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Writing tips: self-publishing: how many books can you sell?

How many books should a self-published author aim to sell?  If you are writing a book, how much money are you likely to make from publishing it yourself?

When I lived in Germany, trying to get my second book published, I was friends with a German author.  I was rather jealous of him: he had written four novels, all published commercially.

But he was not happy.

‘My publishers don’t market my books properly,’ he would say.  ‘They simply publish them and forget about them.  I keep trying different publishers, but they are all the same.’

I asked how many novels he had sold.  He told me he had never sold more than 600 copies of a novel.

I thought of my friend when I self-published my first novel, “Blood Summit“.  I set a target of selling 600 copies.  How did I do?

The first year, I sold 246 copies (more…)

Difficult English pronunciation

A famous poem highlights the challenges of English spelling and pronunciation. 

Many readers of this blog use English as their second or even third language.  Having lived in Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Turkey and Austria for 23 of the last 28 years and learned languages myself, I know pronunciation is one of the trickiest issues.  Some languages, including German, Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish, are largely “phonetic languages”, ie they are written consistently with the way they are pronounced.  Others, like English and French, are less predictable.

This leads to some oddities when Turkish uses French words such as “vale” (French: valet), “bisiklet” (French: bicyclette) or “otel” (French: hôtel), dispensing with unnecessary letters.

It has been said that the book on the right represents a French novel; that on the left, the same novel including only the letters which are pronounced.

For example, even speakers of near-perfect English are sometimes unsure how to pronounce “salmon”.  They tend, logically enough, pronounce an “L” in the middle.  But the word is pronounced Sammon: the “L” is silent.

How do you pronounce bomb? (more…)

Tips for writers: how to start writing

Many people writing a book are looking for writing prompts or ideas for stories.  A couple of simple writing tips may help, including: start writing!

How to start a new story?  How to start a new blog?  Many writers find beginning a new piece of writing an enormous challenge.

That’s not surprising when you consider that your first sentence, or first page, will define your story; be the shop window for your book; and decide whether your writing will be read.

Thus it is that when you sit down to start writing, you suddenly find that other activities – making a cup of coffee, checking the latest news, phoning a friend – suddenly take on a weird urgency.

So I was intrigued when top Vienna-based artist Sophie Thun drew my attention to the catalogue of her latest work at the Vienna Secession gallery, entitled Sophie Thun (in German).

The catalogue consists of a dialogue between Sophie and 90 year-old artist Daniel Spoerri, a Romanian artist based in Switzerland, one of whose “snare” pictures I remember seeing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2019.  In the frontispiece to the book, pictured above in hard-to-read black-on-black script, Spoerri recalls a friend struggling with a book:

It was that he couldn’t find a beginning.  He had to have the first sentence before he could start.  I met him again and again in Ascona at the bar, in the evenings, and I would ask him and he would say: No, still not; no, I still don’t have anything.  

And then one evening he was suddenly very happy and said: Now I’ve started! (more…)

Should you read W Somerset Maugham?

To say W Somerset Maugham is unfashionable is like saying that J K Rowling has sold a few books.

Yet he remains popular.  My post about his memoirs, W Somerset Maugham on sex, turnips and the meaning of life, is one of my most visited (links in bold italics are to other posts on this blog).

He was an extraordinary character.  Born in the British Embassy in Paris in 1874, he grew up speaking French and lost both his parents by the age of ten, when he moved to England.  He served in the ambulance corps in the First World War before joining the Secret Intelligence Service and working in Switzerland and Russia.  Later he travelled widely in South East Asia, China and the Pacific.

W Somerset Maugham Books

W Somerset Maugham is famous for his short stories

These experiences provide the setting for Maugham’s most famous tales.  In the preface to his collected stories he says of the most famous, Rain: “Rain was written in 1920 in Hong Kong, but I had hit upon the idea for it during a journey I took in the South Seas during the winter of 1916.”

The settings, in the dying days of doomed empire, (more…)

Writing tips: “He knew he was right”: Trollope on the sexes

Trollope is an outstanding writer on relationships between the sexes.  Lessons on gender from 1869 are still 100% relevant.

How men think, how women think and whether there is a difference is one of the abiding puzzles of life.  We all want to understand other people.  Many of us want to understand the opposite sex.

How to understand women, or men?

One of the wisest writers on relationships between the sexes was the 19th century British writer Anthony Trollope.  My piece Trollope: 11 reasons to read him sets out his awesome qualities (links in bold italics are to other posts on this blog) – including the fact that much of what he wrote is still 100% current.  More Trollope links are at the end of this post.

Trollope’s 1869 novel He Knew He Was Right examines relations between the sexes in detail.  You can explore quotations from the book below on men (6), on women (9), on relationships (22), on literary criticism (1) and finally (as a reminder of Trollope’s wit and continued relevance) on “the railway sandwich”.

Nothing changes.  Enjoy!

My Trollope Society edition of “He Knew He Was Right” has 823 pages

On Men

The reader may be quite certain that Colonel Osborne had no premeditated evil intention when he allowed himself to become the intimate friend of his old friend’s daughter. There was nothing fiendish in his nature. He was not a man who boasted of his conquests. He was not a ravening wolf going about seeking whom he might devour, (more…)

Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger: “Oddjob: the Pressure Room”

Review of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, including James Bond’s sexism.  Not one of the best books of all time, but a time capsule of 1950s homophobia which also highlights some of Bond’s positive qualities.

‘Are the James Bond novels any good?’ a friend asked me the other day.

‘They are anachronistic, homophobic and sexist,’ I replied.  ‘But James Bond himself is a splendid creation and some of the novels tell a terrific yarn.’

The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Goldfinger” is almost parodic

Unfortunately, Goldfinger is my least favourite Bond book so far (I have read, this time round, Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Diamonds are Forever and From Russia with Love – reviews below).  The narrative is short on drive and tension and the plot makes no sense.  Why, for example, when (no spoilers here) Bond has driven villain Auric Goldfinger to a paroxysm of suspicion, (more…)

Writing tips: story ideas and 5 ways to turn experience into fiction

Five great ways you can turn your own experience – whatever it is – into compelling storylines, story ideas and writing prompts.

I have finished reading from my book Seven Hotel Stories when a guy in the audience raises his hand.

‘How many of your story ideas are made up, and how much is real?’ he asks.  ‘And in general, how do you use your real life to create storylines and fiction?’

This struck me as a great question.  How much of fiction is the writer’s experience, and how much is made up?  Suppose you work as a lawyer, or in an insurance office, and are not an astronaut, a detective, or an assassin?  Can you still write about something thrilling?

Marilyn Monroe trained hard to become an actress

Here are five ways you can turn your own experience – whatever it is into compelling storylines and story ideas:

(i) anyone can write great stuff: don’t worry about who you are, or what you do.  All you need is a paper and a pen, or a screen and a keyboard.  The trick is to get started (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site);

(ii) do use what you know to help write your story: whatever you can do and however you live, you can draw on your life experience to create rich, multi-layered fiction.  John Grisham started out repairing roads, then became a lawyer – he used his legal knowledge to write The Firm.  Tom Clancy worked in insurance: his hero Jack Ryan is, like Clancy, of Irish Catholic stock; (more…)

Ian Fleming: From Russia with Love: sexist, homophobic cold war time capsule

“From Russia with Love”  was Ian Fleming’s breakthrough: a hard-hitting, Soviet-focused romp on the Orient Express delving deep into James Bond’s psychology and habits and presenting top Bond villains Rosa Klebb and Red Grant.

What if Ian Fleming wrote a James Bond novel in which the hero did not appear until halfway through?

The cover of my Folio Society edition of “From Russia with Love” is by Fay Dalton

Such a book exists.  It is the fifth novel in the series, From Russia with Love, which came out in 1957.  The first ten chapters of the book outline a dastardly Soviet plot to kill Bond.  They take place in Crimea and Moscow within the bureaucracy of SMERSH – an actual organisation created by Stalin in 1943 whose name is an acronym for “SMErt SHpionam” or “death to spies”.

These chapters introduce two of Fleming’s most memorable villains: (more…)

Reading tips: Diamonds are Forever: civil servants and “shills”

What is a shill?  What images of America stayed in the mind of the young Ian Fleming?  What does James Bond know about women, and relationships?  “Diamonds are Forever” pulses with insights into America in the ’50s, and shines a light on everyday sexism in that era.

A new James Bond movie, No Time to Die, lurches over the horizon.  Will it be any good?

Almost certainly not (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).

Will it contain bizarre and dated attitudes to women, clothed in feeble nods to political correctness?  Almost certainly.

But I will keep hoping.

Despite the ghastliness of most recent Bond outings, I remain a fan of the original Ian Fleming novels.  I am the proud owner of a growing set of Folio Society editions, and recently read Diamonds are Forever, published in 1956, whose illustrations by Fay Dalton evoke the mood of the book:

The story moves at a leisurely pace.  Bond does not take the menace of US gangsters seriously, and attempts a relationship with the magnificent but damaged Tiffany Case before a satisfying resolution on board a transatlantic liner.  Like many in the series, it contains a good deal of language which by today’s standards is racist, homophobic and misogynistic.  I tend to feel that such texts should not put a book out of bounds for today’s audiences, even if they make a modern reader cringe: they are a reminder of how far we have come.  But many readers may feel differently.

Diamonds are Forever also contains some splendid set-piece descriptions, for example of the “Acme Mud and Sulphur Baths” or of US horse-racing at Saratoga, which are reminiscent of the descriptions of fox-hunting and cross-country horse racing which appear regularly in Trollope. (more…)

Was wäre wenn? Mein Berlin-Thriller “Blood Summit” auf Deutsch

Vor kurzem war ich zu Besuch in Berlin.  Ich habe den Reichstag besichtigt: die Kulisse für meinen Berlin-Roman Blood Summit.

Blood Summit gibt es noch nicht auf Deutsch – ich suche einen Verlag.  Aber wenn Sie gern wissen würden, worum es geht, schauen Sie bitte dieses Video an.  Und wenn Sie noch mehr Infos möchten, schreiben Sie mir!  Oben rechts, “Contact me”.  Das geht ganz einfach.

Blood Summit ist ein echter Thriller: viel Blut, viel Action, unterhaltsam und schnell zu lesen.  Die perfekte Lektüre, wenn Sie English einigermaßen beherrschen, und auch für Buch- und Lesegruppen gut geeignet.

Wenn Sie die ersten paar Kapitel ausprobieren möchten, schauen Sie sich das an.  Einen Artikel zum Video und zu meinem Besuch in Berlin, finden Sie hier.

Happy reading!  Viel Vergnügen beim Lesen!

P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please follow me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see blue “click here” button).  Or you can join my mailing list – I’ll be delighted to give you a free “Hotel Story” to say thanks.  My 5 pleasure paths provide a site-map and guide to the more than 300 posts on robertpimm.com.

P.P.S. Thanks to the lovely Sibylle Trost for the video and the lovely Andrea Linecker for teaching me German.  Excellent professionals.

P.P.P.S You can get hold of a copy of Blood Summit thus:

(i) go to Amazon.de (or your local Amazon if you live somewhere else).  You can order a paperback or download a copy for your Kindle or e-book;

(ii) if you live in Vienna, stroll along to Shakespeare & Company at Sterngasse 2.   It’s a terrific bookshop and stocks many other books in addition to Blood Summit;

(iii) come to one of my readings.

A recent reading at Cafe Korb in Vienna

I usually have books at my readings (see piano in the picture above) which I will be delighted to sign for you.  At the readings, I usually read a couple of chapters and then answer questions; up to now, people have seemed to enjoy them.  If you buy a paperback elsewhere and bring it along, I’ll be happy to sign it, too.

(iv) if you want to read the book for free you can take a 30-day trial membership of “Kindle Unlimited” which permits you to read books on Kindle, including Blood Summit, for free.  Or you may already be a member of Kindle Unlimited.  I’ve been surprised how many readers access the book this way.

Writing tips: great writing courses in Crete

To brush up your writing ideas and technique, a good writing course is unbeatable.  I attended a short story writing week in Loutro, in Crete, and found ideas and prompts on every side.

In the shade of a quiet taverna, eight people sit writing.  Crickets chirp on the fragrant hillside.  A glistening kebab rotates; as fat hisses in the embers, mouthwatering aromas tickle our tastebuds.  A fishing boat nudges across the bay, ripples gurgling in its wake.  My pen scrapes across the page.

The village of Loutro has no roads or vehicles.  

The “Poetry and Writing” courses organised by espirita.org.uk in the tiny Cretan village of Loutro are a unique way to focus for one, two or three weeks on your story ideas and writing techniques in a sparkling Greek resort.  Stewart Wills is the delightfully unclassifiable spirit being behind espirita – slogan: “A not-for-profit travel service for the cultural traveller”.  Other espirita offerings include Taiko Drumming in Japan, The Oriental Garden in China, and Aromazzata in Italy.  Tempting stuff.

I attended the “One Short Story” course on Loutro in summer 2019, tutored by Christopher Wakling, author of seven fine novels and lead fiction tutor at Curtis Brown Creative.  I’d been on an Arvon writing course led by (more…)

Writing tips: bringing my Berlin thriller “Blood Summit” home

Writing a book?  See how story ideas and story location come together when I visit the city where my Berlin thriller Blood Summit is set.  The visit also unleashed the idea of doing a reading in the Reichstag.

The primary goal of my visit to Berlin was the Reichstag, where much of the novel takes place.  It is a sombre building with a tragic history of arson, destruction, occupation and dereliction.  In Blood Summit it takes more punishment.  Yet on a sunny day it can look quite innocuous:

The lawn in front of the Reichstag suggests accessibility and openness: features of the building which are problematic in “Blood Summit” 

I was delighted to meet film maker Sibylle Trost at the Reichstag (click on the link for her website, also available in German).  Sibylle, whose documentaries for German TV receive audiences of four million and who also works freelance for companies and others, is a fan of Blood Summit and made a top quality video of my first reading from the book, in Vienna in 2018 (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site). (more…)

How to read PG Wodehouse: 14 Plums of Wodehouse

“14 Plums” is a great introduction to PG Wodehouse and a great book to start with.   

Where to start with Wodehouse?  Which Jeeves book should you read first?  What is the best reading order?

I have so far read 14 of the 20 P G Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings Castle volumes of my father’s splendid Folio Society collection (links in bold italics are to other posts on this blog).  What joy these books have brought to the world!

But greater experts than I, such as the fabulous fellow WordPress blogger Plumtopia, who specialises in the works of P G Wodehouse, have pointed out that there is much more to “Plum” than Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings, splendid as they are.

So I was delighted to discover recently another Folio Society edition, The Plums of P G Wodehouse.  

My Folio Society edition of “The Plums of P.G. Wodehouse” (more…)

Writing tips: 7 ways to deal with rejection and writer’s block

When you are writing a book or selling a book, rejection is likely to be a constant companion.  Seven tips on how to cope – and maybe turn rejection to your advantage.  These techniques may also help you tackle writer’s block.

You click open your e-mails.  Your heart leaps.

The agent to whom you sent your cherished work in progress has replied to your letter pitching your story ideas.

Could it be that she liked your work?  With trepidation, you click on the e-mail.

She has rejected you.

Many authors long to see their book in a bookshop

What should you do next?

Here is my seven-stage plan for dealing with rejection.

First up, I know a lot about rejection.  Every writer does.  Stephen King had a lot of rejections.  So did J K Rowling.  How do they – and I – stay motivated when things are looking bleak?  Here is my seven stage plan. (more…)

Robert Pimm reads “Seven Hotel Stories” at Cafe Korb

I recently did a reading from my book Seven Hotel Stories at Cafe Korb in Vienna.

It was a wonderful evening. The hosts were the fine Vienna Storytelling Collective: you can read about the event at their Facebook site.  If you are interested in writing, reading, or listening to new talent and live in Vienna, I encourage you to join them.

I started off talking about this blog (NB for some reason the videos are previewed sideways before you click on them; but they appear the right way up when you click “play”).

The free Hotel Story to which I refer in the video, “The Two Rooms”, is here (links in bold italics are to other posts on this blog). (more…)

7 ways to improve your manuscript

Congratulations!  You have finished writing your novel.

First step: celebrate.  You’ve achieved an awesome feat.

Now what should you do?

You should do lots of things, and quickly.  This post looks at how you can make your novel as good as possible, before you send it out to seek an agent or a publisher.

Of course, you may want to send your novel out as soon as you have written “The End”.

Feel free.  Perhaps you are a great writer (see below) and your first draft is of such quality that it needs no further  improvement.  Well done.

Signing a copy of your printed book is a great experience

Most first drafts of novels, however, will be improved by editing.  This raises the question of how you, the author of a book, can best edit your own manuscript.  Some of this post is based on a course I attended at the Arvon Foundation (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).  I found both Arvon and the two tutors excellent and would recommend them.

Here are my recommendations on seven steps to improve the first draft of your novel.  I illustrate the steps with experience of my new Istanbul-based thriller Palladium, which I revised for several months a year after finishing the first draft. (more…)

5 ways to beat writer’s block

How to beat writer’s block?  Beating writer’s block is easier if you have clear strategy and routines.

I recently wrote on how to write a novel: plan in advance or not?  (Links in bold italics are to other posts on this site.)  I quoted Stephen King, and Stephen Donaldson, whose main tip on how to write a novel was “start today”.

Maybe you would like to write a novel, or a story.  But you haven’t started yet.  You often say, or think “I’d like to write a story”.  But you never quite find the time.

People.  Start today.

Starting to write a novel can be difficult

Of course we all feel obstacles to writing.  We are busy.  We worry that what we write may not be good enough.  We don’t have the right computer, or the right software.  We are waiting until we have finished another project, until a child is older, until we change job, until the stars are aligned.  Starting to write is hard.

Here are five ways to get in the habit of writing. (more…)

Monday 17 June: live reading from my book “Seven Hotel Stories”

Good news for story-lovers.

I shall be reading from my book Seven Hotel Stories at Cafe Korb in Vienna on 17 June.

Click on the cover if you’d like to buy a copy from Amazon

The hosts are the excellent Vienna writers’ organisation “Write Now”: you can read about the event at their Facebook site. The evening starts at 19.00 on 17 June in the rather fantastic Art Lounge of the Cafe Korb at Brandstätte 9 in the First District.  I should be reading sometime after 20.00, although timings are flexible.

All are welcome!  I hope to see you there for an evening of creativity, entertainment and, perhaps, a few laughs.

Where can you read a few Hotel Stories before the event?  Option 1 is to download them from Amazon.  Option 2 is to read the introductions to a few of the stories right here on this site – see my post The Hotel Stories – 7 reasons you should read them (links in bold are to other posts on this site).  Option 3, if you want to read a complete story and can’t bear Amazon, is to download one free here.

Also on 17 June, I shall be signing copies (more…)

Writing tips: writing a book: plan in advance, or not?

What is the best way to write a novel?  Should you plan a novel in advance, or not?  A few tips for writers.

Let’s explore two common methods.  I’ve tried both.  Each can work well: which is best for you will depend on how you write and what you are writing.

Before we look at that, let me cite the US fantasy author Stephen R Donaldson, who was once asked by an admirer how to achieve success in writing.  “Start today,” Donaldson said.

Donaldson’s advice is great.  If you want to start writing fiction, don’t wait until the conditions are perfect and all the stars are aligned (“I’m waiting until the kids grow up”; “I have to get some new writing software”; “I’m too busy right now”).  Set aside some time tonight, this afternoon or even this morning; get out a pen and paper;  and start writing.

How do you begin?

How to begin?  There are different ways of writing a novel

The first method is taught in writing courses and top universities across the world.  You should plan your story around a standard structure.  This structure is set out in a thousand primers – try googling “narrative structure” or “three act structure”.

This plan goes back to the ancient Greeks.  That’s no bad thing: it has stood the test of time.  In brief:

  • the first part (or “act”) of your story introduces your main characters and describes their situation, usually including a problem or conflict;
  • the second part involves an “inciting act” (eg: a letter in the post; discovery of a body; a glance across a crowded room) leading to, or highlighting, a conflict or problem.  This then escalates, perhaps via a series of mini-crises, to become a crisis;
  • the third part sees the main character or characters developing and changing (“digging deeper than ever before”) to a climax where they overcome the crisis, often preceded by a section where it seems that “all is lost”.  This leads on to the end of the story, with the main character in a new equilibrium.

(more…)

How to write a novel: edit as you go along, or not?

Should you edit your writing as you go along?  Or should you write a first draft and then edit once you’ve finished?  

I once visited a wonderful friend who was a successful writer (DF – it was you!).

At the time, I was struggling to complete my first novel.

When she suggested we go for brunch at her local cafe to read the New York Times and the Washington Post, I was delighted.  As I waited to go out, I glanced at her writing desk, filled with admiration for her hard work and achievement.

On the desk was a book about writing technique.  Intrigued that she, a well-known author, should need such advice, I leafed through it.  A sentence leapt out at me.

You can see the results of all this in my Berlin thriller Blood Summit

“Don’t keep writing and re-writing the same chapter or the opening to your book,” the guide said.  “Doing that risks preventing you from completing the task.  You must keep moving forward.”

At that point my friend was ready and we went out for a terrific brunch in Alexandria.

But I never forgot that sentence.  I have found it invaluable in helping me to complete many novels.

“Wait!” I hear you cry.  “Surely I shouldn’t write (more…)

How to write gripping fiction: scenes, sequels and cliff-hangers

The technique of “scenes and sequels” is a great way to build tension in your writing.  Some practical examples of how to use them.

An experienced commissioning editor told me recently that one of two main reasons she rejected manuscripts was “no story”.  The other was “overwritten” – I’ll write about that another day.

How can you make sure your fiction has a strong story, that people will want to read?

To put it another way, how can you make sure your fiction has bite?

I recommend a simple technique, developed by an American writer, Dwight V Swain, using two elements called scenes and sequels.  Each is divided into two sub-elements.

‘How the hell do I apply these techniques to my writing?’

Swain said that to have a cracking good story you should start with a scene in which someone is trying to achieve a goal.  The sub-elements are:

(i) goalthe character is trying to achieve something;

(ii) conflictsomething prevents the character achieving that goal;

(iii) disasterthe quest to achieve the goal ends in catastrophe. (more…)

Waugh, Wodehouse, Durrell & Alan Clark: four quotations

Do any of our actions make any difference to anything?  What makes us happy?  What makes us laugh?  What about the power of memory?

This week’s quotations look at all these issues.  The scandalous Alan Clark, whose remarkable and disturbing diaries I have reviewed, clearly thought that sexual activity was keeping him young.  Evelyn Waugh, in his elegiac Brideshead Revisited, blows us away with his reminiscences.  P G Wodehouse, on whom I blog frequently, is the one of the best comic writers on earth.  Lawrence Durrell, meanwhile, is sceptical that any of our lives achieve anything.  I disagree!

Personally, I am a strong believer that our lives can make a difference

4 quotations

Why am I still, in the main, so zestful?

I know, but I don’t like to say

In case the gods take it away.

Alan Clark, The Diaries (more…)

How Trollope helps you understand British politics – and humour

How to understand British politics: why Trollope’s 19th century books are the best guide to Westminster which exists today – and a great guide to British humour.

Trollope is, perhaps, my favourite novelist (although PG Wodehouse is up there).

I have described before 11 life-changing reasons you should read Trollope, including his views on religion, sexual politics, and the media (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).

But not everyone is convinced.

So I thought I would give an example of the brilliance of Trollope by quoting an entire chapter from his 1869 novel He Knew He Was Right.  

He Knew He Was Right deals with the breakdown of the marriage between Louis Trevelyan, a wealthy young Englishman, and his wife Emily.  As a description of how jealousy and stubbornness can destroy a relationship, it could have been written yesterday.

My Trollope Society edition of “He Knew He Was Right” has 823 pages

Emily’s father is Sir Marmaduke Rowley, Governor of the fictional Mandarin Islands, a distant British colony.  An old friend, Colonel Osborne, who is also Emily’s godfather, arranges for Sir Marmaduke to be summoned back to London, ostensibly to appear before a parliamentary committee, but in fact in order that he can return to London at the taxpayer’s expense to see Emily.  Sir Marmaduke acquiesces in this subterfuge; yet is dismayed when he is summoned before the committee of Members of Parliament, which is chaired by one Major Magruder: “a certain ancient pundit of the constitution, who had been for many years a member, and who had been known as a stern critic of our colonial modes of government”.

I have reproduced here Chapter 68 of He Knew He Was Right, giving an account of Sir Marmaduke’s appearance before the Major Magruder’s committee.  I often counsel people who want to understand politics, and British parliamentary procedure, to read Trollope.  Chapter 68 (out of 99 in the book) illustrates why.  The procedures described; the emotions of the elderly Sir Marmaduke as he is questioned; the chairmanship and motivation of Major Magruder; and the outcome of the hearing, including the way Sir Marmaduke is treated compared with the incomparably more competent “Governor from one of the greater colonies” who has also been questioned  by the committee, could describe the proceedings of a British parliamentary committee in 2019.

Read, and relish.  I hope you enjoy it.

Chapter 68

Major Magruder’s Committee

Sir Marmaduke could not go out to Willesden on the morning after Lady Rowley’s return from River’s Cottage, because on that day he was summoned to attend at twelve o’clock before a Committee of the House of Commons, to give his evidence and, the fruit of his experience as to the government of British colonies generally; and as he went down to the House in a cab from Manchester Street he thoroughly wished that his friend Colonel Osborne had not been so efficacious in bringing him home. The task before him was one which he thoroughly disliked, and of which he was afraid. (more…)

“Like all young men I set out to be a genius, but…” P G Wodehouse

How to be a genius, or a great writer: quotations from P G Wodehouse and Lawrence Durrell

How seriously should we take ourselves?

One of the keys to happiness is not to take yourself too seriously.  You can take life seriously, and your family, and your work.  You can, and should, take pride in yourself and your achievements.

But the minute you start thinking that you are a rather amazing person, and better than other people, you are in danger of taking yourself too seriously and should stop it at once.

“Thank you, Jeeves” is an absolute corker

I was reminded of this wisdom by one of this week’s three quotations, which are below. (more…)

Ian Fleming’s James Bond: a female, black Bond? Why not?

James Bond has evolved over the years in both “Bond movies” and “Bond novels” written by other authors.  The “James Bond brand” could evolve further: a black, female Bond might be intriguing.

Ian Fleming’s James Bond, created in a series of novels and short stories from 1953 to 1966, is a magnificent, unforgettable creation.  But how much of a problem is it that his attitudes often now feel dated (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site)?

Can one hate Bond’s views, for example on women, yet still admire his single-mindedness and style?  I think so.  If you cannot discount dated attitudes in a historical context (“Plato was a slave-owner”), you risk missing out on countless treats.

For writers, characters like James Bond are gold dust.  Like him or loath him, he is well written.  He thinks about his actions, has values and opinions, behaves within a clearly defined framework, yet is full of ambiguity.  No wonder movie-makers adore him.

Can you update a character such as Bond?  Movie makers have been updating James Bond for years, drawing on the original material in Fleming’s novels to create stories set in the present day.  Results are mixed, although as I say in the piece at the link, many of us keep going back to cinemas in the hope Bond’s next outing will be better than the last.

Debate swirls around a black or female Bond: my view is that this would be fine, so long as the character retained key Bond characteristics such as sophistication, humour, gadgets, great grooming, and a merciless streak.

The cover of my Folio Society “Casino Royale” is suitably dated both in style and content – get a whiff of that cigarette smoke

Some updating is essential.  A modern movie which used Bond’s line about his former lover (more…)

East West Street: genocide? Or crimes against humanity?

I recently read East West Street by British law professor and international human rights expert Philippe Sands.

If you have any interest in the cataclysm which overtook eastern and central Europe between 1933 and 1945, I recommend East West Street.  It explains the development of the concepts of “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” against the background of the Second World War and the appalling crimes which took place in the run up to, and during, that conflict.

It also considers the relevance of what happened in 1933-45 today.

My copy of ‘East West Street’.  The endorsements ring true

Sands humanises and illustrates his account by focusing on four individuals.  Hersch Lauterpacht was a professor of International Law who developed the concept of crimes against humanity.  Rafael Lemkin was a prosecutor and lawyer who developed the concept of Genocide.  Hans Frank was Hitler’s lawyer and later governor-general of German-occupied Poland from 1940-45.  Leon Buchholz was Sands’s grandfather, who died in Paris in 1997 (‘He took Lemberg to the grave, along with a scarf given to him by his mother in January 1939. It was a parting gift from Vienna, my mother told me as we bade him adieu.’) (more…)

How to write great Nut-grafs & Cosmic Kickers: part 3

Learning about nut-grafs and cosmic kickers is a helpful way to write better blogs and newspaper articles.

So you want to write a brilliant blog or newspaper article?  Help is at hand, in three easy stages.

First: decide your message, and make sure people want to read about it.  Part 1 of this series, 7 tips for writing the perfect article, explores how to ensure your piece will land well (links in bold italics are to other posts on this web-site).

Next: structure your article.  Part 2 of this series, Nut-grafs and Cosmic Kickers, sets out a simple 4-step template to write your piece – including how to get started.

What else?  Practice makes perfect.  Read pieces critically.  Understanding how others use these techniques will help you do the same.  Here, in Part 3 of the series, are two more worked examples.  I hope you find them helpful.  If you do, please feel free to re-post this series, or draw it to the attention of others.

Nut-grafs and cosmic kickers: two worked examples

The following article appeared in the Financial times of 22 October 2004.  It includes all the four elements – Lede, Nut-graf, Body and Cosmic Kicker – set out in Part 2 of this series.

Where even experts fear to tread

[Lede]

The Valluga II cable car above St. Anton is one of those boxy, old-fashioned affairs that sways from one mountain peak to another across a gulf of nothingness. At the entrance is a sign showing a pair of skis, crossed out. Next to it, to avoid any confusion, the words: NO SKIS.

“What’s that?” I ask Willi, a fellow skier with whom I am about to enter the six-person cabin.

“It’s OK,” he says. “It means no skis unless you have a guide.”

[Nut-graf]

For skiers who have mastered the basics, the benefits of skiing with a guide are not always clear-cut.  Holidays are all about freedom to do what you want, when you want, and to escape the workplace hierarchy. So it seems perverse to yoke yourself to someone who’s going to tell you where to go and what to do when you get there, especially when you have to pay them handsomely for the privilege. But a good guide can raise the quality of a day’s skiing from enjoyable to sublime. That’s why, when I make my next annual pilgrimage to Lech, in the Arlberg region of western Austria, I’ll be joining Class 3A (or maybe 2B) for at least half my stay to be guided around a resort I already know intimately.

Looking up the hill after the passage of a 3A class in Lech, February 2019 (more…)

The health benefits of Martinis – or pure vodka

What are the health benefits of drinking Martinis?  Is it possible drinking vodka might be good for you?  Two top surgeons explain.  

At the roof bar of the Istanbul hotel, I don’t notice a thing.

Below us, the Bosphorus sparkles in the setting sun.  I slurp my cocktail and feel a powerful sense of well-being.

When we sit down for dinner, however, I spot it at once.

‘You’re both drinking vodka,’ I say.  ‘Why is that?’

My dinner companions, both top cardiac surgeons, glance at one another.

Robert Pimm in Istanbul

At a “Spectre” premiere in Istanbul.  Lousy movie but inspired character (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site)

‘This is because pure spirits are the healthiest way to ingest alcohol,’ one surgeon says.  ‘Of course, not drinking alcohol may also have health benefits, although some studies indicate the opposite if consumed in moderation.  But if, like us, you enjoy a drink from time to time, without excess sugar and calories, pure spirits are the best.’

‘Wow.’  I sip my glass of red wine and wonder if I should have a re-think. (more…)

Review: 8 reasons “I am Pilgrim” will grip you ’til it hurts

I am Pilgrim has a compelling plot, rich characters, horrifying jeopardy and seat-edge cliff-hangers.  Here are 8 reasons I recommend it. 

I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes is an epic, breathtaking chase from New York to Afghanistan to Bahrain to Gaza to Bodrum to Bulgaria and back.

I am Pilgrim cover

Hold onto your hats – I am Pilgrim is quite a ride

Here (no spoilers) are 8 reasons I am Pilgrim will thrill you: (more…)

How to write: comedy, thriller and diary quotations

One key to writing better is to read critically.  I attempt to do so, often noting down excerpts from books as I read.  Here are three examples.

Read, enjoy, and – if you are a writer – learn from the great authors below.

See my February 2017 blog for a full review of this frightening book

Comedy: P G Wodehouse

‘Oh, I’m not complaining,’ said Chuffy, looking rather like Saint Sebastian on receipt of about the fifteenth arrow. ‘You have a perfect right to love who you like.’

Thank you, Jeeves – PG Wodehouse 

Thriller: Lee Child

You’re going to Mississippi.  They’ll think you’re queer.  They’ll beat you to death.’

‘I doubt it,’ I said.

Lee Child – The Affair.  Unusually, “The Affair” is narrated in the first person by Jack Reacher, Child’s indestructible yet – on a good day – ironic hero.  My review of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels is positive.

Diary: Alan Clark

“This morning I bathed, before breakfast, in the loch just opposite the targets.  I don’t know what the temperature is, a tiny trace of Gulf Stream perhaps, but not much.  One feels incredible afterwards – like an instant double whisky, but clear-headed.  Perhaps a ‘line’ of coke does this also.  Lithe, vigorous, energetic.  Anything seems possible.”

Alan Clark, The Diaries

For earlier posts of “selected quotations from master writers”, see Carols, the perfect Martini and love: three quotations; Short story technique from the master: 3 quotations; or Two-and-a-half literary quotes.

P.S.  If you enjoy fresh, original writing, feel free to like or follow my Facebook page or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see blue “click here” button).  You can explore the range of writing on this site via my five pleasure paths.

Robert Pimm Live in Salzburg 20 February

Stop press: I will be doing a reading from my Berlin thriller BLOOD SUMMIT at 1800 on 20 February 2019 at The English Centre in Salzburg.

For a taste of what my readings are like, see the video below by Sibylle Trost, a film producer in Berlin.

If you live in Vienna, you may wish to note that Blood Summit  is available from English language bookshop Shakespeare & Company at Sterngasse 2 in central Vienna:

(more…)

50 Shades: 5 reasons it’s a masterpiece, 5 reasons I hate it

Is “50 Shades of Grey” brilliant, entertaining erotic literature, or misogynistic horror-show?  Either way, the technique of the author is outstanding.

‘I only finished the first volume,’ my friend says.  ‘It was so badly written.  And boring.’

‘I disagree,’ I say.  ‘I think the writing is brilliant.  It hits every target for a best-seller.  I read all three volumes.  But I ended up hating it.’

What to make of 50 Shades of Grey?  Last time I looked, it had sold 150 million copies in 52 languages and spawned a hit movie series.  The book has 85,000 reviews on Amazon.com with an average of 4*, and a further 21,500 on Amazon.co.uk – also averaging 4*.  A lot of people love it.  Why?

The following review contains spoilers.  Links in bold italics are to other blog posts on this site.

Each volume of “50 Shades” is substantial

Here are 5 things I found brilliant about the 50 Shades trilogy:

(i) everything is big.  In her book “How to write a blockbuster“, Sarah Harrison says a bestseller must have glamour in the sense of absolute, undeniable, gobsmacking allure… with all the maidenly restraint of Joan Collins on speed.  It’s got to be BIG, she says.  Everything about 50 Shades is big – Christian Grey is not just rich, he’s mega-rich.  He isn’t just talented; he is a concert-quality pianist and outstanding skier and linguist who excels at martial arts.  He’s not only a good person: he wants to help poor people around the world.  He’s not just handsome – every woman he passes is entranced by his charisma.  As Ana sums him up:

(more…)

W. Somerset Maugham on sex, turnips and the meaning of life

A writer compares turnips and sex.  Is he wise, or daft?  Can we use his wisdom – if any – to make ourselves happier?

I have written often about happiness on this blog.  You might like to look at a summary in my piece The one with the links to happiness.

W Somerset Maugham considers happiness and the meaning of life in his essay The Summing Up, written in 1938.  Perhaps we can learn from him.  Try not to be put off by the old-fashioned way in which he often refers to “men” when he means “people”

W Somerset Maugham is most famous for his short stories

In The Summing Up, Maugham asks whether writing itself is enough for a happy life…

From time to time I have asked myself whether I should have been a better writer if I had devoted my whole life to literature.

… and concludes:

Somewhat early, but at what age I cannot remember, I made up my mind that, having but one life, I should like to get the most I could out of it.  It did not seem to me enough merely to write. (more…)

Arvon residential writing courses: review

The Arvon foundation offers some of the world’s top writing courses.  Find out why here.

Ahead, in the kitchen, everyone seems to be laughing.  As I approach, the noise swells.  I push the door open to find ten people sitting around a long wooden table, drinking tea and eating lemon drizzle cake.  In an instant, the din dies down as everyone turns to look at the newcomer – me.

What have I left myself in for?

The prospect of attending a writing course holds both fascination and dread for would-be authors.  I recently attended the Arvon Foundation’s “Editing Fiction: Turning First Drafts into Publishable Books” at The Hurst in Shropshire.  So what actually happens on a writing course?  Do they help your writing?  And what if you don’t get on with the other participants?

I long to sit longer on this bench in the grounds of the Hurst

The Arvon course I attended, in November 2018, lasted from Monday afternoon to Saturday morning.  It consisted of morning workshops, followed by afternoons free for writing, walking, or attending 1:1 seminars with the tutors.  Workshops included sessions on how to edit a novel (including the advice “enjoy a moment (more…)

Skyros writing courses: where inspiration comes from

Learning to write in the Greek sun.  If you want a great writing course, and wonderful weather, Skyros is where inspiration comes from.

I recently attended an outstanding writing course in Shropshire.  I blogged about the experience in my piece: Arvon residential writing courses: review (links in bold italics are to other posts on this blog).

Researching for my Arvon post, I found this piece, commissioned long ago by The Boston Globe but never published, about a rather good writing course on the Greek island of Skyros.  It follows the rules on structure set out in my piece The 4 elements of the perfect article: Nut-grafs and Cosmic Kickers.  It sums up the Skyros course well.

Dancing for New Orleans

Ten would-be writers sit on a terrace high above the Aegean. We’re lapping up the bright sun, the cool breeze, and advice on how to get our books published.  Suddenly we’re interrupted: up the hill, participants in another course are venting their emotions in a cacophony of eerie howling. In response, a donkey brays: a shocking, raucous noise.  Everyone laughs.

The entrance to the Skyros Centre is low key

There’s a huge amount of laughter on a Skyros holiday. That’s the idea: by combining holistic holidays, writers’ courses and a Greek island, operator Skyros holds out the promise of both self-improvement and self-discovery in an idyllic setting. But how well do the different elements fit together?  The answer is: better than you’d think.

You sense the island of Skyros is something special before the ferry from the Greek mainland even moors.  As ship nears shore, music floats across the sea.  A cafe on the waterfront is playing “Also Sprach Zarathustra”.  (more…)

Writing tips: how to write: paper or computer?

Should you use a computer or pen and paper to write fiction?  How about if you are writing the first draft of your novel?  Practical tips on how to get started.  

I sit down at my desk in Vienna to continue writing my current novel, code-named The Boyfriend.  Outside, birds sing in the trees; all is well in the world.

When I start to write, do I reach for my computer?  Or for my pen and paper?

Many authors write first drafts direct on their computers, or always write on paper, without thinking too much about which works best.  Here are a few things you might want think about.

In 1986 my then-employer acquired its first computer.  I was thrilled by the idea that I could move words around on a screen, and only print them out when I was happy with them.  It seemed to make the creative process less daunting.  I started to write my first novel on that computer the same year – after work, of course.

In this pic I am writing the first draft of a blog direct on an iPad in Austria

In 1987 I bought my first home computer, an Amstrad PCW.  Later I bought PCs; then Macs.  But over the years, I stopped writing fiction on the screen.  I write all my short stories and novels in long-hand.

How do I do that?  And why?

How: I like to use a ring-bound A4 pad, (more…)

How to write: 5 places story ideas come from

Where do story ideas come from?  How can you find inspiration for fiction? 

You are an author.  You are about to sit down and begin to write a story.

How do you get started?  What will it be about?  Where to generate story ideas?

As the author of eight novels and nine short stories*, I work hard to find ideas.  Here are my four sources of inspiration, and one non-source:

(i) how to get story ideas: my best source is random ideas which pop into my head – when I am reading, walking down the street, in the shower, whatever.  These ideas have one thing in common.  I write them down.  Everyone has great ideas, all the time.  What makes a difference is keeping a note of them.  Maybe you are a genius and can remember good ideas indefinitely.  I can’t.  As soon as my mind wanders off – as it will – I forget my good idea.  Action point for writers: make a note when an idea strikes you and ensure you can find that note later.  Keep a notebook or web page where you store your blog ideas or novel ideas;

Some things are obviously inspirational.  This deserted children’s bumper car ride near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is crying out for a story (Photo RP).  For more pictures, see my post “Lunch in the Chernobyl canteen

(ii) my second big source of story ideas is external inputs.  If you read the piece about my hotel stories at the link above, (more…)

Short story technique from the master: W Somerset Maugham

W Somerset Maugham was one of the great short story writers.  We can learn from his short story technique.

Every writer wants to write better.

Some of my most popular blogs set out tips on how to do this.  That is why I have a “Writing about writing” category (see top left), including such gems as:

The last piece, with the Cosmic Kickers, is my most-read blog this year.

To find out more about these two, see The Russians: Vladivostok

I mention this because this week’s blog consists of three literary quotations of very different styles.  One is by W Somerset Maugham, (more…)

Carols, the perfect martini, and love: three quotations

What is the perfect martini?

A couple of years ago in Istanbul I was taken out for dinner by two top cardiac specialists.

In between gazing out over the Bosphorus, I noticed that they both drank neat vodka before the meal, when I had a cocktail, and during the meal, when I was sipping wine.  I asked why this was.

They told me that, as heart specialists, they enjoyed a drink from time to time; but they wanted to ingest the alcohol in the healthiest way possible. Drinking neat vodka, they said, met this criterion: compared with wine, beer or cocktails it saved calories, sugar and other unnecessary ingredients.

I took this advice, er, to heart.  As I was at the time reading Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale (see my review at the link) I began to drink martinis, which involve no ingredients at all which are not alcoholic, unless you include the olive.

How best to explain the effect of one of my martinis?

After all, do you want a drink, or not?

(more…)

Two-and-a-half literary quotes

At my reading this week from my Berlin thriller Blood Summit, someone asked when I found time to write.

I wrote a blog on “Where I write” recently.

A blog on finding time to write is a fine idea – I have added it to my list.

Because, it’s a bummer.  Finding time to write is hard: lots of other things I dearly want to do, dear friends, dear family, dear visitors, and a job which I dearly want to do brilliantly.

Sometimes things don’t work out.

Writing at the Wolfgangsee in Austria

Like, this week, I have been away from home all day Friday and Saturday and a bit busy and haven’t got around to writing my planned blog.

(more…)

How to write: Where to write

The rather awesome J K Rowling wrote swathes of the “Harry Potter” series in cafes in Edinburgh.

Can other writers do this?

With iPad at the Wolfgangsee.

Writing techniques vary.  When I am writing major pieces – such as a novel – I write in longhand, in an A4 pad. While typing straight onto a keyboard is in theory quicker, I find sitting staring at a screen for long periods makes my brain melt. Making quick amendments to what you have already written is also clumsier, and slower, on a computer.

By contrast, on my A4 paper pad I am constantly making amendments, (more…)

“Prep”: is this how women think? 7/10

Many years ago I worked alongside a young woman who, long before in another city, had had a relationship with a man who now worked in the building we were in.  Whenever she spoke of him, her voice quavered and her eyes brimmed with tears.  She was sure he was in love with her, but was dismayed that he showed no interest.  She longed for him, but had not spoken to him for years.  At certain times of day, when he might be due to leave work, she would go to the window and gaze out, hoping to catch a glimpse of him in the distance.

The cover of my (borrowed) copy of Prep

I thought of that colleague when I read “Prep” by Curtis Sittenfeld, published in 2005.  The book follows a 14 year-old girl, Lee Fiora, who leaves her family home in Indiana to take up a scholarship at Ault, an elite boarding school on the US East Coast.  Through her four years at the school, she obsesses about her relationships and develops a crush on a boy.

What a crush. (more…)

How to be understood: 7 tips

The influential gallery director sits down with the visiting guest in a museum cafe.  Both are speaking English but only the guest is a native speaker.

‘This place is epic,’ the guest begins, meaning the museum.  ‘Back home, the Arts Council is doing its bit but they don’t have the oomph to shift the dial.  ITV has done a whole series on cock-ups in UK local authority arts funding but it’s a dog’s breakfast.  You are blessed!’

Anish Kapoor show in Istanbul.  But the conversation could be about business, politics, or anything at all.

‘We are very lucky, yes,’ the local gallery director says, cautiously.  She has understood: her guest thinks the gallery director is fortunate, and something about a dog.

We live in an age where English is spoken to a high level as a second language by large numbers of people.  But native English speakers often make no allowances for (more…)

Hard boiled: Chandler, Spillane and Hammett

All I saw was the dame standing there in the glare of the headlights waving her arms like a huge puppet and the curse I spit out filled the car and my own ears. I wrenched the wheel over, felt the rear end start to slide, brought it out with a splash of power and almost ran up the side of the cliff as the car fishtailed.  

My 1960 Signet edition of “Kiss Me, Deadly”, swapped on a Greek ferry*

The opening lines of Mickey Spillane’s 1952 Kiss Me, Deadly are arresting.  So is the blurb: “Mike Hammer swears to avenge the killing of a satin-skinned blonde and rips into the vicious Mafia mob to run down her murderer”.  

When I first read Kiss Me, Deadly in the ’80s, I was shocked by the casual violence and sexism.   (more…)

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves: review and quotes

Those who know the code of the Pimms will know that the blogs on this site are consistently honest.  No fake news here, or indeed fake reviews.

So I have to report, sadly, that “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves” was not my favourite P G Wodehouse book.

In fact, of the mouth-watering shelf-full of Wodehouse I have enjoyed so far since 2017, it comes some way behind Thank You, Jeeves, Ring for Jeeves, Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen or indeed Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, all of which I have reviewed on this site (click on links above) and all of which positively heaved with quotables.

The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves”

To say that Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves is less hilarious than some other P G Wodehouse masterpieces, however, is not to say it lacks humour.  I feel it has less of a  (more…)

A new blog every week? Views welcome

It has been a good run.

Since 12 August 2017 I have written a blog every week, usually published on a Saturday afternoon, in addition to writing my new novel and one or two other writing projects such as the Hotel Stories.

Thanks to all my readers for clicking on robertpimm.com, and sometimes the links in the blogs.  It makes me happy when you do so.

And should I update my author pic from the 1981 black and white version?

It is not always easy to produce a blog every week.  Today, for example, I have written my novel for a couple of hours, have 30 minutes to write my blog, then am going out for a walk and to watch the England-Sweden game.

Usually my blogs take 2-3 hours to write – time when I could be writing that novel!

So I have a couple of questions for you.  You do not have to answer all or indeed any of them, but feedback would be welcome.  You can find a “comments” form at the bottom of this page.  Or you can write to me privately using the “Contact me” tab at the top of the page.

Questions:

(i) does the regularity of my blogs, ie one a week on a Saturday afternoon, make any difference to you, (more…)

“How to be an Alien”: George Mikes makes fun of the English

George Mikes’ “How to be an Alien” is one of the funniest books in the English language.  It’s not about aliens, of course.  It is about the English.  Its real title should be: “why the English are absurd and hilarious – but I kind of like them”.  

If you have not read How to be an Alien by George Mikes, please go and buy a copy instantly.  You will not regret it.

George Mikes was a Hungarian who came to England in 1938 (as he said: When people say England, they sometimes mean Great Britain, sometimes the United Kingdom, sometimes the British Isles – but never England).  He wrote dozens of books but is remembered mainly for his seminal 1946 How to be an Alien.  He described the genesis of the book thus:

Some years ago I spent a lot of time with a young lady who was very proud and conscious of being English.  Once she asked me – to my great surprise – whether I would marry her.  ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I will not.  My mother would never agree to my marrying a foreigner.’  She looked at me a little surprised and irritated, and retorted: ‘I, a foreigner?  What a silly thing to say.  I am English.  You are the foreigner.  And your mother, too…’  I saw that this theory was as irrefutable as it was simple.  I was startled and upset.  Mainly because of my mother whom I loved and respected.  Now, I suddenly learned what she really was.’ (more…)

Lady Anna: cruelty, feminism and power 7/10

How much cruelty can you squeeze into a 150,000 word novel?

A huge amount, if that book is Lady Anna, written by Anthony Trollope at the astonishing rate of 16,500 words a week on a voyage from England to Australia between 25 May and 19 July 1871.

The plot (no spoilers follow) revolves around a conflict: should the eponymous heroine marry a low-born tailor; or a young earl, of her own class?  She loves the tailor – or does she?  Almost every other character in the book, especially her mother, believes she should marry the earl; and subject her to extraordinary pressure to bring about this result.

This is heavy stuff.  As so often with Trollope, his female characters are often more attractive than his men, some of whom, like Anna’s father the earl, are vile:

It must be told that the Earl was a man who had never yet spared a woman in his lust.  It had been the rule, almost the creed of his life, that woman was made to gratify the appetite of man, and that the man is but a poor creature who does not lay hold of the sweetness that is offered to him… The life which he had led no doubt had had its allurements, but it is one which hardly admits of a hale and happy evening.  Men who make women a prey, prey also on themselves. (more…)

Thank you!

‘How many people are you expecting at your reading?’

‘Well, it’s impossible to know.  Maybe five, maybe 20.’

‘But how many people will you will be happy with?’

‘Well, anything over three.’

We’re on our way to my reading from my Berlin thriller Blood Summit at the excellent English language bookshop Shakespeare & Company at Sterngasse 2 in central Vienna.  Not only is it a Friday night, but the World Cup has started: Portugal vs Spain, no less.  I am managing my expectations appropriately.

We gather in the bookshop.  It is a beautiful place, in the heart of Vienna’s old town.  Outside, a cobbled street.  Inside, books reach to the ceiling: a temple of imagination, stories and ideas.  If you have never visited Shakespeare & Co, go today or, at the latest, next weekend.  They are open until 9 p.m. six days a week.

People keep coming.  By the time I start the reading, at 1930, the shop is already crammed – I count 19 people.  More keep arriving, slipping in cunningly through a hitherto unsuspected back door.

A wonderful place for a book-reading – Shakespeare & Co

(more…)

This Friday 15 June! My live reading from “Blood Summit”

What does reclusive author Robert Pimm look like in the flesh?

You can find out on Friday 15 June at the wonderful Shakespeare & Co bookshop at Sterngasse 2 in central Vienna.

I will be reading from my new Berlin thriller “Blood Summit” (“a rip-roaring romp of a thriller” – Sir Christopher Mallaby). Entry is free and copies of the book will be on sale.

Come along – and bring a friend!

For a preview, see the video below, from my March 16 reading at Cafe Korb, also in Vienna.

In fact, you can buy “Blood Summit” in Shakespeare & Co any time: (more…)

Reading tips: 8 reasons Lee Child’s Jack Reacher rocks

What makes Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thrillers some of the best?  I put it down to consistent quality; great characterisation (including fine women and minor fellers); humour; dialogue; satisfying problem-solving; and wisdom.  If you like thrillers, worth putting on your list of “best books to read”.

Burly, yet brilliant.  Violent, yet sensitive to the needs of women.  Loyal to friends, yet indifferent to relationships.

Jack Reacher, hero of Lee Child’s thriller series, is an ex military policeman with terrific characteristics.

“The Affair” is excellent

I’ve been a Jack Reacher fan since reading my first Lee Child novel, “Tripwire” (Jack Reacher 3), over a decade ago.  That book features a cunning plot; extreme violence; and a powerful, satisfying resolution.

Child has published two dozen Jack Reacher novels, one a year since 1997.  They are hugely successful: “Blue Moon” (no.24 in the series, published in 2019), for example, has over 9,000 reviews on Amazon.com and over 8,500 on Amazon.co.uk.

Here are 8 reasons why people love Jack Reacher:

(i) the early novels are consistently good.  In addition to “Tripwire” I enjoyed, for example, “Killing Floor” (JR1: crisp, authoritative writing and richly textured, eg Reacher’s quest to find legendary guitar player Blind Blake), “Die Trying” (JR2);  “The Visitor” (JR4: an original, creepy and tricky mystery which Reacher struggles to solve); “Echo Burning” (JR5: strong, complex plot); and “Without Fail” (JR6);

(ii) great women.  I particularly like the enigmatic Frances Neagley, a female equivalent of Reacher who is if anything even cooler and tougher than he is and also features in “Bad Luck and Trouble” (JR11); “The Enemy” (JR8); and “The Affair” (JR16).  I also liked the improbably beautiful Elizabeth Deveraux in “The Affair”, with her remarkable appetite:

The grease from the meat made her lips glisten.  She was a slim woman.  She must have had a metabolism like a nuclear reactor.

(iii) in some novels, eg “The Enemy”, Reacher displays dry, ironic humour (US readers: apologies for my UK spelling tendencies), particularly in displaying insubordination.  When asked “Where did he have the heart attack?”, Reacher replies “In his chest cavity”;

(iv)  fine dialogue, such as this, between Reacher and Deveraux, after sex, in “The Affair” (Reacher is narrating):

Afterwards Deveraux yawned and stretched and said, ‘You’re not bad for a soldier boy.’

I said, ‘You’re excellent for a Marine.’

‘We’d better be careful.  We might develop feelings for each other.’

‘What are those?’

‘What are what?’

‘Feelings.’

She paused a beat.

She said, ‘Men should be more in touch with their feelings.’

I said, ‘If I ever have one, you’ll be the first to know, I promise.’

She paused, again.  Then she laughed.

(v) some of Lee Child’s later works are again excellent.  I recently read “The Affair”  (Reacher 16) which re-introduces not only Neagley but also Reacher’s sense of humour;

(vi), Lee Child also write some strong male minor characters, such as military men Leon Garber and Stan Lowrey, of whom Reacher, narrating the story, gives this splendid account:

I leaned on the wall next to the phone… because Lowrey’s stories were usually very long.  He fancied himself a raconteur.  And he liked background.  And context.  Deep background, and deep context.  Normally he liked to trace everything back to a seminal point just before random swirls of gas from the chartless wastes of the universe happened to get together and form the earth itself.

In addition to Garber and Lowrey, I particularly like Major Duncan Munro, another military policeman, who delivers some splendid one-liners, such as this exchange, as Reacher explains why he wanted to keep certain information secret:

[Reacher:] ‘I wanted Munro to go back to Germany with a clear conscience.’

Munro said, ‘My conscience is always clear.’

‘But it’s easier to play dumb if you really don’t know the answer.’

‘I never had a problem playing dumb.  Some folks think I am.’

This exchange, where Munro actually gets the better of Reacher, is reminiscent of the famous “Does your dog bite?” exchange between Peter Sellers, as Inspector Clouseau, and a hotel receptionist in the 1976 film “The Pink Panther Strikes Again”, in that the hotel receptionist has the better lines:

(vii) Jack Reacher has an almost Holmesian ability to infer events from invisible clues as he, for example, reconstructs the murder of Janice May Chapman in “The Affair”;

(viii) Finally, Reacher has plenty of good one-liners and epigrams, eg:

I didn’t like him much.  A snap judgement, maybe, but generally those are as good as any other kind.

Is there a down side to Jack Reacher?  Personally, I think some of the middle and later novels are less good than others.  My least favourites include “Bad Luck and Trouble” (JR11) and “Nothing to Lose” (JR12), where Reacher’s fine sense of humour seems to have been excised.  I found “61 Hours” (JR14) slow-moving.  But things picked up with “Worth Dying For” (JR15).  “The Affair” (JR16) is so good it inspired me to write this blog.

My advice: if you like thrillers and want to sample Lee Child, try some of the earlier books listed above.  If you are a fan but have been deterred by some of the less compelling tales in the series, keep reading!

For: solid thrillers with a hero saved from caricature by his great sense of humour (more humour in future episodes, please, Mr Child)

Against: in those books low on humour, Jack Reacher is less entertaining.

P.S. If you like thrillers, you should try my own Blood Summit (“Hugely entertaining” – John Connolly).

 

Trollope vs Black Panther: life lessons

I am on a four-stage plane journey, from Vienna to Sharm-el-Sheikh and back via Istanbul.  On the first leg, from Vienna to Istanbul, my Turkish Airlines flight features seat-back video and I choose recent blockbuster “Black Panther”.

Unfortunately the crew make many announcements in numerous languages (bold italic links are to other blogs on this site), interrupting the movie.  So I miss the end of the film, which I am hoping will include astonishing plot twists but fear will mostly be superheroes slugging each other (a fundamental problem with all superhero movies: if two superheroes have a superhero fist-fight, how do you make it interesting?  No-one knows).

On the next three legs, Istanbul-Sharm, Sharm-Istanbul and Istanbul-Vienna, the Turkish Airlines aircraft are older, without seat-back video.  So I haven’t seen the end of “Black Panther”.  Should I make an effort to catch the last 20 minutes?  What do you think?  No spoilers please!

The news gets worse.  On the communal screens on the older planes, the airline shows episodes of Fish Tank Kings.  This is  (more…)

“Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”: 20 delicious quotations

I have written several times in these chronicles of my slow-burn devotion to the works of P G Wodehouse, including my induction (How to read P G Wodehouse: a practical guide), drawing on the excellent advice of fellow WordPress blogger and Wodehouse specialist Plumtopia – strongly recommended for all things Jeeves and Wooster and beyond.

Hence my concern, bordering on panic, at my initial perception that “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit” was not quite such a pearl of the Wodehouse canon as, say, the wondrous Thank you, Jeeves.  Bertie Wooster’s early decision to grow a moustache, to the disapproval of Jeeves, felt a little familiar as a plot device.  The plot of the first half of the book meandered – well, I am reminded of Bertie’s description of Daphne Dolores Morehead on her first appearance in the novel as having “a figure as full of curves as a scenic railway”.

The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”

That very reference to Ms Morehead, however, signals my sense of relief that I can in fact recommend “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”, the seventh P G Wodehouse novel to feature Jeeves and Wooster and his sixtieth book overall, wholeheartedly.  From about the half-way point, the story spreads its wings.  The subsequent flight is sublime.  The scene following the unexpected arrival of the aforementioned Daphne at Brinkley Court is amongst the funniest (more…)

Robert Pimm Live in Austria

Franz Schubert steps to one side.

The lights go down.

Robert Pimm looks up at the packed crowd.

‘My name is Robert Pimm,’ he says.  ‘First time I’ve said that.’

 

For those of you who were kind enough to attend my first reading from my new Berlin thriller Blood Summit at the Cafe Korb in Vienna last year, introduced by remarkable artistic director Franz Schubert (“this name is not a joke”), thank you.

The video of my reading from Blood Summit above was produced by the excellent Sibylle Trost in Berlin – thanks, Sibylle!

I was delighted to receive a good deal of positive feedback on 16 March, as well as news the next day that brilliant English language bookshop Shakespeare & Company at Sterngasse 2 in central Vienna had run out of copies of Blood Summit.

They have since renewed their supplies. (more…)

Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen – the funniest Wodehouse?

Aunts aren’t gentlemen” is one of my favourite Wodehouse novels.  The the 10 quotations below are some of the funniest I have found.

The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen”

That’s a high bar: see eg my reviews of Thank You, Jeeves (click link for five wondrous quotations) Right Ho, Jeeves (click for 14 fruity quotes) and Ring for Jeeveswhich also teemed with quotables.

So for all you Wodehouse aficionados out there, here are ten exquisite quotations from Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen: 

  • ‘Nice girl,’ I said, for there is never any harm in giving the old salve.  ‘And, of course, radiant-beauty-wise in the top ten.’  [Orlo’s] eyes bulged, at the same time flashing, as if he were on the verge of making a fiery far-to-the-left speech. ‘You know her?’ he said, and his voice was low and guttural, like that of a bulldog which has attempted to swallow a chump chop and only got it down halfway. (more…)

How to read “Blood Summit”

Many people come to this site in order to read my thriller Blood Summit.

Welcome!

You can get hold of a copy of Blood Summit thus:

(i) go to Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de or Amazon.com (or your local Amazon if you live somewhere else).  You can order a paperback or download a copy for your Kindle or e-book;

(ii) if you live in Vienna (or even if you don’t), stroll along to Shakespeare & Company at Sterngasse 2.   It’s a terrific bookshop and (more…)

Robert Pimm: my first public reading – 16 March in Vienna

Have you ever wondered what Robert Pimm looks like in person?

Now you can find out.

I will be performing my first public reading at 19.30 on 16 March at the Cafe Korb, Brandstätte 9, in the First District of Vienna.  Details are at the Cafe Korb Facebook page.

The Cafe Korb is a fine cafe, as I have reviewed separately.  Its glories include an Art Lounge – click on the link for a 360-degree view.  The cultural programme is eclectic and sublime – upcoming events range from “Who’s Afraid of the Jewish Mother?”, through the Korb’s famous Philosophical Evenings, to a performance by US jazz, blues and soul singer Margaret Carter.

It is in this splendid space that I shall be reading excerpts from my thriller Blood Summit – a world premiere.

The Art Lounge of Cafe Korb – worth a zoom, or a visit

The Art Lounge is not fantastically large and I am hoping it will be pretty packed.  Entry is free, and I will answer questions after the reading.  I look forward to seeing you there.

P G Wodehouse: 5 wondrous quotations from “Thank You, Jeeves”

My blog How to read P G Wodehouse: a practical guide praised Plumtopiaa P G Wodehouse specialist, for its advice on precisely this subject.  I thoroughly recommend the site.

More recently, in my blog How to read P G Wodehouse: a new prescription, I savoured the fruits of recent roaming of the Plum pastures; and cited juicy quotations from the outstanding Ring for Jeeves.

Indeed, I have been struck by the poverty of many self-styled treasuries of quotations when it comes to Plum’s oeuvre.

So here, without further ado, are a few additional succulent fruit, assembled by me with pleasure from Thank You, Jeeves.

 

The cover of the Folio edition of ‘Thank You, Jeeves’

Thank You, Jeeves strikes me as one of the funniest of the Jeeves tales (quite an accolade – Ed). Jeeves himself has oiled off elsewhere for much of the action, but in his absence, Bertie Wooster’s ability to get into scrapes is exploited to outstanding effect.  Such scenes as a night in which Bertie repeatedly fails to find a place to rest his head are (more…)

“Blood Summit” on sale here

The book fits right in, between Ian Fleming and John le Carré.  Good company.

“Blood Summit” at Shakespeare & Co in Vienna

Shakespeare & Co, the famous Vienna English language booksellers, stocks my Berlin thriller Blood Summit.  I am proud to see it there on the shelves.

If you live in Vienna, I suggest you nip right down to Shakespeare & Co and buy yourself a book from their well-stocked shelves.

Shakespeare & Co also stock my book Seven Hotel Stories.  

Shakespeare & Co is at Sterngasse 2 in central Vienna (1st District).  It is worth a visit.  A sketch, including of the excellent Guy Perlaki who helps run the shop, is on the Vienna Würstelstand site.

If you are do not live in Vienna, you can buy Blood Summit as a paperback or e-book at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de (it is a big hit in Germany and Austria) and other reputable outlets.  I hope you enjoy it.  Hundreds (so far) of others have.  You can also read the first five chapters on this website.
P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please friend me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see the “click here” blue button).  Check out the range of writing on this site via the sitemap and guide.

2017: 10 best blogs

I have chosen my favourite ten posts, out of the 47 I published in 2017.  Which is your favourite?  Let me know.  And feel free to re-post this on Facebook or to “like” it – if you do.

A novelty this year was my Picture Quiz – not including this picture from Cuba. Spot the Che Guevara tattoo

It wasn’t easy choosing a shortlist.  I’ve left out many favourites, including my account of how, aged 8, I used to electrocute myself regularly with my girlfriend Barbara in Wonder Woman and Wartime Moral Confusion; or my recent review of The Last Jedi 3/10: the galaxy’s most shagged-out designers? (more…)

How to read P G Wodehouse: a new prescription

My blog How to read P G Wodehouse: a practical guide praised Plumtopiaa P G Wodehouse specialist, for its splendidly non-prescriptive advice on precisely this subject.

In fact I have just oiled over for a further immersion in Plumtopia, notably this informative piece about P G Wodehouse societies including The P G Wodehouse Society UK.  

I can verify that the site is a veritable motherlode of P G Wodehouse-related info.  Recommended.

Meanwhile I have been continuing my own exploration of the oeuvre of the author known as “Plum” (short for “Pelham”, his first name).  I have so far completed my perusal of Carry on Jeeves, Very Good Jeeves, The Inimitable Jeeves, The Code of the Woosters, Joy in the Morning and Ring for Jeeves.  The standard is consistent, although I have taken medical advice not to binge on more than three consecutive P G Wodehouse novels, as intensive research shows this may reduce their impact.

The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Ring for Jeeves”

The efficacy of this new reading prescription has been proven by a Wodehouse abstinence (more…)

“From Sea to Shining Sea – and Back Again” – preview

 

The main piece has now been published  

 

 

Why sequels suck: 5 reasons

Why do sequels suck?  Why does it drive us crazy?  My study shows examples of what makes sequels bomb and asks why movie-makers become so lazy.

I am watching the sequel to a movie I adored three years ago.  The sequel is so piss-poor that I feel violated and upset.  How can a major studio spend squillions of dollars producing such trash?

Weeks later, it happens again.  Another sequel, another cringe-making dose of drivel.  Strangely, the two movies have much in common, including much of what makes them so unwatchable.

The movies are: Guardians of the Galaxy II  (2017) and The Lego Batman Movie (2017).

Guardians of the Galaxy 2: decent trailer, execrable movie

The Lego Batman Movie: ditto

Why do I feel so personally aggrieved?  First, because I wrote a preview of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on this site in which I said (more…)

Review: words and music in Vienna 10/10

No-one is allowed to applaud.

After each item the audience stirs, a captive beast, constrained – and stays silent.

Only after 15 performances – seven readings by Julian Barnes, and eight piano pieces by Angela Hewitt, lasting two hours – is the audience unleashed.  Rapture ensues.

The Konzerthaus is one of Vienna’s great cultural institutions.  With four separate concert halls, it offers an eclectic range of arts designed to be accessible to a broad public.  In recent years the programme has included the “Originalton” cycle – literary readings with music.  Most authors read in German but in 2015 British author Ian McEwan read; and in 2017 it was the turn of Julian Barnes – both accompanied by Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt.

Julian Barnes and Angela Hewitt at the Konzerthaus – Photo Robert Pimm

(more…)

Nine questions about the Alan Clark Diaries: 0/10? or 10/10?

“Why am I still, in the main, so zestful?

I know, but I don’t like to say

In case the gods take it away.”

As so often, Alan Clark, here aged 62, is talking about what he refers to as the other – as in “I fear that if I’d come from ‘an underprivileged background’ I’d probably by now have done time for GBH, or assault, or even what Nanny calls the other.”

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An Amazon reviewer of Alan Clark’s diaries, which cover the period 1972 (when he was 44) to his death in 1999, described him as The Mr Toad of the Tory Party – vain, boastful and a lover of fast cars.  No-one outside the UK has heard of him.  He quotes Hitler, of whom he keeps a signed portrait in his safe, and revels in the shocking effect this has on readers.

So why read his diaries? (more…)

Museum of Innocence: how men think? 8/10

A man repeatedly lies to and harasses both his fiancé and his young lover, while pontificating about the “unpalatable anthropological truths” which plague relations between the sexes.  In pursuit of his obsession with the young lover, he then displays over 728 pages (in my paperback edition) every one of the unpleasant male characteristics he decries, from jealousy to over-control.  In the process he ruins her prospects for either marriage or a career and brings about a tragedy.

Yet, at the end of the novel, the author invites the reader’s sympathy for his protagonist, making his last words in the book: “Let everyone know, I lived a very happy life.”

The author also invites the reader to explore and even share in the obsession of the protagonist, Kemal, by filling a house with objects supposedly collected by Kemal and associated with the object of his obsession, Fusun.  This house is the eponymous “Museum of Innocence”, to which I gave a rave 10/10 rating in an earlier review.

 

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The case containing 4,213 cigarette stubs in The Museum of Innocence (Photo: Robert Pimm)

I wrote in my review of the Museum: “The story… is told in the first person by Kemal, a spoiled, wealthy 30-something year-old from Istanbul.  Kemal narrates the story of his obsession with Fusun, a younger woman, over a period of nine years.  During that time, Kemal discovers that one way to salve the ache of loss when Fusun is not present is to handle objects associated with her.  So he begins to steal items from her family.  These objects form the nucleus of the museum.”

I also wrote that “Kemal is beyond creepy”.  But he may also be interpreted as a prototypical man.

So: do the ghastly actions and self-justifications of Kemal depict a warped misogynistic monster?  Or is author Orhan Pamuk simply laying bare with unprecedented honesty how all men really think – and act, if they are given the chance? (more…)

Museum of Innocence: a slow-burning, textured revelation 10/10

A man buys a house in Istanbul in order to turn it into a museum, filled with objects collected by an imaginary character in a novel which the man plans to write later.

That man is Orhan Pamuk, Turkish Nobel prize-winning author, about whose awesome productivity I’ve written before.

The museum, and the book, are called The Museum of Innocence.

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A display case in The Museum of Innocence (Photo: Robert Pimm)

I hesitate to review The Museum of Innocence.  Others have done a brilliant job already.  For example I recommend this superb 2012 piece by Elif Batuman in the always-crushingly-intellectual London Review of Books.

But I felt it might be worth alerting people to two aspects of The Museum of Innocence.

(more…)

Two great sources of writing inspiration

You are a brilliant writer.

But not everyone realises it yet.

What to do?

One of the great truths of writing is that however brilliant you may be, getting someone to read and appreciate your work requires contact with other human beings.  I don’t mean publishers and agents, important as they are; but writers; editors; critics; and other, often annoying, people who give you advice on how to improve, polish and market your fiction.

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George Orwell: another inspirational author (see below)

Here are two sources of such contacts.

First, I recently had the good fortune to hear the writer Paul McVeigh reading from his debut novel The Good Son in Izmir (the link goes to a goodreads site with rave reviews).  He was inspiring and entertaining, and mentioned his blog, which gets a staggering 40,000+ hits a month.   (more…)

How to write: Orhan Pamuk

I had the good fortune recently to attend two events at which the famous Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk was present.

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Orhan Pamuk with British film director Grant Gee (Photo: Robert Pimm)

The first was a dialogue between Orhan Pamuk and the British film director Grant Gee, whose intriguing film Innocence of Memories explores Pamuk’s book, and museum project, The Museum of Innocence.  

The second was an event to mark the closing of the rather terrific !f Istanbul Film Festival.

(more…)

Casino Royale: the book. 6/10 so far

I am enjoying Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale in the Folio edition, a welcome Christmas gift. Bond certainly is a dated, post-war creation. But he does have magnificent attributes, many associated with his lifestyle. Take this description of the Martini he orders:

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?”

I checked Kina Lillet – it’s a defunct aperitif whose main ingredient, quinine, was removed in 1985.

As Felix Leiter says: “Gosh, that’s certainly a drink.”

But I’m inspired to go into print by Bond’s comment to Jesper Lynd (after whom he decides to name his previously un-named Martini recipe, which I have been drinking regularly since reading the book) at dinner, after she has ordered caviar as a starter. Bond asks the waiter for extra toast.

“The trouble always is,’ he explained to Vesper, “not how to get enough caviar, but how to get enough toast with it.”

So true, so true.

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Robert Pimm at “Spectre” premiere in Istanbul
For: undeniable style, economy with words, terrific internal monologue.  Bond is a creation to die for.  In the books, he has feelings, makes mistakes, and has self-doubt.
Against: dated, sexist and often stereotypical.
P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please friend me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see the “click here” blue button).  Check out the range of writing on this site via the sitemap and guide.

How to work better: 10 rules? Or not?

My father died on 29 November 2013.

He left behind many wonderful memories and made many people’s lives better.

But this blog isn’t about him; I’d need a book for that.

This blog is about a list he left written on a tiny scrap of paper:

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In his later years my father, a biblio- and logophile, occasionally left the odd piece of paper unfiled or perhaps in a place that was not obviously logical.

So it was my mother, as she sorted through his countless documents, who – rather astonishingly – discovered the scrap of paper; and brought it to my attention recently, thinking I might be interested.

I was fascinated.  People love lists.

This one is headed “How to work better” and reads as follows:

  • Do one thing at a time
  • Know the problem
  • Learn to listen
  • Learn to ask questions
  • Distinguish sense from nonsense
  • Accept change as inevitable
  • Admit mistakes
  • Say it simple (sic)
  • Be calm
  • Smile

(more…)

2 sets of brilliant tips on “how to write”

I wrote a blog a while back called “how to write“.  It was one of my most popular blogs.

Here are two lists of tips from famous authors about “how to write”.

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The first list, by George Orwell, is good for style:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

The excellent writer Owen Matthews brought to my attention a second list, by Henry Miller. It is good for (more…)

Writing tips: How I write

A look at how to write novels, a blog and short stories, all while holding down a full-time day job.  A target-driven approach may work for some people.

Thanks to everyone who has been reading my thriller Blood Summit and the famous Hotel Stories.

People sometimes ask me: ‘when do you write?  What are you working on now?’

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Here is a snapshot.

(more…)

Writing tips: writing the perfect article: Nut-grafs & Cosmic Kickers

The standard ingredients of instrumental lede, nut-graf, body and kicker, or cosmic kicker, provide a great framework for writing blogs, articles or other factual reports. 

A writer stares at a blank page, sweating.  How to get started?  If only there were a simple guide somewhere to writing articles for the Internet, newspapers or magazines!

So you want to write the perfect article? Welcome. I’ll tell you how.

The essential starting point is that you must have a clear central message What are you trying to say?  What’s your point? Clarity on this makes everything that follows much easier.

Start by reading part 1 of this series “7 tips for writing the perfect article” (links in bold italics are to other posts of mine on this website).  It shows how to decide on your message and make sure what you are writing is relevant.  Later, in part 3, How to write great Nut-grafs & Cosmic Kickers, you can see two worked examples based on the model set out below.

Once you are clear on what you want to say, it’s time to get started.  “The best way to start work is to start work”.  Structure is everything.

Many journalists use a simple template.  There are lots of ways of doing this; but the following, based on advice from a US journalist friend, has worked well for me in numerous feature articles during my time as a freelance journalist.  A worked example is at the end of this blog.

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For more writing tips, follow this blog (hit the blue “click here” button top right) 

Your article should consist of the following elements. I’ve set them out in the order in which they will appear (more…)

7 tips for writing the perfect article (part 1 of 3)

How to start a blog?  Let’s say you want to write a non-fiction piece for publication as a blog, newspaper article or in other media. Where to start?  Here are seven top writing tips.

1.  What is your message? A clear message is the most important – and difficult – element of writing a blog or writing an article.  If you don’t know what your message is or why you’re communicating it this way, stop right now.  The good news? Once you’ve decided your key message, the article is already half-written. Check out this piece, where the message is “if you’re going ski-ing a ski-guide may help you have more fun“. That message must be newsworthy and interesting – are you or the editor confident people will want to read it?

2.  How to decide on your message. So what is “newsworthy and interesting”? Two possibilities:

i)  a news peg. Something has happened out in the world. People want to know about it. You’re going to tell them. It could be an anniversary, a local or national event, or a personal angle on something people know about. My piece about Berlin traffic-light men, for example, reports on how images designed for East Berlin began to spread into West Berlin in 2005.

ii)  a news line. Maybe you have something to say which is newsworthy. Invented something new? Got an announcement to make? Published your new book? Developed a miracle diet? If it’s of wide interest, (more…)

South-East Anatolia: 23 photos of places you wish you could visit

OK.  Skip the blog.

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Go straight to the photos.  They’re on my Facebook page.  23 shots of extraordinary south-eastern Turkey.

It’s easy to lose your sense of wonder in this increasingly globalised planet.  Advice: keep letting yourself be amazed.

Places like this inspire me to write.  For an example of the results, see my novel Coronatime.  Read, ponder and enjoy.

All feedback most welcome.

Blogging tips: how often to post?

How often should you post on your blog?  Daily, weekly, monthly?  What frequency of blogging will attract maximum readership?  You can use social media to increase the readership of your blog posts.

I recently read a blog discussing the case for writing a post every day. The author decided to attempt this for the rest of the year, even if this meant some pretty short posts (“I like waffles!”)

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Robert Pimm at SALT Gallery in Istanbul.  Note rare shirt logo.

I, on the other hand, am torn.  (Aside: my friend Claudia told me in Vienna in 1985 that the words “Keep coming up with love but it’s so slashed and torn”, sung in a raspy voice by David Bowie on the 1981 Queen and David Bowie version sent, to put it politely, a frisson down her spine.  It’s at minute 2.16 on the link.)

Evidence suggests that posting lots of blogs gets lots of readers.  When I started this blog in 2013 I uploaded a couple of dozen of my newspaper articles in 24 hours and instantly received dozens of followers.

My general policy is to post once a week, usually on a Saturday around 1300.  My goal is to give readers around the world something to browse at the weekend.  In the past my goal was to pick a time which would work for my followers in the UK and US, but since I have started accumulating readers in India (hello everyone!) I may have to revise that.

Then we have Facebook.

I post all my blog-posts to my page on Facebook.  It is one of my top sources of hits.

I also use Twitter and Instagram regularly from my @robertpimm accounts to highlight my blog posts and other social media activity.  Usually I try to jazz these up with a photo.  Twitter has the big advantage that you can reach out to people you don’t know, although it is a tough, competitive world out there with hundreds of tweets posted every minute of every day.

Comments welcome!  Feel free to reply in the comments box below or, if you’re on Facebook, comment there.  If you have deep or dark thoughts and don’t want to share them with others, send me an e-mail using the “Contact Me” page above.

I look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

Disclaimer: fiction and journalism

I want to alert readers of this site to the distinction between the pages listed under “Journalism“, which are based on fact, and the pages listed under “Fiction“.

Anything listed under “Fiction” is a work of fiction.  None of the police officers, journalists, diplomats, politicians, military types, terrorists, assassins, hotel customers, waitresses, clowns, alligators, tycoons or any of the other characters who appears in the works in this category is in any way based on anyone I’ve ever met, heard of, or seen on TV.

The “Hotel Stories” are a work of fiction

For example, the “wonderful, feminist and dark” Hotel Stories do not depict an actual hotel, or a real hotel manager with occasional homicidal tendencies (read them now to learn how to kill someone with a white blouse, or with an iPhone in the hands of an innocent onlooker).

Nor do any of my works of fiction, whether novels or short stories, contain any information which I think might endanger the security of real people.  Indeed, I may lightly morph some descriptions of security procedures, government organisations or layouts of buildings to avoid compromising security.

I hope that’s clear.

P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, feel free to friend me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see the “click here” blue button).  Check out the range of writing on this site via the sitemap and guide.

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