Friday, 2 November 2018

Latest articles in Writing Magazine

My latest 'Beginners' piece in December's edition of Writing Magazine is called 'Setting the Scenery'.

Illustrating the part that this non-speaking character plays in storytelling, using the everyday elements of weather, light, people, buildings, traffic - essentially, all the things which go on around us unremarked and mostly unremarkable in our lives - helps build a believable backdrop, creating depth and colour on which the characters and actions will stand out.

As a reminder of the part our climate can play in describing a scene with real feeling, take photos to remind yourself of how people react and move in extremes of weather.


The new author profiled this month is Catherine Fearns - - whose debut novel 'Reprobation' was published in October by Crooked Cat Books.

With an intriguing cast of characters, featuring a Calvinist nun, a death metal band lead guitarist and a Scouse (Liverpool) detective on his first murder case, set against a theme of predestination, this is no ordinary crime novel.


Friday, 7 September 2018

My new articles in Writing Magazine

Early details of  October's edition of Writing Magazine include my latest 'Beginners' piece, 'Just Jump'.

Not an invitation to go to the nearest bridge but more an encouragement to write something. Anything.

The hardest part of being a writer is to start. Whether for the first time or the hundredth, putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and seeing the first few words appear before you can be a bit of a push.

It's not unlike taking the first plunge into cold water. Hesitant you will be, but the sooner you kick off, the sooner that tremulous beginning is over. After that, all you have to do is keep swimming - or, in our case, writing. And as soon as you begin, you'll find the rest becomes a lot easier.

In short, don't think about it or dream about it - just do it. You'll feel a lot better, I promise.


Also included is this month's New Author Profile. The author under the spotlight is Jean Levy, with her debut novel 'What Was Lost' (The Dome Press).

A psychological thriller dealing with themes of love, friendship and suspicion set against a woman's fight to recover traumatically repressed memories, the idea began as an MA project six years ago, and blossomed into a full-blown novel.

'What Was Lost' - available from The Dome Press and Amazon.


Monday, 20 August 2018

My review of 'All the Hidden Truths'

If you're looking for a stunning read with a very timely topic (school shootings), then 'All the Hidden Truths' by Claire Askew is the book for you.

What's more, it's a debut, which lifts it even further in my view, because it's so well-written, pacey and full of tension... and the villain is someone you can really loathe. Well, I did, anyway.

To read the full review, go to the SHOTS website - - and prepare for your socks to be blown off.

'All the Hidden Truths' - Out now:


Thursday, 9 August 2018

New Beginners articles in Writing Magazine

Storytelling 101

Either August was late or September is early. I blame the gloriously hot summer.

Either way, here we are already looking at the September edition of Writing Magazine, and my latest 'Beginners' piece.

I decided to refer back to basics in building a story. And that deals with Storyline, Facts, Editing and Dialogue. Of course there's more to it than that, but if you have these basics covered, you're well on your way.

Tell a story, fill it with interesting facts, make sure your characters' dialogue sounds right (for them and the period) and edit the heck out of it to make it right.

Above all, enjoy doing it. If you have fun writing, you won't want to do anything else.


Sunday, 5 August 2018

Writing for Beginners (42)

Bring on a Stand-by

Some new neighbours moved in recently down the street. Nothing extraordinary about that; people move in and out all the time. However, for what should have been something of a non-event, excitement-wise, there has been a fair bit of activity on the village grapevine ever since they showed up and kicked the agent’s board into the long grass.
Quite apart from the usual gossip at the shop, where information is traded like pork futures, along with eggs, papers and Mrs Green’s farmyard honey, there has been much chat about what these newcomers are up to. Speculation is rife about ‘shrouded’ deliveries (bricks and cement powder wrapped in clingfilm to prevent damp) and the arrival of ‘certain equipment’ (grinders, tile cutters and saw benches, mostly). And let’s not forget the blue Portaloo in the front garden, which has raised more than a few eyebrows.
Depending on who you listen to, this perfectly innocent looking family of 2 + 2 and a dog, are (a) converting the house into a doomsday survivalist bunker, or (b) creating a marijuana factory complete with giant fans and drying kilns, and anyone walking past it to the post box each day will get as high as kites on the fumes.
Actually, all they have done, God bless ‘em, is to make our lives a little more interesting by bringing a whole new dynamic to what is normally a quiet – some say unchanging - community.
And if you are in a similar position with your current writing project, I would heartily recommend you try introducing a new, walk-on character or two, to spice things up.
I mentioned before the ‘bring on a man with a gun’ device, when you need to give the reader a jolt. This advice – attributed to Raymond Chandler – is merely a way of introducing a burst of tension and/or danger and violence. (Well, it would, wouldn’t it?)
However, not everyone writes stories where a man with a gun would be realistic. But most writers get to a stodgy bit occasionally, where things get a little… uninspired, shall we say. I know I do.
Introducing a new (unarmed) character is less dramatic, but it can be a useful way of changing the pace in a subtle way, and even leading to you bringing a different tone to the people he or she meets up with.
Let us assume you have to a scene with your main character at home, preparing to go out to an important meeting. (It doesn’t matter what the scene is, I’m merely plucking an example out of the ideas box). Your problem is, you aren’t sure where to go next. You may well have an idea leading up to the meeting, but you might feel that it doesn’t link up in a coherent fashion, or is too big a jump in the storyline.
A way round this is to parachute in an entirely new character, purely at random, and see what happens.
Cue a phone call or a knock at the door. What might the caller/visitor want? A cup of sugar? A lift into town? Is it an old friend passing by? Or the postman with an important letter? You choose.
Whatever it is, you can use the new arrival as a way of ‘lifting’ the scene by injecting some unplanned activity or event. You might decide on a neighbour offering your main character a lift, allowing you to explain in dialogue between them a little more about what is going on and what emotions or concerns your main character is feeling. Using this as a jumping-off point, you might develop an extra strand to your storyline, where your character struggles to hide a secret from this nosy neighbour, adding to the tension. The possibilities are endless.
Remember, the newcomer can be as fleeting or as permanent as you wish, a walk-on part or a stayer. As long as they serve a useful purpose. It’s your story, after all, and you can do whatever you want. God-like? You betcha.
Whoever their status or role, their arrival does not have to change the story in a big way. It’s a device, pure and simple. What it should do is to give you a fresh perspective at a time when maybe your storyline is getting bogged down, and inject a whole new line of thought.
There are a few points to consider when bringing in someone new, no matter how briefly. What effect could they have on the scene? What could be the reactions to this newcomer, and how might it impact on the story? Could this introduction change certain events, thereby altering the flow of your story? Might the newcomer – as happened to me once – grow from a planned walk-on part only, to become a vital part of the story? And the main one is, can the new character add an extra exciting element to the plot and your writing? 


·        Choose a character at random and bring them in. Then think about the action and reaction.
·        Think of them as a catalyst to something - anything - even in a small way.
·        Use them to spur your main character(s) into thinking or acting in a way which adds extra vim or surprise to the story.
·        Make sure they ‘fit’ the scene, no matter how briefly, and don’t appear as a cut-and-paste job.
This article was taken from my book 'Write On! - the Writer's Help Book' - (Accent Press) - available in p/b and ebook.

Friday, 3 August 2018

New article in Writing Magazine

July's edition of Writing Magazine came out with my usual 'Beginners' page, this one called 'Hooked on Writing'.

It deals with the simple fact that for some, maybe a lot, writing isn't merely something you do on the odd occasion you happen to find an empty keyboard and a few minutes to create something.

It's far more fundamental than that; it's more of an obsession, something you really have to do. 

It's a must-do kind of thing, not a will-do-when-I-get-round-to-it thing.

Life, of course, has to go on. But you have to juggle with it the best way you can. And sometimes that means making a few sacrifices. Which ones you choose depends on you, and how important your writing ambition is.


Sunday, 10 June 2018

Writing for Beginners (41)

Writing humour

There’s a view among some aspiring writers that the only thing you have to do to write humorous material is to string together a list of jokes. That this doesn’t work will become painfully obvious by the speed with which rejections hit your doormat. The fact is, many editors – especially magazine editors - say they receive very few useable examples of humour, which surely leaves a space to be filled by those who can do it successfully.

First, what’s the difference between comedy and humour? My rule of thumb is that comedy is performed - often, but not always before a live audience - and intended to raise a laugh. Humour aims more at achieving a wry smile or at the most a quiet chuckle. (Unlike a business colleague of mine who once spent an entire flight from Paris to Toulouse, hooting like a Thames barge when I unwisely showed him a copy of a Bill Bryson book I was reading. Apart from the embarrassment of being sat next to him, I hadn’t got the heart to tear it off him, so had to make do with the in-flight magazine instead, which was no fun at all).

Ironically, writing humour can be a serious subject; what strikes one person as amusing may hit the next like shingles. But some magazines are prepared to consider lighter material if it fits their subject matter.

This is perhaps the key guideline for budding humour writers: produce something geared to the wry appreciation of a subject close to a reader’s heart, and you may strike lucky. In a magazine about caravans, for example, an item most likely to get a caravan enthusiast smiling is a humorous piece about caravans… or anything associated with them. It’s a question of making a connection.

Describing a journey from A to B, for example, could be mundane and, on our current busy roads, about as funny as gangrene. The same journey with a line of washing caught on the back, however, might take on an entirely different tone.

The first thing to do is - surprise, surprise - study the market. In this case, identify those titles containing light or humorous material. Then zero in on those where the subject matter appeals to you, or is ‘open’ in nature.

Ask yourself whether the tone and content indicates that readers do not take themselves or the subject matter too seriously. Does the editorial show a tendency to swipe fondly at anything surrounding its core subject? Are the other articles light-hearted? Are there any cartoons? If the answer to these points is yes, then plainly a degree of humour is acceptable.

The next point is to identify a gap. Most editors like to vary the content, and much of it these days is of the ‘quick-bite’ size, digestible between other tasks. By its nature, humour material falls into this category.

Once you have a feel for the magazine’s slant, then you can start building something around the subject matter which will appeal to the editor (most important), and thus the readers. And if you can treat the subject humorously, yet with a degree of knowledge, rather than simply ranting on about your favourite bete noir, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t succeed in getting a foot in the door.
The idea of trying to get inside the mind of a magazine reader might seem a little daunting, but in the main, readers who regularly buy a particular title do so because they have specific interests. The advantage for us is, this makes their likes and dislikes easier to identify.

Pitching unsolicited humour to an editor is like any other kind of writing; there’s a lot of competition. It’s a numbers game, so the best way of approaching a magazine is to suggest multiple-choice ideas. Give them an A, B and C to choose from, and you might stand a better chance of getting beyond an initial weary glance on a cold, wet Monday morning.
Assuming you have three ideas in mind, make them as varied as possible. If the magazine has recently done a piece (funny or not) on, say, the spending habits of young women, they are unlikely to repeat it too quickly. Spread the net as wide as possible, and your submissions have a better chance of attracting a second look.

Whatever the topics, they should fit the tone and style of your target market. Whether you use a first-person ‘opinion’ piece (seen through the eyes of the author), or an anecdotal ‘interview’ style, there should at least be a solid basis to the article and it should reach a conclusion (humorous, preferably). If your article, as well as being funny, has something readers can learn from, so much the better. Just because it’s humour doesn’t mean it can’t be educational.

Most importantly, the article should not offend the reader. You are writing to entertain, not cause apoplexy over their cornflakes. It can even - subject to the editor - inspire discussion, which is why some letters pages feature loud support and vitriolic condemnation of the same subject in equal measure – and many of them are a riot.

·       Don’t offend the reader just to be funny.
·       Avoid starting open warfare – controversy has its limits.
·       Go for a chuckle, not a belly-laugh.
·       As a benchmark, think about what makes you smile.
This article was taken from my book 'Write On! - the Writer's Help Book' - (Accent Press) - available in p/b and ebook.