The Novelry Blog
Where the writers are.
The bestselling author of The Girl in the Red Coat, Kate Hamer explores the story starter of 'fairy tales' which is where the magic of our Classic course begins, the course designed to help writers find the story they're meant to write, or possibly afraid to write...
From The Desk of Kate Hamer
Perhaps it’s these strange lockdown times.
As ever I aim to get to my desk by 9.30 am – the time I used to start work in my job. Sometimes, I admit I’m late, the irony being I’m probably a whole lot harder on myself about that than any boss I’ve ever had would’ve been. So maybe the time of starting and finishing is sometimes a little *cough* flexible, but somehow there is never a question mark over the fact there IS a start and finish time, but it’s only recently in this new reality we find ourselves in has it occurred to me to question, why? Why on earth do I – we – have this compelling urge to take to our notepads and computers...
Finding an Agent.
Many of you may be putting the final tweaks on the third or fourth draft of your novel (or later!) and considering the right time to query an agent. There are a few things to bear in mind when doing so, and in the Big Edit course at The Novelry we demystify the submission package: the query letter, the synopsis, and your opening chapters.
Most agents find writers through their slush pile. It’s a terrible name given to something so vital to the publishing business – the ‘pile’ (nowadays likely an email inbox) of unsolicited manuscripts sent in by hopeful writers. There is no shame in your novel sitting in slush; there is a long, pervasive misbelief that publishing works on ‘who you know’. It’s simply not true.
In 2015, I sent my unsolicited novel to eight agents I had never met. Each of them replied to me. Six offered to represent me. I didn’t know anyone! The only thing I knew was my own novel – and you’ll...
Our guest tutor, Mark Billingham, is one of the UK’s most acclaimed and popular crime writers. His series of novels featuring DI Tom Thorne has twice won him the Crime Novel of the Year Award and his debut novel, Sleepyhead was chosen by the Sunday Times as one of the 100 books that had shaped the decade. His latest novel is Their Little Secret. A television series based on the Thorne novels starred David Morrissey as Tom Thorne and a series based on In The Dark and Time Of Death was broadcast on the BBC in 2017. Mark lives in London with his wife and two children. When he is not living out rock-star fantasies as a member of the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, he is hard at what he claims is 'laughably' called work; writing his next novel.
Enjoy his tip-offs, my dark-hearted writers.
TEN TIPS FOR WRITING CRIME FICTION
(SOME MORE SERIOUS THAN OTHERS.)
- READ! I know this sounds blindingly obvious, but I’m constantly amazed by the number of people I meet who tell me...
'There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.' Somerset Maugham.
It's the same for story. Numerous books have been writing on the matter, none have proven definitive. Our philosophy at The Novelry is simple—tools, not rules. We don’t believe in a format, template or boilerplate novel, or grand definitive maxims.
A novel can offer one of the most intimate experiences of your life. Something like a beach blanket conversation with a dear friend. It can also be more like a movie in your head, like a funfair ride. Sure, you know this ride was designed for maximum impact, but you’re enjoying the thrills and spills. It is quite possible to enjoy novels of either kind and everything in between. There is no novel rule book. And if there were most writers are so wonderfully wilful they’d throw it out the window.
We believe in you, the writer, and your novel. We are here to breathe life...
There was something in the air at The Novelry last week, the 'sense of an ending' one might say, the changing of seasons, and we saw many of our writers slamming down the first draft of their novels in fine style. Congratulations to all of you.
You know the drill! At the end of the Ninety Day Novel course, we prepare you to raise your sights for second draft with a month off, reading good works, ready to return to your novel as a reader rather than a fond and indulgent parent. The Big Edit course is a big step up, as we set sights on publication. From creator, you become a professional author, driving the story hard, and get help with the heavy lifting from your tutor.
The month off between drafts allows for some gluttonous reading enabling the writer emerging from hibernation with their novel to blink at some bright new writing, catching up with what's hot and what's stood the test of time. I've been greedily reading through lockdown poring through Bukowski, Camus,...
I’ve been a reader longer than a writer, and I think that’s true for most people who pick up a pen to write a story. More and more I’ve been thinking about my Year 5 teacher, Mrs Murphy, who read to us each day at 3pm on the carpet in the corner of our classroom, a veritable cavalcade of fantasy fiction: Alan Garner. Redwall. The Dark is Rising sequence. I can likely trace my love of other worlds back to sitting cross-legged on an itchy carpet in north London, where the end-of-day bell would ring and thirty children would groan in disappointment. ‘But what happens next?’ It’s the question that’s come to haunt my adult life.
I’ve published two novels with Penguin Random House. My first, Hold Back the Stars, is about a couple falling in space with only 90 minutes of air remaining, intercut with their love story on a utopian Earth. I learnt by doing with this novel – particularly when it comes to the publishing industry. I...
The first chapter of a novel needs to do some heavy lifting to start the story. Once you realize that what needs to be done follows a fairly clear format, it makes light work of the task.
- to put your reader into the world (location/setting/era)
- to pose a question the reader wants to get an answer for (create mystery or intrigue)
- to introduce the main character
- to set the mood
- to kickstart the plot development
But what's essential for a story to start in the space between you and the reader?
In the video with this blog, you'll find a clip from a lesson with Justin Cronin in which he describes the basic layout as:
- where and when are we?
- who are the major players?
- what's the point of view?
- What's the story's larger moral and cultural setting?
"There's nothing wrong with just flat out declaring this information at the start of a narrative. I...
'Memoir isn’t the summary of a life; it’s a window into a life, very much like a photograph in its selective composition. It may look like a casual and even random calling up of bygone events. It’s not; it’s a deliberate construction.' William Zinsser.
'Gritty professional memoirs are the hot publishing trend.' Financial Times, November 2019.
'I love all insider memoirs. It doesn’t matter whether it’s truck-drivers or doctors. I think everybody likes to go backstage, find out what people think and what they talk about and what specialised job they have.' David Mamet.
How to begin writing a memoir? What to include? What to leave out?
Typically, an author, whether they're trained as a fiction writer or non-fiction will start with a theme which might be summed up as a powerful relationship important to their lives.
For Haruki Murakami, in his memoir 'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running' this was the almost spiritual proximity...
Louise Doughty describes the strange lure of station platforms that inspired her to write the wonderful suspense thriller, her latest book, Platform Seven, published by Faber & Faber.
Louise Doughty writes...
I had a strange yearning the other day, an overwhelming desire to do something wild and reckless, to leave my house and travel to somewhere that seemed unbelievably enticing and exotic. I really, really wanted to go to Peterborough Railway Station.
I could picture myself doing it. It’s possible to walk to Kings Cross Station from where I live. I went down there on one of my daily exercise outings a week or so ago – standing for a moment on the vast, airy concourse, shops and cafes all shuttered and closed, listening to the announcements to nobody echoing across the empty space. The fifteen thirty LNER service to Leeds will depart from Platform One. This train will be calling at… if I had wanted to, I...
Now, if you read our blog recently on how to plan your novel, you'll be well served by knowing there's another side to the story too. Writers write in different ways at different times. We won't prescribe how you should write your novel, but we will show you all the wonderful ways to writing bliss.
So, you have a fully fleshed-out scene by scene, beat by beat, blow by blow plan for your story. The plot clock's ticking (check), we're heading to conflict (check) and a happy ending (check). The whole thing is on point. You've planned it to the Nth degree as Iris Murdoch describes:
‘Well, I think it is important to make a detailed plan before you write the first sentence. Some people think one should write, George woke up and knew that something terrible had happened yesterday, and then see what happens. I plan the whole thing in detail before I begin. I have a general scheme and lots of notes. Every chapter is planned. Every conversation is planned.' Iris...
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