Books and reading

WRITE YOUR FIRST NOVEL Part Five: Reading Like a Writer

This is Part Five of my new series on This Itch of Writing; each post is a small series of short(ish) prompts and exercises which are designed to lead, step by small step, towards the first draft of a novel. It doesn't assume you already know the technical vocabulary that writers use, and the full series to date is collected together here. One more thing before we start. Everything on the Itch is free; I don't monetise it through advertising or clicks or affiliations or anything else, but simply put it out under a Creative Commons Licence (and if you'd... Read more →


Notes Made While Reading: books for writers

First things first. If you're busy with a shitty first draft, you will probably not want to get stuck into any of these just now - though some of them are just the right size for a stocking. Hurling a story down any old way that comes, "building up, not tearing down" as the NaNoWriMo website puts it, is usually not helped by an attack of standing-outside-it-ness, of self-consciousness, or a cool new costume for your Inner Critic. But for the rest of us (and NaNo-ers in due course) these are all books that I've read recently which have been... Read more →


Being Published 7: Events

This is the seventh in a series of posts inspired by my new book, This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin, which was published on 12th February. In each post I try to shed light not only on the practicalities of what happens when your book is being published, but also the sometimes surprising ways it can affect you and your writing. The whole Being Published series is here. To get a flavour of the sort of events you might do, have a look at the Events page on my website (and if you're inspired to book one, do... Read more →


This is Not a Book about Charles Darwin is available for pre-order

So my forthcoming book, This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin, is available for pre-order. This thing has just got real, in other words, and I'm in a familiar state, at once wanting to tiptoe away with my fingers in my ears before anyone notices, and wanting my words (which means my self) to go out there and be heard come what may. What's more, various festivals and other writerly places have asked me to join them and talk about the book, though most I can't specify yet (sounds much more cloak-and-dagger than it is). One that I can... Read more →


Basing Your Fiction on Real People? Can "Real" and "Fiction" live in the same book?

At October's Words Away Salon next Monday, the 16th, Kellie and I are delighted to be hosting Jill Dawson. We'll be talking about writing fiction based on real characters - recent or ancient. Jill is a poet and novelist, and a highly-regarded mentor of writers, and her most recent novel is The Crime Writer. That's about Patricia Highsmith, but she's also written The Great Lover, about Rupert Brooke, and Fred and Edie, based on a famous 1920s murder. So we thought she'd be the perfect person to start us off talking about this fascinating but very challenging kind of fiction,... Read more →


Guest Post by Jenn Ashworth: Making the Rules: Physics and Fell

One of the questions I suggest asking your novel is "Who is telling this story?" And the next is, "Where are they standing, relative to the events they're telling?". So I was excited to discover that Jenn Ashworth was building her new novel, Fell, on one of the most interesting - and fruitful - answers to that question that I've yet come across. I was lucky enough, a while back, to have a tiny role in her working-out of the considerable writerly challenges it posed, and when I read the book a few weeks ago I just loved it (its... Read more →


Recommend an historical novel, win a signed copy of Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction

Update: 27th June 2016: The competition is now closed, and I announced the winners in this post. Thank you very much to everyone who entered; it's a fantastic list of recommendations which my bedside table does not thank you for, but I do. I would love this post to become a resource for the future, so do feel free to add more recommendations, and comment on other people's. I'll be back to post my two penn'orth in a few days. *** To celebrate the publication of Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction, which is now also out in the USA,... Read more →


Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction is published on 10th March

I'm ridiculously thrilled to have my author's copies of Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction sitting on my desk. It really does embody all the things I find myself saying when I'm teaching workshops and blogging, not just about historical fiction but writing fiction and creative non-fiction in general. Whether you're new to writing of any kind and have just fallen in love with a person or a period and can't rest till you've had a shot at bringing it to life on paper, or you're an experienced writer who's always loved reading historical fiction but have never dared to... Read more →


Download a chapter FREE from Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction

As you may know, my first non-fiction book, Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction, is due to be published next month as part of the Teach Yourself series. I’m delighted that John Murray Learning have produced a free e-book sampler which contains the whole first chapter. It’s a pdf file, and to download it all you should need to do is click this link: Download GS Hist Fic sampler. It's a .pdf file (click here if you don't have a pdf reader); it will either dowload directly, or display in your browser for you to save to your computer. If... Read more →


Ten New Year ideas for everyone who writes, or wants to write

First of all, Happy New Year and grateful thanks to everyone - writers and readers - who reads the blog, and a special lift of the Champagne glass (all right, Prosecco glass - we're on a writer's budget, here) to anyone who comments, spreads the word or links to the blog from elsewhere. Without you all, there wouldn't be a blog, because why would I talk, if I didn't have someone to talk to? I don't really do New Year's Resolutions, because they bring out my Inner Stroppy Toddler. But this is, let's (two-)face it, the Janus time of the... Read more →


Zombie nouns and aggressive passives: kill that "office-speak"

One of the most common things I find myself writing in the margins of students' creative writing is "this is very Office-Speak-y". I am, of course, maligning the many millions (OK, half a dozen) companies whose internal communications are full - as Bertie Wooster would say - of pep and zest. But, even if your office is a cowshed or a diving-bell, internal office speak has a way of leaking out onto the pages of everyday life. And that tends to mean it leaks into your storytelling. (If you also want to tackle similar things in your academic or business... Read more →


Creative thinking, creative writing, Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction, and all that (Darwin) stuff ...

What with finishing Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction (the copy-edited manuscript has just landed on my desk) and the way I keep acquiring new writers to mentor, I've been thinking a lot lately about not just creative writing, but creative thinking. It's what writers don't necessarily have in common with literary critics, and may have in common with geologists. It's what choreographers have in common with farriers, and mathematicians with symphonists, and architects with historians. And it's what my physicist grandfather Charles had in common with his composer cousin Ralph, and their shared ancestors Erasmus and Josiah ... Leith... 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 →


Jerusha Cowless, agony aunt: "How much should I reveal of my antagonist's intentions?"

Q: Dear Ms Cowless - I am struggling to make what should be a simple decision, and I'm stuck because I can't make it. Basically, I have my Antagonist sitting down having a catch-up meet with his top guy to discuss the direction of their plans. The Antagonist is using the skills and abilities of his top man to exact his revenge. The reader will be carried through the story and will see the good guys caught on the back foot, i.e. they obviously have no idea about the impending act, but the reader will if I choose to have... Read more →


Writing Historical Fiction, Creative Darwins, The Genre Swap and other stories

There seems to have been a lot going on, lately, and if the blog's been a bit quiet, that's why. I'm up to my neck in the last work on Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction. It's due out mid-Autumn and, as ever, even when I've been living with a project for years, I can't quite believe that it is about to become a Real Book, but all the signs are there! And historical fiction's a bit of a theme elsewhere. Also in the autumn, I'll be heading down to Leith Hill Place, the lovely house where Ralph Vaughan Williams... Read more →


Psychic Distance: how terrific writers actually use it

You won't read This Itch of Writing for long without coming across my conviction that Psychic Distance - a.k.a. Narrative Distance - is the most useful way there is of working with point-of-view, voice, the insides of character's heads, the reader's feeling for those characters, the relationship of characters and narrative ... about 75% of your job in writing a novel or life writing piece, in other words. Pyschic Distance week on the current Self-Editing Course has, as ever, lit a galaxy of lightbulbs in the participants, but I've realised we could do with some more examples of how it... Read more →


The Itch of Writing Bookshelf 5: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré

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. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, by John le Carré 1969, or thereabouts: a damaged man arrives at a run-down West Country prep school, and a minor Secret Service thug, posted as a defector to Soviet Russia, turns up in Ascot with a nightmare of a story about the Secret Service. The only people who are - probably - sufficiently outside the new regime of London Circus to be trusted... Read more →


Showing and Telling: cooperation not competition

First, can we get get a few things straight? Writing is not an exact science. It's not even an exact art. So it's next-to-impossible to say, "Doing X is Telling, doing Y is Showing", because "Telling" and "Showing" are convenient but wildly over-simple labels for effects on the reader which are achieved by a complex of means. Sorry. I prefer to call Telling "Informing" and sometimes "Explaining", and Showing "Evoking". Those are also over-simple, of course, but still, I think they help. Any text worth reading has writing which Tells, as well as writing which Shows. So you can ignore... Read more →


How-To-Write books: Addicted to them? Revolted by them?

A while ago, my writer friend Annie Caulfield and I recorded a podcast for the Royal Literary Fund's new series, Writers Aloud. I was just beginning to try my hand at writing radio plays, and Annie, whose fantastic Writing for Radio I knew before Annie and I met as fellow RLF Fellows at Goldsmiths, was trying her hand at writing novels. We had a lot of fun making the recording (hats off to the producer, Kona McPhee, for disentangling it into something coherent!), and now the RLF has turned what we talked about into three 30 minute podcasts. The first... Read more →


The Itch of Writing Bookshelf 4: Careless People by Sarah Churchwell

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. CARELESS PEOPLE: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby, by Sarah Churchwell Just as the young, rich(ish) Mid-Western writer Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda were packing for the East in 1922, a very ordinary, young married woman and her lover were discovered in New Jersey, shot through the head. The murder case became a national sensation, and Fitzgerald followed it as he and Zelda settled... Read more →