Oops. Missed another Nanothingywrite?

November is over and once again I have not participated in National Novel Writing Month. In fact, my writing rate for November was abominable. My bum-on-seat and fingers-on-key stats are a disgrace. Oh, I guess I’ve done a few writing and reviewing jobs… but in terms of fiction, I’ve only a handful of pages to show for the month.

It’s easy to get into a funk about writing. Not writing enough. Not sending out enough. Receiving rejections. Not even receiving rejections… just a great big silence. Lacking inspiration. Lacking motivation. Lacking confidence. Ugh. Why do we bother?

Of course I don’t have the answer to any of those questions but I do have some writing inspiration for anyone looking to get started on a new project this December. It’s not Christmas themed I’m glad to say, Just an idea prompted by a book I read recently that might get someone’s creative juices going. Maybe even mine. So here goes.

the alice networkThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn is a thoroughly enjoyable dual timeline historical novel which tells the story of two apparently very different women. In the 1915 a shy young woman with a speech impediment, Eve Gardiner, jumps at the opportunity to spy for the Allies in German occupied France. Thirty-two years later and Eve is a foul-mouthed angry drunk with deformed hands but when she meets Charlie St Clair, a young pregnant single American girl looking for a lost family member, the past becomes of vital importance.

When these two women first meet they have nothing in common. One is American, one British. One in her fifties, one in her twenties. One brave, one not. But it’s one of the joys of the novel that not only do they become immensely important to each other – they are also far more similar than they realize. They are both independent. They are in fact both brave. They both have a liking for Scottish men!

So here is the starting point. Dream up two characters that will meet in some unusual circumstance – stick them on a broken down train, sit them next to each other on a jury panel, make one the black sheep of the other’s partner’s family. You get the idea. Now position them as having nothing in common – age, background, work, problems, whatever springs to mind. But do give them something to connect over: a personality trait, or a desire, or belief that they both share.

Write the story of how they find out what they have in common.


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If you need help writing your novel, try this

Screenshot 2017-05-08 19.04.17

It’s more of a workshop than a classic course but I benefited so much the first time around, I’m doing it again. It’s excellent. Truly. For more information, go to: Unthank: How to write a novel

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Giving the game away (nearly)

Forget that spoiler alert! Go on, do it! It’s time to give away the story!


Give away the story? Or at least part of it? Am I being serious?

juneStrangely yes. This week reading June by Miranda Beverley-Whittmore, I was struck by her clear statement of the events that would unfold in the course of the novel.

On page 4 she writes of the delights to come: of “the dark, terrifying night Lindie bashed in the man’s head, his hot brains quivering on her fingertips yes; but also the open, shimmering promise of the movie stars; the silky noose of the blackmail around everything the girls had come to love; the soft open moans of the stolen kisses; and the baby.”

What a great way to draw the reader in! Do I want to read on to learn about murder, blackmail, movie stars, stolen kisses and a baby? You bet I do.

So here’s the writing exercise. This one requires you have something already written – perhaps a short story you have never quite been happy with (I know I have a couple that fall into this category). Take the story and at an early point, say in the first 3 paragraphs, tell the reader what drama will unfold. Not the final resolution. That would be a real spoiler and you will notice that Miranda Beverly-Whittemore keeps back plenty. There is no indication as to who the murder victim is, who is the blackmailer or who is going to have a baby. Instead the reader has questions, all of which will be answered by the time the novel wraps up.

So do the same with your writing. Let your reader continue on their journey with questions needing answered. But see if this signalling of events in store makes your story more compelling.

I think it just might.


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Character notes

middlesteinsI have been reading The Middlesteins this week and came across a section where Attenberg has one character list the lies she has told her husband during their marriage. The list includes not being on the pill and what she really thinks about his sister. It’s fun and very revealing. That made me think that this was an exercise that could be useful.

Here’s the prompt:

Select the two characters in your novel or story (whether at the outline or draft stage, it doesn’t matter) who have the most conflicted, contentious or important relationship. Pick the point of view of one, not necessarily the one whose point of view you have chosen for the piece in question. Then start with the following statement:

X had told Y (pick a number) of lies in his/her life –

  1. start writing…

From memory I think Edie Middlestein had told her husband 5 or 6 lies. But of course you can have as many or as few as you want/need.

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On finding the plot

If you’re like me and plot isn’t your thing, you may not know it yet, and unlikely as it may seem, you need The Plot Whisperer by Marsha Alderson. Amazon describes it as a “plotting system that’s as innovative as it is easy to implement. With her foolproof blueprint, you’ll learn to devise a successful storyline for any genre.”

My friend Kate Braithwaite (author of Charlatan, which also should be on your reading list) told me about it. It’s hard work to do the exercises, I won’t disguise the reality of that, but if you do them you will get your plot. The method really works! If you’ve lost the plot, take a look at The Plot Whisperer, for the sake of your sanity.

Here’s a picture of the structure of my novel. As you can tell, I’m very proud of it. Happy plotting!


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10 top tips for attending a bookfair

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Originally posted on Kate Braithwaite:
In the last month I have been to two bookfairs to sell my novel, Charlatan: the Collingswood Bookfair in New Jersey and the Hockessin Art & Book Fair. Both times I went with members of…

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How very difficult it is…

love-me-backThis morning I came across an article in Marie Claire which had been shared on facebook. It’s by author, Merritt Tierce, whose first novel, Love Me Back, was published to huge critical acclaim in 2014.

I’d recommend reading the whole article but in brief, she explains how after selling her first book she gave up working to become a full-time writer. Only now, two years later, she has not written a second book. Her main emotion seems to be anger.

I had mixed feelings about her difficulties after reading the article. Some of her problems might well be self-inflicted. I feel like she is more concerned about making money than about writing. But she’s clearly talented. And struggling. And for those things I very much hopes she can find her way through this.

Also this morning, I came across another article on one of my favourite websites, Brain Pickings. This focused on what Jennifer Egan (whose novel Welcome to the Goon Squad I just loved) had to say about the ‘writing, the trap of approval and the most important discipline for aspiring writers’.

Merritt Tierce should read that article! Here’s a two of my favourite Jennifer Egan quotes, from the Brain Picking article.

whywewrite“The attention and approval I’ve been getting for Goon Squad — the very public moments of winning the Pulitzer and the other prizes — is exactly the opposite of the very private pleasure of writing. And it’s dangerous. Thinking that I’ll get this kind of love again, that getting it should be my goal, would lead me to creative decisions that would undermine me and my work.”


“Exercising is a good analogy for writing. If you’re not used to exercising you want to avoid it forever. If you’re used to it, it feels uncomfortable and strange not to. No matter where you are in your writing career, the same is true for writing. Even fifteen minutes a day will keep you in the habit.”

Gah! Exercise. Such good advice. So healthy. And yes… so true.




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Publication Day!

Today is the day! My novel, Charlatan, is available for purchase on Amazon & Barnes and Noble. It has been a long journey…


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Lipo for Manuscripts


When an editor asks you to shorten your work by 15% it’s not out of cruelty, although it might seems so.

Here’s an easy fix to trim down and help avoid head n’ heartache: cut adverbs and consider removing the words listed below. If the sentence conveys what you intended (or you’re inspired to be more precise), you don’t need the word.

a bit, absolutely, actually, about, all, almost, and, any, are, around, as, at, awful, basically, because, begin, but, can, certainly, completely, definitely, down, even, feel, go, hate, it, just, how, literally, little, much, not, of, okay, one, or, ponder, probably, quite, rather, realize, really, replied, said (or other dialogue tag – describe character action or trait instead), seem, so, some, somehow, somewhat, sort of, start, still, that, the, then, think, this, those, thoughtfully, time, totally, understand, up, very, virtually, wonder 

Scarily effective!

(Adapted from: Creative Writing from Wesleyan University/Coursera)

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The inimitable W.B. Yeats said:

“Only that which does not teach,

which does not cry out,

which does not condescend,

which does not explain,

is irresistible.”

Easier said than done.


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