sketch and idea


Wondering how far you can simplify a sketch of a person reading before the sketch becomes unrecognisable as a person.

From a notebook

it has a cover


Another thing they don’t tell you at book writing school. Editing a book takes as long as writing one. I have been editing this book with editors since the end of November, 2013. Almost five months ago. Today is the very last day of editing. The book has a title. It has a colophon. It has liner notes. It will soon have a preface from the publisher. It has an unofficial publishing schedule. And, as of twelve hours ago, it has a cover. A long trip. Almost over. Then I can start blogging about the next project.

Photo of my desk by me

staring at a wall


Frederick Forsyth on writing. From a 2010 interview with DNA

In the early stage of thinking up a plot, I can be anywhere: on a fishing boat in the tropics or walking the dogs – and thinking, When my son was a toddler, he once asked me what I  was doing, and I said I  was working. And he said, “You were not working, you were staring at the wall.” And I said, sternly: “That is work!” link

Photo of a wall in Dakar to stare at by me.



Sometimes I think I’ve spent the best part of the past year reading nothing but advice on how to write. Paris Review interviews, Stephen King, obscure wee blogs, and dedicated writer’s advice websites. I stumbled upon this nugget this morning. After reading it, I completely re-wrote my opening scene for a future project,

4. Open your book with an action scene. Don’t put biographical information or exposition in Chapter 1 (do that later). Introduce the crime—which tells you the stakes—and introduce the hero and villain, and even some obstacles the protagonist may face. Don’t sacrifice style—use metaphors and good language—but stick with action. link

Sometimes I think I must be one of the thickest, slowest, most disorganised writers on the planet. Other times, I figure this slow learning process is just ‘the process’.

Photo of Ngor, Senegal by me.

the chase

coffee and tea stall in Dakar Senegal

I found this in an obscure corner of the ether. Good advice.

(p. 79) "The pursuit plot is the literary version of hide-and-seek."
"The basic premise of the plot is simple: One person chases another. All you need is a cast of two: the pursuer and the pursued. Since this is a physical plot, the chase is more important than the people who take part in it."

First phase: establish the situation, who is running and who is chasing, and why? Stakes? Motivating incident?

Second phase: the thrill of the chase! twists, turns, reversals, death-defying plunges, narrow squeaks, and that's just the beginning!

Third phase: the resolution. Are they caught? Or do they escape?

The cardinal rule: Don't Bore the Reader!

The tension is greatest at the moment just before it seems capture is inevitable. Wham! Foiled again, and off and running....

Don't forget confinement--limit the motion, and feel the tension mount.


1. The chase is more important than the people, so stress it.
2. Make sure the pursued is really in danger of getting caught.
3. Give the pursuer a reasonable chance of catching the pursued; even let her catch him...for a moment.
4. Physical action!
5. Make sure the twists and characters are stimulating, engaging,and unique--the plot surely isn't.
6. Develop characters and situations against type to head off cliches at the pass (ouch!)
7. Make the area of the chase as confined and tight as feasible.
8. In the beginning, make sure the reader knows the ground rules for the chase, the stakes involved, and the motivating incident that starts the race.

[I should skip by it, but something tells me I should point out that Roadrunner and Wily E. Coyote have been doing the chase scene for quite a while now...beep-beep!] link

Photo of a coffee stall in Dakar by me

electric light oil of eel


A few days ago I was asked, if I could travel somewhere in the world I had never been before where would I choose to go. I didn’t hesitate. Japan. For the past year or more I have been enjoying this blog. I can’t read Japanese and rarely bother to translate the text on the blog. The pictures tell the story well enough. However, curiosity about the text associated with this image on this post about a dinner at an eel restaurant got the better of me.



“Electric light oil of eel and coal was deposited! What I do not know … meaning until so (laughs).”

more or less illegible

I have two desks. One has a writing slope and the other has a computer on it. The computer dates from 1996. It’s not connected to the Internet. I prefer to work by pen on my writing slope for the initial drafts. I want it to be more or less illegible to anyone apart from myself. The rough draft is a big mess. I pay no attention to anything to do with style or coherence. I just need to get everything down on paper. If I’m suddenly struck by a new idea that doesn’t fit with what’s gone before, I’ll still put it in. I just make a note to go back and sort it all out later. Then I plan the whole thing out from that. I number sections and move them around. By the time I write my next draft, I have a clearer idea of where I’m going. This time round, I write much more carefully. link

leaving behind evidence

Claire Circuit, the scene queen of Leeds electronica, sums up why the internet hasn’t killed the fanzine star: “Good, meaty, enjoyable music writing never translates well to the screen. Sometimes it’s just the way the lines scan on the big screen, or maybe it’s the links littered through the text, always tempting you away from the page you’re on.” As the co-ordinator of Cops And Robbers, a long-running listings ‘zine and website serving Leeds’ legendary DIY gig scene, she utilises both paper pamphlets and a strong online forum. “People pick it up in the pub, read it, discuss it, pass it around,” while last minute changes can be posted to the site any time. “There’s still room for the tangible and the physical,” she argues. “I like the idea of all of us leaving behind evidence of the great things we are creating now. I’d rather not leave a legacy solely consisting of Facebook photo albums and 404 ‘Page not found’ messages.” link