Itchy Bitesized 5: Sixteen Things You Need to Become a Writer (and twelve things you don't)

When I meet someone who says they'd love to be a writer but they've never studied Creative Writing, or they can't spell, or they always got bad marks in English at school, I say, with truth, that you don't need any of those things. So, first, let's be clear: 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 →

"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 →

News: This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin

STOP PRESS: 12th February 2019. This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin has been published! I celebrated it at a Darwin Day event, and since then I've been interviewed by Mariella Frostrup for BBC Radio 4's Open Book programme, as well as blogs and websites. The Literary Review said this: She is unsparingly honest about her battles with self-doubt, her struggle to establish a separate identity as a writer, the difficulties of earning a living and the sheer hard graft of writing. Many biographies have been written about Charles Darwin, and while this thoroughly researched book may shed some... Read more →

Life Writing? Travel Writing? Creative Non-Fiction? What are you writing?

At this year's York Festival of Writing I gave a workshop on literary fiction and creative non-fiction, and one of the topics that came up was: "What is creative non-fiction?" Which is a very good question and (like all the best questions) not quick to answer. Creative non-fiction - which also gets called "Narrative non-fiction" and "Literary non-fiction" - lives in a fascinating liminal area, bounded by fiction and poetry on one side, by journalism on another, and by "proper" history, biography, autobiography, travel-, food-, science- and art-writing on the third. So creative non-fiction is narrative: it is an act... 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 →

Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt: "I have a book deal. Why don't I feel euphoric?"

Q: When I got my very first short story published I was truly ecstatic and I'd always planned, if a book deal happened, to take all my clothes off, run around the garden, and roll in the grass. Now, I've worked long and hard to write a book good enough to sell, and succeeded: it's two-book deal with a well-known smallish independent publisher which punches above its weight in terms of presence in the industry. But I've never felt the euphoria. The thing is, there was no advance involved so I still feel I've achieved nothing. It's my family's voice... 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 →

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 →

This Happy Fellow: my year at Goldsmiths

The Royal Literary Fund Fellow's job is simple, on paper. We are professional authors who are paid by the RLF to spend two days a week, in term time, for a year, supporting academic writing across the whole of an academic institution. Most are universities, but conservatoires and art schools also have RLF Fellows, and the students who come range from first years who've never written an essay to postgrads in the very middle of the PhD muddle, and staff struggling with a presentation. Their problems can be anything from "What does "critically analyse' mean?" to "I need a Distinction... 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 →

Jerusha Cowless, agony aunt: "Does it matter that I don't feel exposed?"

Q: I'm being kept up at night by one rejection; four full MS are still out there. The agent in question is super starry and it sounds like she gave my MS a thorough reading. She said some nice things, even said I nailed some things. But she said she didn't get a new perspective, neither was she challenged. I've also come across a lot of stuff about risk in writing. I am now wondering more generally where I actually take personal risks, and finding that I'm not doing it much. I guess the book that is looking for a... Read more →

The market for ropes

There's a kerfuffle in the book trade over the likely defection - or earlier defection, or certain defection, depending on what you read - of a variable number of high-powered agents from the agency PFD. I do feel sorry for writers whose agents are directly involved, but for the rest of us it's all good soap opera. For a moment I even allowed my decision not to talk book trade on this blog to wobble. But only for a moment. Because I really do believe that allowing too much (any?) book-trade stuff into your writer's consciousness is absolutely inimical to... Read more →

About to Take Off

I go strangely brain-dead when I'm travelling. In the normal way of things I'm fairly observant, quick on the uptake, sharp-eyed. But once I'm through passport control some of my brain turns to mush (does mush come under the 100ml rule?). I can't see the signs to the loos, I read gate numbers wrong, I ask stupid questions of ground staff whose faces are already tight with weariness and the idiocy of the Travelling Public. They're usually quite nice about it. As you may have guessed, I'm posting this from airside, Gatwick North Terminal, on my way to Madrid. It's... Read more →

Practical parenting

Creative freelancing - singing, writing, photographing - is a jigsaw of both time and energy. I remember a mezzo-soprano friend saying that she had seven jobs, and that was only the regular ones. Unlike her, most of my jobs happen at home. But still, there's the teaching, the editorial reporting, the blogging, the tax return, the friendly conversations with aspiring writers, the occasional treat like next week in Madrid, the accounts, the library-runs... At least I'm between novels in the promotional sense, so there's not much to do on that front. But those are the dishwashing and bed-making of the... Read more →

Welcome to my blog

Hello, and welcome to This Itch of Writing (and thanks to John Donne for the title). I wasn't going to start a blog, though so many writers have, because I spend quite enough time on the computer and online as it is. But one of the drawbacks of being a novelist is that your big writing project - however excited you are about it - takes so darned long. For months and years you're immersed in particular voices and places and times and ideas. And it's all very well being up to your neck in such rich and rare substances,... Read more →