Books that have helped me with my writing – Part Two

So, this is part two of my post, Books that have helped me with my writing. Let’s get right into it, starting with number six;

6. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Renni Browne and Dave King

This is a great little book and very handy for when you’re polishing your manuscript to send to agents, or publishers, or an editor if you’re self-publishing.

This book is great for when you’ve finished the first draft of your novel and don’t know what to do next to make it shine. It covers topics such as “show and tell,” “point of view” and “voice”. It’s full of handy and practical tips to help you get the best out of your manuscript.

7. The Writer’s Guide to Psychology – Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D.

Now, if you’re like me, you like to write about characters that have a whole host of issues. If you’re dealing with psychological issues, human behaviour and mental health problems, you need to make sure you try and get it right. This is where this book comes in. Carolyn Kauffman has a doctorate in clinical psychology and wrote this book to put things straight because, “What you think you know about psychology may not be accurate. In fact, many common beliefs are misguided, outdated, or just plain wrong.”

This will help give you a guide to psychology but be aware, advances in mental health are ongoing and parts of this book may already be out of date. However, it’s a very good place to start.

8. All the books I love and all the books that I hated and couldn’t finish!

Okay, this seems a bit like a cop-out. But, I promise you it isn’t.

I have learnt so much about writing from the books I love; J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter Series (world-building and great characters), Arthur Golden and Memoirs of a Geisha (how to write beautiful prose), Mario Puzo and The Godfather (how to create suspense). But equally we can learn much from books we don’t finish; E.L. James’ Fifty Shades Trilogy (clunky writing, how not to write, but still capturing the public’s imagination), Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (characters that I hate and the knowledge that some people think this is a classic, therefore all tastes are different!).

What books do you love? What have they taught you? How about the ones you hate?

9. The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck – Sarah Knight

Oh my, this book has changed my life! Some of you may know of Sarah Knight through her TED talks. This book could revolutionise your life and not just your writing life. This book is actually about teaching you “how to stop spending time you don’t have doing the things you don’t want to do with people you don’t like.”

This is great because by following some of the ideas in the book I have managed to find more time for writing. It has also helped me deal with rejection and people not liking my work.

For example, on page 52 Knight states, “Ten things about which I, personally, don’t give a fuck. [Number] 1. What other people think.”

Amen to that sister!

10. On Writing – Stephen King

Okay, this one may be a cop-out because this is high on my to be read pile so I haven’t actually read it yet! It goes back to what I was saying in part one, that we, as writers, should be open to learning and new ways of doing things. In all the writer’s groups that I belong to, both in real life and on social media, this book seems to be mentioned all the time as a great book to give you advice on writing. And who can argue with that when it’s written by the master himself, Stephen King? Once I’ve read it, I will let you know what I think.

So, that’s the end of my top ten! Do you agree with my choices? Or is there another book you’d place in the top ten? Let me know.


Further Reading:

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Renni Browne and Dave King (published by Collins, 2004)

The Writer’s Guide to Psychology – Carolyn Kauffman (published by Quill Driver Books, 2010)

The Life-changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck – Sarah Knight (published by Quercus, 2015)

On Writing – Stephen King (published by Hodder and Stoughton, 2012)


Death’s Apprentice – Part Thirteen

The dirt made a thwump thwump sound as hit the plastic wrapping encasing the body. When he went for the job at the funeral home he really didn’t expect to be digging graves in the middle of the night to hide dead bodies. Obviously he knew dead bodies would be involved somewhere but not at midnight and not like this. There at least ought to have been a funeral first or something…

‘Hey you!’ It was a male voice, deep and threatening and not one he recognised.

He stopped still, his heart pounding even faster. The amount of work his heart had done on this one night he wondered how long it would be before he had a heart attack himself.

‘Put the spade down and turn around!’ said the man.

Joe did what he was told. He let the spade fall gently onto the wet mud with a thud, and, for some reason put his hands in the air like he was surrendering as he slowly turned around.

There was a dark figure standing in front of him but he couldn’t make out all of his features as he was shining a bright white light into Joe’s eyes. Joe tried to shield his eyes from the light with one of his muddy hands but it did no good, he couldn’t see much at all apart from the white blobs burnt onto his retinas from the light. The only thing he could be sure of was that this man was huge, built like a brickhouse and had caught Joe in a very compromising situation.

‘What are you doing?’ said the man.

‘I…’ What could Joe say? He’d been caught re-handed trying to bury a dead body. A dead body wrapped in black plastic. A body that shouldn’t have been there.

‘I…’ he repeated.

‘Well? Spit it out!’

Books that have helped me with my writing – Part One

I’ve been writing for a good while now but I’m still learning every single day. Whether it’s finding a better way to write, or a new way of researching, or how to market my books, or discovering a new writing app, I am open to learning new things. This is very important. I think a good writer needs to be adaptable.

This post is a shout out to the books that have helped me get to this point in my writing career and those that have inspired me along the way.

1. The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Vogler

This book has never been far from my side. The book is a breakdown of the mythic structure way of writing a novel. Vogler himself describes The Writer’s Journey, as “down-to-earth writing manual…a useful writing guide.” And it certainly is that! The first part of the book breaks down the eight main types of characters you find in stories – the hero, the mentor, the threshold guardian, the herald, the shapeshifter, the shadow the ally, and the trickster  –  in great detail so that you use them effectively in your storytelling. The second part of the book breaks down the twelve parts of the hero’s journey in the mythic story structure. These are – The Ordinary World, The Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Meeting with the Mentor, Crossing the first threshold, Test, Allies and Enemies, Approach to the Innermost Cave, The Ordeal, The Reward, The Road Back, The Resurrection and The Return with the Elixir.

For example, there are several types of mentor that the hero might meet along the way, including a dark mentor or a fallen mentor and each has a different role to play. Or did you know that the part called The Approach to the Innermost Cave is where the hero’s fortunes literally hit rock bottom?

This book has proved useful to me. It has helped me to plot my novels and to use the various characters in my work whilst understanding their function. There are other ways to tell stories but this book is a great introduction to the world of mythic storytelling.

2. Reading People – Jo’Ellan Dimitrius and Mark Mazzarella

Reading this book coincided with me learning that there are ways of describing emotions without actually saying what that emotion is. I have found that using the body language of my characters is a great way to add another layer of depth to my work. For example, someone who is amused might throw their head back, or slap their thighs, or shake with laughter. Or they might do all three. Someone who is bored might yawn, or tap their feet or doodle or fidget.

Reading People is essentially a book that allows you to”understand people and predict their behaviour.” Although it’s not actually that simple, and I’ve learnt along the way that certain assumptions made in the book can be proven incorrect, this book is a great way to start delving into the subject of body language. It’s a good springboard into the psychology of people. Although my edition is quite old it’s written in a non-academic way so is a good solid starting point.

3. The Seven Basic Plots – Christopher Booker

The book is seriously mahoosive! As it says in the title, Christopher Booker believes that every story can be boiled down to one of seven plots. These are; Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth. Although it sounds nice and simple there is actually a lot of detail in Bookers analysis of these seven variations of plot. The book itself runs to 728 pages including the index.

This book has (along with Vogler’s book) helped me to focus on plot structure.

4. Wannabe a Writer? – Jane Wenham-Jones

I love this book! This is one of those books that I will never ever give away. It’s full of lots of useful advice from what happens in the beginning, when you decide you want to write, to what happens when you actually start to write, to how to keep on top of what’s happening to your characters and plot to the importance of writer’s groups and occupational hazards, such as something called “writer’s bum”. Jane Wenham-Jones goes through all of these points of advice with a sense of humour that makes reading about writing a lot of fun!

5. Crafting Stories for Children – Nancy Lamb

This is a more nuts and bolts type of book which takes you through all the elements needed to craft an amazing children’s book. It goes through building the foundations of your story, to the structure and all the other parts that are needed. There’s also a helpful section on using themes, how to use voice and tone and how to create depth in your writing with senses and setting.

I have found this book incredibly useful as it’s written in easy to understand format.

Further Reading:

The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Vogler ( Published by Michael Wiese Productions, 2007)

Reading People – Jo-Ellan Dimitrius and Mark Mazzarella (Published by Vermilion, 1999)

The Seven Basic Plots – Christopher Booker (published by Continuum, 2004)

Wannabe a Writer? – Jane Wenham-Jones (published by Accent Press, 2007)

Crafting Stories for Children – Nancy Lamb (published by Writer’s Digest, 2001)

A Short Writing Prompt

Sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone and try something new. This prompt is so random that it’s great for getting your creative juices going!

So, take a book, any book, fiction or non-fiction, and turn to page thirty-eight. Go to the fourth line and write down the first full line of text you come to. This is your springboard into your next piece of writing. Either use it as the starting point of your story (the inspiration) or split it up and use the words in different parts of your text.

For example, the book next to me is Robert Galbraith’s Lethal White. The fourth line on page thirty-eight is:

“They discussed money for five minutes.”

As Lethal White is crime fiction I would probably try and change the genre too. So, maybe I would try and think of a story that’s a comedy, or maybe a fantasy.

Please note though, the book you’re using was written by someone else and it’s their intellectual property so no plagiarising or copying guys! You’re using it only as a prompt.

What have you come up with?


Death’s Apprentice – Part Ten

So, this is part ten of my writing experiment. I’m not planning this story at all so I’m really outside of my comfort zone being a plotter. I’m enjoying the ride though. But, please be warned, as I’m writing this as I’m going along, there will be mistakes and plot holes. Lots of them! 🙂

Death’s Apprentice – Part Ten

Azrail vaulted from his seat at the front of the carriage onto the wet ground with a speed and grace that shouldn’t have been possible for a man of his age. He disappeared to the front of the horses as Joe carefully jumped from his seat. He landed on the floor but felt unsteady, his legs feeling like jelly, his stomach doing cartwheels from the speed of the journey. He looked up as Azrail came to stand in front of him. He grabbed the small lamp, lit by a single candle, from its hook at the front of the carriage. His fingers reminded Joe of old brittle branches that looked as if they’d snap if he held anything heavier. He spun on his heels and swept over to the large gates. Joe could see Azrail’s grey wispy hair peeping out from under his top hat.

He was sure Azrail had just snapped his fingers and the padlock had willingly fallen to the floor without being touched. The chain slithered from around the gate like a snake and the gates swung open with a loud creak.

He turned to Joe and said, ‘Come on then,’ before he turned and strode off into the darkness of the cemetery.

Shit, thought Joe. He was used to being out and alone at this time. His mum didn’t give a toss about where he was as long as he wasn’t under her feet but in a cemetery? Alone? With a strange guy, he’d only just met. And when Joe had just imagined that the gates had opened with a snap of Azrail’s fingers.

But a deal was a deal. And no one was going to say Joe Bones ever reneged on a deal.

He put his hands in his hoodie pockets to disguise the fact that they were shaking ever so slightly. If you’d asked Joe at that very moment Joe wouldn’t have ever told you that he was scared. Joe never admitted to being scared, He’d learned not to admit to anything, good or bad. Being stripped down to your boxer shorts at the age of eight by your stepdad and being made to stand there in the junk-strewn garden whilst being bombarded with cold water because you admitted to being scared kind of made him not admit to anything anymore. But, let me tell you, Joe was very scared as he stepped over the threshold and into Angel Gate Cemetery.

Azrail had been swallowed up by the darkness. All Joe could see was a small pinprick of light that bobbed up and down. With no other ideas, Joe followed the light into the depths of the cemetery.

A crow called from somewhere in the darkness making Joe jump. The branches of the oak trees that lined the small road into the cemetery bristled as he passed. Joe pulled at the collar of his hoodie. The long limbs of the trees reached out over the top of his head making him feel claustrophobic. He could just make out the faces of angels peering at him through the darkness but they didn’t feel like guardians to him at that moment, more like malevolent beings waiting for him to trip up.

He continued down the road, following the swaying spot of light. What if it wasn’t Azrail at all? What if it was one of those Will-O’-The-Wisp things that his Nana was always going on about and it was luring him to his death?

His heart began to pound in his chest like a drum. Joe really wished Lola was there.

‘Finally,’ said Azrail, stepping out of the darkness, illuminating the inky blackness with his candle lamp. He was standing in front of a large marble tomb that reminded Joe of a Roman temple. It was the size of a large garage with a huge triangular pediment astride two ornate pillars. Ivy crawled across its walls and across his roof. There was a strong gust of wind that shook the oak tree neck to it, making its gnarly limb hit the roof of the tomb like it was playing a drum.

Joe clutched at his chest. Azrail’s voice made him jump. Joe noticed that the light he’d been following was still moving away from him in the distance.

‘Take this,’ said Azrail, grabbing a spade from where it leant up against the front of the tomb.

Joe did as he was told. The wood was rough in his hands.

‘A spade, but…?’

‘Well done, you know what a spade is,’ replied Azrail shaking his head.

‘I mean,’ said Joe, aware that his anxiety was giving away to his pride and anger, ‘I know what a spade is -‘

‘Good, I’m glad you do. You wouldn’t last long in this job -‘

‘I mean,’ said Joe a little louder, ‘why do I need a spade, in a cemetery, at night? Isn’t that illegal? To dig in a cemetery?’

Azrail shook his head. ‘Over there, the anonymous grave in front of Sissy Simmons, the one with the wooden cross,’ he said with a point of his crooked finger, ‘dig.’

‘You want me,’ said Joe, his voice becoming awkwardly high, ‘to dig up someone’s grave?’

Six Things To Remember When You Think You’re Failing

Think you’re failing? Just that word, “failing” is enough to give you nightmares, isn’t it? Well, all is not lost. When you’re feeling like you’ve failed remember these six things:

  1. Remember, EVERYONE feels like this at some point. EVERYONE fails at something. What’s important is that you get back up again. You might need some time to get over it; it’s okay to feel shitty, it’s okay if you fall apart for a bit, just make sure you don’t unpack and live there! Get back up and straighten that crown.
  2. It doesn’t matter how many times you think you’ve failed. It’s not the failure that matters; you could fail fifty times, just make sure you get back up. THAT’S what matters. It’s not how many times you fall but how many times you get back up!
  3. Failing means you’re living. It means you’re trying things even if they’re not working out. THAT, my friend, is worth it on its own because:
  4. That means you’re learning. Failing means you’re trying things and learning what to do and what not to do. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Keep on learning, keep on growing.
  5. Keep your failures in perspective. You’ve probably not brought about the end of the world (which is a good thing, I think? Although if it is the end of the world and there are zombies involved, I’m down for splatting a few. What can I say? That’s the gamer in me:)) Don’t turn it into a catastrophe if it isn’t one. Learn from it and move on (after doing whatever it is you need to do to move on. My poison of choice is wine and chocolate. A proper writer cliche, I know, but I am what I am :))
  6. Remember, “Failure is a verb, not a noun.” This is from an article on Psychology Today. I like this point. It’s important that you realize failing doesn’t mean you’re a failure. See?

And, as Winston Churchill once said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” More importantly, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”


Further Reading:

Death’s Apprentice – Part Nine

A shiver zig-zagged down Joe’s back as the horse-drawn carriage pulled up alongside him.

The driver lifted the brim of his hat and said, ‘Joe Bones?’

He didn’t know why but Joe looked around him before he answered with a short, ‘yes.’

‘Jump aboard,’ said the driver with a gesture of his hand.

‘Who are you?’ Joe asked. He might have been seventeen but the old saying of not getting into cars with strangers sure seemed appropriate now. The guy was giving him the creeps. He looked like a corpse with his shrunken face and yellowing skin. And his eyes, his eyes were red with large black pupils and they looked at him like a vampire looked at its prey in those old horror movies. Joe didn’t like the look of this at all. No. Not one bit.

‘I’m your ride,’ the driver said, with a bow of the head he added, ‘the names Azrail Bartholomew Brown.’

‘Where we going?’ Joe asked. His stomach was tight and there was a little ball of dread growing in his gut.

‘Angel Gate Cemetery.’

‘At midnight?’

Azrail smiled, allowing Joe a glimpse of his jagged yellow teeth. ‘Are you getting in, or shall I tell Mrs Crow that the trial is over?’

Pull yourself together, said Joe to himself. He took a deep breath, took hold of the silver handle at the side of the carriage and pulled himself aboard.

The black leather squeaked as he sat down. He could smell leather, cigarette smoke and something funny, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on but it reminded him of his nanna.

Azrail gave a flick of the reins, shouted “Yah!” and the horses took off at break-neck speed into the night.

Joe’s knuckles turned white as he tried to find some grip on the black leather seat. Vomit threatened to explode up his oesophagus as the horses and the carriage zigged and zagged across the town.

‘Do you think,’ said Joe, swallowing down the bile, ‘we could slow down?’


‘Can we -‘

‘I can’t hear you, hang on a minute,’ said Azrail. The horses came to an abrupt stop. ‘What did you say?’

‘I was just wondering if we could slow down.’

‘Ah, not good with travelling, eh? No matter,’ said Azrail with a wink, ‘we’re here now. Although, if you want to keep this job you need to sort that travel sickness out. Anyway, we’re here.’

Joe smiled weakly. He could hear the horses panting hard, their hot breath steaming in the air.

They were indeed in front of Angel Gate Cemetery.

The old Victorian Cemetery was on the outskirts of town, its sprawling grounds rambling in between farms and the odd expensive house. Angel Gate took its name from the two angels, Nox and Morta, who stood draped in their heavy marble robes, beatific smiles on their skeletal faces, their hands beckoning the weary traveller to step inside. Two big iron gates stood between them, bound together by thick iron chains and a large padlock.