Some thoughts on ‘write what you know’ — a podcast

Last week I ran an interview with my Venetian writing mates, Gregory Dowling and Philip Gwynne Jones, which you’ll find below. One point raised by Gregory in that chat near San Basilio kept nagging at me: that old and thorny subject of writing about what you know.

Gregory rightly pointed out that, as an academic, it was second nature to him to try to find out everything he could about a subject before sitting down to write about it. My background in journalism — with deadlines always looking — made my approach very different.

Neither’s right or wrong of course. There’s no such thing when it comes to working on a piece of fiction, just what works for you.

But here are a few thoughts on the subject from my point of view. Feel free to jump into the discussion in the comments below if you like. This is also a test of my new podcasting system ahead of a bigger project to come — I hope the audio quality is starting to improve.


Talking Venice, writing and books, with two authors who live there

Gregory, Philip and yours truly outside the Terminal bar earlier this week.
Gregory Dowling and Philip Gwynne Jones in conversation.

I’ve written a good few books set in Italy but always from a slight distance. While I spend a lot of time there I’ve never made the move. So I thought it would be interesting to talk to a couple of Brits who have made their home there — and written about it. If you’re a follower of novels set in Venice you’ll know the names. Gregory Dowling is the author of the Alvise Marangon mysteries set in the 18th century, while Philip Gwynne Jones writes the contemporary Nathan Sutherland series.

We met up for a chat at the lovely little Terminal bar near the San Basilio stop earlier this week. I plonked my little audio recorder on the table and we chatted for half an hour about books and writing the city the two of them now call home. They’re a fascinating pair and half an hour scarcely does them justice. I think you’ll find a few surprises in the stories they have to tell — and a couple of local tips that will help you see more of the real Venice than most visitors, focussed on San Marco and the Rialto, ever find.

Now I’m not a professional interviewer or sound recordist (I will protest it’s my first day on the job until the cows come home). While I’ve done my best to reduce some of the background noise — water taxis, people chatting as they wander past, the inevitable suitcase wheels and at one point a woman berating her husband over the phone — this is still a live recording outside on a hot August day by the lagoon.

I hope you enjoy it as much as you’ll enjoy Gregory and Philip’s books.

PS. In case I haven’t made this sufficiently clear in the audio above… I am in no way envious.


Not one little bit.


How Venice saved my writing career — a podcast

As anyone who knows me understands I love Venice. A lot. I’m just back from my third trip there this year and it’s time I paid some dues. First a podcast on how a random press trip to the city and a boring press conference kickstarted my writing career just when I thought it was over.

And tomorrow a treat I’ve promised on Twitter: an interview with two British writers who live in Venice and write about the city in very different ways: Gregory Dowling, creator of the Alvise Marangon mysteries, and Philip Gwynne Jones, author of the Nathan Sutherland books.

But today here’s why I will always be grateful to Venice for teaching me some important lessons about writing…

How Venice saved my writing career

Why writers should be thinking about audio

This year Thrillerfest in New York was pretty much about audio for me. I gave a talk on what audio means for writers at Craftfest. Later I was on a panel with some audio industry luminaries and two wonderful audiobook narrators, Therese Plummer and Robin Whitten.

A good time was had by all, and as always, listening to audio professionals, I came away learning lots of useful new stuff. But you know what? Thrillerfest seems to be mainly a convention for people looking to get into the writing business these days. And an awful lot of them didn’t seem to know audio is the most dynamic bit of the business around at the moment, and the only part that is growing at a phenomenal rate.

I was amazed frankly. The books world is looking pretty flaky right now. I came into this business a quarter of a century ago and, while I’m by no means a household name, I’ve done well enough to retire if I felt like it (I don’t — I love writing and never intend to stop). Today, for a variety of reasons, it’s harder than ever to have a financially secure writing career with any longevity. In the future authors will have to be all-round storytellers, able to turn their attention to different media when the opportunity arises, if they’re going to live off their writing skills alone. Audio could make the difference.

So here’s a version of the talk I gave at Thrillerfest, delivered in audio as a podcast because, well, that’s the medium, isn’t it? It’s the first time I’ve tried podcasting and, if everything works, should be available shortly on the usual outlets such as Apple and Spotify.

As an experiment I’ve left the comments open and will try to respond, as time allows, to any queries you have. As for the technical quality of this first stab at podcasting — no apologies. I’m new to all this and it’s my first day on the job. Still learning. And the failings of this first stab illustrate one of the points I make in the talk — producing good audio is hard.

Here, to make things easier, is an illustration of the dialogue tagging example I gave in the talk.

And here, with all its misspellings, is my original PowerPoint file used in New York. Please excuse repetitions and misspellings. It was all done in a hurry and I’m a writer not a presenter.

If you want to understand this medium from the point of view of a professional narrator I highly recommend the audiobook Storyteller: How to be an Audio Book Narrator by Lorelei King. Lorelei is a busy actor in many media but also one of the most prolific and talented audiobook narrators around at the moment.

More podcasts coming shortly, and from Venice where I will be chatting to a couple of fellow writers who live there. Watch this space as they say…