Writing tips

Great short stories – the magic recipe

Voice  The next few posts will be about great short stories and what makes them so good. There is, naturally enough, no single magic recipe. But it seems to me that there are three main types of recipe, or perhaps three distinct types of ‘short story cookbook’, each as different in style as, say, Delia …

Writing musings

Writing groups – good company, but do they help you write?

It depends on the group, unsurprisingly. A writing group which meets regularly merely to listen, praise and reassure might be good for your ego but won’t do much for your writing. On the other hand, a group of writers overly-focused on one particular type of writing, or purely on avenues to publication might give you …

Reviews

The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury

    This is a book that reminds you that the ordinary is extraordinary, that small lives are the same size as any other life and that tragedy and comedy are very close relatives. The End of Vandalism is a novel about ordinary people doing ordinary things – what marks it out is not its …

Reviews, Writing musings

Flights, by Olga Tokarczuk, and why form matters

    This strange, wonderful and ultimately frustrating book from 2018 Man Booker International Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk has got me thinking about the importance of form. First published in 2007 in Polish, and only translated into English last year (and beautifully translated at that, by Jennifer Croft) the book is filled with memorable lines …

Writing musings

The oblique: why the best writing comes from the glimpsed, the half-heard and the barely understood

‘Write what you know’ is one of the most repeated and most tedious pieces of writing advice, though you’ll find plenty of good writers and teachers of writing who recommend the opposite and say ‘write what you don’t know’. I don’t think that’s quite right, either. The very best fiction, and especially the best short …

Writing tips

The road to your next piece of fiction is lonely, even if it’s crowded

Writing is remorselessly, pitilessly, ruthlessly solitary. Yet, for all that, the act can be performed perfectly well in a busy café, or surrounded by noisy kids or – my favourite place of all – on a train. But the process itself demands something meditative: the capacity to take your whole self into that part of …

Writing musings

Visiting Gogol’s ghost

Moscow in October is a city cooling down, readying itself for a long winter. Black winter coats are uniform, summer flower beds are empty, covered with colourful wood shavings to fool the eye with brightness, and the sky is a low lid of grey. The tourists have gone. It’s a good time to have the …