THE EXPEDITION

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 →


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 →


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 →


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 →


Overcoming the Social Media Fear

I know that many aspiring writers who happily read blogs or belong to writing forums are nonetheless very wary of the more dynamic forms of social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest and all the others. Which wouldn't matter, except that it is genuinely harder and harder to make any kind of way as a writer without doing some of this stuff - not least because publishers will be wary of a writer who is invisible in social media terms. But the good news is that it's perfectly possible to have a useful presence out there. So to that end... Read more →


Is Your Writing Out on Submission? Welcome to Hell

So you (or your agent) has sent your work out to ... someone. A magazine, a competition, a publisher, a broadcaster, a film company, an agent you hope for, an author whose quote you desperately want for the cover, even a mentor or editor you've hired yourself. You are now officially in the condition known as Waiting To Hear. Welcome to a minor and largely unacknowledged room in Writer's Hell. Or rather, two rooms. You may have a short, relatively easy time in Limbo, when you genuinely know you won't hear: the stretch before the competition deadline or the closure... Read more →


How To Handle Feedback On Your Writing

I've blogged more than once about how to give feedback, but most writers get feedback even more than they give it, since as well as workshop friends, you'll get it from teachers, agents, editors, reviewers, friends and family. Here, I'm going to refer to them all as "the reader", because that's what we hope a feeder-back will be: a representative of the readers we're hoping for. Obviously the setup varies. Some settings are "live": a Skype session with a mentor, round a workshop table, at a one-to-one book doctor session, in virtual workshop on your online course. Some are written... Read more →


Mentoring for Writers: the Authors for Grenfell post

At the Authors for Grenfell auction, I offered to write a bespoke blog post for the bidder of the largest amount. The auction has closed now, having raised over £180,000, but the Red Cross's London Fire Appeal is very much open, and the needs of the victims don't vanish as the headlines do, so do please click through to donate. And for a lovely story of the power of social media in these things, click here. My idea, in offering the blog post, was that the bidder would get from some personalised advice. But the winning bidder turned out to... Read more →


How To Tame Your Novel

A writer recently got in touch because he's overwhelmed by the novel he's writing. He has a story, and about two-thirds of a first draft, but it's feeling more and more impossible. There are loose ends, continuity clashes, scenes whose outcome is unconvincing and others which don't go anywhere; when he tries to write a scene it always grows in a direction which the plot won't allow, while if he tries to write the scenes that the plot needs, they're stiff and dead. What's more, each time he solves a problem - changes the time-scheme of a chapter, or a... Read more →


When a good stopping place is a bad starting place

Today is supposed to be a writing day, and the morning is my prime writing time. The project is going well, I've got Scrivener fired up, and I've run my eye down yesterday's work to remind myself where I've got to. And yet ... I've just spent the last hour not-getting-on-with-it: faffing about with useful-but-not-urgent work and domestic things, consoling a Facebook friend who's struggling with the outcome of a nasty book contract clause, doing a bit of necessary professional tweeting, and making cups of tea that I then forget about. This is nothing to do with serious procrastination: I'm... Read more →


The Ten Things Which Most Often Go Wrong With Beginners' Fiction

Happy New Year! My post from this time last year collected Ten New Years Ideas For Everyone Who Writes, Or Wants To Write, and I though that an equivalent for the actual nuts and bolts of writing might be useful. Of course, every writer has their own specific strengths and weaknesses, and on a bad day the strengths feel awfully feeble, and the weaknesses depressingly strong. Indeed, it can be instructive, even encouraging, to make a list of what you think you're relatively good at and what you think you're relatively bad at, especially if you refuse to think "bad... Read more →


My story is far too long. What do I do?

A writer recently howled on a forum that his novel was far too long: it was 180,000 words when people were saying that no agent will look at a book over 90,000. He did sense that there were things to cut, but didn't know where to begin. And how on earth was he to get it down to half the length - lose every other word, effectively - and still have a novel, not a blood-sodden mess? There are an awful lot of writers who have faced up to this problem, but actually it's two relatively separate problems: what length... 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 →


The Fiction Editor's Pharmacopoeia; diagnosing symptoms & treating the disease

The Society for Editors and Proof-readers is and does exactly what it says on the tin (and if you're thinking of self-publishing, it would be a very good place to start looking for proper professional help.) So I was delighted to be asked to speak to their Editing Fiction conference, exploring and explaining the decisions that we writers make, so that in tackling writing where the decisions aren't producing a good result, writers and editors can have a common language. As I was discussing in my post about giving feedback, it's one thing to recognise a problematic symptom: over-writing, say,... Read more →


Your words & your story live in your head: how to stay there

As with most writers, my income and my heating bill have an uneasy relationship, and a day which can start with me writing in bed is a good day. It's best of all if the current project is at a longhand stage: first-drafting, or revising and editing on hard copy. But although I don't like working on my laptop (flat keyboard, RSI, bad angle for head and neck, etc. etc.), and my dodgy back doesn't like me writing in bed, it's worth it to be away from my desk: overall I usually write 10% more words, and find that many... 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 →


David Mamet's ideas on acting make sense for writers too

I've blogged before about how useful it can be for prose and fiction writers to think in terms of theatre and drama, and again at The History Girls about why my own Drama degree has been so useful to me. So when I came across this post, on actor James Devereaux's Great Acting Blog, I couldn't help hearing it as a way of thinking about writing. James has collected some of playwright and director's David Mamet's most thought-provoking and important ideas, and I hope he won't mind if I borrow them. Learn to ask: what does the character in the... Read more →