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Writing Fiction – encouragement from the best.


If you want to improve your fiction writing, there areplenty of guide books out there to help you. So many, in fact, that you couldspend all your available time reading them and never get round to putting pento paper yourself. I don’t think that two of my favourite novelists readsuch books. If they did, they certainly didn’t mention it. But both, in theirown way, managed to include words of encouragement for other authors into theirmanuscripts. It was a craft they were both truly proud of, and recognised thehard work that goes into writing good fiction. Here’s Jane Austen addressingfellow writers in Northanger Abbey. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Althoughour producti...
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A poem for the morning after the night before.


Writers in English love playing about with words, often withhumour and to take a dig at the more po-faced or traditionalist among us. I amsure it is not just an English speaking and writing phenomenon, but my languageskills are so limited that I can’t put it to the test. I’ve been sorting through the last of my late mother’spapers recently, and came across some documents she had kept that had beensaved by my father who had died nearly twenty years earlier. He was a great onefor press cuttings – mostly about his swimming club and my brothers’ prowess inpool or on the running track, but also articles and letters to the editor, or poems,which had amused him. One I felt particularly apt for a Su...
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Meet Author Robert Hoppensteadt


I meet a lot of interesting people on this blog, who have come to writing along very different routes. Robert says he sobered up when he was thirty five and really started thinking about writing again then.  It had been an old dream that got lost in the chaos.  Before that he had a lot of different jobs.  Once he got it together he established a very lucrative professional career and found that he did not have what it takes to devote the time to writing a novel and also handle the demands of a stressful and responsible job. He did take some time off and self-published a novel in 1990s when print on demand was in its infancy, but after that he found poetry to be great outlet and something he ...
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Meet Author David W. Thompson


David W. Thompson is married, and the proud grandfather of twelve. He loves fishing, hiking and kayaking (well, pretty much everything outdoors). Indoors he enjoys woodcarving (and has even won an award or two) and makes his own fruit wines. He attended classes at the University of Maryland University Campus, mostly in Nuremberg, Germany, but also in Georgia US, during his stint with the US Army. He graduated shortly after his Expiration of Term of Service release. He’s been writing for some time (mostly short stories), but became more serious about it once he retired from a management position at Boeing in 2013. What is the title of your latest book? The latest is Sons and Brothers and it’s...
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Plain – or Plane – Sailing?


Last month there was an article in The Times titled Turning a boat into artwork isn’t plain sailing. This prompted a curt letter to the editor from a retired merchant naval captain who said that the term was plane sailing not plain sailing. Plane sailing, he explained was ‘a simple method of sailing short distances, assuming the earth is flat.’ He’s right that this is the correct definition of plane sailing – I looked it up. But what, therefore, does plain sailing mean? I turned back a page in the dictionary and discovered that the most commonly understood meaning of plain sailing these days is ‘smooth or easy progress.’ It also means ‘sailing in a body of water that is unobstructed.’ The Ti...
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Writing Dialogue – What To Do.


In my last post I talked about three things you SHOULD NOTdo when writing dialogue. I.e.: Don’t go overboard using alternatives to the verb – to say.Don’t overdo accents, slang and cursing.Don’t let a character’s speech slide into too much explanation as a way of moving the plot forward. Here are three things you SHOULD do. Do use your dialogue to reveal important things about a character – their social class, their prejudices, their self-confidence (or lack of it), their differing relationship with the other characters.Do ensure each character speaks differently, sothe reader can easily differentiate between them. After all, no two people inreal life speak in exactly the same way.Always rea...
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Writing Dialogue – What Not To Do.


Most novels include dialogue. It helps to reveal character; move the plot forward, break up the wordy bits of exposition, and a lot more. What it isn’t is an exact exposition of how people actually speak. Done well, it’s an illusion of how people speak that sounds completely authentic. Here are three tips from the experts for what NOT to do when trying to create this realistic illusion. Don’t use any other verb than ‘says’ or ‘said.’You may have swallowed a Thesaurus and want to ‘expostulate’  ‘extrapolate’ or ‘explain’ etc. but more thana couple of clever alternatives to ‘said’ and the reader will start to find ittiresome.Don’t sink into parody. Your character may be a crafty Cockney, a tou...
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Artful Cursing?


When I wrote my YA novel Girl Friends several years ago, I used my experience of working inthe Probation Service and in child protection / safeguarding to ensure thestoryline rang true. I also used a lot of the language used by many of thechildren and adults I had worked with. This again rang true, but a moreexperienced writer pointed out to me that too many swear words per line got abit boring for the reader. Also, although we all know children, especiallyteenagers, use bad language, many publishers of YA novels don’t like it. Theyhave the parents in mind as potential customers as much as the young peoplethemselves. So the final version of GirlFriends went out several hundred words shorter ...
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What is a Poet Laureate?


Poet Laureates originated with the ancient Greeks and Romans when poetic achievement was honoured by a crown of laurels (the laurel tree being sacred to the god Apollo, the patron of poets. The title was first granted in England in the seventeenth century. James the First gave the playwright and poet, Ben Jonson, a pension from 1616, but the first poet to hold the title was John Dryden who was granted the position for life, as were all his successors until Andrew Motion. He took the post in 1999 for a set time of ten years. He was followed by Carol Ann Duffy (the first woman laureate) in 2009, and her replacement, Simon Armitage, has just been appointed to replace her. Famous poets from the ...
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Putting Your Word(s) in Order.


Legal documents are dry, precise, pedantic – and consequently make for rather a dull read for those of us who are not solicitors. They are written that way because their meaning has to be crystal clear – ‘for the avoidance of doubt’ – as they often state. Fiction writers are not so hide-bound. They may want to convey a mood, an atmosphere, a feeling, an impression … Metaphors, hyperbole, humor, irony and, not least, word order, will help with this more than the unvarnished truth. That said, a novelist needs to take care with the order their words are written in, so that they get the meaning they intend across to the reader. There are subtle (and not so subtle) differences between ‘I only bou...
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Writing: making Your Mark.


The British Library in London has a new exhibition, all about writing, that sounds like it is well worth a visit. It is on until August 27th. Writing is a lot younger than language; the earliest recorded writing is a mere 5,000 years old, but scholars reckon the spoken word is anything from 50,000 to more than 200,000 years old. The exhibition traces the development of writing from its origins in the Levant, China and the Americas. It looks at the earliest examples, through to hieroglyphs, calligraphy, printing, typewriters (a Chinese typewriter is one of the exhibits), and modern text speak and emojis. There a several personal artifacts, such as Florence Nightingale’s notebooks, and Lord Te...
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Is Storytelling a Science?


Will Storr is a journalist and bestselling ghost-writer. He also runs workshops on how to write narrative, and has written a book based on these workshops – The Science of Storytelling. His theory is that the key to a good narrative is not the plot or structure, but character, preferably flawed. He isn’t the first to be fascinated by this (Aristotle was also keen on ‘tragic flaws’). But Storr believes that our evolution has depended on our ability to ‘read’ other people. Hence a misreading – or unexpected changes – in character is, in his words, ‘the single secret in storytelling.’ He offers a helpful process to achieve this to the aspiringwriter: Locate your character’s ‘sacred flaw.’Imagin...
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The Queen’s (or her heir’s) English?


The Prince of Wales was in the news last week. As he isoften written about, that fact is not, in itself, newsworthy – at least not fora blog about writing and writers. What drew literary minded people’s interestwas his letter to President Macron after the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral inwhich he used a number of Americanised spellings, namely –ize instead of –ise. Theprince’s fuddy-duddy reputation as a traditionalist was under threat – had he fallenunder the influence of his new American daughter-in-law? Was he trying too hardto be ‘down with the kidz? Was ‘Westerncivilization’ (as he wrote) under threat from his expressions of sympathyfor the French in this ‘most agonizing oftimes’? As one ...
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Writing – a solitary occupation that brings people together?


Whilst on holiday last week I read I’m the King of the Castle by Susan Hill. This is her grimlycompelling novel about the relationship between two small boys; one a bully,the other his victim. In a postscript she summarised the origins of the story. She had rented a remote cottage where she could work uninterrupted on finishing another novel. Her tranquil surroundings inspired her – the beautiful surrounding countryside including a nearby wood, the unusually hot weather, and two small boys who she often spotted when out on her daily walks. These boys seemed like great friends, unlike the two in her novel. But they provided the germ of an idea for a new story. By the end of her sojourn, she h...
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Super writing tips.


These aren’t my super tips. They are from Joe Norman, whosebook – The Super Tutor: The BestEducation Money Can Buy in Seven Short Chapters, is published this week.Luckily for us, two chapters aredevoted to writing and here are some of the tips he comes up with. In the chapter on how to hone your writing style herecommends splitting your allotted time into three parts. First try staring outof the window a lot without really thinking about exactly what you want to say,followed by examining your thoughts – perhaps making a few rough notes, but notactual sentences. Next, when you get round to the actual writing, try writingas you speak – find you voice, in other words. Though, if you don’t like ...
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HerStory (2) – talking books, writers and readers.


Saturday 30th March. Picture for yourself nearly 20 women and two men, aged from about 15 to 70, in an airless, windowless, side-room in Coventry city’s main library. Outside is is a beautiful spring day. Inside we are talking about HerStory – why women write and do they get a fair deal? The poet, Emilie Lauren Jones compered, and I was on the panel with two poets, Sarah Leavelsey, and Malka Al-Haddad who is originally from Iraq. It was all part of the Positive Images Festival 2019, in Coventry – the nominated City of Culture for 2021. There was plenty of audience participation. First of all we discussed whether women get the recognition they deserve. Why it is that awards seem to go to book...
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HerStory – why women write.


On Saturday 30th March I am participating in HerStory, a free literary event aimed primarily at women writers and readers. It is part of the build up to Coventry being the City of Culture in 2021. It is hosted by the poet, Emilie Lauren Jones, and will be taking place in the Central library in Coventry from 1pm to 3.30pm. And did I mention that it’s FREE! We will be talking among other things, about how can youtell if the writer is male or female? And does it matter? Is there a‘recognition gap’ between the ranking of male and female writers? Is there onefor male or female characters? On a more personal level we will talk about why we write; howwe choose what to write about; and how important...
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Readers wanted!


In a blog a week or so ago I wrote about how publishers and literary agents need writers or they would be out of work. If only it felt, as a writer, that we had the upper hand, rather than struggling to keep that pleading tone out of our cover letters! It can feel like a struggle when looking in the other direction too: writers need readers. But how do we get people to buy our books whilst not sounding too desperate in our ‘buy my book please!’ tweets and Facebook posts? After all, why should someone read our books? Indeed, why does anyone read books at all, when there are so many other interesting things to do? Reading, is such a solitary activity, why would someone want to look like a lone...
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Viking Talk


The Vikings were an energetic and ruthless bunch of pagans, who travelled from Norway (Norge) in the late eighth to late eleventh centuries to raid the North of England, amongst other places, and indulge in a spot of rape and pillage, before sailing back home with their loot, or deciding to settle in the balmier English climate. There have been attempts during the last few decades toportray the Vikings as misunderstood, peaceable, immigrants, who liked nothingbetter than sharing their art and poetry and settling down with a local girl. Butin reality they had a well-deserved reputation for savagery, and were more thanjust the ‘long-haired tourists who occasionally roughed up the locals,’ as o...
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Pitching your work


I recently attended an excellent workshop on how to pitchyour masterpiece – sorry, manuscript – to a potential agent or publisher. Theworkshop concentrated on doing face to face pitches, but much of the adviceapplies to the pitch you would want to make in a cover letter. I will justrefer to an agent here, but the same goes for pitching to a publisher whoaccepts unsolicited submissions First and foremost, of course, you need to actually have acompleted manuscript. No good having most of it still in your head if an agentgets back to you and says they want to read the whole lot next week! Assuming you’re good to go, the pitch needs to answer theagent’s unspoken question – Why would I want to ta...
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