Writing The Opposite Gender (rehashed in a rage)

Do you remember the time I published a post about Writing the Opposite Gender? I’ll summarise it for you. Just write a person. People are unique, regardless of gender. That sounds about right. We can leave it at that.

Women aren’t pandas. Neither are men. That’s all you need to know.

But we can’t! Your writing is going to be read (we hope). It will be read by people who think about gender. If you’re unlucky, it will be read by someone who thinks about gender while they read (a very dangerous sport).

You may remember that earlier post, but do you remember the time I wrote a crime novella? Not to worry if you don’t. I’ve since unpublished it as part of an effort to get serious with my writing. It was a silly thing I wrote on a bet. A bet made largely with myself.

“I bet I can write a crime novella in a couple of weeks.”

“What? Why would you do that? It seems kind of pointless if that’s not even the genre you -”

“Challenge accepted!”

Continue reading “Writing The Opposite Gender (rehashed in a rage)”

The End Of The Road

End of road

The end of the road is in sight. There are now only about five chapters of Servants of Infamy (formerly White Rose) left to complete. Then there will be a process of updating the first three parts (as my writing has changed a lot since I started this novel), editing and trying to design a cover (before giving up and selecting a stock photo, most likely).

With all of that in mind, I will give a tentative release date of some time in February or the beginning of March. However, this could vary so keep an eye out for more updates!

What happens after self-publishing the novel? The picture above explains it quite well. While writing, you follow a road. It’s a set path from start to finish, if not always a straight one. Once you reach the end of the road, you’re out in the wilderness. There’s some marketing, promotion and feedback.

Continue reading “The End Of The Road”

Going It Alone #2: Precision Reading (makes you a better author)

Lone Wolf Alfred Kowalski
Lone Wolf by Alfred Kowalski

This is a narrative of my experiences starting out as a writer, but it isn’t a chronological account. I made this decision because the order in which I did things isn’t the order you should adopt. Due to going it alone, I unfortunately missed out some crucial steps.

In the last post we looked at coming up with an idea for your writing. Now that question has been answered, how do you get on with putting pen to paper? How do you go from 0 to author?

The answer lies in the pages of every work of fiction or non-fiction you have ever read, each TV series or film you watched, and every picture you looked at. You already know what a novel looks like from front to back. Stop there. Do you know it inside out?

Continue reading “Going It Alone #2: Precision Reading (makes you a better author)”

Going It Alone #1: “What Should I Write?”

Lone Wolf Alfred Kowalski
Lone Wolf by Alfred Kowalski

I’m beginning this series of posts in the Writing Tips category, but it differs in an important way from my other writing advice. This isn’t a series about how to write fiction or non-fiction. It’s a narrative of my experiences as a writer, with some helpful insights along the way.

When I started writing I made a crucial decision, motivated largely by stubbornness, to “go it alone”. I didn’t ask friends or family to buy my books and review them, or subscribe to my blog. I didn’t seek out editing help, professional or otherwise. I didn’t use my personal social media accounts to advertise my writing.

My marketing strategy

Continue reading “Going It Alone #1: “What Should I Write?””

Writing Tips Index

Now those are useful tips!
Now those are useful tips!

45 writing tips have now made their way onto this blog. A wealth of information at your fingertips. Or are they? You might find it hard to define endless scrolling as being “at your fingertips”.

With that in mind, here is an index of every writing tip from the Useless Book Club, 1-45. If you know of a good way to work an index into the blog’s layout, please leave a comment!

  1. The Prologue
  2. The Process
  3. Writing Faux Pas – Debunked
  4. A Useful App For Writers
  5. Writing The Main Plot
  6. Endings
  7. Writing Historical Fiction And Fantasy
  8. Character Pitfalls
  9. Past Inspiration
  10. Barnstorming For Beginners
  11. How To Write A Story About Anything
  12. How To Get More Readers
  13. Write A Bad Story
  14. Gambling Tip For Writers
  15. Character Development In 3 Steps
  16. Writing Minor Plots
  17. Write Like Shakespeare
  18. Write For Money
  19. Keep Up With The Times
  20. Planning Your Novel In 3 Steps (for NaNoWriMo)
  21. Value Your Work
  22. All About Chapters
  23. Critiquing Your Novel
  24. Writing A Catastrophe
  25. Writing For The 21st Century
  26. Characters Who Do Bad Things
  27. No Good Deed
  28. Know Your Enemy
  29. Sourcing Images For Your Blog
  30. Characters In Conflict
  31. Blogging For Beginners
  32. Understanding The Misunderstood Author
  33. Writing The Opposite Gender
  34. How To Write Fiction (step-by-step)
  35. Writing Evil
  36. Fear And Courage In Fiction
  37. How To Choose A Name For Your Character
  38. How To Write In The First Person
  39. Writing A Realistic Narrative
  40. Hindsight and Self-improvement
  41. Creating Escapism By Genre
  42. And Then This Happened…
  43. “That”
  44. Criticism, Feedback And Commentary
  45. Making A Video Trailer

Wow, there’s enough up there to fill a book!

Past Inspiration: Walk Like An Egyptian


Back to the British Museum for another tour of the past. Today we’ll be meeting some exceptional characters from Ancient Egypt. Our first is my favourite…



This lovely and somewhat fierce feline is a mystery. She may come from Saqqara, the necropolis of Memphis (Egypt’s one-time capital). One quirk of hers has only been discovered recently. Analysis revealed she was initially painted with a stripy tail.


Another interesting character, with an unusually familiar name. Meet “Roy”, a Theban high-priest of the god Amun-Ra. What makes him stand out from the countless other statues of Egyptian men sitting with folded arms? For me, it was Roy’s stern expression. You can imagine he had a severe reputation in his time as high-priest.



We all enjoy the sight of a good sphinx. Woman’s face, bird’s wings, lion’s body. This is a superb example, which came to Egypt via Greece. You can see the Classical Greek influences in her face and hairstyle. Perhaps the dead wife of a Greek trader, her likeness preserved in the two immortal figures which guard his tomb.


This charming pair are the purrfect embodiment of how the Ancient Egyptians saw their spiritual world. The divine is intertwined with the natural. However, not being fond of subtlety, our Nile-dwelling friends opted to affix a cat’s head to their deities as a demonstration of this union. Let’s see if we can find something a little more subtle…


No. Not even close. Down, kitty.


This is exactly what I was looking for, walking through the BM in search of inspiration. Subtle, human, real. An honest person pulled out from another era. The simple style of the artist and look of intense concentration he creates. King Nectanebo I, his name alone deserves a story.


Who is this figure who bids us farewell as our journey comes to an end? He’s not from Ancient Egypt, but belongs to its close neighbour. The Ethiopian Empire was both incredibly important in history and long-lived. But few people are aware of it, one of the last African nations to resist colonialism. A topic I wish to explore further and hope you feel the same.

The best inspiration comes from unexpected sources.

Tip #45: Making A Video Trailer

Inspiration made a call today, care of ihelenblog. It’s all about making a video trailer for your book, to post on YouTube or wherever else. More exposure and reaching a wider audience.

This is something I’ve been aware of in the past as a potential marketing tool. But it’s too much effort. Too costly. A fool’s errand, surely?

Here’s what I managed to knock together in about an hour after inspiration struck:

Still a work-in-progress, but I thought I’d share it here to give you an idea. As I said, this video fell together in about an hour and cost nothing.

Step 1: clips

You’ll see that I’ve used a combination of dodgy MS Paint captions and public domain images relevant to the Vikingr story as a backdrop. You could also experiment with royalty-free video clips, or video and pictures you took yourself. If you’re an artist, then lucky you! Design some backdrops.

Put all of your clips into a folder and give each a number, in the order you want them to appear.

Step 2: sound

I’ve used “Epic” from Bensound, a royalty-free music repository. The only requirement was that I mention the source at the end of the video. Pick a piece which fits the tone of your story.

Step 3: assembly

You may not be expecting this, but assembling your video is actually the simplest part. I used Windows Movie Maker (which wasn’t installed on my laptop, but only took a minute or so to download). Put in your clips, drag and drop to the correct order, upload the soundtrack and you’re pretty much finished!

One thing you may have to tinker with is the timing of your clips. I’ve heard that a video trailer should be 1 minute 30 seconds or less.

Give it a go yourself!

Dead Author Dialogue

Tolstoy grave

An imaginary journey to a very real place.

An invented conversation with a legendary man.

I stumble through a landscape steeped in history, permeated by magic. An idyllic clearing named the place of the green wand in the Forest of the Old Order. Yasnaya Polyana, Bright Glade.


My host has woken from a century-long sleep to greet me. Tolstoy occupies an old garden chair, settled in the clearing a few feet from his grave. A picture of the Old Russian gentleman. At ease, enjoying the simplicity of his natural surroundings. Fierce gaze filled with deep perception. Understanding.

Dobroye utro,’ I call, nervous, eager to demonstrate my limited knowledge of his father-tongue.

‘Good morning,’ he replies, his crisp tone shredding any notion that our conversation will be carried on in Russian. We have important matters to discuss and limited time. None to waste in butchered pronunciation. ‘Sit or stand, as you please.’

I stand. There is only one chair and dew lies heavy on the grass beneath my feet.

‘May I ask you some questions? Sorry, is there anything you’d like to ask me?’

‘Such as what?’ he asks, the question throwing me. ‘What knowledge which you possess would I need where I am going, where I have been going?’

Of course. What do the living have to teach the dead? He is irritable and I should hurry, but not rush.

‘May I ask how you did it?’

‘More specific,’ he says, staring in bored abandon up towards the light-speckled canopy.

‘How did you create such masterpieces? What do you think made you one of the great authors?’

He smiles at that, spreading his legs out and crossing them at the ankle.

‘Has no one written better since then?’ he asks.

‘Some would say so,’ I change tack as the corners of his mouth twitch in a momentary frown. ‘But I would disagree.’

Now his brow draws into a map of creased skin. Thoughtful, his gaze pierces mine.

‘Why is that, do you think?’

‘Perhaps,’ I say, thinking of an answer as I speak. ‘Authorship has improved. The creating of a story itself. Some writers become as great as you, or better. But none can turn the page itself into an adventure, forge words into experiences, quite how it was done in your day.’

‘Do you not read?’ he asks.

‘Of course!’

‘Well, writing is reading turned around. How many books did you read this week?’

‘This week,’ I begin a silent stammer. What answer can I give which will not lower his opinion of me? None. ‘I haven’t. I’m sure I could, but who has the time? Maybe one in the last month, or two.’

‘Two books?’

‘Two months.’

My voice has become an ashamed whisper, but there is nothing more sinister than soft curiosity in his eyes now.

‘What do you do, if not read?’ he asks.

‘Any number of things. Television, internet, work, films…’ I let my words trail off. A vacant expression has come over his face.

‘These things… They are written?’

‘Some of them, yes.’

Some,‘ he repeats. ‘Then some day you might write as well as I did.’

‘How often did you read?’ I ask.

He laughs and claps his hands together.

‘How often? Let me think.’ A long pause. ‘Do you know why I asked to be buried here?’

‘No, why?’

‘Because I wanted to be sure it was real. The place of the green wand. My brother named it that. But, do you know, I never could remember if it was a real place or somewhere we had read about. Does that seem strange to you?’

‘It does, a little.’

‘Well, do away with these distractions. Your television and such. Leave off it and spend your life in books. When you no longer remember where the stories end and reality begins, you may be ready to write your novel.’

We parted ways shortly after. I’m sure he was right. To this day, I do not doubt a single word he uttered. But how could I become like him? How could I sit in the shaded forest, a book planted between my hands, while the entire world and more lay at my fingertips?

He was free in his lifetime. They all were back then. Free to spend their days in idle thought, losing reality in the printed page. Free, but chained.

Perhaps we have taken a step back. Being an author could grow more difficult with every screen, flashing light and whirring hard-drive which enters our lives. Distractions. But we can reach through them and touch every corner of our world. A world both real and imagined.

I feel sorry for him these days. Then again, I’m sure he pities me just as much.

Tip #44: Criticism, Feedback and Commentary


I am in a state of immense gratitude as I write this post. Why? Today I read an excellent review of one of my novels by Marian L. Thorpe (excellently reviewed, not reviewed as excellent). It led to an Alice In Wonderland rabbit-hole of surprises for me.

Surprise #1: the novel tried to hold its own, but came away with injuries.

Surprise #2: I did not break anything after reading it.

The latter was unexpected and, if you are a writer, you surely understand why. When you read the first uncomplimentary reviews of your writing, like me prior to the review in question, you probably turned crimson with rage.

A freshly-penned piece of writing feels precious (if not quite like the writer’s own child). The initial attitude of its creator is of the protective mother or father lion defending her/his cub.

Angry lion
“Who called Autobiography of a Lonely Lion ‘amateurish’?”

This is why you need to seek out as much criticism or feedback as possible, from any available source. Better to have the critique of a hundred amateurs than one expert’s opinion. Accustom yourself to the negative in order to remove its sting and enable you to accept it as valid.

I’m not saying a poor review will one day breeze past like the scent of fresh roses on the morning breeze. It still packs a punch, but you are less likely to react with a few shots of your own.

For me, it was an unintentional progression. I found myself looking at a negative review and not seeing red. Instead I saw an opportunity. Here was feedback which could be used to my advantage!

‘Negative’ is an interesting word. It means the opposite of something, an inversion like the colours on a film negative. If you turn your criticism around it becomes a roadmap of how to improve your writing.

Here is something you do not expect to hear from a writer. The critic is always right.

Your reviewer tells you your scenery is bland. You might have created a detailed, vibrant and unique backdrop for your story, but is it perfect? In this sense, your reviewer is absolutely right to point out that you have not yet achieved perfection. If something can be improved, why not do so?

I had long suspected my writing was falling flat somewhere. Now I have a few ideas about where to make improvements.

I could tell you to approach criticism in a calm and detached manner, but how likely is that? Better still, go hunting for reviews in the hope that negative feedback will appear. Without it a writer is groping blindly for ways to improve, without knowing where things went wrong.

Thanks again to Marian L. Thorpe! Honesty is a most appreciated gift.

Past Inspiration: A Walk Through Medieval London


Welcome to London, 1450 A.D. The city has recovered from the sack of Boudicca’s rebellion, the post-Roman abandonment and the scourge of the Black Death in more recent times. It is a thriving metropolis, by medieval standards.

We enter the city from the north and are welcomed by an image of fortified piety. A series of priories and monasteries stand just beyond and within London’s curtain wall.


The wall itself is a relic of times past, built under the Romans. It has been damaged by fire and left to dereliction by the first Saxon settlers.


If you approach the walls with dark intentions, do not be surprised if you are met with iron. Watchmen stand sentry at the gates and armoured men can be called from the Tower.


We pass St Martin’s Le Grand and Greyfriars, priory of the Franciscans, and see something spectacular emerge through the trees, buildings and towers. It is the bastion of Londoners’ faith, playing as important a role in defending them from the forces of evil as the Tower.


St Paul’s Cathedral rose above the rest of London, visible from all quarters of the city. But the above view is quite different from what we see walking through medieval London. The city has always been vulnerable to the ravages of fires which spread from house to house to become vast infernos. One such fire destroyed the old cathedral.


Here is the St Paul’s of our journey. It is a masterpiece of Early English Gothic architecture, with an incredibly long nave and tall spire. In later times, Protestant ministers would harangue the London crowd from an open-air pulpit in the cathedral precinct.


We carry on walking down Watling Street. Our first impression of the Thames is the stench of sewage running on its surface. The bleak channel draws out the city’s refuse and carries it out towards the sea.


London Bridge, where the fire which destroyed St Paul’s began. It is hard to imagine a blaze erupting on the bare, sweeping concrete bridge today. This monument looked much different in the Middle Ages.

London Bridge

For pedestrians and traders driving their wares on carts into London from the south, the bridge would have appeared to be more of a tunnel. Even where the houses and shops did not span the bridge’s width on wide arches, they leaned in towards the middle (their roofs almost touching overhead). We leave the city in darkness.


But London is not quite finished. A small enclave of the city rests on the southern bank, at the end of London Bridge.


Southwark Priory is a testament to the faith of those who dwelt on the southern bank, but not every inhabitant of Southwark was pious. Inns lined the high street along which tradesmen would pass. They offered drink, prostitution and a chance to have your purse lifted in a dark alleyway.


We should be wary, unless our journey ends on the point of a cutthroat’s dagger. This is not the only threat to be found in the shadows of Southwark. The year is 1450 A.D. and a rebel army marches north from Kent. They are led by a man with two names: John Mortimer, Jack Cade.