Writing Advice

There’s so much writing advice out there. Something I hear a lot is ‘write what you know’

Well, imagine if we all did that. There’d be a glut of books about frustrating office jobs, the trip to the local supermarket and relationships that are not quite right but we can’t figure out why.

I think it’s better to write what we don’t know. I think it’s better to get ourselves into the head of someone completely new. If they’re historical, we can research. If they are different to us, we can interview someone. If they are fantasy, we can let our imagination run wild. Write what we don’t know. Be someone else.

Also, that advice about not writing long descriptions? I love long descriptions. I love that part in Bleak House where Dickens writes about the fog for pages. Describe away. I’ll enjoy it.

Writing advice can be useful, especially when it’s ‘back up EVERYTHING’. But it’s not absolute gospel. If you read that you ought to plan every page and you’re a bad writer if you don’t, someone else will tell you to not to plan a single word. Following your instincts works well too.

And please put the long rich descriptions back in. I cannot emphasise enough how much I love them.

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

The Women Of Baker Street

Sent from my iPad


Writing Quote of the day by Christine Duncan

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”Benjamin Franklin
I’m guessing preferably both.


Backstory. I love a character with a rich backstory. And I don’t need to know all of it. Just some of it. I don’t need every detail explained. I just like knowing its there.

However, some readers not only like to know it all, but it know it at the beginning. To not reveal parts of a character until the end – or not even until books two or three, can draw accusations of an unreliable narrator (I love unreliable narrators) or of hiding the facts from a reader (look at the accusations Agatha Christie got of hiding things from the reader in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. As a matter of fact, she didn’t. She just cleverly slipped them beneath our notice).

Only one thing is important – that you know the backstory. You don’t need to know all the details. You don’t have to have all the answers. You just have to know that there is a backstory and roughly what it is. Believe me, if you know it, the reader will sense it.

And don’t worry about when or even if you tell it. You’ll know when the right time to tell the story is.

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

The Women Of Baker Street

Sent from my iPad

Don’t Forget the Description by Christine Duncan

I witnessed something last week that I found pretty funny. Four year old Max sat screeching in my living room. His seven month old sister, Millie, matched him screech for screech. The two were communicating and Millie was glad.
However their 11 month old cousin Isabelle was not so sure. Apparently Isabelle, who also has an older brother who can and does screech on occasion, was not used to screeching as a form of talking. She sat, lower lip projecting, watching, trying to decide if she should cry or not. Seeing me, smiling, she decided maybe not.
It reinforced a lesson that as a writer, I know, but do not always use. Communication is not always words, or even tone. Sometimes it is more to do with body language. I tend to write quickly, in a hurry to get the essence of a scene down. I have to remind myself to go back and add description. I may add a picture of little Belle, lower lip projecting, to my desktop, as a way of reminding myself. Body language is important too.

Fever Dreams

I have a cold, which means I’m a little hazy on almost everything at the moment and my thoughts shoot off in all directions and my dreams are intensely vivid.

Illness can be useful to a writer. Hyper realistic fantasies, a blurring of the lines between imagination and reality, becoming aware of parts of your body that you never really noticed before until they started to scream in pain.

And yet writing is also a physical task, and we need the strength and calmness to actually be able to write down those wonderful and twisted things of illness.

Many of my favourite writers suffered from illness and sometimes could do nothing but spend days lost in their own minds, all their senses heightened, their imaginations on fire as the fever rose. But they couldn’t write it down until they were well again.

It’s only a cold and will be gone by next week. But in the meantime, I have to try and remember what this felt like, so I can reproduce it.

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

The Women Of Baker Street

Sent from my iPad

Happy Easter Everyone by Christine Duncan

Switching Genres

One of my favourite authors is Daphne Du Maurier. She’s most well known as a writer of ‘gothic romances’ – Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek, Jamaica Inn. And if that’s all she was known for, she would still fully deserve her reputation, they are haunting, thrilling books that totally envelope you in their world.

But Daphne Du Maurier also wrote the stories The Birds and Don’t Look Now – two stories that became two of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. I’ve just read The House on The Strand, which is basically sci-fi. The Scapegoat is an excellent crime drama.

Daphne Du Maurier crossed from genre to genre and wrote brilliantly in each one. She is proof that a good writer doesn’t have to stick to one genre – as long as they write the stories that interest them, they can write well in any genre they choose.

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

The Women Of Baker Street

Sent from my iPad