Monday, 24 October 2011

Frankenfiction by Dr F.

Today's piece is by Jill Marsh (masquerading as Dr F). Jill writes international novels featuring DI Beatrice Stubbs, as well as clever short stories, humourous articles, and think-pieces. Whatever she writes, she is always sharp, witty and passionate. Jill has the sort of mind I'd love to have but am too lazy and apathetic to acquire!

Here she tells us how to write that novel - or maybe not...

Frankenfiction by Dr F.

Yo! Thinking about this book-writing how-to, what-not-to, where-to an’ all.

Listen up - it ain’t all that complicated.

Here’s the deal – Mary Shelley had the right idea. Frankenfiction.

Other words, Make Yo Own.

Get yourself a skeleton, yeah? Slap on some flesh. Wrap it all in skin and then animate that ugly mother. That, my friend, is how to write a book.

Whassat mean? I hear you snap, all whip-smart and sassy.

OK, let’s break it down.


Research: One word – Wikipedia. Find it, use it, check it, cut it, paste it, quote it and change it a bit in case of lawsuits.

Backstory: Know your story world. And share every itty bit of it with the reader. Start with a tense stand-off between two gunmen or a nun facing the noose, then go into a well-massive flashback involving Satanism, child abuse and cruelty to croissants.

(Not meant to be prescriptive – any pastry product will do.)

Plot: Not rocket science, my friend. Even if you’re writing Apollo 39. Beginning – something’s gonna happen. Middle – it gets way more complicated. End – guy beds gal, goodie shoots baddie, maverick saves world (unless your book is French – then you’re gonna need a shopping trolley and some spoons).


Character: Give your reader familiar points of reference and let them fill in the blanks from their own imaginations. The butler, standing in the half-light, looked somewhat like Alan Titchmarsh after a colonic irrigation.

Dialogue: The thing about dialogue is that is has to sound like people talking.

St John, I have decided to give you access to my undercarriage after your respectful attentions to Papa” works just fine for Corsets-in-Dorset.

Deep breath, Leroy, you’re goin’ in.” More your undersea tales for pre-schoolers.

(Be imaginative with speech tags. Said is dead. Go wild with purred, squeaked, growled, rocked, whinnied and regurgitated. Or spat.)

Pace: This is, like, well important. Best thing for pace? Start with some buttock-gripping stuff in the first bit, slack off for popcorn and then end with a massive fight. Even for rom-coms, but use ice-cream instead of grenades.


Imagery: An essential weapon in the writer’s arsenal. Metaphor = like.

Graham screamed like a blackboard with its tail in a mincer. Similies are as easy as falling off a dog - just don’t use clichés, especially if you can’t do the accent. Plunder your thesaurus, unless you’re vegetarian.

Language: Share the wealth of generous description. Adjectives are herbs to the bland potage of your prose. Especially if you alliterate. His cadaverous, cold eyes crept covetously over her crimson clutch. Adverbs, administered with caution, sauce up any tired old missionary position. “I’m most dreadfully sorry,” apologised the profuse physician, ideologically.

Red herrings:

Readers love it when you flag up that spooky monkey’s paw, the locked attic, the buried letters and NEVER REFER TO THEM AGAIN. Really makes ‘em think.


Once your Mum’s read it and said ooh-it’s-very-good-dear, send it to an agent, who will get you a well-massive publishing deal and film tie-in.

Top tips

Photocopy a standard letter and hand write the name

Do twenty at a time on yellow paper

If you gotta personalise your queries, let ‘em know you mean business by dissing their other clients.

And credit Dr F. in the acknowledgements. You’d be nothing without me.

Read more of Jill's work: jjmarsh's blog

Monday, 17 October 2011

INSPIRATION by Liza Perrat

Liza Perrat writes wonderful evocative novels that flit through time. Here she tells us how the inspiration for a new novel came about. If this new book, set in Australia, is anything like the previous ones, there will be descriptions to die for and intimacies that will touch your heart.

I can't wait.


The first photo captures my gaze: a wooden bench seat, the chipped paint and worn slats gleaming in the angle of morning sun. Splotches of rust trace the spirals of the iron arm rests.

My great-grandfather proposed to my great-grandmother on that seat,’ my friend says. ‘Ramsay and Henrietta.’ She shows me photos of Ramsay and Henrietta. ‘They look fierce, don’t they? But they weren’t at all; apparently they were very sweet and affectionate.’

The next photo is of her white, federation-style family home with its jacaranda, magnolia, and fruit tree blossoms. In the backyard, a dilapidated chook-run leans to one side, the hens long gone, and the thunderbox has lost its roof. We laugh, thinking about growing up with those outside toilets, alive with spiders, bats and mice.

So many stories, so much history,’ she says with a sigh. ‘What a pity we have to sell it. All that will be lost, forever.’

I feel it coming on then – the ticking mind, the quickening heartbeat, the thrill pulsing through my veins. Flashes of characters, dialogue, exotic settings. My mind’s eye visualizes the stories behind those photographs: the Australian convict settlement, the gold rush, fierce bushrangers galloping off into the hills.

It won’t be lost,’ I say. ‘Because I’m going to write their story.’

There’s nothing quite like inspiration; the exhilaration that sets my fingers itching, trembling even, over the keyboard. I want to drop everything and set off immediately, on this foray into the unknown. I never know where it will lead me, what will happen along the way, who I’ll meet, who I’ll like, love or despise. All I know is that it’s an adventure on which I’m obliged to embark; a magnetic pull into the clutches of my new, invented world.

After almost ten years of writing fiction I’ve come to realize that nobody, apart from fellow writers, can understand or sympathize with these impulsive snaps of stimuli.

My excitement taking hold, I stutter out ideas, quirky characters and dreamy scenes, my arms waving about in the air. Friends and colleagues gaze at me blankly. They smile politely and start discussing last weekend’s football match.

That’s it!’ I say to my mother. ‘Inspiration has struck.’

That’s nice, dear,’ she says, with that knowing smile.

I’ve got a new idea for the next novel,’ I say to my husband. ‘I’m sure it’s going to be good, this one.’

He stares at me aghast, not daring to dampen my flying spirits. ‘Oh right … another book.’ I note the hesitation, but he doesn’t comment on the four novels I’ve already sweated and slaved over, none of which are published. Yet.

Because when inspiration, enthusiasm and motivation strike – those things that propel me into an unexplored land – I live in the hope (or is that blind delusion?) that this will be the one; the novel that will capture the attention of publishers and readers. A story people will love to read which, for me, is what it’s all about.

Ah yes, but of course I know about that initial spark, that first kindling of literary genius, and how it doesn’t last. I realize that once I’ve pored over the photographs, read the books, trawled the internet for endless hours then sat for more endless hours actually writing the damn thing, that familiar mid-story chill will creep into my bones.

The winter months set in and, as they pass, I’ll become colder, stiffer and more brain-addled. I’ll search desperately for the light of that welcoming beacon: The End.

So, what can we do to avoid this mid-novel bog; to keep hold of that first revelatory hunch? Perhaps we should go back to the beginning? Look at those photos again, listen once more to our friends’ anecdotes; the stories that captivated us so?

Take a few days away from the computer, the internet, the family, the job. Go and sit on a beach, in a café, on a crowded bus. Anywhere you can clear your mind of the clutter and mist, leaving those neuronal pathways free for creative thought. And once you’ve recaptured them, hold onto them tightly, believe in your story and trust yourself as a writer.

Then, somehow, that inspiration may carry you through to The End.

Liza Perrat.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Weekend Read - Garlands & Shadows by Karen MacLeod

I've known Karen MacLeod for many years now and have always been impressed by her writing. She usually writes historical fiction so this contemporary romance is a departure in genre though not so much in style which, as ever, is lucid and compact. Here she tells us how Garlands and Shadows came into being:

Garlands and Shadows evolved from my earliest attempt at a novel, Castle In A Paperweight, not in terms of story (it was not a straight romance) but in terms of location and several of the characters. It did not have a happy ending – I was young, and didn’t really understand that people need to escape from the world, not find more gloom in it.

It got lots of favourable comments  – I particularly appreciated Allan Massie recommending it to Canongate and Carol Manderson at Century Hutchinson who took the trouble to write “A powerful novel – good luck” on the official typed rejection card  - but no takers. So it turned into a sequel called The Beaufort Weekend, which had a bittersweet ending (slight improvement on gloom) but which I ended up destroying (unlike Paperweight, which, being my first baby, I could not quite bear to destroy).

A long time later, I started Garlands and Shadows with two completely new principal characters, Maura and Jaime, and a happy ending. It is not a sequel to the first two versions, since its past is not their present. But I loved the Highlands, working in several hotels up there as a student, and I think I wanted to write about some of the characters again, since they never quite left me, and give them happiness this time.     

Karen MacLeod

Karen MacLeod works in an office in Edinburgh, not far from the Castle and Gardens. In her own time she writes – compulsively. A Glasgow University history graduate, she has concentrated mostly on historical fiction; an early novel of the Tudor period has now blossomed into a trilogy. This new novel, Garlands and Shadows, a romance set in the Scottish Highlands, is both a departure and a return to her earliest writing.

Karen’s MacLeod ancestors lived on the west coast of Lewis – the westernmost edge of Europe, three miles from the Bronze Age standing stones of Callanish. One of her great-grandfathers worked on Lord Lovat’s estate at Beauly, Invernessshire. A great grandmother left Ireland as a child for Glasgow during the potato famine and the family of her MacIntosh great-grandmother was displaced from Strathnaver in Sutherland during the Clearances. There’s a lot of  material there – which may yet be mined.

Ian MacLeod

Garlands and Shadows is available for Kindle at;; and in all ereader formats at

It will soon also be available at Barnes & Noble, Kobo and the Apple Bookstore.