Quick Catchup

Hi guys! Sorry there’s been no instructional post for a few weeks now. I’m really busy in the home front giving my apartment an overhaul, and also some family who’ve been away for a little while came back today.

In the meantime I’m hard at work on The Shadow of Pendle Hill, my 13th novel, and I’m having fun working out the synopsis for my 14th, Dead on Arrival, that I’ll start work on soon enough.

Also, a note to say that commenting is turned off for a while due to a high level of spam but it’ll turned back on as soon as I figure out a permanent fix for this. If you need to get in touch with me or would like to stalk me on my social media, you can find all the links in the bar to the right —>

Peace out, and happy reading and writing! :)

CampNaNoWriMo Winner!


As you can see from the screencap, I completed July’s round of CampNaNoWriMo this afternoon. That’s April’s and June’s under my belt this year, and now I’m looking forward to the official November event!

I was a little disappointed to see the “winner goodies” and logos were just the same as April’s, but I really can’t complain!

Good luck to everyone still writing away! Remember you have four days left to finish writing!


Designing a novel the easy way!

innovation_brainstorming_wordle_creativityLet’s talk  a bit about designing a novel. What’s that you say, you can’t design a novel? Chairs are designed, clothes are designed, even town layouts are designed (and we’ll talk about this when I cover setting!), but not novels?

Honey, you’re wrong!

Let me start by saying the reason I want to talk about designing a novel this week is because that’s what I’m doing right now. On Friday I finished writing my 12th novel, and as you can see from the bar to right I’m well underway with my 13th for CampNaNoWriMo. So this means I’ve put number 12 away for a well-deserved break and I’m designing my 14th novel right now!

It’s a lot of fun, this process, I can tell you that!

So let’s get straight down to business. There’s four main areas to designing a novel (at least the way I do it): the idea, the character, the plot, and the setting. I’ll just add here that I’m not talking about writing a synopsis but designing the important elements that will make up your book.

The essence of book design is bringing all your relevant ideas together to form a sort-of book skeleton (I talk about how to come up with ideas for your book in this post). This means dredging the waters of your brain’s idea pool and making a cluster. You might want a big piece of paper for this and some nice bright coloured pens. Start off writing your title (if you’re luck enough to have one already!) in a bubble in the middle. This is the nucleus bubble. Coming off that nucleus bubble, make lots of individual chains of ideas linked to each other with arrows. You might have simple chains like this:

Novel Title –> Setting Ideas –> England –> Capitol –> London –> London Bridge –> Tower Bridge –> Dungeon –> Prisoners –> Escape.

As you can see, my chain of ideas there is very rudimentary and off the top of my head for the purpose of this post! Make one chain off your nucleus bubble for you main character, setting, theme, subplots, and any other characters you like. Coming off your character bubble, you might have ‘appearance’ or ‘personality’. Off those, feel free to design your character (or setting!) using one word or short phrases linked by these arrows and bubbles. If something really strikes you as an idea you want to develop more — like the conflicting element to a romance, or even your character’s living room! — grab another sheet of paper and start again, using that one idea you picked from your main cluster as the nucleus. Explore your ideas for every element of the book you can think of using these clusters. Squeeze your idea well until it’s dry!

Now you’ve got plenty of ideas strewn around on paper, think about how you’re going to write your book. Ask yourself the following questions and jot down the answers on a fresh piece of paper so you can keep them in mind while you go deeper into your novel planning:

  1. What genre best fits the work?
  2. What’s the tone (serious, humorous, cosy)?
  3. Would it sound better written in first or third person point of view?
  4. Past or present tense?
  5. Is it an action packed story or a slower-moving revelation?
  6. Will end in a happy or sad way?
  7. Will  the ending be left open?
  8. Is it a serial novel or a stand alone?
  9. Will there be more dialogue or inner monologue?
  10. Would longer or shorter chapters  best convey the pacing of your novel?
  11. Will you need a large cast of minor characters or a smaller core team of major heroes?

Write down everything you think you know about your novel at this stage. Nothing is negligible! All the ground work you do now will give you a better grounding for exploring the ins-and-outs of your character, plot, and setting later on. The important thing is to have fun with this step, be messy in filling paper with your ideas, and design, design, design!

Have fun designing the bones of your novel! Do you design your novels, or leap straight into the plotting/writing? Have I missed out anything important in the initial design stage that you find helps? Leave me a comment below and tell me about your design process!

What I’m up to…

There’s no how-to or writerly post today in lieu of Major Toddler Tantrums. This last week I’ve been trying to keep afloat with CampNaNoWriMo, which took a lot of time.

I was quite a bit behind and I need to chug 5,000 words a day this last week to keep afloat with the Novel the 12th and Novel the 13th collectively. Novel the 12th is just 5 scenes from the end, and as you can see from the bar on the right, Novel the 13th, which I started just for CampNaNoWriMo is going well. I even managed to write a little bit in front of where I needed to be on Friday to cover this weekend, so I’ll only have Monday’s words to tackle tomorrow.

What I’ve been up to since last Sunday:

On Sunday I studied:

Celebrated the fact that I cracked open my eighth egg in a week that contained a double yolk (that’s out of a batch of 40 bought from a free-range local farmer):

And I tore out my eyebrows for the sake of having a neat line.

On Monday my little one got coated in chocolate:

And I made myself the best dessert ever (everything here is homemade, even the jam, except for the lemon curd and the fruit):

And my dog looked pleased to be enjoying the couch…

After that the desperate need to catch up on writing kicked in, so we can fast forward to Friday, when I decided my undercut has grown out enough for me to get the long pony-tail bit on top the chop really soon:

And this novella arrived which is relevant to my interests right now (in case you tell, Novel the 13th is based around Pendle and the witches):

On Saturday we left the kiddy with her grandparents and went for coffee in the rain, and David played World of Warcraft from Starbucks:

After that we had a Very Wet Run to car in torrential rain and thunder:

And here’s a photo of the demon weather. So much for British Summertime! We had six storms in 24 hours on Friday/Saturday:

What else is going on?

I’m watching Hemlock Grove Season 2, about 4 episodes in and this shit is getting freaky. Also, the final season of True Blood is bittersweet but mostly terrible. I’ve also been indulging in the River Cottage series and crying because I live in a city apartment and not a country cottage. Sigh.

I read Malkin Child by Livi Michael. Here’s my review: It’s a fantastic novella; I finished it in around two hours. It’s the heartfelt tale of Jennet Device (Jen-nit Deh-viss), daughter of the “Pendle Witch” Elizabeth Device. It weaves fact and history wonderfully with the real emotion of what this little girl must have felt when goaded into giving the evidence that saw her whole family executed up on Gallows Hill, in Lancaster. For the parts that history couldn’t record, the author fills with fantastic fictional accounts, which when thought about could have been the way things happened. I’m glad I’ve read this book, and I highly recommend it, too.

I am looking forward to fish, boiled potatoes, and corn on the cob for dinner tonight, followed by homemade rice pudding made with full-cream Jersey milk (Calories? No such thing). I am also looking forward to a bath, watching more Hemlock Grove, and getting back to work on my writing projects and WIPs tomorrow.

So that’s it folks. What are you up to? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it!

7 tips for creating characters that stick: making your novel work with “real” people


Too often fictional characters can seem a bit like stick people — they all have two arms, two legs, a body, and a head but there’s no flesh to the characters, no defining feature that strikes the reader’s mind into remembering them long after they close the book.

Just as readers will remember strong, heroic fictional people, they will also remember the truly awful characters. And I don’t mean the baddies — I’m referring to the ones who were poorly invented, were too whiny and unable to get themselves out of sticky situations, and relied on the help of other characters too much. On the other hand, if you have a bunch of characters in your book that are so similar to one another that the reader can’t tell the difference between the good guy, the bad guy, or the supposed-to-be-funny sidekick, then they probably won’t remember much about your story, either. Well defined, “real characters” give the reader someone to relate to, and in turn this will help them relate to your story.

So how do we create well-defined, fleshy characters who are more than just stick people?

Here’s some tips for character creation that will lift your cast off the page and help them stay in the reader’s mind. Feel free to follow all these steps or just a few. I like to follow all of these when creating my characters, and I usually allow a full week to design the characters in my stories. I put a lot of work into the people who drive my stories in the hope that they will reveal important details that will help the novel flow from start to finish.

  1. The first step in creating realistic characters is to think about your favourite characters that you’ve read about in the books you’ve loved. What are their defining traits and features? What motivated them to get through the story even when all hope was lost and it didn’t look like they’d meet the end unscathed? What little quirks or niggles did they have that gave them extra depth and realism? Make a list of these traits. What traits could you give to your own characters to make them feel more real on the page?
  2. Make a character chart detailing simple features or traits that will help them stand out from one another. What’s their name, age, date of birth? Where did they go to school, and do they have any qualifications that might aid them in solving potential problems in the story? What’s their personality like and how will it aid or hinder them as they face potential hardships?
  3. Go a bit more in depth into your character’s personality. What are their faults or weaknesses? Even heroes have faults, and yours should have one or two! What are their peeves, fears, guilty pleasures? Do they like eating sweets in the evening, or listening to ABBA on the drive to work? Do they have any bad habits or a prized possession? What are they most proud of? Most embarrassing moment? How can you add layers to the personalities of your characters to make them more than just a carbon copies of one another?
  4. Draw a picture of your character, or scour magazines or websites, such as pinterest, and make a collage of any interesting clothes, possessions, or ideals that could help give your characters more realism.
  5. Create a timeline for your character. What have been the major events in his/her life that have brought them to the starting point in your story? You could make another to plot major events within your novel. Make notes next to the points in each timeline detailing how these events have/will change your character over time.
  6. Who’s dearest to your character? Do they have family? If so, draw a family tree and make a few notes about their relationship with each member of the family. For friends — and even enemies — plot them out on paper, note how they met, and what glues them together or has pushed them apart.
  7. Give your character real wants and needs. These will motivate your character to achieve their goals at certain points throughout the story, or they can act as hindrances. Some of the best conflict in life develops from situations where people are prevented from getting what they want or need out of life.

Plot out all the characters who will appear in your book, even the minor ones. Remember that minor characters are “real people” within the world of your story and they should be there for a reason. Give them a purpose and some aspects that define them.

By creating characters who are packed with realistic personalities and fleshing them out as much as we can, we give the reader someone to care about and relate to, and in turn our readers will make the journey from the start to the end of our stories. Afterwards, those characters will stick in the reader’s mind as strong and vibrant individuals who each had their own story and purpose within  the book.

How do you create your characters? Have I left anything off this list that you find helpful in creating real people in your stories? Drop me a comment below and let me know!

Why one idea is not enough to write a novel (and how to come up with more!)


You’ve got an idea for your novel? That’s great news!

The bad news is you’re going to need more than one idea to write a whole novel. You see, novels are really chains of ideas that link characters to one another and to events in your novel.

The idea you have in the beginning, that’s to say the single idea that drives you to want to write your novel in the first place, will more likely turn out to be the core plot or theme of your novel, and all the other ideas you need to come up with will be the bumps in the road and the subplots that cajole your character from the beginning to the end of you novel.

So, how do you get more ideas to show up?

My favourite thing to do is make a list of all the things that come to mind based off my initial idea, which I write at the top of a piece of lined paper. I usually underline my main idea, so I don’t lose focus of what I’m trying to achieve, and then I fill as many lines beneath it with all the words and phrases that come to mind.  Write down everything — all the ideas for subplots, character names, settings, and everything else that comes to mind, even your main character’s make of car if you think it will help you flesh out your story later on. You can fill one piece of paper with ideas, or many. You could even write your ideas down on scraps of paper or post-its, for juggling around later.

Now you have a list of many different words and phrases, you’ll see that they are quite varied, and only a few will seem to stand out as coherent and viable links to the story’s core, which should be written at the top of the page for easy reference.

I take a nice bright pen at this stage and put a ring around these ideas to set them aside from the rest. I like to try and pick out ten ideas that I will definitely use for plot elements, and then a couple of maybes in a different colour, just in case I need a little extra padding, or something to link to two parts of my story together to create a smoother flow. In a third colour, I like to put a ring around all the stuff that will make my story shine in the background — names for characters, settings, and anything else that will add extra layers into my story.

The next step is to grab a pile of index cards and write each of your favourite ideas one-to-a-card. Or if you chose to use post-it notes earlier then you don’t need to do this step. You could even use post-its now or chopped up bits of paper. Whatever you chose to use, write one idea on each scrap, note, or bit of paper.

Next, lay them out on a big flat surface (I use my dining table) and order them into your new, shiny plot. You can rearrange them as many times as it takes to get your plot into a nice sensible order. You can even slip in those “maybe” ideas if you think you need them!

Here’s a version I did a couple of weeks ago for my 12th novel. I did this part-way through my MS so I could get a new handle on the middle section of my book and each card is a scene in a chapter:

After this, how you flesh out your ideas is up to you!

My favourite method of turning these one-liners into a full-fledged coherent plot, is to write a paragraph for each, taking up about two sides of a A4 paper for the entire novel (this is your synopsis if you need one to query agents later!). Don’t get too deep into the details at this point. You don’t need a he-said-she-said tight outline, especially if you’re a pantster (like me) and you like to wing it when it comes to the flow of creative writing. (One short paragraph should be  enough to point you from one plot element to another, but if you like to go into more detail before you begin writing, then check out my future blog posts for how to get deeper into the plot before you start writing).

Now I have the A-B figured out in my novel, the next thing I like to do is develop my main character and a handful of supporting characters, but I’ll discuss that in my next post.

How about you — how do you like to generate ideas for your novels, and how do link them together into a plot? Drop me a comment below to tell me all about it. Thanks for reading!



Hello world!


I said I wouldn’t run a blog about my writing, since it’s always fallen by the wayside in the past. Yet the other day, when asked for some advice by a fellow writer, I was told, “Your method of planning is stellar. Other people could benefit from hearing about this.”

I didn’t believe her at first. All I’d done was share with her my method of plotting a novel, which seems messy and unorganised in my eyes. But isn’t that how creativity is supposed to be — a squishy mess of unorganised fun that results in something wonderful in the end?

After some prodding and poking I decided to set a blog up here on my website. Let’s see how it goes. I’m aiming to write a once-weekly blog post on writing a novel from the ground up: from plotting and planning to writing “The End” alongside writing my thirteenth novel. Sounds fun, right? Right!

Next week I’ll be posting on my first step to novel creation and I hope you’ll join me for the ride! Drop me a comment below if you’re looking forward to creating your novel along with me. It’s going to be fun having you along for the ride!

a novelist's blog on creativity, writer life, and more!