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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Something about mothers

It’s Mother’s Day, in England at least, and so here is a prompt that rarely fails. Write 500 words beginning with: “My mother always… .”

Mother and Child detail from The Three Ages of Woman

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Something for the weekend #37

Mark Twain said, “Reality is stranger than fiction.”  Well, take a look below at the picture of a CNN news story.

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.21.57 AMAlso found in the motel room by the police was “an incoherent man.” So, here is the prompt: what happened before the police arrived?


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Inspired by ABDCE

Nobody ever said writing was easy, and if they did, they didn’t know what they were talking about. Our group met today to write and to wail about the difficulties we’re encountering along the way: the elusive plot element, that character who just won’t behave, and the six months of hard graft of revisions only to find the first draft might have been better.

I always benefit from these sessions–writing can be a lonely occupation–and more often than not I come away with some idea for fixing what’s been troubling me about a scene, or a chapter, and even my novel as a whole.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 1.05.24 PM

(Source: Coursera, Creative Writing: The Craft of Plot)

Today, we also talked about online writing courses. You may be aware that there are many, often free, courses offered by globally-renowned universities. The particular courses we talked about were Creative Writing: The Craft of Plot, from Wesleyan University, and How Writers Write Fiction, from the University of Iowa.

For me, plot is a challenge. I love setting and character, but the plot, well that’s the reason for taking the Wesleyan course. It was a joyous revelation that much of what is going  wrong in my stories can be addressed by a simple ABDCE.

Note the order of those letters.

A means action, B means background, D is development, C is climax, and E is ending. One of Wesleyan’s course assignments was to write 400 words with the ABDCE sequence, according to this prompt:

“Begin a scene where someone wants a concrete physical object more than anything else in the world. Now include each of the five key components of a scene as you’re writing. Write for a few minutes, then give that character a disease where they learn they have only 24 hours to live. This is your first significant rising action. Write some more, then give that character a choice between that object and an antidote. This is your second significant rising action. Finish the story with a conclusion. Your final story should not exceed 400 words.”

Try it, it’s fun!

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Something for the weekend #36

There is a monster park north of Rome, the ruin of a folly, inhabited by giants and ogres and mermaids. Abandoned in the nineteenth century, it became a shelter for local shepherds and their flocks. It’s a tourist attraction now. What if you’d come across it on a walk in the woods? (Photo courtesy of


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Something for the weekend #35

Cardross, St Peter’s seminary Cardross, near Glasgow Alamy Ruins

Fantastic photograph by Tom Kidd/Alamy that I just came across on The Guardian today. The article, The 10 best ruins in Britain, could definitely inspire some new writing this weekend. This photo features St Peter’s Seminary in Glasgow which opened in 1966 but closed in 1980.

All the ruins in the article are worth checking out but my other favourite is this photo by Alamy:

Witley Court Worcestershire

This is Witley Court and I love this quote from the article: “If it had remained intact it would have been one of the more boring of Britain’s stately homes, with its senseless repetition of statements of status. As a ruin it is potent.”

If you can see the potency in any of these ruins… get writing!

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Something for the weekend #34


Love this picture of “Lady & Leopards” I just came across in this Huffpost article by the author of a recent book about circus history, Linda Simon.

If I wasn’t driving kids around and cooking food and washing up all weekend long maybe I’d write something. Roll on Monday!

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A fictional guide to editing your writing?

bone clocksIs it weird to take advice on editing from a fictional character? I think that’s weird, right? But when that fictional character is (maybe) based on Martin Amis and the author behind the character is novelist David Mitchell, perhaps it’s not quite as daft as it seems.

I’ve just finished reading The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell and particularly enjoyed a scene where Crispin Hershey (the Amis-esque character) is teaching creative writing to undergraduates.

Here’s his thoughts on adverbs:

“Adverbs are the cholesterol in the veins of prose. Halve your adverbs and your prose pumps twice as well.”

On simile and metaphor:

“… grade every simile and metaphor from one star to five, and remove any threes or below. It hurts when you operate but afterwards you feel much better…”

And if you can’t decide if it’s a three or a four? Crispin is asked:

“If you can’t decide… it’s only a three.”

Crispin is also an advocate of writers building character sketches. He wants his students to write letters to themselves from their characters. When asked what they should put in the letters he’s demanding:

“Your characters’ potted life histories. Whom or what your characters love and despise. Details on education, employment, finances, political affiliations, social class. Fears. Skeletons in cupboards. Addictions. Biggest regret; believer, agnostic, or atheist. How afraid of dying are they?…Have they ever seen a corpse? A ghost? Sexuality. Glass half empty half full, glass too small? Snazzy or scruffy dressers? It’s a letter so make use of their language. Would they say ‘mellifluous’ or ‘a sharp talker’? Foul-mouthed or profanity-averse? Record the phrases they unknowingly overuse. When did they last cry? Can they see another person’s point of view? Only one-tenth of what you write will make it into your manuscript, but when you knock on that tenth… you’ll hear oaken solidity, not sawdust and glue.”

All great stuff really, but my favourite bit of all is Crispin’s thoughts on the writing life:

“A writer flirts with schizophrenia, nurtures synesthesia, and embraces obsessive-compulsive disorder. Your art feeds on you, your soul, and, yes, to a degree, your sanity. Writing novels worth reading will bugger up your mind, jeopardize your relationships, and distend your life. You have been warned… Art feasts upon its maker.”

Love it!!

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