On Writing

Should I do an MA in creative writing?

So this is the first post from me in a long while. The reason is I’ve been doing a 2-year, ‘low-res’ Masters in Crime Fiction at the University of East Anglia and alongside other writing jobs have had zero time to post. Now that I’m about to submit my manuscript (Yay!), I finally have enough time to reflect on the experience and answer the big question, was it worth it?

It was a question I was asking myself three years ago because although the thought was appealing, it is a large chunk of cash and I know a lot of people who’ve been on a Creative Writing MA and are still stuck with rejection letters from agents and publishers. I googled the answer myself and got a mixed bag of reactions which can be boiled down into two camps: the idea that you’re only doing the MA because you don’t know what to do with your life and presumably you’re getting parental funding for it as ‘career development’, and the other side which runs on the mantra ‘you can’t teach creative writing’ so why bother? Basically, there weren’t any particularly positive responses that I could see, but despite this, I really wanted to do it. And I did.

So after completing the course, I have my answer prepared. Was it worth it? Yes.

Should you do a creative writing MA? Well now. That depends.

There are lots of things to consider, price, course, your expectations etc. (I’ll go into detail on these in the next post), but there’s also your current writing ability and your willingness to take direction and criticism from a tutor and your peers. But why would you do a creative writing MA if you weren’t looking for those things? You’d be surprised.


I’m a busy woman. I’ve pumpkins to look at.

The reason you’re here…
In her book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lammot talks about running a creative writing class. The student comes, he hands in his manuscript and he expects the tutor to gasp in amazement. “It’s perfect, I’ll take it straight to my publisher!” (I’m paraphrasing). That obviously doesn’t happen, he gets critiqued and doesn’t like it. He never comes back. With that in mind, if you’re considering a creative writing MA you should ask yourself, ‘have I come as far as I can with developing my craft, style and voice on my own?’ If the answer is yes, do the MA but make sure you’re being truthful with yourself and here’s why.

The MA in Creative Writing I was on is the Crime Fiction one at UEA. It does cover some standard elements of creative writing such as plot, story, character, setting, pace etc. but it’s mainly a writing course for people who already know how to write and I assume the same is true of other Masters. From class one, you’re writing and critiquing each other’s work and to get the best out of this opportunity, you need to be as good as you can get otherwise it’s a waste of your time, money, effort…
As a comparison, imagine an editor offered to give feedback on your manuscript once, but only once. Would you send in the first draft? I wouldn’t because they’d just work over the mistakes I could have caught on my second draft. The same is true of a creative writing MA. You’re only going to do it once, make sure you’ve already brought yourself as far along as you possibly can.

Thanks for reading.
Next time, I’ll go in-depth into the MA in Crime Fiction at UEA.

How to format your novel / book for Createaspace: The easy / lazy way.


So, after pressure from friends and family who still read on paper, I just formatted Dead Memories for Print On Demand on Createaspace.

Here’s the cover, cute eh? 1

But…why oh why? What did I do in a previous life to deserve that?

Maybe it’s just me, but even using their template, formatting a book for Createaspace drives me absolutely mental! The mirrored headers and footers and different sections just jump about all over the place and when you finally think you’ve got it, you hit save, close it, open it again and it’s changed.

I know I’m not alone because at least twice a month, someone asks me to help them format their book. So, this time, when I did it, I wrote the steps down. And here they are.

NB: 1 Before you start, if you’re working from the UK or anywhere else using the decimal system, go to PREFERENCES > GENERAL. At the bottom of this box, switch over your measurement preference to INCHES. The Brits hate to do this, but as you’ll be submitting to Createaspace and they do everything in inches too and as most book cover designs are in inches… well you get the idea.

Here we go…


  1. Open your finished manuscript (Which is already in the right fonts and sizes) and go to LAYOUT > PAGE SETUP > MARGINS > CUSTOM MARGINS. (This is the route in the Word Tool Bar. In full screen, this is the only tool bar you’ll see)
    1. Make the top margin 1″, the bottom 1″, the inside .9″, and the outside .6″.
    2. Tick Mirror Margins and OK
  2. In the same window, hit PAGE SETUP go to PAGE SIZE and scroll down to CUSTOM SIZE (There’s a SIZE under PAGE SETUP too, but no custom options here. So if you’re here, don’t panic. Back out and go the long way)
    1. Pick your size according to the print size options in Createaspace. e.g 5” x 8”, 5.5″ x 8.5″ etc. Click OK
  3. Go to FIND > REPLACE and type 2 spaces into FIND and one space into REPLACE. This will remove any accidental double spaces.
  4. SELECT ALL or APPLE + A and
    1. Change line spacing to 1.5.
    2. Justify your margins.
    3. Still in SELECT ALL go to LAYOUT > Hyphenation and click Automatic. Save                  images

Before we go any further, you have 2 format submission options in Createaspace and now is the time to consider these. If you chose to submit in WORD, Createaspase will convert your doc to a PDF and it may look a little different to your original. However if you submit a PDF you’ll need to make sure your program can also provide you with the size of page you have selected (5” x 8” etc).

PDF is the easier option! Also if you use a PDF you can skip the SECTION BREAK stuff and just make 3 PDFS (Front Matter, Story, Back Matter) and then combine.

It’s up to you.

But if your PDF maker doesn’t give you the right sizes, stay in word and submit in word watch out for SECTION BREAKS (ODD and EVEN) like this…



  1. Your Front Matter should include
    1. A title page with the title and your name in a larger font in bold. A copyright page plus ISBN. Optional: a dedication page. Optional: “Praise for” page full of nice things people have said about your book. Optional: Table of Contents (for short story or poem collections only. No one looks up chapters in novels)
  2. If you click now on DOCUMENT ELEMENTS > HEADER you’ll see it says SECTION 1. This is your front matter section and it shouldn’t contain any headers or footers or page numbers.
  3. Go to the first page of you story Familiarise yourself with how it looks, bring your mouse up to the top of the screen and the standard tool bar will appear.
    1. In VIEW, select DRAFT. Your manuscript will now look like it’s just come off a 1980s printer but you can see the formatting more clearly.
    2. In Draft, on the page before your story beings, after the text on that page finishes, click in, and go up to the to main toolbar INSERT > BREAK > SECTION BREAK . Insert a SECTION BREAK (ODD PAGE).
    3. Come back to View and select PRINT LAYOUT. Now the view looks like it did as before. Click in a header and it should say SECTION 2. New rules apply to this section as to the last.
  4. Go to the first page of you story Click into a header area, the HEADER & FOOTER toolbar shows up.
    1. Click the box for ODD & EVEN PAGES.
    2. Click the box for DIFFERENT FIRST PAGE
    3. Make sure LINK TO PREVIOUS box is not selected.
    4. Choose your Header Style. (Blank or Basic). Save
  5. Now go to the second page of your story and click into the header.
    1. Do a visual check in the tool bar for HEADERS AND FOOTERS that LINK TO PREVIOUS IS STILL UNCHECKED.
    2. Type the author name in caps.
    3. Highlight and right align it. (Some people prefer their name and title in the middle, but if you get the right, left alignment mixed up, the final version will look off. And this is the easy / lazy version of the formatting)
  6. Next page (third page)
    1. Click the Header and type the book name in caps.
    2. Highlight, left align it.
  7. You’ll now have your name on the left and your title on the right on the mirrored pages. If you prefer them swapped, swap them.
  8. Go back to the first page of the story and make sure nothing showed up in the header. If it did, go back to the Header Footer toolbar and make sure, different first page is still selected.
  9. Check the header hasn’t shown up on the Front Matter.
    1. If it has, you need to select this header, delete it, unclick LINK TO PREVIOUS
  10. Go back to the second page of your story.
    1. Click in the footer
    2. Go to DOCUMENT ELEMENTS in the toolbar.
    3. Choose PAGE NUMBER. Choose Bottom of Page. Choose Outside. (Because you already selected different First Page, you shouldn’t see a number on the first page. If you do, check these boxes again. You can also check the “Don’t show on first page” option, but if you haven’t selected Different First Page, you’ll still need to do this to stop the header showing up on the first page)
    4. Go to the next page and repeat. As these are odd and even pages, word will know to run them consecutively. Save.



  1. Go to the end of your story and add another SECTION BREAK. This time SECTION BREAK – NEXT PAGE. You can check in VIEW – DRAFT that it’s there come back to VIEW and click in the header. It should say SECTION 3.
  2. Now start your Back Matter: your bio, contact and follow data, thanks and acknowledgements.
  3. This section should also be free from Headers and footers and page numbers. Save

Now check and submit. Convert to a PDF if you like.

TROUBLESHOOTING (aka burying your mistakes)


So, some common issues in Createaspace that might come up are blank pages and odd pages starting on even numbered sides. i.e , the first page of your story shows up on the left hand side.

Both of these issues can be corrected with some creative additions of Section Breaks and page breaks. If you have 2 blank pages between your front matter and story, go back to the DRAFT view and see if there are section breaks or page breaks which are invisible in Print Layout.

If you story starts on the wrong side. I.e the left, add a SECTION BREAK (EVEN PAGE) right after the SECTION BREAL (ODD PAGE) as you see it in the draft view.




I don’t know why we writers seem so inept when it comes to formatting a book, but hey, we do. And I suppose if the templates on CS were easier to us, they would be able to sell any of their $199 formatting packages.

All the best.


Top 5 Writing Tips from Patricia Highsmith

I luuuuuve me a little bit of Highsmith… The prose is so economic but oh so gripping. She creates truly hateful characters, in whom we recognise people we also may have held deep, 182782032dark dislikes for, people we may have fantasised about ‘doing away with.’ For some, reading Highsmith is a kind of therapy, but for others it’s a master class in how to create teeth grinding tension with a satisfying conclusion. I’ve learnt a lot about writing just from reading Highsmith, but my favourite 5 of these….

1.”The Germ”

Highsmith described the origin of her stories coming to her as a “germ of an idea”… that she would have some tiny small piece of inspiration and then have to grow it out until the story followed. This is an excellent way of seeing the beauty in a good book. All too often  popular books are created instead of written, and seemingly through an arrangement of ticked boxes. Hook – Push off – Tension – Relief. The self-help writing books also endorse this formulaic method, so it’s no wonder, so many books seem to be lacking the fundamental element of a burning idea.

UnknownLooking out down on to the beach at Positano at 6 am one morning, Highsmith saw a young man with a towel over his shoulder walking alone on the sand.

This was the germ for The Talented Mr Ripley. A single soul walking along a deserted beach at day break. Where had he been and what had he done?  Where was he going and to do what? My mind reels at the thought of the process that she would have gone through to ultimately arrive at Tom Ripley. Was he an American? He’d have to be – she was still a young writer and hadn’t started imaging foreign heroes. How did he get there? Was he wealthy – no that’s dull. How did he feel? How did she feel in this town of judging glances, where if you say you write you are compared instantly to Positano’s other onetime residents Hemingway and Steinbeck? She put her thoughts and feelings into this vessel and grew the oak tree that became TTMR.

I’m a big fan of this germ-theory 😉 When you get a twinkle in your head, you can turn it over and over for years before suddenly it becomes what it became.

2. Ignore the rest of the world…if in doubt throw you typewriter out of the window

When Howard Ingram goes to Tunisia to write a script in the ‘Tremor of Forgery’, things start going down back in the USA. A friend commits suicide and his girlfriend is probably having an affair. But Howard doesn’t get on a plane to dive right into what could have been 2949a different plot. He stays put. He starts working on a novel and as he waits for a letter from the girlfriend to explain what’s going on, he sorts out his plot and accidentally, possibly kills a man with a typewriter. Luckily this gives him lots of opportunity to explore feelings of guilt. In this example, I see the power of not following the expected plot line but rather fighting against it, letting it build and build until your protagonist is ready to tackle it. Because if we all dealt with our issues right away, we wouldn’t have any.

3. Write about what you know and if you find something you want to write about and have never done it…Do it.

In the Suspension of Mercy, Sydney Bartleby actually makes the lady next door suspect him as murderer to harness the feeling of being a suspect. He buries an old carpet, he acts dodgy as hell. The old dear ends up keeling over out of terror and pretty soon the cops really do think he’s killed someone. This fake body burying thing always struck me as something Highsmith actually did. Because she doesn’t skimp on the details, just as anyone who’s ever carried a drunk friend out to a taxi or tried to move a wardrobe knows, they are heavier than they look and the pure strain and fear of having either one halfway up the stairs and wobbling is enough to lead to blind panic.

I like to imagine Highsmith is heavy boots and a thick jumper, pacing around Montmachoux, pulling on a rolled cigarette, looking into damp wooded lots and “setting her jaw” as she would say, trying to work out if you could stash a body in there. I wrote a passage a few years back about someone fighting and being killed as he slipped down a set of icy  concrete steps in Stuttgart, Germany. The scene is set in a real place, the steps rise up between pre-war apartment building and cross two roads as a short cut. I saw them everyday from the bus I took to work and I kept telling myself, I have to get off the bus and stand at the top of those steps next winter to see if it looks as scary as I think it is. I was so thrilled when I was invited to a Christmas party shortly after and realized as I followed the map that I was at the top of the steps. I almost turned around and went straight home.

4. “You don’t write a book with your little finger.” -You’ve got to commit.

This is a straight dig from Tom Ripley about Marge Sherwood’s writing schedule. When Tom asks Dickie where Marge is, he tells him she is having a good day with the book and suggests that she is on a roll with her work. In the same breath he remarks that she might come along to the beach after lunch. PathighWe all know this type of writer, faffy types (as my mother would say) who seem to spend more time at Nanowrimo socials than at home in front of the computer and we snigger with satisfaction when Tom makes this remark. However, we are all guilty of occasionally being this type of writer, so it cuts both ways. It says, I know what is needed of me to be satisfied with my writing efforts and I am still not doing it, not always. This is a very important lesson from Highsmith and one which I hear in my head whenever I switch off the computer to read an episode of The Killing (I haven’t quite mastered Danish yet

5. Move on.

In Plotting and Writing Suspense, Highsmith shares with the reader her failings and talks about the stories that never got published. While trying to put the idea out of my head that I should immediately rush off to the archives in Switzerland (kidnapped publisher in tow) and demand to see these silenced masterpieces, I am reminded that if Highsmith was able to shelve her failures definitely I should be able to do so too. I spent 7 years on and off trying to write one particular novel that contained my own alter-ego. He became so diluted by all the experiences I imagined for him that he was almost translucent at the end. I recently had some boxes sent over from the UK and found reams of pages of the same-same but different chapters. Literally years of work… for nothing. However, my first impulse was to write it again…. properly this time!

Highsmith would give herself 20 opportunities to publish a story and after the 20th rejection she would take “a few days” and then start fresh. With this in mind, I resealed the box and put it back in the wardrobe to try to forget about it. Of course I failed and spend 10 whole days over the Christmas break,  rewriting it, 14 hours a days, for no reason. After all – just because I’ve learnt the knowledge from the master, doesn’t mean I mastered it myself.

Patrick Hamilton: Why Book Titles Matter

Yes, Patrick Hamilton, that guy you’ve never heard of, him again, the play-write and novelist. Not to be confused with Hamilton the play… Anyway…

He achieved success at a very young age and was only 25 when his hit play, Rope made him famous and rich (as plays did back then). The Midnight Bell (novel) followed and then Gaslight (from where the term gaslighting originates) and by then he was much better known than any of his still famous contemporaries… such as Graham Greene.

That’s right, at 27 he was more famous that Graham Greene – Our Man in Havana, The Quiet American etc –And yet, you’ve still never heard of him… so why on Earth is that? Some people like to think it’s because of his weird lifestyle and existence. (He came from wealth, fell in love with prostitutes, regularly, and got hit by a car that took his nose with it). Even after that he carried on writing hits, war-time dramas, comparable to For Whom The Bells Toll (1940) but with more tension, more drama, more guts.

Perhaps the reason we don’t treasure Hamilton in the present day is because he didn’t treasure himself. Take for example, Gaslight. He actually “borrowed” the idea of a flickering gaslight from a failed book of his brother Bruce’s, To Be Hanged (1938),

It was a massive success as we’ve already said. In New York, it had the longest run of a foreign play in Broadway history and by 1944 it had already been adapted for film, not just once but twice. However, Hamilton wrote it as a pastiche, and didn’t love it. gaslightAnd the name, Gaslight kind of suggests that.

“What should I call it? Blah! The gaslight kind of flickers. Gaslight, there. Done!”

It reminds me of a friend asking me (a longtime ago) What’s gaslighting? She knew the term but couldn’t guess the meaning. That’s a lot like how you have no idea what his books are about from the titles.

Martin Amis wrote once that book titles shouldn’t be too clever. That a title such as Hangover Square (referring the famous Hanover Square in west London, which was (is) a drinking haunt) and excessive drinking, was a guaranteed way to make people put your book down before they had read it. And he may have a point, Rope? What happens, no idea? There’s a dead body in a box…okay? The Slaves of Solitude, well that sounds both impersonal and depressing, nothing like the funny, weird, knowing book of the same name.

With that in mind, I have some suggestions for the next time Penguin re-releases some of Hamilton stuff… Maybe they should rename the books and Photoshop a smile on that face too.

I for one can’t wait to re-read:

“Maniac with a nine- iron” (Hangover Square), “The Talented Mr Gorsly” (Gorse) or “There’s a f**king body in the box, can’t you smell it?” (Rope).

So when we’re naming our books, looking for clever titles that will make the reader go ‘ahhhh I totally get it’, maybe we just should not bother. Spell it out. People are busy.


How being pessimistic about writing can make you a better writer

Positive thinking is all over the place and for one good reason – it sells. Telling someone that they can control their own good fortune by simply deciding to think positively is a beautiful idea. And you know what? You think positive – you feel positive. It works, we’ve all experienced it, but isn’t that a little like saying, if you imagine the colour blue you will see the colour blue?

More and more, the evidence is stacking up. Positive thinking can make you happy for a short time, but it can also stop you from reaching achievable goals too.


Positive thinking alone won’t secure you the job you want that was otherwise unattainable or save a failing relationship. Positive thinking can make you appear to others as a confident and outgoing person, but most jobs and relationships soon dissolve that illusion, leaving positive thinkers in a worse position than they were in originally.

Jeez. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but one many writers will recognize as true. Being positive about your own writing doesn’t make it good and can lead to the opposite, bad writing. So what the Jiminy are you meant to do about it?

In the BBC Radio 4 mini-series The Power of Negative Thinking psychologist (and hero to pessimists the world over) Oliver Burkeman explores how negativity can be a powerful route to joy, success and satisfaction.




He argues that people who regularly envisage their own success are less likely to achieve their potential. Why on earth can that be? Surely, these visions make you more ready to accept the path you’ve chosen, they prime you for your success.

Well, apparently not. Have you ever imagined winning the lottery and everything you’ll do with the loot? It felt good, didn’t it, for all of five minutes until you remembered that you hadn’t actually won the lottery. Picturing success has the same effect. You feel good while you picture it and this can make you feel as if you have already achieved it. And unlike lottery money, you can believe the fantasy of good writing longer, perhaps indefinitely. This feeling of success produces endorphins and rewards us with happiness. So the motivation to work harder, longer, and take more criticism is decreased. Why would you listen to negativity when you already know you’re good?

Backfiring Positivity

“When the human mind focuses on a certain thought, for some reason, it has the opposite effect,” Burkeman says. “When someone says, ‘Don’t think about a polar bear for a whole minute?’ Then all you can think about is polar bears.”


Oh, come on. I just told you not to…

The idea of thought subversion is evident in psychological studies too. “People suffering bereavement, who try not to grieve, take longer to recover”, Burkeman says. And repeating positive mantras and looking for meaning in inspirational quotes and ideas which rely on reversed word order does not help those with low self-esteem. In fact, it often makes them feel worse.


Come again…. Does that even mean anything?

Again and again, if you try really hard to be happy and positive, the effort backfires. The result is you expect too much happiness and are doubly disappointed when none comes your way. This is an interesting idea to many writers. How many have set the bar to happiness at ‘getting published by a big house’ or selling 100K copies, only to either not achieve this or to realise when they have, happiness has not been achieved?

What really makes you happy?

The things that actually make us happy are much more fleeting, such as getting a nice review from an unexpected corner, writing a chapter which differs from the one we had in mind and is better than the original, and of course looking back on past achievements.


Most writers get the blues after finishing their umpteenth draft. The closure that comes with a book done and dusted is surprisingly sour. But looking back, at books long finished brings a surprising amount of pleasure…

In closing, Oliver Burkeman’s advice is… stop aiming for happiness and you may find that it sneaks up on you without any conscious effort.

But most importantly, thinking you already are a brilliant writer, or you are an undiscovered talent and all you have to do is wait to be found, is a sure fire way to make sure, you never will be.

6 Hollywood Actors turned Writers Keeping it Real

I once heard someone say that acting and writing were not so different. Both involve imagining a character (or many) and working out through your own personal experiences how to portray this person. Both require a lot of discipline – time wise, friend wise, patience wise… However, as a skill set, writing and acting have nothing in common. Most writers work in a vacuum, a time and place devoid of feedback, praise or criticism, or they did until more recently. See: Twitter, Goodreads and multiple blogs.

Because there’s no way around it, the internet has made writing more of a performance art. Writers are expected to produce much more material and quicker and that means, feedback is instant and acted upon.

So maybe, it’s not surprising that a lot more actors are now branching off into writing. And guess what, some of their stuff doesn’t suck! So who’s at it? Let’s see.


Steve Martin

The comedian best known for his hangdog lovability and general goofiness is also a pretty damn prolific writer. And you know what? He writes his own stuff. I mean, he writes it, with his own fingers. He doesn’t dictate some ideas into a microphone and then send it off to the Ghost. While he has written some less lengthy pieces like essay collections, plays and children’s books, and less fictional pieces like his 2007 memoir, Steve is also cranking out the real deal. An Object of Beauty was his 2007 book about a business woman in the NY art world and was well received in the ‘middle list’ area. Yeah, so Steve isn’t going to win any big prizes, (but are any of us?) but he is a real writer and not just writing exposes on Hollywood either. Well done that man! I salute you.


Viggo Mortensen

He writes??? Okay, breathe, breathe. I’m a married woman. I’m a married woman. The Dane best known outside his homeland as Aragorn is otherwise simply an all-round amazing artistic actor. And (I’m fantasizing here, let’s just go with it), when he’s not curled up in front of a roaring log fire in a hand knitted jumper, drinking a glass of Gløgg, Mortensen is a world traveller, prolific poet and photographer. That last bit is real. Works such as The Horse is Good and Linger showcase his photos alongside poetic interpretations. And before we jump at the conclusion that he gets published because he’s famous, we need to step back. The boy sticks to indy publishers. Oh yeah!


James Franco

Now this one, I read his book and then I Googled him, and then I found out he was an actor. Palo Alto is a proper gritty and insightful collection of short stories in the same vein as Slaves of New York. You can’t really read them individually, there are episodes and each contributes to the mood of the next. The actor slash model slash director majored in English and creative writing at UCLA and he can write damn well too. I love this angle, it’s like, yeah, I’m just doing this heartthrob thing until I can pay my bills from writing. Kudos.


Hugh Laurie AND Stephen Fry

Honestly, these two deserve their own post each but they have so much in common I need to squish them together. And why not, these two are really, really good squished together. A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Jeeves and Wooster, Blackadder… They were both actors at Footlights together, both suffered from clinical depression in different forms and both have produced seriously good novels. In The Gun Sellers, Laurie does an excellent spy novel spoof and in Revenge, Fry takes on a slow burn tale of a boy kidnapped because he leads a charmed and beautiful life and how he makes his way back to kill off the people who made it happen. Okay – yes, it’s Monte Cristo, but it’s a really good, dark, modern version of the classic and you can imagine Fry in the main role.

And then there’s the other actor slash writers… you know the ones. They get offered the contract and then they write the book. I’m not saying that equals bad, but it more often than not means the ghostwriter was signed up and holding the outline before they even got on the call. So, there are a lot of them and I’m not going there. But just like with ‘real’ writers, there are actor slash writers who might kind of suck too.


Do you know who Chad Michael Murray is? One Hill Tree Lane? I don’t. It was after my time, but apparently he played a character who liked writing and now he is writing, but by all accounts, he’s writing exactly what he wants to write (can’t knock that) and what he wants to write is travel log/ Army/ romance stuff. American Drifter is about an American soldier backpacking through Rio de Janerio, seeing cool stuff, questioning life and falling in love. Hey, it could be good. We won’t know unless we read it, right! But I probably won’t as he has gone on record saying it is based on a dream he once had and as we all know, the person who finds our dreams the most intriguing is ourselves.

So yes, just as you suspected – writing – everyone is at it so don’t go feeling all special about yourself. But seriously, no. Everyone is not at it and what these amazingly talented actor types show us is that even if you’re a Hollywood star, there can still be something missing in your life that only writing can fill.


So, Write On Brothers and Sisters!

Oh and here’s one more Viggo, just because.


3 Ways to Beat the Nanowrimo Half-Time Funk

Whether it’s your first or your tenth Nanowrimo, the pressure is still the same. In between work, school, homework, housework and crying babies, you somehow need to pump out 1600 plus words of legible, coherent text a day, every day for the whole of November.

It’s not that easy. Things happen, good and bad, that interfere with your schedule. Days pass when your fingers never touch the computer and while that’s okay in the early days, by the middle of the month, these can be disastrous. And for some reason, once you’re 10k words behind, the writer’s block problems start to gather. This story doesn’t make sense. It’s going in the wrong direction. There are too many inconsistencies…. And there’s a party tonight.


And yes, if you don’t finish Nanowrimo, it’s not the end of the world. But if you do want to do it and you are flailing, I’ve got 3 tips to help you out.

1. You’ve lost the plot
It’s so easy to write when you know where you’re going, but as soon as you go off track you’ve only got two options. One, write around to bring the story back or – heaven forbid – delete. Okay, no one should be deleting more than say, 500 words ever for Nanowrimo. The month is about writing not editing and it’s certainly not about deleting. So what do you do? Simple, jump ahead. If you know your story, jump ahead to the next scene or chapter and leave a big, to be continued hole, in the place where you’re stuck. Next month or next year, you can go back and look at where it went off track. Until then, you can enjoy the sensation of moving through your book towards the conclusion of the story.

2. You’re bored!
Okay, what’s boring, your story or the process. If it’s your story, I’m sorry really sorry and my best advice is…

“When stumped, have a man come through a door with a gun.”


Okay, that’s not my advice, that comes from Raymond Chandler and while tons of people will laugh at that kind of approach to writing, it fits perfectly to Nanowrimo. This is your one month of hard-hitting, quick-fire writing. If your story sucks, do something dramatic to rekindle your own interest. Let one of the characters be the only witness to murder, break a leg, develop an obsession for one of the others, anything. If your story has turned into a passed out mid-Victoria lady at a dinner party, give her a slap and stick something disgusting under her nose to wake her up.


However, if the process of writing bores you, I’m sorry, it can be boring sometimes but you just have to get through it. My trick here was Treacle Toffee. November is Bonfire Night season in the UK and Treacle Toffee is made for November 5th. I took a whole tin of that sticky stuff and let myself have a piece only when I was actively writing. The sugar rush is pretty intense, but thinking burns calories really fast (Sure. Whatever you need to tell yourself). And it’s like that gummy bear trick for getting kids to read textbooks. You want the treats, so deal with the boredom!

3. You don’t have time
Really, 1666 words on a subject that you know explicitly because it’s in your head? I’m kidding. I know it’s tough. While some people can do this in about half an hour for others it takes three. But the middle of November is not the time to quit. Why would you? All those positive feelings you’ll get from completing will be turned into feelings of defeat. Instead, you should forget the 1666 number and write to your heart’s content. If it’s a Monday night and you’re on 2k at 10pm, keep going if you’re on a role. It’s an investment for all those days when you can’t get or don’t have time to get past 500.

Bonus point. Forget the idea that it’s meant to be fun.
I’m dead serious here. So many good things are dressed up as being fun to get people to participate, but like the gym or going on a diet, why not fess-up and admit, the fun part is the having done it part.


Writing is work. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.


The 5 Most Amazing Stories… I Never Finished Writing!

Time is finite, but sometimes, ideas seem to come from an inexhaustible source like a dam break somewhere high over your head. No matter how much you wish you could, you can’t write and finish every concept that ever comes to you. Some ideas are forgotten, some get shoved in the draw, some get started and some get rewritten and rewritten and rewritten, but are still never finished. Oh well.

But when you think of your favourite (dead) authors, don’t you wonder what brilliant ideas they had that were never finished?

The Mystery of  Edwin Drood is probably the best example of a classic unfinished novel. Dickens had written 6 chapters and published 3 when he suffered a stroke and died. This left his reading public with the ultimate cliffhanger, no idea who killed the uncle and no chance of ever finding out.dickens-1_2794642k

Likewise, The Garden of Eden The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway was also left unfinished by the author’s death. However seeing as he had been working on this sexuality-bending honeymoon drama for 15 years already, who knows if the work was really on the top of his to-do list.

If you write every day, it seems inevitable that one story will die with you, but there are many more that will never make it.

Some authors obviously lose a lot of sleep over the idea that some stories are destined never to be. Patricia Highsmith went as far as to write a novel about an author who has hundreds of story ideas and never manages to complete a single one. The stories in this novel were her own unfinished ideas. patriciahighsmith2Actually, that’s a lie. Funnily enough, Highsmith only ever outlined that story and never completed it. Cue Alanis Morrisette…. Or perhaps Highsmith was just making the ultimate meta-literary-statement.

But then she never had the internet. Oh, sweet blessing and curse. She didn’t have all these pages to distract herself with, but she didn’t have a platform to spew her unperfected ideas onto either.

But I do. Hurrah!!

So without further ado… Here are my top 5 unfinished (possibly amazing (if you use your imagination)) works of pure literature.

1. The Mouth and the Castle

priroda-ruiny-letoOh, my. In this, my first and only venture into fantasy territory, a primitive world exists on the surface of a planet with the accessible remains of a much more developed civilisation lying below. The people on the surface mine the treasures of the world beneath, getting richer and more developed with every generation, unaware that the mining is undermining the stability of their world and encouraging another eruption, the same one which wiped out their ancestors. The catch here is that this world was only reachable through a very narrow cave, which was impossible to widen. So generally only children could enter and occasionally, children went in and couldn’t come out again when their heads grew too big. A civilisation of ‘others’ lives on a mountain cliff high above them and the people think these unreachables are gods. But they’re not. They’re just a branch of the previous civilisations that survived. They want a second eruption to try to stabilise their sinking substructures and increase their lands.

The story is about a young girl who uncovers the truth, but it is a race against time to provide the evidence needed to convince the adults to stop making the kids mine. Will she be successful before she grows too large? Will she get stuck next time? Well, I never got past the first 40k words, so I guess we’ll never know.

2. The Monsoon Meal of a Roppongi Jungle Crow
In 2003, I spent a summer living and working (and occasionally learning Japanese) in Tokyo. They do things differently over there. In between witnessing kidnapped children being rescued by swat teams from the apartment across the road from mine, seeing Hollywood celebrities stopping traffic to pose on crossings and getting financial advice from the Hong Kong mafia, I partied – a lot… tumblr_static_tumblr_static__640Almost every evening I would walk down to the entertainment district of Roppongi to cash in on the free drinks given out to white girls by many of the clubs. Days and nights and days and nights tended to merge together into single sticky messes. Then after I’d been there about a month, the rainy season started. For weeks on end, I walked everywhere under an umbrella hardly making daylight eye contact with another living soul. I developed 4 or 5 Tokyo-based short stories under that umbrella and one night, was wondering what to call the collection when a jungle crow screamed above my head. 15853704-Jungle-crow-Corvus-macrorhynchos-with-open-beak-is-on-bent-legs-side-view-Painted-on-a-white-backgro-Stock-PhotoI looked up from under my streaming umbrella and saw him sitting on one of those illuminated billboards, his feather wet and sleek. he was very handsome…. I liked those crows, they were smart and weird and not afraid of anything. They were proper grifters. But now my stomach lurched. In his claw, hanging off the edge of the box, its head limp and wet, was a white and ginger cat. It was literally, one of those little waving kitties you see at every shop and restaurant. I saw it’s dead marble eyes, but I smelt its guts too. Right then, I knew I had a title, but it didn’t motivate me to finish the collection or write the title story.

3. We All Have That One Friend
“From the very moment he shook his hand, Simon knew that he was either going to kill Harry Wentworth, have sex with his girlfriend or steal his boat…” That was the opening line. The first chapter was a long one… too long some might say… but I liked the premise. This guy Simon was going to do 1 of 3 things to posh boy Harry. What would it be? Ha! You know, it’s going to be all 3… but the twist was, at the end of chapter 1 it was Harry who killed Simon. And then the real story was to begin.


The only problem was, I had another book on the go at the same time and just couldn’t settle on what Harry was up to in the bigger picture…I will, though … one day…

4. Peace on Earth

In a very near, post-Brexit Britain, a transgender man is convicted of a crime and must take a course of medicine designed to create empathy. The drug has never been used on someone a born woman before and the empathy becomes so powerful that he learns to read minds. He uses this super power to earn money, working for the richest people and eventually becomes the richest person in the world, but the mind reading empathy leaves him so traumatised by all the human and animal evil that he decides to invest his wealth in the destruction of the planet. ‘Peace on Earth’. Peace-Typography-Wallpaper-Widescreen-HD

I thought of this after watching a programme about adult penguins sexually abusing baby penguins until they died. I had that thought… wtf Planet Earth? Seriously. WTF?

5. Man in the Loop
This was the first book I never finished. It gets pulled out every year around Nanowrimo time and revisited… honestly, I just can’t talk about it. It’s too painful.


Okay. That’s it.

The Rules to Writing: When to Break Them

Did you ever read a truly unreadable book and wonder why it was so unreadable?

Anyone who’s been to the most basic of community college writing classes has probably heard the classic mantras of:

Show Don’t Tell!

It was never ‘just a dream’

Don’t describe the curtains…

…and all their friends.

Writing stories seems to be full of rules and most writers really don’t like following rules. If they did, they wouldn’t be writing and creating their own worlds, they’d be happily living in the real one.

But you really can’t get away from the shining examples of rule-breaking which make for truly unreadable novels. I’m not going to give any examples. That would be just mean. Plus, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones…

However there is a brilliant book, How Not to Write a Novel, written by a couple of publishers which gives you some examples of the kind of unreadable corkers they have come across.

But you know what else there is? Amazing examples of stories and authors who consistently ‘Break All The Rules’.

Check out this  Stephen King Video for his piss-take of some of the classic rules.

Unfortunately, this leads a lot of new authors into thinking that Stephen King is a Billion-book selling author because he ‘Breaks All The Rules’. That’s not it. He is a prolific writer with a very likable tone of voice and a lot of original ideas.

So when can you break the rules?

First, learn to write with the rules, learn why the rules exist and why they make stories readable and not the kind of books you want to throw out of the window of a moving train (I miss trains with windows). Then decide which ones make sense in your style and to your readers.

Once you’ve learned why rules matter and how to break them with style, then go ahead and break ’em. Then, maybe you too can pull off this totally ‘Break All The Rules’ pose like the King himself.