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).


Five quick ways to make Word look more like Scrivener

It’s been a while since I’ve offered any writing tips here. But given the lockdown and the fact I can’t get out to any events this summer now’s the time to change that. So here’s the first of my writing tips, all of which will now be delivered as short YouTube videos since that seems to me the easiest way to get them out of there.

The first is one that tries to answer a very simple question: is there a way to use Microsoft Word for creative writing that emulates some of the tools found in apps like Scrivener and Ulysses?

This has been nagging me ever since I gave up Word for the Scrivener in order to deal with the massive task of handling the many complexities of The Killing series.

See below for what I found… and if you like these little videos do please subscribe to the YouTube channel and feel free to share and embed as you see fit.


Murder at Mohawk Lake

A second extract from Shooter in the Shadows

Author Tom Honeyman has locked himself away on a tiny, remote island in the Venetian lagoon in the hope of finding the inspiration to save his career. Instead, he has an unwanted intruder, and a threatening deadline. Tom made his money naming the killer in a vicious murder in his home town Prosper in upstate New York. But the individual who’s infiltrated himself onto Tom’s island says he fingered the wrong man. Without access to the outside world, no phone, no internet, no means of escape, Tom must write a new version of his book, one that names the real villain… or lose his life.

The mysterious visitor has an unexpected gift. He’s already written the first chapter of the story he expects Tom to finish, an account of the murders at Mohawk Lake.

Available in e-book for $2.99/$2.49 from Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo and Google Play on July 18, and in print from Amazon.

Read the first extract.

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The Venice of Shooter in the Shadows

Shooter in the Shadows

Here’s a look at some of the places I visited while writing Shooter in the Shadows. They’re a long way from San Marco and the Rialto and proof there’s a very different Venice out there waiting to be found…