How Long Does It Take to Write a Novel?

Since my last post, 2 things have happened which have taken my mind off the global pandemic, at least for a little while, namely:

1. On Sunday, I went out in my car (essential shopping, not a jolly!), for what should have been a 25-minute round trip and got stuck in the snow!

It’s hilly around here, so on the way home (in what had suddenly changed from ‘light snow’ to a huge snowstorm), as I tried to navigate a very sharp bend, on a steep hill, the car stopped and I couldn’t get going again!

I did manage it in the end, by clearing the snow around the wheels and inching up the hill but it was scary, driving in those conditions. Hmm, I won’t be doing that again in a hurry.

2. This morning we had a wasp (!) in the bedroom, on the Velux window (see above) and I called my OH in to let it out (he is the insect remover in this house) which he did by swinging the Velux window up and hitting me so hard on the head with the other end of it that I fell over! Ouch.

Novel Writing

The second draft of my novel has finally left the building – phew – and I have a little rest until I get the verdict.

It’s taking me a long time to write this novel so I have been investigating how long it takes other people:

Marian Keyes (who writes HUGE tomes) admits that ‘she’s a slow writer at the best of times, taking around two years per novel’

But that’s nothing compared to Donna Tartt, who publishes one of her brilliant novels once a decade.

One of my favourite wartime novels, ‘Their Finest Hour and A Half’, by Lissa Evans, took her 7 years to write. She says in this interview, “I write incredibly slowly and I re-write ruthlessly as I go along – honing, polishing, moving, cutting, changing – stripping back the sentiment, trying to nail the humour and crisp up the dialogue, aiming above all for clarity.”

Hurrah! Not that I’m comparing myself to the brilliant Lissa Evans but that’s sort of how I write too. And it’s exactly what all the textbooks and experts tell you not to do.

She also admits that she has a short attention span. “If I glance at the clock and five minutes have gone by, I count that as a record-breaking feat of concentration.”

Frances Quinn, author of the recently-published ‘The Smallest Man’, her debut novel set in the time of the English Civil war (and which is definitely on my ‘TBR’ list) told me on Twitter when I asked her, that it had taken her four years to write.

And in this article, she says she wrote 7 drafts and from the first to the last, only about a third of the words are the same, which I found very comforting in one way (but. erm, does that mean I have to do another 5 drafts?!)

But not everyone is slow! I’m sure it’s pure chance that all the ‘slowies’ I’ve quoted, including myself, are women and the speed-demon I’m about to talk about is a man, but bestselling author Robert Harris wrote the bulk of his latest novel ‘V2’ in the first lockdown, spending ‘four hours every morning, seven days a week for fourteen weeks’.

His editor read his manuscript in weekly instalments and made comments, so in a way there were two of them writing it (That’s what I’m telling myself anyway). I know all this, by the way, not because I asked him on Twitter but because my OH had the book for Christmas and it’s in the acknowledgements at the back.

Between you and me and the gatepost, OH’s verdict (and he is a BIG fan of RH), is that it’s good but it’s..shhh.. ‘not his best’.

So there you go, I rest my case. He should have taken much, much, much longer to write it.

Posted in Novels | 24 Comments

Eyes Front!

Now, like me, you probably spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen (over 4 hours yesterday teaching on Zoom, anyone…?) and it turns out, probably not surprisingly, that this is Not Good For Our Eyes.

Every 20 minutes, we should stare at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

It’s the 20-20-20 rule and it makes sense to me, so I’m going to try to do it! I might set a timer to remind me. (It’s the perfect excuse for staring gormlessly out of the window, right?)

Actually, as it turns out, 20 minutes is the length of time that the brain can concentrate fully on one thing anyway, so it makes sense to have a mini-break after 20 minutes, for the eyes as well as the brain.

Here endeth the lesson. But if you want to know more, here is the article.

Writing Chat

The lovely Marian Keyes, who not only writes great novels but who is also very generous to other writers and would-be writers, has started some FREE on-line writing classes on Instagram (NOOO, I’m not on Insta’, so my heart fell) BUT she’s also putting them on YouTube, so if you want to see the first one (it’s quite chatty, in that Marian Keyes way!), which went out on 11th January (50 minutes long) it’s here.

(And when you watch it, ask yourself, how can this woman be the age she is? She looks about 25! I am in awe).

Publishing Opportunity

And finally, if you’ve written – or think you could write – a psychological thriller, here’s an opportunity from Boldwood Books. Quick, quick – you’ve only got until 7th Feb.

You can be a debut author or an experienced writer and the prize is: a minimum 1 book contract for a full-length psychological thriller (full length is defined as 70,000 words or more) with Boldwood Books Ltd.

Obviously, check out Boldwood Books – and what’s on offer – before you submit, to make sure you’d be happy to be published by them but they look pretty legit’ to me. They publish Della Galton and Jane Lovering (who’s with the same literary agency as me – Kate Nash).
Good luck if you decide to have a go!

Sometimes winning a competition like this is all it takes to launch a writing career! A recent example, is Jane Bettany, who won the HQ and Gransnet Prize for ‘women writers over 40 whose book has a protagonist in the same age group’.

Jane’s novel In Cold Blood (currently only 99p on Kindle and no, I’m not on commission!) features DI Isabel Blood, a detective in her mid-fifties.

Nothing to do with this post but who doesn’t like a bit of cake? Christmas cake made by my lovely step-daughter (now demolished, obvs.)

Posted in Competitions | 8 Comments

Happy New Year!

Let’s hope 2021 is a good one!

Happy New Year to you all!

I meant to post before the end of the year but time got away with me, so here I am on a cold and rainy January 1st, feeling glad – as I’m sure you are too – that 2020 is over.

I haven’t made any resolutions, have you? But a friend of mine took a photo every day last year (her theme was ‘a thing of beauty’) which I think is rather a nice idea.

I probably won’t keep it up but I started today with this!

Mr & Mrs Gingerbread

Our village had a ‘Gingerbread Trail’ over Christmas, (lots of gingerbread men in windows) and this jolly life-sized pair are stationed outside the church. Made me smile, anyway.

On a positive note, one of the (small!) targets that I set myself for last year – and that I achieved – was to read 35 books (I actually managed 36. Yay!).

Interestingly, as many as TWENTY of these books were read for the two book clubs to which I now belong. My top two books of the year were:

Small Island by Andrea Levy. I’ve read it before, years ago but this was a book club choice, so I ‘had’ to re-read it and I honestly think it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Queenie – by Candice Carty-Williams, which I’ve spoken about already, here.

36 books read in 2021

My new target, for 2021 (I set it on the Goodreads site) is 40.

Giveaway (NOW CLOSED!)

I issued strict instructions that no-one was to buy me a book for Christmas as I was feeling stressed by the size of my TBR pile.

However, my OH got round that by buying me two quiz books. Sneaky! And (shh, don’t tell him), I’ve got one of them already – ‘The Penguin Book Quiz’ so I’m offering it on here as a little giveaway.

Just write a little message (‘Happy New Year’ will do!) in the comments by Monday 4th January at 5pm and I’ll put all the names in a hat and pick someone out. Please note, this giveaway is now closed and I’ll be choosing a winner later this evening – 4th Jan – so please don’t enter if you’re reading this after 5pm on 4th Jan!

People’s Friend

I have a short story in the current People’s Friend Special and I’m feeling a little poignant about it because I reckon it will be one of the last short stories I have published.

This year my aspirations to write a novel have had a boost, as you’ll know if you’ve been following the blog. I’ve got an agent – someone (amazingly) who seems to believe in the story I’m trying to get down – and in my writing. I’m very lucky and grateful for that but there’s lots of hard work ahead and I just don’t have the time – or space in my little head – to write short stories as well as something longer (hats off to those who can), so something’s got to give.

Christmas Love Story Competition: c/d 14th Feb 2021

Here’s a great opportunity from Penguin Michael Joseph for unpublished would-be novelists, living in the UK or the Republic of Ireland. They want to publish a festive love story, which will be published in paperback and e-book in time for Christmas 2022.

In the first instance you just have to send your Christmas Love Story pitch, which should be no longer than 200 words, plus 1,000 words of your manuscript and entries should be emailed to:
by midnight on 14 February 2021.

Make sure you read all the rules carefully if you’re going to enter and good luck!

Posted in Books, Competitions, Short Stories, The People's Friend | 87 Comments

Merry Christmas to You!

Hello! Well, it’s that time of year again and although things are weird out there, I’m NOT going to mention them. Let’s just all stay in a little blogging bubble and pretend all is well with the world, agreed?

Have you bought all your Christmas presents? Yesterday, the company that I’d ordered walking boots from (for my OH), kindly informed me – three weeks after I ordered them – that they didn’t have any in stock. So, not sure what he’s going to be opening on Christmas Day now (apart from his stack of books!) Whoops!

I’ve just looked back at my Christmas post last year (for inspiration!). I wrote it on Christmas Eve and I described 2019 as ‘a bit of a bumpy year’! Ha! If only we knew what was coming… NO, stop! I said I wouldn’t talk about bad stuff. “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery”, as the very wise Ms Jane Austen once said.


If you fancy working on a little (free) flash fiction competition over Christmas, the Scottish Book Trust is running one – 50 words max – which has to feature a candle.

The prize for the adult category is one of these ‘Go Away, I’m Writing’ mugs which is rather nice. If you are a clever person who can write in Gaelic, then so much the better – you can win a stack of books.

Anyway, all the details are here and the closing date is 26th January 2021.

And, just to give you a little ‘heads up’, Evesham Festival of Words will be running a free-to-enter mini saga competition (exactly 50 words + title) in February next year.

I know because I’ve just drawn up the rules for it (but I won’t be judging it), so if candles are not your thing and you want to write something completely candle-free, then have a think about a different kind of flash fiction piece (but bear in mind that the competition won’t open until 1st Feb). I will remind you again, once it’s up and running.

And in the meantime, the Evesham Festival short story competition (£5 entry fee) is open for entries. I am one of two people who’ll be shortlisting the stories in that competition, as I’ve done for the past couple of years and the final judging will be done by Simon Whaley (all anonymously, of course. It’s only the competition administrator who sees the names of the authors). Closing date for that one is March 2021 and you’ve got 2500 words to play with (and the theme is open), if you so wish, so get writing!

One last thing – the Festival is running a little Christmas quiz, which is free to enter, with a £10 book token up for grabs, so if you’ve got a few minutes to spare, you might want to have a look.

Tele’! (or ‘the idiot’s lantern’ as I’ve heard it called).

There are 2 lovely TV programmes on the tele’ tonight (well, I think they’re lovely. You might not). They are both on at 9pm! CLASH!

The first is ‘Being Bridget Jones’ on BBC 2, a documentary about Helen Fielding’s phenomenal creation! (First so-called ‘chick lit’ novel – yes, she invented a genre – albeit one that these days is called ‘Romantic Comedy’). And as well as Helen Fielding, there are guest appearances from the stars of the films: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant. Ooh, can’t wait.

And the other one is also a series that started as a book (ah, James Herriot – my favourite books back in the day), namely, All Creatures Great and Small – the Christmas Special. Features ‘a dog in labour’ and of course, my namesake, Helen, with whom young James is in love!

Right, I have presents to wrap and shopping lists to write! (And, ahem, tele’ to watch later!) So, I will love you and leave you. Thanks for being along for the ride during this (odd!) year, have the best Christmas you can (and if that’s staying in your pyjamas all day and having beans on toast for dinner, then why not?) xx

Posted in Competitions, Television | Tagged , | 13 Comments

In Search of an Ending

My mum (who is in our bubble) has been staying with us for a few days and this is what I’ve been doing: watching Tipping Point, Pointless, Only Connect and University Challenge, playing Scrabble and Rummikub, sweating/sweltering (because we have to have the heat on ‘hellfire hot’) and making endless cups of tea.

It’s been quite nice – like a little holiday – but now, it’s back to work, at least until Christmas, when everything will stop again.

I saw this quote today and it made me feel a little calmer about my lack of writing: “Every first draft is perfect because all a first draft has to do is exist.” Jane Smiley.


As we approach the end of 2020 (thank God, we all say), I’ve been thinking about ‘endings’ – novel endings – because, at the moment, the ending of my novel-in-progress is no good. In fact, I have more than one ending that’s no good (sub-plots and all that).

The ending is perhaps the most important part of a novel. The ending IS the story, as a clever person told me once. It’s what gives meaning to everything that comes before and it’s the final impression you’ll leave on your reader. (Eeek, no pressure then).

Endings are difficult, aren’t they? (Hemingway rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms “39 times, before I was satisfied.”)

Think of all those stories and novels you’ve read that have been let down by a poor ending. I can’t give any examples because it will spoil any books you haven’t already read but I can think of quite a few.

Although it’s annoyed/upset me at the time, I do actually now have sympathy for authors who kill off characters (sometimes even main characters!) because it’s one of the options for ending your book and it can make the ending both emotional and memorable.

Of course, the ending of your novel will, to a certain extent, be dictated by the genre in which you’re writing: if it’s a crime, mystery or thriller, the reader will be expecting a resolution, revelations and for the baddies to be ‘brought to book’; if you’re writing romance, the reader usually expects the lovers to get together and declare their feelings (although sometimes, they don’t. I can think of a few bittersweet endings of recent films and novels in which one of the pair dies, or they don’t end up together, after all).

The ending must leave the reader feeling satisfied with what’s happened to the characters but it mustn’t be too predictable. There still needs to be an element of surprise.

A film director – can’t remember who – once said, “Give your audience the ending they want but not in the way they expect” and that, I think, applies to novels too.

And there needs to be tension. Will the villain be defeated? Will the lovers get together? That ‘black moment’, near the end, when it looks as though all the problems facing your heroes are insurmountable, makes the happy ending, when it finally arrives, all the sweeter and more satisfying for the reader.

Hmm, simples, as they say. Now I just have to do it. (And if anyone has any tips on writing a good ending, please share!)

New Word:
I learned a new word this week. Do you practice librocubicularism? I do, I’m a very keen librocubicularist. (It’s a fancy word for someone who reads in bed!). Mind you, I never seem to manage to read more than about two pages before I fall asleep….

The Spectator has an interesting little writing competition running until 6th January 2021, if you fancy a challenge. Here it is (and shhh, don’t tell him, but I’ve bought my OH Shuggie Bain for Christmas).

No. 3181: nay sayers
This year’s Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain was turned down by 32 publishers. You are invited to submit a publisher’s rejection letter of a well-known literary classic. Please email entries of up to 150 words to by midday on 6 January.

Posted in Books, Competitions, Novels | Tagged | 6 Comments

In Which I Resort To Gin (& attempt The 2nd Draft…)

Bonnie is guarding the advent calendar. “Do Not Open until 6pm “

You may remember, last week I reported that my laptop was poorly.

It’s still not right, so today it was collected and taken away to the ‘laptop hospital’ (otherwise known as Curry’s), to be Seen To.

And now I am using another one, which is taking me an age to get used to. Aagh.

It’s all adding to the ‘I-can’t-seem-to-motivate-myself-to-do-anything’ mood that I am in. I can’t focus for more than about ten minutes at a time, so even though I should be working on the novel (more about that in a minute), I’m finding it tough going. Does anyone else feel like this?

At least I have my G&T advent calendar to keep me going. (That’s not quite a bad as it looks, by the way. Yes, there are 24 ‘windows’ but only half of them contain gin; there are cans of tonic in the other twelve).

First Draft Feedback

So, last Friday I had my feedback on the novel’s first draft from my agent.

He had lots of nice things to say (phew) and we agreed on some stuff that can come out and where it all needs a bit more ‘fleshing out’ (mostly in the second half of the novel, which was a bit rushed).

At the moment ‘everything is resolved in Chapter 49′! He pointed out gently that some plotlines can be resolved before the absolute end! (You see, I’m still in short story mode, in which everything does get resolved right at the end).

One of my POV (point of view) characters has to have the POV wrestled from her. She isn’t important enough. (I knew this really but now I have to work out how to weave her thoughts and opinions, or at least, those that I want to keep, into the story, without taking the reader into her head).

Also, he pointed out, that one of my characters has an ‘invisible friend’ (i.e.: I mention someone, quite a few times but she never appears ‘on the page’!) which made me laugh. So, that needs sorting.

My heroine is also not going to have a limp any more (long story but that’s a relief. For her too, I imagine), the current ending doesn’t quite work, plus one of my (important!) male characters needs work. He’s not convincing, or that likeable. Deep down, I knew that. And I also know the reason that he’s not convincing: I Don’t Know Him Well Enough.

For my other two main characters, I filled out pages of a character sheet before I started writing, so I know them pretty well but for some reason, I didn’t do it for him. But I’m doing it now.

I think, in short story writing, you can get away with not knowing your characters intimately. They’re only going to be making a short appearance, so you can take a broad-brush approach (and that doesn’t mean I think writing short stories is easier, by the way – it’s just different) but (I’ve realised), woe betide you if you don’t know your main characters inside out when you write a novel. They just won’t be believable.

There are 100 questions in my character sheet but I think the 5 of the most important are:

1. What is your character passionate about?
2. What does your character want more than anything else?
3. Does he/she have any regrets?
4. As a child, what did your character want to be when they grew up?
5. When – and why – did your character last cry?

It was Kurt Vonnegut who famously said, “Every character must want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” (And if you want to read more of Vonnegut’s pearls of wisdom, there’s a list here).

And that ‘want’ is what drives the whole plot. If your character doesn’t want anything, if they’re quite happy with their life and they’re just tootling along, then there is no story. (One way round this is to make a list of the 10 worst things that could happen to your character and then throw a few of them at him!).

I’m reading a novel at the moment that is pretty dull (I won’t tell you what it is because I don’t like dissing other people’s writing but just to say, it’s by an author that I usually love).

Why is this story not engaging me, I wondered? And then I realised why: because none of the characters (so far) actually want anything, other than to maintain the status quo. Hopefully, it will perk up soon but if not, it will be relegated to the DNF* pile.

Right, here endeth the lesson.

I am hoping that I might have inspired myself now, to go away and do some writing: cut that POV, change the ending, remove that limp (ouch), take a metaphorical knife to the invisible friend and reinvent my hero. Easy, right?

*Did Not Finish

Posted in Kate Nash Agency | Tagged | 9 Comments

Feeling Tier-ful

Actually, I’m not (‘feeling tier-ful’), I just liked the pun-tastic title. And for your information, we will be going into Tier 2 on 2nd December, thank you very much. How about you?

The Good

Last night, I took part in one of the writing ‘masterclasses’ that the Kate Nash Literary Agency is putting on for us Bookcamp Mentees. This one was about character and very good it was too (courtesy of Kate Nash author Jane Lovering).

One of the questions Jane was asked (not by me, I hasten to add: I was lurking. Wet hair from the shower and no make-up. Nope, I wasn’t going to put that head above the parapet!).. where was I? Oh yes, one of the questions Jane was asked, was about getting the voices of your characters right, when you’re writing historical fiction.

Jane’s advice was to go to original source material for inspiration. Specifically: letters!

Well, a little warm glow and a feeling of smugness swept over me (or perhaps that was the rosé wine kicking in) BECAUSE, through a recent serendipitous meeting – and socially-distanced chat – with a woman in the village that I know through dog-walking, I have a stack of letters, written by her mother, to her father, during WW2, when they were courting (and he was in the RAF). Full of lovely dialogue from the time that I’m writing about. Perfect!

The Bad

My (new! NEW!) laptop died again this morning and my OH has spent half the day trying to fix it which put him in a VERY bad mood (and he’s never in a bad mood). Finally, it’s kind-of-fixed but I now have no sound or microphone. First World problems, I know but still very annoying.

The Ugly

Serves me right for gloating about my wonderful soup-maker: today I made a DISGUSTING soup.

I couldn’t access t’internet, due to computer failure, so I kind of made it up… it was supposed to be ‘Carrot & Apple’ but I think I added too many apples (one would have been enough) and.. this is the terrible bit… the only onion we had was a red onion, which I thought would be fine but of course, as you know (I can see you, shaking your head), red onions are quite sweet.. so, what with the extra apple and the sweet onion, I felt like I was eating a bowlful of apricot jam. I kid you not. Horrible. Thrown away. The only disaster (so far) in the soup maker but a shock to the system, I can tell you.

Tomorrow I have my on-line meeting with my agent to discuss The First Draft. I am feeling horribly nervous…! I will report back, anon.

Posted in Kate Nash Agency | 14 Comments

Time for a Sit Down

I have a new armchair! This is to be my ‘reading and relaxing’ (and, very occasionally, drinking wine) chair and I think I deserve it, having finally sent off the first draft of my novel to my agent, all 86,700 words of it.

It could have been longer but there were scenes that I just didn’t have time to squeeze in! My ‘new’ deadline was last Friday and I could not ask for another extension (the shame would have been too much).

So, for example, one of my characters invites another to a recital in the village hall, like this: “Get all your gang to come, won’t you? It’ll be fun. Sixpence a ticket and all in a good cause. We’re raising money for the ‘Land Army Benevolent Fund’.” (Did I mention, it’s set in WW2?)

This is an important scene! It’s going to bring a lot of my characters together, to interact and get ‘friendly’. Hurrah!

But I didn’t actually think about putting the recital scene in until just before the deadline. So although I have one character inviting another, the recital never happens! (Let’s see if anyone notices, eh?).

So, it’s fair to say that the draft’s a bit ‘holey’ and there might be parts that don’t make complete sense but hopefully, my agent will be able to see ‘the shape’ of the novel and advise what I need to do to make that shape better. (Preferably not, ‘chuck it in the bin and start again’).

I have a little free time until Judgement Day, in which to catch up on things like housework and cooking (got the soup-maker out today and made mushroom soup) and to start thinking about Christmas. (Aagh!).

What have you been up to? I know lots of you are doing NaNoWriMo. Good luck, if you are!

This is only a short post because my brain is running on empty! But I’ll be back soon with more (hopefully, interesting) stuff!

Short Story Competition: Louise Beech

Here’s a free-to-enter short story competition with a £50 prize, which author Louise Beech is running to celebrate turning 50. It closes on 1st December, so don’t delay!

Posted in Uncategorized | 18 Comments

How To Plan a Novel

Look at that title! As though I’m an expert or something.

Of course, I am not. But this question was raised on Twitter this week and the answers were interesting, so I thought I’d bring it to the blog (the blog which is now TEN YEARS OLD, by the way! A bit like a proud mother I am asking myself, where have the years gone? It’ll be going to secondary school soon and wearing a fancy uniform).

The question ‘How do you plan a novel?’ was posed by a self-confessed ‘pantser’ – i.e.: someone who doesn’t plan at all but writes by the seat of his/her pants and just hopes for the best.

The first couple of times I did NaNoWriMo (which starts on Sunday, btw), I did it in a ‘pantser’ style which Did. Not. Work.

I haven’t read either of the ‘novels’ back since then (and perhaps I should because they might not be *all* bad) but my general feeling, when I reached 30th November and therefore the end of NaNoWriMo, was that I’d written mostly rubbish.

So, my advice – and something I followed last year when I did NaNoWriMo and wrote big chunks of the novel that I’m now trying to finish – is to do some planning, even if it’s rough and you fully expect it to change as you write.

Of course, some very successful novelists claim they don’t plan: they just write the book. Marian Keyes (who writes huge novels. Her latest, Grown-Ups, has so many characters that it needed a family tree printed at the front) and Richard Osman, whose Thursday Murder Club is the fastest selling debut crime novel EVER – have both said they don’t plan. They don’t have spreadsheets or character biographies or Post-It notes. I find that amazing but perhaps that’s just the kind of brain they have: they can hold it all in there.

I am in awe of crime writers who don’t know who committed the murder until they get near the end of the book (they work on the basis that if they don’t know, it’s almost impossible for the reader to know either). But how can they do that?!

Anyway, I digress.

If you are a pantser trying to be a plotter, there is a book called (I love this), “Take Off Your Pants” that might help. I haven’t read it myself so I can’t recommend it but it might be worth a look.

I have compiled some of the answers that were given to the ‘how do you plot a novel?’ question:

Some people swear by the ‘Snowflake’ method of planning. This starts with a one-sentence description of your novel and expands outwards from there. A bit like… you’ve got it. There’s lots of information on line if you want to find out more, for example, here.

Then there’s the ‘3 Act Structure (In very simple terms, that’s: Set-Up, Confrontation, Resolution).

Some people swear by ‘beat sheets

Or if that all sounds a bit too technical/formulaic/screenplay-ish for you, there are of course, trusty Post-It notes (move them around, have different colours for different viewpoints or characters or timelines). I have tried Post-It notes by the way – as you may remember from this post – but I find the whole process a bit too fiddly.

Some writers write a complete novel synopsis before they put pen to paper. Yup, they know the whole novel (or at least, all the important bits and the ending). The synopsis (1 or 2 pages max) by the way, is great for reminding you what the book is supposed to be about, if/when you go off course.

Other writers plan their novels using:

* A pile of scrappy notebooks.
* Index cards.
* Scraps of paper

A nice simple piece of advice was: List the scenes that are going in the novel. Write them. Put them in order later.

Some people swear by the software Scrivener and are evangelical about it (much in the way that I RAVE about my soup maker and lots of people think I’m weird and what’s wrong with a saucepan and a sieve, anyway?)

Scrivener seems to be one of those tools for novel writing that you either swear by or about which you say, “I couldn’t get on with it.”

I suspect, if I delved into it, it would just be another form of procrastination for me. Plus, I hate learning new things, especially new, techie things so I don’t think I have the patience to even start. But if you want to know more, apparently you can get a free 30-day trial.

What have I found works best for me?

After a lot (a lot!) of trial and error, my preferred method seems to be a simple Excel spreadsheet with each scene on a new line, the name of the point of view (POV) character and date in two other columns.

That way I can instantly see if I’ve forgotten a POV character for a while, or if I’ve got my days mixed up. It’s easy to change the order of the scenes and as I write each scene, I ‘colour in’ the cells, which is very motivating.

But that’s what works for me (at the moment, at least) and that’s the most important point to take away from this: everyone’s different.

You have to work out what works best for you (what does work best for you? Tell me if I’ve missed anything out!).

Maybe you’re one of those lucky people that can just keep it all in their head…!

Posted in Novels | 6 Comments


Nothing Fancy was the first story I had accepted by Woman’s Weekly.

Look at that title. Yet more abbreviations! It’s like I’m writing in code these days.

OK, if you haven’t worked it out, it stands for ‘Rest in Peace, Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special’, for it has just been announced that the monthly fiction magazine (but not the weekly Woman’s Weekly mag) is folding.

I have to admit, I’m not surprised. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that it hasn’t happened sooner. But I am sad, not only for the loss of another womag market (and for my writing friends and colleagues who still write for WW) but also because I loved being published in WWFS, back in the day, before they insisted on taking all rights (at which point I ‘made a stand’ and stopped submitting to them).

Before they accepted my first story, I bought the magazine religiously every month, read and analysed the stories in depth (I even had a spreadsheet at one point! I kid you not), muttering things like, “I can write stories like this!”

And, in the end, it turned out I could.

It took a long time (and exhortations from my mum, who couldn’t bear the pain of every rejection, to ‘Give up, give up!’) but finally, in 2009, to be exact, they accepted the first story from me, ‘Nothing Fancy’.

But even then, it was a close call. They couldn’t get in touch with me to tell me my story was accepted because both the email address and the phone number on my cover sheet were wrong! (I know, I know. Rookie mistake! Still not quite sure how that happened, but one was because I’d changed my mobile or moved house or something, so not completely my fault).

Anyway, they could have just given up trying to get in touch but the lovely assistant fiction editor, Clare Cooper, wrote me a letter and asked me to call, which I did and we sorted it out. (But phew!)

I got the idea for the story when I walked past an ‘A board’ outside a gym, which listed all the beauty treatments they offered inside. The ‘I’ was missing from ‘manicures’ so it actually read ‘Man cures’ … ah ha! That was my starting point and I made my main character a woman who likes to point out mistakes to greengrocers (with their signs that read ‘potato’es’ and tomatos’.. you know the kind of thing).

When the story was finally published, I was slightly disappointed that it hadn’t got a lovely illustration with it (because the illustration was half the reason I wanted to get a story accepted!) but it was still very pleasing and now I think about it, as it had a little twist at the end, it might have been a difficult story to illustrate, without giving the game away.

The second story had a picture with it.

The next one they accepted, a couple of months later, ‘Love ‘em and Leave ‘em’ did have a bright illustration with it, so that was it: my ambition, for WWFS at least, had been achieved.

People, as we know, can be very ‘sniffy’ about magazine short stories (probably because they’re mostly written by women, for women) but writing for WWFS was an excellent discipline and grounding for what I’m doing now. You needed to have good, original ideas and achieve the right tone, pace and characterization, often in just 1000 – 1200 words (for a one pager). Anything less, just wouldn’t get past the fiction team or the magazine editor, who had the final say.

And funnily enough, I have even more reason to be grateful to WWFS because, now that I’m thinking about novel no 2 (I know, don’t laugh, I haven’t even finished this one yet), a historical short story that I wrote for WWFS is certainly in the running for my next idea….

Apples outside our local allotment. Nothing to do with WWFS. Just a nice picture!

Posted in Magazines, Short Stories, Woman's Weekly | 7 Comments