Archive for March, 2015

Tomorrow I start the mammoth task of turning my 70,000 word manuscript into a finished novel. I may not finish in the month of April, but I plan to put a shed load of work in. 60hrs or more.

I had a little personal celebration moment today and indulged my stationery addiction. Look, new binders! One of which I actually needed! The other two I bought because there was a 3 for 2 offer… not sure what I’ll do with them yet.


Part of the reason I wanted to celebrate was because today I decided to build a field trip into my Camp NaNoWriMo month. I’m going to Oxford, one of the main settings for my novel, Mime. While I’m there I’m going to visit the Bodleian Library on the Oxford University campus for a guided tour.

A lot of what I write is set in fictional universes; either fantasy realms, other planets or futuristic versions of our world which only bear a passing resemblance to where we live now. It’s a lot easier to write when you can create your locations from scratch. With Mime I have had to take a different approach. Set in present day, real world cities and areas of the UK, it needs a fine balance between accurately described real world places and imaginary places that would fit into the wider real world locations.

Place is something that has to be experienced in my opinion. Even with such powerful tools as Google Earth and Streetview it’s hard to get a feel for somewhere you have never been. It’s hard to get a sense of the scale, weather, people or vibe of the place.

I want my readers to believe the story I tell takes place in a place they know, and to do that I need to go there and, if possible, write the scene in the location.

Other places on my “To Visit” list include:

  • Oakhampton and Dartmoor
  • Castle Park and Victoria Square in Bristol
  • Debenhams in Bristol
  • John Radcliffe and Churchill hospitals in Oxford

How do you research real world locations? Do you take field trips to places that will feature in your books?


My main goal for Camp NaNoWriMo is to spend at least 50 hours editing my novel, Mime. I currently have an incomplete rough draft of 70,000 words.

Now I say edit, but a more accurate term might be revise, more accurate still might be re-write but let’s stick with revise. Whichever the case, 70k is a lot of material to work with. It takes me several hours just to read through it.

My strategy, as advocated in Theodore A. Rees Cheney’s Getting the Words Right, will be to start at the macro scale and work down to the micro scale. I don’t intend to get to the micro scale within April, but the strategy is the same.

Here, in all it’s nerdy glory, is my plan. Complete with weekly buzzwords.


  • Identify the major changes that need to happen and start moving things into place.
  • Start filling in the gaps with new material.
  • Start marking up the material with smaller changes to be implemented later.
  • Create a new outline which reflects the new structure.

Week 1 objective

To have a strong idea of the final structure and how to achieve it, and to have started making the required changes.



  • Finish implementing the major changes identified in week 1.
  • Focus on drafting new material to fill in the gaps.
  • Progress with marking up the smaller issues.

Week 2 objective

To have a substantially complete draft with a clear plan to generate the remaining material.



  • Finish drafting incomplete or missing scenes.
  • Focus on resolving issues created by the re-structuring process and smoothing transitions.
  • Take another look at pacing and make changes to fix any major issues.
  • Continue marking up problem areas.

Week 3 objective

To have a complete draft with no missing scenes or awkward transitions. The novel should now be one complete piece, ready for more detailed editing.



  • Work through the new draft focusing on the smaller issues identified earlier.
  • Improve character voice, scene tension and overall pacing.
  • Edit for sentence structure, style, grammar and spelling.
  • Create a new chapter structure.

Week 4 objective

To have a complete, revised draft in which most issues have been addressed if not resolved. This draft should be ready for review.

Camp NaNoWriMo - Finding our Stories

Do you have a plan to acheive your camp goals? How are you going to break it down?

There’s less than 1 week until writing starts at Camp NaNoWriMo!

My challenge during April

  • 50 hours of editing time on my novel, Mime
  • 10k words of new material in the form of short stories, to include…
  • 30 pieces of micro fiction

That’s a whole lot of work but I am really determined to do it.

I’m working hard to clear my schedule as much as I can to give myself the best chance. Nevertheless, April will still include The Day Job,  a family visit, a two-day road trip and the start of a 7-week writing course. So a clear schedule is a relative thing in my book. Key days for me will be Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

A big part of making time will be to pre-load as much content as I can on my blogs.

Over the next six days I have 5 pre-camp goals to achieve

1. Prepare a plan of action.

2. Re-familiarise myself with my manuscript by reading it through.

3. Prepare a tracking spreadsheet.

4. Get into the habit of working whenever I have time and start recording that time.

5. Organise my computer files, back ups and paper notes.

How are you preparing for Camp NaNoWriMo?

Camp NaNoWriMo - Finding our Stories

Notebook and Pencil

Image courtesy of winnond

I recently started writing a book review and found myself thinking that I have no idea whether I am doing it “right?”

What makes a good book review? What elements are essential? Is there a specific structure I should be following? I realised that I’d never studied the matter and there was an opportunity for me to learn something about writing here. So I did some reading and thought I’d share what I came up with here.


1. Dear potential reader

What is the purpose of a review? Seems like an obvious question, but I hadn’t given it direct thought before. Here’s some of the answers I came up with:

  • To inform a potential reader about what to expect from a book
  • To guide potential readers choices about what to read
  • To create or participate in discussion about a book by sharing your opinions with other readers or potential readers

The common theme is other readers, and you should bear that audience in mind when you are writing a review. You’re not writing to show you understood a book, or learned from it, or enjoyed it (okay, depending on context, maybe you are a bit). You might use those points in pursuit of your goal, but they are not the purpose in their own right.

2. 50 words to 5000

Book reviews come in many sizes, from a few sentences to a whole essay, but all of them are striving towards the same reader centric goals. Longer pieces will analyse the book in more depth, but short pieces can still achieve those goals by sticking to the bare bones.

3. The bare bones

While I was reading up on this I kept coming across the same formula for a winning review:

  1. Summarise the book (avoiding spoilers)
  2. What did you like about it / What was good about it?
  3. What didn’t you like about it / What was bad about it?
  4. Give an overall verdict/recommendation

Other common, basic, advice included: stay impartial, find something both positive and negative, give a rating if you want to, support your opinions with examples, and so on. Not so tough, right?

4. But is it any “good”?

I was really worried that this basic format I kept coming across left no room for analysis of the writer’s technique or choices (my favourite part of reviewing). Such analysis is, perhaps, of more interest to fellow writers than readers, granted. Then I came across this definition of a book review:

“A book review summarizes the book’s content, examines the author’s intent in writing it, and expresses the reviewer’s opinion about to what extent the author succeeded in conveying the intent or communicating a message.”

Mark Nichol, How to Write a Book Review

In essence, this challenges the reviewer to give their opinion on the quality of the writing, and its effect on their reading experience. So there is a place for it.

5. Other ways to blog about books

As with every rule in writing the bare bones structure is only a suggestion or guideline. Sometimes you might want to choose a specific aspect of a book to talk about, or to link several books with a common theme together and compare them, or create a list of recommendations. The standard “review” is only one type of article about books and you don’t have to stick to it.

Here’s one blogger who’s created a whole list of ideas:

Books Speak Volumes – Bloggiesta: How to Write More Creative Book Reviews

6. Checklist

There are a few essentials you do want to include regardless, so that your readers can find the book. Make sure you check these items off your mental checklist:

  • Title of the book
  • Author’s name
  • Publisher
  • Name of a stockist (or even better a link)
  • Cover art (if practical)

Here’s a few places where you can read more:

Daily Writing Tips – How to Write a Book Review, Mark Nichol
The Writing Centre – University of North Carolina – Book review handout
Book Trust – Writing Tips for Teenagers – Tips for writing book reviews
Writing World – How to Write a Book Review, by Bill Asenjo
Wiki How – How to Write a Book Review


As writers, it’s easy to slip into being isolated. To working within your own little bubble. Attending classes and seminars are a great way to remind yourself you’re part of a huge community and there is always something new to learn, new ways to explore writing.

For instance, next week I’m going to an evening class all about creative writing as therapy for health care workers dealing with death.

I’ve never been a health care worker and had to deal with the death of a patience. But at some point I may want to write a character who is… what an amazing opportunity to gain perspective on something outside your experience.

Next month I’m starting a seven week course at the Royal West of England Academy of Arts where we’ll be encouraged to draw inspiration from art exhibits. This will really challenge me to work outside of my comfort zone and explore writing in a reactionary way.

There’s so many amazing opportunities out there if you look.

See what you can discover:

UK writing events on Eventbrite

Workers’ Educational Association – Courses

Guardian Masterclasses

Preparing for Camp NaNoWriMo (13 days to go)

Pumping up NapoleonPart of my Camp NaNo goal will be to draft three short stories 2000+ words. I added this to my main goal (50hrs of revision time) because I wanted the option to take a break from editing and relax creating something new.

Today’s exercise, in the run up to the start of Camp, is some last minute studying on short stories. This Saturday I’m attending a workshop entitled “The Art of the Short Story” and have some reading to do in preparation. On the assignment sheet are:

  •  Bliss by Katherine Mansfield
  • Tell me who to Kill  by Ian Rankin
  • The Redheaded League by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Pumping up Napoleon  by Maria Donovan
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