Category Archives: 7 things…

7 things you need to know about crime writing


Today I am thrilled to welcome Nick Quantrill to my blog. Nick is an established crime novelist based in Hull. His latest novel, The Dead Can’t Talk, is published by Caffeine Nights Publishing:



Here he offers some useful & precious nuggets of guidance to budding crime writers:

You need a protagonist
All stories need a protagonist, someone who can give a story its essential structure. Of course, not all protagonists are born equal. Some are paid professionals, typically a police officer or investigator of some kind, but equally, they can be the person we pass in the street with no secret powers or a well-motivated amateur. The choice is yours. Your protagonist doesn’t even need to be a good person. Sounds like a contradiction? Think about someone like Tony Soprano. The key to him being such a compelling protagonist is that he has his own strong moral compass.

You need a worthy opponent
If you’re going to test your protagonist thoroughly, you need to really disrupt their life to see how they react. Their opponent can be pure evil, or they can also be more complex and nuanced. It’s a case of perspective. They can be misguided, manipulated by darker forces or maybe motivated by revenge. People are rarely either good or bad. The grey area is where crime writing thrives.

You need a location
Deciding on a location will go a long way in helping you decide what type of crime novel you’re going to write. Will your story be set in a contemporary location? If so, you need to consider how well you know it and what your research needs are. Will it be urban or rural? If you’re going to tackle the historical novel, you’re opening up a whole different can of research worms. You also need to consider how contained your story is going to be. All worlds have rules and norms, all characters have a stake in the world and interact with it differently.

You need a plot
“Where do you get your ideas from?” is a question often asked of any writer, and the truth is ideas are everywhere. The trick is in working out which ones can sustain a novel. More importantly, it’s about working out what interests you. Maybe it’s an injustice that makes you angry, maybe it’s a need to explore a particular location to make sense of it. Once you’ve got your motivation it’s a case of working it up into a plot and making the structure work.

Don’t sweat the sub-genre
Crime writing seems to contain more sub-genres than ever – police procedural, domestic noir, psychological thriller, serial killer…the list goes on and on. Some sub-genres are very much in fashion at the moment, some always will be and some will come and go. The publishing world moves so slowly, chasing the market is likely to prove foolish. There’s so much advice to cut through when writing, but it doesn’t ring truer than write what you want to write. It’s the only way to find your voice and tell a story with passion and commitment.

Crime writing is not the pariah of the literary world
Think crime writing is for writers who aren’t technically skilled enough to write beautiful prose tdct-final-coverand deep meaningful thoughts? Think it’s only about cheap thrills and tricks? Think again. Crime writing can be pure entertainment, but it also has the capacity to go far beyond that. Crime writing looks the world firmly in the world and says it as it is. Crime writing can examine where money, power and influence intersect and offer up perspectives beyond our own understanding. It has the power to challenge and question our opinions.

Crime writers are friendly
I don’t know why they are, but they just are. Maybe it’s being treated as literary outsiders which leads to crime writers huddling together, maybe it’s dealing with dark subject matter on a daily basis, but crime writers know how to let their hair down. If you want to find industry professionals, go to the big crime festivals and mingle, seek advice. If you want to meet likeminded people and receive encouragement, also go. You’ll find you’re more than welcome.

Learn more about Nick & his work:

7 things you need to know about… Poetry

felixToday I am delighted to welcome poet and performer, Felix Hodcroft to my blog. Felix Hodcroft gained a BA in English Literature more years ago than he seems (to himself at least) to have been alive. His publications include a volume of his own poetry, Life after Life after Death and an anthology of poetry by North and East Yorkshire writers, A Pocketful of Windows, both published by Valley Press: He teaches poetry on the Creative Writing course at Hull University. He writes and performs with Sue Wilsea as ‘The Hull to Scarborough Line’. With Sarah Dew, Jane Sudworth and Helen Birmingham, he writes and performs as ‘Poetry on Fire’. With Helen, he co-compères the regular Open Mic Cabaret sessions at Woodend, Scarborough ( He has also performed as a solo poetry performer and with Beach Hut Theatre and Springboard Scriptwriters in Scarborough.

The 7 things you need to know about… Poetry

(1) The essence of poetry is NOT, as many people still think, that it should rhyme.

(2) The formal (ie. how it looks or sounds) essence of poetry may usefully be broken down into four elements:
(a) the vividness, precision and power of the words you use;
(b) the way in which you use grammar (eg. full-stops, commas, hyphens – or, sometimes, the lack of these) to bunch and order those words;
(c) the way you use your words, your grammar and, most of all, your decisions about where to break lines to create the sense of what you say and the rhythm (whether regular or shifting) in which you say it;
(d) the ways in which you embellish your sense and your rhythms with images (often metaphors) to refresh and revivify; and with such musical effects as assonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia and (even!) rhyme.

(3) A poem can unfold like a story, a series of descriptions, an emotional outpouring, a conversation, an advertisement, a news bulletin or any combination of the above or of anything else. To be of interest, though, it should push the boundaries – perhaps by finding or trying to engage with something fresh or enigmatic, controversial, complex or painful; or by addressing something familiar in a revealingly original way. This is one reason why it may get harder, not easier, the longer you go on, to write poetry of value. Poetry-writers often turn out to be good at doing something fresh – and then at doing that same (once) fresh thing again and again.

(4) Because pushing the boundaries is a challenging and sometimes painful or alarming thing to do, the formal techniques outlined above under (2) have a crucial role in hooking into and hanging onto the reader’s attention. Whether it be to delight, disgust or intrigue, the quest to keep the reader’s attention is paramount in poetry.

(5) From which it follows that the purpose of writing poetry is not to show off the writer’s cleverness, their political or aesthetic soundness or their fascinating emotional scars. Any of the above may, optionally, be present, so long as they are subjugated to the task in hand. That task is to communicate: one human being trying to touch, and to speak to and for, other human beings, bringing something fresh from the Front.

(6) If you can’t immediately understand a poem presented to you – or you can, but you can’t see the point of it – this does not mean that the poem should necessarily be rejected. Sticking with it can be about trying to broaden your mind, which is something poetry can be very good at, and for. If, however, after sustained attention and effort, you still don’t understand it – or maybe, again, just the point of it – this does not necessarily mean either that the poem is remarkably clever or you remarkably stupid. As years pass, many poems – and poets – that were once thought sophisticated and excellent are seen to be rather ordinary. Cringing to fashion is something that the poetic world can be very, very bad at.


Available from Valley Press:

(7) Taking time to work out – and to put into words – why you think a poem works, or does not work, and continuing to do this (as – yes! – you read more and more poems) is one of the very best ways of discovering your own personal poetic standards and of developing your own powerful, poetic voices. Another way is being willing to change your mind. Yet another is to resist the romantic myth that the best poetry comes in a lyrical rush of inspiration. On the contrary, the best poems have been probed, interrogated and revised again and again until – if ever! – we achieve the intensity, depth and honesty we fumble for.

7 things you need to know about proofreading

Today I welcome fellow author, David Powning, who is also an experienced copy-editor & proofreader, to guide us through what we need to know as writers about proofreading. Learn more at: and find out more about his novel The Ground Will Catch You go to: (10% of the proceeds goes towards the struggle against breast cancer).

David1. Copy-editing and proofreading are not the same thing.
This foxes a lot of people, and understandably so, mainly because there is a certain overlap between the two disciplines. The aim of a copy-edit is to not only find errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation, but also to address issues around style, usage, consistency and repetition, among other things. In other words, it involves editing the text. 

A proofread, on the other hand, is the final read-through before publication. Its purpose is to look for errors and inconsistencies in spelling, grammar and punctuation that were missed by the copy-editor or have subsequently crept in when the author made amendments to the text. Your proofreader will also check layout, page numbering, chapter headings etc.  

The important thing to remember is that a proofread is the last read of the text to make sure everything is as ‘clean’ as possible. It is not an edit. 

2. It isn’t particularly cheap. And if it is, you should be hearing alarm bells.
The bad news is you will have to shell out a bit for a copy-edit, and for good reason: when done properly, it’s time-consuming. The copy-editor has to get inside your text, hunting out mistakes and discrepancies, and that includes keeping tabs on people’s details (the colour of their hair or eyes, for example) or what car they drive (if it’s a green Ford Fiesta on page 24, it can’t be a grey Ford Fiesta on page 238), as well as the timeline to make sure events are happening in the logical order. There’s a lot involved, and, as with everything in life, you get what you pay for. 

The good news, however, is that a proofread is cheaper. 

3. You can’t proofread your own work.
I know, it would be lovely if we were all able to proofread what we’ve written – and of course I’m not suggesting that you don’t continuously check your work – but it’s a fact that even the best writers have to hand over their efforts to a professional. The problem with proofing your own work is that you know what you’ve written, so, like it or not, there will be times when your brain fills in the words simply because it ‘knows’ what’s coming. And that’s where mistakes occur. You need a neutral person to look at it, because they don’t know what’s around the corner so to them everything will be fresh.

Also, logic dictates that if there are some words you always mis-spell or grammatical constructions you get wrong, how would you know the difference? You can’t spot what you don’t know. 

4. A good copy-editor/proofreader will respect the author’s wishes.
Sometimes as a copy-editor you come across stylistic curiosities that aren’t what you would call, erm, ‘traditional’. Grammatically wrong, even. If it’s a one-off, nine times out of ten you would automatically just correct it. However, if it’s something that crops up repeatedly, then you have to bring it to the author’s attention. And if they say it’s deliberate, then you have to respect that, even if it makes your red pen quiver every time you see it happen. It’s a delicate balancing act. Readers may well go, ‘Ah-ha, I’ve spotted a mistake there, and there, and there…’ but if your client is happy and views it merely as their own stylistic quirk, you must take that on board. It may go against a copy-editor’s natural instinct, but as with a magazine’s house style, sometimes there will be things you disagree with.

5. Proofreading is important.
I’ve often heard it said that readers are not fussy these days about coming across typos when reading a novel, but, you’ll be shocked to hear, I don’t think it’s acceptable. Of course, even with the best will in the world, the occasional error may slip through the net – and that’s true of all books – but to me anything more than that is the thin end of the wedge. If you start to think, ‘Oh, I’m not too bothered about a few spelling mistakes in my novel’, then what’s to stop you being bothered about half a dozen in the next one, and ten in the one cover-jan2016-dpowningafter that? 

Self-publishing has really taken off in the past few years, and I think indie authors have a duty to keep their standards as high as possible so that the public can buy with confidence, as when purchasing a novel from an established publisher/author. Is it okay for a CD to jump half a dozen times? Wouldn’t you return it if it did? Well, the same goes for books. Typos and grammatical errors stop the flow of words and momentarily take the reader out of the imagined world you have created, thereby undermining all your hard work. What’s okay about that?

6. Track Changes is a wonderful thing.
For those not in the know, Track Changes is a function in Microsoft Word that records each amendment a person (i.e. your copy-editor/proofreader) makes in the document. This means that when your novel is returned to you, you simply go through each change and either ‘accept’ or ‘reject’ it. I mention this only because chances are you’ll be sending your work to a copy-editor as a Word file, and I’d be very surprised if they didn’t use Track Changes. It’s simple to use and gives you complete control over the final product. Brilliant.

7. Proofreading is very satisfying.
I love copy-editing and proofreading, whether that’s for magazines or books. To me it’s a challenge to find things that aren’t quite right, and not because I want to feel clever. Every writer makes errors (my novel went through the wringer quite a few times until I was happy), so when you discover something amiss you know you are doing your bit to improve the work, and that’s a good feeling.  

Ultimately, when you’re working for an author, it’s a partnership. You’re both striving towards the same thing – high standards – and to help someone achieve that, after all the hours they’ve put in creating a story, really is very gratifying.

7 things you need to know about: Poetry Therapy

By Victoria Field

vickyfVictoria Field qualified as Certified Poetry Therapist with the National Federation for Biblio-Poetry Therapy in 2005 – she has since done a two year training as a mentor-supervisor for the, now, International Federation for Biblio-Poetry Therapy. She is a poet, playwright, fiction and memoir writer,  a member of the British Psychological Society and an International Fellow at the England Centre for Practice Development at Canterbury Christ Church University – full details on  Read her inspiring and thought-provoking new book, Baggage: A Book of Leavings – part travelogue, part memoir, part reflections on loss and redemption –

Poetry Therapy is not just poetry
We work with the ‘poetic’ in all literary forms – and even beyond ,with music, movement, film and visual arts. The arts open an imaginative space in which we can encounter the full potential of our lives and humanity.

But poetry is special
The way a poem can convey rich ambiguity, be beautiful, memorable, moving, personal and universal, is for me, something magical. I never tire of taking a poem to a group and hearing the infinitely varied responses of individuals encountering it in the moment. I’m always surprised.

Connection is everything
In a typical session, we connect with a poem, our multi-faceted selves, the selves of others and the world around us in a way that is profound and meaningful. Being disconnected is, I believe, at the root of distress whether individual, collective or universal. Finding connections is a way of getting to know yourself better and that can lead to improved life choices as well as being able to respond in a nuanced way to this beautiful and broken world. 

Poetry therapy is accessible and inclusive
Working in community settings, I often have no idea who will turn up to a session. Somehow, once we are a group around a table – which mimics the way human beings have sat in circles around the fire for millennia – the social trappings fall away and we see ourselves mirrored in the poem and in each other. 

Poetry therapy is both receptive and expressive
We read poems on the page and write in response. In the UK, these are often seen as separate activities but the US-model in which I trained is based on close reading, discussion and then creating in response. One of the pioneers in biblio-poetry therapy was a librarian, Sister Arleen Hynes, at St Elizabeth’s hospital in Washington who noticed that when patients discussed books they’d read, they seemed to benefit more and when this was done in a group, the impact was even greater. 

What if I don’t like poetry?
‘Poem’ is shorthand for a text that can elicit an emotional reaction – a feeling response rather than an intellectual one. We use all kinds of texts and these can be film clips, stories, memoirs, songs as well as every kind of poem. If someone actively dislikes the poem, that’s all grist to the mill. How about writing a letter to the poet? What would you say? How can that illuminate your own values and enthusiasms? 

What if I don’t want ‘therapy’?
Poetry Therapy works with the ‘positive psychology’ model of what it means to be human. We all have strengths and weaknesses and suffer losses and challenges and medicalising these can be unhelpful. Sometimes, though, suffering is so profound, or behaviour so challenging that specific treatments of disease or illness is called for. Poetry Therapy, like all the expressive arts and anything we do that is absorbing, meaningful and contributes to a common good, can be useful in most situations whether we talk about therapy, healing, wellbeing or use another word entirely.

Seven things I’ve learned about playwriting by Jackie Daly

This week I am very happy to welcome fellow writer, Jackie Daly, to talk about play writing… Catch Jackie’s plays at:  in Windsor, 6th, 7th, 8th October 2016 & in Scarborough:   5th November 2016
From here on in, it’s Jackie talking

jacsheadshotThanks, Kate, for inviting me to write this guest blog. It’s been a fruitful experience, reflecting on what I’ve learned about writing plays. I’ve always loved writing. For years my focus was short stories, poems, and blogs. Whenever I had time or inspiration I’d scribble something new, in a meandering kind of way.

In 2013, I wrote my first script and something clicked. It felt like I’d found a home, writing-wise. Since then I’ve written 9 one-act stage plays, 3 short screenplays, 1 audio play, and I’ve written, narrated and co-produced 5 short films. I’m one of three winners of the Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama Writing, a long-listed playwright for Old Vic 12, a FUSE playwright with Sheffield Crucible, and member of Playwrights One development programme at West Yorkshire Playhouse. I’ve had four plays produced by Windsor Fringe, Beach Hut Theatre Company and Stephen Joseph theatre with Scarborough libraries. Seven scripts have had rehearsed readings and development through Stephen Joseph theatre, Script Yorkshire, and Springboard Scriptwriters. I’m a partner in SubSeaTV, an award-winning wildlife filmmaking team, and I’ve won and placed in two short screenplay competitions.

So what I have learned since I wrote my first script? Well, a lot. It’s been a roller coaster of highs and lows, successes and failures. Tears have flowed for rejections as well as celebrations. I’ve dug deep into my reserves of courage and think I hit the bottom a few times. But perhaps my courage barrel gets deeper the more I dig…

I’m not going to attempt to cover how to write a play. I’m still learning and there are many experts who’ve written helpful guides to playwriting (I’ve included a few links below). Instead, let me take you on a wander through my deepest, hardest, and most joyful lessons.

Here are seven things I’ve learned about playwriting.

It’s all about story structure
Even the most experimental plays have a beginning, middle, and end. Without structure, stories can’t provide audiences with the things they expect and deserve: order from chaos, new insight into the world, or the opportunity to walk in another’s shoes then return to their own lives with fresh eyes.

I’ve learned that story structure is hard to do well, but it’s not optional. Without structure, my stories fall over. With it, my stories can fly. I highly recommend John Yorke’s Into the Woods for further reading.

Playwriting is collaborative
The script is a blueprint that invites creative contribution – from directors, actors, designers, technical teams, and composers. There’s a natural and healthy tension between creative control and collaboration.

I’ve learned when I write in a way that communicates my vision yet leaves space for others’ imagination, the best version of an idea has the chance to bubble up. All my scripts include notes that help express my vision for the piece along with this statement: “actors are welcome to ignore these notes.”

“Scriptwriting is not about the words on the page…it’s about mapping behaviour”
I borrow this quote from the brilliant playwright Simon Stephens. When I heard him say this, my gut flipped with the truth of it. It’s easy to get seduced by wordsmithing (I did – I still do) but I’ve learned the real work of a playwright is not crafting pretty sentences; it’s exploring what it means to be human – mapping behaviour. Take a character. What does she want? What’s stopping her getting it? What does she do to get what she wants? To whom? What are the consequences? How does she handle these consequences? Then what does she do? And so on…

It’s all about serving actors – with great characters, dialogue, subtext, and action
The way playwrights map behaviour is through dialogue and stage directions. What is said? More importantly, what is not said? I’ve learned that actors will find the subtext and leak truth to the audience through their body language, tone of voice, or just a glance. Great playwriting leaves bags of space for brilliant actors to do their work.

Finish it. Get it on its feet
Neil Gaiman said, “Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”

So true. One of the reasons I’ve learned so much since 2013 is that I’ve written, finished, and produced lots of short pieces. Each piece has taught me something new, just by getting it over the line. Putting the script into actors’ hands and watching an audience respond has taught me even more. I reckon at least 50% of my learning happens after a piece of work is finished. I used to rob myself of this learning by not finishing projects.

Writing plays is a vehicle for my own growth and development
Probably the most important thing I’ve learned is that writing stories makes me a better person. As I create characters, plonk them into challenging situations, ramp up the tension and see what they do, I imagine myself in these situations too. I understand other views of the world a bit better. Stories are one of the places where empathy can be born.

To quote Seth Godin (blog 30/7/16), “Empathy is difficult. If you believed what he believes, you’d do precisely what he’s doing. Think about that for a second. People act based on the way they see the world… Understanding someone else’s story is hard… but it’s worth the effort.”

So after all that, what’s the seventh thing I’ve learnt?
Write another play. There’s always more for me to learn

Guides to playwriting

The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting (10 lesson plans written by industry experts):

Bruntwood prize writing resources:

Story structure:

Simon Stephens on how playwriting’s not about words (watch from 38:43):

Seth Godin’s blog:

Jackie has recently created a new website. Find out more about her work here:



Seven things you need to know about writing short stories

JF2016By writer Julie Fairweather
The approach to creating a short story is primarily governed by an individual’s writing process. Some writers begin with a single word or phrase and mind-map from that to gather ideas for development. Others start by plotting a structured outline or building a character. Or begin, as I do, with an idea and penning a rough draft straight off. Whichever way works for you.

The following seven points, therefore, can be used as a check-list at any stage of the writing process in order to achieve a completed and rounded story.

  1. Motivation: Determine what the story’s motivation is, ie, the reason for writing it. Your protagonists will need a strong moral component that motivates them throughout the story so that they end up in a different emotional space from where they began. This is what makes it a story.
  2. Theme: There is only room for one theme in a short story as it can become distracting for readers if it branches off in too many directions. Therefore, it needs to be focussed. Imagine your story has a golden thread running through it that, when held at each end, nothing can be detached from it. Be brave and delete all irrelevant loose ends.
  3. Structure:  Wherever you start your story (at the end and move backward to the beginning, or the beginning and move forward to the end, or in the middle and alternate between back/forward story) you need an emotional hook to entice readers into your world from the first sentence or paragraph. Continue by using a variety of writing techniques in the development of characters and plot and you will retain that engagement with readers to the end. The end should be feasible within the realms of the story – even a story with a twist needs to be believable within its own parameters.

WRITING TECHNIQUE TIP: Use a mix of short and long sentences to enhance the emotional pull of the story for your readers, and incorporate all the senses within your writing (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and emotion). This will result in an interactive engagement with readers throughout the whole story.

  1. Character: The motivation of each character, particularly the protagonist, needs to be in line with their aims within the story. Basically, the character needs to make choices which are shown by actions that have consequences.
  2. Plot: Determine the main events of the story and how the character(s), particularly the protagonist, are going to move through these in an interrelated sequence to achieve their ultimate individual aims, using the cause and effect theory (overcoming conflict/obstacles) within their own motivational drives.
  3. Point of View (Writer’s Voice): Decide who is going to tell the story, what type of narrator you would like. This should be chosen to fit the overall tone of the story and can be a narrator who sees all, or a narrator with limited view, or even a vulnerable narrator who cannot be trusted. Consider first person POV (intimate) or third person POV (distant). Sometimes, I try out a story-in-progress with both POVs and choose the one that enhances the emotion of the story, as this is my motivation as a writer.
  4. Dialogue: Never force dialogue for its own sake. Use it only when it is necessary to move the story forward or build character. Let your characters speak according to their natural traits but bear in mind that they can sometimes speak ‘out of character’ when responding to different situations. Sometimes, a story may not need dialogue at all if it is written from the viewpoint of the narrator’s internal thoughts.

This seven-point list is my personal take on short story writing and is by no means exhaustive. There are numerous magazines, articles, blogs available that give good advice on writing short stories.

Meanwhile, I invite you to visit my blog at where you can read something about my own writing process and inspiration in connection with my latest story in the post ‘Rain Dance’, dated 7 June 2016.