Top Tips from a Bestselling Author

On February 24, 2015

I was already busy writing When Harry Met Rose: Mr Selfridge and the Search for Love when I went to a workshop with the author Simon Brett at the Writers’ Centre in Norwich in 2014. It was a short session, a couple of hours, and was part of the Noirwich festival, so the theme was crime writing – although much of what was said applied to all writing. It proved to be the spur I needed to finish my book and have the confidence to make some all-important changes. Here’s a summary of what was said:


The three essentials to writing are:

1. Listen

2. Read

3. Write

Keep in mind that until you start writing you don’t know if the idea in your head is any good or not – so get the words on the page. Write anything and see where it takes you. Write anything is equally good advice for those awful moments when you wonder whatever made you think you could write a book, and feel like giving up … If you just plough on and write anything you can usually get beyond the inevitable bouts of self-doubt that punctuate the writing process.

Don’t see your genre, whether it’s crime, romance, fantasy or whatever, as a straightjacket. Write what you want to write about.

Think about shape. If you’re writing your first novel you may feel you’ve got to get everything in right at the outset. Learn to hold back.

Think about characters. They are the cement of your novel and everything becomes easier if you have characters the readers care about. Give even minor characters something to make them stand out. Bringing in a good character halfway through the story can give the book a lift.

Think about pace. Simon Brett writes his books quickly because he finds it helps if his writing is as close as possible to the pace of the reader. Getting it right takes practice.

Read what you’ve written out loud. That way you will pick up anything that doesn’t flow, like clunky dialogue.

Don’t despair if you keep going back to the opening and re-working it. The opening is the bit that gets re-written the most. Expect to re-write and re-write the first chapter.

Writing a book is a huge commitment and, as any writer will tell you, writing a good book is not easy. Don’t give up if your first novel is not the one that actually gets published. Persevere. And remember – nothing is ever wasted. The more you write, the better your writing becomes. All that practice pays off. Not convinced? Simon Brett had four unpublished novels under his belt before submitting the first Charles Paris book to Victor Gollancz and having it accepted. That was in 1975 and since then he has gone on to publish nineteen novels in the series.


My thanks to Simon Brett and the Writers’ Centre, Norwich.


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