Reading & Writing

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

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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 […]

Lucifer’s Writers

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What do the following names have in common? Winston Churchill, Raymond Chandler, John Lennon, Muriel Spark, JB Priestley, Bram Stoker, F Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Daphne Du Maurier, Noel Coward, HG Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson. Answer: They all wrote short stories. Some were macabre and fantastical, some involved detectives or ghosts, some were pulpy and […]

Our Hidden Lives

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Okay, so Post-Brexit is shaping up to be horrible, but if you think you’re about to have it bad, maybe you should look back to Post-War. The anthropologist Tom Harrison returned from the South Pacific after looking for cannibals, and reached a startling conclusion; remote tribes were less interesting than the people of Bolton, where […]

Toward Linguistic Grace

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For most of us in the West, English, whether you like it or not, has become the universal language. But because so many others are at different stages of learning it you find yourself simplifying your speech in order to communicate more easily. I don’t mind this at all; it’s good to be reminded on […]

Does Anyone Re-read Old Books?

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Regular readers will have noticed a dearth of London articles here of late. This is not due to any antipathy I have for my city; for the past eight months we’ve been living out of suitcases, waiting to move home to our renovated flat, and all my reference books were in storage. Now that I’m […]