Blog and blogging

In other news: courses, competitions and fireside chats

I've been busy in various places lately, so just in case anyone's interested, here's some of it: On 25th February Debi Alper and I are running another six week online course in Self-Editing Your Novel. Debi and I have taught together for years, and it works brilliantly. Feedback from these courses has been terrific, so if you're at that stage, do drop by and see if you think it's what you need. For a taster, I did a "Prose Microscope" dissection on the Word Cloud, where the course is hosted, which will give you an idea of how it works,... 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 →


Dreaming the map: the efficiency of magic

You can't assume that someone who takes a day to write six words must be a finer artist and greater writer than someone who writes sixteen thousand: after all, would you say that Yeats is a greater writer than Dickens? And, indeed, you'll know how valuable I think the NaNoWriMo approach to first drafts "building up without tearing down" can be. And then novelist Sally Hinchcliffe pointed me to this post. Rachel Aaron explains how, with a new baby, and some very tight deadlines for a new novel, she had to re-think radically how she worked. I approached it rather... Read more →


The Prig's Writ, and Other Writers' Stories

In the comments on my post How Don't You Do It?, Glen says that he's been in writers' groups where: they regard any form of deliberate intentionality in the first draft stage (as opposed to the later reworking stages) to be completely noxious to any eventual artistic merit. Now, this is all fine, but then these authors seem to imply that EVERYONE has to do it this way, or else you're being a fool to yourself and a burden to others (so to speak.) I know exactly the kind of conversation Glen means - and I speak as one who's... Read more →


Are you Showing too much?

Over on her excellent blog, The Elephant in the Writing Room, Sally Zigmond's been talking about Showing and Telling. And as well as flattering the Itch by linking to my own post about it, she makes a very good point that trying to Show often leads writers into endless, endless details about missing the alarm-clock switch, and scrambling out of bed and tripping over the dog and dropping things and running out of breath and tumbling onto the train and feeling sweaty when shaking the MD's hand.... and all to Show what could be told: John arrived at the office... Read more →


A very Itchy birthday

Today's the third birthday of This Itch of Writing, and a good moment to thank everyone who's joined in over the years. I really didn't know, when I started this blog, whether I would find I had anything to say, or anything I wanted to say, let alone whether anyone would want to listen or respond. So it's been a delight to find that I have, and people do. Indeed, it hasn't just been fun: I've thrashed out ideas on here which ended up in my PhD, and your comments have enlarged not just my ideas about writing, but my... Read more →


Writing for radio part 5: editing

The first pass revisions of my story for Radio 4 were the usual ones. First, once I had the story down on the page, it was about adjustments to the structure and spacing of the piers of the bridge: this is where being able to spread the pages of a short story out is wonderful. In such a short story, and one to be read aloud, there isn't space for anything structurally complex, but it's an oldish man remembering his youth: was the frame the right width (length?); did the sense of the speaker's 'now' fade in and out at... Read more →


Writing for radio part 1: the call

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a radio producer who I'd sent some work to - the same producer who commissioned Kellie Jackson's story last year, which Kellie guest-blogged about here. This producer is commissioning a series of three stories from writers new to radio, and would I be interested in writing one of them? As so often, the timing was quite tight, with the recording due at the end of June, for transmission in early August. And as it's part of a set of three the location and theme were set. We talked on the... Read more →


Publicity for Writers: several rabbits at once (take 2)

I wrote this post seven years ago - good grief! Twitter was by then more than an irritating twitch at the corner of its creator's eye, but it was nothing like as big as it is today. Still, it seems to me that not all that much has changed in the relationship of one's inner, writerly self, and the nasty, noisy, beloved (and hated) Outside World. But what has changed - thanks to social media but also to the tectonic shift in the book industry towards self-publishing as a route to the reader - is the degree to which writers... Read more →


Equals and egos

If you hang around on writing forums for a while, you'll discover that one of the guaranteed topics to get everyone hot under the collar (or rather the keyboard) is how - and why and how often and if - members spend time critiquing other members' work. Indeed, the only times a forum member - let's call him Caliban - has got their knife into me have been on that very topic, I should imagine because it is, exactly, a guaranteed recruiting ground for strong feeling among the members. (Though it didn't really work, because strong feeling is not always... Read more →


The scent of a snuffed candle

A cracking post on the always-reliable and delightfully crabbit Nicola Morgan's blog nails some of the reasons why so many aspiring writers overwrite. Not that I worry much when students' work is rather over-written, because it does usually come from a very honourable state of being drunk on words. As Peter Wimsey says in Gaudy Night, he finds it so easy to get drunk on words 'that to tell the truth I am seldom perfectly sober'. But as anyone knows who's ever tried to revise a piece of work when they're two glasses down, sobriety is also necessary to the... Read more →


The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

Most writers know the feeling that our fictional characters have lives of their own, but I never thought when I set out to write A Secret Alchemy that one of my characters would turn up on Twitter. The paperback of A Secret Alchemy was published last April, and in the last couple of weeks Elizabeth Woodville has been tweeting. Philippa Gregory has just published a novel based on her, and has been promoting it by this extremely twenty-first century means. Neither of us is the first, of course. As I've described elsewhere, it was seeing Shakespeare's Henry VI plays which... Read more →


All sorts of things from all sorts of places

The most difficult chapter of my PhD's critical commentary has been the one on voice. I don't see how you can write about the practice of historical fiction without tackling it, but as I've talked about before, it's both the most crucial and the most un-pin-downable aspect of writing. Its effect is simultaneously micro - a single choice of word - and macro - the thing which creates the world of the novel: the thing which makes the characters live and breathe for the reader. Different voices are central to the way that both The Mathematics of Love and A... Read more →


Courses for horses

Over on the always-interesting Strictly Writing blog, crime writer Helen Black has been discussing writing courses. I'll leave her to tell her story – I'll just say that only course she tried wasn't right for her at all. Many of the commenters agree: why not just write? Another describes herself as a serial course-doer, and wonders about it. And it got me thinking about writing courses, because on the one hand I've heard worrying things from aspiring writers about what their writing teacher said they must 'never', or 'always', do. And agents beef about the shortcomings of the MA novel,... Read more →


It doesn't matter

I've been teaching myself to draw. It seemed a nice way to spend my convalescence (nothing scary, don't worry), sitting in bed with the sun and the birdsong coming in through the open window and Quentin Blake and John Cassidy's Drawing for the Artistically Undiscovered on my duveted lap. The book's very funny, very encouraging, very clever about how it gives you rock-bottom basic technique, and gets to the heart of the matter. And it's also being extremely salutary, because for the first time in a long time I'm trying to do something at which I'm a total beginner. Indeed,... Read more →


Accept, adapt, ignore

Well, I'd like to pretend that the reason I haven't posted here for so long is something large and amazing - a burst of literary inspiration, a passionate affair, a killing on the stock market - but of course it isn't, it's the usual accumulation of dull but urgent stuff which domestic and freelance life attracts as a drain attracts dead leaves. Most of those leaves are terribly boring (did you think that if the oven door you were trying to mend slipped one inch to touch the floor, it would shatter? No, neither did I, but now a new... Read more →


Only connect... if you can

Two opposite things are rubbing up against each other in my mind, and I can't work out how they fit together, so I've come over here to try to do so. First, my friend, the thriller writer Debi Alper, who's also a photographer, has been blogging about a part of her life which I, for one, didn't really know about. Twenty-five years ago she was living in Grenada, taking part in the Revolution which seemed to have created a free and democratic state in the Caribbean. She was there when the military took power and then assassinated Maurice Bishop and... Read more →


Living, breathing oddity

One of my favourite ice-breakers for a new workshop or group is to get everyone, in turn, to say the best thing and the worst thing that's happened to them this week. It's personal enough to get people feeling some connection with each other, since personal information is the coin of so much human interaction. And it's un-threatening enough (after all, you can choose what you say, and what it says about you) that it's not too intimate for a roomfull of strangers. Apparently, the latest thing going round Facebook is '25 Random Things about Me'; now it's cropped up... Read more →


A quick snack on the run

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, the blog's hungry, and everything's been scuppered by the struggle to finish fine-toothed-combing the proofs for the US edition of A Secret Alchemy. So I'm going to do what I try not to do too often, and feed it with a series of links, and hope they're nutritious enough to keep it going till I've put the proofs into the hands of that nice man or woman from DHL, and got the bit further with Kindred & Affinity which has been displaced by them, which where displaced by... No, I won't bore you. Over... Read more →