Reading & Writing

First Words: Starting Your Story

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I recently discovered a short book called ‘Plotting & Writing Suspense Fiction’ by Patricia Highsmith. I’ve always enjoyed her lean, mean fiction, and feel she was (as she says) lucky to be working in a time when you could attract a director like Alfred Hitchcock to film a tale. Her book is a simply written […]

A Guide To The Bryant & May Characters

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By now I assume you know quite a lot about my aged detectives Arthur Bryant & John May, and a little about their team at the Peculiar Crimes Unit, Janice Longbright, Raymond Land, Colin Bimsley, Meera Mangeshkar, Jack Renfield, Dan Banbury and Giles Kershaw. But there are many, many others who help or obstruct their […]

Don’t Lose Your Readers!

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A friend wants to write fiction. She has an idea, but I pointed out to her that this is just the start of the process, and next you need a story. I used the example of Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’, in which Danny has a paranormal gift – the idea – which comes to the […]

Wait, Who Am I Here?

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This year you’d be forgiven for thinking I’d gone into hyperdrive with my writing – a new Bryant & May novel (the longest yet), a new collection of short stories (‘Frightening’), a non-fiction book, ‘The Book of Forgotten Authors’ – and a psychological thriller. Wait, you didn’t know about that last one? It turns out […]

Should Writers Be Topical?

Cole Porter contributed many songs to the Great American Songbook,  including "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "I Get a Kick Out of You."

Anyone with half a brain will know that we live in extraordinary times, but most writing doesn’t reflect the present. Part of the reason is that for fiction writers the gestation period is so long. The distance from the idea to the final version of the book, then to finding the publisher, and then to […]

What’s The First Book You See In A Bookshop?

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I grew up surrounded by strange experimental books from the likes of Brigid Brophy and BS Johnson. These were my touchstones, not Austen and Brontë. Being able to read great literature as well as other types of books doesn’t mean you have to prefer it. As more books than ever before are published, it’s interesting to […]

How To Write A Short Story Part 3

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The shape of your story is built by the aim, the scenario, the characters, the plot, the style – and through them the idea emerges. The danger is that by not constructing a short story this way around, by starting with what you want to get across, you can end up with something plodding and […]

How To Write A Short Story Part 2

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I thought I’d put these three posts together to save you hunting about for them on the blog, so here’s part two. Bad stories get published; it’s a shock, but they appear regularly in collections and small press, usually because lazy editors call their mates. The system is not a meritocracy – if an editor […]

How To Write A Short Story Part 1

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I’m going to post these lessons in a row, just for fun. They’ll cover a few of the questions I most often answer. Nobody likes a good all-rounder. That was the advice given to me by my favourite teacher, Mr Scholar (really), Sherington Junior Boys School. It’s great advice. To do something well, specialise. A […]

Hitchcock & De Palma: Stop Making Sense

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I’m always on the lookout for anything that can help writers understand how to create reader interest, and very often I find it in studies of film. Film is in many ways analogous to books. Watching the excellent documentary ‘De Palma’ last night I was struck by something the director Brian De Palma said about […]