In this handsome little volume from British Library Publishing, Huw Lewis-Jones has collected lots of hard-earned advice on writing from established authors, including Sarah Moss, Paraic O’Donnell, Raynor Winn, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Cressida Cowell and Michael Rosen. Many of the tips offered up inevitably contradict each other — one contributor evangelises about getting a dog, another warns strongly against it. But any budding writer is sure to intuit the bits and pieces most relevant to them, and find plenty to take on board. All of this interspersed with witty illustrated lists and observations by artists like Helen Stephens, Tom Gauld and Chris Riddell.
This book can help you face the terror of the blank page, rearrange your workspace, sharpen your style, deal with rejection and write regularly without losing your mind or maddening your loved ones. It celebrates the complicated craft and turbulent lifestyle of writing whilst being of genuine practical use. I read it in one great gulp and I expect I’ll return to it many times.
The more I’ve written, the less I think of novels in terms of metaphors and symbols. I think the least important thing about a novel is the intentions you start with and the ambitions you have at the start – and once the story starts to move, you need to move with it. If the writing isn’t surprising you, it’ll never surprise or interest the reader.
Over the weekend, I completed the second draft of Margot and the Maelstrom. It became more of a rewrite than I’d anticipated, but I’m really pleased with the book now – it’s much more pacy than a year or so ago, and as good as I can get it without fresh eyes on it.
Finishing an early draft is a bit like reaching the top of a mountain – except as you catch your breath and begin to plant your flag, another, even taller mountain rises up out of the earth before you. The ground beneath your feet shudders. You watch as beloved characters and clever subplots are swept away in some sort of enormous landslip. There goes that lovely but unnecessary paragraph about conkers, buried under the wreckage of the second act.
You pull the map from your pocket and suddenly can’t make head nor tail of how it relates to the journey ahead. A low chuckle comes out of nowhere, carrying across the thin air and mocking you for your moment of hubris.
Somehow, you muster the courage to start climbing again.
Today, I’m still savouring that tiny, triumphant moment at the top of the mountain.
Around 1991, The Secret of Monkey Island fired up my imagination as much as any book I’ve ever read. I could enthuse at length about the immense influence that this video game and its immediatesequels have had on my storytelling, and I’m sure someday I will.
For now I’ll just share a playlist I discovered recently that has been my writing soundtrack over the past several mornings: The Ambience of Monkey Island.
YouTube user BuzzMoo has made available (at the time of writing) 25 hour-long tracks, featuring the in-game music and ambient sound effects lifted from many of the series’ memorable locales.
Quite different to the incredibly catchy main themes that run through these games, the music here is largely atmospheric, with lazy rhythms and unobtrusive, wandering melodies. It’s designed not to underscore high drama, but to soundtrack hours of exploring, puzzling and soaking up the scenery – also perfect for writing, I find.
On the Plunder Island beach path, gentle surf and clucking chickens can be heard amongst sparse percussion and timorous woodwind. Or perhaps you’d rather wallow in the faded grandeur of the Goodsoup Hotel on Blood Island, where distant storm clouds groan beneath melancholic harpsichord and steel drums. When you consider all of the islands that constitute the series’ twisted, anachronism-filled version of the Caribbean, there’s probably a spot to suit any mood.
As much as the island ambience is helping my work, it’s becoming mighty tempting to start yet another replay of these games. Once I finish this draft…
I’m dusting off this old blog and planning to post more here from now on. There will be updates and thoughts about my writing for children, and all sorts of things that are inspiring and interesting to me. Perhaps the occasional glimpse of my illustration projects too, but Instagram seems the place for that, for the time being.
For a couple of years I’ve been working on a middle-grade fantasy novel, Margot and the Maelstrom. The first draft was longlisted for the Times Chicken House Children’s Fiction Prize 2019, which encouraged me to return to it, to redraft and tweak it into the best book it could be.
In summer 2019 I also became a dad, and perhaps expecting to achieve all that progress on Margot in the first year of fatherhood was over-ambitious. Now, in October 2020, I’ve caught up on some sleep and I’m still steadily improving the manuscript – all whilst jotting down oodles of ideas for the next book and resisting the urge to begin writing that.
Margot is now in good shape, and with a little luck I’ll be pitching it to agents before the end of the year. I’ll share as much of that process as I can here.