Charlie and the mermaid… some ideas on starting a book

Some years ago I wrote a book called Writing: A User Manual. Lee Child donated a very generous foreword and Bloomsbury did nicely with it in paperback in their academic line.

My idea was to write the kind of book I wish I’d read before I started trying to work on a novel. There are lots of excellent guides out there to writing theory. The trouble was I needed advice on practical matters. No one starts to paint without learning what kind of brushes and media they need. Writing, for me anyway, requires the same kind of focused, real world advice. How do you organise the complex structure of a book ? What makes writing really work?

And that was what User Manual was all about. It’s still around and the general advice I put in there still sticks even if the technology has moved on quite a bit. In this torpid summer lockdown I decided to delve back into those pages, pull out some examples then rework them here as YouTube videos.

You’ll find the first below. The book uses a potential story to illustrate various aspects of the writing process. That idea I called Charlie and the Mermaid. In this initial video you’ll see how I usually begin an idea. With a simple, visual story spark. After that I hope to show you how that can go in any number of a different directions. You may not know your final destination, but deciding the route you’re going to take is important, even at an early stage. This is a big subject and one I’ve tried to compress into a mere fourteen minutes (which is long in YouTube time I know, but you can’t rush writing).

More follows later as we used to write in newspapers… so if you want to be sure to know do please subscribe to updates here, my YouTube channel or follow me on Twitter (or all three if you like).