Reading & Writing

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 […]

When Readers Meet Writers

Christopher Fowler #2 Kings Cross Station, 11.01.2013 (c) Stephen Jones

As our careers progress writers should stay in touch with readers more. It’s common sense to find out what people like or dislike. But what’s the best way? Well of course there’s social media, but you don’t really get beyond the formal politeness of writing a letter online (unless you’re on this site or you […]

How You Write Isn’t Important

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James Hadley Chase supposedly wrote the bestseller ‘No Orchids For Miss Blandish’ on a flight. Edgar Wallace could write a book in a day. Virginia Andrews became such a successful pulp writer that the Inland Revenue declared her technically still alive after her death because she was still earning. It took John Kennedy Toole’s mother […]