Category Archives: Tips on Writing

How Writers Write 2015 Review

How Writers Write launched in 2015. It was intended to be a series of guest posts where established writers invited you into their workspaces, revealed their work habits and shared their experience. It ended up taking on a life of its own, generating traffic and comments from around the world.

This year has seen contributions from

  • Keith Brooke
  • Neil Williamson
  • Ruth EJ Booth
  • Jaine Fenn
  • Stephen Palmer
  • Jacey Bedford
  • Ian Creasey
  • Alma Alexander
  • Juliet E McKenna

One thing that I think we’ve all learned is this:  everyone writes in their own way. Saying that, there are number of things we have in common. Writers may have different ways of keeping notes, of planning out stories and redrafting, but they all do those things. Budding writers take note!

How Writers Write will continue next year featuring, amongst others, the following very talented writers: Mike Cobley, Tricia Sullivan, Martin Griffin, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Chris Beckett, Eric Brown and Ian Whates

I’ve already seen some of the new contributions: they are as varied and fascinating as those we’ve already had.

For the moment, though: thank you to all the writers who contributed, and thank you to everyone who has followed this blog this year.

Merry Christmas, and here’s to a happy 2016!


How Writers Write: Juliet E McKenna

How Writers Write is monthly series of guest posts where established writers invite you into their workspaces, reveal their work habits and share their experience.

Follow this link for a full list of previous posts

I’ve been lucky enough to work with Juliet E McKenna in the past on Aethernet Magazine.  I was delighted to get this chance to see how she goes about the process of writing…

What do you use to write?

jemck7When I’m starting out on a story, I make preliminary notes with paper and pencil. By the time an idea’s ready to become a book, I’ll be working in an A4 spiral bound notebook which will soon have separate plastic folders tucked inside it with roughly sketched maps and other background material. There’ll be character and plots notes and an overall outline and then I’ll roughly draft each chapter’s events and interactions over a couple of pages before I start typing.

I like the freedom of paper and pencil; I can add arrows to link things together and circle or scribble stars by particular thoughts that I know I’ll want to come back to. Yes, I’m sure there’s software that allows writers to do the same thing on a screen but I’ve worked this way for so long now – since I was writing essays at university – that it’s second nature. I don’t see the need to waste time learning how to do it some other way. And since almost no one but me can read my handwriting these days, I don’t have to worry about data security!

jemck2When I’m researching, I make notes in more spiral bound notebooks or on loose leaf pages which go into a ring binder. I use yet more notebooks for making notes when I’m reviewing a book. Other notebooks are for short fiction. Yes, they do add up, and yes, keeping them close to hand in the study is very useful, particularly when I need to check some background detail for a novel I wrote over a decade ago, or refresh my memory of a particular book.

Once the story’s laid out on paper and in my head, it’s time to open a fresh computer file and start typing. I’m a fast and fluent touch typist so I work straight onto the screen, amending and rephrasing as I go. I’ll quite often start a day’s work by looking over what I wrote the day before and tweaking it as necessary. I use MS Word; it’s what the computer comes with, the software does what I need it to do and publishers can read the files without any faffing around. I work on a desktop with two screens for ease of having multiple files open when I need to – each chapter gets its own file while I’m working on a first draft. If I find I really do need three screens, I’ll get my laptop involved, though that can get awkward when I forget which mouse or keyboard relates to which screen. Otherwise, my laptop’s used when I’m travelling or on holiday. It’s not my main working machine.

When do you write?

I write Monday to Friday and keep office hours, so I’m working from around 9 am to around 5 pm. Not all of that time’s spent writing fiction. Sometimes I’m reading books for research or to review them. I also record television documentaries on historical or literary topics and every so often, I’ll take a day to catch up on those. A writer’s always in search of fresh inspiration and that’s how I find a lot of new ideas for plots and characters. We spend a lot of time on holidays visiting historic towns, buildings and museums and I invariably find those stimulate my imagination.

Then there’s all the administration that comes with running a small business which is what a full time author must do these days. Every so often, I’ll have errands to run in Witney, the local town, or I’ll head into Oxford to use the libraries there. It’s good to get out of the house from time to time.

Where do you write?

jemck1I mostly work in my study, which is the smallest of the upstairs bedrooms. It’s even smaller now with a large desk, a filing cabinet and five crammed bookcases in it. Yes, the joists are resting on load-bearing walls downstairs. I like having my reference books and notes within easy reach, and when my sons were small, I needed a door which I could shut so they knew Daddy was the parent on duty. I don’t have music playing or the radio on or anything like that. When I’m writing, I’m totally focused.

Though I’m not one of these authors who absolutely has to be in their special place or they’re unable to write. I can work anywhere else if I need to. I just prefer to be in my study when I’m writing. When I’m reading for research or review, I’ll head downstairs to the sofa in the lounge with the relevant book in hand and a notebook and pen. A change of pace is always refreshing – and it’s closer to the kitchen and the kettle.

Questions of Style

I’ve written in first person and third person, depending on how close to the characters I want the reader to get. That choice tends to be obvious to me from the first idea for a story. So far I’ve always written in the past tense and I’d need a really compelling reason to write in continuous present tense. It’s not a style I enjoy much as a reader and I find very, very few books where it contributes anything significant to the narrative beyond the author enjoying the stylistic flourish. Though there certainly are some books where it’s integral to the story and its effect, so I won’t say that’ll never change in my work – but don’t hold your breath.

How do you write?

I work from my outline and my notes, though not as rigidly as I used to when I was first writing novels. I’m much more open to changing my mind, particularly as a character develops through the writing process and the internal logic of a narrative acquires its own momentum. A decade ago, I’d stick much more closely to the plan I originally had for the first draft and end up doing a lot more rewriting to get to a final draft. These days, I’ll be more flexible in the first draft and the rewrite will focus far more on language and tone than on revising the structure.

When the first draft is done

I’ll do two drafts of a novel, first and final, because I’ve done so much of the thinking things through in my pencil and paper drafting stage. Ideally, a couple of trusted test readers will read the first draft and I’ll get some time away from the text before I come back for the second pass. When I first started out, the first draft was the bit I loved and the second pass was the hard work. I can’t tell exactly when that changed but these days, the first draft is the humdrum bit I just want to get done and it’s the rewriting and revising that I really enjoy. Honing and polishing.

Fresh eyes are always invaluable. It’s not praise you’re looking for from test readers (though that’s always nice), it’s nit-picking about the details that somehow don’t quite add up and challenges over whether or not a character, major or minor, would really have acted or reacted in the ways you need them to, in order for the plot to unfold. This is how you find out why and where you’ve not quite achieved your storytelling aims. There’s no point ignoring your test readers’ quibbles, no matter how crystal clear it all might be inside your own head,. It’s your job to sort their problems out. Then the story will make sense for any and every reader who picks up the book in a shop or a library and hasn’t got the opportunity to pick your brains about what you really meant – even in these days of Twitter and Facebook.

Wrapping up that final draft is when I’ll find myself working to midnight and through the weekends. I won’t let a book go until I’m satisfied that I’ve done the very best job I can. Once the text’s off to the publisher, for copyediting and proof-reading, that’s fine with me. That particular story’s off on its way into the wide world for readers to enjoy and I’m thinking about the next thing.

Lastly, self promotion:

Southern Fire-smallWhat am I working on at the moment? Well, this past year, a staggering amount of my time has also been taken up with campaigning for reform of a particularly damaging piece of legislation as far as anyone selling digital products online are concerned. Authors these days need the choice of selling their own ebooks direct as well as through the likes of Amazon, Google and iTunes, so I’ve been working hard with the EU VAT Action Campaign to convince the Powers That Be in Westminster and Brussels that they’ve got this one badly wrong. We’ve got them to admit that now and to commit to changing the law. Now we just need them to sort out interim easements since legislators reviewing the regulations will still take a couple of years which small online businesses cannot afford to waste.

So I’m really looking forward to getting back to writing some extended fiction. 2015’s been all short stories for me, coupled with the work needed to turn The Aldabreshin Compass stories into ebooks. That’s been a major project for me and Wizard’s Tower Press, with the invaluable help of some dedicated fans. We’re just about there now, with Southern Fire released this month. The fabulous artwork by Ben Baldwin is the crowning, finishing touch as far as I am concerned.







How Writers Write: Alma Alexander

How Writers Write is monthly series of guest posts where established writers invite you into their workspaces, reveal their work habits and share their experience.

Follow this link for a full list of previous posts

I was delighted when Alma Alexander got in touch and asked to be part of How Writers Write.  Read on to see why…

What do you use to write?

alma writing 2I began with a pencil and a hardcover notebook. In fact my oldest surviving novel dates back to when I was 14 years of age… writen in pencil… in FOUR consecutive hardcover notebooks… over 200,000 words’ worth of story. And it’s a decent story. Someday I might go back and pick its bones clean of the fluff put there by the inexperienced 14-year-old and put it back together as something that a now-seasoned professional wouldn’t be ashamed to put one’s name to. But those days… are long gone. Once I discovered a keyboard and a screen… there was no looking back. I can type faster than I write, I can type as fast as I think, and that is gold. I have a basic desktop computer which is God Central and holds all my material – but I have a laptop I take on outings and it has seen some memorable prose being pounded out on its keys.

whatcom falls and bridge panoramicPlanning stages… well… that could be interesting. I have notebooks full of scribbled notes I take when reading research books (when the novel in progress warrants such research), I have scraps of paper which I scribbled stuff on when it occurred to me in the middle of having dinner out somewhere, for instance, and which needed putting down on something immediately before good ideas got forgotten. I’ve even nutted out the basics of a book while driving with my husband as a sounding board in the passenger seat (and used HIM as a memory aid). In this context, anything goes, really. And yes, in defiance of everyone who swears it’s stupid or “difficult”, I’ve used Word for YEARS. I’m sure Scrivener is everything some people say it is but my mind rebels against that kind of thing, it has its own boxes and pigeonholes and doesn’t like being shoehorned into those somebody else designed. My mind is my best planning tool. I have an eclectic and often eidetic memory and this is where stories get planned and pre-written. Most people write a terrible first draft – with me, that stays inside me, mostly, and what I first put down on the page is literally draft #2 at least. And I very rarely have to do major overhauls. My subconscious seems to know what it is doing.

When do you write?

office 1 bookshelfThere are days I can do ten hours at a stretch, when something is in the middle of exploding and I cannot let go until the dust settles. There are times that days will go by without my having put down a word of the actual story in progress – but that doesn’t mean that I am not working on it on the down-low, inside my head. There are times that I am on a research reading kick and I don’t WRITE, but every word of everything I read in support of the story is being sorted and catalogued by that weird inner computer that I have in my brain. But on the whole the answer to that question is WHENEVER IT IS NECESSARY and the explanation of that statement is simply IT IS NECESSARY ALL THE TIME. So whatever I am actually doing in any given moment… I am probably, on some level, writing.

Where do you write?

I can write anywhere, really – and I have. I’ve written on planes and trains, in hotel lobbies, in quiet corners of other people’s houses, in the kitchen at parties, in restaurants waiting for meals, with a notebook on the back of a purring cat. Words come, and don’t ask where I am when they get there…

How do you write?

moclips 2015 day 4 roosevelt beach pacific sunset 6 water textureI’ve been on a lot of convention panels which discuss the “pantser vs outliner” question – and all I can say, again, like I’ve said many times on those panels, that I cannot outline anything and then still want to write it when I’m done. My back brain sees a detailed outline and goes, oh, you’ve written that story now, go on to something new. No, I am a true “pantser” in that I tend to find out what happens next in my story… by WRITING IT. Even when I am forced into a synopsis – like when one of my YA series got sold on a sample chapter and a sales synopsis – the books that finally emerged at the end of it all had very very little to do with the sales synopsis I originally submitted. I rebel against being boxed in, in any way at all, and I need to follow the wind when it changes if my story is to have any kind of life to it at all. I dream on the fly. And yet, somehow, it all comes together in the end. It’s like I let loose a cloud of butterflies, and they scatter every which way, but in the end they will settle in their proper place and I will be able to follow my story to where it needs to go, butterfly by butterfly.

Questions of style

office 2I am an instinctive writer, and I am the kind of writer who all too often writes by taking dictation from my characters, so stylistic choices are not something I pre-plan. If I start a story in the “wrong” voice, I”ll soon know it, and it’ll go back to the drawing board for a proper perspective. I don’t really enjoy present tense narrative all that much – I can see where it might be useful but very few people can get away with using it effectively, and for most of the rest it’s just a mess. So I tend to stick in past tense. Voice, though first or third or omniscient POV – that is decided on a book by book basis, and I don’t set out to do any book a certain way. if it needs to be told in first person, it will be. If not, it won’t. I’ll find out when I start writing. In terms of writing style, I’ve been reliably informed that I will never be a Hemingway – that my style is lush and poetic and rich and complex and also that I must have swallowed a dictionary when I was five years old. What can I say? I am in love with language and it shows…

When the first draft is done

office 4I’ve often said that what I love about writing is the WRITING, not the (admittedly essential) rewriting and editing and polishing that comes after. The original act of writing is what makes it alive for me, the creation of the faw story; that is the joy, that is the dream. Everything else, it’s, well, WORK. My first hard-copy draft is read by my husband, an editor with many years of experience under his belt, and the first really “finished” draft is born after I go through the thing that he has read and incorporated his edits and suggestions. Then it goes out to at least one trusted beta reader who hasn’t seen the story before and cold-reads it for context and for flow and for continuity. Only then does it go out to a professional (editor, agent, what have you). But, like I said, my Draft #1 is really Draft #3, because I fiddle and self-edit in my head before I write, and it’s usually pretty clean. “Secrets of Jin Shei” needed ONE pass on the original MS before it went out to the agent, and sold. And that book was written at white heat, 200,000 words in less than 3 months. Letting go… well, it’s a little like taking your child to the first day of school and releasing that clinging little hand and gently pushing this precious thing you’ve created out there into the world, to find new friends, to grow, to live its life. And yes, it’s JUST as hard to let go as you would expect. And you never quite stop worrying about it, afterwards. Whether it’s being bullied, or whether it’s getting enough sleep…

Lastly, self promotion:

moclips 2015 day 4 roosevelt beach reflections 6 sunpathI’ve always got several projects on the boil, but currently I am in full research mode in what is going to be a GLORIOUSLY American fantasy – involving the building of the transcontinental railroad across the continent, the carnie culture, the goldrush(es)… and the fae. I’m hip-deep in history and anecdote and piles of pictorial evidence. It’s going to take a while. But I have hopes that this thing will be magnificent if I can put together on paper what I am seeing in my mind. Over and above that, I”m working on a short story collection, and possibly the next three books in my on-going Were Chronicles (starting where “Shifter”, the third book in the current Chronicles set which is due out in November, leaves off). Over and above THAT, there’s this other historical fantasy that I’m thinking about…

There’s always something going on.

cloak CU p3I’m a novelist and a short story writer and an anthologist; I mostly walk in worlds of fantasy but I recently branched into two unexpected directions at once – humor AND science fiction – and produced this thing called “AbductiCon”, a novel of fandom and a love letter to that world, to the con circuit and the family that I have accumulated there. I took the recently-released book to Worldcon in Spokane in August of 2015 and it got every bit of a delighted reception that I hoped for – people recognise this thing, and their eyes light up when they pick it up. I couldn’t be more pleased.

Look for more about me and my stories on my website ( where you can also find more information on where else on the Web you can find me (Facebook, Twitter, all that jazz). You can also subscribe to my blog, and/or to my peripatetic newsletter, if you so choose. Hope to see you there!


How Writers Write: Ian Creasey

How Writers Write is monthly series of guest posts where established writers invite you into their workspaces, reveal their work habits and share their experience.

Follow this link for a full list of previous posts

I’ve always enjoyed Ian Creasey’s stories.  Hearing that he’d just published a collection was enough for me to ask him if he wouldn’t mind contributing this extra post.  I was delighted when he said yes…

What do you use to write?

Ian CreaseyI use a very old version of Microsoft Word.  Every time I get a new PC, I install my CD of Office 2000.  It does the job.  I don’t like learning how to use new software: it’s too much of a distraction.  I’d rather just use something I’m already familiar with, so that I can concentrate on the actual writing.

When do you write?

I prefer to write late in the evening, say around 10pm onward.  By then, it’s usually quiet outside.  I hate noise, and I can’t write when there’s an external racket such as people mowing the lawn and so on.  (The most heartfelt story in my new collection, Escape Routes from Earth, is a novelette called “Danny and the Quiet Police” — it’s about people who hate noise so much that they set up a community called Quiet Island, full of decibel meters and policemen enforcing the Noise Code.  The story’s protagonist is a teenager who rebels against the community; but my own sympathies are firmly on the side of the Quiet Police.)

Where do you write?

Study 1I have a dedicated room in the house.  My house is a standard 3-bed semi-detached, and I use the third bedroom (what people sometimes call the box room) as my study.  It’s small, but I don’t mind — in winter it’s an advantage, because the room heats up quicker and stays cosy.  I usually keep the curtains closed, to reduce distractions from outside.

How do you write?

I don’t like to get all hi-falutin about my so-called “process”, since it only really consists of two steps.  The first step is a lot of brainstorming, which continues until I have a broad outline and I know what note I want to hit at the end.  The second step is to actually write the story based on the outline.

Questions of Style

I don’t worry about style.  I figure that everything I write is automatically in my own style, which is probably a mishmash of influences from Douglas Adams to J.G. Ballard.

Very occasionally a story will demand a particular voice, and in that case I’ll usually find an appropriate source to borrow from.  For instance, my story “The Unparallel’d Death-Defying Feats of Astoundio, Escape Artist Extraordinaire” is a first-person narrative from a showman’s viewpoint, and I modelled his voice upon illusionist Derren Brown (based on his shows and his books).  Not that Derren Brown has ever escaped from a black hole — at least, not as far as I know.  (I wouldn’t put it past him.)

When the First Draft is Done…

When I’ve finished a first draft, I get it critiqued.  I’m a member of NorthwriteSF, an in-person writing group that meets in Yorkshire every three months.  I’m also a member of online writing forums Codex and Critters.

Having said that, it’s a bit of a circular question because I actually define a first draft as the first version of a story that gets seen by anyone else.  Up until that point, it’s what I call a zero draft.  I generally tinker with a zero draft for a while before declaring it an official first draft and showing it to other people.  This is because I want critiquers to point out issues that I didn’t know about; I figure I’m wasting their time and mine if they mention problems that I already knew existed.

What Are You Working On At The Moment?

Escape_Routes_from_Earth_cover_smallI’m in a gap between projects because I’ve just finished putting together my collection, and I’m taking a breather before moving onto the next thing. The collection, Escape Routes from Earth, contains 14 SF stories, all originally published in magazines — half of them in Asimov’s Science Fiction, and half of them elsewhere.

I have plenty more story ideas on file, so it’s just a case of going through them and deciding which of them I want to write next.

You can catch up with my projects at my website,

How Writers Write: Jacey Bedford

How Writers Write is monthly series of guest posts where established writers invite you into their workspaces, reveal their work habits and share their experience.

Follow this link for a full list of previous posts

This month, Jacey Bedford answers the question…

What do you use to write?

Jacey Novacon 2012-300pxsquWell, apart from the inevitable notebooks that I carry round and have by my bedside, I’ve always used a PC and I have a high spec laptop which I use mostly as a desktop machine even though it’s theoretically portable. When I got my first book deal my writer-friend Karen Traviss, whose output is prolific, advised me to get three things: a large monitor, a good quality keyboard and Scrivener. She was correct on all three counts. With my first advance I treated myself to a Cherry gamers’ keyboard which has a responsive, mechanical click, a Samsung 23 inch monitor and, yes, I went out and bought Scrivener for PC. Scrivener does take a bit of getting used to. Unlike a basic word processor, you can’t just click and go. It probably has more features than the average fiction writer needs, but you can just learn the basics. There’s a word processor element, which is pretty much the same as Word or whatever you’re used to, but it also has a left hand column which shows your chapters, scenes, notes and research. You can save all your bits and bobs there. Before Scrivener I had files full of research notes and characters, but Scrivener lets me keep everything in one place.

When do you write?

I’m a night owl, often writing until three in the morning. When I’m on a roll I’ve been known to pull all-nighters and crawl into bed at 9 a.m. (or not at all). During the daytime hours, my time is rarely my own. I’m a music booking agent, working from home. The phone rings. Someone wants something doing yesterday and I have to scramble. A lot of things happen outside of normal office hours in the music industry, so my timings can be erratic (at best) or even chaotic. But, usually, after about 8 or 9 p.m. everything goes quiet and that’s often when I get my most productive writing done. Needless to say I’m not usually up very early in the mornings unless I have to be.

Where do you write?

messy officeI think it’s really important to have a space which you don’t have to share with other people, or clear for other domestic usage. I have an actual office in the front of the house, the oldest part that dates from around 1800. It’s a house with many additions. In 1880 part of it became a shop (now closed). My office is the old draper’s department and still has plain, darkened, pine-lined walls and marks where the shelves used to sit. I claimed it as work space more than twenty years ago. It’s very basic, but you can hardly see any of it for shelves, books, files, stacking boxes, and filing cabinets. Any spare wall space is covered in posters, maps and photographs. It’s not posh, but it is comfortable. It’s messy and organic, and I love it.

I can look out of my back windows across green fields which lead up on to the bleak Pennine moorlands of Yorkshire. I don’t really need to go anywhere else to write. I’m not someone who ever seeks out coffee shops or libraries as work space, I need my peace and quiet and this old stone house works well for me. Prising me out of here is difficult.

How do you write?

In silence. I can’t write with music or radio on in the background. Perhaps it comes from my years in the music industry, but I have a deep distaste for musical wallpaper, or background sound-wash. Music is for listening to as far as I’m concerned.

I’m a burst writer. I’ve been known to write 10,000 words in a day, but I can’t keep that up for long, but if I can clear the decks of distractions I know I can manage a steady 50,000 words in a month. Of course, distractions always intrude. The day job will never leave me alone for long.

Questions of Style

I don’t have any set style. My preference is for clean, invisible prose that lets the story shine through. Every story, every character within a story, has a voice and as an author you’re always looking for ways to make that voice individual and appropriate. Much depends on how the stories beg to be written. My Psi-Tech space operas are third person, past tense, with a limited number of viewpoint characters. There are sections, as my characters are transiting through foldspace where everything is weird, so those sections are written in third person present. Present tense is a challenge, and can be very effective, but I’d hesitate to use it for a whole book. My historical fantasy, Winterwood (due in February 2016) is a first person (past tense) narrative. Telling a story from a single viewpoint requires a much tighter focus.

When the First Draft is Done…

garden 01I always like to share a first draft with a few trusted beta-readers. I’m one of the organisers of Milford, a week-long SF writer’s conference which focuses on peer-to-peer critique of works in progress. A lot of my books, the first chapters, anyway, have been subjected to MIlford critiques, often tough, but never cruel. Always fair. A couple of years ago a few of us who met at Milford formed Northwrite, a small critique group that meets face to face once a quarter. We can also call upon each other for beta-reading duties when a draft is finished.

When I have a completed first draft I send it to my editor at DAW and then cool my heels for a few weeks. She phones me with comments and suggestions and points out all my logic blips. The redraft usually takes two to three months, depending on the extent. After that there may be a third, much smaller, polishing edit. It’s never easy to let go, but when you’re working to a publisher’s deadline, you don’t really have much choice. I guarantee there are always things that hit you in the face once you have the printed book in your hands and you wish, wish, wish that you’d done something differently, but a book is always a snapshot of what you thought worked well at the time.

What Are You Working On At The Moment?

Crossways 248x400Crossways, a sequel to Empire of Dust, came out from DAW in the USA on 4th August this year. The Psi-Tech books (I suppose you can call them space opera) are set about five hundred years in the future, after the Earth has been knocked back to the Stone Age by a devastating multiple meteor strike, and is now in a Renaissance with Africa and Europe as the main powers. Almost being wiped out was the kick up the backside humanity needed. Space colonies abound and platinum, essential to space travel through the Folds, is competitively sought (and fought over). Megacorporations have grown to be more powerful that any one planetary government. My characters, Cara and Ben, are implanted with psionic technology.

Untitled-6In the first book, Empire of Dust, I mostly deal with Cara’s story and its repercussions. She gets on the wrong side of the megacorporations and in particular her ruthless ex-lover. The strap line is: Is anywhere in the universe safe for a telepath who knows too much? In Crossways Cara and Ben’s fight against the megacorps continues, but something is stirring in the depths of foldspace. The strapline is: A hunt for survivors turns into a battle for survival. DAW has asked for a third Psi-Tech book. In Nimbus I’ll be dealing with whatever is lurking in the Folds. I’m still thinking up a good strapline for that one. I’ve written two and a half scenes so far, but I know where the story is heading.

In a completely different vein, my first historical fantasy, Winterwood, is due out in February 2016, and DAW has already ordered a sequel to that, too, which will be called Silverwolf. Winterwood is set in 1800, in a Britain with magic, and features Ross (Rossalinde) Tremayne, a cross-dressing female privateer captain (and occasional witch), accompanied by the jealous ghost of her dead husband, and an annoyingly handsome wolf shapechanger who gets very upset if you call him a werewolf. There’s a mystical box made out of ensorcelled winterwood, and a problem to be solved before an ancient wrong can be set right. Silverwolf deals with the aftermath because, of course, when you make one change in the world, the ripples eddy outwards and the ramifications must be dealt with.

I’ve had several short stories published over the years, details of which can be found on my website at: You can join my mailing list from the contact page there, or you can find me on twitter: @jaceybedford, and facebook at:

Never Lose Your Work Again!

A very well known writer recently tweeted about how he’d accidentally overtyped a whole morning’s work. I think every writer would feel his pain – not only is there the frustration of having to retype everything, but there’s also the thought that it will never be as good the second time. Things written in the flight of creativity are never as good as things slavishly repeated. (That’s why I think good ideas/scenes/dialogue should be captured live, but that’s another post)

There’s no reason that any writer should have to lose any work, however. All you need is a little planning. It all comes down to backups and version control.


If you’re not backing up your work already you’re a fool. Sorry to be blunt, but that’s just the way it is. If you haven’t got a backup routine, stop what reading this and go and get one.  Here’s some links:

I’m assuming if you’ve got this far you have a backup routine in place.

So, have you ever actually checked your backups? It’s surprisingly common for people to set up regular backups without checking that files are being backed up properly.  If not, go and see if you can restore a file.

Okay, let’s assume you have a backup strategy and you’ve taken a look at what’s being backed up. What we’re interested in, for the purposes of this post, is what is called incremental backups. Suppose you have ten files on your computer, you edit two of them and then perform a backup. With an incremental backup you’d end up with 12 files: the original 10 and the 2 new edited ones.

Actually, incremental backups are cleverer than that, but the above will do as an example. The point is, with incremental backups you’ll have a series of “snapshots” of your hard drive, each snapshot showing your machine’s state at a certain date. Look at a snapshot, and the backup software will rather cleverly put together a selection of files showing you what was on your machine on a particular day.

Just realised that the file you want is the one you deleted two months ago?   The one you thought you’d never need it again? No problem, just go to that snapshot in your Backups

Incremental backups mean that you will never lose more than a days worth of work.

All this talk about saving extra files might make you concerned about disc space.  There’s no need for worry.  Your Word documents are tiny, especially when compared to sound and video files. I’ve just checked, and my life’s work is comfortably less than 1Gb. That wouldn’t be a problem to anyone with a machine built in the last 10 years.  You’ll have more than enough space.

Version Control

Daily backups mean you can always restore yesterday’s work – you never lose more than a day’s work. But what about losing this morning’s work? For that you need version control.

The excellent How To Geek site has an overview of version control for Word Users:

Have I mentioned I use Emacs to write? Here’s a simple solution for Emacs users.

It will take you about half an hour to set up the above.   Half an hour now and you’ll sleep more soundly in future.  And half an hour now is much better than retyping a morning’s work…

How Writers Write: Stephen Palmer

How Writers Write is monthly series of guest posts where established writers invite you into their workspaces, reveal their work habits and share their experience.

Follow this link for a full list of previous posts

This month, Stephen Palmer tells us how it’s done…

How Would You Describe Yourself?

spIMG_1640A creator of genre novels who got lucky in 1994, being plucked off the Orbit slush pile to have his first SF novel, Memory Seed, published in 1996. Since then though it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride…

I recently had a lengthy phone conversation with a certain lady who knows me very well, and I was trying to get across how my creativity works. She described me as “driven,” but for some reason that word didn’t seem to have the right connotation to me, so we had an interesting discussion, during which I returned to my Earth Sciences analogy: “I’ve never suffered from writer’s block, but I do suffer from writer’s volcano.” A driven person to me is somebody who in pushed, either by internal needs or by external circumstances – but the metaphor is one of pushing. My creativity is like pressure building up inside a volcano.

spMemory SeedMy themes and interests are varied, but generally they revolve around green and environmental issues, evolution and the nature of the human condition, and how we relate as individuals and as societies to the planet we live on. I’m best known for very far future work – Memory Seed, Glass, Flowercrash and in particular Urbis Morpheos are all set way into the future – but I also do near-future novels, and often they are set in or around Africa, a continent that has long interested me. I’ve also done a few fantasy works, for example the monochrome The Rat & The Serpent (‘Imagine a film shot in black-and-white. Now imagine a novel written in black-and-white…’).

I’m lucky (or unlucky – so hard to decide) that I’m not known for any particular sub-genre, and I’ve found over the years that people either don’t like my work at all or like it a lot. What my readers can always expect however is novels the like of which they won’t have read before. I do like to try different things; and to experiment a little.

What Do You Use To Write?

I use Word on a Mac. I’m a Mac evangelist. I have a G5, and a MacBook for the internet, and for making films with Final Cut Pro. I love Macs, me.

How & When Do You Write?

spIMG_1631Twenty five to thirty years ago, when I began to write, I would work in the evenings and at weekends, but now I’m into my fifties I find that a bit of a push. I have a term-time job to pay the rent, buy food, and service my addiction to purchasing ethnic musical instruments, so these days I always begin a novel at the start of a long holiday – for example the two week Christmas holiday, or during summer.

I’ve always been a fast writer, and in the old days I would let it all splurge out, then edit extensively, do completely new versions, etc. The first draft of Memory Seed was written in 1988, but then, four years later, something about the setting and the characters drew me back, and I wrote a much better version. That was sent around to various editors, and I even got a little positive feedback. However, by the time Tim Holman made his offer I had done another top-to-toe rewrite, which was the version he edited into the published novel. I was naïve about everything in those days, and knew little about craft or technique – I did it all intuitively, using my imagination to power it all.

In recent years however I’ve realised that what works best for me is to immerse myself without distractions for as long as possible when writing a first draft; this allows me to concentrate on the novel alone. I live it and nothing else for those days. The winter holiday is perfect – I can do fifteen chapters of twenty in that time (taking a day off to see my family on Christmas Day). By the time I return to the day job at the beginning of January the momentum of that first draft is unstoppable, and I know what’s going to happen, how, why and when. After a while I return to manuscripts written like this to do editing, polishing, etc.

My goal is to get that first draft as right as possible. To convey the excitement and wonder I feel, I find it’s best for me to communicate excitement and wonder in the moment: first time, and often – usually, in fact – not knowing the exact details of plot and character. A second draft of a novel for me is never quite what a first draft is. Of course, this method doesn’t always work. I’ve got a few unpublished novels on my computer that will never see the light of day.

spIMG_1635I’m lucky too that my editor at Infinity Plus is Keith Brooke, who points out the inconsistencies, nonsense and mistakes where they occur, but is sympathetic to my idiosyncracies. I think he does have a tricky task sometimes, as one thing I do like to do is use unusual language and prose styles. For example, in Hairy London (published by Infinity Plus in 2014) the words I used were sometimes completely made-up, intended to evoke rather than to describe. For example, an Archimedean floating machinora with heatorix was a hot-air balloon. That use of fancy prose was seen by a few readers as off-putting, but most people “got” that it was part of the wild, absurdist setting, and I genuinely think it contributed to the experience of reading the novel. Keith said that he thought only I could possibly have written it, which was very flattering. But I was lucky I had Keith editing the book, as I suspect other people might have been baffled by it.

Hairy London was enormous fun to write. It was inspired by a short story that I wrote for an anthology edited by Allen Ashley. I wrote the novel with virtually no plan, except for the main theme, the main characters and the setting. I let my imagination go completely into overdrive, with almost no self-editing. That’s why it comes across as vibrantly bonkers: Alice In Wonderland meets Monty Python one reviewer said. But I used some of those word and prose techniques in my new novel Beautiful Intelligence, which, as a book, is diametrically opposed to Hairy London, being a novel about artificial intelligence. I wanted to use something of that surreal style to get across the atmosphere of Africa and the Mediterranean in 2092.

Where Do You Write?

In my studio. I live in a bungalow tucked away at the edge of a small town in Shropshire. There’s lots of open countryside nearby, and often, if I’m stuck on a point of plot or narrative, or just need a few extra ideas and images, I’ll go for a long walk. By the time I’ve returned I have without fail sorted out my difficulties. I’m very much a country man. I could never live the urban life, the noise and commotion would drive me crazy.

Questions Of Style…

spIMG_1622As I’ve mentioned above, I like to use language and a prose style to fit a novel. As a result of that some of my work comes across as too mannered, a criticism that I think could be levelled at The Rat & The Serpent and Urbis Morpheos. I’m also keen on my readers doing a lot of the work themselves as they read. The novels that have stayed with me the longest are those where a lot (or most of in the case of Gene Wolfe) of the meaning is hidden, and you have to work it out yourself. That’s certainly the case with Urbis Morpheos, and it applies to the Memory Seed trio also.

I think however that my “mysterious, dense narrative” phase is over now. My most recently completed work is a trilogy – well, one long novel split into three books – which, in terms of character and plot anyway, is I think the most straightforward and readable work I’ve ever done. It’s set in an alternate 1910-1911, and has a strong steampunk vibe, with automata being the central theme. The main character is a fourteen year old mulatto girl with a split identity: The Girl With Two Souls.

I’ve flirted with the first person viewpoint, but I prefer a close third person one. I’ve found that writing in the present tense can bring immediacy to a narrative, and I have used it, but generally I stick to past tense. Most often I’ll have a single main viewpoint, or two, or three. I don’t like multiple viewpoint novels, which personally I find confusing. I like to sit on the main character’s shoulder and follow them about…

What Are You Working On At The Moment?

spBI cover artI have a feeling that The Girl With Two Souls/The Girl With One Friend/The Girl With No Soul could be an important point in my development as an author. I can’t remember the last time something so fully formed exploded out of my imagination. I think my new direction is going to be for less mysterious, dense novels – more straightforward, airy, with an emphasis on a kind of “soap-opera” use of emotional dilemma, plot and character. All the characters in this trilogy are as vivid as any I’ve ever written, I think. The main work is complete, but there is a fourth and final novel, separate from the others, which follows one of the two main characters, Erasmus Darwin, into World War 1. I hope to write that next winter.

After that, I have plans for a work about the fate of life on Earth, set about 800 million years into the future, when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is almost gone, and as a consequence plant life, and therefore animal life, is at its end.
My new novel Beautiful Intelligence will have a novella following it, which Infinity Plus Books will electronically publish as the year progresses. It is called No Grave For A Fox, and it follows up some of the events of Beautiful Intelligence twenty years further on.

Stephen Palmer forum at SFF Chronicles
Pages on Facebook, Goodreads and at amazon.

How Writers Write: Jaine Fenn

How Writers Write is monthly series of guest posts where established writers invite you into their workspaces, reveal their work habits and share their experience.

The series started with Keith Brooke and Neil Williamson, last month  was Ruth EJ Booth’s turn.  This month features Jaine Fenn…

How would you describe yourself?

A writer, obviously.  I’ve done loads of other things – some fun, some lucrative, some embarrassing – but none of them matter as much as telling stories.

Pretty much all the stories I’ve ever told have a speculative element. If asked to pick a sub-genre I’m most comfortable writing in it would be either space opera or science fantasy.

What do you use to write?

Writing on the moveI write in Word, because I’m lazy. I don’t love it, I’m just used to it. I bought a copy of Scrivener, and did the tutorial, and decided it was a Good Thing, but somehow I haven’t got round to actually writing anything in it yet.

Like most writers I also write on paper. Any piece of paper, whatever’s to hand, because if I don’t write this idea down right now I won’t remember it. This leads to notebooks being stashed all around the place, and I still end up writing on things I shouldn’t. The original notes on the mechanics of shiftspace were written on the back of a menu from the Star Castle Hotel on the Scilly Isles; I think I still have it somewhere.

Stephen Palmer When in my garret, I use an ancient desktop PC with NO INTERNET CONNECTION. When out and about, I use an equally ancient netbook, so ancient that some of the keys no longer have letters on them.

When do you write?

A favorite plot walk locationIdeally during the day, for six to about eight hours (including cloud-staring time and plot walks – see below). In practice, because my life has a lot non-writing stuff in it right now, whenever I can.

Although I’m not a morning person, morning can be my most productive time, provided it starts with mild hynopompic hallucinations. My best* first drafts are produced after I’ve already written them in my head whilst half asleep; when this happens I need to go straight from bed to garret as soon as full consciousness returns, and empty the contents of my head onto (virtual) paper.

If my subconscious doesn’t deliver the goods then I need to ease into my writing day, which means reading in bed, then up for some faffing of the sort that could easily become writing avoidance if not got out the way early, and up to the garret when guilt drives me there, normally about 10am.

(*where best = doesn’t require too much rewriting)

Where do you write?

In the GarretIdeally, in my garret. It’s actually a loft conversion, but it’s all mine. I’m really lucky to have a personal space devoted to writing. The fact that it’s only accessible by a wooden ladder and has NO INTERNET ACCESS does wonders for my productivity. I can’t just get up and wander off or check Facebook for cat pictures, though I have been known to distract myself when the words aren’t coming by pretending I’m a gymnast and walking along the beam that runs along the middle of the floor. Also, my desk is directly below the skylite, and you can get a lot of inspiration from clouds.

Deadlines mean I don’t always have the luxury of writing at home, so I’ve learnt to write when out and about, a task made easier by my lap-resty-thingie. If necessary I can write at friends’ houses, in hotel rooms, in gardens, even in the car (though not whilst driving).

I can write in public places, but only by tuning out everything around me, at which point my subconscious assumes I’m alone. This can be a problem in coffee shops and libraries, where behaviour like air-punching, making ‘hah!’ noises and growling can get you thrown out.

How do you write?

Writing al frescoWith music on, if possible. Especially for first drafts. The musical style will depend on what I’m writing, but it can’t have intrusive lyrics. By default it’s dub or ambient for the slow bits and trance or rock for the fast bits.

Plot walks are good for working out where the story needs to go next. I live on the edge of a national park, so there are lots of great local walks, though my default is ‘the standard river walk’. This has some excellent bridges to lean on whilst thinking.

Then there’s the plot pizza, where I take my partner out for dinner at the local Pizza Express (other pizza restaurants are available, though not if you live in a small town like I do), and in return he helps me sort out current plot issues. I’d like to find some way of making plot pizzas a tax-deductible business expense, but I doubt it’d wash with HMRC.

Questions of style

Like a lot of writers, my default setting is third person viewpoint, past tense. This is mainly because that’s what editors expect, rather than a conscious preference, and I’d like to experiment more. I’m currently working on a piece for an anthology which is present tense and mixture of first and second person; that’s what felt right for this particular story, and because it’s a commissioned piece, I don’t have to stick to convention.

Process-wise, I’m both panster and plotter. Being lazy thing means I tend towards panster (and it’s more fun), but the necessity of spending more time rewriting than the original first draft took is teaching me, book by book, to get off my arse and plan properly in advance.

When the first draft is done

Obligatory vanity shotI hate first drafts. Mostly. The times I don’t are when it all flows like magic, like those excellent morning sessions I mentioned above. The rest of the time writing first draft is hard work at best. Sometimes it’s like shitting a melon whilst trying to nail jelly to the ceiling.

I belong to a writing group called Tripod (so named because three of us founded it, in Woking near where the Martians landed), and they’ve been ritually disembowelling my first drafts for over a decade and a half now. Once they’ve pointed out the errors of my ways it’s on to rewriting, which is the part I love. In rewrites I get to pick the pearls out of the dross, and find out what the story really is.

Lastly, self promotion:

Once I’ve finished the short story for Maelstrom’s Edge I’ll be back to the current novel, which is volume one of a science fantasy duology called Shadowlands. My Hidden Empire sequence of space opera novels is published by Gollancz there’s also a Hidden Empire novella, The Ships of Aleph, and short story collection Downside Girls, both published as ebooks by Tower of Chaos press. Having said it’s all space opera and science fantasy, the next thing I’ve got out is an alt. history short story set in an sixteenth century Peru, in the fabulously named Mammoth Book of Tales from the Vatican Vaults.

More Information

Jaine Fenn’s Website:

Six Little Masterpieces of Economy

Armistead Maupin has been described as the master of coincidence.  He’s also a master of economy.  Look how captures the essence of his characters in a just a few words in the following chapter openers…
  • ‘Well,’ boomed Arnold Littlefield, dousing his scrambled eggs with ketchup, ‘the hubby stood you up, huh?’
  • MANUEL THE GARDENER was grumpy, so DeDe didn’t have the nerve to ask him to clean the yucky things out of the swimming pool at Halcyon Hill.
  • MONA WAS WASHING dishes with a vengeance when Mrs Madrigal walked into the kitchen.
  • BURKE, OF COURSE, was the hardest one to convince.
  • MARY ANN SPENT her lunch hour at Hastings, picking out just the right tie for Norman.
  • THE DISCOTHEQUE WAS called Dance Your Ass Off. Mary Ann thought that was gross, but didn’t tell Connie so

See Also

How Writers Write: Ruth EJ Booth

How Writers Write is monthly series of guest posts where established writers invite you into their workspaces, reveal their work habits and share their experience.

The series started with Keith Brooke.  last time featured Neil Williamson.  This month it’s BSFA Award winner Ruth Booth’s turn…

How would you describe yourself? 

ReadingWell, I’m an award-winning fiction writer and a poet, usually of speculative sort. From time to time, I’m a critic/reviewer – of music (alternative) and, recently, books too.

But writing isn’t all I do. I’m a live gig photographer. I sing, I’m told, though I need a new outlet for it. I’m teaching myself to play the ukulele, since a piano’s out of reach right now. There’s more besides. So how would I describe myself? Not nearly busy enough, quite frankly.

What do you use to write? 

Right now I’m typing this in Word, on my old refurb’d 17” laptop – and this is a rare case of typing up before I’ve made any handwritten notes. Mostly, ideas start out on paper first – I’m not sure what it is, but I find I think more clearly when I handwrite, rather than typing straight onto a screen. Nearly all my review/opinion pieces start life on paper – git big swirling threads of thought running all over my A4 notepad (in the margins and everything!), clauses knotted in gaps between the lines of ten-year-old’s scrawl, later trimmed and woven into something more coherent for the screen. Fiction, it depends on the project, but you can guarantee at some point, I’ll hit that sticky wall*, and I’ll have to handwrite myself free of it.

Notebook (3)There are at least two notebooks on the go at any one time – the little one for when I’m out and about (which also doubles for my to-do lists), and the A4 workbook for general Work-Things-Out projects. I’ve learned that where I have a notebook FOR ONE THING AND ONE THING ONLY, that’s a guarantee I’ll never use it. So fiction tends to vie for space with public lecture notes, review plans, career stuff, poetry and geometric doodles of stars and weird spiky things. It’s hell to archive, but it works for me.

On my laptop, I generally work in Word, with occasional bits and pieces in Notepad if I’m experimenting with a section of something. Poetry is nearly always written in Notepad first. Aside from that, there’s the memo function on my phone, a netbook in my parents’ study, but… honestly? I’ve been known to write notes on bar receipts if I’ve nothing else to hand.

When do you write?

On an ideal week, I’ll have two hours writing time a day. Times vary. Generally it’s a free hour before work, and at least one after, but I run or cycle three to four times a week, so that shifts it up to the evening. It’s not that I can’t necessarily do both first thing – oddly, I can usually solve a story problem within the first ten to fifteen minutes of a run. Still, the aim’s for two sit down hours a day every day – more, if I can manage it, on a weekend. That’s 16 – 18 hours a week, if I’m lucky.

Where do you write? 

Box Room (2)Most days I’ll pick one of three or four places to write. There are two cafés in town with mains power where I get most of the grunt work done – one for morning jaunts, one for evenings. When I’m at home, I like to use The Library at the back of the house, which is just a quiet and cosy space to work in. There’s also the box study with my lovely giant table and big flatscreen monitor, but I prefer that for non-fiction and photo editing work.

My main consideration is where’s going to have the right kind of quiet at any one time – and these days I need my comfort tea if I’m going to get some proper work done. The extent to which music’s a distraction or white noise really depends on the tunes. There are a handful of go-to bands/composers I use when the café soundtrack’s not doing the trick. More important is how I think of where I’m working – it can’t be somewhere for playing games or watching TV. If it’s not a neutral space – if it’s not somewhere where any distractions or background noise can be dismissed as not-for-me – then forget it. Work’s not going to happen.

How do you write?

Library (3)Word counts don’t work as well for me as time limits do. I’ve been using the Pomidoro method in the last few months (25 minutes on, 5 minutes off, in two hour bursts). It’s worked particularly well with this found documents story I’m working on, constructed from a series of archival pieces and audio transcripts. This way, I’ve a set period to focus on one bit, with no temptation to polish each one until I’m sick of it.

As for planning or pantsing, it’s really a question of what I’m working on. With criticism, I like to have a clear idea of my argument before I write it up, but fiction’s not so prescribed. There’s always a notebook beside me as I type – that’s more for working things out in my head than writing to plan. Unless the word count’s particularly tight, plotting’s usually something that comes along after the first draft, to work out what’s missing, where an extra beat might be needed, that sort of thing. Not so much planning, then, as restructuring.

A caveat: Since I’ve mostly written short stories so far, this might all change once I start working on novel length fiction. On the other hand, the longest thing I’ve worked on so far just poured out of me one day and didn’t stop until 18,000 words later, so we’ll see.

Questions of style. First Person, Third person, present tense, past?

Most of the time I’m writing in third person limited or first person, past or present tense – but that’s not to say I won’t one day come across a story that demands to be done in, say, second person omniscient. I’ve got to confess, I had to really think about this question, which may suggest I’m not that conscious of making those choices, at least beyond the extent to which they come with the story. Trite as it sounds, generally, there’s a voice that leads – and I follow that.

How many redrafts? – How many readers? – How easy is it to let go?

Redrafting’s a tricky thing to put a number on. Occasionally, it’s taken a complete draft of an entirely different story to get to the crux of what I find interesting about it – so the finished result ends up quite different to what I first imagined.

Easier to pinpoint is how many rounds of readers a story gets – and if all goes well, that’s generally two. Sadly, I don’t have the advantage of being part of a writers group, but I’m lucky to have a number of writer friends, who I can rely on within reason.

I’ve not been writing that long, so knowing when to let go is a discipline I’m still developing. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve two contradictory impulses when editing. The first is riddled with perfectionist zeal – but if I’ve worked on something too long, the other goes “OUT THE F**KIN WINDOW” and promptly chucks it in a huff (aka The Defenestration of Blargh method). I’m slowly working the both of them out of my system, not least for my own sanity. You’re always going to see the flaws in a finished story. But, arguably, if you did reach some mythic, mist-shrouded pinnacle of artistic perfection, wouldn’t that be a reason to stop?

What are you working on at the moment?

Award 1Let’s see… There’s the story about mining and music that’s told through a collection of audio transcripts and archival documents. There’s one about robots and rose gardens and what we leave behind. There’s another about what happens to the fictional worlds we create as children. That’s just for starters.

Recently, I’ve been writing more stories set around where I grew up in the North-East England – such as ‘Good Boy’, in January’s Far Horizons. Poetry’s been the biggest creative surprise of the last six months, which started as a whim, and grew a will of its own. Whether any of this will make it to print, we’ll see, but it’s been immense fun exploring a new way to write.

In the meantime, Fox Spirit’s Fox Pockets: The Evil Genius Guide will include a story of mine about a rather unusual college graduation. There’s also another project that I’m really excited about, one that’s quite different from anything I’ve been involved in before… but I can’t talk about that right now.

In short – everything up in the air and all to play for. Then, I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s why writing keeps me hooked.

  • Am pretty sure the writing wall is covered in treacle. Certainly feels like you’re wading through that on the tricky days, anyhow.

More Information

Ruth Booth’s website: