Genres

Being Published 9: Book Prizes

This is the ninth and last in a series of posts inspired by my new book, This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin, which was published in February. In each post I'll try to shed light not only on the practicalities of what happens when your book is being published, but also the sometimes surprising ways that each stage of the writing life can affect you and your writing. The whole Being Published series is here. If book prizes have become an ever more visible feature of the literary landscape, that's partly just a result of the industry's ever... Read more →


On Psychotherapists, Confessors and Other Narrative Conveniences

Recently, a blog-reading veteran of our online course in Self-Editing Your Novel - let's call her Caroline - got in touch. Her main character - let's call her Zainab - is shattered by the death of her father and struggling to come to terms with her past choices and actions, as part of working out a new future. Caroline was finding it hard to work out the shape of such a journey, so she sent a very reluctant Zainab to see bereavement counsellor. These scenes weren't for the book, just the most efficient way for Caroline to get her imagination... 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 →


As a Mentor and Teacher and Writer and Reader, there's something I want to say to you

Floating around on the net is this excellent post by Bruinhilda, As a Library Worker There's Something I Want to Say to You. It was originally posted on Tumblr and, as with the original Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt column, and "Everything About My Writing is Awful and No, I'm Not OK", I found my mind riffing off it, to create a version for writers. So here goes, with huge thanks to Bruinhilda for the inspiration: As a mentor and teacher and writer and reader, there's something I want to say to you: You do not have to apologise for the... Read more →


"How dare they?" Can you write fiction ethically, without clipping your own creative wings?

As you may know, I also have a column, Doctor Darwin's Writing Tips, over at Historia, the magazine of the Historical Writers Association. A version of this post first appeared there, but in an era when we've all become more sensitive to questions of cultural appropriate in the arts, it's relevant much more widely. Certainly if you want to build your story on people of another ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, class or perhaps just wildly different life-experience, there's work to be done compared to what you'd need if you stayed inside your own. So the ideas and strategies I've... 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 →


All the Posts on Getting Published that I Mentioned @ClaphamBookFest...

... and a few I forgot in the excitement. If there's one I mentioned there and haven't remembered here, or you can't find via the Tool-Kit link up there in the right-hand corner, do say in the comments and I'll try to dig it up. With many thanks to Philip Gwyn Jones for being so fascinating and informative about publishing from the publisher's point of view, and the lovely team at the Clapham Book Festival, and the Omnibus Theatre for all the organising, and for the delectable chocolates (from MacFarlane's Deli, since you ask...) For more about my forthcoming memoir... 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 →


They say my dialogue is weak. What do I do?

Fiction writers often talk as if we have to write in two completely different modes: dialogue, and everything else. There is a basic difference: while narration is, clearly, the writer's choice of words to convey a story, dialogue is trying to evoke how people who are not the writer actually speak. But if you've ever listened to recordings of real conversation - all ums and ers and going round in circles - you'll know that even the most naturalistic written dialogue is in fact very different. And by no means all fiction-writers and playwrights - who deal chiefly in dialogue... Read more →


Should I do a Creative Writing MA?

I've blogged about whether, and when, a course in Creative Writing might be a good idea, and about how to choose the right one for you. And if you're wondering whether, and how, Creative Writing can be taught, this unpicks that hardy perennial of a question. But a quick search on the UCAS website shows 459 Masters-level courses in Creative Writing. True, part-time and full-time versions of the same course are being listed separately, but the darned things cost a fortune these days (though student loans are these days available for both part- and full-time study). So, assuming you're thinking... Read more →


Make Your Novel Shine: all the posts I mentioned at the Words Away Salon

It was fantastic to see so many people at the inaugural Words Away Salon, "Make Your Novel Shine" at the Tea House Theatre in Vauxhall. Many thanks from Words Away's founder, Kellie Jackson, and me to everyone who came, and thanks too to the Tea House Theatre for being their excellent selves. It was a great evening: not just cake, wine, tea, and everyone making new writer friends, but a brilliantly insightful discussion with Andrew Wille, editor, writer and book-doctor: thanks most of all to him for his excellent ideas and inspiration. Andrew and I were talking specifically about how,... Read more →


All the posts I mentioned at the Historical Novel Society Conference 2016

... and some that I didn't but which might be useful. And apologies for the blog being silent, lately - normally August is a quiet month for work, with plenty of blogging time, but this one's been very busy, not least because of HNS16, but also because we've been planning a new series of evening events for writers in London: the Words Away Salons. Normal(ish) service should resume at some point between the York Festival of Writing, next weekend, and my workshop at the Harrogate History Festival towards the end of October. HNSOxford16, in Oxford for the first time, was... 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 →


"Amaris has to tell Baz stuff but the scene is wooden"

This question popped up recently on a forum: "I've just reached a point in my WIP where two characters get together after a while apart and one has to tell the other what's been happening. It's important stuff. I haven't found it easy, but I never find it easy to write the 'telly' stuff - particularly the links between the telling and the rest of the scene that is happening around them. Anybody have any words of wisdom?" There were some good responses, and I found mine developing into a blog post, so here we are. So if Amaris has... Read more →


The only "rules" of writing are your rules. But you need to decide what they are.

There are lots of ways in which learning to write is like learning to drive, but the relationship of the craft to the rules and laws is not one of them. Whether it's that you should Show and Tell, or that "cut everything which includes was" is not only wrong but dangerous, I don't believe you should "know the rules before you can break them", because there are no rules (except copyright and libel, obviously), only tools, in writing. I've been talking a lot recently about writing historical fiction, and inevitably we discuss how you decide what you must research... Read more →


One-Day Workshop on Writing Historical Fiction 10th Oct

So, would you like a workshop preview - including one-to-one feedback - based on my forthcoming Get Started Writing in Historical Fiction? Then come and join our one-day course in Writing Historical Fiction, on Saturday 10th October, at Leith Hill Place, deep in the ravishing Surrey Hills. Leith Hill Place is a delightfully informal, friendly-feeling house; my (distant) cousin Ralph Vaughan Williams grew up here, and until recently it was still owned and lived in by the Wedgwood family. I was there last weekend for the first time, and it's the most beautiful and historic setting: you can see for... Read more →


All the posts I mentioned at the York Festival of Writing 2015

As ever, in among a mini-course, two workshops, a dozen one-to-one meetings and several dozen informal conversations, sober and otherwise, that made up my weekend at York, I mentioned a fair few blog posts that might be useful to someone. If you want to get a flavour of this year's festival, veterans Debi Alper and Andrew Wille have posted about it, aspiring writer Jo Hogan has written very sapiently about what she learnt from her second festival, and this is a round-up of my impressions from past years. But, really, York is all about writing better. So here are a... 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 →


Jerusha Cowless, agony aunt: "Can it be anything but a bad sign to feel sick of the thing you're writing?"

Q: Oh, Jerusha! Can it be anything but a bad sign to feel sick of the thing you're writing? I've done well with children's fiction - prizes, sales - and now I'm tackling an adult novel. My agent's feedback is very positive but we've agreed that before it goes out large parts need not revising or editing, but full-on re-working - new scenes, settings, characters - which I'm now doing. I don't know if it's just that I've had such a bumpy ride with this adult book but I have a sense of just wanting shot of it now. I'm... Read more →