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Are writers sadists?

“I think writing about unhappiness is probably the source of my popularity, if I have any-after all, most people are unhappy, don’t you think?” So said Philip Larkin. I’d agree with that. No-one wants to read a happy story about lucky people having a lovely time. We want our heroes to go through torment and then some. Is it because we are all sadists? Or is it because we just want to know there is someone out there having a worse time than us? Actually it’s neither. The reason we want to read about unhappiness is because this drives plot….

How quickly can you write?

How quickly can you write?

I hesitate to say I’ve read everything there is to read about the process of writing a book, because there will always be more to say. Is it better to plan in detail or should you just go for it and fix everything afterwards? Should you list everything there is to know about your characters before you start, or should you get to know them as you write, following the same sort of process as your readers? Each time I am convinced anew that I “should” do it this way. But as I embark on a fourth draft of my…

So many books, so little time

I find myself regarding the ever growing pile of “books to read” and castigating myself for being such a slow reader. ‘What have you read recently? Really? You just slob in front of the telly.’ Well there is a lot of great stuff to watch at the moment, it’s true. Add in all the DVDs I got for Christmas (Ink, Primed, Lord Peter Wimsey complete box set) all the series I’ve become hooked on (The Returned, The Bridge, Spiral, Orphan Black) everything saved on the planner (Vera, Shetland, Canal Journeys – yes I know, but watching Timothy West mishandling 50…

Just a few good reads of 2015

I have to admit to being a bit of a nerd when it comes to books. I like lists of books. I like to hear what other people have read. I’m always interested in other people’s thoughts about their own reading habits. After all, if you want to be a writer, you have to read. A lot. My problem is remembering what I’ve read and where I read it. You know, that excellent bit of characterisation, that fantastic plot structure.. but where was it again? Worse if you use the library or if someone raids your bookcase and doesn’t return…

Rules and more rules

Rules and more rules

There was a fantastic adaptation of one of Agatha Christie’s best novels on TV over the festive period: “And then there were none” (which has been reissued with several titles, the original having had the n- word). I immediately sat down to re-read the original, and was struck for the first time that Christie’s writing would be torn apart by modern day writers. Too much telling. Adverbs tacked onto so many speech tags. Too many speech tags. And yet it is easy to read, zips along, and despite having so many characters, the reader does not get lost or confused….

Descriptive writing

I’m currently writing a book which is set on a mythical island somewhere in the South Pacific. (Albatross is the working title of the novel). I want the island to be large enough for the islanders to be self-sufficient, but small enough so the rest of the world would leave them alone. I need the climate to be pleasant enough so that daily life is not a struggle. It would be better if there were no indigenous mammals (for various plot reasons.) Before the internet, such a setting would probably have been impossible without the author either visiting somewhere similar,…

Finishing a book

I’ve had a reasonable level of success writing non-fiction. As my agent reminded me a few weeks ago, non-fiction is “where the money is” and I have to agree that my experience to date suggests that most writers will only make money through ventures other than writing fiction. I’ve met countless authors whose work I admire who earn their crust teaching, not writing. Non-fiction however, is a way to earn a reasonable living, though it’s still a struggle. But it was always my dream to write fiction, and I realised about two years ago that as long as I carry…

Holidays are for reading

I love being on holiday. It’s great to be somewhere new, with different food, climate, scenery… but to some extent it doesn’t matter where I go because the thing I most enjoy doing on holiday is working my way through an enormous pile of books. As I always have more books waiting to be read than time in which to read them in, holidays give me a good chance to clear the backlog a bit. I like nothing better than total immersion in a book: hours go by, sunburn is ignored, there are no deadlines to worry about, no tasks…

Pantser or Planner?

Nanowrimo is less than one month away. So if you are intending to take part, do you spend October planning out your novel in meticulous detail, or do you wait for 1st November, switch on the PC and see if inspiration strikes? Last year – which was also the first year I tried to participate – I had an idea floating around in my brain. There was a setting, a rudimentary plot, plus a few scenes and some characters. Plenty to be getting on with. After all I’d started to write my last novel, Emily’s Dreaming, with no more than…

Narrators – reliable or otherwise

The aspect of writing fiction which is perhaps hardest to grasp when you are starting out, is that you have to choose someone to tell the story – and that person might not be you. In fact, it may well be easier if it isn’t. I was walking in the mountains recently with a good friend who kindly let me rabbit on for far too long about my current struggles with voice and narrator and point of view, and after I’d exhausted both myself and, I suspect, her, she told me that as a reader, she’d never even noticed any…

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