Becoming a Writer: The Four Difficulties

In writing a novel, it is not just your protagonist that embarks on a journey but you, walking alongside your fictional companion like a medieval hero and his chronicler. This is a long road so imagine it as you like; perhaps carrying a shield upon your back and a sword in your hand, hiking in the woods with your best friend, or maybe doggedly pushing a shopping cart with your kid through an apocalyptic wasteland armed only with a revolver and two shells.

Mockingbird’s End – Part One

There were at least five ways home from The Saracen’s Head, and Stan couldn’t think of any of them. He adjusted to the sharp shock of the winter darkness instead, lit a fag, and smoked it savagely as if it had in some way done him greatly wrong. Behind himself, the lights of the pub shut off one by one. Loneliness bit down. Stan Metcalf stoically lit another off the butt of the first. It was late, he was in trouble. Ruby would be waiting.

The Shivering of the Timbers

CURSING and stumbling, Anne and Bannockburn fled blindly from Blackbeard’s fortress in stolen boots. Every step was a symphony of agony, but despite the ravages of their starved and tortured frames, they ran as if the Great Adversary himself was upon their heels, and, given the Stygian dungeon from which they had lately been liberated, who could say he was not? The local inhabitants of the island, they had learned, believed the dreadful pirate Edward Teach to be a demon, and there was no doubt in Bannockburn’s mind that something alien and terrible now possessed the spirit of the already brutal buccaneer. He gripped the hilt of the sword that he had taken from a poisoned guard, along with his boots, and ran on, following the boy who had aided their escape as he crashed through the leathery jungle foliage that concealed paths which, he claimed, were known only to his family.

Stars: Another Old Story

I didn’t really know what I was doing and I never managed to sell it. I blew the dust off the manuscript a few years later when I was supposed to be writing my doctoral thesis, changing the point-of-view character to a mixed-race girl, and keeping the hippy elements of the original but losing the magic realism. I let it slide when my academic career took off, subsequently publishing a couple of reworked scenes as short stories. This is one of them, which was originally published in Birdsuit 11 edited by Christopher Reid and Andrea Holland in 2002, shortly before I moved to Japan. It’s a far cry from the stuff I write now, but I still have a bit of a soft spot for this one…

Five Favourite Books

The was something I did for the Unthank School blog last Christmas that I’d forgotten about until I spotted Ashley’s list while browsing his blog just now. The idea was for Unthank staff to briefly list and discuss five books that we had read in 2015, regardless of publishing date or genre. This was mine…

Welcome to the Slush Pile

I think it's time we explored self-publishing on this blog. I've helped enough people through it professionally, and for the first time in my writing life I've eschewed traditional publication to put a book out myself, Shark Alley. This was a project I wanted total control over, from content, structure and visual style all the way down to final word count. I also wanted to release it as a free online serial, which I was never going to get a publisher to sign off on. Also, to be honest, self-publication is presently the most realistic option for most new novelists out there. It was never easy to get traditionally published at the best of times and, believe me, these are the worse. So, if you're going to go DIY, just remember: Do it Big, Do it Right, and Do it with Style..

Shark Alley: Chapter One

We were approaching the islands of Madeira, about midway in our journey, the day we lost a man and a horse. The animal belonged to Sheldon-Bond, and he was considerably more put out by its passing than he was that of the human being that accompanied it into the void. The young subaltern remained in a foul humour for the rest of that miserable and ill-omened day, his unfortunate man, Private Dodd, getting the worst of it. I tried to avoid him, as there was already bad blood between us, but this was difficult given the confines of the ship. As he stormed around the deck like a vengeful wraith in a graveyard, I could read the message in his eyes when they connected with my own quite clearly.

Teaching ‘How to Write a Novel’ Online

Last week, I brought another USW ‘How to Write a Novel’ course to an end, after three very pleasant and enjoyable months of writing and sharing. It was more a case of ‘Au Revoir’ than a fond farewell though; as always happens, friendships were forged and now we’re all linked up on Facebook, an informal writer’s group that expands with every course. Some students, meanwhile, are staying with us at the school and moving on to Ashley Stokes’ Online Workshop to develop the manuscripts they’ve been writing on my course. This happen a lot, because once people find their way to us – the friendly alternative to all those institutional and corporate creative writing programmes – they tend to stay. There’s a definite sense of family. And don’t get me wrong, we have all the knowledge and expertise of the professors, in fact some of us are professors, we just prefer to be a bit more practical and down to earth about the whole business of, you know, actually writing, rather than just talking about it.

How To Write A Novel: Student Review

n a blog for the Unthank School of Writing entitled 'How To Write A Novel and What It Did For Me,' student Jackie Harmon talks about the learning/teaching experience on an online creative writing course designed and taught by yours truly. The last course has just ended and places are still available on the next, which begins in May. You'll find details here. Jackie Harmon, like me, has an academic background, and is currently working on a historical novel set in the late-nineteenth century. From what I've seen so far this is going to be an impressive debut...

Fifteen Tips On Close Reading

It’s one of life’s truisms that reading widely and critically is essential if you're serious about writing. You don’t need a degree in literature to be a critical reader; a lot of it is good, old fashioned common sense, and you’ll have most likely been reading this way naturally for years already, so naturally in fact that you might not be aware that you’re doing it. The next stage, especially if you’re beginning to write your own fiction, is to focus much more consciously on the individual components of narrative structure, and to apply this knowledge to your own writing.