Helpful Writing Advice

We’re into October! I cannot believe how quickly this year has gone. It doesn’t seem that long ago we lost our darling kitty, Kipaku, yet that was at the start of this year.

(own photo - writing)

(own photo - writing)

As I’m spending a fair bit of time typing up the second draft of my latest work-in-progress, I thought I’d share writing advice I’ve found helpful over the years, and which I still do, along with a few October autumn photos from ten years ago.

Trees in autumn

“See the life by the roadside; the half-starved cats haunting the cathedral grounds as you gaze in awe at the cathedral; the soughing of the wind through the broken portcullis or the gannet spiralling into the ocean below… breathe, take time in your books to look about the landscape – outer and inner – because there is so much more to a story… let it take on its own life, not the life that you impose on it.” ~ Jane Yolen

“Read outside your field. Don’t write to the market. Write what you enjoy writing. Hone your writing skills. Think about those writers whose stories engage you, those writers whose work you admire. Try to analyse what it is about their writing that does it for you. Experiment; don’t get into a rut. Write as much and as often as you can and be persistent. If you really want to write, you will find the time to do it.” ~ Ellen Datlow

“Pick a major historical event that will shape your characters and their relationship to the world around them. But remember that historical events don’t just occur suddenly; they are borne out of a build-up of events. Don’t be in a hurry to start writing – undertake extensive research and don’t worry about becoming entangled in the minute details. If you are truly allowing research to sink in and being patient, the extraneous detail falls away.” ~ Anne Michaels

Gnarled tree in front of trees in autumn colours

Rose Tremain doesn’t agree with the accepted wisdom that states, ‘write what you know’, for what you know is finite whereas what you can imagine is infinite. Instead she urges, “write about something you don’t know because maybe you’ll find in writing about it that you do know it…

In Les Edgerton’s ‘Hooked’, agents and editors implore writers to “never open with scenery! Novels are about people, about the human condition. We are looking for life… we are looking for voice… the voice of the protagonist. That is what drives a novel. So, give us the protagonist up front …

Writing a novel is… akin to falling in love, living together, hating each other, separating, reconciling, gaining perspective, accepting each other, and finally finding deep and abiding love. Writing fiction is like living.” ~ Donald Maass

Bare, many-branched tree

Great Opening Lines

One of the best-known opening lines has got to be “Call me Ishmael.” I confess I have never read ‘Moby Dick’, nor do I have any desire to, but, honestly, who doesn’t know that line?

‘Moby Dick’

When I’m writing, I try not to obsess about the opening, especially not while working through the first few drafts, something I was guilty of while writing my first two books. As that habit brought the whole writing process to a complete halt, I’ve worked hard to break it.

Back when I was trying to get traditionally published and doing the rounds with agents for my second book, ‘Moon Goddess’, one of my many rejection letters advised me to change the opening. So, I ditched the description of the weather and the scenery – a big ‘no-no’, by the way! – rearranged a couple of scenes and opened with the voice of the protagonist.

Once I decided on that change, the reworked beginning was almost staring me in the face; it would not have been obvious to me if I had tried to ‘find’ it before finishing the novel.

I realised, once the novel is complete, it can then be viewed in its entirety, making it easier to decide where and what the beginning should be.

I don’t know how the greats come up with attention-grabbing opening lines, but I do know I love collecting them even though I haven’t read them all. Here’s a selection of some great ones.

This is the saddest story I have ever heard.” ~ ‘The Good Soldier’, Ford Madox Ford.

‘The Good Soldier’

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” ~ ‘Anna Karenina’, Leo Tolstoy.

‘Anna Karenina’

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” ~ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, Charles Dickens.

‘A Tale of Two Cities’

I am a sick man … I am a spiteful man.” ~ ‘Notes From Underground’, Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

‘Notes from Underground’

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” ~ ‘Neuromancer’, William Gibson.


My mother died at the moment I was born, and so for my whole life there was nothing standing between me and eternity; at my back was always a bleak, black wind.” ~ ‘The Autobiography of My Mother: A Novel’, Jamaica Kincaid.

‘The Autobiography of My Mother’

It was the day my grandmother exploded.” ~ ‘The Crow Road’, Iain M Banks.

‘The Crow Road’

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” ~ ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’, CS Lewis.

‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’

Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.” ~ ‘Back When We Were Grownups’, Anne Tyler.

‘Back When We Were Grownups’

You better not never tell nobody but God.” ~ ‘The Color Purple’, Alice Walker.

‘The Color Purple’

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” ~ ‘The Bell Jar’, Sylvia Plath.

‘The Bell Jar’

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” ~ ‘The Go-Between’, LP Hartley.

‘The Go-Between’

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” ~ ‘I Capture the Castle’, Dodie Smith.

‘I Capture the Castle’

They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did.” ~ ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, Jean Rhys.

‘Wide Sargasso Sea’

The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.” ~ ‘The Red Badge of Courage’, Stephen Crane.

‘The Red Badge of Courage’

Death was driving an emerald-green Lexus.” ~ ‘Winter Moon’, Dean Koontz.

‘Winter Moon’

What are your favourite opening lines?

Animated Book Covers

I just have to share the amazing work of Morgan Wright, whom I follow on Twitter.

She’s recently started a wonderful service where she animates author’s book covers. For a ridiculously affordable price!

Her explanation for her low prices – “it enables any author at any budget to get their book cover animated and helps a ton with marketing for an inexpensive price… that’s sort of my goal, that no author ends up excluded because they can’t afford it or because it’s an added cost they can’t add right now.

That makes her a star in my book. She’s so easy to work with and will keep tweaking the cover until her customer is happy with the end product. I can think of a few companies/people who could learn a few things from Morgan.

For now, these covers can only be viewed on Twitter and Morgan’s YouTube channel where you can check out the other covers she’s done and, maybe, discover a book or author you might enjoy. Hopefully, one day, Amazon and other outlets will allow animation on their sales pages.

Here are the 2 covers Morgan has animated for me – my latest, ‘The Raven and Other Tales’, and my third book, ‘The Spellbound Spindle’.

Do you think they’re more eye-catching than static images? I’d love to know your thoughts.