Monday, 30 May 2011


I've never really had any techniques for plotting. Each of my books seems to have grown differently, usually organically.

Sometimes I have set scenes out on cards and shuffled them around a bit - I did Wasted like that, and the novel I've just finished: Brutal Eyes. (FYI, this is an ultra-gritty, shocking, modern YA novel. If Fleshmarket was about gruesome poverty, shocking conditions and brutal behaviour in the early 19th Century, Brutal Eyes is about gruesome poverty, shocking conditions and brutal behaviour in London, today, under our noses.) Anyway, I digress.

Sometimes I have launched straight into a plot without any planning at all. The Highwayman's Footsteps was an example -  my editor phoned to ask what I wanted to write next and we came up with, "It'll be an adventure about highwaymen," and that afternoon I wrote the first chapter.

Sometimes I mull over things for ages in my head. Sleepwalking and The Passionflower Massacre were two examples.

But I would like to plot and plan in a more organised fashion and I know some people have excellent methods. I have recently found two that I'm drawn towards so I bring them to you now.

Here is a pretty good explanation of the basic elements of a plot, by Glen Strathy. I've seen the same thing in a different format elsewhere and I can't remember where it first came from - perhaps someone can enlighten me? I spent some time playing around with these steps for my WIP and it threw up some useful directions. [Edited to add: Glen says this is from a theory by Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley. Thanks, Glen!]

I also like the idea behind the Snowflake method of Randy Ingermanson at AdvancedFiction. Specifically I suggest you scroll down to his Ten Steps of Design.

But here's the most important bit of his advice, and it's always been my advice, too: "...a lot of people find it useful. But you may not, and that's fine by me. Look it over, decide what might work for you, and ignore the rest!"

It's so important to do what works for you. I can't stand it when people tell writers what writing method they should use. All that matters is the result.

Don't forget my points about goals and obstacles in this post here.

I'd love to hear any plotting methods you've found work for you.

Think the tone of this blog has suddenly gone very straight and serious? I am just settling you down in time for the Very Important Interview that is coming on publication day on Wednesday... Be prepared.

Friday, 27 May 2011


OK, so you know I'm a Twitter fan. Hell, I'm writing a book on the subject (which is why I recently took down my series of how-to-tweet posts). But yesterday something very unexpected happened to me on Twitter. It was entirely unplanned but, by chance, it brought followers and attention. Oh, and people berated me for embroiling them in a hopelessly addictive game.

A few minutes after the tweets saying I was No 2 in the US, this screenshot shows #lessinterestingbooks at No 1 worldwide
This is the strange story of how your very own Crabbit accidentally created the No 1 worldwide trending topic on Twitter. It was just a game but it's still going strong the following morning and I have no idea when, or how, it will stop. I have created a monster.

It is a game called #lessinterestingbooks

It knocked Cheryl Cole off (sorry) the No 1 slot. Was way ahead of Ryan (who he?) Giggs. OK, so in the US you probably haven't heard of them - though you would have heard of Cheryl Cole if you'd been able to understand her and she hadn't been removed... Oh, for goodness' sake, I am not here to talk about her.

Here's what happened.

I was on Twitter during my coffee break. (In answer to my husband, who said, "Why weren't you working?") And someone mentioned reading Lord of the Flies. But I briefly misread that as Lord of the Files. And I thought how much less interesting the book would have been if it had been called Lord of the Files.

Such is the incredible profundity of this creative mind. Not that I didn't have a lot more important things to do than becoming No 1 on Twitter, of course.

So, I tweeted: Lord of the Files #lessinterestingbooks

I followed up with something like Jude the Fairly Obvious #lessinterestingbooks

Within seconds, people were joining in. Within about half an hour someone told me that the game was No 2 in the UK trending charts. Soon after, it was No 1 worldwide. Excuse me while I retrieve my jaw from somewhere south.

The world had gone mad. If you searched the phrase #lessinterestingbooks, the tweets in that stream were coming so fast you could barely read them. Twelve hours later they are still coming way too fast to read. I actually think they are getting faster. It is still No 1 in every English-speaking country and varies between No 1 and 2 worldwide as a whole.

And all because I misread Lord of the Flies. Thank goodness for near-dyslexia, eh?

So, apart from a) wasting a bit of time and b) making thousands (hundreds of thousands? Oh, the power!) of others waste some time, what did I achieve?

Hmmm. Some new followers, but I don't go looking for them anyway and i don't measure success on Twitter by number of followers. Some people who might buy my books? Maybe. (Go on - you know you want to!) Fun? Oh yes. Something to blog about? Well, you're here, aren't you? Food for thought? Yup, indeedy. Money? ;((((((((((((

I impressed my family anyway. They never thought I'd be No 1 worldwide for anything.

But so what? Didn't I just waste my time and that of others? Well, not necessarily. One thing leads to another. What that other might be, I don't yet know. (*taps fingers*) The jury is absolutely still out on whether there will be any positive results other than impressing my family. But I didn't do it for that. I did it on a creative whim and if something comes of that then that's the point of creative whims. It's for others to analyse what happened today and what it means for viral marketing campaigns. I found it interesting (intellectually - and I'm still theorising about it, vaguely), inspiring, weird, fascinating, stimulating, confusing and a whole load of fun.

Fun? What, you'd like to join in? Come on....

Animal Allotment #lessinterestingbooks
The Grapes of Mild Irritation #lessinterestingbooks
Jude the Fairly Obvious #lessinterestingbooks
To Slightly Bruise a Mockingbird #lessinterestingbooks
The Slight Peckishness Games #lessinterestingbooks
Mediocre Expectations #lessinterestingbooks
Mein Kampsite #lessinterestingbooks
War and Peas #lessinterestingbooks

Go on - you know you want to! Oh, and let's have a prize - a crabbit bag is on offer for an entry picked at random from comments below. Deadline is midday (UK time) 1st June - publication day of Write to be Published, as if you didn't know...

Edited to add; the game is now also on Facebook.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


For my next foray into the mistakes writers sometimes make, I'm moving away from vocabulary to syntax, and one of my favourite errors. Whether you're a pedant or a progressive when it comes to changing meanings, please allow that I'm right on this one.

These are sometimes called hanging participles but since a) the people who make the mistake probably don't know what participles are and b) some of them aren't participles, I call them misaligned subjects.

Here is my favourite example, which I heard on a BBC television report many years ago when the Queen visited some ancient ruins in Jordan.
Two and a half thousand years old, the Queen seemed to enjoy her visit to the ancient city of Petra.
I think you see the problem. The queen is a ripe old age, but not as old as that... In terms of syntax, what has happened is that the first phrase has no subject and therefore must borrow the subject of the main verb ("seemed to enjoy").

Equally wrong would be this rephrasing to include a participle:
Dating back two and a half thousand years, the queen seemed to enjoy the ancient ruins at Petra.
No, you need to rephrase completely. For example:
The queen seemed to anjoy the ancient ruins at Petra, which date back two and a half thousand years. 
The queen seemed to enjoy the two and a half thousand year old ruins at Petra. (Except I frankly get a bit boggled by hyphens and can't decide where to put them. Anyway, it really doesn't sound nice, does it?)
It's this type of thing which old-fashioned grammar teaching gives us. It's not about rule-following. It's just about the ability to say exactly what you mean to say and what you think you are saying.

Monday, 23 May 2011


Do you think it would be easy to write a children's picture book? Do you have an idea for one but you're wondering how to go about it? Well, wonder no more, as I've found you an eye-opening explanation of the process. Ree Drummond was already a cookery writer so she did have an "in" with a publisher but her approach and all the steps she took along the way are exactly as they would have been if she was completely unpublished.

Please note the professionalism, the process, the way she worked with the illustrator (and note that she did not bring the illustrator with her - a common mistake of novices is to think they must direct the artwork before the story itself has been accepted) and all the details of editing and honing.

It's not easy to write a story in very few words but I love the look of the Charlie book.

On another note, and lowering the tone considerably, I completely love this picture book for adults. It's been an enormous success even before publication, hitting the No 1 spot on the NYT bestseller list. (Don't look if you are of delicate sensibilities...)

Friday, 20 May 2011


Someone asked me the other day, “When I buy your book, which is best for you – buy from yourself or a shop or what?”

This was a very kind question but also a very interesting one. It raises a load of issues and neatly gets right under the skin of the situation for authors.

First, I am very, very grateful to anyone who buys a copy of my book from anywhere, as long as they buy it new. (If you buy it secondhand, including the outlets on Amazon Marketplace, I gain nothing directly. The only possible gain is if you love the book and recommend it to loads of other people who then buy it new. I accept that this can happen, but a secondhand sale is not one that I can feel terribly excited about. If you don't want to pay the new price, I'd love you to borrow from a library.)

Other than that, here are the relative merits (to me) of each method in which you might buy Write to be Published. Or any other book.

Buying a signed copy direct from me. There’s no doubt that this is the way in which I earn more money. I buy the book at discount, so I make more than my small royalty. But I have to allow time to process, address and post the order, the commission that paypal takes and the fact that I under-charge for postage & packing. I’m hugely flattered and delighted that someone would actually pay more for a signed copy and would want to support me. So, this is a lovely thing to do. Thank you! (Click the Buy the Book link at the top of this page, if you wish to do that.) NB thanks to Brian Clegg for pointing out that a downside is that these sales are invisible and don't appear in sales figures, which can have disadvantages to the author. 

Buying from a small independent bookshop. This is often heralded as an ethical option, because we tend to like the idea of supporting small or independent businesses, especially bookshops. These shops can rarely afford to give a discount, because their profit margins and the discounts they can squeeze from publishers are usually lower. (Which makes my income a little bit higher than if the book is discounted.) If you’re in Edinburgh, then you have The Edinburgh Bookshop, kindly hosting my launch. You will sometimes find signed copies there if I’ve been past recently. (Edited to add - and any other indie shop that has asked me to pop in! Thanks Helena at England's Lane Books! I'll be there on June 2nd if I possibly can.)

Buying from one of the larger chains – such as Waterstone’s and Blackwell's. (Although Blackwell’s is independent, we count it as a chain now.) We need strong, successful chains, big and small. Waterstone’s, for example, easily the largest in the UK, remains of extreme importance to authors and to readers and is not having an easy time. (Today there is news that it has been sold - good news, because now we hope for stability and strength.) One of the reasons that Waterstone’s is important is that it is so visible and our books must be visible. If I’ve written a great book, all the networking and promotion in the world won’t help if the book is not seen by people. That’s why publishers and authors try so hard to get their books into Waterstone’s and large shops and chains. I am lucky that Waterstone’s and Blackwell’s have decided that Write to be Published is a book they would like to stock – but if people then don’t buy it from them, they’ll stop stocking it. So, buying a copy from them also benefits me.

Buying from Foyles. I mention this separately because of their great support in giving me time and space for a large event on 2nd June. If you are coming to the event, I do hope you will buy from Foyles, so that they feel that the event was worthwhile. And they have several of my other books at a good reduction.

Buying from the publisher's website
(Thanks for reminding me, Mary!) This is good for authors because it helps our publishers like us. And there'll be no discount so royalties will be higher. I don't think the sales figures appear on Bookscan, but what the hell, Snowbooks and I are happy.

Buying at a high discount from anywhere
When books are sold at a discount, the author’s income is lower. But I don’t mind because books are discounted only when a bookshop thinks they are going to be good sellers. So, it’s a compliment and I appreciate the faith shown by those shops. For example, Foyles currently have the book at the lowest price I’ve seen. But I won’t care that my unit income from it is reduced because I really want any shop that decides to stock to sell it in good numbers.

Buying from Book Depository
If you live outside the UK this is your best (pretty much only!) choice and a very good one for you, because they do free delivery worldwide. There's a good discount for you and I'm happy that people from overseas have this option to buy my book.

Buying from Amazon
Although this is probably my least* favourite option, I will not turn my nose up at an Amazon sale and please don’t even think of apologising, as some people do! Honestly, any sale that contributes to my sales figures is a help. (Please be aware that if you click the “other sellers” or “used and new” buttons, you get through to Marketplace, where many of the outlets are not contributing to our royalties at all.) Brian adds, "One advantage of an Amazon sale is that it knocks up your Amazon ranking, and if you get far enough up you may get extra sales from exposure." Very true.

*Oh dear, how could I have forgotten the supermarkets??
Yes, I did actually forget, so thanks to Michael Malone for raising it in a comment. Well, far be it for me to discourage anyone from selling books but I have very little else positive to say about supermarket books. Besides, you are most unlikely to find WTBP there, as they focus on highly commercial titles. Authors of novels who find their books there are torn between gritting teeth against the minuscule royalty and being happy to think of lots of sales.

Buying the ebook – eg for Kindle
As with Amazon.  My royalty on an ebook sale is higher, though, so perhaps if you’re going to buy from Amazon at all the ebook is the way that helps me most. But the complicated layout of the text probably means the formatting won’t transfer perfectly and you might wish you’d bought the paper one. (I haven't seen the ebook yet and I'm not particularly looking forward to it as I know there will be formatting issues...)

See, I really don’t mind how or where you buy my book - I am grateful for every single sale! I don't want to recommend one shop over another because I’m very, very grateful to them for their support. I am extremely lucky that so many of them seem to think this book is going to do well - for me and for them. Let's hope they are right!

Monday, 16 May 2011


Even if your book starts at the beginning of the story, at some point you will have to fill in some details which give background or explain the events. You may, for example, need to tell us something about Alex’s past or relate what led up to your dramatic opening. A character trait may need a reference to a childhood event, for example. All this is called back-story. A beginner often gives too much back story too soon, or in over-large chunks.

This is because the beginner writer doesn't trust the reader enough, assuming he won't understand without all the back-story as soon as possible; and at the same the beginner writer trusts the reader too much - trusts that he will hang around while all the tedious back-story is thrown at him.

Back-story is essential, but so, in my life, is coffee. This does not mean I should drink my daily three five cups all before 10am. No, I should spread them out. Interestingly – stay with me – I tend to have nearly all my coffee before 2pm and drink other beverages from then on. This is only interesting because it is handy for my analogy: yes, your back-story should be spread out but it is also likely to be needed during the first half of your book more than the second.

Perhaps the most common way to overdose on back-story, and therefore the one to beware of most, is this: Chapter One, full of excitement and the clever trailing of intriguing hooks, with the introduction of a character we really, really care about and are desperate to follow; Chapter Two, a history lesson in which our main character’s life story is laid out in meticulous detail. Result: either the reader skips it, or she becomes so disengaged that she couldn’t give a damn about Chapter Three.

I have noticed something in my own writing process, and other writers say they do this too. I tend to fill the first 5,000 words with lots of explanatory detail, because I am trying to get the situations and motivations clear in my own head. Then, on revising, I cut a huge amount of it out, because I realise that as long as it all hangs together and makes sense, the reader does not need nearly as much explanation as I’d thought. In effect, the explanation was for me, not the reader.

So, back-story needs to be drip-fed, gently, so that the reader never skips over it and hardly notices that it’s happening. I have come to realise that we need far less back-story than we often think. But we need enough. Enough for the reader, not for the writer.

*   *   *
I'm away today and not back till Wednesday evening - I'll be able to read your comments but probably not join in. Please comment, though.

A very quick but heartfelt thank you to those who have ordered copies of Write to be Published and for all your so far fabulous (*wipes brow*) feedback on Twitter and elsewhere.

And don't forget to enter the Big WTBP Writing Competition here or (if you're feeling less energetic) join the hilarious entries for the covering letter compeition here.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011


Carrot: there's a competition at the end of this post! As part of the countdown to the launch of Write to be Published - three weeks to go -  I have two more crabbit bags up for grabs. (Oh, and I am thrilled and excited to say that the books ARE now in the warehouse and if I wasn't away tomorrow my copies would be arriving then! Yay!)

But first, the "learning", as management-speaky types say.

Here are some things you should NOT say in a covering letter. I have seen them all in various forms:
  • My book is for readers of 9 to 99.
  • You and me are going to be rich. ( Or "You and me are" anything.)
  • I have printed my book on a HP Photosmart XB100.
  • I enclose for your delectation...
  • I have chosen to send you chapters 3, 8 and 73, because I think they are the best ones.
  • I have chosen to send you chapters 3, 8 and 73 because I haven't printed the others out.
  • I have chosen Comic Sans because it's nice and clear.
  • I enclose my fiction novel.
  • Dear Sir. (Or Dear Madam.)
  • Hi!
  • Most readers couldn't give a toss about books nowadays but I promise they'll love this.
  • It's like Love in the Time of Cholera, but way more interesting.
  • It doesn't really fit any genre.
  • My kids almost died laughing when they read it.
  • It's not like the other books out there.
  • I have already published it as an ebook so I've proved there's a market. Now I'm looking for print publication.
  • I don't think it needs much editing.
  • I know it needs a lot of editing. 
  • It's been my life's dream to write a book but I never had time.
  • Several people have said I have real talent. 
  • I was highly commended in an online competition and one of the judges said I have a very unusual voice.
  • It's written in a very simple style because readers of this age are not very clever.
There are plenty of other things people get wrong in covering letters but these are the most common and most glaring. All my sensible advice for covering letters is in Write to be Published, as well as in previous posts on this blog, but can also be summed up as:
  • Be sensible and professional.
  • Be calm and sane.
  • Be clear and concise.
  • Write a decent book. (Though it may also be indecent. But be careful if it's for children...)
OK, so, here's the competition. It's an easy one this time.

I have admitted several times on this blog that I once wrote a covering letter in rhyme. However, there was something else tacky and stupid that I did in that same covering letter. What was it? (If you don't know, guess. If no one gets it right, the most creative wrong guess will win!) If there are several correct entries, I will put names in a hat. Deadline: 1st June, midday UK time.

Answer in the comments below - even if someone has already given what you think is the right answer. And please do spread this competition around - anyone can enter! Yes, overseas bods, too. I love y'all.

And do please also enter the BIG WTBP Comp - details here. Entries are so far few but fab. And I know that several of you are working on it.

If you want to order your signed copy from me in advance - AND GET IT EARLY! - click the Buy the Book page at the top of this blog. If you order from me you will automatically be entered into the monthly draw to win another crabbit bag. And I will be happy, which should make you happy and the world a therefore happier place.

Now, comment away. And you can answer up to three times, as long as your answer is different...

Friday, 6 May 2011


Are you on Twitter? If you are, and if you tweet nicely, I have an opportunity for you. If you're not on Twitter but are thinking about it, or you are but aren't really sure what you're doing there or why, I am planning something for you, too. Gosh, I'm kind to you!

For that latter category of Twitter virgins and novices: I am writing a bookette about why and how to use Twitter, growing from some blogposts I did about it some time ago and which gained a great response. I will be self-publishing it as an ebook when it's ready.

For those of you who are already tweeting away: at the end of the book I want to list a whole load of friendly, useful people to follow on Twitter, so I thought I'd give you all the chance, if you wish, to pitch a tiny bit about yourselves and be added to the list.

Please note: I reserve the right to be selective. So, who am I likely to ignore?
  • purely commercial organisations, apart from bookshops; if you tweet personally, that's fine but please make your pitch reflect this
  • anyone who I think won't contribute to the positive Twitter experience of my readers
  • spammers
  • hyper-self-promoters - if I read your tweets and feel that the vast majority of them are plugging yourself rather than engaging, I will ignore you
  • Also, please do NOT include any links - if people want to find you they can go to your Twitter page and find any website there.
NB: if I am inundated, I will have to be even more selective.  So, take time to pitch yourself wisely, bearing in mind that this list is supposed to be a service to people reading the book, and that the book is aimed at people on Twitter as individuals or self-employed (rather than businesses) and those genuinely interested in other people.

Here's what to do. Start with your chosen category (list below), then your Twitter name, then no more than twenty words about you. Put it in a comment below. That's it! Please set it out exactly as per my example below, otherwise I will be crabbit.

Here's my example:
Writer: Published Author - @nicolamorgan - Writes, speaks & blogs. Award-winning author of 90 books. Aka The Crabbit Old Bat, who blogs crabbitly for aspiring writers. [Then put title of book in brackets, as per instruction below]
CATEGORIES - please pick one only, even if several apply:
If you fall into two or more categories, simply refer to the others within your blurb, if you wish. Eg if you've chosen the category "Writer - Published Author", you might say within your blurb, "Romantic novelist, also reviews books on blog..." or "Children's writer, also freelance journalist..." If you aren't sure what category to choose (though it IS your choice) then ask in a comment.
NB For writers, you'll notice I'm being strict about which category of writer you are in. I don't mean to be divisive about this but it's for the benefit of people reading the book and choosing who to follow. It's factual, not judgmental. Don't accuse me of not respecting quality self-publishing - after all, I'm about to do it myself for this book!

Writers: Published Author - if you have had (or have a deal for) at least one book published by a selective publisher. This does not include setting up your own publishing company to publish your book - not that there's anything wrong with that, but this category is specifically for traditionally published, selected writers. (Please add the name of one of your eligible books after your blurb - ie that's not counted in the word count but is for my information.)

Writers: Self-published - if you have published yourself (and this must be for a paid-for book, not a free ebook) or set up a company for the purpose, or if you have paid anything towards the cost of publication.

Writers: Freelance - if you make money from writing eg articles or short-stories and are regarded as self-employed for tax purposes.

Aspiring writers - if you are working towards becoming one of the above.

Arts organisation

Writing magazine  / other resource

Working in publishing industry - eg editor, agent, marketing expert

Bookshop - please say what country you are in

Writing as a hobby - and if you also have a paid occupation, do say if you wish in your blurb

Other creatives - eg artist, musician, jewellery designer

Book reviewers or bloggers - whether professionally or as a hobby

Self-employed - in a different capacity from anything mentioned above; obviously you can then say what you do in your blurb, if you wish

Nice, friendly and fun - because you may feel this is your main reason for being on Twitter, and you are most welcome!

Is there another category you think should be there?

Now, please add yourself to the comments below and then do go and follow each other if you're not already doing so. It doesn't matter whether you're new to Twitter or an old hand - all levels are welcome. Just tweet nicely and positively.

Please note: I make no guarantee or promise to include anybody at all in this book. It is possible (though unlikely) that the whole idea of a list of tweeters will be unwieldy or for some other reason undesirable. However, if that happens, at least you'll all be recorded below this post and people can come and find you here. Simples.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


Some time ago a blog reader asked me to write about the use of present tense and the problems or issues it raises. Here's what she said:
"My son (13) has just started writing a book – he did NaNoWriMo in November as well, so now there is no stopping him! He has always read a lot of fantasy but recently he read ‘Wasted’ and loved it. He’s also just read Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now. As a result, his writing style has taken a swerve and he’s trying something altogether different with his new piece. He is writing in the first person and is having some conflict about what tense to write in, present or past; his first few pages have flipped between the two. His present tense section works really well – it’s vivid and he has a real voice going there - but from my experience, present tense can be hard to sustain, which may be why he’s unconsciously slipped. But you’ve done it! Is it something for more experienced writers or something that can be picked up on with careful editing?"
Firstly, hats off to that boy! Interesting that both Wasted and Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now have inspired him to try something different. I'm a huge fan of Meg's writing and she and I have communicated quite a bit. 

Anyway, back to the present tense. The problems that my correspondent raises are exactly the normal problems of present tense. Sometimes it feels like the right thing to start with, because it tends to feel vivid and fresh, but it is hard to sustain because it's not the natural story-telling tense. It's cinematic, allowing us to see what is happening but not allowing the usual variations of narrative tension. It can - and very often does - become irritating and grating because, in story-telling terms, it is purely a device, a trick.

Also, counter-intuitively, it doesn't always create immediacy. You'd think it would, but it can in fact make things seem more detached. This is why it works for Wasted, because the voice is detached, so the present tense is right for it. I first realised this point about detachment when, shortly after finishing Wasted, I launched into something else. I was so used to present tense by then that I did it again. I sent it to my agent who said, "I love it, but I think the present tense makes it rather detached instead of exciting and immediate." I was surprised but experimented by I switching it all back to the past and immediately found I could play with pacing and narrative in a way I couldn't with the present. She was right.

I think it is partly because the present tense feels floaty. It feels transient. "I'm walking along and I'm thinking to myself" - well, as soon as you've said it, it's no longer true. Whereas, if you write it in the past, it remains true.

So, my theory is that present tense works for something floaty and transient, something philosophical and ethereal. Which is why it works for Wasted.

Present tense can also be made to work with a genuinely special voice, a first person narrative through a character so real and true that we are happy to live the story, now, for real, in one person's head. That's why it works for How I Live Now, which is not at all floaty and ethereal. Also, How I Live Now is so raw and shocking that we absolutely need constant immediacy because we are living in the moment all the time. We are holding our breath all the time.

The present tense is less capable of showing different gradations of tense, whereas the past tense is a whole range of tenses, giving you much more expression. So you may have trouble expressing all the different aspects of the story. You will restrict yourself to immediate observation. That is right for Wasted, which is about immediate observation.

As I wrote this post, I remembered that Philip Pullman had spoken out against the use of the present tense so I thought I'd find the piece to show you. Here is the Telegraph piece where he was apparently vehemently against it - indeed, he is quoted as saying, "I just don’t read present-tense novels any more. It’s a silly affectation, in my view, and it does nothing but annoy." (Well, he won't like Wasted, then!)  But here is his Guardian piece in which he clearly and sensibly explains the problems of the present tense and the times when it works beautifully. And I'm interested to see that he also makes the points that I've made above that it's cinematic and fails to allow all the different aspects of story.

Think about it: "story" is the past. So the present tense is something to be used only for very good reason. If it works, it works, and you can then use it with confidence. If you find it restrictive, or you keep slipping out of it, you'd be better not using it. Or, think about whether there's a case for mixing in some present tense passages, as Pullman mentions. (Though you must never do this without good reason - it must feel right.)

As to whether it's something for experienced writers only: no. It's for any writer writing a story where the present tense is right.

And here's an exercise for you: take a chapter you've written in the past and change it to the present. How does it affect it? Or, if you're writing in the present already, change a chapter to the past and see what happens.

Do you know some other books where present tense has worked well? Or badly? What do you think about it as a device? Have you used it? Have you tried it and then discarded it?

Sunday, 1 May 2011


With one month exactly till publication of Write to be Published, I'm delighted/daunted to kick off the countdown with a The Big WTBP Competition, which will run throughout May and June.

"And the prize, the prize?" I hear you ask, in your usual demanding way. Well, you are all writers so I presume you have at least the beginning of the draft of something. Well, would you like a confidential crabbit critique of it. That's the main prize: a critique of your first chapter, or up to 5000 words. Feedback from the Crabbit Old Bat herself! You might not want that for yourself - you wimp! - but you might have a friend you could win it for. And there are fab luxury hessian crabbit bags to be won, too, plus, of course, the honour of winning a writing competition and the pleasure of creativity.

MORE: you can also now read an extract from the book and see a list of the contents. Click here for the official WTBP Taster - it contains the competition and ordering details, as well as the contents list and short extracts from the beginning and end. That's all you get for now. Do pass the link around and get all your writing friends involved: the opportunity for expert feedback is not to be missed.

Edited to add: You may enter up to three times, as long as each entry is at least slightly different. For example, a different take on or approach to the same piece, or the same story with a different ending. 

IMPORTANT CHANGE: following the comment from Alexis, I have decided to allow entries from under 18s, but only if a responsible adult (parent or guardian) will promise to give permission for me to provide the critique in the event of the young person winning, and will vouch for the genuine ability of the writer to receive constructive criticism...

Bookshops small and large are embracing this book fabulously - phew! Please see links at top of right-hand sidebar.

Meanwhile, let the countdown begin and may your pencils be sharpened for The Big WTBP Competition! And do order your copy of the book - click here for options. Buying a signed copy from me gives you yet another chance to win one of my dwindling pile of crabbit bags... Thank you so much to the people who've already ordered.

Finally, a huge, huge thank you to you for all your support. You have been wonderful. I was going to say I don't deserve you but actually I damn well do!