Books To Improve Your Writing

Happy New Year!

2014 was a good year for me, with my writing as well as life in general. I had a short story published ( and found out I’m getting two more published early this year. I also have a publisher working with me on my novel Aelfgifu’s Time (excerpt here:, I’m hoping we can release it in 2015.

I’ve also started work researching my next novel, as yet untitled but about Edith of Wessex, married to Edward the Confessor and from the infamous Godwin family.

It was also a fantastic year for improving my own writing techniques. I joined a website called Write On ( The feedback has been amazingly helpful and, to my delight, I found my work in the top ten on the site my first month. I recommend your taking a look.

The reviewing I did of others’ work helped me more than I thought it would. Seeing mistakes in other people’s stories made the same mistakes that much more obvious in my own work. And it got me thinking about the technical side of writing.

I joined a few Facebook pages on writing and was disturbed to see the number of people who really didn’t have much experience with the technical side of writing. Like an artist, you need a basic understanding of the tools in order to bring colour to your work. The same goes for writing, basic grammar and spelling are important but so is understanding characterization, speech, showing vs telling. All the good stuff. (And as a bit of a grumble, I saw one post from what I hope is a young person, saying he had only started reading books two years ago, had already read four and might read another in the future. He commented that he didn’t really need it, he was writing before he was reading anyway. I despair, I really do. How do you ever hope to become a decent writer without having read? A lot.)

Anyway. I decided I would put together a list of books that I’ve found particularly helpful for writing, ones that I return to when I have issues or need encouragement.


The Elements of Style – William Strunk and EB White

This is the bible of grammar, and should be on every writer’s shelf. Explains grammar rules in an easy to understand manner. It also has a section on writing and composition. An excellent resource.

Eats Shoots and Leaves – The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation – Lynne Truss

More modern than Strunk and White but just as useful, with a chapter devoted to commas and another for hyphens.


On Writing – Stephen King

There were a lot of disparaging comments about Mr King on the writing pages I followed, a lot of folk don’t appreciate the vast amount of work he’s putting into his work. I would say this: if a successful writer takes the time to record how s/he works, and offers advice on improving your own craft, take it.

I like this book because the first half deals with King’s own writing, his own demons and the context around which some of his books were written. I like context. It’s a lost skill, seemingly, to put things into context for a listener/reader. The second half of the book deals with the writing craft, all useful advice.

Writer’s Gym – Eliza Clark (ed)

One of the books recommended to me when I was doing my masters, the book is made up of exercises and advice from different writers (including Douglas Coupland and Margaret Atwood). Lots of advice, exercises and further reading.

The Art of Fiction – David Lodge

One of my favourite writing books, David Lodge starts each chapter with a writing element in mind, and illustrates that element with a quote from a famous writer/work. For example, he uses James Joyce to illustrate interior monologue, Hemingway to illustrate repetition etc. A fantastic book.

The Practice of Writing – David Lodge

You may have guessed I’m a David Lodge fan. His writing and examples are plainly written and easy to digest. This book is a collection of his essays on writing, all gems.


Yes, a good, old-fashioned thesaurus. Online or other, never JUST trust in Microsoft to come up with best word.

There are also many great online writing resources and groups to join, depending on your writing level or stage in the game, you have to decide which are best for you. I collect basic but helpful writing advice on my Pinterest board here:

The only other advice I can give, and I can’t stress this enough, is READ! READ ALL THE BOOKS! As much as you can. It can only make you a better writer. And it makes you much more interesting at cocktail parties.

A small portion of my own library. When I moved to Canada from the UK, I packed over 3,000 books and shipped them over!

I hope all of this helps. Send me your comments/thoughts, I’d love to hear from you!

May 2015 bless us all with successful writing and good grammar!



Hello there!

So I’m terrible at blogging (my last post was April, it’s now November). Those of you who wander past my pages will have noticed that. Just awful. But I thought I’d add a brief note to let you know what I’ve been up to.

Aelfgifu’s Time: I finished my novel about an 11th century noblewoman caught up in the last throes of viking attacks in England. She was Cnut the Great’s first wife, barely remembered by history but a fascinating person. I’ve queried and discovered that there’s very little interest in either this woman or this period of history. Nary a nibble in sight, sparing a single agent who is reading my full (and who, to be honest, I had given up on). But a post on a Facebook site introduced me to a small publisher who specialises Norse stories (see below) and I gave it a go. We’re still talking and editing but so far so good!

The Mortecarni: I was done with this book, all queried out to a literary world that’s all zombie’d out. But once again a small note on a Facebook page introduced me to a small publisher in my own backyard, one who is looking for horror/zombie novels. I queried them and they asked to read the full manuscript! It’s definitely worth paying attention to social media sites, using them for a specific purpose (and not just to flash your ass at the world).

Short stories: the publisher looking at Aelfgifu’s Time was originally looking for short stories of a norse/fairytale variety for an anthology. Two of my stories have been accepted for the anthology, I’m terribly excited!



Stuff in general: I’ve not written much lately, started a new job etc etc. Life. But I spent today looking through a few short stories, tidying them up and submitting them. Fingers crossed, tenacity pays in this business. And how, as Porky? Alfalfa? would say. Hmm, really gotta look that up.

That’s all, I hope you’re all doing well, big pats on backs to those doing NaNo, I admire you guys and sincerely hope it pays dividends.

I’ll leave you with a teensy story.

Talk to you soon,


Breakfast With Buddha

I savoured my second coffee, welcoming the sly stimulation. Siddhartha sipped his chai tea, humming serenely to himself.

I interrupted. “So, what’s it all about then, eh?”

The Buddha smiled and replied, “Life is suffering, my friend. Only when you release the hold that the material world has on you will you be ready for further contemplation.”

I just shook my head and got up. “I have to go.”

“Do you?”

I grinned. “You never give up, do you?”

His sparkling laugh filled the room. “Never.”

My Offering for National Poetry Month

In honour of National Poetry Month, here’s something I wrote when I was going through a Victorian morality poems phase (best example of this is Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffmann).

Warning: I am NOT a poet! I write prose. Please lower your expectations accordingly!


Wicked Deeds

Gentle reader, listen clearly
To these stories, purchased dearly;
Of wretched children and their needs,
Of evil parents, evil deeds;
Who meet their ends, without a quarrel,
Read these tales and learn a moral.

John’s dad beat him every night,
Didn’t care about John’s fright;
One night John’s dad went too far,
So John pushed dad beneath a car.

Hannah’s mum ignored her needs,
Had no praise for Hannah’s deeds;
Spurned poor Hannah’s woes and cares,
So Hannah pushed her down the stairs.

Donny’s aunt thought pain was grand,
Stuck a needle in his hand;
Gouged his belly with a key,
Till Don put arsenic in her tea.

Lisa’s parents didn’t need her,
So they kindly didn’t feed her;
Lisa finally made a run,
But first she shot them with a gun.

Claire’s dad burned her with cigars,
Left poor Claire with awful scars;
Laughed and chuckled when Claire wept,
So poor Claire torched him while he slept.

Mummy brushed her daughter’s tresses,
Gave her dolls and frilly dresses;
Tired of being a girl was Jake,
He stabbed his mummy with a rake.

Sarah’s uncle called her dunce,
Called her stupid more than once;
Sarah’s uncle caused her strife,
So Sarah cut him with a knife.

Walter’s parents left him home,
Everyday he was alone;
Things were bad, his life was dire;
Until he set their house on fire.

That’s the end, these tales you’ve earned,
I hope you have a lesson learned;
Read them through and read them slow,
And never cause your children woe.

Welcome 2014!

Welcome to the world, 2014. I’m sure you’ll be a good year, and play nice with all of the other children.

On this, your very first day, I’d like to discuss a few things, mainly what I expect of you in your duties.

First of all, I expect you to provide me with an agent. I know, I know, I still have to put in the all the work, do my research, approach the right person with the right query about the right book. But still, how about a bone, huh?

Second, I expect that you’ll see that I’m writing at least an hour a day. No, don’t complain, this is important. I’m working again and once I get home I am very easily distracted (aren’t we all?!). So I’m hoping that, again, you’ll cut me some slack and find less for me to focus on so I can get more writing done.

Third, and last, I’m hoping you’ll help me with this new thing I’m trying out in my writing: focus on the story, not the word count. All 2013 seemed to ever want was to think about how many words, am I writing enough words, does this chapter have enough words etc. Well, 2013 is gone now. It’s just us. You and me. So what do you say? Help a girl out here?

That’s it, 2014. You’re off on your own now, free to do as you will. Fly fast and true and help all of the writers. Please.

What’s First: Synopsis v Query v Book

Just thought I’d drop in and say hello, apologies for the absence but I’ve been knee-deep in history books as of late. And of course writing the new book! (My latest novel takes place over the years 1006 to 1035ish and takes place in England, Denmark and Norway).

So far so good, I’m 5 chapters in and trying to make some very dull history more accessible. Thank goodness people back then had the same problems with family and friends that we do today. While working I had a brief conversation with one of my beta readers (hi Meghan!) about writing a synopsis. It got me thinking about some advice I once received, which was write your query first, before starting your novel. Another source suggested starting a writing project by writing the book synopsis first.

I’m a huge fan of outlining (as many know!) and can absolutely see the benefit of doing either of those before writing the actual book. The only trouble is my stories (and I’m sure everyone else’s too!) take on a life of their own and it would mean constantly updating both the book, query blurb and synopsis. I understand it’s meant to guide the story but sometimes stories just won’t be led. They decide where they want to go and how they want to get there.

So here’s what I’m thinking. I’ll keep writing (I’m sort of on a major roll with this story) but make a few notes when I’m finished each chapter. When I’m done the book, I’ll be done the synopsis. And as I’d like to start talking about my book, I really do need a short, sharp summary ie query. So I’ll work on that first, get it done and out of the way.

Okay, rambling over. But I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the query/synopsis/writing process, particularly ideas for making the whole thing less painful!

Before I go, please take a moment to enjoy my new header. The background is the lid from the Franks Casket, made from whale bone in the eighth century and currently displayed in the British Museum, London England.

Happy Writing!

A Very Short Story

My grandmother passed away last week, I wrote this story while thinking of her.


She watches me from her place in the mirror, her place of family and children; her place of memories. She smiles when those people come to visit, knowing who they are, remembering their lives, and the life I shared with them. I sit, wrapped in warm fog, as they introduce themselves as my family and sit and tell me about their day. Afterwards, the nurses remark on how lovely the children are, these children I no longer know.

Sometimes I can nearly grasp a word: my birthplace, my age, my husband’s name. She dangles the memory in front of me, mocking me and the life I led, not allowing me any recall.

She has taken my thoughts and memories from me, my life. And I can see in the eyes of these strangers who visit that she’s taken something from them too.