The ONLY Rules of Write Club You’ll Ever Need


It seems the internet is awash with rules these days. Everyone who’s ever written anything from a short story to a seven book saga has an opinion on how it should be done. Do this. Do that. Do these three things and you can’t fail. For the love of God, don’t do that!

You get the idea.

But as far as I can see, there are only two ironclad rules of writing that professionals and wannabes alike should ever adhere to. That’s right. Two.

So what’s the first rule of write club?

1. There are no rules!

And the second?

2. Guess what? There are no fricken rules!

I have spent years, nay decades, in the pursuit of perfectly formed prose and precision crafted plotlines that adhere to (air quotes) ‘the rules’ of writing. And do you want to know how many stories I’ve sold? How many books I’ve published?

None. Nadda. Zip.

It’s not that my writing is bad (I mean, it may very well be. You tell me) it’s that I rarely finish a project, so nobody ever gets to read it (except maybe my mum and only to stroke my own ego). When serendipity strikes, I drag out the rule book. I bind her with restrictions and gag her with rules (heck, I’ve even waterboarded her ass on occasion) until she’s nothing more than a shivering, incoherent wreck of her former, glorious self.

Then one day I had an epiphany. These people, this faceless multitude, don’t know me. They don’t know how I work or in what direction the cogs in my head turn. Who, then, are they to tell me how to write? They may as well tell me how to dream.

You’ve got to get that write brain churning, through whatever means you have, in whatever form it takes, and tell the know-it-alls to shut the hell up.

No shirts, no shoes, people. And if this is your first night at write club, I suggest you do just that.

Delusions of Literary Grandeur: A Writer’s Struggle with Her Own Magnificence


I don’t know about you but the writer in me has an overwhelming belief that the tome to end all tomes is locked inside her head. A magnum opus, if you will, that will blow all other magnum opuses (opei?) out of the water. All she has to do is get that baby on paper and sweet ambrosia will spill forth in abundance, deifying the writer and gilding her words in gold.

In short, the writer in me suffers (greatly, it seems) from delusions of literary grandeur.

This is the source of all her woes: why she suffers from writer’s block and why she hardly ever (pretty much never) finishes anything she sits down to write. You see, the writer in me has such a disproportionately skewed opinion of her own potential that the reality always falls vastly short of the dream and why it keeps her reaching for the bottle time and time again.

It’s that age-old quest for perfection, people.

And the age-old excuse for not writing.

You see, one must wait for the fates to align in order for great prose to be wrought. Or so the writer in me proclaims. There is a time and a place for greatness and this isn’t it. Today just doesn’t feel like a writing day.

Perhaps tomorrow the Gods of Prose will smile upon my sorry soul and my tale will finally get told.

So until tomorrow, I’ll just sit here watching telly and getting pissed.

The pragmatist in me though, screams for rationality. The real world citizen in me, with all her flaws and foibles, wants to take that self-obsessed, denizen of delusion and punch her in the damn face. ‘Get over yourself!’ She wants to say. ‘Stop arsing around and get some words on paper!’

Because until you do you’re not a writer so stop telling people that you are. And FYI? Only through sheer tenacity and the expulsion of bodily fluids (granted, optional) will your dreams even have the chance to become a reality. Never mind a world event.

It’s a bitter pill, I know, but there is no gemstone that wasn’t first mined, shaped and polished. No masterpiece that wasn’t first dreamt, honed, bled over and despised for its imperfections.

So just get over yourself and write.

Today’s as good a day as any.

The Long and Faraway Gone


Before you join the long and far away gone,
With their glossed gibbous eyes full of revelry and sighs,
Let us waltz through the fields of our dreams my love,
Those candy-spun schemes of ephemeral youth.

Pearlescent was joy before cracks dulled the sky,
And age pricked our ears to the pendulous chime,
That hourglass of time where lost lovers shoal,
Through waters stilled in rapturous grace.

Sing before silence steals our words my dear,
Let us whisper of love in a velveteen haze,
Drape white-knuckle kisses on tremulous lips,
And bid long goodbyes to the red setting sun.

Staring at the Sun



A story is a ray of light. A blinding beam of conscious thought emanating directly from your soul. This light is bright, blinding even, and if you look directly at it, or for too long, you’ll be seeing spots for hours. Trust me, I’m looking at one right now.

But hidden within the white light of a story concept, or indeed a completed work, is a spectrum of elements and plotlines. The trouble lies in avoiding the bedazzlement long enough to see their hidden colours at work.

I don’t know about you but I have a problem discerning the elements of my stories. By that I mean theme, voice, plotlines, purpose etc. Every scene has to relate to the theme. Every event has to have a purpose. Every plotline has to weave perfectly into the next. Yadda, yadda etc.

When I first unearth that precious nugget of brilliance I am at a loss as to how to break it down into these so-called ‘essential elements’. My initial excitement of the find is soon dulled by doubt and self-loathing and, more often than not, the story is swallowed by thunderheads before it’s ever had a chance to shine.

In short, I suffer from story blindness.

Something happens, when I take a concept and try to refract it.

All the colours look the same.

I mean what is thesis anyway? What is theme? Aren’t they essentially the same thing? And what about the message, the lesson, the philosophy I’m flogging? What is my voice? What is my style? Are my plotlines coherent? My characters well rounded? I mean, jeez, all I wanted to do was write a story about a chick with gun who robs a space station and makes off with the key to the ninth gate of Hell, or some shit! (I’m thinking of calling it ‘Zelda Get Your Gun’) I don’t want to be bogged down in the boring stuff, the literary mechanics of the thing. I just want to write a ripping good read. Do I really have to refract the light? Can’t I just invest in a good pair of sun glasses and hope for the best?

Abso-bloomin-lutely I can!

Kid you not, I have spent years trying to disassemble my stories without success. For me it ruins the aesthetic. I’ve learned that if I bog myself down in trying to be clever my story will never get off the ground. So I don’t. Not anymore.

And do you know what?

The rainbow reveals itself anyway. The very act of writing is all the refraction your story needs. I mean, sure, it’ll still need a little shaping and a shitload of polishing for its colours to really zing but they’re there. They always were. They were just hidden behind the light.

What I’m saying is, don’t sweat the small stuff when you’re writing. Instead, look up into that ominous sky of roiling doubt and self-loathing and marvel at the rainbow you’re painting.

The Goldfish Evolution: A Thought on Modern Technology




I had a dream the other night that I was a goldfish.

There I am cruising my bowl, glubbing water and suchlike, when WHAM! The bowl shatters and I’m sent flipping through the air. Stop laughing, that shit was scary! So anyway, I face-plant the carpet see and as I glub my last a notion strikes me: this dream may not be as far-fetched as it seems.

I mean think about it.

We live our lives through our various trinkets of technology: computers, tablets, phones, sat-navs, you name it. Our worlds are getting smaller. Our lives are becoming insular. Mark my words, it won’t be long before we’re all circling our own little fish bowls, viewing the world with a skewed perception of what’s real. And let me ask you this, what will you do if your cyber-bowl smashes like the one in my dream?

Just saying.

Training for Everest

Before I go any further I feel I should say, straight off the bat, that I’m not training to climb Mount Everest. Phew! I’m glad we got that cleared up. Now, where was I? Oh yeah…

So I’ve announced to the world that I’m going to write six novellas in six months. You heard me right. Six novellas. Six months. What the holy jeebus was I thinking? I may as well have said I’m going to climb Everest (now the title makes a little more sense doesn’t it? I repeat, I’m not actually climbing Everest)! But this challenge isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds, you know, and I believe there is method (if only a little) in my madness (of which there’s a lot).

*Note to self – I use brackets way too much (and also ‘notes to self’)

You see, when I first sat down at my computer after that infamous vacation in Procrastiland I thought I could just pick up where I left off. No bother to old H. B. It’s just like riding a bike, right? I’ll have a few novels churned out in no time. Easy-peasy.

Wrong. It’s hardy-wardy.

During my absence the muses had grown flabby and belligerent. The Forge was in a terrible state. Everything was in a guddle and the cleaning hadn’t been done in months. Dust coated every idea and doubt shrouded every other. My thoughts were incoherent and out of sequence. The cat had gotten into my plotlines again and major characters had upped and left without so much as a by-your-leave!

I couldn’t blame them really. I’d neglected my writerly duties you see, left those poor souls to fend for themselves while I was away having a rare old time doing, well, nothing much at all really. I couldn’t sleep for the shame of it.

So why attempt this seemingly impossible thing, I hear you ask? In the face of such adversity?

Exercise and experience.

Imagine if you will that you are at base camp, Everest. The sun is shining but there’s a chill in the air that would freeze the knockers off a nanny goat. Sun-faded bunting snaps and flutters in a brisk Himalayan breeze. You’ve neither slept right since you got here nor felt you’re nose in weeks (can you ever feel your nose?). The summit is but a distant dream piercing the Nepalese sky but the sheer impossibility of the feat does nothing to dampen your desire to accomplish it.

That being said, you will most certainly die if you try. Even the most eager adventurer wouldn’t dare attempt the climb if he’d never in his life climbed before, now would he? I think we’re all in agreement when I say, that would be suicide.

Nobody wants to be an icicle at the end of the world.

If you’re gonna conquer Everest you need guile by the bagful, determination but the truckload, experience in abundance and training in spades. The body needs to be conditioned to withstand the cold, the thin air, the sheer challenge of the thing. It’s true that almost anyone can train for it, and lots of people do every year. It can be done folks. But here’s the twist – it’s not Joe Bloggs from Chigwell with all his experience and enthusiasm that I look to for inspiration.

It’s the Sherpa who carries his arse.

Sherpas. Now those guys are badass. If I can be anyone in this little vignette, I want to be a Sherpa. Those guys aren’t just trained for Everest and all she has to throw at them. They were born for it. Everest is in their blood. Scaling her many faces is second nature to them and they summit every time.

The mountain is their bitch.

I want the mountain to be my bitch too. But my mountain isn’t a snow-capped she-devil at the back of beyond. My mountain is simply to finish a full length novel. The way I see it, writing is a perilous endeavour not dissimilar to summiting Everest. Only a few survive to tell the tale and it’s just as taxing on body and soul. Okay, it might not leave you heaving for air or puking in your boots (maybe it will – depends on what you’re writing, I guess) but if you haven’t done it for a while then you’d better dress for the cold because it’s going to be a long night in hell. S’all I’m saying.

That’s what these six novellas are all about for me. They are my training for the big event, my rite of passage, so to speak. Six minor peaks in preparation for the big one. You never know, a couple might be quite good.

I’m getting ready for the big climb people. Maybe I won’t make it past base camp or maybe, just maybe, I’ll see you at the summit.

Farewell Procrastiland

Ah, Procrastiland. How I’ll miss your labyrinth of cobbled digressions, leading nowhere except the sorrowful bottom of a wine bottle and endless televisual diversions (damn you, Game of Thrones!).

I bid adieu to your wily warrens of iniquity where countless hours are squandered on endless rumination. Hear me! For I’ll ne’er return to that twilit bay where inertia ebbs and flows with the tides of the sea. No more, I say!

I’m coming home to the Forge to get those creative juices flowing once again. I’ll re-jig my little blogosphere (done, boom!) and get cracking. No more playing truant at life! No more chocolate martinis by the pool (ock, really?).

I’m champing at the proverbial bit to get some new stuff on here. She who dares and all that. So keep a weather eye on the horizon my blogger chums, and watch for my signal!

2016 is going to be a productive year for old H. B. you see if it isn’t!

My Writing Day

The first shaft of morning light slices between the curtains, spilling time across the floor in expanding pools of gold. Your eyes are bleary and full of sleep. You groan and stretch, check the time, sigh. Another day is here. Another chance to turn it all around, to prove to the haters that your not a fake, a wannabe, a pretender to pen and page. You’re a bona fide writer, dagnamit, and today you’re fricken Dickens. But how do you go about it? How do you approach the business of writing and thus dispel the illusion that you’re actually just a lowly accounts clerk dreaming of being a writer?

It’s all in the Approach

Everyone has their methods, their rituals, their compulsions when it comes to writing. No two writers are the same, or so I’m told. Some like to write first thing in the morning. Some like to write in the middle of the night. Many start their writing with a coffee, a few like to tee off with something a little stronger. Some can’t be within five feet of a laptop without their lucky pants tied firmly around their head (just me? Okay then). Planner, pantser, seasoned veteran, fresh-faced newbie, potay-to, potah-to. Each to their own and all that. There are, I’m sure, a thousand and one methods of approaching this thing and not one of them will be correct. So how do I get my groove on? How do I butter up my literary muse in the hopes of a glimpse of something saucy? It’s simple really. I take my pants off and start planning.

To Plan or to Pants? That is the Question

I always have to know where a particular plotline is heading but I prefer to discover my characters as I write so I guess I’m both a planner and a pantser. I’m toying with the social norms, I know. The thing is though, I have to know that those clever little plot threads I’m spinning are knotting in the right places and that, my good friends, takes meticulous planning. The tapestry has to mirror the design, so to speak. I’ve tried writing stories without planning them first but when I do, I tend to break out in hives. My characters, on the other hand, seem much more real, much more human, when I let them mature on the page. Other than a name, a few vital statistics, and a general sense of who they are, I basically leave them to their own devices. I mean, sure, sometimes they get up to all sorts of mischief and I end up having to either redesign my tapestry or murder a few of my darlings but that’s part of the fun of writing, isn’t it? Creating worlds and people that don’t actually exist and pitting them against each other then sitting back to watch the fireworks. Whenever I’ve tried to plan a character to fit a particular role, they’ve always come across as stiff and two-dimensional like cardboard cut-outs on a vacant stage. It just doesn’t work. Oh, and I tend to break out in hives.

Wherefore Art Thou, Muse?

I always begin my writing session with a quick browse of Google Images and a ruddy good brainstorm. Pictures are the most effective tools for generating story ideas, I find. What I’m looking for when I’m browsing is an image that plucks my imagination like a violin string and resonates long after it’s gone. The image can be of anything or anyone: a misty mountaintop or a grizzled old granny – or a grizzled old granny on a misty mountain top, eating ice cream and howling at the moon. Now there’s an idea for a story! I also find that ‘the more the merrier’ rings true here. Taking not just one but a handful of images (say four or five or, heck, sometimes I’ll go crazy and pick six) from varying subjects and sources is the best way to find unique characters and settings as well as original, thought provoking plotlines. Plotting in this way is rather like joining the dots in a huge, multi-dimensional picture book. As the story unfolds dot by dot, image by image, plot-point by plot-point, I see it gaining shape and structure before my very eyes. It can be nerve-wracking in the beginning, when I’m not sure what the picture’s going to be, but once I’ve traced that initial outline, all I need to do is fill in the gaps. Some of my most original work has come about in this way. Sure, not all of it makes sense and some of it’s just plain weird but it’s an incredibly satisfying process and I always have fun doing it, which is kind of the point anyway.

Thou shalt go Forth and Build an Arc-itechtural Haven

I’ve touched on this before, I know, but just to recap, I write in a hole at the bottom of my garden. Okay, okay, it’s not a hole per se, more a shed really. Actually it is a shed. Roald Dahl wrote some of his best stuff in a shed so I figured what the hell? I used to write in the sitting room, in the kitchen, even the bedroom – anywhere I could capture that elusive golden moment (in my head, it kind of looks like a snitch from Harry Potter). When that peace was repeatedly interrupted by kids and pets and partners (and jobs and chores and in-laws), I migrated to the attic where I gathered my words amid mountains of abandoned toys, charity bags full of old clothes, and umpteen offcuts of carpet (not to mention various eight-legged literary critics with a penchant for frightening would-be writers when they’re at their most vulnerable). My shed though, now that’s something else. It’s my little haven in the storm. My hideaway. My place to let loose and let the creative juices flow. It’s modest, sure, but I love it. When I’m in my shed nothing seems out of reach. The world is my clamshell, so to speak, and anything goes when I’m safely within those pine-panelled walls. It’s vital that we writers have a place that’s ours, a place where we can be at one with our wordsmithery and transcend reality for a time. I don’t know about you but it’s the only thing that keeps me sane.

Will They Love me in the Morning?

My writing career (such as it is) is built on sacrifice. I sacrifice time with my kids, my partner, my family and my friends in order to shape stories that may never be read by another human being, let alone get published. I have to make peace with that truth every time I head out to my little shed at the bottom of the garden. Am I wasting my time? Am I damaging my most precious and intimate relationships in the pursuit of something as transient and incorporeal as a dream? I know how slippery that dream can be. The process of writing, for me, is like grasping at eels in a bucket. It’s frustrating, time consuming, and in order to be in with a chance of success, you have to get your hands dirty. You have to put the time in. The trick to this thing is compromise (and a lot of planning). I schedule my writing time (two hours every day) and I adhere to it come hell or high water. Everyone knows when mum’s in her shed, she’s not to be disturbed. Period. Unless, of course, it’s snowing or someone famous has died. However, when that shed door swings open and she steps, bleary eyed and blinking, into the afternoon sunshine, they know that writing time is over and mum is back. From then on my time belongs to my family. I embrace them with my full and unwavering attention and for the remainder of the day I am theirs and no-one else’s. That, my friends, is how I spend my days – sacrificing one happiness for another.

Writing is a selfish pursuit. Writers are a different breed of animal. To do what we do takes commitment, perseverance and dogged determination. Writing is a solitary endeavour but that doesn’t make us solitary creatures. We need to interact with others. We need to experience the world in order to write about it. So get out there, boys and girls, go chase those dreams because they sure-as-shit aint gonna chase you.

Dealing With Distractions

The biggest problem I have when writing is becoming distracted. There’s always something going on. There’s always someone demanding my attention. There are always chores to do, responsibilities to fulfil, workplaces to attend. There’s the fact that I don’t have anywhere that I can use specifically for writing. I write in the sitting room mostly, or in my bedroom. I write in the garden if the weather’s nice (pah!). I’ve even tried writing in a corner of the attic, among the spider webs and the old toys and the accumulating off-cuts of carpet. But I can’t seem to escape the drudgery long enough to get any significant volume of words on the page.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t help myself either. Having recently joined Twitter, it seems I have fallen prey to the whims of my own ego. Instead of using what valuable (and limited) time I have to write, I watch that little number on the browser tab instead. I make strange, pointless comments about crap no-one’s interested in in order to maintain a presence in this surreal cyberspace. I repeatedly check to see if anyone new is following me, or if any of them have mentioned me. What are my literary idols doing? What are they saying? Are there any publishing houses following me? Is anyone interested in what I have to say? Anyone at all?

And all the while that Word document remains blank. That cursor keeps blinking. So I find myself asking the question: do I want the distractions or do I want to write? Clearly I can’t have both and so the answer, of course, is option two. I want to write. I want to write my gelatinous butt off.

In light of this epiphany it has become imperative that I give my writing the time and attention it rightly deserves. Though there are certain distractions I will never be able to ignore, like my children for instance (pesky kids!), there are things I can do to minimise the others. I believe that the smallest changes can have the biggest impact – a little twizzle here, a gentle fiddle there – and to that end I have made some resolutions, commandments if you will, that will hopefully help me become the writer I dream of being.

1. Thou shalt not browse
There shall be no internet access when writing. None of any kind. This includes research for said writing. Anything I need to know I can ‘Google’ after the fact. So Twitter, you’re just gonna have to wait. No, stop flashing that little number at me, I don’t care what you’ve got to say. I not going to tell you again! Stop it I tell you!

2. Thou shalt not view terrestrial images
There is to be absolutely, categorically, no TV whilst creative juices are flowing. Not even if Eastenders is on. In-fact, I’m getting rid of the TV altogether. There’s never anything on anyway. Except Eastenders of course. And Breaking Bad. And Game of Thrones. No..! *Shakes fist at the sky* I. Must. Resist.

3. Thou shalt build an arc-itechtural haven
I shall go forth and purchase a desk (or build one from old bits of wood I find in the shed, I’m not fussed really). This will prevent painful knee burn from prolonged laptop supportage. Furthermore, this newfound ergonomic bliss will help with my posture (I’m developing a weighty hunch) and will alleviate backache caused by aforementioned hunch. I vow to keep said workspace clear of clutter at all times in the pursuit of at-one-ness with my wordsmithery and will find a place somewhere out of the way, preferably with a moat and some kind of drawbridge, to which only I have the key. Mwah-ha-ha-ha *strokes white cat*

4. Thou shalt write thine arse off
I shall write. Just write, dagnamit! Write, write, and when I’m done writing, shit, I’ll write some more! I’ll write until I collapse to the floor in breathless relief and fall into a fitful stupor. I’ll write until my brain implodes and my fingers fall off. I’ll write morning noon and night. Unless I’m working of course, or sleeping, or, you know, feeding my children and such.

Okay so that’s only four commandments, but you get the gist. The point is that I’m making changes and, as with everything in life, it’s an ongoing process. So what am I going to do now, I hear you ask?

Why, write of course.

Happy Birthday to the Lord of Epic Fantasy

tolkienOne man to rule them all,

One man to find them,

One man to bring them all,

and in his genre bind them.

This man changed my world when, one rainy day in March 1989, I sat down to read The Hobbit for the very first time. It was the first ‘proper’ book I’d ever read and the power of Tolkien’s words thrust me onto a road I have wandered ever since.

So here’s to you John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, wherever you may be.