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 8: Reviews

This is the eighth 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. Longstanding book industry people and literary types will tell you that reviewing isn't what it used to be - which is true, of course, though... Read more →


Nearly finished a draft? Can't quite write "The End"? You're not alone.

A friend has just asked for advice about how to get over the finishing line of a first draft. They're less than 10,000 words from the end of the first draft "for yourself", and until recently they were powering along, longing to reach the end and get stuck into the second draft "for your reader" - and from thence into the third draft "for your agent". And yet day after day they're procrastinating, dodging, fiddling, doing anything rather than actually getting to the end of the story. I've blogged a lot about procrastination, but this is a very particular case,... 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 →


My 10 Top Tips for Revising and Self-Editing Your Novel or Creative Non-Fiction

Everyone - well, mostly - knows that finishing a first draft is just the beginning of writing a novel or creative non-fiction that really works. If the definition of an editor is the person who helps you to write the book you think you've already written, then when you're self-editing, you need to keep in touch with what you hope you've written, while getting ruthlessly real about what you actually have written. Debi Alper and I developed and have co-taught the six-week online course Self-Editing Your Novel at Jericho Writers for many years now, and when the next course starts... Read more →


Being Published 6: The Book

This is the sixth in a series of posts inspired by my new book, This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin, which was published on Tuesday - Darwin Day - 12th February 1019. 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 this stage of the writing life can affect you and your writing. The whole Being Published series is here. ENJOY! The moment when you first hold your book, or see it on your tablet, is one of... 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 →


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 →


Being Published Part 5: Publicity

This is the fifth in a series of posts which I'm planning in the run-up to next February, when This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin will be published. In each 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 this stage of the writing life can affect you and your writing. The whole Being Published series is here. Before we start, let's get something sorted out. Marketing and publicity are often talked about as the same thing, and they do have... Read more →


All the posts I mentioned at the Brontë Parsonage Festival of Women's Writing

A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of holding two workshops, as part of the Festival of Women's Writing - which doesn't at all exclude men - organised by the Brontë Parsonage Museum, and held at the entirely wonderful Ponden Hall. We covered a lot of ground, and in the nature of things, many topics cropped up which are expanded on in posts here on Itch. So these are links to the ones I particularly remember mentioning. If anyone remembers any others, do drop me a line, and I’ll try to dig it up. These, and a lot... Read more →


"No Word Count Boot Camp or Productivity Push": #100daysofwriting

I've got a novel to revise. At least the York Festival of Writing and the Historical Novel Society Conference have been and gone. But the next Self-Editing Your Novel course is about to start, I'm off to Yorkshire for the Bronte Parsonage Museum's Festival of Contemporary Women's Writing and life is decidedly busy on other fronts. Then there are the writers I'm helping as a tutor and mentor, and occasionally boring old real life has to be dealt with. And did I mention (no, surely not!) that I have a new book coming out in February? So there are press-releases,... Read more →


Being Published Part 4: Covers

This is the fourth 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. Your book is (not) your cover The cover of a book is a hugely important - possibly the most important - selling tool the publisher... 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 appropriation 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 →


Being Published Part 3: Permissions

This is the third 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. I've had to get permissions for all my books, starting with various epigraphs and quotes in my fiction. Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction had... 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 →


You love writing: should you, could you, commit to it?

So the writing's going well. You've realised you're happier writing than doing anything else; you've re-found the confidence you had in your childhood and teenage years; you're a nicer and better person in the rest of your life for having those hours on your own with your words. Perhaps you've had successes in getting short things published or placed in competitions, or a self-publishing venture is doing much better than the average sold-it-to-my-family numbers. Maybe, even, an agent or three have said they can't sell this book, but they'd love to see the next one. Writing is no longer just... Read more →


Being Published Part 2: Editing

This is the second 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. BEING EDITED If you've ever had good, experienced feedback on your work, in some ways being edited by a publisher isn't that different. It can... Read more →


Prepositions and Syncopations: even short sentences need wrangling

I've blogged before about the pleasures and opportunities to be found in long sentences, and how to think about the order you put their elements in. I've talked about my own wrangling of a shortish sentence; I've even sat down and worked out just how many versions of a single sentence I can actually find. And still, the other day, I found myself asking this of a group of writer-friends: Minor rhythm question. Which works best? I pulled my cap down and turned my collar up. I pulled my cap down and turned up my collar. I pulled down my... Read more →


Being Published Part 1: The Contract

Many aspiring writers find the book industry baffling, and the prospect of being published very daunting, however much they long for it. It needn't be, but the industry is very odd, in many ways, compared to other industries. And where you don't know what the norms are, it's very easy not to realise when someone you're dealing with is either going out of their way to be extra-helpful or generous, or not doing what they really should for you and your book. Since my memoir This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin [Edited to update] was published on 12th... Read more →