Sunday, 27 July 2008


'With a tremendous bound Jack was free!'

When I started writing, I would sit down with an idea for a scene in my head, not knowing quite where to begin; so I used to start at a bit where I knew what to put, and go on from there. I quickly learned that I didn't need to go back and put in an establishing paragraph or two; that the place the action started was the place to begin. You don't need to show the couple walking into the tea shop, sitting down and ordering, when the important bit is what they say over tea.

Similarly, once the object of the scene is accomplished, cut it off right there. Holly Lisle offers good advice on this here.

Mary Renault, one of my favourite authors, discovered the technique for herself, and called it Bound. To quote from David Sweetman's flawed biography, 'she meant the use of the cinematic cut, the ability to jump ahead, to précis talk and action where necessary. [Before this] she had no one to explain such things to her and all she could do was plod on, watching the novel swell, unaware of how to remedy matters.'

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Dogs in Fiction

My latest book is my first without dragons, but it has a dog, a mongrel called Dog. He looks like the dog in the photo on the left.

A reviewer on Youwriteon said he hoped Dog would be involved in the rest of the book, and that got me thinking about fictional dogs. Jilly Cooper said that if your novel was getting sluggish, kill off the dog. Could one bear to, though?

I made a non-comprehensive list of fictional dogs:

1. My favourite, Snowy, Tintin's dog. Beautifully drawn; Hergé could draw anything except horses. The scene where Snowy gets tipsy and is told off by Tintin is unforgettable.

2. In Mortal Engines, Katherine's pet wolf, also called Dog. I love wolves. The reader knows things are going very badly when poor Dog is shot dead towards the end of the book.

3. An unpublished (as yet) dog, The General in Alan Hutcheson's The Baer Boys. A lovable long-haired dachshund with lots of personality, The General is based on Alan's real-life dog, Odie.

4. Timmy the dog, George's dog in The Famous Five adventures. Loyal, brave and fond of ice-cream, he's the dog every child wants.

5. Most improbable dog; Nana, a prim Newfoundland dog, who was nanny to the children in JM Barrie's play, Peter Pan.

Have I missed any good dogs? I must have. Let me know.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Catch a Falling Star in at No. 1 on YWO!

I posted the first 9,000 words of my new novel, Catch a Falling Star, on Youwriteon on 3rd July 2008. Yesterday it received its fifth review, making it eligible for the charts. I was delighted to find today that it has gone straight in at number one!

Lorraine, herself no slouch at getting into the Top Ten (she's there as I write) concluded her review of my extract;

'I sometimes say I would read on, this is one of those rare moments when I’m really pissed that I can’t. Had this been a book instead of an extract I would now be curled up on the sofa, ignoring the world, because I want to find out what happens next. If the rest of the book is of the same standard I wouldn’t be able to put it down.'

The book is a mystery/thriller, told in the first person. Now I just have to write the rest of it...

Saturday, 5 July 2008

How to write a novel..

...with the most efficiency?

I guess there are many different ways to write a novel. This is only my third that I'm currently working on, so I don't know whether I've hit on the best method for me, or not; but I have noticed a pattern emerging.

What I do is, work out what the main characters are like, in quite a bit of detail; I know their childhood pets, first boyfriend/girlfriend, if they drink tea or coffee for breakfast, which bits of their appearance they dislike etc., and also what the book is about; the themes and outline of the plot. I make pages of notes on the characters, and jot down random ideas. I know the end of the novel, and write the key scene that occurs at or near the end.

Then I start writing. I usually know two or three scenes that I will write, and by the time I've written them I've thought up the next few. Like a walk through a dark wood with a torch. I make up other characters as I go along, and let them play off against each other. It's scary, because how do I know I won't run out of ideas?

I've tried writing scene titles on cards, doing time lines, and attempting to map out the whole structure of the book before I begin, but for me these methods didn't work. If I have a scene in my head, I need to write it down quickly before it fades, not put it to one side because my outline isn't finished yet.

How do you do it?