I recently attended an outstanding Arvon Foundation writing course in Shropshire. I will write a blog about that shortly.
In researching, I found this piece, commissioned long ago by The Boston Globe but never published, about a 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.
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…)
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, Biotime, 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…)
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 do you get your ideas from?
As the author of eight novels and eight short stories*, I work hard to find ideas. Here are my four sources of inspiration, and one non-source:
(i) my best source of inspiration 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 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
(ii) my second big source of ideas is external inputs. If you read the piece about my hotel stories at the link above, (more…)
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:
- #howtowrite: Where to write
- Two great sources of writing inspiration
- 2 sets of brilliant tips on “how to write”
- How to work better: 10 rules? Or not?
- How I write;
- #howtowrite: ViennaWritingInspiration; and
- The 4 elements of the perfect article: Nut-grafs and Cosmic Kickers
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…)
The latter drew, with humility appropriate to a neophyte, on the expertise of Wodehouse specialist Plumtopia – recommended for all things Jeeves and Wooster and beyond.
Sadly, I have been devoting an unreasonable proportion of recent months to a well-known trilogy (note to self: insert link later) which, while fascinating, was not quick, easy or pleasurable to read. Review to follow.
So it was with immense pleasure that I returned last week to Wodehouse, with “Jeeves in the Offing”.
The front and back cover of my Folio Society edition of “Jeeves in the Offing”: Jeeves waits, reading Spinoza, outside the Fox & Goose, while Bertie, within, meets Bobbie Wickham
“As night falls on All Hallows, the Zentralfriedhof is transformed into an ethereal wonderland. It seems every visitor throughout the day has lit a candle at a headstone. Kneeling black-clad women rake frozen earth around graves. Candlelight shimmers on stone angels’ wings. Visitors move toward the cemetery gates, their breath forming clouds .”
A stone cherub lit by a candle on 1 November 1986
The central cemetery in Vienna is worth a visit at any time of year. The old Jewish cemetery, its overgrown state controversial, is symbolic and evocative (you may see deer there, or other wildlife). (more…)
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?