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Trust – on all sorts of levels – is a key element in the relationship between reader and writer and authorial consistency is essential for this. For example, if you have your hero aged 27 on page 11 and aged 29 on page 12, readers can’t read on for the alarm bells ringing in their heads. They are suddenly concerned that you don’t know much about your own characters. Similarly with memoir – you can’t have people dying inconsistently. So attention to detail is vital. But how do you keep track of all that detail – birthdates, exams, Halloween, dances, travel days, significant periods. For example, you may need to make a note of how long it takes to hand-stitch a dress.

A few practical tools will help. You will by now be familiar with the uses to which a novelist can put notebooks, folders, wallets and sticky notes. Pinboards can provide inspirational wall-decoration festooned with visual aids such as photos (cut out of magazines or withdrawn from family albums) which may suggest the physical attributes of hero and heroine. Or you can pin-up maps, town plans, street plans or room plans – if they’ll help you visualise where your hero is and how he moves around the space. You will also gather around you a reference library of everything from Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable to Roget’s Thesaurus.

But don’t neglect the potential of the Spreadsheet – computer-based or otherwise. This can help you with:
• Timeline – what happens and when in your story. Check for feasibility.
• Chapter designation – reflecting the story arc, clarifying what’s important for you in it.
• Word Count – totting up the totals (Have you written a novel? A blockbuster or a novella . . ?)
• A note on the Point of View character for each chapter. (Avoid unnecessary head-hopping.)
• Locations – a list of settings (also indicating areas of required research).

So, as you see, you may find you are using far more than pen and paper or a computer to help you to write a book

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News Item

I’ve been invited to contribute to a literary blog tour. Join me for ‘My Writing Process’.


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To celebrate St Patrick’s Day, let’s identify some of the more common words and phrases that identify your character as an Irish man or woman.

Here are a few to sprinkle your character’s idiolect (personal language) with:

  1. Acting the maggot = acting the fool, joking
  2. Banjaxed = broken, ruined
  3. Craic = gossip, chat
  4. Ceilidh = dancing and music
  5. Colleens = young girls
  6. Cod – eg making a cod of himself = making a fool of himself
  7. Eejit = idiot
  8. Gob = animal mouth
  9. Press  = cupboard(as in Linen Press)
  10. Soft day = drizzle, mist
  11. Wet the tea = make the tea
  12.  I have no money at all at all (for emphasis)
  13.  No ‘yes’ or ‘no’ so:  ‘Are you coming home soon?’/I am./I am not!
  14.  I’m after hitting him with the car = I hit him with the car
  15. She’s after losing five stone. (Intention)
  16. T’is herself that’s coming now. (Emphasis)
  17. I can speak Irish, so I can. (Emphasis)
  18. Sure, I can just go on Wednesday.
  19.  I will not, to be sure
  20. Will I make a cup of tea?

Your character’s speeches can provide information that will move the plot forward. But speech can also play an important role in characterization by placing the character in the context of space and time. You can pinpoint his or her place of origin – whether it’s Ulster or Ottery St Mary – by offering the reader words and grammatical structures found only in that place. Sometimes this can be accurate to an uncanny degree!

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  1. Brainstorm possible titles – write down anything and everything that connects to your book idea. Get your friends to help.
  2. Look at your list and choose one
  3. Write it down at the top of a fresh piece of paper and brainstorm alternatives without referring to your first list.
  4. Style: try to create your own unique list of ‘frames’ to create titles – compare those in bookshops or Amazon.  Look for any other appropriate frames – more zingy – which will give you sales/marketing angles to suggest to your publisher. Eg 6 ways to . . ., How to . . . and stop . . . 
  5. Look at a Thesaurus – always look for the better word
  6. Test against global books in print with Google – test keywords/ test working title.

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For people who live close enough to travel to the Wirral, on July 6th, I am going to hold a free taster session entitled Telling Tales – from Notebook to Novel! This heralds a new IN-PERSON peer critique and supervision group for Journaling & Creative Writing (restricted to maximum 8). Facilitated by me, this group will provide opportunities to share your writing and receive constructive criticism. There is no better way to learn about the craft!  Group membership fee thereafter will be £10 monthly. Please contact me (via email or telephone (0151 342 3877) if you would like to come along.’

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Tomorrow’s Workshop

Today, I’m preparing for tomorrow’s workshop, Memory Tales – Fact & Fiction. This is taking place at Lingham’s Bookshop in Heswall as part of the Arts Festival. And as usual this will be a quart into a pint pot. You can’t do much more than a whistle stop tour of memoir-writing in one hour. Even so, I hope with games and exercises we’ll touch on:

  • Why write a memoir?
  • Truth & Memory & Ethics
  • How to write up your materials
  • Publication.

That should keep us busy.

If you’d like to come but can’t come tomorrow, contact me and – if there’s sufficient interest – I’ll establish a group of memoirists (on-line or physical or both) to offer support, coaching and critique over the coming months. 

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Hot News!

Not only publishers but agents are very scared at the moment. Self-publishing is now publishing (with no qualifier). And quality will be the driver.


At a Society of Authors (North) meeting, held yesterday in Manchester, these items constituted the good news in a talk given by Alison Baverstock, Professor of Publishing at Kingston University. I came away feeling that while much work lies ahead, the future is not so bleak as previously thought.

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