The 8th Emotion – book launch

8th Emotion.jpg

Here at Nothing in the Rulebook, we often find affinity with Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, on that we love it when a plan comes together – especially when that plan involves fascinating new ideas and copious amounts of creativity.

Josh Spiller’s debut novel, The 8th Emotion, is heavy on both new ideas and creativity. We originally told you about the plan for this project when it launched on Kickstarter in 2018.  So it’s rather brilliant to now let you all know about the official launch of Spiller’s searing new novel.

Described by legendary writer Alan Moore as marking “the emergence of a fascinating fresh voice” and “Not so much fantasy as post-science science fiction”, The 8th Emotion promises to be everything you’d want from a book to read in 2019.

So, we’d strongly encourage all of you to make it over to the launch of the book on 1st February in London, where you’ll be able to meet the author and hear Spiller reading an an extract of his novel, meet fellow creative artists, writers and book lovers, and enjoy a selection of food and drink. The event details are here below:

Date: 1st February 2019

Time: 18.30 – 20.00

Venue: South Kensington Books (22 Thurloe Street, Kensington, London, SW7 2LT

In case you can’t wait that long, you can have a sneak peak inside the book and read a pre-released chapter right here on NITRB.

And you can also read an interview with Spiller about his book, writing, literature and everything else in between.

Blurb for The 8th Emotion

“I recently found something out… A way we can end all violence forever.”

In a tribal utopia, an unprecedented human emotion erupts into existence. It may be the key to an almost miraculous future.

But a vicious, predatory rot is also growing. And soon Jak, his best friend Martin, and his sister Laura, will become embroiled in a struggle that will irrevocably alter their lives, their society, and ultimately, the World…

Advertisements

Book Review: ‘Scratch’ by Steve Himmer

Wundor_Fiction_Paperback_Design_-_Scratch_grande

A forest can be a spooky place. It may seem lush and inviting to an urban dweller, but it’s not as welcoming as it seems. It’s easy to imagine that there might be things in the thickest part of the forest that are quite beyond our knowledge, watching and waiting.

This novella begins uncannily enough, with the narrator urging the reader to join him in the shape of a coyote. Afterwards the reader is present in the narrative as you press your coyote nose against the windows of the human characters.

The lead character is a big city property developer building a housing estate in rural New England. Martin dreams of building the suburban home that he never had during his rootless childhood, living in a trailer on site and planning to settle in one of the houses he builds. One morning, our hero wonders into the new England forest on a whim, straight into a revenant style bear attack. After staggering back to civilisation relatively unscathed, he hears the local legend of Scratch. Scratch is a local bogeyman and shapeshifter that the locals blame for various small misfortunes. A series of strange events occur around the town and it seems Scratch may be more than a myth.

Himmer’s writing is conversational and effortless, picking out the rhythms of small town life, Martin’s yearnings and the timeless patterns of the forest with equal ease.

It’s literary fiction with a supernatural edge. It starts slowly, but it comes to life gradually and by the end I was reading hungrily up until the chilling final sequence. The narrator’s strange presence in the story creates a feeling of being watched and of inevitable disaster. It become clear from the way they address the reader knowingly that they aren’t quite human.

This attractive volume from Wundor editions is Steve Himmer’s third book, all of which have links to nature and the outdoors. This is an intriguing and unsettling little novel, worth reading.

To purchase a copy of ‘Scratch’ visit Wundor Editions https://wundor-store.myshopify.com/products/scratch-by-steve-himmer

About the reviewer

tandrewsTom Andrews is a Genetics graduate and book lover based in Somerset. He has previously attempted music and game reviews. He tweets at @jerevendrai 

16 of the finest NaNoWriMo writing tips from Paul M.M. Cooper

writers+block_fed465_5042647

“Part of being able to write at all is giving yourself permission to write badly, to put down that first layer and not hate it.”

If you’ve always suspected there’s a novel in you, one writing project could help you get it on to paper in just 30 days.

Founded in 1999, NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month), is an internet hub built for budding writers. Participants agree to start and complete a novel of 50,000 words or more during the month of November. To “win,” all you have to do is meet that goal.

If writing 1667 words a day, every day, for an entire month while balancing studies, work, socialising and general life admin sounds like a challenge, that’s because it is. But it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it – success stories include Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants (now also a feature film); and in total over 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been published.

Above all else, NaNoWriMo fosters the habit of writing every single day – which, if you read among all the various writing tips from writers – is probably the closest thing to a universally prescribed strategy for eventually producing a book. NaNoWriMo spurs aspiring authors to conquer their inner critics and blow past blocks. And it also enables many writers to practice another core tenement of writing: the act of rewriting and revision. 50,000 words written in a month will, almost inevitably, need to be rewritten.

NaNoWriMo writing tips from Paul M.M. Cooper

Paul Cooper

Paul M.M. Cooper 

It is a project endorsed by countless writers – both aspiring and established. Included in their number is Paul M.M. Cooper, author of the rather brilliant ‘River of Ink’.

Of his writing process, Cooper has explained: “Just getting words onto the page is important. I heard someone describe this recently as ‘piling sand into the sandbox to build things out of it later’ – this is usually how my first drafts work. I write a lot, fill scenes with everything I can, and then winnow things down later so it is light and strong in the final draft.”

NaNoWriMo, in this way, offers the perfect opportunity for writers to start filling their own writing sandboxes. And for those just setting out on their own NaNoWriMo journeys, Cooper has also set out his own list of NaNoWriMo writing tips. They are:

  1. It’s a cliché, but you can’t edit a blank page. Think of the phrase “Don’t get it right, get it written!”
  2. The hardest part about writing a first draft is getting through the self-loathing of writing something of poor quality.
  3. I always comfort myself by thinking about oil painters – how they put down a base layer first, and then return for shading and detail.
  4. Part of being able to write at all is giving yourself permission to write badly, to put down that first layer and not hate it.
  5. Remember that inspiration comes during work, not before it. If you’re stuck, just write something, anything! You’ll get unstuck.
  6. If you’re stuck, a good idea is to ‘have coffee with your characters’. Write a conversation you’d have with them, or a monologue.
  7. Often when you let a character speak, they come to life and tell you what’s going to happen next. They’re strange that way.
  8. You don’t always have to plan ahead too much, but it’s good to have some fixed points to work to. Scenes you can’t wait for
  9. Don’t skip ahead and write you favourite scene – your excitement about getting to it will give you urgency to the preceding scenes.
  10. Do think about the values of your story: truth, justice, friendship, etc. Every scene should turn on a value, either up or down.
  11. The criminal commits a crime (justice down), the detective finds a clue (justice up), the first setback occurs (justice down).
  12. Give yourself permission to delete work, to give up on story strands, to give up on the whole novel. Nothing is really wasted.
  13. The only truly scarce resource is your own excitement. Protect it in every way you can, and top it up at every opportunity.
  14. Even if you’re completely blocked, write something. Write one sentence, or half a sentence. That’s the only thing you should force.
  15. The most important thing isn’t winning, but setting up writing as a habit for the future. Don’t accept negativity if you lose.
  16. Just by trying #NaNoWriMo, you’re doing something very brave. It’ll change you whether you complete it or not. So good luck and stay strong!

 

 

A novel idea: German machine vends books in exchange for unwanted presents

Umtauschautomat-008

What do you do with those unwanted Christmas presents? Rather than attempt the half-thought out gift repurposing – where you end up accidentally giving your Aunt Mildred the same pair of bright pink suspenders she gave you and trying in vain to persuade her that you both just have similar tastes in presents – a German book retailer has come up with an innovative way of addressing this age-old problem.

Hugendubel – which owns some 70 odd high street bookshops in major department stores throughout Germany – has paired up with German trade publisher Bastei Lübbe to develop a somewhat unusual solution.

The organisations have invented a vending machine (pictured above), which recycles unwanted gifts in exchange for books.

Users simply dump their presents – of all shapes and sizes – and at the touch of a button see it replaced by one of a number of different book titles.

“Books are simply the best gifts in the world, and the conversion machine is a wonderful way that [can be] emphasized again even after the holidays,” Ricarda Witte-Masuhr, Bastei Lübbe’s marketing manager, said.

The device will be set up outside Hugendubel branches after ‘C-Day’, on 28th December in a busy shopping centre in Munich. This will be followed by appearances in Ingolstadt the following day and in Nuremberg on 30th December.

The seven frontlist book titles will be supplied by Bastei Lübbe and include bestselling authors such as Rebecca Gable and Ethan Cross.

All unwanted presents will be given to local charities.

Book vending machines have been on the rise recently, with Washington D.C. setting up vending machines that dispense free books to children. Meanwhile, another German initiative – the Hamburger Automatenverlag – saw literary vending machines established by repurposing former cigarette vending machines. And in the UK, Warwickshire libraries have been working with local hospitals to introduce a library book vending machine, which featured over 400 different book titles.

Now you can watch a novel being written in real time with this website

novel

Writing, we know, is a serious business. Behind the scenes, many writers admit they struggle with the daily work of writing, clocking thousands of solitary hours staring at blank pages and computer screens. Most agree on common hurdles: procrastination, writer’s block, the terror of failure that looms over any creative project and, of course, the attention sucking power of the Internet.

But it is largely thanks to the wonderful attention sucking power of the Internet that we have stumbled upon a rather intriguing writerly discovery!

A new initiative from novelist Joshua Cohen lets you watch him write his next novel, in real time, with video.

Called PCKWCK, it’s a Google Docs style app that lets you watch the novel develop from start to finish, complete with typos, re-writes and other mistakes.

writing

You can even chat with Cohen and anyone else watching, and highlighting the text in the live view sends ‘hearts’ to him, similar to Periscope (because isn’t that just adorable).

Hypnotizing to watch, or just another excuse for you to put of writing that novel you’ve been working on? You tell us! Let us know whether you think this is a cool idea, where aspiring writers can get a new insight into how a novel is written, or is it just more of the self-referential narcissism  we now expect from ‘digital writers’? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

Creatives In Profile: Interview with Tim Leach

Tim Leach

In the latest of our ‘Creatives In Profile’ interview series, it is an honour to introduce author and creative writing teacher, Tim Leach.

Tim is a historical fiction author and creative writing teacher. His first novel, ‘The Last King of Lydia’, was published by Atlantic Books in Spring 2013, and has been longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. A sequel, ‘The King and the Slave‘, was published in 2014. He teaches creative writing at the University of Warwick, and he lives in Sheffield.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle – is writing your first love, or do you have another passion?

LEACH

After studying creative writing at Warwick and living in London for a time, I now live in in Sheffield, which must be one of the country’s best kept secrets – a lovely, friendly, creative city with the Peak District on its doorstep. Shh, don’t tell anyone, or they’ll all want to move here…

Other than writing, my main interest is rock climbing. It has much more in common with writing than you might think – they both share a kind of rarefied loneliness that appeals to me. There is no one lonelier than a climber on the wall or a writer in his/her study, but the act of climbing or writing changes the nature of that loneliness from being something awful into something beautiful.

INTERVIEWER

Did you want to become a writer when you were young?

LEACH

No, I wanted to be an actor! At university I began to get increasingly interested in writing, and after a brief tug of war between the competing passions, writing won out. They share a surprising amount of common ground in character creation, narrative rhythm, and the importance of understanding your audience. I like the greater creative control you get in writing, although I do sometimes miss the thrill of performance.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

LEACH

The writers who inspire me most are cracking storytellers first and foremost, but who also have a fine eye for prose, an empathic feel for character, and an ultimately optimistic view of human nature. John Steinbeck, Graham Greene, George Orwell and Tolstoy are the exemplars of this for me. I do also love brilliant stylists like Virginia Woolf and wild imagineers like Italo Calvino – I could never do the kind of work they do, but I like to admire them from afar…

INTERVIEWER

Your debut novel, ‘The Last King Of Lydia’, blends historical fact with fiction and philosophy. How did you balance the competing threads of ‘reality’ and ‘fiction’ – what does the term ‘reality’ mean to you? Would you ever change a fact to heighten the narrative drama of a book? How flexible is the truth?

LEACH

I seem to always pick unreliable source texts to get around this problem, where there is no certain record of events. This gives the writer rather more room for manoeuvre. I try to stay away from ‘actually impossible’, but am content with ‘wildly improbable’ – my approach to historical fiction tends to be to pick the most interesting version of the story that could possibly be true, rather than the most probable version of events.

What is ‘reality’? I think that we are creatures of narrative, it’s how we understand and process the world. We tell stories to survive, and the stories that we tell become our reality.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little bit about your research and writing methods?

LEACH

I always have one source text that is my anchor – Herodotus’s Histories for The Last King of Lydia, for example. If I ever get lost or confused or overwhelmed, that will be the book that I return to.

For the first draft, I research more to get a feel for the period than to hunt for fine details. This usually means reading works of the period that I am studying, and to read other authors who have attempted to write about a similar time and place. Then, when I’m editing, I’ll read lots of non-fiction to dig out particular details that I need to flesh out the writing. I think research should always be fun, otherwise you’re not doing it right.

As for the writing itself, I set a word count target (usually 500 words or more) and write that for six or seven days a week. Slow and steady is my preference, keep moving forward until it’s done.

INTERVIEWER

You’ve mentioned before that you began writing the novel while working in a bookshop in Greece staffed by “wandering lost souls”. Can books – and writing – help such souls to become ‘found’?

LEACH

Yes and no. Ultimately, it’s the people in my life who make me feel ‘found’. I think we are ‘found’ when we feel connected to people, ‘lost’ when we are not. But writing keeps me alive when I’m ‘lost’ – for me, it’s a survival mechanism for facing down seemingly hopeless situations. And when we come back from being lost, we often come back with good stories to tell, stories that can connect us to people again, until we are lost once more.

I think this cyclical process of being lost and found is universal human experience rather than being restricted to creative types, but perhaps they feel it more acutely than most. This may be why artists have always been depicted as wandering between different worlds – dream world and waking world, spirit world and real world, the living and the dead.

INTERVIEWER

When writing, what do you think is most important to keep in mind when typing your initial drafts?

LEACH

Just. Keep. Going. It’s the easiest thing in the world to stop, to endlessly edit, then to give up in despair. You’ll hate the writing for long periods of time. This is normal. You’ll be convinced that it is terrible. It might well be. So what? Keep going anyway. There are worse things than writing a bad book. I’ve written bad books and thrown them away, and I don’t regret writing them in the slightest. You never learn anything if you don’t write, if you don’t finish.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a specific ‘reader’ or in mind when you write?

LEACH

Not a specific person, no. But I always try to imagine my reader as someone who has absolutely no interest in what I’m writing about. For my first two books, I assumed that my reader both knew nothing about the ancient world, and didn’t particularly care about it. My challenge is to win them over by telling them an absolutely irresistible story.

Preaching to the converted is easy, and makes for lazy writing. The compliments from readers that mean the most to me always start with “I don’t usually read historical fiction, but…” or “I really thought I wouldn’t like this book, but…”. Those are the people I write for.

INTERVIEWER

For all writing, the importance of finding the right ‘voice’ is of course crucial. Often, writers’ speak of developing an ‘other’ – who provides that voice when they write. How have you created and refined your voice and tone for your writing – and do you have a separate, ‘other’ persona who helps you write?

LEACH

Yes, but it changes from book to book. It isn’t an abstract writerly persona, it’s a specific character. The Last King of Lydia and The King and the Slave are written in the third person, so the persona is more concealed, but it is there. I am working on something at the moment written in the first person, so the character is rather more obvious!

INTERVIEWER

What are your thoughts on some of the general trends within the writing industry at the moment? Is there anything in particular you see as being potentially future-defining, in terms of where the industry is headed?

LEACH

I’m optimistic about the potential of the internet to connect readers to books they would not otherwise have heard about. I’m pessimistic about the future of bookshops, and the impact that will have on connecting readers to books they would not otherwise have heard about.

INTERVIEWER

In an internationalist, interconnected world, ideas and creativity are constantly being flung across community threads, internet chatrooms and forums, and social media sites (among many others). With so many different voices speaking at once, how do you cut through the incessant digital background babble? How do you make your creativity – your voice – stand out and be heard?

LEACH

First, you’ve got to have something interesting to say. Lots of people just want to write a good book, and many of them achieve this. But unfortunately, simply being “good” is not good enough – the recycling bins of agents and editors are filled with plenty of “good” books. You have to be exceptional in some way. What is unique about the story you want to tell? Why does it need to be told? Why are you the one to tell it? If you can’t answer these questions, then there is no reason for your work to stand out from thousands that are just like it.

After that, I think that books aren’t disseminated by writers, they are disseminated by readers. Nothing beats a personal recommendation when it comes to selling a book, and so it’s all about finding your champions – bloggers and online reviewers, friends and family, they are the ones who spread the word. So find your passionate readers, and cherish them.

INTERVIEWER

Following ‘The Last King of Lydia’, your second novel, ‘The King and the Slave’ has since been published. What was it like to revisit Croesus et al in writing it?

LEACH

Very enjoyable! I originally tried to write the story as one big book, as I always had a very specific ending that I was heading towards. But the story was simply too large and complex for one book. So it was very satisfying to finally get to the ending I’d been working towards for many years.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on?

LEACH

I’m a little shy about saying too much about the next project – suffice it to say that it’s another historical project, but set a little closer than Ancient Greece, and quite a lot colder…

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

LEACH

Oh, I wish that I could.

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 5 – 10 tips for writers?

LEACH

  1. Write every day. Inspiration be damned, get some words on the page no matter what.
  2. Be bold, brave and radical with your editing. The red pen can do remarkable things to your first draft, but only if you’re both wildly inventive and absolutely ruthless in your redrafting.
  3. Get good readers for your work, and learn to listen to them.
  4. Be patient. It’ll probably take you about ten years of daily practice to get any good. Plan accordingly.
  5. Lower your overheads. The less money you need to earn, the more time and energy you are going to have to write.

Not the Booker Prize: An alternative literary reading list

Christopher-Booker-prize-001 - Photograph George Monbiot Guardian

Photograph: George Monbiot/Guardian

Mired in controversy since it began, the Man Booker Prize has long held the attention of the literary world. In its time, the Prize has witnessed what is as close to an authorial punch up as can be – when William Golding squared off against Anthony Burgess. It was once described by Richard Gott as “a significant and dangerous iceberg in the sea of British culture that serves as a symbol of its current malaise.” And has faced accusations of its listed books being both “too high brow” and “too readable.”

Yet irrespective of the claims against it, the prize has endured. And, as the shortlist has now been announced, we here at Nothing in the Rulebook thought it would not be out of place to suggest an alternative literary list for our fine readers to contemplate.

Supposedly, the Booker Prize aims to recognise the best British or Commonwealth authors. Yet here there undeniably seems to have been some bias toward the English. Despite a population of just 2.5% of the commonwealth, over half the winners of the prize have hailed from England’s shores. And, while there have been notable winners from former colonies, including the South African novelist J M Coetzee, it should not escape our attention that an overwhelming number of Booker judges are middle class English people, who are perhaps likely to prefer their own nation’s literature.

With this in mind, we will therefore endeavour to correct this imbalance in our own shortlist. While we have no funds to actually offer the authors on this list any prize money, we can offer a potent cocktail of hopes, dreams and admiration – and that’s probably just as good.

The list in full:

Reading in the Dark – Seamus Deane

Reading in the darkIn strikingly lucid language and scenes fired by a spare, aching passion, Reading in the Dark combines the intimacy of a memoir with the suspense of a detective story. Seamus Deane’s poetic inclinations shine through in his debut novel, perfectly illuminating a coming-of-age story of an unnamed narrator in Northern Ireland. Deane captures the underlying, subconscious fears present throughout the course of the ‘troubles’ – where people live as “if they might explode any minute” and can be “disappeared”. Yet this is a pervading background to an essentially familial story, which contemplates love, religion, innocence, love and truth. And while answers to the novels questions come in bits and pieces, by the turn of the last page readers lives have been illuminated, washed in an elegant, graceful and forgiving prose.

Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh

trainspottingConsidering two Man Booker Prize judges successfully pulled Welsh’s Trainspotting from the 1993 prize shortlist by threatening to walk out, it seemed especially apt that we list the novel here. For readers who do not come from lowland Scotland, one of the particular pleasures of this book is becoming totally immersed in the language and dialect of the novel’s characters. Ostensibly the plot follows a group of Edinburgh heroin addicts, and through its rawness, Welsh draws the reader into a world of urban depravity, Aids, drugs, and individualism – the latter an ironic homage to Thatcher’s neoliberalism, where we see in action what it’s like to live in a world where “there’s no such thing as society”.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

margaret_atwood_the_handmaids_taleCanadian author Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic tells the chilling tale of a concubine in an oppressive future America. Almost 30 years since it was first published, the book is perhaps more vital than ever. Atwood’s lyrical prose is the vehicle used to transport readers to a world where facts appear to merge into one another, and history appears immaterial. This is a fiercely political novel and, while bleak, remains both witty and wise. Arguments continue as to whether this can be classified as a work of science fiction, yet to get caught up in such debates ignores the unarguable fact that this is a truly brilliant novel by an excellent author.

Blindsight – Maurice Gee

BlindsightWidely acclaimed when first published, New Zealand author Maurice Gee’s Blindsight offers readers a complex but knowing portrait of siblings who were once close but are now completely estranged as adults. As the novel evolves, Gee brilliantly draws readers into the past histories of his main protagonists slowly revealing the hidden reasons Allice Ferry and her brother Gordon now live such divergent lives. Deserves to be regarded as one of the best novels published in New Zealand in the past couple of decades.

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

thingfallapartPublished first in 1958 – the time Britain, France and Belgium finally began to recognise the failure of colonialism and begin their unseemly withdrawal – Chinua Achebe’s debut novel concerns itself with the events surrounding the start of this disastrous chapter in African history. Setting the book in the late 19th Century – at the height of the “Scramble” for African territories by European powers – Achebe tells the story of Okonkwo, a proud and highly respected member of the Igbo clan. Through his eyes, we witness a village that has not changed substantially in generations become utterly transformed upon the arrival of the English. Yet it is the Bible – not the gun – that becomes the most violent weapon of choice by these “clever” white men. Set to remain on of the great novels of the colonial era, and the book that announced Achebe to the world as a most brilliant writer, it would be a disservice not to include this masterpiece on our humble list.

Sheepshagger – Niall Griffiths

SheepshaggerDespite being born in Liverpool, Niall Griffiths’ strong familial ties to Wales earned the dubious honorific “the Welsh Irvine Welsh” for the stunning vernacular monologues in his books ‘Grits’ and ‘Sheepshagger’. Though there are linguistic and political similarities, it’s a disservice to think of Griffiths’ book as an imitation of ‘Trainspotting’. Here we follow anti-hero Ianto – a near mute “inbred” savant with a mystical connection to nature, who divides his time between roaming the mountains of his childhood and accepting whatever drug or drink is offered by his circle of friends. As the novel progresses, we witness near Bacchanalian horrors, a distorted but nonetheless sublime depiction of the natural world, and Ianto’s ultimate downfall. It’s vivid and compelling, a modern sensibility informed by Greek tragedy and the Blakean sublime.

Not just an ordinary reading list

So, there we have it. A finer shortlist of novels than you’re otherwise likely to find today. We may not have the excitement of guessing which of these great books will emerge the ultimate, victorious winner, but perhaps that doesn’t matter. After all, in a way, we’re all winners here. Because we’re the ones who get to go out and read these books and enjoy doing so, without ever having to carry out the agonising process of actually writing the damn things. Some might say such thinking is a bit of a luvvie-duvvie cop out; but nobody wants to treat writing like a competition, right?

10 writing tips from a creative writing lecturer

writing lecturer

In a series of posts, we here at Nothing In The Rulebook have been asking writers to share their top tips and advice on writing. Today, it is our pleasure to introduce the esteemed Julia Bell – a creative writing lecturer and novelist with her book The Dark Light out now. Julia Bell is one of the UK’s foremost authorities on creative writing. Here, she shares with us the top ten pieces of advice she gives her students at the start of each year. Whether you enjoy writing simply for the pleasure it gives you, or if you are looking to develop and improve, these top tips will set you on your way!

Light bulb moments

Sometimes as a teacher you feel like you’re trapped in a groundhog day, repeating the same pieces of advice every year, just to a different cohort of students, although as I get older and more forgetful perhaps I’m just repeating myself and students are being too polite to call me on it.

Julia Bell's 'The Dark Light' is a fantastic novel, based on a true story.

Julia Bell’s ‘The Dark Light’ is a fantastic novel, based on a true story.

In any given year these are the pointers about writing good prose – novels and stories – that I find myself saying over and over, but they are also in themselves, light bulb moments from my own practice as writer:

Julia Bell’s top ten writing advice tips:

  1. A good piece of writing is an experience for the reader.The meaning of a story or a novel does not pre-exist the writing of it. You can’t write with a manifesto in your hand unless you are intent on writing parables or sermons. Technique – point of view, character, sentence structure, style – are all in service to the creation of this experience.
  1. The writing of a story should be an experience for the writer too.The work needs to transmit something – love, anger, jealousy, rage, disturbance, (add your own abstract noun here) – but you can’t experience these abstractions in prose just by using the abstract noun. In fiction, meaning is delivered through concrete detail and description. Don’t tell me that your character is angry, show them throwing the ashtray. As a rule of thumb if your work makes you feel – cry, laugh, explode – chances are it’s transmitting something of this to the reader too.
  1. Make your story question the world. A story should never set out to answer a question, rather it should pose the question correctly. Here I am paraphrasing advice from Chekhov. Good writing offers up a knotty picture of the world for a reader to untangle: Over here, reader! Look at this tangle of thorns! A story which ties everything up in neat conclusions might be more commercial (read Disney) but if it doesn’t make us question the world then it cannot claim to be art.
  1. Cut out all unnecessary words.Frilly language just gets in the way. If you’re going to write stylishly read lots of poetry and think about rhythm. Good sentences are concrete and they choreograph the action for the reader – too many flouncy words just get in the way of what’s going on and makes the action and characterisation hard to see.
  1. Get used to editing.You will write a lot of words that you don’t need as you get to know your characters. Those paragraphs of back story? They are mostly character notes that are helping you get to know your character but they are also holding up the flow of the story. Cut ruthlessly.
  1. When editing, look for the sentences that should be paragraphs and the paragraphs that should be sentences.That means the places where you can move more swiftly and you’ve waffled on with something which you could deliver in a line, and where you’ve delivered something in a line which is worth expanding into a paragraph or scene. Good time management is key to this.
  1. The beginning point for a writer and a reader are in two different places.The opening paragraph of a published book is often a polished affair written at the end of the project when the writer knows what it is they are offering the reader. As a writer, when you start a story everything is provisional until you have finished it so don’t over polish your beginning – you may end up having to cut it anyway.
  1. It’s better to have a ‘frankendraft’ than 10,000 words of finely wrought prose.Writers are often paralysed by the idea of writing a bad sentence but until you’ve finished a project you have no idea of what you’ve got. A potential novel is just that, the real novel is the one you actually wrote. Better to push on to the end of something than agonise over sentences. The whole thing will need redrafting anyway – when you have finished a piece, however unwieldy and full of mistakes, you actually have the raw material to work with and turn into something better.

    The Creative Writing Coursebook.

    The Creative Writing Coursebook.

  1. Don’t assume the ‘frankendraft’ is good enough.You finished your book – congratulations. Now the hard part starts. Agents dread the months post NaNoWriMobecause they get heaps of unsolicited submissions from people who wrote a novel in a month and think that’s all there is to it. Please go back to point 1. Editing always makes the work better.
  1. No one can do the work for you.There is no substitute for the work. If you want to write a book do it, don’t dream about doing it. And worst of all don’t bitch at others for achieving something you haven’t had the guts to get on with. Rivalry is useful if it’s inspiring you to write better, harder, faster. If you’re just jealous because they’ve done the work and you haven’t there is very little that can be done to help you.

This edited post was originally published by our fantastic partners over at the Write-Track.

About the author of this post

Julia Bell is a writer and Senior Lecturer at Birkbeck College, London where she teaches on the Creative Writing MA and is Project Director of the Writer’s Hub website. She is the author of three novels, most recently The Dark Light – an excellent novel, available to purchase here. She is the co-editor of the Creative Writing Coursebook as well as three volumes of short stories most recently The Sea In Birmingham. She also takes photographs, writes poetry, short stories, occasional essays and journalism, and is the co-curator of spoken word night In Yer Ear. She tweets as @JuliaBell

Getting on the Write-Track

wt-circle

“There is nothing to writing – all you have to do is sit at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway.

Ernest makes it sound simple enough there, and possibly fun, for those into that kind of thing. But of course the reality of writing is that it is difficult; Hemingway also suggested, remember, that any young person thinking of becoming a writer should first try to hang himself (because at least that way he would “have the story of the hanging to commence with”).

Of course, at Nothing In The Rulebook, we absolutely do not suggest hanging oneself – or any other self, for that matter – just to be clear. Instead, we advise practice, and listening to and learning from others. Because of that, it was nothing short of being our duty to inform you all about a fantastic writing tool to aid you in finally writing that novel you’ve been working on – or even just starting to write anything, really; anything at all.

Write-Track is a supportive, goal-setting community and writing productivity tool for writers who want to write more.

Whether you’re writing a haiku, a comedy caper, a hardboiled cop drama or a zombie romance thriller set in space, one thing remains the same – you need to get it written. Write-Track helps you do just that; and as a result comes highly recommended by both of our moderators.

“Write-Track is a fantastic tool for all writers – aspiring, experienced or otherwise,” Billy the Echidna says. “No matter what you’re writing, it helps you track the frequency of your writing, set yourself achievable writing goals, and also monitor your writing against those goals.”

“If anything it would be a failure of mine not to recommend Write-Track,” Professor Wu adds. “This is, simply, a quality tool for all writers. If you’re a writer and you’re still reading this, frankly I’m unsure why, because you should be getting involved with Write-Track right now! Just like Nothing in the Rulebook, Write-Track has that community feel – where you can engage with other writers and offer and receive the support and motivation to keep writing.”

So there you have it. A fabulous writing tool for writers. But don’t just take our word for it – check it out for yourselves and get on the Write-Track!