Monday 29 August 2022


A short lesson on how to improve(?) your writing skills.

When writing dialogue, don't use 'he said', 'she said'. There are so many wonderful alternatives:
'Help me,' she screeched. 'That's funny,' she giggled. 'My God!' he ejaculated. 'Is it raining?' he enquired. 'Come here!' he demanded. 'Go away!' he shouted.
Most published writers use 'he said' or perhaps 'he asked' most of the time, but it's nice to be different, isn't it?

What about adverbs? Lovely, aren't they? And they add to your word count. Here are some examples of tautology (ie saying the same thing twice over):
He hissed sibilantly, she laughed merrily, he shouted loudly, she ran quickly, he ambled slowly. 
Well, some readers are a bit thick, aren't they? They need that extra explanation.

What about word length? Naturally you want readers to appreciate your literary skills, and short simple words won't do it, will they?
So get out that Thesaurus and look up as many multi-syllabic options as you can. And while you're at it, why not scrap those short pithy sentences for longer, more comnplicated ones?

There! Isn't that better? Your 1500-word short story is now 3000 words (and totally unreadable).

Friday 27 May 2022


Some years back and an old brown suitcase belonging to my grandmother brought the amazing discovery of my circus ancestors, in particular a famous young trapeze artist from the Victorian era. I was fascinated by the photographs, the beautiful blue and gold poster that promoted his circus appearances in England and Europe, and the worldwide newspaper reports describing his death 131 years ago and his funeral, which was attended by over 2000 people.

A seasoned performer, having trained from the age of eight, he was just sixteen when he fell to his death. His name was Sydney Bird but he was known professionally as ‘Una The Human Fly’. (In Victorian times it was not uncommon for aerialists to adopt a woman’s name – perhaps it gave audiences an extra thrill to witness females risking death forty feet above the ground, and Sydney, so young and with long golden hair, could still play the part.)
Years later, with a dozen books already written and published, I knew I had to write about Una, and so I began The Boy Who Could Fly, in which there is a supernatural link between the real life Victorian aerialist and Jamie Bird, a fictitious descendant orphaned during the WW2 blitz of Liverpool in 1941, who is determined to follow in his footsteps.
When Jamie runs away to join a travelling circus, I had to do a lot of research. Travelling circuses had it hard in wartime England. They lost many of their performers to the Armed Forces, to weapons factories and to the mines, becoming the Bevan Boys and replacing miners who were recruited to fight the enemy. They lost performers with even a hint of German or Italian blood to the internment camps where they remained for the duration of the war. They struggled to feed their animals on their microscopic rations. Travelling between sites at night, they had to cover their headlamps, leaving just a narrow strip to light their way in the overall blackness, and there were frequent accidents. Many circuses had to close down, never to re-open. I also researched the Blitz, particularly how it affected my home city, Liverpool, and how the newly homeless survived. And of course, as I’ve never swung on a trapeze except in my dreams, I had to extensively research Jamie’s training and eventual success as a flyer!
I had intended this book for older children and teenagers, but in fact it’s proved of interest to adults too, including those old enough to remember their childhood during WW2. I hope you’ll enjoy it. THE BOY WHO COULD FLY is available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

Monday 23 May 2022


Ask a dozen writers about their writing methods and you'll get a dozen different answers. Some start with an interesting character, others with a situation or a crime or a location. Some start at the beginning, others write the final chapter first, some plan every chapter meticulously before they begin, others just get started and see where it leads them.

Being a compulsive writer, my mind is usually buzzing with ideas for the next book before I've finished the previous one - rather like a chocoholic eating the last chocolate in the box and already eyeing a new unopened box.

I tend to write the first three or four chapters of a new story in a rush of enthusiasm and then pause to think where it's going. And then, quite often I'll put it aside while I design a cover, which I find hard work but great fun.

Once the cover's finished (although I might change it at some stage during the book's progress) I can get on with the manuscript.

If you're planning to self publish with Amazon KDP, you'll have just two options: pay a professional designer to design the cover or do it yourself. If you decide to have a go, it need not cost you anything. is an excellent free graphics programme (I use it all the time) and you don't need to be an accomplished artist, although you do need an eye for design and balance.

Using a marked-out template (supplied by Amazon to the size of your proposed book) you can import images, download your choice of fonts, select background colours and a host of graphic effects. It's all free - and if you're not happy with the result, all you've wasted is your time
However, if the above is more than you want to attempt, Amazon supplies a number of free designs, where all you have to do is change the wordage (title, author and blurb).

Finally, you can check out Fiverr, an international online organisation, and hire a professional designer to create your cover (prices from under £20!).

 How Not To Write For Mills & Boon!

A couple of decades ago I was teaching a Creative Writing class and one of the students asked me if I would lead a session on writing for Mills & Boon.

I’d never been a reader of pure distilled romance, so I went to the library and grabbed an armful of M&B plus some Barbara Cartland for good measure, and took them to the counter. I felt really embarrassed. ‘These aren’t for me!’ I lied to the assistant.

Anyway, the following week we had a fairly in-depth look at the requirements for this genre. (Some of the blokes in the group had stayed away. I hoped they’d be back the following week.)

Meanwhile, back home, I decided to write my own M&B novel.

The premise was ridiculous enough. The owner of a large manufacturing company had died, leaving the factory to his two favourite employees (male and female, I should say – I don’t think M&B were into anything other in those days) ON CONDITION that the two married – and remained married for the following 5 years.

I really enjoyed writing the book. In addition to the love/hate relationship between him and her, I’d included a potential strike at the factory, industrial espionage, domestic abuse and a mother crippled with arthritis.

Needless to say, Mills & Boon rejected my effort. ‘You need to focus on the two main characters,’ they said. ‘They must appear in every scene, and every scene should affect their relationship.’

THE RELUCTANT BRIDE is the first book I published on Amazon, and it’s still getting readers. Paperback £5.99, Kindle £2.38 (USA $8.91/$2.99)

Thursday 12 May 2022


Writing is a solitary business. Your head may be crowded with characters who become like family to you, but to write well, to concentrate, most of us need to be alone. Not necessarily alone in an empty room with the door locked, but alone at a table in a coffee bar or on a vacant bench in a park, or on a solitary walk from your home to your office (complete with notebook or phone, of course, to scribble down or dictate those brilliant ideas that fly into your head - and just as quickly fly out again if you don't record them right away).

But I believe it's equally important to meet and liaise with other writers, for mutual support but also to share problems, obtain other points of view and focus on the mechanics of writing. I currently head two small groups, a mix of experienced writers and absolute beginners. I think we all gain something from them, and I really recommend that you search for one in your area. If you can't find a local group, why not start your own?

If geographically this isn't possible, there are also, of course, many online groups, some quite small and specific, others worldwide, but all welcoming new members and eager to share their knowledge and provide answers to your questions.


Saturday 7 May 2022



I am revamping and extending my book for beginners

(How To Write Fiction, currently available as an e-book on Amazon)

The new version will include further writing aid plus a section on self publishing and promotion. As some of you know, I've written and published fourteen books on Amazon (all as Kindle e-books, most also as paperbacks). I taught myself firstly to use a computer (as I'm not of the generation to have used one at school) and later to use a graphics programme to design my covers. It was a steep learning curve but I hope I can pass on some tips.

If you have any other 'wants' or suggestions, please contact me.

Watch this space!

Wednesday 4 May 2022


If you're new to writing, the danger is more often to write too much rather than too little. It makes no difference whether you're writing a 90,000 word novel or a 1000 word short story, unnecessary detail, information or dialogue will slow down, irritate, distract or bore the reader, so here are some points to bear in mind.

DIALOGUE: We all discuss the weather, or what we ate last night, or how our offspring is doing at school, but none of these things is relevant UNLESS IT AFFECTS THE PLOT, eg the weather hints at a coming hurricane which will then prevent our main character taking a ferry to Spain, or the prospective bridegroom ate a couple of dead mussels that night and therefore won't make the wedding, or a teenager will be arrested for burning down the school lab, which will explain why Dad goes on one drinking binge too many and Mum packs a suitcase, which therefore explains ......... It's all about consequences. So, cut out the small talk. Dialogue should seem natural, but every word should advance the story.

CHARACTER INFORMATION: Some creative writing books recommend you create a CV for each of your main characters so that  you know them inside out. This isn't my way, but lots of authors do it. But however you get to know your characters, do you need to download it all for your readers? Ration the details you pass on - you might be surprised how few you need to explain how someoe behaves, reacts, emotes.

SETTINGS: A friend of mine happened to spend a lot of time in an exotic setting. He decided to make it the setting for his first novel, and while there he amassed notebooks full of information about the place, the people, the economics, the history, etc. Sadly, he put so much of it in his novel that it became virtually unreadable. It's tempting to include all you've learned but you have to resist. From all those notebooks, try to extract the essence of a place. A few well chosen snippets slipped in here and there will usually do the trick.

I could go on and on - but then, I don't want to bore you!