I’ve always liked writers’ guides. Phil Hurst’s site has much useful advice and informative interviews. He recommends Stephen King’s On Writing which I found entertaining and helpful, especially as its coming from someone with an exceptional track record. One of the problems with, say, Robert McKee declaring himself the Pope of Story, is that he only ever wrote one tv movie (as Joe Eszterhaz likes to say). This raised a smile:
There’s also the irrefutable ‘Stop stressing about writing! Learn to relax and become a better writer.’ So if you need advice and motivation, which I certainly do, visit writewithphil.com
MR Some say you shouldn’t write about writing or have a writer protagonist. Are there any novels you would recommend featuring writers?
PH Not so much a novel, but a film. “Adaptation” by Charlie Kaufman is a great exploration of the neurosis that can take over a writer. It gets really meta at certain points, and I don’t think non-writers will enjoy it much, but it’s still in my top five films. I’m not a Nicholas Cage fan, but he’s really good in this.
MR Loved it. Though it’s hard to get enthusiastic about Kaufman’s more recent work. Synecdoche, New York. Even the title’s difficult. Then it gets worse. Your favourite Science Fiction writers?
PH Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden Series was one of my
favourites over the last few years. The first book was
just a fantastic piece of writing, dark and moody, but
with just enough hope that keeps you hanging on. It
takes a little bit of getting used to, but soon enough the
characters start to live with you.
A writer I also enjoy is Philip Palmer. His book “Red
Claw” just doesn’t stop – it’s a violent, brutal and (most
importantly) fun book. I devoured it!
MR Your favourite writers in any genre?
PH Douglas Adams is truly one of the great writers. If I
could write with such confidence, wit and humour, you
would never get me away from the keyboard. I
recently bought a reprint of all the “Hitchhiker Guide”
books and I’m beyond excited to read them.
MR Your novel deals with what happens to the soul
after death. Is that the ultimate terror, trapped for all
PH It’s the ultimate terror, which is why the
government in the book can be so dictatorial (even if it
pretends to be doing good). As humans, we’re
extremely bad at visualising eternity, so to be trapped
for an indefinite amount of time must be the ultimate
MR Can you enjoy all of a genre or will some of it inevitably
PH Just because you enjoy a book in a genre doesn’t
mean you will enjoy it all. I think that’s the trap that
some people fall into – reading one little sci-fi book
will not make you a genre addict. The joy of reading is
that different writers will approach genre in
completely different ways, and part of the enjoyment
is deciding not only what you like, but why you like it.
MR Michael Moorcock famously once wrote a novel in
three days with a leaky fountain pen. I have never
managed more than six thousand words in a day and
that was a one off. Lucky to get a tenth of that usually,
if I’m writing at all. Has your personal best altered
PH I’ve got more disciplined, but only because I’ve had
to! My time to write at home (I’m balancing a full time
job and a 90 minute commute) has decreased in the
last few years. Rather than moan about it though, I
decided to make the best of it. Now I’m probably
writing more than I did in my twenties, although
probably not as much as when I was completing my
Creative Writing Masters.
I found an event like NanoWriMo is also really good
for focusing the mind and giving you a target to aim
for. It takes away the excuses that we’re all so good at
creating for ourselves.
MR I tried to get back into writing with a pen, especially now
my wife repairs vintage pens. I have elegant implements and a lot
of inelegant inkblots.
I mostly missed being able to move paragraphs around. Have you
abandoned pen on paper?
PH For actual writing, pretty much. I still will scribble down
ideas on a notebook by the side of the bed. I try and carry
something around with me to make notes, but most of the time
that turns out to be my phone. I used OneNote a lot to write
down ideas, because I find I’m much less likely to lose them. But
when I’m attending writer’s meetings I’ll take a notebook and
pen. There’s something incredibly anti-social about writing
behind a screen, especially when you’re in a room full of friendly
MR Any writing manuals you would recommend?
PH There’s one book that I got an old copy of years ago
and has been by my side ever since. It’s called “Telling
Lies for Fun and Profit” by Laurence Block. I’m not
sure if it’s still in print, but if you get the chance pick
up a second-hand copy. Although a lot of the advice has
aged a lot of it is relevant again in the age of blogs and
MR £3.49 on Kindle. Looks useful.
MR Have you seen Terence Blacker’s Writers’ Rules tweets? Good advice which can also be enjoyed as gossip, if, like me, you’re trivial. And there’s some philosophical insights such as: Ian Fleming: ‘Writing makes you more alive to your surroundings and, since the main ingredient of living is to be alive, this is quite a worthwhile by-product’ #writersrules#perksofthejob @terenceblacker
PH Thanks for the advice! I am following now!
MR Thanks for your answers! Some great insights. And it’s good to mention writing and gainful employment.
Anthony Trollope had a day job for 32 years. He wrote 47 novels and various short stories, non fiction and plays. (Easier without Twitter, Facebook and American long form drama but even so…) There’s even two volumes of letters. Rather than some internet rants.
‘Trollope joined the Post Office as a clerk at the age of 19. In
1841 at the age of 26 he moved to Ireland, where he married and
began to write. He remained an employee until 1866, and rose
almost to the top of the organisation.’
Way to go, Tone. Better get to work.
Or can I tempt you to a two minute read? Which has a walk on part for Robert ‘Mr Story’ McKee?
Sean Penn Challenging Charles Bukowski to a fight – a Joe Eszterhaz story