October 2015 archive

How Do Writers… Tell A Story?

| How Do Writers... A Series of Practical Writing Guides

 

story

Story > noun.

  1. An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.
  • A plot or storyline: the novel has a good story.
  • A report of an item of news in a newspaper, magazine, or news broadcast: stories in the local paper.
  • A piece of gossip; a rumour: there have been lots of stories going around, as you can imagine.
  • A false statement or explanation; a lie: Ellie never told stories – she had always believed in the truth.
  1. An account of past events in someone’s life or in the evolution of something: the story of modern farming.

 

The above definition of story is taken from the Oxford English Dictionary. Story is at the heart of all good writing.

A newspaper article conveys the story of what’s happened. Journalists are trained to use the Five W’s when writing their copy:

  • Who did that?
  • What happened?
  • Where did it take place?
  • When did it take place?
  • Why did that happen?

These questions are used by both the press and police to gather basic information. Journalists then relay the answers on to readers, or radio and television audiences. Asking questions of your work is a great place to start for an author as well.

  • Who is your protagonist?
  • What happens to them?
  • Where is it set?
  • When did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?

Story is about what happens, and yet all too often new writers make the mistake of having nothing happen in their books.

story3Many of us who want to write, are drawn by a love of reading. An adoration of beautifully constructed sentences which ring like tiny glittering bells as we read. At school we’re taught to dissect texts: breaking them down into: characters, themes, ideas. We use single sentences or paragraphs to support our arguments. The practice of turning quotes into memes to share across social media, shows the power we still give single sentences. To words that speak to us. To words that encapsulate and express the way we feel. We associate with them. We fetishize them. Which is great, but it has nothing to do with story.

story 4Think back through your life to all those people who’ve told you stories. The people that come first to my mind are not those reading from a book, but the expressive engaging faces of those enthused by what they’re saying. Often, but not always, these people are in a pub or a bar, retelling something that happened to them, or to someone else. My dad making me and my brother laugh as he talks of the time I fell in the sea. A work colleague whose life seemed full of adventures. Raconteurs spinning a good old yarn, celebrity gossip, and tall tales. The tellers have me, and everyone else’s attention. We want to know what happened.

story 5Recently I attended a Hen Do, where not everyone had met before. On the first morning we told stories about ourselves and our lives. The theme happened to be unfortunate body functions and various toilet ‘incidents’, but the subject was unimportant. We took it in turns to relay our anecdotes, some heart-wrenching, some making us cry with laughter. The ice was broken. We’d bonded.
Telling stories is part of our culture. Whether it’s relaying real life events, or imaginary ones, we do it to amuse. We hook our audience in with a set up, we keep them hanging on to find out more, and we give them a conclusion that elicits an emotional response. We entertain.

Something must happen in your book. Your protagonist, your character, must face some kind of test, whether literal, or figurative. They may rise to the challenge, or they may fail. And at the end of the story they should be changed by the events that took place.story1

Go back to the authors you love, and see that it’s not just witty one liners and pretty prose that makes them a writer, see the story they told. Don’t think of yourself as an artist, and obsess over your sparkling sentences, think of yourself as the woman in the bar who has the whole room waiting on her next word. You’re not a writer, you’re a storyteller.

(But don’t tell anyone: storyteller may be a more accurate description of what we do, but it does make you sound like a wanker.)

Catch up on How Do Writers…Come Up With Ideas? here. And check back for the next How Do Writers.. instalment.

My crime thriller Follow Me is published by Avon December 2015.

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Cover Reveal: New Crime Thriller Follow Me

| Uncategorized, Writing

Follow Me CoverI’m delighted to share with you guys the exclusive cover reveal for my new crime thriller Follow Me. The first of the Social Media Murder Series Follow Me is out this December, and available for preorder now. AND the Kindle version is currently priced at a bargain 99 pence.

Below is a brief taste of what to expect – I hope you like it!

#FollowMe                                   #AreYouNext?

 

 

 

LIKE. SHARE. FOLLOW . . . DIE

The ‘Hashtag Murderer’ posts chilling cryptic clues online, pointing to their next target. Taunting the police. Enthralling the press. Capturing the public’s imagination.

But this is no virtual threat.

As the number of his followers rises, so does the body count.

Eight years ago two young girls did something unforgivable. Now ambitious police officer Nasreen and investigative journalist Freddie are thrown together again in a desperate struggle to catch this cunning, fame-crazed killer. But can they stay one step ahead of him? And can they escape their own past?

Time’s running out. Everyone is following the #Murderer. But what if he is following you?

ONLINE, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM …

 

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How Do Writers… Come Up With Ideas?

| How Do Writers... A Series of Practical Writing Guides

ideas

I sculpted opening sentences as I sorted spikey Velcro rollers at my job at the hair salon. I pictured my own name in print, as I sold books in WH Smiths. I noted customers’ dialogue as I worked the shop floor at Harrods. The words, jokes, settings, and characters built up in me until my ideas overflowed. I had to write a book.

Where do writers get their ideas from? Everywhere. Here are my top three places to hunt the muse:

1. Real Life

Write what you know, so the saying goes. And what do you know better than your own life? To me this doesn’t mean write a memoir (though you can certainly do that). More it means, what is your unique selling point? Apologies for the marketing jargon, but this is an important concept: what is it that you know that is distinctive or, as of yet, unwritten about elsewhere?

– What life event? John Green drew on his experience of being a student chaplain at a children’s’ hospital, to write about two teen cancer patients in The Fault in Our Stars.

– What location? The rugged Cornwall wreckers’ coast inspired Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn.

– What job? Kingsley Amis wrote Lucky Jim about the eponymous university lecturer, whilst working as an English academic himself.

– What person do you know? Mario Puzo said his inspiration for his main character in The Godfather, was his ‘wonderful handsome’, but ‘fairly ruthless’ Italian immigrant mother, who single-handedly raised her family of twelve in the New York slums. Badass.

2. Newspapers

Whether you’re reading about complex crimes, long lost loves being reunited, or domestic incidents playing out against global events, there’s a wealth of stimulus in newspapers. I keep copies of articles that I find intriguing. Newsworthy events are also a great way of pinpointing what’s of the zeitgeist. Publishers are keen on identifying this, because a book that captures a public spirit or moment often enjoys increased sales!

3. Images

A quirky image, whether a photo, a painting, a film, a TV show, or a postcard is a great jumping off point for ideas. Tell yourself a story about what you see: what’s happening? Who is this character? What will happen next? Write a line about it. Write a paragraph. Write a page. It’s a great way to get your mind to wander (in a good way!)

To paraphrase Wet Wet Wet, (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write): I feel it in my fingers. I feel it in my toes. Ideas’re everywhere you go…

When I finally sat down in my late twenties to write my book, I had several false starts. Some manuscripts stretched into the tens of thousands of words, but no matter how promising they seemed at the beginning, they all petered out and ended up in the trash. What I had was an idea of a book: a vague notion of character, an opening scene, an impression of what I wanted it to be about. But something was missing: story.

Now I work as a professional reader for The Literary Consultancy, I appreciate how common it is for writers’ first books to lack story. A good old fashioned yarn, with a beginning, a struggle, and a triumphant, or otherwise, end.

Ideas are good, but they are only the first step. Ideas are bricks. Play with them. Then use them to build something bigger. Use them to build your story. Use them to build your book.

 

Where do you get your ideas from? Share your own tips in the comments below.

Catch up on How Do Writers…Write A Book? here. And check back for the next instalment: How Do Writers… Tell A Story?  

My crime thriller Follow Me is published by Avon December 2015.

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Wharf Column: Never Miss Out On The Office Gossip Again

| Journalism

"Instead of taking notes, can I just purchase a transcript of today's lesson?"

“Instead of taking notes, can I just purchase a transcript of today’s lesson?”

I was due to attend the Bafta and BFI Screenwriters’ Lecture Series by renowned writer of Brookside, Cracker, and The Lakes, Jimmy McGovern.

I was going to write about class and Canary Wharf, as Jimmy McGovern’s shows often centre on working class characters.

But I never made it. Instead I got stuck in a vintage dress when the zipper broke, and I dislocated my shoulder trying to escape.

I tell you, Houdini would have struggled with getting out of 1980s polyester.

Taken to bed with a hefty dose of painkillers I awoke, realigned and rested, to the emailed transcript of the previous night’s on stage conversation between Miranda Sawyer and Jimmy McGovern.

And it was marvellous. It was all there: every “Pardon?” every “[Laughter]”. And I thought wouldn’t it be marvellous if you could get a transcript of every evening out you missed?

To read the rest of the column please click here.

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How Do Writers… Write A Book?

| How Do Writers... A Series of Practical Writing Guides

Imagine the scene: It’s a house party, the kitchen surfaces are covered in scraped plates, lipstick marked glasses, and bottles of wine, some still wrapped in the fancy tissue paper from the deli by the station. Beyoncé is blaring from the sound system in the lounge. Our plucky Writer only came in for a top up, but has been cornered by the feared predator: BOOK BORE.

BOOK BORE knows they’ve caught a Writer. It has them between the beers and the pimento stuffed olives. There’s no escape. They’re going to tell the Writer their BRILLIANT IDEA for a book. For hours.

 

The BRILLIANT IDEA is something that happened to BOOK BORE that no one else would care about. Like that time Marks and Spencer ran out of tights, or the thinly veiled story of BOOK BORE’s career in accounting. And then they ask the Writer to sign a legal document protecting the BOOK BORE’S BRILLIANT IDEA, because it’s so good they’re convinced everyone will steal it.

Scary huh? The saying goes we all have a book in us, but for many it should stay there. How do you know if your book idea is worth writing? A good indicator is not spending decades just boring poor, unsuspecting victims about it. Writing a book takes more than an idea. You need time, characters, a genre, a tone, a setting, tension, dialogue, a narrative arc, a structure, and a story…

When you first put pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, it can seem daunting. Which is why I’m writing this series to tackle the aspects of writing people often struggle with. My first person present tense memoir of my time in the fashion industry, Confessions of a Fashionista (Ebury), was an Amazon Fashion Chart number one bestseller, and the first of my crime fiction series, Follow Me (Avon), will be published this December. I will draw on the mistakes I’ve made, the lessons I’ve learned, and hopefully give you some great tools, tips and tricks.

Some will be common issues: like how to start, how to write dialogue, how to find time to write, and how to write a synopsis. But I also plan to tackle some of the challenges writers’ face that aren’t so frequently discussed: like how to make money from writing, how not to get jealous of others’ success, and how to look after your body (it’s the main tool we use to write, but too often we take it for granted).

But in the meantime, let’s get back to basics. How do writers write a book? There’s no magic formula. We just do it. Don’t be the BOOK BORE, be the Writer. It’s time to start.

What do you think? How do writers write a book? What kinds of topics would you like to read about with regards to writing? Let me know in the comments below.

And check back for the next instalment: How Do Writers… Come Up With Ideas?

My crime thriller Follow Me is out December 2015.

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Wharf column: Are We Living Too Fast?

| Journalism

You can’t make it through the day without someone commenting on how fast this year’s gone. No one mention the C-word.

Snowflake scattered chocolate has started to appear in the shops. The full onslaught of gift guides and food feasts will soon follow. People are jittery….

To read the rest of the column, please click here.

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