CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Surrey Life today CLICK HERE

7 authors share their top writing tips

PUBLISHED: 12:20 23 July 2018 | UPDATED: 12:20 23 July 2018

PATCHARIN SIMALHEK/Getty Images/iStockphoto

PATCHARIN SIMALHEK/Getty Images/iStockphoto

This content is subject to copyright.

As the closing date for our Readers’ Short Story competition edges nearer, we get some last minute tips from those who know best

Click here for full details on how to enter the Surrey Life Short Story competition!

Ally Sherrick

Ally SherrickAlly Sherrick

Ally Sherrick lives in Farnham with her husband and assorted garden wildlife. Her debut, Black Powder, published by Chicken House Books, won the Historical Association’s Young Quills Award in 2017. Her second, wartime-set adventure, The Buried Crown, was published in April 2018 and she is hard at work on ideas for a third story, this time set at the Tudor court.

“Revel in reading: There are so many amazing books out there already, all waiting to teach you something about your own creativity and craft. Push the boundaries too. Try things you’re not sure are for you. Usually read sci-fi? Then why not try historical instead?

“The ‘P’ word: Ideas, research, the ability to craft strong plots and compelling characters – these are some of the key ingredients involved in spinning a great story. But they are nothing without a liberal dose of the ‘P’ word – otherwise known as perseverance.

“Practice your craft: If you are just starting out, try writing in different voices (first person, third person etc), styles and genres. It can often take a while to find your own author voice, but while you’re developing it, make sure you take advantage of at least some of the fantastic writers’ resources out there: self-help titles, writing courses, author blogs and websites to name but a few.

“Learn how to take criticism (and grow a thick skin): If you are serious about getting published, you’ll need to be open to critical feedback from agents and editors. Get into the habit from the outset by joining a creative writing group. You’ll almost always find that your work is the better for listening to what (impartial) others have to say about it.

“But above all… have fun, that way your enjoyment will shine from the page and give your story the best ever chance of spreading its wings and taking flight.”

Sharon Wright

Sharon WrightSharon Wright

Sharon Wright, author of Balloonomania Belles: Daredevil Divas Who First Took to the Sky (Pen&Sword), will be speaking on Tuesday 9 October 2018 as part of Guildford Book Festival.

“For me, non-fiction is just good journalism but with a better word count. I apply the same skills that came with a long career in newspapers and magazines, seeking out good stories and telling them honestly and well. You already know if you are a writer. I’m from Bradford and my favourite quote is from Yorkshirewoman Charlotte Brontë: “I’m just going to write because I cannot help it.” If that’s you (it’s definitely me) what are you waiting for?”

S J Parris

S J ParrisS J Parris

Farnham’s S J Parris’ (Stephanie Merritt) latest book, While You Sleep (HarperCollins) is out now.

“The best advice I can give any would-be writer is to just sit down and write. It’s so easy to procrastinate, thinking you need lots more research or preparation. The most effective way is to set yourself a target word count each day. Start with something small and manageable, like 300 words, you can always build it up if it’s going well.

“Then make time to stick to it – that’s the hardest part. It may not seem like much, but if you do that every day for a year, you’ll have a novel. And read as widely as possible!”

Henry Hemming

Henry Hemming (c) Jeff OversHenry Hemming (c) Jeff Overs

Henry Hemming is the author of M: Maxwell Knight – MI5’s Greatest Spymaster and will be appearing at The Guildhall on 10 October 2018 as part of Guildford Book Festival.

“Perhaps the best advice I was ever given came from my editor shortly before he agreed to publish my first book. I’d been working on the manuscript for at least three years, and for most of that time it was an unreadable, pretentious mess.

“I was far too hung up on the little things, and overwhelmed, I think, by the need to produce a manuscript which felt like a serious book. Only when I began to relax and have fun with it did the manuscript start to resemble a book that I would actually want to read.

“On the advice of my publisher I also cut 50,000 words, keeping only the parts that I needed for my plot. So to sum up - have fun with it, don’t be afraid of reading a book about the craft of writing, (I am evangelical about John Yorke’s Into the Woods), and remember that shorter is usually better.”

Rob Lloyd Jones

Rob Lloyd JonesRob Lloyd Jones

Rob Lloyd Jones is author of Jake Atlas and the Hunt for the Feathered God (Walker Books).

“My first tip is this: finish your story. I’m often asked by people how they can get their book or story published, only to discover that they haven’t actually written the book or story.

“Writing is hard. Often I wish there was a way around it. But the main difference between an author and someone who wanted to be an author, is that the author kept at it.

“Another tip: always carry a notebook. You have so many great ideas, every day, but you’ll forget them if you don’t write them down. Carry a notepad or use an app on your phone – just don’t let them escape. The idea for my new children’s series about an adventurer called Jake came to me as I was buying nappies in a supermarket. I dropped the nappies, wrote the idea down, and it changed my life. I hope one of your next ideas changes yours, too.”

Adele Parks

A post shared by Adele Parks (@adele_parks) on

Adele Parks is one of the judges for our short story competition and will be speaking about ther latest release I Invited her in (HarperCollins), alongside Tasmina Perry at the Harbour Hotel on Thursday 11 October 2018.

“My first big tip for writing a short story (or even a novel) is ‘get writing’. So many people say to me that they want to write but in fact never write anything longer than a shopping list! Harsh but true. Try to write something every day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes and even if you’re not in the mood. If you’re stuck for something to write about, set yourself tasks, such as describing what you can see if you look out of the window, or your earliest memory or how a new dish tastes. It doesn’t matter what you write, or even if you ever use the exercises in your story, it simply develops discipline.

“Read newspapers and magazines and browse news websites for inspiration. Short stories are the ideal medium to explore those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stories.

“Read a lot of short stories because understanding the genre and form you are working in is essential for all good writers.

“Short stories are different from novels, (although they share a fundamental similarity: the need to have a coherent beginning, middle, and end). If your story lacks these, it’s most likely a vignette, or something experimental. Tell a whole story.”

Miranda Seymour

Miranda SeymourMiranda Seymour

Miranda Seymour, who will be speaking about Ada Lovelace, the subject of her latest book, In Byron’s Wake, at Watts Gallery as part of Guildford Book Festival on Wednesday 17 October 2018, gives her tips on writing a biography.

“First of all, try to find if there is a centenary or birthdate or some such to which publication could be connected. Second, don’t be shy. Tell everybody what you plan to do. It’s amazing where new information and contacts can come from. Make a point of visiting the places that were important to your subject (this is the fun bit). Be sure to make a time chart. Put in a few external events to keep the larger perspective in your mind. After you’ve done your research for a year, start to write. It’s so easy to procrastinate. Don’t. Good luck!

In Byron’s Wake by Miranda Seymour is published by Simon & Schuster

Click here for full details on how to enter the Surrey Life Short Story competition!

More from Surrey Life


Wrap up in your favourite coat and scarf, grab your sparklers and a warming drink, and enjoy one of these fantastic firework displays taking place in Surrey for bonfire night

Read more

Home to outstanding architecture, ambitious community projects and arts ventures that are putting these villages firmly on the map, East and West Horsley are among our county’s most desirable addresses

Read more

Chertsey’s best-kept secret, the Great Cockcrow Railway, steamed into a half-century this year

Read more

A taste of Korea has swept into the beautiful market town of Godalming as Bada sets out its stall with a tapas-style fusion of seafood, traditional dishes and spice

Read more
Yesterday, 16:06

With friendship as the central theme in Adele Parks’ new book, Zoe Richards met up with the bestselling author and her publisher, Kate Mills, to find out how these two Surrey dwellers have discovered a successful working relationship, and become firm friends too

Read more
Yesterday, 11:37

Great things to do in Surrey this weekend: art exhibitions, walks, concerts, theatre, places to visit and other events and ideas.

Read more
Yesterday, 00:00

As the twilight falls, the magic begins… There’s something for everyone at Christmas at Kew – and we’re giving you the chance to win one of five family tickets for two adults and two children to the Preview Night of Christmas at Kew on Wednesday 21 November 2018

Read more
Friday, October 12, 2018

We round up 10 of the most beautiful photos of Surrey shared on Instagram this week…

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Good table manners have long been a source of national pride but in this modern age of social media are our longstanding traditions being left behind? Rebecca Younger visits the stately Beaverbrook estate for a lesson in British etiquette

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Whether you're looking for fine dining, pub grub or exotic dishes, eating out in Surrey has something for everyone. Here's our guide to the best local restaurants and pubs

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The spookiest time of the year is fast approaching! We pick some of the best events to celebrate Halloween in Surrey

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

From well kept secrets, to chilled out locations, Redhill is a good spot for a bite to eat. We round up some of the best restaurants…

Read more
Monday, October 8, 2018

From October 11 to 14, the great and the good of professional golf will tee up at Walton Health Golf Club for the 2018 British Masters. We shine a spotlight on the club as it ends an extraordinary year

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Lily James’ cinematic education has been overseen by a host of Hollywood’s most recognisable names; now, as she nears her 30th birthday, the Esher-born actress is looking to step out of her co-stars’ limelight and enjoy her leading role at the forefront of future British generations in Tinseltown

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search