Paisley Shirt by Gail Aldwin – my review

A Paisley shirt.

I can’t say that I read a lot for short stories, as all too often I find them unsatisfying, a canapé when I’m starving for a roast dinner. I do have a theory that the best film adaptions for books or stories are always of short stories, precisely because their brevity leaves room for the film maker to expand, where as with a novel, any adaption is by it’s nature an act of sever editing and so pretty much always unsatisfying, so I confess I do tend to read short stories as if they are always a prelude to something else, a foundation rather than a completed thing.

A Paisley shirt is different again, as this is a collection of stories so short that to begin with, I was rather bemused by it. The stories seemed to flicker past me so rapidly it was as if a collection of flip books has been shuffled together, and images from unrelated stories were jumping and flashing at me without connecting. People came in, conversations were overheard, one even seemed to be a page taken from an out of date breastfeeding advice book, but I couldn’t seem to get hold of any of it in my head.

Then I think I realised about half go the way through, that my entire approach to the issue was wrong, that it was indeed not them, but me. I’m so used to devouring big chunks of writing, of pushing the tiny window I get these days for reading, that I was galloping when I should have been slowing down to take a better look. It was as if I was reading for a deadline, treating the stories as if they were part of a whole, where as of course the opposite is true.

This is not just a veiled excuse to my dear Amanda as to why it’s taken me so long to write this review – well, it is a bit – but it’s also my best advice to all my dear readers who want to give the collection a go also – slow down. Instead of ruddy treating the collection as if it was some overly wordy novel to get through looking for a punchline, I made myself read only one story a night and actually stop and think about it. Instead of a moment plucked from others, each one then crystallised into it’s own thing, it’s own little gem.  In doing slowing down, I was given the chance with each to glimpse something intricate and strange, a little world complete of an in it’s self. Some did leave me hanging, make me want to push back and rewind to find out more, but again, if you give the stories time, if you stop and think, thy do give you more.

The most effective was the little trio around a chocolate raisin, the first of which baffled me until I read the third two days after, when I was doubly chastened and chilled to the bone by it, heart breaking all together I was haunted by my own dismissiveness and made guilty by it. It deals with a dark subject, and I realised the intense cleverness behind the structure, one which made me initially dismiss what was happened as so many victims of abuse are to easily dismissed by people on the outside of their situations. It really pulled me up and made me think how clever it was that not only had the author told me a story, they had made me feel the story in a way I really wasn’t expecting.

So, please do give this collection a go, but I strongly suggest you treat it not as a packer of biscuits but a box of chocolates, allow yourself one a day, even the ones you’r not sure you’re going to like; then take a moment, savour and close the lid until tomorrow. You find, I hope, as I did, that the experience of each lingers much longer than some works ten times the length, and will hopefully agree with me that this is a beautiful collection of narrative haiku, repaying you three-fold the moments it take to read each one, both devastating and amusing in equal measure.


This is  link to Amazon, where you can buy your own copy of Paisley Shirt

Year of Indie Debuts : Magnetism – Ruth Figgest

Firstly an apology for the delay in posting the next in my series of Indie Debut blogs, I can only plead real life getting in the way, along with a healthy dose of snow!

But I’m back and this time speaking to Ruth Figgest about her novel, Magnetism, published by Myriad.

Hi Ruth, thanks for speaking to me about your book and your writing. Your story moved back and forth through time with ease, never losing the reader, so how do you manage to keep us on board? What techniques do you find helps in anchoring the narrative without being heavy handed?

Bearing in mind that it could potentially be frustrating for a reader, I tried to incorporate the real world into the story, in order for the reader to get references to historical events. In the first two chapters there are also references in the text to indicate the shift about to happen. I’ve  worked on ensuring that the voices of the characters remain in keeping with the times (in terms of terminology and what’s happening in the world) and their age at the time of the chapter. It’s all hugely helped by having the date of each chapter at the start, of course.

You kind of tell the story backward, so it to me it does have the sense of an autobiography, which lends a certain kind of veracity to the character’s stories. What strengths do you think starting with both an end and a beginning bring to your writing?

I think it’s really important to understand the story arc, that in writing a story you are constantly working toward the end. I’m pleased that it encouraged the sense of veracity about the characters by laying out the story of their lives through this structure. I had hoped that it would encourage interest in the material and create an satisfying tension for the reader, who (almost) always knows more about the future of the characters than they do.

I am very interested in playing around with time. We never remain fully in the present. We experience thoughts and associations constantly; our minds drift back to the past, and forward to the future. The inclusion of the past in this story allows the reader to understand the characters at a deeper level.

Having said that, it’s important for the writer to know the actual chronological experience of the characters, because otherwise it won’t make sense to the reader. The novel was written out of sequence. I came to understand the characters more and more in the process of creation and then I also added work that I thought would be useful for characterisation and plot development, but I always knew that Caroline would die, and that it would be a key dramatic development for Erica. 

The mother – daughter relationship, does it ever, can it ever run smoothly? I loved the way you write them, how the mother gives this impression on one hand of being laid back and not interfering in her daughter’s life and yet the second later is doing exactly that, attempting to control her in the same breath as protesting that she isn’t. I’m not going to ask if this is built on real life experience here, but is it based on real life observations?

I honestly don’t know what smoothly might look like because I think people are messy and imperfect and intimate relationships between messy and imperfect people are ripe with opportunities for misunderstandings and clashes as they each try to figure out what they want and who they want to be. Real life observations and personal experience tell me that a new mother is still in the process of becoming. She brings her fear, her immaturity and her baggage as well as her aspirations to parenting. 

Parents usually try their best to make their children feel secure and loved and confident, but their best might not be good enough or apt, because children are all different. It’s a fine line between supporting and stifling because it’s all too easy to fail to see a child as separate from yourself. It’s a formula for failure on both sides. Children have an idea of their parents which is incomplete; they fail to see their parents as individuals outside of their role. Parents can have issues with letting go, of allowing their children to be different, to want different things, to become grown-ups.

The plastic surgery in the book is such an interesting dynamic, and the sense that even though now we can ‘fix’ everything we don’t like about ourselves, we still remain unsatisfied. Was that something you wanted to explore in the story?

Yes. I wanted to explore the experience of women with regard to ageing and appearance. In the environment of this book plastic surgery is common place. I think the mother, Caroline, wants her daughter, Erica, to have a more pleasing appearance because she thinks it might improve her chances with men and a beautiful daughter might also reflect well upon her. But there’s a sense of anxiety about this even for Caroline. Though she pushes a young Erica to have surgery, she resists getting her own teeth cosmetically enhanced. The search for this kind of “perfection” becomes never ending and never satisfying. It is the result of fear. In the future the faces of people who die of old age may look forty years old, but they’ll still be dead.

How do you create the atmosphere in all the different locations and timescales you use? What research tools do you find helpful?

I think you have to think about popular culture, products, technology and clothing as well as attitudes. Checking out what was happening at the time of the story historically was helpful for structuring the story. I thought about putting the characters in situations where they think about events in the bigger world, and the growth of feminism, and of drug use and sexual freedoms are always in the background of the novel. I also tried to include climate in the book. In the Midwest, summer humidity and heat pervades absolutely everything.

What are you writing now, another American setting or somewhere else this time?

I always try to have two or more things on the go at once, so that I don’t take anything so seriously that I get anxious about it. It also means if one thing seems to be stuck, there’s something else to work on. I am presently making good progress with a novel which is based in Oxford, but I’m also working on a couple of other stories. One set in Turkey fifteen years ago, and another based in the UK. I’m sure I’ll write about an American setting again, but maybe not immediately.

What does your writing day look like?

There’s something about the rhythm of walking that helps me with beginning to write. I daydream about my characters and, when I’m driving or when I’ve got free time, I think with intention about their lives and potential plot developments. I’m a morning person so the best day is a very early walk with the dog and writing until the rest of my responsibilities press in and force me to stop.

I have a wonderful study and I climb up the stairs to work with expectation and a sense of excitement. I almost always write to classical music and I usually start by transcribing longhand work from my current notebook onto the screen, or with something I know needs more tweaking to make it good. This starting point gets me back into the work smoothly and after a while, I find that I’m writing new material and I can see the way ahead. This is a lovely sensation and at this point I allow myself to make a coffee because I know exactly where I’m going when I get back to the computer. Every few weeks I write with others at my home – we call it a “Just write” session – People can come and go as needed, but most turn up at ten and write without discussion until one o’clock when we might then chat about what we’ve been doing. It’s a good energy, this writing with others. 

And for my silly question, are you a long walk in the cold sort of person, or would you rather be waiting in the pub for everyone else to get there?

I’m guessing it’s the afternoon or evening, so I’m definitely waiting in the pub watching people while day dreaming, or reading a book. I’m extremely happy to wait in these circumstances.


You can buy Ruth’s book here, and if you have a mother I think you’ll find it hits home and makes you both grimace and grin as you read it.



The Guy Thing – a review

I’ve not that long ago become a mother for the second time, to an utterly delightful son. At one and a half he’s a dream, a glowing little creature full of delight and wonder, constantly making me laugh and cry, just like his sister did. At the same time I’ve taken a job at a school as an art teacher, working with a motley crew of teenagers, including a load of what I can only describe as lads. One of them, more than one actually, but one in particular I’m thinking of, is a red head like my son, a lump of a thing over six feet tall and all sarcasm and attitude, not a bad lad but certainly a daunting prospect when you’re supposed to engage him in the finer points of depth of field and the art of early 19th century photography.

Looking at both these specimens of the male species, overlooking the obvious maternal bias, I often wonder with no small sense of dread what exactly we do to our boys, to turn such delightful innocents into what can be troubled and hard to manage young men, and to feel on the whole, quite sorry for them that they seem to have to go so far away before finding themselves again.

I’m thinking of all this because I’ve been reading ‘The Guy Thing’ by Bruce Harris, a collection of short stories which gathers together a range of experiences from the male perspective, different aspects of masculinity in pain, in loss, in finding a way forwards despite the odds.

The author began work on the collection after his life partner was diagnosed with Huntingdon’s disease, a life altering condition to say the least, which prompted him to reflect on the way men deal with crisis, both now and in the past. Out of this comes the majority collection, stories which are all snapshots of lives at turning points, moments when the protagonists travel from one state to another, even if they only realise the importance of the moment in hindsight.

They are all separate stories and yet there is a pleasing sense that you’re looking into a connected world, that somehow, if you read hard enough and long enough, you might start to see the relationships between them all, generating past and future, which I really enjoyed. It feels like a street, populated with real stories and real people, and you’re walking though it peering into the windows at snap shots of their lives.

This is not to make it sound twee, some of the stories are dark and leave you feeling bruised and sad, but yet even within these there’s a sense of hope, redemption perhaps, certainly a struggle worth fighting for, all of it on a real, relatable scale.

I can’t say that it was a cosy read, but then I don’t know that I ever want a cosy read that often; it is a real and absorbing read, the ideal thing to make you ponder just what it is we do to our boys, on your way to double art with year eight. I hope we find a way to treat them better, I hope stories like these will help us find a way.


All profits from the book go to the Huntington’s Disease Association, you can find the details of his short story collection and fundraising here.

Get a copy of The Guy Thing here.




Shouting at the page

We all do it I know, the literary equivalent of shouting at the TV. No matter how well researched a book, from time to time something will crash through the narrative and make me want to scream – that moment when the writer introduces something which you know is a terrible cliche or just plain wrong. Worse than that, it’s something you’ve seen a hundred times before and yet it keeps coming up, over and over, jerking you out of the book like a scratch on a record.

Maybe it’s just me, I do come from a long line of TV shouters, but in case anyone else is interested, here’s my list of my pet hates/peeves/soap box rants and the reasons why.


Ahh, there’s nothing so beautiful and classy as the classic pearl necklace, usually, well, always displayed on the slender and elegant neck of a heroine. But wait, what’s this? She’s being attacked or caressed or grabbed from behind – sometimes it’s a little hard to tell the difference – and look, the necklace breaks and the pearls cascade down like hard drops of rain, so metaphorical, such a devastating image – you can almost imagine the pretentious black and white pop video. Of course, these pearls are always THE BEST quality, they are keisha pearls, black pearls, perfectly round – but this is wrong, wrong, wrong!! Why? Because if you have ever had a pearl necklace, from the cheapest plastic number upwards, you will see that each pearl on the string has a little knot between it and the next one. This simple, genius device is so that when the heroine’s slender neck is grabbed and the necklace breaks, the most she’s going to lose is a single pearl. Get it? because they are so perfect and expensive, those clever old jewellers had already thought it would be a shame if they all rolled away down the gutter in an accident, and they spend their time tying tiny knots in the silk between the pearls so this won’t happen. So please, no more pearls scattering like angels tears, ok?

The umbilical cord

I could probably write a whole blog on what cliches people write about birth, but I am a bit of a birth nerd (blame the NCT). My biggest peeve about birth is this:

The baby is coming, yet something is wrong – the midwife cries out that alas, the umbilical cord is wrapped round the baby’s neck – oh no! The life giving cord which has nurtured the infant in the womb is now strangling it – oh, the irony! EXCEPT that doesn’t happen. Yes, the cord can be crushed during labour and cause problems, some of them serious, but this is when the cord is squashed, usually between the baby’s shoulder and the wall of the  birth canal. In fact, the cord round the neck is both pretty common and almost always fine, they are wonderfully stretchy things and very easily slip on and off again, like a turtle neck. Sometimes they even get wrapped round two or three times without problems, so please find another dramatic birth story, because there are loads of real ones to uncover.

He punched in her number

This is one I noticed today, while listening to an audio book. I find that most of these jump out at me when listening in a way they don’t always with reading print, which is why my number one tip for editing is to read everything you write out loud, but I digress. We’ve had mobile phones for a while now, and you’re probably like me in that when you meet someone you’d like to call, you might just have noticed a few digits from their phone number when they put it in your contacts list, but after that you will never look at their number again and so if you’re ever without your mobile, will find it impossible to call anyone. Yet so often in books, characters will ‘enter the number on the phone’ rather than scroll down through the list and choose the correct name. I know it’s a small, tiny thing, but boy, it jerks me out of a narrative.

She ringed her eyes in kohl

No, she didn’t. Not unless she was alive in aching Egypt or was Dusty Springfield, who ever says that? Please, can we ‘apply eye liner’ , draw on eye liner, smudge on eye liner – because that’s what we do now.

She had flowing red hair and green eyes…

I wonder if anyone has counted up the percentage of female characters in books who have red hair and green eyes, compared to their proportion in the world? And what about men with red hair and green eyes, when did you last read about a red haired hero? I mean, sure, I could write a huge blog about how under represented loads of people are, but red headed women with green eyes I feel are in a weird majority. And mysterious heroes with grey eyes, mind you.

I could go on, I really could, but these are five tiny but annoyingly niggley peeves which will always get me huffing at the word on the page. There are of course huge, massive great big ones which will do the same, but that’s for another day and another blog – I’m sweating the small stuff! Comment below and tell me your mole hills you blow up into writing mountains, and we can share each other’s pain!

Year of Indie Debuts: After Leaving the Village by Helen Matthews

For the latest indie debuts interview, I’m speaking with Author Helen Matthews about her novel ‘After Leaving the Village,’ published by published by Hashtag Press. I often ask authors about their journey to publication, because that’s an achievement in and of itself, but hers is a little different again in that she’s had support from the charity, Unseen, who work to end human slavery. I

Helen, how are you involved with the Unseen charity and how has it helped to create your novel?

To answer your questions about my involvement with the charity Unseen – it wasn’t a collaboration, as such, but came about by chance when I  decided I was going to write a novel about human trafficking and was looking for research material. I started writing ‘After Leaving the Village’ in 2013 and human trafficking was not a high profile news story as it is now. It was actually quite difficult to find material until I discovered case studies (survivors’ stories) published by charities, including Unseen. When I learned about their work, I became a supporter and began to make a monthly donation to Unseen to sponsor a hostel room for a trafficking survivor.  While I was writing the novel, I rang their office on a couple of occasions to ask a question and, when my novel was finished, their founder and director, Kate Garbers kindly agreed to read it through to check it was factually accurate. (Similar to when you’ve written a crime novel and ask a police officer friend to read it through).

Fortunately Kate loved the story and was sufficiently impressed with the quality of my writing to offer to write a Foreword for the novel. They’ve helped me to promote the book by featuring it on their Facebook page and in a newsletter sent to supporters. We’re also doing a joint fundraising event in the New Year. I decided to donate a percentage of profits from the book to Unseen to help support the fight against slavery. More recently, Unseen has appointed me an Ambassador for the charity and invited me to  a training session, so I’m now an accredited speaker and able to give presentations about their work alongside promoting my book.

That’s really interesting, and it must feel good to think your book is working to help people who’s real-life stories are like your main character, Odeta’s. You’ve written a book which is a good read first and foremost, even though it tackles some difficult subjects. How do you think a writer can balance the passion they have to draw attention to an injustice, with their passion to tell a good story?

It’s good advice, if not always practical, to write with your potential readers in mind. If I think about what I look for as a reader (and I read many genres, from commercial to literary), the books that satisfy me most offer something more than just escapism, convincing characters and a plot that rattles along. When I’m investing time in a book, I like to learn something about the world or gain an insight into human nature. In a contemporary novel, I love a ‘state of the nation’ theme (Ali Smith’s Autumn; Zadie Smith’s NW; Capital by John Lanchester).

While researching human trafficking, I discovered that the top country of origin of victims trafficked into the UK was Albania, so I decided this was where my character, Odeta, would come from. I’d never been to Albania and my initial research was from articles, travel guides, maps, Google Earth and watching YouTube videos. When my novel was at final draft stage I realised I’d have to visit Albania to make sure details were accurate. While there, I arranged to spend an afternoon visiting a family in a village (though not as remote as Odeta’s). Their daily life, their home and their approach to entertaining guests were uncannily similar to what I’d dreamt up in my imagination. They even owned a shop – though theirs sold hardware and auto spares, not groceries.

My major concern was whether young Albanians would speak more English than Odeta because this is an important plot point in my novel. Of course, the older generation learnt only Russian and, for decades of the twentieth century, Albanians weren’t permitted to travel abroad. I found that students and Albanians who’d travelled abroad did speak some English but I was relieved to find, once we left the capital, Tirana, even young waiters in a roadside café couldn’t understand my simple request for a bottle of water.

As a novelist you can’t overstuff your story with all the facts learnt from research, however fascinating. You have to let go and trust your characters to take the action forward so your story doesn’t buckle under the weight of research.

Well, your research paid off because your book is amazingly evocative, her village life is delicately and convincingly brought to life in your writing, which makes what happens to her all the more heartbreaking, and her inner strength all the more real. As you say, human trafficking, modern slavery, wasn’t well known about even just a few years ago, and it’s been the work of charities and campaigners which has shone more light on it. How did you first hear about it and decide to research it?

Unseen, the charity I support, has three main aims: supporting survivors and potential victims; equipping stakeholders, such as companies, police forces, health professionals, to recognise the signs, and influencing legislative and system change. Under this third remit, Unseen’s research was instrumental in inspiring government to bring in the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The reason we’re better informed now is because, when perpetrators are caught, they are charged appropriately and convicted of modern slavery offences. In the past it was often the victim who was charged with, for example, prostitution or immigration offences.

I’m continually developing ideas for novels and jotting down notes for the next one. My starting point of After Leaving the Village was Kate’s story – her anxiety about her son’s Internet addiction and somewhat radical approach to a digital detox. My working title was Disconnected. As I brainstormed ideas around disempowerment and exclusion, I thought about what it would be like to be forcibly cut off from everything. This led me to research human trafficking and modern slavery. With such a sensitive subject, I took care to honour my character’s humanity and make Odeta a fully-rounded ordinary woman – just like you, or me, or our daughters – rather than the shadowy one-dimensional victims so often seen in the background on TV crime drama.

Where does this in-depth research fit this into your process? Do you write the first draft and then research your hunches, or do you need to establish the research first and then build your story from that?

My starting point is a broad plot outline and an idea for my main characters before doing some initial research. I then write a few chapters to test out whether the characters will live and breathe on the page. Not all stories have legs and some plots fizzle out. Once I’m confident, I get stuck into more extensive research. I write a first draft, checking facts as I go along. I’d strongly recommend finding an expert in the subject to check your manuscript at the end of the process and I was very fortunate that Kate Garbers of Unseen offered to do this for me.

And I think anyone looking to write such an depth novel as this one, would do well to heed that advice! This has been a huge project for you, and of course is still on going as you try and get the word out about your book – but do you have more in the pipeline? Are you writing around the same area, or striking out in a new direction?

I have a new novel underway and an early draft has been read by two beta readers and critiqued by a writer friend, who was on the MA in Creative Writing course with me at Oxford Brookes University. She is a skilful and challenging reviewer and her suggestions involve structural changes. I’m itching to get back to working on it when the launch and promotion phase of After Leaving the Village calms down. The new novel has contemporary themes (my characters will potentially be affected by Brexit, for example), but it’s set in 2016 when the full impact isn’t known. It’s broadly in the suspense thriller category, like my current book, but I’m tweaking it so it will end up slightly closer to the psychological thriller genre.

Brexit  is a challenge for writers like everyone else, it’s an odd time to write near future fiction just because everything is so up for grabs! I’m working on one set in a post Brexit Britain too which is my first foray into urban fantasy – seeing as the possibilities right now seem multitudinous, if not all positive! I always like to end with a daft question – when writing, what’s your guilty pleasure reward for hitting your daily word count?

I’ve a terrible habit of hunching over a laptop all day, staring at the screen or the ceiling. Often, I look up to find it’s 4.00 p.m. and getting dark and I’ve not stuck my nose outside the door all day. So, I go for a walk or, perhaps, a swim, and my guilty snack of choice is Cadbury’s fruit and nut.

So, dedication to the art and craft of writing, proper research and fruit and nut – I think that’s a recipe for writing we’d all do well to follow. After Leaving The Village is a story which works on many levels and as well as being a deep commentary on the way we live now, is a good story too. I was struck by how the young people in the book are all chasing dreams seen from a far, hints of a golden life glimpsed through various social media channels, dream which all too often prove to be dangerous in so many ways. Please do buy a copy and read for yourself, both because it’s a good story with real characters, and because Unseen needs our support for the good work they’re doing.

After Leaving the Village is available in paperback and as an eBook by Find it at Waterstones, Foyles and all good bookshops and on Amazon at

To learn more about anti-slavery charity Unseen go to

To read Helen’s blog and hear about upcoming author events, visit her website

How to write a novel in a month, not only November

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? I imagine when this goes out, it will all be over for this year, the hand cramp, the dreaded daily total, the prompts and the lingering sense of guilt because you haven’t donated any money, because, well, Christmas – but you really will next year, look, you’ve written it on the calendar – but yes, all over for another year, and was it all worth it?

Well, yes. It’s bloomin’ hard finding time to write, and somehow the virtual tick-tick-cheer of NaNoWriMo is really good at getting those words onto paper. But if you’ve missed it this year, or have no idea what I’m talking about, then here are my tips for getting that book onto paper at any time of the year.

  1. Only write for twenty minutes at a time, ideally the same time every day, ideally as early as possible. This may sound odd, because surely if you’re on a roll, you should strike while the iron is hot, but hear me out. I think it was the dreaded Enoch Powell, may he not rest in peace, who among all the terrible things he said made one good point about negotiating – if you want to strike a deal, go in to the meeting really needling a wee. In a sense, the twenty minutes deadline is a bit like this – with the pressure of time writing suddenly becomes the treat being snatched away too soon rather than the chore which must be done, and you don’t give yourself time to sit there wondering if you’ve got the right word. Of course, you can always add in a second or third twenty minute slot if things are going well, but at least if you get one done in a day, then you know something is going down on paper, and for a first draft, that is all that matters. Which leads me onto my second point –
  2. Don’t think, write. This I intend to have tattooed on the inside of my wrist, along with ‘never get a fringe cut’ and ‘People notice less than 20% of what you’re worrying about’ – in first draft territory this is crucial. Don’t ponder the perfect metaphor, don’t worry about what colour you said your main character’s favourite shoes were, don’t even stop if you can’t remember their name (just write XXXXXX and move on) – just write. At the very most, write a footnote to yourself like ‘sort this out later’ or ‘put the gun in before this’ or ‘mention the death of the first wife earlier’ and move on. All these things are picked up in the edit, that’s what the first edit is for. And to help you write and not think…
  3. Plan lightly, but always plan – So that you have a rough idea where you’re going, give yourself a structure however light to follow. Most, indeed all stories have a beginning, middle and end, so that’s a start. I like to then come up with chapter headings – opener, this is the main character, the fight scene, running from the police – things like that. I don’t bother too much about the order they come in, because again, that can and will change in the edit, but I aim to have about five or plot points for each section, bearing in mind that we’ll usually need a climax in the middle of section three, and probably a bit of a twist towards the end, that sort of thing. If you break things down that way, it’s easy enough to build a light structure you can follow, so you’re not worrying about where you’re going next. And finally –
  4. Have a rehearsal. Usually a book idea comes to me with a scene, a character, a moment in time, which is where the whole thing grows from. I write this first, setting aside one session in a week to indulge myself with it, reading it through, editing, making it sound good. I may try doing it three different ways, first and third person, second if I’m feeling naughty, and past and present tense, treating it like a paint pot tester to try out the colour of the novel before I start slapping on the paint. Once I’m happy with this, maybe even giving myself a month to work on it, then my basic structure will come from this as I’ll know where the story needs to go, roughly, and then off I go.
  5. Once you’re done, don’t look at it for a month or more. No peeking, no thinking, don’t even spell check. Lock it away, watch some box sets, read some books, don’t worry about it. What you’re trying to do is get a sense of distance from your words, like stepping back from a painting to check perspective. If you try and dive right into an edit as soon as you’ve written ‘The End’, you’ll either still be too in love with it to see the brutal truth (we’ve all even there, right?) or be far to cruel on yourself and do something stupid, like deleting the whole thing. Just give yourself the time to enjoy that warm, fuzzy post novel glow, before the heart breaking work of editing must begin.
  6. Then call Amanda! and read next month’s blog on ‘how to edit a book’.