Posts Tagged ‘Writing tips’

How do you develop your first idea into an entire novel?

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

CAD9TdPWEAAUxfmI believe a strong plot can be condensed into one or two sentences. A summary. A lift pitch: what you would say to an editor if you had sixty seconds to sell them your novel. When I have an idea I test it, develop it, until that idea has grown into my one or two summary sentences of plot. It focuses my mind on what’s at the route of a book: a strong story. A good narrative arc.

From there I …. You can read the rest of this guest post on Book Addict Shaun’s Blog

Thank you so much to Shaun for hosting me as part of the Follow Me Blog Tour

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Follow Me Blog Tour 3rd – 22nd Dec

| Uncategorized, Writing

Follow Me blog tourI’m really excited to announce that the Follow Me Blog Tour will be running from 3rd – 22nd December! Check out these fabulous bloggers for reviews, interviews, special content, excerpts & competitions:

Thursday 3rd December:

Friday 4th December:

Saturday 5th December:

Sunday 6th December:

Monday 7th December:

Tuesday 8th December:

Wednesday 9th December:

Thursday 10th December:

Friday 11th December:

Saturday 12th December:

Sunday 13th December:

Monday 14th December:

Tuesday 15th December:

Wednesday 16th December:

Thursday 17th December:

Friday 18th December:

Saturday 19th December:

Sunday 20th December:

Monday 21st December:

Tuesday 22nd December:

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How Do Writers… Tell A Story?

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



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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How Do Writers… Come Up With Ideas?

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


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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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.


Writing: Lessons from the past

| Writing

photo copy

My current pinboard – for inspiration & plot planning

Today I set out to get my study back into workable shape following its brief metamorphosis into a Christmas spare bedroom (sorry about all the books, and the inflatable bed, little brother). Whilst hoiking furniture round I unearthed a small pinboard I hadn’t seen for a while (see above for my current gargantuan school classroom size one, which I use for inspiration and visual plot planning).


This little pinpricked beauty (to the left) used to be propped behind my £19 shaky Argos desk in the second bedroom of our London flat, when I first quit my job in fashion and decided to pursue a writing career. My husband and I cobbled together a financial plan and agreed I could take a year out to give it a shot. At the one year mark, and seemingly no closer to realising my dream, I took a part time job to keep funding my writing.


Many, many, many, many people thought I was nuts, and there were certainly times when I, exhausted from hours of unpaid typing, reading, studying, and trying to learn my craft, thought I was nuts too. We moved out to Hertfordshire, and I gained a room of my own: a study, with a huge vintage school desk, and the huge school pin board. And I got there. I got an agent, a book deal, and a number of articles published in newspapers and magazines. Somewhere along the way that little pinboard got tucked away, saved for another occasion. I’d forgotten its very existence until today. Along the top I’ve written (in my dreadful handwriting):


‘Ne pas oser, c’est ne rien faire qui vaille’

– Without daring, nothing is achieved


I believe it’s by Napoleon Bonaparte. My past self was brave and wise to write that. Sometimes in life you have to jump. As I look back at 2013, the year my first book was published, but also the year I lost 6 months to a chronic health condition that saw me unable to type and fearing the repercussions if I did, I realise it’s time to be brave again. I have to jump. I have to try. I’ve typed up the quote, printed it out and stuck it once more to my current pinboard.

Wishing us all a happy, and daring 2014.


Review: Retreats For You, Writers’ Retreat, Sheepwash, Devon

| Days Out, Hotel and B&B Reviews


Working in the window, as you do.

Full disclosure: this is the seventh (I think) time I’ve stayed with Deb and Bob in their writers’ retreat in Sheepwash, Devon. This is less of a review and more of a serious gush. The thing is, this is a very special place.


One of the bedrooms in Retreats For You.

I first discovered Retreats For You when I was looking for a retreat that spoiled me. I didn’t want to stay in solitude in a rental cottage, because I knew I’d spend all my time sourcing food options and distracting myself on the internet – kind of like I do at home. I also didn’t want structured classes (though one-on-ones with Deb are available and there are often relaxed readings in the evenings). I wanted to write with no distractions. Deb and Bob provide breakfast, lunch and dinner, which means no meal planning or procrastinating trips to Tesco. They also actively discourage (nay, slap your wrist) if you try and tidy anything away. Deb nips in and makes your bed in the morning. AND she’ll do your washing if you wish. Their motto, oft repeated sternly if you’re approaching the washing up bowl, is ‘you are here to write.’ Sodding marvellous.


Sheepwash village square.

The retreat is in a gorgeous wattle and daub, thatched cottage overlooking a village square in the middle of rural Devon. As I live in a hermetically sealed new build which has a constant tropical clime, I always pack plenty of woolly jumpers and make use of the plug-in radiator in each room. You get your own room, no sharing (though there are double rooms and a twin should you wish to bring a buddy).

Each room is simply furnished, clean, with fresh white bed linen and towels, a desk, a lamp, tea and coffee making facilities (and a hairdryer and slippers and a dressing gown – that’s the kind of detail I like to know!). There are a maximum of 5 rooms, so a maximum of 5 other writers to convene with over mealtimes. There are two shared bathrooms, which are well stocked with beautifying goodies. During all the times I’ve stayed there’s never been more than a 5 minute wait for the bathroom. And even that was a rare occurrence. I guess each person has their own rhythms and they don’t tend to overlap.


Strolling by the local river.

Meals can be taken in your room if you’re gripped by the muse, or don’t fancy chatting. I always eat downstairs with the others, as I enjoy the supportive and stimulating environment a group of writers creates. I also find the return to the rooms after meals, and the air of productivity that indicates, propels me in a vaguely boarding school fashion to my desk. Everyone else is working, so I should be working too. It’s fantastically effective. My word count is always ridiculous at the end of each stay.

When the weather’s nice meals are taken in the garden. If you’re lucky a trip to nearby Cornwall and a barbecue on the beach may be in order one evening. Included in the cost of your stay (bed, full board, and all that tidying up) is  wine (really, you got to love this place!). Each evening I adore savouring a glass or two of plonk in front of the roaring fire, which is lit every night in the lounge. Make sure you try Deb’s famous flapjacks, which are available for snacking on throughout the day. Trust me, they’re not to be missed. A separate TV room is available for those who want it, and Deb always has an interesting selection of films from Love Film to peruse.


Bed linen drying in the garden.

It’s worth noting most mobile phones don’t work in Sheepwash. To be honest this is a blessed relief (there’s a landline should you need to make or receive calls). There is Wi-Fi throughout the house, but I stick my out of office on and focus on the task at hand. It’s funny given how dependent I am on all my techy gadgets how I never miss them here.


Barbecue at Northcott Mouth beach, Cornwall.


Isabelle, a local therapist can be booked for beauty treatments at the house. I always have a massage or two to keep my shoulders and back in good working order, before lolling in my pjs in front of the fire. I love that fire!



At the retreat I keep the kind of schedule I’d love to maintain at home. I rise early, I bash out plenty of words, I eat healthily, I enjoy a daily stroll through the surrounding fields or along the river, I have interesting and inspiring conversations round the fire at night and I retire early. I come away with masses of words under my belt, AND I feel rested. I told you it was a special place.


Further details and booking information about Retreats For You can be found here.

With thanks to @geowriter and Retreats For You for images 1, and 2, 3, 5 and 6, respectively (my camera corrupted and I lost half my photos).



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