Giving a Reading Part Two - On the Night

This is the second part of a two-part series: click here for Giving a Reading Part One - Getting Ready. (newly expanded 6/2/14) . I've given readings everywhere from a minute basement bookshop space to the Hay Festival, and of course the setup varies wildly, but here are some suggestions of things to think about, for you to pick and chose. If you have a publicist a good deal of the prep will be done for you, and she'll know the answer to a good many of the questions. But it's worth thinking about what you need, and asking her... Read more →

Giving a Reading Part One - Getting Ready

Most writers are introverts, and for some the prospect of standing on a platform and reading their work aloud is terrifying. But at some point in your writing life you will find yourself having to read your work to an audience consisting of more than your sister and the dog. It might be an open mic in the local pub, a bookshop event, a platform at a literary festival, an X-Factor competition before agents at a writer's festival, or the launch of something like Stories for Homes (in aid of Shelter, and it's a cracker. Do buy it). Some authors... Read more →

Wives of Tyrants and landing the plane on time: the Harrogate History Festival 2013

As an ex- wannabe-actress, I actively enjoy the performing side of being an author, even if I do need plenty of Piglet-time afterwards before I can get back into writing-mode. So I'm looking forward to providing a Literary Lunchtime at the Ulster Hall in Belfast, on 27th November, and if you can make it, do come and say Hi afterwards. I've never been to Belfast, either, so I also hope I'll get a little time to have a look round. It's always particularly easy and enjoyable when you're slotting into an established structure and venue, as with the Literary Lunchtimes,... Read more →


... you put one thing in an essay - your agent says another thing in passing - you remember one of the lives you nearly chose to follow in one of those yellow-wood moments before you decided for something else; your agent says a second thing because of what you said; you remember one of the things you most loved when you were ten; you realise that another childhood love was a place which has been knocking on the doors of your brain for a couple of years now ... - and you have an idea - the first idea... Read more →

Would love to do a writing course but "don't know any grammar"?

A couple of weeks ago, a writer emailed to say that he was interested in joining the course that Debi Alper and I teach, on Self-Editing Your Novel. He thought it might be what he needed, but was worried that he knows nothing about the technical side of writing, wouldn't be any use at the workshopping aspects of the course, and would look and feel a fool in consequence. He's not the first writer, by any means, to admit in a private email what he or she can't bring themselves to display in even the mildly public space of a... Read more →

Exercises, heroes and your hat-check girl's journey

A writing exercise which the wonderful Debi Alper taught me is to write a two-character scene in first person, from the point of view of Character A (who might be yourself). Then you re-write it, as exactly as you can, from the point of view of Character B. Then you pick one viewpoint, re-write the scene with an external narrator (i.e. in third person), and move point of view once, finding the most effective moment in the scene to shift. Even with veterans, this exercise can be salutary, and in several different ways. - The Other character becomes pure character-in-action.... Read more →

All the posts I mentioned at Arvon/Historical Fiction with M C Scott

These are all the posts I think I mentioned at Arvon Lumb Bank, when M C Scott and I had the pleasure of spending a week talking about writing historical fiction with fifteen writers who are rash enough to want to join us - and then wrote some truly fantastic stuff. We also had a splendid evening with Robert Low, ex-Para, ex-journalist and current Viking. If you were there, and remember me mentioning a post or a book or a topic which I haven't put here, do say so in the comments, and I'll do my best to dig it... Read more →

And the Winners of the Itch of Writing 500th Postiversary Competition are...

I was so thrilled to have so many great entries for This Itch of Writing's 500th Postiversary Competition. It was terribly difficult to chose, (as well as terribly difficult to find enough time to choose carefully), between so many posts which made me laugh, and think, and gave me so much insight into how other writers think and feel. It's the readers who make this blog what it is, and it's lovely to know that y'all are as fascinated as I am with the whole business of how writing happens. So thank you hugely to everyone for entering, and another... Read more →

The Book Doctor will (not) confuse you now

Winchester is just finishing, York is in September, then there's Verulam, Swanwick, the Historical Novel Society, which is not just historical but international,since it alternates between Britain and the United States, Getting Published, WriteConZurich, the Romantic Novelists Association and another which I can't talk about yet ... and dozens more. I'm talking about Writers' Conferences; you may well know the kind of thing I mean. If you don't, my impressions of York 2012 are here, and if you think that asking an aspiring writer to spend a money on their aspirations is like the Pope suggesting that putting money towards... Read more →

Spring Roundup: Pinterest, the Postiversary, and other stories

It must be spring in the air: I'm fantastically busy on various fronts, but some of them might be relevant to all you lovely blog-readers, so here goes. Since October I've been absolutely loving my RLF Fellowship at Goldsmiths; it's been some of the most rewarding and enjoyable teaching I've ever done, so I'm delighted that playwright Annie Caulfield and I will again be there next year. Our job is to help with academic writing across the full spectrum of the College, from first years to PhDs and staff, from Fine Art to Social Work and Anthropology. I am planning... Read more →

All the posts I mentioned at Getting Published 2013

These are links to all the posts I can remember mentioning last Saturday at the Writers' Workshop Getting Published event. If I mentioned a post that I haven't listed here, then do say so in the comments and I'll try and dig it up. SHOWING AND TELLING: the basics : how to use both to make your story do everything you want it to do. HOW TO TELL, AND STILL SHOW : how to get on with the story without sacrificing vividness PSYCHIC DISTANCE: what it is and how to use it : a key technique, not much discussed and... Read more →


When I let myself in for giving a workshop on Characterisation at Writers' Workshop's Getting Published event yesterday, I realised I haven't blogged directly about Characterisation as much as some things. It is a big subject, but for me, it's all founded in Aristotle: a character without action isn't a story, it's a portrait. In "Clothes and Food and Dropping Presents" I explored how the process of creating (discovering? uncovering?) your characters can, essentially, go from the outside in, or the inside out, but here are some other ways to help you develop your characters-in-action. And please don't forget that,... Read more →

So what did Richard III seem like to the man he murdered?

In my novel A Secret Alchemy, Antony Wydvil, Earl Rivers, uncle and guardian to the new, young King Edward V, has been arrested by Edward's other uncle, the Regent Richard Duke of Gloucester. In one, long midsummer's day Antony rides, under guard, from the castle of Sheriff Hutton to Pontefract, where he knows he is to be put to death. It is some time after midday. Anderson spies a spinney a couple of furlongs off the road and orders a halt to rest the horses. The corn in the fields is well grown, and we ride along the rising ground... Read more →

Jerusha Cowless, agony aunt: "Am I single-handedly ruining my career by not talking personally?"

Dear Jerusha: I read Emma's blog Too Much Meringue and wondered if you could help me with a different facet of coping with the media? I hate all this stuff anyway, so would much rather refuse to do it all, though I have got used to it. But my new novel is set in the rather unusual milieu in which I grew up, although the story and the characters aren't like anyone real at all. And of course everyone wants me to say that it's all about me really, and write about my own parents and my own children. A... Read more →

But can you teach Creative Writing?

I get asked this amazingly often, considering that no one ever asks if you can teach the doing of other arts, but, just as I took ages to get on to that other old chestnut, "What is literary fiction?" and my own personal Ancestral Elephant, it's taken me till now to sort out what I think clearly enough to answer the question. My answer, mind you, depends on how long I've got, but it comes from someone who wrote for fifteen years before being taught, (and my thoughts on the pros and cons of writing courses are here) but now... Read more →

Crazy First Draft

It's nearly NaNoWriMo time, but every now and again, when I'm talking about the shitty first draft and other NaNo-ish concepts, someone says "I don't understand why anyone would want to write shit." Of course the idea is not that you want to, but that it may help if you accept it may be - well - shit. For many writers running every word through the shittiness-censor before you allow it onto the page may not be the best way to get and keep the creative imagination working at novel-scale, or at all. But there's no denying that for some... Read more →

All the blog posts I mentioned at York 2012, and a big Thank You

I'm just back from the Festival of Writing at York, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, my post from the same point last year is here, and from 2010 is here. Apart from the usual frustration at having been too busy running my own workshops and doing 1-to-1 book doctoring to sit in on any workshops for myself, it was as much frantic, rewarding, alcohol-and-caffeine-fuelled fun as ever. The ducks were a bit quieter - maybe because it's September, not March - but other than that I'm going to need just as long to recover this time.... Read more →

Sex in the news, and other historical moments

A bit of a round-up post today. Fancy going to bed with a good e-book? You may remember that a couple of years ago I had a story in an anthology of erotic short stories, In Bed With... along with writers like Fay Weldon, Ali Smith and Stella Duffy. The conceit of the collection is that we're all writing under pseudonyms, and in Writing Sex and Ringing Tills I blogged about why so many writers find writing sex difficult, and why some of us therefore find it extra-interesting. Today's news is that it's just come out as an e-book. That... Read more →

Death doesn't always become you[r story]

A couple of posts ago, in Nothing but the truth, I found myself saying new writers and unconfident writers, paradoxically, seem to gravitate towards... well at one evening of short fiction readings, nine out of the ten stories read were centrally, chiefly, about death. And competitions sifters say the same. I used to think crossly that it was just a cheap thrill - some instant gravitas - but I'm a slightly nicer person these days. and a blog reader got in touch, because she's neither new nor unconfident, but often writes about death. Is it really such a Bad Idea?... Read more →

Not Me Me Me at all

It's been a bit quiet here lately, for which I apologise. I tried to get Jerusha Cowless to stand in for me, first while I was going full-steam-ahead with re-building the first 100,000 words of the novel, and teaching an OU tutorial and a six-week Writers Workshop online course in Self-Editing Your Novel. And I tried to get in touch with Jerusha again just before I headed off to France to research the novel (6 days, 2 planes, 1 dead & 1 live (hire) cars, 10 novel-settings, 270 photos, 1100km, ∞ bad French/good food/great ideas...). Eventually I got a message... Read more →