Thursday, 28 October 2010

Writing without speech marks

Kate Clanchy ran an excellent workshop last week. One of the exercises was to write without using speech marks. The aim was to test how it enables a more rapid pace. We also played with switching tense.  This is the piece I wrote during the session which we all started with "In my mind...":


In my mind my father says that’s not the way to do it.

I say that’s the way I do it and he says if I do it that way the curtain will pull the rail down with its weight. I say, whatever, and leave a gap where he said the extra screw should go. He says he’s not responsible for this, and I say he’s never taken any responsibility for anything.

I would like to tell him he’s the one who’s left the gap, but if I do, he will say he’s just doing my bidding, and I will end up disagreeing with him and we will end up fighting again. If I keep this conversation going we’ll end up where we always do. He will leave the room in a huff and say it’s all my fault.

So I shout at the wall, ‘It’s all my fault.’

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Inspiration for historical fiction; 4 excellent resources

I swore I would never write historical fiction because of the amount of research involved, but he books of C.J. Sansom hooked me (I am waiting for my mother to finish the family copy of the latest, Heartstone). I was educated in South Africa so my knowledge of history has largely been about the Zulu Wars and the Great Trek. However, I've fallen in love with historical settings and with the complexity that characters in previous centuries are allowed to have as authors fictionalise events. And maybe I am enjoying the research phase of writing a bit too much...

There are a few select websites that when I use them I end up going entirely off track but throughly inspired with new ideas.


  1. The World Digital Library is exciting because it contains a growing amount of scans of original texts. The pictures, the maps and the manuscripts are compelling and every one has a story beside and inside them.  You can search bu place, time, topic, period and institution.
  2. The Old Bailey Online contains the proceedings of the trials in London from 1674 to 1913. It is impossible to read one page and not feel inspired to find out more and write the story behind the trial. The tags are interesting - try witches or "hung drawn quartered" ...
  3. If you have access to newspaper archives through a subscription or a University Library then there are vast collection going back many centuries.  I love the scanned versions of the newspaper achives for the advertisements as much as the stories.
  4. Instead of reading the clothing catalogues that come through your door, try the 1897 Sears Roebuck catalogue. It is the picture of the late nineteenth century in the USA, down to the tiniest detail. 


Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Story behind "Undressing the Elephant"

Written six years after my first book about the spread of good practice in healthcare, I wanted to share more about my personal learning and experience than write another traditional business book.  I spent nearly a year gathering stories about why spread doesn't happen, why individuals and teams do not adopt obvious better practises, to discover that no-one would allow their work to be referenced as a 'failure', despite the fact we learn best from failure. So I chose to write this book in the 1st person and allow myself the room to share my personal thoughts. It took a year or so to plan and then I wrote the first draft in one sitting over two exhausting weeks. Editing took a few months after that. 


The stimulus to write the book came from attending a peaceful demonstration in Washington DC for the people of Darfur.  (George Clooney was billed to attend so I thought it would be a good use of a Sunday afternoon.) At that time around 200,00 had died in a difficult war over five years. While sitting on the grass I had the dawning realisation that the same number of Americans die each year from known medical error. Where was the demonstration about this? This put the event into perspective. I went back to my hotel room and wrote the first sentence, "This is my angry book".  With editing, this later calmed down to a more realistic, "This is my impatient book."


The book is a bit of a crossover. It is mostly narrative ,with some bullet points for the impatient and although non-fiction, there is an element of creativity in the way the stories are retold. So it may be part-creative-narrative-non-fiction. [shrug shoulders]


The book continues to be a bestseller in its niche and will be available in Danish in October 2010

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Bernadine Evaristo and verse

 I found the talk and workshop given by Bernadine Evaristo at Oxford Brookes on Thursday night incredibly inspiring. Her authoring plaudits are significant and she was generous in her advice, thoughts and understanding of the creative process.

The genre of verse novel or narrative verse had passed me by but I am now sufficiently intrigued to check it out in more depth. She read from her book Lara (Bloodaxe) and explained how she ended up writing in verse after an aborted attempt at a prose version. The workshop session was focused on character and she demonstrated how characters can be brought to life with  a few, carefully chosen words. I liked the economy of verse and the way each word matters. The medium also enables the rhythm and pace of each character.

I think I might have a go.