‘I tried to remind myself of the rejections other authors had faced. JK Rowling was famously told that children did not want to read long… Read More »Rejection – Or How to Fail Better at Writing
(A love story in twenty-five parts) When the Royal Literary Fund asked me to write an article on this topic, I used Matt Haig’s poem… Read More »What no one tells you about getting published…
My favourite book in translation is ‘The Glass Bead Game’ by Herman Hesse. The Royal Literary Fund has made a short film on books in… Read More »My favourite translated book – The Glass Bead Game
The thing about being a writer and not having a ‘proper’ job is that we don’t have IT support, coffee breaks, water-cooler chats and personal… Read More »The best writing advice I ever received
BLURRED LINES: SEPARATING FACT FROM FICTION I’m delighted to be featured in Writer’s Aloud, the Royal Literary Fund‘s podcast. This week I’m talking about the… Read More »Blurred lines: Separating fact from fiction
I recently judged the Bristol Short Story Prize for the second year running. This year there were 2,420 entries from all over the world. My fellow judges – agent, Rowan Lawton, radio producer, Sara Davies and writer, Nikesh Shukla – and I read forty stories and chose the twenty that will feature in the next anthology as well as the winner, second and third place.
And today the short list of those twenty stories we chose has been announced!Read More »Writing Short Stories
All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.
I’ve just got back from a long weekend hiking in the Lake District. We were blessed with amazingly beautiful weather for the start of April and climbed Scafell Pike. Not content with that challenge, we zipped up Scafell…and then had quite a long walk with achey knees down a scree slope to get back to Wast Water.
I love walking – whether it’s up a mountain, round a lake, popping to the shops, or up and down Bristol’s steepest hills. So I was interested to read Mark’s Daily Apple blog on Why These Nine Famous Thinkers Walked So Much. William Wordsworth, who famously climbed many of the hills in the Lakes, used his walks to compose his poems – the act of walking was ‘indivisible’ from the act of writing. Charles Dickens found writing quite difficult and used to walk 20-30 miles a day to get some relief from his work. Soren Kierkegaard deliberately used walking to help him mentally compose paragraphs and think through new ideas. He said:
We’ve just got back from our annual spring holiday in Trelowarren, Cornwall. I love holidays! I believe they’re absolutely crucial for boosting creativity. To be honest, I didn’t once think about the thriller I’m writing at the moment – but I hope I’ll approach it with vim and vigour and some fresh ideas when I get back to working on it. What the holiday allowed me to do – by stepping away from my daily routines, minor stresses and familiar environment – was to give me the space and time to think about the Bigger Picture.
Normally I try and read as many novels as possible when I’m away (although that can feel like work!) but this time I read some non-fiction books. I started off with Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin, which is about how to be more productive and happier by changing your habits. I loved it so much, I read Rubin’s first book in this series – The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. So now I have a list of new habits to help me Be More Productive and Have More Fun!
There is something sweet and sickly in the air.
It’s ten years since my book on sugar, Sugar: The Grass that Changed the World, was published. Next week I’ve been asked to open a conference at Bristol University on sugar – covering many of the topics I wrote about, from the evolution of sugar cane through to its effect on our health – although I’m expecting the academics at Bristol, a decade since I researched the subject, to have far more insightful things to say.
If writing dialogue set right now in the real world is difficult, writing historical dialogue is even harder. Surprising as it sounds, you don’t want absolute accuracy. The deeper into the past you go, the less likely it is that anyone living today actually knows how anyone spoke and the chances are, we wouldn’t understand them anyway.
What you do want is readable dialogue that carries information, advances the plot, indicates relationships, conveys character, mood AND is authentic. My fourth novel, Sugar Island, is set around 1860 on an island off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, where my English protagonist, Emily Harris, has been forced to live by her American husband on a slave plantation. Emily is based on the real life actress, Fanny Kemble, who wrote a diary of her experience on St Simons Island.
Walter: Castor beans.
Jesse: So, what are we going to do with them? Are we just gonna grow a magic beanstalk? Huh? Climb it and escape?
Walter: We are going to process them into ricin.
Jesse: Rice ’n Beans?
Walter: Ricin. It’s an extremely effective poison.
Dialogue is something that many writers struggle with. If you sit in a cafe and transcribe a
conversation you’ll see that people don’t talk the way they do in books and films. They are not eloquent, they have accents or dialects, they use slang, jargon; their speech is repetitive, circular, they stick in redundant words like like, you know, I mean; frequently they don’t say what they mean or what they truly want to say. Quite often they’re not listening but waiting for a gap in the conversation to speak or are simply talking over the other person. Equally, you don’t want to write dialogue that’s stilted or reads as if it has been written down, rather than spoken but you do want to capture the essence of how a particular character speaks. It’s tricky!Read More »How to write dialogue I
I’ve been the fortunate recipient of an Arts Council grant to fund me whilst I write my fifth novel. One of the brilliant aspects of the grant is that I have been able to hire a freelance editor to read the latest draft of my work in progress. I was lucky enough to work with Ali Reynolds, who was an editor at Vintage, Random House.
You might think there isn’t much need for an editor prior to getting your book published
and it is not cheap (although it’s incredibly good value for the amount of time and expertise you receive) – but in my experience, it’s invaluable. I’ve had two 2 book deals with publishers (John Murray and Black Swan) and am now between contracts – so I don’t have the luxury of working with an in-house editor. As Ali says: