Helpful hints for writing… or not…

This is an article I wrote a couple of weeks ago for my Moving Dragon Writes blog,

Like most people who  do something – in my case writing, I try and do all I can to do it better… mostly it is just practice, practice, practice (Gary Player said ‘Yes, I’m a lucky golfer, but do you know, the more I practice, the luckier I get!‘) I also read a lot about other writers, especially those I admire and those who are considered masters – what they write, and what they write about writing. There are many helpful hints, but a lot of the hints are things I do already. There are also suggestions (and sometimes more forcefully, instructions, or even commands) which just do not work for me – and I am sure this is true for most people. My way of writing isn’t the same as anybody else’s… I mentioned several things recently which some writers dictate others should do:

  • always carry a note-book… no, it just doesn’t work for me; I forget to use it, or I can’t read what I have written, or having deciphered it can’t imagine why I wrote it, or the brilliant idea, like the poem you think of in the night, is actually just rubbish
  • plan your story from start to finish, rough out the chapters, do a timeline, do an autobiography for your characters… no this really does not work for me; my mind isn’t like that, I would find it boring, things change as I write – just as I change in life as I learn and experience different things – a person I meet for the first time might seem a completely different person when I get to know them better
  • have a routine… stop right there! No! I hate routine!

In fact I think I will stop there…

You see what I have learned through working hard at my writing and writing every day and keeping going even through the boring bits and finding inspiration in all sorts of strange places and writing in my head when I can’t write because I’m doing something else… What I have learned is everyone writes in their own way. If I could ask ten of the writers I most admire how they write and how they write so well and what advice  they would give, I bet every single one would be different.

Having said that… there are some interesting writing ‘tips’ here:

… and here are a few from the list I like:

  • You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. – Jack London
  • There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. – W. Somerset Maugham
  • Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. – Lev Grossman

Another thing I really do find valuable, is criticism. If I agree with it I can change whatever it was. If I don’t agree with it I have to work out why I don’t agree with it, defend what I have done, then ponder on why the criticism was made. An example is, a friend criticised one of early stories saying there was too much dialogue; I disagreed but looked back at those passages in my book. What my characters said was the conversation I had overheard in my imagination, a very real and vivid conversation, and I had noted it all down. However – however ‘real’ that conversation was, do my readers actually have to ‘hear’ all of it? So although I disagreed with my friend, I took serious notice of her comments and have ‘adjusted’ my characters’ conversations ever since.

Here is a link to me e-books and my latest paperback, ‘Radwinter’:


Don’t confuse your reader!

As you can imagine, as well as doing a lot of writing (I’ve actually set myself a 800 word a day target for the next six weeks – not counting what I write here!) I do a lot of reading, and I do a lot reading about writing. It was a mixture of these things which, on the suggestion of my fellow blogger from my other blog, the Moving Dragon, that I had a look at a site which runs a ninety day challenge – to write eighty-five thousand words (yes 85,000)

The site which is called, has lots of interesting and helpful articles and I came across one which really rang a bell with my writing teaching – from when I was a teacher to now when I lead several writing groups. It’s all about not confusing your readers – and in actual fact they are the most simple and obvious points – simple and obvious but very easy to forget!

Here are the five by Wendy Janes:

  1. Ensure names and descriptions of characters are consistent
  2. Differentiate your characters
  3. Handle time carefully
  4. Yes, write beautiful prose, but don’t show off your vocabulary
  5. Steer clear of using drama for the sake of drama

Simple aren’t they? Because I’ve been writing just about all my life, from almost as soon as I could hold a pencil, I’ve learned these lessons by making mistakes on all these tips. Now I really try to make sure I don’t create muddle with names – however, in my genealogical mysteries, because my main character is dealing with family history sometimes there is a repeat of names – in my fiction as in real life family trees. I do that deliberately and carefully – and sometimes there is a muddle – but that is part of the story and I very clearly (I hope) make sure the reader knows it’s an intended muddle! I also write things down in old diaries to keep track of the dates of when things happen in my stories – I want events to be sequential and to be possible!

I guess my ultimate challenge in trying not to confuse the reader with characters was my latest Thomas Radwinter mystery, ‘Earthquake‘, where there were thirteen Chinese girls at a little boarding school in the 1930’s, one of them was murdered and the other twelve were all suspects! Twelve teenage girls!! I had to work really hard to make sure my readers didn’t get in a muddle (I got a bit in a muddle at times myself, I have to say!

When I read point number four, I almost blushed… with a little embarrassment. Last year I published my e-book ‘Lucky Portbraddon‘; it was something I had written quite a while ago but I wanted to get it off my mental writing shelf and out into the world. I set to editing it, having not looked at it for about seven years… oh dear… When I wrote it I had been trying to write a literary book… some of what I had written was actually very good, but it just felt unnatural and not my style, and well… pretentious to be honest! I went through with a mighty editing scythe and whipped out all the pompous, ‘aren’t I clever, aren’t I a wonderful writer‘ bits. I slimmed it down by more than a third cutting out ‘the beautiful prose’ which was just ‘showing off’ my vocabulary. It was a lesson learned, I can tell you!

Here is a link to the article which is very appropriately entitled, ‘Avoid Confusing Your Readers’!

… and here is a link to the challenge site:

…and here is a link to my slimmed down ‘Lucky Portbraddon’:

… and my twelve suspect 1930’s murder mystery:

… and here is a link to our other Moving Dragon blog:

Follow him! 

I started to write a piece yesterday, but veered off on a completely different tack. I was going to write about the quote from Ray Bradbury, ‘First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him! ‘ but I got diverted by the word ‘hero’:

…Some of my heroes are actually heroines, and I prefer to think of them as main characters – calling them heroes or heroines subliminally suggests they are heroic, whereas actually, they are just ordinary.

So today I’ll write what I was going to do yesterday! What happened then is also an example of what I’m going to write about, that when I’m writing the hero/story/blog/article seem to have its own life and take off where it wants, rather than where I anticipated. This thought also reminds of something I wrote the day before, about the impossibility of planning for me – planning what I write that is!

Let me get back to the quote, ‘find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!’ My inspiration for writing something nearly always starts with character. In some cases it’s me carrying on my childhood habit of making up adventures in my head for me – as my own life, like most people’s is quite ordinary. In other stories it’s me finding a character – a stranger I’ve observed, a person who has found celebrity in some way (singer, athlete, TV chef, actor etc) and creating a character for them with a different name (and sometimes a different nationality or even gender) Then maybe I create or set up a dilemma they have to face, or a difficulty they have to overcome – and I begin to write the story of my made-up person.

Sometimes my stories start with the dilemma, difficulty or challenge – for example someone being stalked, the break-down of a marriage, moving house, a partner’s infidelity, the death of someone close, unhappiness, new love… There might be a starter theme, but then as I write, new characters bob up, my lead characters (not heroes) seem to take on their own personality and begin to go in directions I hadn’t anticipated, or make decisions I hadn’t wanted them to make, or do things I really hadn’t expected them to do… in this I am doing as Bradbury advises – I’m following my characters!

I know some writer have ‘maps’ which they follow religiously… I just do as I do in real life when I’m in a new place, I just wander around and see what happens!

I think this is particularly strong in my Radwinter series – my character Thomas Radwinter has taken over (and maybe there is a story in that scenario too – the writer dominated and manipulated by her/his people)

Here is a link to my Radwinter e-books, and my recently published paperback:

… and my other e-books:


So many words a day

One of my favourite writers posts a daily word count on Twitter… I wonder if he has a target or  if he is just keeping track… Maybe I should ask him.

I don’t keep track of how many words I write, I just write! if I did keep track, would I also count the words I write here, or only the words I write for whatever story I am working on? At present I am writing the next Thomas Radwinter story, provisionally called ‘Saltpans’ and I don’t have a finish date in mind either. I think it should be finished in the first draft by halfway through September – I had hoped for the end of august, but no, other things have interfered. When there is no-one else involved like an editor or agent or publisher, there is only me to keep cracking the whip. Maybe best-selling writers have people to clean their houses, do the washing and ironing, take care of the garden, go shopping… well, I just have me and my husband. I’m not complaining, I’m fine with it, but that’s the way it is!

Going back to word count; the only time I do keep track of my words is November, the National Novel Writing Month, a thirty-day challenge to write a new novel. Does it help me, is it something I should adopt? Well it is actually quite stressful, especially if unavoidable things happen, like visitors, or days out or weekends away, but I do manage to maintain that 1,700 or so words a day for those thirty days… Well, I have for the last four years, but could I maintain it for more than thirty days… I am sure I could not. So would I be able to sustain a lower target, say a thousand words a day? Maybe – but how would I take account of the work I do re-writing, researching, writing background or support material which won’t go into the actual story?

Maybe instead of setting a target I should just keep track of my story word count – just so I know what progress I’m making… Maybe I will do that. Maybe I’ll start that today and report back next week, next Monday – no next Tuesday afternoon!

In the meantime, here are links to the books I started for the national Novel Writing Month, and finished and published:

2013 – Radwinter – published 2014:

2014 – Raddy and Syl – published 2015:

2015 – Earthquake – published 2017:

2016 – And the River – to be published (2018/19)


The boot repairer and the beatster

I’m making good progress with my latest Thomas Radwinter adventure, possible called ‘Saltpans’; there is an story-line which involves a zeppelin raid on the East Anglian coast in 1915 – which actually happened, it’s not imagined by me! Two airships, the L3 and the L4 bombed various places along the coast which resulted in the first deaths ever caused by an air-raid. Two people died in Great Yarmouth, Samuel Alfred Smith a fifty-three year old deaf boot repairer and seventy-two year old Martha Taylor who was a net repairer.

As usual when I saw their names I immediately began to wonder about who they were – Samuel never married but he has an elderly niece who was present when a blue plaque went up to commemorate the event and the deaths of Samuel and Martha. I found details of Samuel in the 1911 census for Yarmouth; he was described as a boot repairer, working with leather something soles – I can’t make out the ‘something’ on the original record, and it isn’t transcribed. Samuel – I wonder if he was called ‘Sam’ by friends and family – was living with his parents, Esther Harriet and William Pye Smith and his two nieces Elise Ade and Hilda Agnes. His father was a beach man – not sure exactly what that was, but Yarmouth was a fishing and shipping town and no doubt there were lots of smaller craft along the beach… but I’m not sure!

Here is what a beachman actually was:

Going back to the previous census, Sam is noted as being deaf, so maybe that came on when he was in his forties. In this census he is a shoe repairer – different from a boot repairer? Probably not. Now his father’s occupation becomes clearer, beach boatman it says. The information is the same for the previous census too – and again no mention of Samuel being deaf. The 1871 census shows us that he had some siblings, Agnes and William but no other details. William Pye Smith married Esther Agnes George in 1858; I can’t find an exact date of birth for him, it may have been about 1840, and he may have died in 1921, aged eighty-one… I can’t be sure!

Martha Taylor who also died in the air raid was a net mender; in the census of 1901 she appears a s a ‘beatster’… a what? Does it mean ‘beater’? But of what? Written faintly beside the entry it says ‘canvas’ – was she something to do with making canvas? A beater in a the cloth making industry was someone who trampled it in water as part of the fulling process… a tough and unpleasant job, is this what Martha did? No, no she didn’t, with a little more research it becomes clear that a beatster is to do with the net-making industry – which is what poor old Martha was still doing when she was killed by the bomb from the zeppelin.

Read up about beatsters:

In 1881, there was Martha, living with her sister Jane who was also a beatster, and brother James who was a shipwright, and their niece and nephew, William and Alice Humphrey. In 1871, Martha was living at home with her parents, John and Elizabeth, her baby niece and nephew, and three brothers and sisters – it gives no occupations for any of them.  ten years previous to that, Martha – noted as Mary Martha – was living at home with her parents and brothers and sisters; one brother is a blacksmith, her father and another brother were ship’s carpenters. In the first census, that of 1841, the Taylors have seven children living at home, including little Martha – here named Matilda. her father was a shipwright, two bothers were blacksmiths, another was a caulker.

Both Samuel Alfred and Martha Mary who died in the zeppelin raid were ordinary, hard-working people, from ordinary hard-working families – like so many of their friends and neighbours. They only found fame and are remembered today because they were the first victims ever of an air-raid.

Some of the information I have found here might make it into ‘Saltpans‘ in the meantime, if you haven’t read my Thomas Radwinter novels, here is a link:

The first in the series, Radwinter’, is available in paperback:


The Norfolk Zeppelin raids

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’m writing the next Thomas Radwinter story, and in this one, Thomas investigates the ancestry of his wife Kylie. Her father is Tobagan and her mother English, and to begin with he looks at the English side of her family and discovers that her grandmother as a little girl was living near Great Yarmouth during the first World War and was caught up in a bombing raid by German Zeppelins… Zeppelins, part of the German Imperial Navy (not the air-force as I had thought)  L3 an L4 to be precise.

On January 19th 1915  L3 and L4 had left Fuhlsbüttel near Hamburg in Germany to attack military and industrial targets on Humberside – the original target had been the Thames estuary but bad weather prevailed. These massive airships could fly for thirty hours, carrying bombs and incendiary devices. You might think that their first target would have been London; however the German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II would not give permission for the capital to be bombed for fear of harming his cousins, the royal family of Britain, nor on the historic buildings of the country. He wasn’t very keen on bombing Britain at all, but eventually relented and allowed for strategic attacks to take place, the first being on Humberside in the January of 1915.

I mentioned above that my fictional character, Kylie’s grandmother, was living near Great Yarmouth in 1915, so my imaginary world comes into contact with real, actual history. The two zeppelins, L3 and L4 were driven south  from their original plan because of bad weather, and changed their targets to the coast of Norfolk. They flew over the coast of East Anglia in the dark, north of Great Yarmouth –  L3 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Hans Fritz, turned south-east towards Great Yarmouth and  L4 under the command of Kapitanleutnant Count Magnus von Platen-Hallermund,  heading in the opposite direction,  north-west towards Kings Lynn. How did the pilots navigate to their targets? They dropped incendiary bombs to light their way.

L3 bombed Great Yarmouth killing and injuring the first British civilians ever to have died in this way. Now in the twenty-first century we are so used to the idea of air attacks, our news is full of the dreadful bombings and air-raids happening in other tragic countries. It must have been an unbeleivable horror and shock in 1915 to have this attack coming seemingly from nowhere, hundreds of miles from the war zone. Zeppelin L4  continued its route along the coast,bombing places I knew so well as a child, visiting them on ‘trips to the seaside’, Brancaster, Sheringham,  Heacham, Snettisham, until it reached Kings Lynn. L4 was  downed a month later by bad weather, a lighning strike setting the mighty beast ablaze.

I had to research all this, just as my character Thomas Radwinter does; people ask me if I plan my stories… well, no, I may have a general idea, but as the story evolves new things occur, sometimes thoughts arise from nowhere and I pursue them – like the zeppelin raids!  I had originally set this part of the story in Brighton, 1880-1911, but for various reasons had to change it. For some reason the historical action moved to Norfolk, and while I was researching I came across the zeppelin raids!

I know each writer has their own particular way of working, and what is perfect for someone is hopeless for another – and when I’m teaching about writing, I share the different ways people can approach their craft, but in the end it is what works and is successful for them… and for me (and Thomas Radwinter) my rather random way works very well!



My name is Shsh Shshsher…

With all the excitement of the launch of my first paperback, which is also the first story of my Radwinter series, I have been a little neglectful of the most recent e-book which I published at the beginning of April this year. That book was the latest in the series, and is called ‘Earthquake‘. My main character Thomas Radwinter conducts several investigations during the course of the novel, one of which is for a new client… in this extract, the new client rings him up:

Even so, mornings are hectic, and the priority is to get Kylie to work and Kenneil to school and then the little ones and I can sort out my work. So it was today, a proper paid work day today, and the twins were at the nursery, Cassie was with her cousins, John’s children, Julia and Janek, and I settled down to make the most of my day and earn some money.
I have to be very strict with myself, which is much more difficult than you might think, because particularly when I’m doing someone’s family tree I get terribly side-tracked by interesting names and strange occupations. I have such a busy life, housework, cooking, washing, shopping, John’s allotment, looking after our garden, taking Cassie and Kenneil swimming, seeing my brothers and their families…
So I was concentrating completely on the ins and outs of some legal papers for a client and didn’t register my phone was ringing. I answered it rather more loudly than I meant to and there was silence then the sound of laboured breathing…
Good grief, don’t say I’ve got a heavy-breather… Hello? I said rather firmly and sternly ready to finish the call and block the number.
“Good morning… is that Mr. Radwinter….” And the voice, man or woman I couldn’t tell, faded away, then started again. “My name is Shsh Shshsher…”
“I’m sorry, you are?”
“Shsh Shshsher… A friend at the golf club suggested you might be able to help me…”
When I was working as a proper solicitor in a practice in Strand, I had a dear old gentleman who always asked for me to assist in his matters and business, usually changing his will which was a bit of a hobby of his. When our firm amalgamated with another and moved their head office to Castair, I was effectively given the sack; however my kindly old gentleman insisted I continue to handle his affairs and more than that, recommended me to a lot of his friends at the golf club. The golf club gang, as I call them, are my best clients, and are nearly all nice people and also quite wealthy.
As well as the usual conveyancing, enduring powers of attorney, wills and even a couple of divorces, they have asked me to help them on several intriguing ‘investigations’ as I mentioned above, the missing woman, the Moroccan and the Tibetan Lama.
“I will try my best Mr. Shshsher…” I couldn’t ask him again for his name, having tried to work it out three times. “Perhaps we could arrange a time where we could meet, or maybe I could call on you… what sort of business do you wish to conduct?”
There was another yawning pause before Mr. Shshsher replied that he would have to discuss that with me…  He wasn’t sure I could help, he wasn’t sure anyone could help, but his friends had recommended me highly…
He gave me his address, a place I didn’t know over on the other side of Strand, and we agreed I should call the next day at eleven.

If you want to know what the mysterious assignment is, and whether Thomas manages to undertake it successfully, here is a link to ‘Earthquake’:

and in case you haven’t yet got a copy of my paperback, Radwinter, here is a link for you: