It was a dark and stormy night…

As the old joke goes: ‘There are three rules to writing novels. Unfortunately nobody knows what they are.’ I like that. Recently, I was a guest speaker at a writers’ workshop and I was asked what rules I follow. I paraphrased Elmore Leonard and said never start with the weather. It wasn’t a satisfactory answer.

The same questioner then asked me if I could recommend a good book that taught fiction writing. I quoted the old saw: ‘You can’t teach someone to be a good writer but they can learn.’ Again I sensed my reply had gone down badly. Specifics were needed. Well then, my questioner demanded, what have you learned?

I looked around. What had I learned? “Don’t force it,” I said.

“Beg pardon?”

Tips

“Don’t force it – if it’s not working, move on. And be thoughtful. Write thoughtfully. And don’t butt in when your characters are talking. Keep out of it and let them get on with it. And trust your readers. They’ll get it, they really will. Read it out loud all the time and when you’ve written it, whatever it is, put it away and let it brew. And most importantly, be you. Don’t be any other writer. Write like you write.”

There was an awkward silence.

“Any other questions?” I said. Fortunately, there weren’t.

 

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Weeding words (not in an Elmer Fudd sense)

This is my incomplete but sometimes useful list for when I am down in the weeds of editing. I’m sure you will have your own lists but these are the words, phrases and elements of punctuation that regularly get the secateurs treatment.

Words:

  • actually
  • almost
  • appeared to
  • by (unwanted passive writing alert)
  • could
  • definitely
  • hopefully
  • in fact
  • just
  • less (vs fewer)
  • little
  • perhaps
  • quite
  • rather
  • really
  • seemed to
  • so
  • while
  • with (see ‘by’)
  • would

Plus:

  • any adverb
  • American spelling or not (depending on where you’re standing)

Punctuation

  • too many commas (or too few) – I, over-comma
  • hyphens – I over–hyphen
  • semi-colons – I love semi-colons; too much;
  • double full stop at the end of  a sentence or paragraph..
  • double  space following a full stop
  • missing full stop at the end of a paragraph
  • “” vs ‘

Feel free to add your own items in the comments box below.

For you to read

I’d like to tell you why I’m so excited by An Other’s Look that I can override my natural awkwardness and ask people to help me; why I am willing to thump the drum and rattle the cup and toot the whistle for pledges.

An Other’s Look is my second novel and builds on all that I thought I had learned when writing The Wrong Story. In this book I wanted to write about journeys and change and transitions, and I wanted to exorcise a few personal demons. I wanted the writing (and the reading) to be fun and I also had some unfinished business with three of the characters from The Wrong Story – Germaine, Tom and Gerard.

But two months into its writing I realised I hadn’t learned as much as I thought, and I had to go back to basics – and I mean basics: what the hell is a story anyway?  I knew where I wanted to go, I just didn’t know how I’d get there. As part of this reboot I thought I’d just let my characters talk and butt out while they did so. I’d let them chat to each other while I tried to figure out what to do.

But what happened was that their dialogue and interactions took over and drove the story forwards faster than I could type it. I’d found a working method that just flew. What emerged six months later was a story with plot lines that all converge on a lonely and isolated Spanish peninsula town called Las Sombras, in north-west Spain.

Hence the thumping and rattling and tooting. I can’t wait for you to meet these characters – the damaged academic, Germaine Kiecke;  the bereaved artist Tom Hannah and his new young muse, Alta; the Machiavellian Gerard Borkmann; the ageing voice-over artist Charles Cubberley, his Belgian wife Margot and his fellow actor and nemesis, Roger Pendleton; the sinister hotelier Rodolfo whose wife and father-in-law have both gone missing; his avenging sister-in-law, Luisa, and his wan, ghost-like son, Claudio. I even want you to meet the characters in Germaine’s parallel, augmented reality world of the Happy Family game.

After all, I wrote it for you to read.

(An Other’s Look is currently being crowdfunded by Unbound Books. You can pre-order a copy and support its publication by following this link.)

Frome FM (96.6FM)

If you fancy some lunchtime conversation, tune into the Frome FM Book Club (96.6FM or online) on Friday, 27th April, at 1pm. I will be talking about An Other’s Look and how I came to write it.

I’m doubly excited about this because we’ll also be discussing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen. My book in such exalted company!

The Wrong Story Blog Book Tour

The Wrong Story, is going on a blog book tour. Here’s the poster with its itinerary. I’ve asked it to send postcards. Do you think I should have a tour T-shirt made up?

The Wrong Story Blog Tour Poster

By the way, if you want to help its sibling to get out there and join it, there’s still time to pledge for An Other’s Look at https://unbound.com/books/an-others-look/

Beasts, Tentacles, Early Days & an Unruly launch

Wow. After nine months strapped to a keyboard writing The Other’s Look, when nothing much happened other than my elbow snapped (it now has a sticky-out bit, like a cartoon elbow, which I quite like), there’s been a flurry of writerly happenings.

Firstly, The Wrong Story has been entered into two prizes: The McKitterick Prize and The Golden Tentacle award. All digits are crossed, sacrifices have been made, chanting begun on a daily basis.

Two, my short story, The Beast, has been highly commended in the British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition, and will be published in BFS Horizons. This has made me very happy not just because it is one of my favourite short stories, and not just because the BFS is a long-established organisation with a tremendous following – but because of the very kind and generous feedback that I received. It’s rare that editors and judges go out of their way to do so, and it’s all the more welcome in consequence.

(C) not to be outdone, my short story, Early Days, has been highly commended in the short story category of the Carers UK’s Creative Writing and Photography Competition 2017. I’m very pleased about this because it is a very personal story and written in an experimental form that I hadn’t tried before. Carer’s UK are a fabulous and worthy charity and I am proud that Early Days will be published in their forthcoming anthology, Not In The Plan, and that I have been invited to read at the celebration event in London at the end of November.

IV. Some things just make me ludicrously and unconditionally happy, and seeing writers who are friends have success is one of them. The launch of Sam Guglani‘s new novel, Histories, in London earlier this week was a true joy. Great book, great speech and great reading. The Unruly Writers were out in force and it was my pleasure to be amongst them.

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a vintage year

Numero cinco, it’s not really a happening but it is an event for me: the second draft of The Other’s Look is complete and now ready for beta-reading and then submission. It includes three of the characters from The Wrong Story and takes place in a subsequent time period, so although it is not strictly speaking a sequel, it is related. As with Early Days, there is a chunk of emotional investment in this story that goes beyond the telling of a tale, so I will be interested to see if it all hangs together. Elbows crossed.