Saturday, January 14, 2006


As I get older, I find I get more and more like the car; like the Ford I need regular maintenance. I’ve just had my six monthly check up on the eye, after surgery to ease the pressure when I suffered an attack of acute glaucoma a couple of years ago. (Everything is fine, thank you.)

My eye specialist, Dylan Jones, is a fellow author. Advised to try golf as a winding-down exercise, he found it boring, so instead of wielding a mashy niblick on his days off, he writes gruesome thrillers that have been adapted for television, instead.

We once shared the stage at the Llanelli Writer’s Group. He told them proper writerly things, such as “…never change viewpoint in mid-scene…” –- oh, dear failed that one then. With nothing that sensible to offer, I addressed the oft-asked question, “How did you start writing?” with a show-and-tel, holding up early published efforts such as “Nurse Nancy” and “Tessa’s Toybox” in D C Thomson’s “Twinkle” – a picture paper for little girls. (Believe me, telling a story in five sentences teaches you a lot about writing tight!). There were also the predictable magazine pieces of the personal experience type; how to make Christmas tree decorations; giving birth in a foreign country...

I'd also taken along the pile of complete manuscripts I’d submitted to Mills & Boon (who knew about "proposals", or submitting the first three chapters back then?) along with the rejection letters that had swiftly followed.

The most important lesson I had to offer was the value of perseverance.


Last Saturday, novelist Louise Doughty started a series of articles in the Daily Telegraph called A novel in a year. She had so many eminently sensible things to say about writing; I particularly liked: --

“…we all have something to learn. Even Ian McEwan and Margaret Atwood still have something to learn, and the reason they are great writers is because they know it, and work incredibly hard on each and every book.”

Just over half way through the wip, I can assure her that they are not alone.

Louise invited would be novelists to take up a pen and notebook and write one sentence, beginning with the words, “The day after my eight birthday, my father told me…” You have a few more days to post your effort on the Telegraph website.

This week she incites would-be writers to read contemporary authors, suggesting that you can learn just as much by learning from bad writing, as good. Bearing in mind that authors are a product of their time her watchword is “contemporary”; she believes firmly that reading Hilary Mantel or Graham Swift would be more useful to the novice than, say George Eliot or Leo Tolstoy.

That pre-supposes that you want to write literary fiction of course. If you want to write popular fiction, become a bestseller, you might be better employed reading Katie Fforde or Tess Gerritson or Val McDermid. The reason I’ve given you two blood and gore thriller writers to one romance writer is because it seems to me that the amount of books you sell is in direct proportion to the amount of blood spilt.


It's time to vote for your favorite romance novels of 2005 at the Cata Network. Any romance from 2005 can be nominated at each of three sites.

For your favorite Single Title romance (and subgenres including chick lit, novel with romantic elements, and women's fiction) visit

For your favorite romance ebook (and subgenres) visit

For your favorite series romance, ie, Tender, Harlequin Romance, Harlequin Presents, etc, visit


The Romantic Novelists' Association is having a vote on their website: Which heroine would you most like to slap?

It's also a contest to win tickets for the 2006 FosterGrant Romantic Novel of the Year award ceremony at the Savoy, so click on the link and take your pick.


Michelle Styles said...

All I can say about the proposal thing is that it saves postage. I always have completed my mss -- whether or not I sold them. The act of completing a mss teaches the writer so much. Oftentimes, the problems are not in the first three chapters but later on.

I do so agree that the writer never stops learning. As John Steinbeck put it over forty years -- it is part of the tantalizing majesty of the medium. You never know everything there is to know.

Liz Fielding said...

You're right, Michelle. There's nothing like finishing a manuscript as a learning experience. Even if it's rubbish, you have learned that you have the stamina to complete a book.

While each book still feels like the equivalent of climbing Everest -- or on occasions, the entire Andes -- you know that you've done it before and can do it again.

Fiona Harper said...

Thanks for posting the link to the "Book in a year". It was fascinating reading the posts for the exercise.

Did you have a go, Liz?

Liz Fielding said...

I'm thinking about it, Fiona!

Fiona Harper said...

I did! Anonymously, of course.

I'm going to go back to read the next article too.