about, one suggestion was "How do you know when to give up on a work-in-progress? Or when to stop and come back? Or when to re-conceptualise the project?". It was a good question, so thank you Damon Young, although I'm absolutely sure there isn't a clear-cut answer, because it's always going to depend on you and the night and the music.... Sorry, you and the write(ing) and the novel. So, I think the best I can do is suggest some things to ask yourself and the novel, in the hope... Read more →


Putting on the Ritz? Try putting the Ritz on

In the days when I had au pairs, they would often ask me for help with their English homework. Most of them were doing pretty advanced work, so I'd have to deal with things like, "Emma, when do you say, try to light the fire, and when try lighting the fire?" As so often with the idioms of your mother tongue, I could usually only work it out by demonstration, and it was all good for the writerly brain. But the thing which they struggled with most is what are usually called phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs, according to [my slightly-edited... Read more →


A novel is not the singular of data

Recently, I came upon a neat phrase to use on those people who refuse to hear the fact that there has been net emigration of central Europeans from Britain, because all the waiters in their local Pizza Express come from Warsaw: "Data is not the plural of anecdote." But it reminded me of how a writer friend wanted her ancient-Persian heroine to start up a cottage industry making dyestuffs in her kitchen. "But it wasn't done like that," said the friendly expert at the British Museum. "The evidence is that dye production was on an industrial scale, and they wouldn't... Read more →