Weekly Tuesday story from a song lyric, seemed like the obvious choice this week, so I’ve tried to make it obscure..ish.

It was valentine morning and Wendy jumped into the shower early. She had a nine o’clock meeting, so it was important to get off to a good start to the day, but, more importantly for her, she wanted to be sure to leave the bathroom clear for Matthew.
She had moved in with him three months ago after a two year romance. He worked in accounts on the floor below hers and was the pick of the bunch in the office restaurant at lunchtimes, the subject of speculation from all the girls. Maureen was Wendy’s best friend and competitor when it came men.
“Bet he’s already taken, they usually are.” she said when they were on their way down in the lift one wet Wednesday in January.
“Who do you mean?”
“Who do I mean? Wendy, you know full well who I mean. I’ve seen you watching him with his tray of steaming sausages and mash.”
“Oh, you mean Matthew. Matthew the wonder charmer. No, he’s free as a bird. I know that for a fact. Well, I checked with HR last week.”
“Wendy, well, well, innocent little Wendy. You cheeky girl. Well you’re in with a good chance there, that’s for sure.”

That was it, Maureen got the bit between her teeth and set the ever-so-shy Wendy up for a date. She just came out and told Matthew while he was in the soup queue that very day.
“She’s interested you know. You only have to ask.”
And he did, later that afternoon, he just phoned her up and asked her out. And that was it. Two years later, here they were on valentine morning sharing an apartment and getting ready for work.

However, after the initial heat of passion, living together had become a bit of a challenge. They always needed the bathroom at the same time. Wendy to shower, the rest she could do in the bedroom, but Matthew seemed to spend hours in there preening himself and preparing himself for the day ahead. It had led to quite a few stormy journeys to work in the car together.

So, today, valentine’s day, Wendy decided to shower early and get going alone. She knew that if she stayed, she would only be in his way. So she went, knowing she would think of him every step of the way. She knew she would always love him, and it was her way to show it.

(Image courtesy link – I daren’t use a real Hockney ☺ )

I went to the David Hockney exhibition this week at the Royal Academy in London.
It is absolutely, definitely worth the £15 entry fee if you are anywhere near London and I found the whole experience truly inspiring. Link to Royal Academy

What’s the connection with writing novels or being an author?

Well, here are nine I can see, not in any particular order.

  1. He works hard
    I mean seriously hard. He must sketch, draw or paint every day, and he’s 74 and still going strong. The place was full of paintings. On one wall alone, there were 36 paintings all created in 2004. That’s three a month non-stop. I know that when you read the small print about some of his life story, he does have assistant painters, but he still does all the planning and creative work. Suffice to say, he’s a serious artist who is committed to his profession.
    Inspiration: Write every day, simple as that. No excuse. Are you a professional or not?
  2. He continues to learn
In 2001, at the age of 63, he went back to watercolours that he hadn’t used since being a student. He re-learned the craft and spent many hours perfecting his skills. He sees the craft of his art as something he has to continue to train himself in.
    Inspiration: Learn the craft of story-telling. Study more.
  3. He makes sketches
Before he embarks on the large canvas, he makes sketches and plans. There were numerous sketchbooks on show. For every painting on show, there must be many, many hours of preparation work unseen.
    Inspiration: Keep writing, develop scenes and characters through writing material that ultimately may never get used. Don’t worry about producing too much, keep it all and use the ‘sketchbook’ you produce as inspiration for the stories to come. Also, every novel needs a plan. All the great artists have an initial plan, they don’t simply start with a massive blank canvas and paint a masterpiece.
  4. He keeps up to date
    Hockney is now famous for his work on iPad. He continues to experiment with multi-media. All are on display at the show. This is not some fuddy-duddy 74 year old, he is on the leading edge of his profession. Perhaps if he was an author, he’d be self-publishing on Kindle right now.
An indie David Hockney.
    Inspiration: Experiment with emerging techniques and technologies where they improve your craft.
  5. He paints proper paintings
    David Hockney is an expert artist with tremendous drawing skills, a great sense of perspective and amazing use of colour. Each painting is like a complete novel, not just a scene or chapter in a book.
    Inspiration: Be the best writer you can be, in whatever genre you choose.
  6. He paints the same scene again and again
    There are numerous repeats in the exhibition, deliberate repeats of the same scene painted at different times of day or in different seasons, to explore the changes that occur over time. He argues that you could paint your back garden and make it interesting because it would be different every time.
    Inspiration: To me, this seems like a series of novels rather than a single novel. Keeping the same character(s) and developing them over time through a series of adventures is much more compelling than single stories. The backdrop of the series may stay the same, but the action moves on.
  7. He uses vibrant, strong colours
All the paintings are strong, there are no pastels here. He uses the most amazing colours in odd situations that simply work.
    Inspiration: Stick to the action. Write with passion and be fast moving, not some quiet backwater of description or narrative.
  8. He focuses
David Hockney takes a subject, like a particular copse of trees in Yorkshire, and paints them from every angle and every perspective. He says that the shared viewpoint of artist and viewer ensures the effect of immersion in the woods. He simply focusses right down to a small scene and explores it to death. That way, he excels.
    Inspiration: Focus on one area, one genre, one particular type of story, then just do it really, really well. Take the reader with you into the world you are creating and exploring.
  9. He paints on-site and from memory
    There are many exhibits where the write-up explains that he has created the work from the memory of visiting the place frequently, not from actually being there painting or from photos. It’s as if this needs to be explained because it is behaviour that is out of the ordinary for an artist, like it assumes that most artists paint live or from photos.
    Inspiration: This strikes me as the other way round for writers. Everyone assumes we do it all from memory or imagination. Why not write in the setting itself? Why not write with photos? Perhaps many of you do that already, but it’s never really struck me so strongly before. I have a scene in an Accident & Emergency waiting room, so why not just go down there and sit and wait and write?

The man is a genius, and an inspiration to all of us. As the Spectator says, he’s a national treasure.

I bought a few postcards of his work and now have them pinned above my desk. Keep writing!

A short one this week…

I spend the entire week working hard, running the kind of business venture that is best not discussed in public. Somehow, I’ve ended up in this spot where I guess I am a bit of a bad person.
Finally we get to Saturday and I just want to take some time with you and enjoy the day.
Perhaps we could go to the park all day, or maybe we should go to the zoo and take in a movie later before we go home.

I don’t really mind, I’d just like to be with you. It feels good when we’re together, like we’re made for each other. You are such fun, you make me forget all about my stressful week.
I feel like I’m someone else altogether, someone who’s actually good.

But for some reason, you keep me waiting, you’re not too sure about me. I wonder whether you know about my dodgy dealings.

I can’t imagine a more perfect day than being with you.

More learnings from the Crime Fiction book by John Scaggs that I referred to last week – I recommend this as a good research read for anyone attempting to write a crime novel.

My novel is a crime thriller – a psychological thriller. He lists some findings and observations that are obvious when you state them but are actually very useful to remember as you construct your plot.

He references a book by Julian Symons called ‘Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel’, where Symons points to some significant features of a crime thriller:

  1. The crime thriller is based on ‘psychology of characters – what stresses would make A want to kill B – or an intolerable situation that must end in violence.
  2. The fact that, unlike detective fiction, there is often no detective, or, when there is, he or she plays a secondary role.
  3. The fact that setting is often central to the atmosphere and tone of the story, and frequently is inextricably bound up with the nature of the crime itself.
  4. That the social perspective of the story is often radical, and questions some aspect of society, law, or justice.
  5. The observation that characters form the basis of the story. According to Symons, ‘The lives and characters are shown continuing after the crime, and often their subsequent behaviour is important to the story’s effect.

He says that they don’t have to cover ALL of these aspects and often don’t but it is an interesting reminder.

In another part, he references Priestman who identifies:
‘One of the central aspects of the crime thriller is that it emphasises present danger rather than reflecting on, or investigating, past action.’

As I say, when you write these things down, they seem obvious, but it does help to contrast that to your developing novel, to ensure there is enough threat and present danger in it.

In the development of my plot, I have found that I have covered a number of these points quite naturally. This is probably driven by reading a number of psychological thrillers and being influenced by the genre.

I don’t have a detective, my protagonist is a journalist, Emma. It is the interaction of the characters that interests me the most and I do have the majority of the story happening well after the crime. The revelation of the crime in the past is the main climax to the story.

I have not concentrated on the setting as being that important, so I will revisit that based on this research. Perhaps a stronger, more interesting setting would add tension. I can see that for a number of scenes. I tend to set them in every day situations, like coffee shops or houses, but it’d be more thrilling for some of them to be in more dangerous places – the middle of a forest, the edge of a cliff, the top of a building, on a shooting range, in a fairground. There could be many threatening places that will add tension.

I’m not sure I can see where I could put in some social perspective, not to add anything. Yes, some characters are richer than others but it is incidental to the story. I haven’t brought any politics into it anywhere, or religion. If I go back and add any of that, I think it may look a little false.

This academic process of research has really helped me add tension to my plot and narrative – have a look at yours in this light.

Any thoughts or comments?

The alarm pulled Gary into the world of Tuesday. 6am and he knew there was a long day ahead.

‘A good breakfast, that’s the secret, that’ll keep me going all day long.’

He scrambled the eggs, then sat and gazed out on the Chicago skyline as he planned his route. He knew where he would be tomorrow at this time. He’d be right back in Chicago but there was a lot of walking to be done before then.

‘Right, coat on. Time to go.’

He rang Julie downstairs. “Are you leaving now?”

Julie was ready, setting out for work for the day. Her office was on his route, a short walk from their apartment block, so he went along with her, right there beside her on the sidewalk.

“Can we go out tomorrow night?” he said, just like that, brave as you like.

“I thought you were going away on a long hike? Will you be back by then?”

“Oh, I’ll be back. I’ll be tired, but I’ll be back, probably falling down at your door.”

He smiled, she smiled.

“Ok,” she said. “We could go out for a beer together if you like.”

“That’s perfect. If I get drunk, I’ll be right next to you. See you later.”

“Have a good day, where are you off to?” She said.

“Kansas City, and I’ll be back by tomorrow morning.”

“Walking? Surely not.” He saw her frown. “That’s got to be a good 500 miles?”

“Oh, it is. 500 there and 500 back. I’d walk that far. I’ll be lonely without you, but I’ll dream of you and that’ll keep me going.”

With that, he sped off, chattering to himself and to her, though he doubted she could hear him.

I am writing a novel, working title The Home Signal. I have planned it out pretty comprehensively (I think!).
It is useful to read and use ‘Nail your novel’ by Roz Morris.
I also use Scrivener, which is brilliant for structure.
More about all that in later posts.

For research, I have started to read up on crime fiction and more about its history and the techniques for its construction.

I recommend an excellent book called ‘Crime Fiction’ by John Scaggs. It is a comprehensive reference of the history of mystery and detective fiction.

There is a chapter about mystery and detective fiction where I have come across Father Knox’s ‘Detective Story Decalogue’ from 1929. Now, for all you experts out there, I’m sure this is old news but it was a very interesting revelation to me and I plan to read more about it soon.

Here are some excerpts of the decalogue:

  1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story.
(Done. I have mine appearing in the first scene.)
  2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
  3. Not more than one secret room or passageway is allowable.
(Done. I only have one and it doesn’t really form part of the crime anyway.)
  4. The detective must not himself commit a crime.
(Hmm..well, not sure on this one. (It’s a herself in my case). She is a bit outside the law at times.)
  5. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.
(Done. I hadn’t thought too much about this point but it is a good one.)
  6. The ‘stupid’ friend of the detective(The Doctor Watson type character) must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind.
(Need some rewrite to fit with this. Interesting rule for sure – you can’t have two equal detectives working on a case – maybe that’s true I suppose. I need to think about this one some more.)
  7. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.
(Done – the only doubles I have are drinks!)

There are some more – 10 make a decalogue – but I found these interesting and, though a bit dated, a worthwhile check for any kind of crime or detective fiction.

Have you come across this?

Or, can you recommend any good sources for the specific techniques around crime or mystery thriller fiction?

Another favourite song turned into a story. Can you guess the song? (I think this one is a bit too obvious really)

I finished work early and got the tube home, same as usual. The lights are shining bright when I step off the escalator and emerge into Mepham Street. There are people everywhere, busying themselves around me so much that I feel dizzy.

There are so many people but they aren’t my friends. I don’t need any friends when the sun goes down. I get back to my flat and prepare my dinner, watching the world out of my window. I can see the station from here, the crowds still buzzing around.

I like to make up stories about the people I see. It keeps me happy, I prefer that to wandering around all alone by myself. I guess I’m just lazy like that, but I am very much in paradise as I watch them all.

There’s Terry and Julie again, I’ve seen them before. I call them Terry and Julie because they look like a Terry and Julie would look, I’m sure. They seem happy together, meeting under the clock like that. They kiss, then walk toward the river, no doubt crossing the bridge to party for the evening together. They look happy as they watch the sunset too.

It’s a fine sunset, that’s for sure.

I’m happy on my own, watching it.

Every Friday, I am going to post something about how my writing skills are developing, or not(!). Tuesdays will be writing practice – mainly narrative from song lyrics.

The purpose of this is to get into the discipline of writing and blogging regularly and to keep track of my progression. Hopefully, you’ll find it interesting and maybe even useful – to watch a newbie blossom…

Writing the senses

I keep a list of senses beside my desk. Just a short and simple list to remind me to incorporate them into my writing.


This is the easy one to write about, and the most common. It seems our brains are programmed to record what we see quite naturally. Mostly it’ll be scenes like:

Mike walked into the waiting room and spotted her in the far corner. She was reading a magazine, smartly dressed, likely to be going on to work after the appointment. Immediate dilemma, he thought, sit next to, sit opposite, both options open. He chose opposite.

We write what we see because we can capture more distance than any of the other senses (unless she was shouting and our attention caught that way). So it’s a natural way to start a scene.

But then it’s too easy to forget the other senses that are so important to round out what is going on.


He picked up a newspaper and smiled across at her when she looked up. There was a faint aroma of fresh flowers. His body reacted to the familiarity of it, the same perfume used by his girlfriend, and he felt his face flush slightly embarrassed at the effect it had.

Writing smells is challenging as they need to be referenced to some other familiar smell or situation. Usually they remind us of somewhere or someone, there’s an instant connection or flash, and it really helps to capture that into the scene in some way. Here, he’s meeting someone new, yet she has something in common with his girlfriend. It’s telling us he’s attracted, but also that he already has a girlfriend.

Perfume is perhaps a bit of an obvious one when meeting a person but there are other situations where smells can be very powerful. Entering a room and smelling the coffee, or the dog! Some smells remind of childhood – candy floss, farmyard smells, paraffin, log fires – it depends on your character’s childhood.

The main point is that describing the smell serves two purposes:

  • It’s evocative of the situation you are writing about
  • It prompts a memory in the character that helps in rounding out his/her history or background.

She had her earphones in, the white flex trailing down to her handbag. He could hear a strong beat and watched her swing her crossed-leg to its rhythm, the stylish tall shoe hanging loosely from her foot. (not sure where I’m going with the foot thing there! – let’s stick to the listening!).

He tried to recognise the sound but it was not strong enough, perhaps some party music. He wondered how she’d hear the doctor summons her through.

Describing sounds can again help prompt memories (music etc) and can also be used to show perhaps the age or interests of a person. It doesn’t have to be music – it could be the sound of the car engine, or the noises in the countryside that provide setting. Street noises, shouting, sirens, car alarms, builders, hammering, birds, air-con humming, elevators, warning messages – everyday noises we hear all the time help to set a place. If you’re writing about someone in a railway station, make sure there are some platform announcements.


Taste is similar to smell and can be difficult to bring into a scene. It triggers memories of the past in a similar way, or provides an instant kick of pleasure or perhaps revulsion. Taste implies a proximity that smell doesn’t have. Writing taste can be pretentious (e.g., wine tasting) so tread carefully.

He shuffled his feet as he waited to be called. He rummaged in his pocket and pulled out a packet of Polos, slipping one under his tongue as he challenged himself not to crunch it. The sweet syrup of mint filled his mouth causing him to smile. She put the magazine back on the table and uncrossed her legs, this time smiling back at his smile. He reached across and offered her a Polo.


He felt a surge of connection between them as the coldness of her fingers traced across the back of his hand, then wrapped around his wrist to steady the sweet packet. ‘Thanks’, she mouthed as the music continued to blare in her ears.

Touch, like taste, can be the most intimate of senses and can convey a strong emotion. The electricity of touch can actually be real. Touch is also useful for situations where you are describing the texture of the setting, the roughness of wood, the smoothness of marble. Let the character reach out and touch it, then describe the effect.


His diary flashed before him, Thursday free, Saturday free. Dare he? He could tell she was interested, why else take a Polo? He read her eyes and her eyes said yes. She was daring, spontaneous, reckless just like him.

The doctor called for Miss Gorgeous. Mike indicated to her to go. He’d wait for her. He knew she’d wait for him.

Why bother?

Using all 6 senses in a scene can add depth and be used to show a great deal more than just describing the surroundings as they are seen. It’s just a case of remembering – keep that list by your desk as a prompt.

What are your experiences with writing senses?

Another favourite song:


It was a grey day, one of those murky, miserable mornings when you just don’t want to go to work. The heavy clouds raced across the sky and James had to pull his fleece jacket close.

He turned the corner into Procter Street just as the heavens opened.

“Aw, come on you guys. Give me a break will you. I didn’t bring my waterproofs today.”

James liked to talk to the weather as he rode. It made the journey to work more interesting, crossing Holborn, up Catton Street and along Fisher Street to Red Lion Square.

“Take a break will you rain, while I talk to the sun, just for a moment, please.”

Commuters beside him on the pavement stared at times as he chatted to himself. James didn’t care, he didn’t even notice. He was too absorbed in reprimanding the sun.

“I don’t like the way you’re behaving, sun. You’re sleeping on the job, you know. That’s getting my head wet. Sort it out.”

He stopped at the lights, pushing his cycle helmet back to wipe his face, as he started whistling.

“Well, I’m not going to cry about it,” he thought. “I’m not one to get the blues like that. After all, I’m as free as a bird. Nothing to worry about. Complaining’s not going to stop this rain anyway.”

The lights turned to green and he rode off, the rain easing. Perhaps the sun had listened after all.

I live by this. I have built my Scrivener template around this structure and it really works well for short stories. I’ve also worked my novel plot through the same structure (though that’s a bit more complicated).

Please refer to Daily Writing Tips: the 8 point arc , drawn from Nigel Watts ‘Teach yourself Writing a Novel.’

Also, never miss looking at Scrivener. It really is the best writing tool ever.

The eight points which Watts lists are:

  1. Stasis – the everyday life starting point where everything is in balance(but tense).
  2. Trigger – something beyond control of protagonist that triggers the story.
  3. The quest – this is usually a quest to return to the status quo.
  4. Surprise – the meat of the story where there are plenty of obstacles and complications to prevent returning to balance.
  5. Critical choice – MOST important – the protagonist needs to make a critical choice at some point. Choose between good and evil, easy and hard, etc.
  6. Climax – the choice that was taken results in a climax to the story.
  7. Reversal – one more reversal. It needs to be credible and possible, even probable and flagged earlier as likely,
  8. Resolution – final resolution and return to a fresh statis.

Previously I found that my short stories lacked punch or tension. It is important to make sure that steps 4, 5, 6 and 7 are really fleshed out fully and there are a number of set backs for the protagonist to deal with. My stories have definitely improved as a result of this, and I am compiling a series of them to publish soon.

Important note: I also find that starting with step 2, Trigger, and filling in step 1 later is a more compelling start to the story.

Hope that’s interesting, comments welcome.

Next time – pics and media…