Apologies. I've been gone a while. With various boring health issues over the last few months, I fear one of the casualties has been my writing gene. It seems to have gotten up one day, walked off, never to be seen again. Missing, gone for good... AWOL.

I've tried. Really. I've sat at the computer, opened the notebooks, tried smiling at them both over a steaming cup of green tea - good for the brain cells, you see. I've even held a pencil in my hand with an A4  notepad. Longhand works for a lot of people. Alas, I'm not one of them.

I've blamed the painkillers. And yes, while they have definitely affected my cognitive power, I'm not willing to use that excuse anymore. The plain and simple fact remains that if I want to write, I have to write, even if it means copying out recipes. A a result of this cunning plan, executed over the last week, I can now recite Jaime Oliver's recipe for simple baked lasagne off by heart, like times tables. It's got pork belly and cinnamon in it - who knew?!

Today, I wrote a poem. It's not good enough to put here and it was only four lines. It didn't rhyme, but it had a beginning and an end. I'll work on the middle tomorrow. Slowly, slowly, bite size chunks.
I'm hoping this is an evolutionary process and someday soon, I'll be back working on another novel. With this in mind, I've booked myself into a writer's retreat with the idea of kick starting  the non recipe writing. It'll kill or cure me. The gene will return or not.
Meantime, I've promised myself one thing. If I can actually write properly again, I'm going to do it for me. I'm going to enjoy it again, which means I'm not going to think about agents or publishers. I'm just going to tell a story. Who knows? Watch this space...


January is that time of the year when most writers ponder the year ahead, draw up planning lists and (be still my fluttery heart) open those new notebooks we hinted about before Christmas. And, like the two-headed god Janus, for whom January is named, we might look back at the year that has been and consider our successes and failures.

Despite the cold and the long wait until pay day for my non-writing part-time job (hey, needs must...), I'd had a mini epiphany - a miniphany, if you will. You can read about it here on my personal playground or I can summarise for you it in a few words: Focus on the writing; there's a good chap.

Now, although there have been some eyewateringly priced writing courses circulating recently, I think that writing courses have their place. 

I'm indebted to a novel writing summer school at Falmouth Uni, some years back, run by Jane Pollard. It changed the way I approached novel writing forever. And I also learned some surprising things on an Arvon Comedy Writing week at Totleigh Barton. (Chief among them, why being one of the only sober ones in a room full of angst and alcohol can be truly memorable - but that's another story).

However, there are some questions that never come up on a creative writing course Q & A session. Here's my list of things every writer needs to know.

Feel free to use the comments box to add your own questions and to provide some of the answers!

1. How many copies ought you to sell before you commit to working on a sequel?

2. How deep into your own personal life do you dig for inspiration?

3. What is the maximum number of times one is permitted to revisit a personal theme or experience in one's writing before it is considered at best samey and at worst obsessive?

4. What if your work doesn't fit any genre?

5. Does self-publication of a previous novel inspire confidence or concern in an agent / publisher?

6. Is it possible to make a living as a writer without some significant degree of compromise?

7. How can a writing group cope when one person gets a publishing deal?

8. Does repeating the mantra 'it's not about the money' weaken a writer's resolve to make difficult decisions about their work?

9. Is a book ever finished if it isn't published?

10. Whose permission / approval are we really after when we spill our guts across the page and then hold the result up for public scrutiny?

11. Might there be a better way of doing this?

Come into the garden…A guest post by Rosy Thornton

Let’s imagine that the setting of a novel is a summer’s garden. (OK, so whether as reader or as writer, you may actually favour books set somewhere rather darker and more urban, but please bear with me. I’m a novelist – it’s a metaphor, all right?)

In the author’s head is an image of the garden, perfect in every particular.
Her challenge is to convey that image to the reader (or one that is slightly different, since every reader’s experience of an imagined world must necessarily be unique). She must conjure it as clearly and vividly as she sees it herself – but do so without describing in tedious detail each leaf and blade of grass.

How is this magical transformation to be effected?

The first step is a detailed ground plan.

Above all, it is vital that the writer’s fictional world should not be under-imagined. She must be familiar with every part of it, whether visible or invisible. The reader may never see what’s over the wall or behind the tree but the writer must know, just the same. It enables her to write with total assurance of this place of her invention, and her confidence will transfer itself to the reader, even though the hidden sweep of lawn or shrubbery is never actually revealed. The ground plan is for the author alone and does not appear upon the page, but without this close knowledge the scene will remain unreal: an artefact, a stage set.

Then it is time to put pen to paper. The author’s task is to transmit an impression of the perfect whole through the revelation of selected parts – in much the same way as a painter may convince us that we see upon her canvas a landscape all complete, while in fact large areas outside the key focus of the eye may be hatched in only cursorily or washed to a hazy blue.

It seems to me that there are two main techniques that the writer, like the artist, may adopt.

The first is the broad brush approach: the application of bold, outline strokes to sketch out the overall shape of the setting, to give a sense of its defining features.

Given a sufficiently suggestive skeleton, each reader’s imagination will be fired to furnish for itself the colour and contour, the light and shade which bring the scene to life.

Less obvious, perhaps, but equally effective in my experience, is the opposite approach: working not from broad outline but from small, selected details. Switch the focus away from the general view and depict instead, at close quarters and minutely observed, some characteristic element from which the reader can infer the nature of the whole.

How better than to evoke a rose garden than to describe in fine, filigree detail the petals of a single rose?

Rosy Thornton writes contemporary women's fiction. She is the author of five novels, the latest of which, 'Ninepins', won her the East Anglian Book Awards prize for fiction in November 2012. To pay the bills, She lectures in Law at the University of Cambridge, where she is a fellow of Emmanuel College.




Kindle me this

The Kindle was once the antichrist, now it’s an acquaintance. You see, I think I might buy a Kindle.

‘Good grief,’ I hear you say. All of you lovely Strictly readers. ‘What on earth would possess Gillian to buy a Kindle?’

Well, it’s mainly just to read those 20p books on Amazon that I would otherwise never purchase. I’m planning to go for the basic model as I don’t want to fuel the sales of the more up to date and modern models to make Mr Future Technology think that the Kindle is the way forward in reading. Because it’s NOT. No, I’m a Luddite, for which I will never apologise. However, I’m going to buy the Kindle in Tesco, but only if I have plenty of money off coupons, and maybe (hello Mr Tesco) if it’s on offer soon.
The thing I’m scared of the most is ‘losing’ my sense of place in the book, and also making the hobby of reading seem more like a bland chore or like an arduous day at work. I don’t want to think I’m proof reading on a computer screen, neither do I want to feel like I’m reading something I’ve written for work.

Opinions please!

Did I just say I feel like buying a Kindle?

Photo by Jenny Rollo

Writing Resolutions for 2013

So, 2102 is over, 2013 is here – what are your resolutions for the coming year? In some ways, 2012 was a bumper year for me in terms of writing. I published my new novel, Dark Dates, and followed it up with a couple of digital short stories to keep the readers’ interest up, and I spent a lot of time building my fledgling consulting business. So the bulk of my resolutions would be – more of the same, but better.

But since it’s always good to have a list of goals – and some of these might help you spur on your own writing this year – here are my Writing Resolutions for 2013.

Remember there is never the perfect time to write: one of the biggest mistakes people make, I think, when it comes to writing is they put it off until they have ‘the time’ to do it, which is always in some mythical future. If you can’t spend the whole day writing, what’s the point? But the fact is, you’ll never have the time to do it – life will always encroach on your writing time. So snatch moments when you can. Writing half a page a day will soon add up. I found last year that if I forced myself to do ‘just one page’ or ‘just 15 minutes’, that was often the push I needed to get lots done, and it turned out to be remarkably easy to fit in around the demands of my other jobs (which are pretty bloody demanding at times). Try it in 2013 – you might be shocked by how much you can do!
The Avengers think you should be writing

Don’t wait for inspiration to strike: while I do believe that sometimes it’s worth thinking about something before you write it (depending how your thought processes work – I often ‘carry round’ stories in my head for a while, then write them all in a rush) there is nothing more ruinous to productivity than waiting for the ‘right moment’. Your muse is more likely to come visit if you’re already writing – and remember, if it’s rubbish, you can always rewrite it later!

Don’t get hung up on reviews: the thing that shocked me this year was how much I was bothered by reviews. I might have expected the bad ones to sting (and they did – there were occasions when I was sorely tempted to point out just how much someone had misread my books), but I was surprised to find that while I loved the good reviews, obviously, I also felt like they were putting some kind of pressure on me, and would spiral into a panic about people hating the sequel. This year I resolve to recognise my irrationality, and avoid temptation by not reading reviews. Or most of them, anyway. OK, look, that’s a work in progress… [Post script: I just went to get the link for my book from Amazon ot add to this article and found I'd got another 5 star review. So I read it. Like I said, a work in progress...!]

Reach out to bloggers and readers: one of the delightful things about this year was connecting with a whole bunch of lovely book bloggers. I was intimidated at first about approaching them – why the hell should they be interested in my little book? But most have turned out to be really nice, and I’ve made some great connections with some fantastically fun women. I’d like to do more of this in 2013.

Listen to feedback: I just sent my new book to beta readers, and while I feel ridiculously precious about it, like all writers, I do know I have to take on board feedback. I have already had a couple of things pointed out to me that I know I need to fix…

Keep going: the most important thing of all. It’s really easy to get discouraged when you’re operating in a saturated market and feel like what you’re doing is insignificant or pointless, or will never make you any money, or will always take a lot of time while yielding very little reward.  But the last year has made me realise that, above all, writing makes me happy in a way that nothing else does – and I’m thrilled to have found readers who enjoy my work and like my characters. Whatever the challenges of 2013, I don’t want to give that up.  
Buy more notebooks: because you should always set at least one resolution you know you'll keep...
A girl can never have too many notebooks...