Wednesday, 29 May 2013

A Break from E-Books

I've put my kindle in the cupboard!

It's strange - after more than two years of trying out E-books and reading them alongside real and actual books, I find I've got no desire to use my kindle - or, indeed, my ipad mini - which i once thought was the greatest thing ever.

For a while I've loved all these things as much as actual paper books. Or rather, I've just been thinking they're all the same thing. Just different ways of accessing text. Sometimes, ebooks have allowed me to access books i'd never be able to get on paper - exclusives, reprints, gutenburg rareties, and so on. And I've loved the fact that the pages light up and shine on you in the dark. I love increasing the size of the font to the point where I'm no longer squinting...

So there's been much to love about my e-books. I've been a bit miffed with having to recharge things and how quickly the silly ipad runs down its battery. And I'm so fed up with all the rubbishy books i've bought or whizzed onto my machine for nothing and all the samples and excerpts too. It seems impossible to get rid of that stuff, once it's on your cloud, or whatever they call it...

One thing that book lovers love doing is going through their shelves and sorting things out. I love to cull the bookstacks and make up bags that need to go to charity. I like to pile up books i want to lend to particular friends. i like making up a heap of things that need rereading - this summer, next year, or some indefinite time in the future. I love to keep a bookcase beside my bed that contains all of my favourite-ever books.

This kind of stuff - this disorganised, ramshackle, almost pointless sorting - seems impossible or redundant in the e-book world. Everything in the e-book world seems somehow hideously indiscriminate and spookily tidy - at the *very same time*...

I just like heaps of books about the place. And that was always true, even when i was using my kindle a lot.

I'm sure i'll go back to those amazing machines at some point. I'm bound to. It's just, at the moment, I'm enjoying paperbacks and hardbacks again.

At the weekend I was in the garden with 'Dear Lupin' by Roger and Charlie Mortimer. It's a thirty-odd year collection of letters from an exasperated father to a feckless, carefree son. That was a very happy Saturday afternoon - eavesdropping on that correspondence. Highly recommended. As is the new David Sedaris collection of essays, 'Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls.' I think he's lost a lot of the ferocious energy and urgency of those early essays about his childhood and young adulthood - but the writing is genial and funny, as ever. There's not the sense that these pieces absolutely *needed* to be written - as there is in 'The Santaland Diaries', for example - but the current volume is a good Sunday afternoon companion, I'd say.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Guest Post - from Writer and Editor Liz Broomfield

I haven't had a Guest Post on my blog for a while!

Today's is from writer and editor Liz Broomfield, and it's all about the business of going freelance!

Being professional about being a writer

So, you’re a writer. You’ve written some stuff, whether that’s some fan fiction for a website, a novel that you’re touting around potential agents, or a memoir that you’re planning to self-publish. Maybe you’ve put together a slim volume of verse, there’s a demand for the script of your new play, or you’ve written the non-fiction tome that will change people’s lives.
Good stuff. Now it’s time to get professional about things. 

I don’t mean that you’re ready to be a professional writer, to throw up the day job and sit in a log cabin chewing a pencil or sweating over a laptop all day, every day. But you do need to be professional, to take some tips from the professionals whose job this is, and to do two things:

Present yourself professionally

Present your work professionally

What do I mean by this? Simply put: treat yourself as a Writer, not as someone who writes; and make sure that what you write represents you as well as possible. 

We’ll look at the first point first. 

Presenting yourself professionally

You’re a writer! Congratulations! Don’t hide your light under a bushel, don’t mutter out of the corner of your mouth and get back to your fascinating day job selling ball-bearings – say it out loud and be proud. 

Now you’ve done that, treat your writing as you’d tell a friend to. Heck, treat it as a business. 

I’m not talking Richard Branson or sell-sell-sell or liking the company so much you buy it here – I’m suggesting that you do this:

* Have a plan. OK, it’s not a business plan as such, but what are you going to write next? What are you going to do with your writing? Are you going to self-publish, put out an e-book or hold out for that agent.

* Have a dream. In the business world it might be called a goal – in the tenuous world of writing, you might want to call it a dream. Your book, published by [publisher], on the shelves in front of you in [bookseller] and top on the [online retailer’s] charts.

* Think about how you might achieve that dream – if you’ve only written one short story so far (though that’s one more than most people) and you dream of your Game Of Thrones-style set of tomes on people’s bookshelves, work out what you can do about that.

* If you make any money at all out of this, whether it’s a few pounds from selling an e-book for Kindle or a hefty publisher’s advance, do the right thing, register as self-employed and make sure you pay your taxes.

Once you’re treating your writing seriously, you might like to do some of the following things, culled from business but adapted for you … 

* Dedicate your time – Rome wasn’t built in a day, a business wasn’t built in a week, and a big, lucrative back list wasn’t built in a day. But dedicate some time and space to your writing and you’re closer to getting somewhere with it.

* Invest – in a desk, in a laptop, in some training from someone like Paul, in some software to help you organise your writing. Check out the pros and cons, don’t go all spend-spend-spend, but do invest wisely and sparingly.

* Market yourself – tell people what you’re doing. Recruit beta readers. Join a writers’ group and share your work. 

A word about self-publishing:

There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing, or indie publishing, as it’s often called now. It can be a way to get your words out there, to earn a bit of money, maybe, if you’re canny. But do treat this very much as a business proposition, with Value For Money and Return on Investment paramount:

* Make sure you’ve read the next section and your book isn’t littered with spelling and continuity errors. Self-published books have a bad reputation for this sort of thing: there are editors out there who will work with self-publishing authors, and your reviewers will be pleasantly surprised to find a near-perfect text.

* Pay attention to the cover and book text design: don’t just stick a text-based cover onto a Word document and expect it to look nice. Pay for this if you need to. 

* Don’t shell  out a huge sum only to have a garage full of books you can’t sell. These days, print on demand is the big thing – only having the printer create a copy of your book when it’s been ordered by a reader will save you huge up-front costs.

If you’re writing for a living – or part of your living – or a little teeny bit of your living – treat it like being self-employed or a consultant, treat it seriously, give it the attention it deserves and give yourself the best chance of success, however you might want to measure that success.

Letting your work present you professionally

So, as we said, you’re a writer. But do you go about it seriously and professionally, or do you stick some words down on paper or a screen, however they come out, never revise them, never show anyone … and are they in a fit state to show anyone? 

If your writing is sloppy, your continuity laughable, your spelling atrocious and your presentation abominable, you’ll give off the message that you’re not taking yourself seriously. 

And if you don’t take yourself seriously as a writer, why would you expect anyone else to? 

Here are some ways to make sure that your writing represents itself- and you - in the best possible light:

* Get the basics right – grammar, spelling, punctuation. If this isn’t your forte, hire an editor at an early stage. You want a copy-editor here for a line-edit, which will sort out your sentences and help it make sense.

* Get the continuity right. If Mr. White has green eyes and brown hair in Chapter One, make sure Mr. Whyte doesn’t have brown eyes and green hair in Chapter Five (unless it’s part of the plot to have his name, eyes and hair change, and you explain that!).  You can use various tools from card indexes to sophisticated software for this, or ask an editor to do a substantive edit on the piece.

* Get some training. OK, we all know how to write a sentence, but training, whether it’s an online course, coaching, writer’s groups or a fully fledged creative writing degree, will help you to hone your skills. You wouldn’t necessarily employ a self-taught bricklayer to build your extension, and writing is a craft as well as an  innate skill.

* Share – join that group, get beta readers before you publish, get a proofreader to check your final version if you’re self-publishing, read your proofs if you’re being published.

Note: all of these steps can and in fact should be carried out before you go looking for an agent, even if you’re pursuing that big publishing deal. An agent is more likely to take you on if you’re already presenting your work in a form in which they can offer it to publishers, rather than having to wipe off the coffee stains and tidy up the commas before they’re even able to look at it themselves.

So remember these important points … 

* Treat your writing seriously and take hints from the world of business as to how to do that

* Make sure you present the best possible version of your work to the world

* Train for your craft like you’d expect any other craftsperson to train
… and good luck with your career as a professional writer!


Liz Broomfield is a writer, editor, localiser and transcriber. Liz is passionate about helping other people to realise that running a business doesn’t involve huge risks and acting like a beardy entrepreneur. She has written two books, the latest of which details her first year in full-time self-employment; both are available as e-books from Amazon worldwide. You can find her professional website and blog at and more about her story and her freelance life at

Book link: here
Book website:here

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Fiction Doctor's Logo!

Look at this!

The brilliant Cody Quijano-Schell has designed a logo for the Fiction Doctor!  How great is that?!

If you want a critique, coaching, review, workshop or tuition... You know who to call!

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Taking my own Advice

The Fiction Doctor took his own advice yesterday - and went off into town in afternoon for a mooch about. Then I found one of my favourite places - the Molly House, on Richmond Street, back of Canal Street. I had some wonderful coffee and scribbled in my notebook for a while. Nothing earth-shattering... just a few pages about where I am up to, and gathering my thoughts a bit - and slowing down for an hour or two.


Here's something I shared on Facebook yesterday - and it's something I ought to post on here. It's an email you can cut and paste and keep - should an organiser of a literary festival (or any other kind of event, for that matter) ask you to work for free. When they write and say it would 'improve your profile' or it would be 'a lot of fun' for you to come and give a talk, or appear on a panel - for no money whatsoever - do feel free to tailor the following to your purposes:

I decided a little while ago - when I went freelance as a writer - that I would only do free gigs for charity (though I'd still need travel paying for.) The Society of Author's suggestion for a basic fee for an hour-long talk or appearance is £150. I assumed if you were already paying - as you say - for a high-profile Chair, then you'd be finding a way to pay *all* your speakers at least the minimum?"

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

A Fiction Doctor Exercise: Writing in Cafes!

Some writers go off to remote areas. Some wander into the wilderness. They go up mountains or seek silence amongst the trees or in the desert. All that is fine and dandy. It sounds amazing, actually. Communing with nature. Having epiphanies all over the place. Meeting with the sublime. Like Wordsworth and all those Romantic Poets did. Yeah, terrific, if that’s your thing. And I’ve had my moments with nature too, over the years.

However, my preference is to be among people.

Books – my books, and the books I love – are filled with people and their chatter and clatter; their emotions and adventures. So, what I like to do is wander the streets and spend time eavesdropping. I visit different shops and public buildings. I love galleries and museums (mostly for the echoes. Voices – even whispers – carry so well in those temples to culture.) I love going into Charity Shops and perusing the bookstands. Yes, for the bargains, obviously – but also for the craic. You can hear some startling things when you listen to the people who volunteer to work in Charity Shops.

Above all though, I love cafes. It’s all about sitting still and relaxing. It’s about having a nice cuppa and taking stock. Slowing your breathing. Keeping calm and still even with the streaming mass of humanity bustling around you. It’s finding a way to slow down time to a pace that suits you.

Maybe that’s the guilt thing. And maybe that’s the purest enjoyment in this writing life.

The thought – even the illusion that – in those moments of writing we have learned to master time.

No longer are we surfing through it – keeping ahead of our deadlines and all the things we have to do. No longer are we drowning in it and waving feebly as we realize that we can’t keep up. And no longer do we feel we’re being left in its scummy wake. For those moments of sitting with our notebooks and writing the good stuff – we are moving time at our own pace. We are controlling the flow of time in our own world.

It’s a powerful and heady feeling. A very addictive feeling.

What I love to do is start off my writing in these café situations by tuning into the conversations around me. I take careful notice of who’s around me. I see what kinds of characters are sitting all around me. I try not to make assumptions about who they are, what they are like, or what kind of lives they lead.

What I really want is for them to surprise me somehow.

I tune myself in like an old fashioned radio. Remember them? With the dial and the numbers and the Short Wave and Medium Wave bands? And the way the white noise used to whistle and scream out of the speakers. Voices in all kinds of languages would whisper tinnily and surge forward and then fall back as the dial went round. You’d search for the voices and it was like spinning a globe around. An invisible world of sound would be rolling under your fingertips.

It’s the same when you start eavesdropping on a crowded room. All these lives and all this energy can be overwhelming at first, and it’s tricky to pick out strands of actual conversations. This takes practice. It’s like being a pickpocket. Remember Fagin and the Artful Dodger teaching Oliver Twist the various ways in which to lift the goods from unsuspecting victims? This is a bit like that. Don’t let people realise you’re lollygagging. Don’t stare at them. Don’t look too conspicuous as you scribble down their every utterance.

And, for me, it’s not about catching every utterance anyway. I just want a few snippets. A few leading, intriguing sentences or fragments. That’s all I need. I’m not trying to rob everyone of their life stories. I just want – in these journal afternoons – a bit of local colour and flavour. I just want to sketch in a few crisp details. I want the sense of the language as it is actually spoken, clogging and colouring the air.


Do this. Go out this afternoon. Or if you can’t, at your earliest opportunity.

Don’t set yourself targets. Don’t put any pressure on yourself with goals or pre-conceived ideas about what you might write. Life is full enough of those kinds of deadlines.

Just award yourself an afternoon out – with your notebook.

Wander and wander. Absorb all the details you can. Look at the tops of buildings, not just ground level. Have a look at the faces of people as they talk to each other. Have a look at what people are buying, and the way they stand and walk. Look at the statues and the public art. Look at the wording of signs. Pay attention to colour. Tease out the smells that surge around you as you move through the city. Could you draw a map of your walk and tell direction just by the aromas you encounter?

After a bit, find a perch. Find a corner in a café or a bar. Get your notebook out straight away, and your pens. Have them ready right from the start, so you won’t feel self-conscious later on. Also, you’re not sitting here waiting for inspiration to strike.

God, I loathe that phrase. ‘Waiting for inspiration to strike’ sounds like the worst kind of writing. People who’ve never written creatively assume that’s how writing works. How all art works. We drift around waiting for lightning. For god or a muse or some such rubbish. Nope. We just get on with it. We start making marks on a page without even thinking about it too much. If we’ve got any sense, that's what we do.

Just write anything. Any overheard fragment. Or anything that’s floating up from your own mind. Just don’t sit there with a blank page. Don’t save yourself up to write stuff that you deem is great. If you wait for the quality stuff to just drift along you run the risk of writing nothing at all. Of sitting there crossly and impatient, waiting to be a genius.

Hmf. Much better just getting on with it.

Have a listen. Tune in. Ravel up a few thoughts, a few lines of dialogue. Something that draws your attention.

Learn to follow your interest. Learn to trust your attention.

And see where it leads. Free associate. What do these opening remarks lead to? What do they suggest? Perhaps, if someone’s talking about their upcoming holiday and their dread of flying – this could trigger a memory of your own. Write it down. Where does it lead? To an old friend you’ve not thought about for years? Who were they? What were they like? What became of them in the end? Where were you living then?

What you’re trying to do is to follow the dance of your own mind as it moves from subject to subject. You’re trying to follow it with your pen. You can’t help it moving like this. It will do this dance, whether you’re actually listening or not.

The point of this exercise is, in many ways, getting you to tune into other people. But you’ll find that, in the end, you’re really tuning into your own mind.

And the point is also to gather up some great material. And to surprise yourself with what it consists of.

I promise that, if you give yourself up to this practice and do it as often as you can manage, you will AMAZE yourself with some of the stuff you will write.

WHERE DID THAT COME FROM? You’ll ask. And, when you read back through your journals – which will be chockablock with scribble and coffee stains by then – you’ll be able to see exactly where the material came from.

So. Off you go.

Have a LOVELY afternoon.

And I think I’ll do the same.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

First Happy Customers of the Fiction Doctor!

Well, we're off to a great start, I think! The Fiction Doctor started doing his stuff yesterday - and that's two happy customers already! 

Here's what they had to say:

“Thanks for getting back to me so quickly, and for your notes. The things you've said there are actually incredibly useful, and have really crystalised a few thoughts on what I should do next.

Thanks again, and hopefully you'll be interested in looking at another couple of chapters next month?


Bruce Edhouse.”

“Thank you so much for that, your advice and comments are incredibly helpful and encouraging and have inspired me to keep going with it. So glad you enjoyed reading it too, it's a great compliment for me!

I'm very happy to be quoted. And I'll definitely be in touch when I'm ready for some more feedback.

Best wishes,

Daniel Wiegand.”

Sunday, 19 May 2013

A Timely Plug for My Doctor Who

Wasn't the finale to this season's Doctor Who great?

Best episode this year so far, I thought.




If you want to hear *another* story about the Doctor's mind being preserved as a four dimensional atlas of everywhere in time and space that he's ever visited - please do check this out. It's 'Sepulchre', the climactic part of my 'Demon Quest' series produced by Audiogo in 2010, and starring Tom Baker, Susan Jameson and Richard Franklin. In fact - why not go and find this whole series of audio adventures?

I'm still so proud of my stories I wrote for the Fourth Doctor and his Nest Cottage companions. Sometimes I feel they might have been a little bypassed in all the hoo-ha over the TV and also Big Finish's own marvellous audio series with Tom Baker.

However, I simply can't resist using the occasion of the obviously accidental echo in last night's TV episode to give my story 'Sepulchre' a big plug on my blog!

These stories were an outrageous slice of cosmic melodrama on cd and download. Here's a chunk of a scene to whet your appetite...

SCENE 10: INT. UNDERGROUND CAVERN (cont’d)                                                                       
MRS WIBBSEY (HORNET VOICE)            It begins!

NARRATION 32                                                                                   
MIKE (NARRATING)            In the sudden darkness around and above us appeared dancing pin pricks of light. Between them, finely etched lines curved through the air like the flight paths of glowing insects. Shining dust motes danced and revolved. The patterns were infinitely complex and vast in number… what were we looking at?

SCENE 11: INT. PLANETARIUM                                                                                   
DEMON            The Atlas of All Time is forming all around us.

MRS WIBBSEY (HORNET VOICE)            This is what we dreamed of. A multi-dimensional map of everywhere… everywhen!

NARRATION 33                                                                                   
MIKE (NARRATING)            It was like standing in an animated planetarium, one that illustrated a universe in which nothing was ever simple or still. I watched worlds collide, empires fall, great star battles flare up and whisper away. I was rooted to the spot, awed by the beauty and the strangeness of it all. It was everything the Doctor had ever seen or touched or experienced… in one vast magic lantern show. Meanwhile, the man himself was writhing in agony.

SCENE 11: INT. PLANETARIUM (cont’d)                                                                                   
DEMON            All of time and space simultaneously present. And he said he had no secrets.

MIKE            Please stop. You’re killing him. You’re ransacking his mind and destroying him.

MRS WIBBSEY (HORNET VOICE)            He will be remembered. Look at his legacy.

Fester with Felt Pens

Here's a drawing from a couple of years ago - with these lovely, brushy felt pens sent by Nick.

How are you all doing this weekend?

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Reading in Gateshead - tomorrow night!

Cosmic Travels with Paul Magrs

Friday 17 May
Gateshead Central Library

Meet author Paul Magrs, author of ’666 Charing Cross Road’, as he talks about his work including Doctor Who, Iris Wildthyme and Vince Cosmos.

All ages welcome. Tickets are £3 and pre-booking is essential. To book tickets call 0191 433 8420 or e-mail

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

'Tarnished' by Julia Crouch

Julia Crouch has overtaken Douglas Kennedy as my favourite author of domestic thrillers..!

'Tarnished' is her third novel and, I think, her best so far.

The first two, 'Cuckoo' and 'Every Vow You Break' were wholly-absorbing and inexorably disastrous tales to do with familar figures from the distant past coming back to haunt our heroes in the present. Both books were shocking and brilliant - and just a little dark humoured. What I loved was the creeping sense of horror in both, as we realise - just ahead of the protagonist - what's really going on. I also loved the sheer outrageousness of some of the things that went on... and the lengths that the undeclared villains kept going to in their quest for revenge. There's a delicious black humour at work here.

'Tarnished' is even better, I think, because it's so claustrophobic. A lot of the action happens inside Nan's cluttered mausoleum of a bungalow, where Peg was brought up after her mother died and her father vanished. It's a foisty, unaired place heaped with carrier bags of woollies needing mending and photos of half-forgotten people. Auntie Jean is bedbound in an annexe, cramming unholy amounts of food in her gob and shouting through the baby alarm to be cossetted.

Now grown up, Peg revisits the bungalow - having established a life for herself in London, where she's in love with a slightly edgy and Real Crime-obsessed girlfriend, Loz. But back home she's still the same, damaged orphan girl, passive in the face of her overwhelming female relatives.

But her memories - long repressed - are starting to surface in flashback first person chapters, as Peg sets about investigating her father and her mother and the disappearances of several women back in the Nineties. She visits a seedy night club, a flashy villa in Spain and a scary lock-up back in London. All through this we're feeling a mounting sense of dread about almost all of the people involved.

I think I guessed what was coming at the end about two thirds of the way through. But that didn't spoil it a bit. It just left me wondering how horrible it was all going to get.

And it gets pretty scary.

Everyone is drawn so well. I love the tantalising game of are-they-okay or are-they-actually-evil that Crouch has us play with her characters... and the answers are never clear cut. Except, in some cases they are. In 'Tarnished' she's created some of the most unambiguously wicked characters I've found in a novel for a long time.

But I won't spoil it by telling you which one(s) they are...!

Oddly, in amongst all the pacey stuff and the scary stuff, all the twists and revelations, my favourite bit turned out to be the chapter with the visitor from school - and how Nan tries to help her with a disfiguring mole.

But, it was all wonderful to read. The kind of book that fills you with delicious horror and most of it's relief because - although it feels like it during the time you're reading - this isn't actually your life.

(The picture above was from Friday early evening at one of my favourite cafes in the world - the Blue Moon on Broughton St in Edinburgh, where I was reading the last chapters of 'Tarnished'. The cafe where I spent so much time in the 90s - and where I wrote quite a few scenes from books. And lived them too!)

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

A Bit of Tutoring?

I must say, I'm missing doing a bit of teaching.

I love my writing life, don't get me wrong. But I've been wondering just lately about doing a little freelance manuscript reading.

Nothing too massive. I still haven't recovered from being given 2.5 million words to read in a fortnight by somewhere that will remain nameless...

However, all those years of teaching workshops and tutorials - seven years on the MA and undergraduate at UEA; seven years at Manchester Metropolitan University, that co-editing of the Creative Writing Coursebook... all those many times since 1996 teaching residential courses for Arvon, by correspondence for the Open College of the Arts, etc etc... It's hard to imagine a life without giving a bunch of writers (at all stages of their development) constructive criticism and feedback.

So what about...  if I decided to do some critiquing - of short stories or chapters from novels? Up to five thousand words at a time? Would people out there be up for that?

I'd supply a 500 word critique - about such things as characterisation, plot, structure, further suggestions for exploration or reading. I wouldn't be offering a full copy-edit or proof-reading - it would all be more about giving you pointers for developing your next draft. And, of course I'd work in any genre of fiction (literary, SF, historical, romance, everything!), plus memoir, and narrative non-fiction.

What do you think? Would you - or your writing friends - be interested?

Serious queries about details and rates - you can contact me on my usual email address -

Before I leave you with that thought - here's a quote I've just received from one of my favourite former writing students, the soon-to-be-published Amy Beeson-Uddin, as a recommendation:

"As a writing tutor Paul Magrs opened up my world to a lifetime of writing. His ability to pass on his unique insight into narrative has enabled me to grow as a writer and to transfer those skills into my professional life. He gave me continued support over the years it took to find my voice and the journey I had from writing for business, to finding a literary agent to getting published. Without Paul I don't think I would now be a professional writer. Ten years on I still find inspiration and direction from his words now."
Amy has a three book deal with Harper Collins. Here at the links to find out more about her and her books: and
Now here's a picture of some coffee and a cake - from when we went to one of my favourite Edinburgh cafes - Patisseries Florentin - in Edinburgh for a flying visit on Friday. This very table was the scene of lots of writing for me, back when I lived there...