This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin is 99p on Kindle

"The best conversation I've ever had about writing with someone I've never actually met." - Joanne Limburg "Here is the humility, naked courage and fiercely intelligent understanding of what writing a novel takes, and costs." - Jenn Ashworth FRSL "This author of historical novels would seem to have a rich ancestral seam to mine. But, as she reveals in this refreshingly frank, witty, eloquent memoir-cum-biography-cum-rumination, it isn’t that easy." - Saga Magazine Just a quick post to say that if you have a bit of time on your hands and like the sound of all that, This is Not a... Read more →

Guest Post by R.N.Morris: Plotting the Perfect Crime (Novel)

R.N.Morris is an old writer-friend of mine, and ever since his debut, A Gentle Axe, starring Dostoevsky's Porfiry Petrovitch, the examining magistrate from Crime and Punishment, I've known his work for pulling no punches but also being subtle, complex and thought-provoking. Has a superb sense of setting and period and (which isn't the case with every good writer) he's also good at articulating what he does. I'm not a crime-writer, though I love the detective/mystery end of the genre particularly, and am awed by anyone who can fit all the bits together and simultaneously make one care, shiver, and stay... Read more →

The Itch of Writing Bookshelf 6: I Capture The Castle, by Dodie Smith

Click here for the full (or, rather, rapidly filling) Itch of Writing Bookshelf, and if you're looking for books to help with your writing directly, then click through to Books for Writers. I CAPTURE THE CASTLE, by Dodie Smith Cassandra Mortmain is seventeen, and has decided to keep a journal to practice her speedwriting, in the hope of being able to get a job. She, her older sister Rose and schoolboy brother Thomas live in a tumbledown castle in Suffolk, which their writer father moved into in happier times, after the succès d'estime of his Finnegan's-Wake-like novel. Then he succumbed... Read more →

Writing Emotion: is less more, and how do you make it real?

Back when I posted about how showing and telling should co-operate, not compete, a commenter said this: I struggle with showing my main character's emotion, over-complicating things in my attempt to avoid signals and abstract nouns. I'd love to pull off a reserved first person narrator, one you feel for, while she's trying to hide her pain even from herself, but so far not succeeded. I know what she means. In theory we all know that Less is More (except when it isn't) but how can you be sure the reader doesn't just understand, but really feels what's going on... Read more →

Sentence, Eloquence and Exercise: books for sentence wranglers

Painters have paint, choreographers have bodies, sculptors have bronze, musicians have chords and tunes. Writers have sentences. Not words, sentences, because a word which isn't in relation to another word can only be something, not do anything. In a letter Flaubert once described himself as "Itching with sentences", that is, with chains of words connected up to make a meaning. Flaubert's itch wouldn't be cured until he got the sentences - the meanings - out, and heading towards readers. I do love reading good sentences, and try to write them, and I know from the response to my sixty versions... Read more →

Support Authors for the Philippines: win signed books, critiques, mentoring and more

Have you, too, been wondering what on earth any of us can do about the dreadful situation in the Philippines? YA author Keris Stainton has set up Authors for the Philippines, an online auction of all things readerly and writerly, to raise money for the Red Cross’s Typhoon Haiyan Appeal. Authors, agents, editors and illustrators have donated some fabulous things, and the list is growing all the time; it opens tomorrow, Wednesday 13th November, and closes on Wednesday 20th November. Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines on Friday (8 November), causing catastrophic damage. It is the strongest storm ever to... Read more →

When a flashback is an alarm bell

A student has just quoted a how-to book, 30 Steps to Becoming a Writer by Scott Edelstein. As with most how-to books, she says, lots isn't specially useful - at least not to her - but one or two things are. And the one she quoted which struck me was from a list of things you see in your writing which should ring an alarm bell: Beginning with an almost immediate flashback. This is probably caused, suggests Edelstein, by the desire To avoid the work of showing full-fledged events. And the thing is, I know exactly what he means. I... Read more →

Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt: "Can I start with a character who isn't an MC?"

Dear Jerusha: Can you have an opening chapter in the point-of-view of someone who isn't the MC? [Emma notes: that's main character, not master of ceremonies] I'll try to explain. My opening chapter is in the point-of-view of a doctor. Her patient, James, is a main character, but is unconscious after an overdose of illegal drugs, and the scene is with James's family, in the hospital. The whole scene is from the doctor's point-of-view, but one of the family there, Edward, is also a main character. The reason I did it this way is because I needed a negative view... Read more →

As my granny used to say

The most I've ever laughed at a book is at the weekly Anger Management group sessions attended by the cast of Wuthering Heights, in Jasper Fforde's The Well of Lost Plots. And if one of your favourite literary love stories is that of Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, then knowing your Donne makes it even better. Only, of course, there'll be readers who don't get the reference, so don't get the joke, and can't be swept away by the love scenes. Equally, you're not going to baffle many readers if you make someone say "Bonjour", but what if they're talking... Read more →

Come back Mr Casaubon, all is forgiven

In putting together the list of Books for Writers, over there in Resources on the right-hand sidebar (which I keep adding to, and welcome more of your favourites in the comments), I realised that there's one kind of book I really, really wish someone would compile. There's nothing I enjoy more than a happy ten minutes (half hour... hour... Remind me what I was looking up?) pootling about in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, for example. But if I'm really in full, writerly cry, what I want is reverse dictionaries and encyclopaedias. For example, as a word-nerd I might... Read more →