Recommended for summer. All year.

Casting about for a good read? See if there’s something you fancy in this list.

People are always asking what my favourite book is. I don’t have favourites. At least, today’s favourite may not be tomorrow’s favourite. It depends on my mood, on my diary, on the weather, who’s around, what’s for lunch and what deadlines are screaming. I don’t often go in for the current hot bestsellers: I’m mulish and like to choose for myself rather than letting publishers’ marketing departments choose for me. But all these are tried and tested – you can rely on every one of them to fill you full of good words and satisfaction. What’s to your taste… that I can’t guess. But let me know what you’ve already read, and if you choose something you’ve not read before, let me know what you think. Are your favourites here?

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14 ways to WRITE THAT BOOK

You have the blockbusting idea.

You know all the novel-writing techniques.

Your favourite cousin works for a publisher.

You have all the gizmos and apps that a writer could ever want.

Your characters zap, your dialogue zings.

But you can’t get down to writing the actual, chapter-by-chapter, 80,000 word manuscript.

You want to, you yearn to, you’re excited about it… but you can’t find the time. You can’t find the motivation. HOW DO AUTHORS DO IT?

Writer stares at computer screen
All you can do is stare at the screen…

All published writers – authors, journalists, scriptwriters, dramatists – will tell you this unhelpful secret:

“Just apply your bottom to the chair and your fingers to the keyboard.”

Gee, thanks. But they’re right. It’s the only thing to do. So here are 14 ways to trick yourself, persuade yourself, bully yourself, cajole yourself into doing it. Try them all. See which works best, and stick to it.

  1. Set the alarm half an hour earlier than usual. Get up, drink some water, have coffee if you want, then shake yourself all over and sit down with your laptop and start writing. Do this for half an hour every morning, and you’ll see the word count rising remarkably quickly.
  2. Go to a book fair and get inspired. All those luscious books! Imagine yours among them. See your name on that book cover, imagine yourself signing books for an endless queue of fans paying good money for your story.
  3. logo_book_awardsEnter a contest with a reasonable deadline. Give yourself three months to get the synopsis and first three chapters written. And a cracking title for the book (or short story). Three months sounds a long time, but believe me – it comes round scarily fast. Make sure you meet that deadline and get your entry IN.
  4. Find an app that helps you stick to a schedule. For instance (NB I have no connection to these examples): Monday calendar or Unstuck.
  5. floss cover cropped
    Commission a book cover

    Commit money to your book: commission a cover illustration or hire an editor.

  6. Hang a treat above your head, like a chocolate bar or a bottle of beer, and allow yourself to grab it when you’ve written 1,000 words.
  7. Meet up with a writing pal every weekend (at least) to compare notes, bitch about the writing life, laugh at yourselves, swap sob stories, and egg each other on.
  8. Apply for a writing bursary or a grant – put a bit of pressure on yourself to meet the standards you’re set.
  9. Imagine a very hungry monster outside your room, trying hard to get in and eat you. Every 100 words you write hurls the monster 100 meters further away.
  10. Set this up with someone reliably fierce: every day that you DON’T write, pay that person some money – £2, €3, $5, 10 lei – to spend on something really annoying, like a cause you don’t believe in, or a film you hate. Or a scrumptious treat that you love, and can’t bear to see someone else eat instead. A bit of money might not seem much for one day, but that bit builds up very fast if you don’t write for a week. Ouch. That starts to hurt.
  11. Agree with a friend (ideally one that suffers from the same problem) to swap chapters every week for constructive criticism, or at least congratulations on another chapter written. Failure can be its own punishment, or you can agree forfeits, like buying the other a drink, or lunch. Or a book.
  12. Join NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month is an American thing that’s spreading all over the world. It’s a plan to get you writing your novel, and challenges you to write 50,000 words or more in the month. Great scheme. November’s coming soon!
  13. Group of people in a room full of books
    Talk writing with other writers

    Go on a weekend writing retreat to get yourself started. After a weekend’s dedicated work in the company of other writers, you’ll be in the flow.

  14. Create a local Meetup group for writers, for mutual encouragement, constructive criticism and reviews, commiseration and motivation. Promise yourselves something fabulous as a joint treat once you reach a certain threshold, like 40,000 words, or ten chapters, or three short stories…
  15. Yes, I said 14, but here’s an extra tip: Start at Chapter 1 and go on to Chapter 2, 3, 4… Don’t jump around writing your favourite scenes – you’ll struggle to fill in the less interesting bits later.
  16. One final tip: Don’t revise till you’ve finished the whole book. Every time you sit down to write (every day, of course – at least) read through yesterday’s work and continue straight away. Don’t rewrite anything – just keep going till you’ve finished. That’s the first draft. Put it away for a week or a month until you’ve forgotten exactly what you wrote. Then have a look and start revising. Rewrite as you go and you’ll never finish.

So, tell  me – how do you motivate yourself? What gets you to the keyboard and the top of Page 1?

Wild horses…

… wouldn’t drag me to… where or what? These wild horses are in the Carpathian Mountains, but they could be almost anywhere.

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There’s a story here. The horses’ story? Told from their viewpoint, maybe? These horses share their space with bears and wolves, and have to survive winter temperatures that fall to -30C and below, with snow up to their bellies. How do they survive? Are they truly wild, or do they have a human protector?

Which is the stallion that leads the herd, and what threats does he face? Is there a younger colt who promises to snatch the leadership from him? Is there a battle for supremacy ahead?

How will the lives of these horses change in the next few months? How will your story unfold…?

Breathless adventures

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It’s a steep climb up that hill… and what lies waiting in the barn? Who’s going to be ready for the surprise? Can they cope with the resulting events? Who’s going to be the hero (or heroine)? Who’s going to be too scared to move? Where can they run to?

 

Want an English name for your character?

Old English names have seven basic sources. Immigrants to the country over the centuries have brought fresh names with them, of course, so today England is peopled with a global spectrum of names, but if you fancy something traditional, have a look at this article from Ancestry. You can also browse through my own lists  of names derived from occupations, and names derived from plants and flowers.

Which names are your particular favourites?

Do any names spark ideas for a new character?

Travelling to your story

travel, airports, writers, fiction, storytelling, where do you get your ideas, where do I find ideas, ideas for writers
Bored, tired, irritable – perfect material for writers

The whole process of travel – on public transport, not in a car – is fraught with opportunity for storytellers. 

Four flights and two train journeys in three days have made me think about the possibilities for mystery, murder, suspense and romance in the confusion of airports and stations.

Alfred Hitchcock made the most of trains in several movies, and there is the glorious example of The Lady Vanishes. Arthur Haley’s Airport, milked the drama of air travel, and the spoof Airplane! and its sequels milked the comedy potential… to the very last drop. We already have a long list of travellers’ tales, but there is plenty of scope for the rest of us.

Love and death

Think of the numbers of people at any one moment in a big airport. Staff and travellers must add up to tens of thousands of people on the move; a clever murderer could kill and get away with it, even with the hundreds of cameras watching every twitch and grimace.

The romance of two people in transit, a fleeting encounter, infinite futures… the potential is limitless. An airport sees people from everywhere in the world; the poor and the rich, the celebrated and the anonymous – crossing paths in limbo, where so much is out of their control.

Ideas factory

Airports are ideas factories. Ferries, too. The best time to watch is in the early hours, where travellers wait for hours, too tired to pretend, sleepy, out of sorts, too hot or too cold, bored and frustrated. One can spend happy hours dreaming up their stories, earwigging on their monosyllabic conversations, wondering what if and what next.

Next time you fly, give yourself extra time between connections to watch, listen and dream.