Writing fantasy

Like all genres, fantasy writing has its challenges and its freedoms. While the imaginative possibilities are vast, the absence of reality can also make it more difficult to construct a believable plot. 

In my view, the limitless possibilities connected to fantasy writing are thrilling. This article will offer some tips on how to explore your creative imagination and how to write fantasy better. 

Identify your market 

“Write what will stop your breath if you don’t write.”
― Grace Paley

Are you writing for adults, children, young people? Is there a specific group within these more general categories that you’d like to reach? 

As an author, you should always be aware of your market, otherwise identified as your target audience. Without knowing where your book will be placed and who will read it, you may find it difficult to reach readers and meet their demands. 

I write Young Adult fantasy and while it’s hard to keep up with new publications and trends, I do try to stay updated on what young adults are reading and how I can reach them.

Having said all this, you should ultimately write what your mind is telling you to put down on paper. To think too much about audience can quell the imagination, so while a consciousness of your audience is useful, don’t let it define your story.

Find your USP 

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” — Natalie Goldberg

No book is complete without a USP (Unique Selling Point). There are thousands of fantasy novels already on the market, and thousands currently being written, so finding your unique edge is important. 

Your USP is personal to you. No idea is entirely new, but it’s up to you as a writer to find a fresh perspective. Write about what you love and what you know, but don’t be afraid to push the boundaries.

Read fantasy stories 

Library Filled With Bookcases
“I believe that writing is derivative. I think good writing comes from good reading.” ― Charles Kuralt

All writers should be prolific readers and pay particular attention to books within their own genre. If you want to write fantasy better, you should read successful books within the genre and observe how it can be done.

Reading quality novels to gain inspiration isn’t a crime. It’s a great way to become knowledgeable about what is already on the market and to learn how different writers apply their craft. 

Make your imagination believable

“The difference between real life and a story is that life has significance, while a story must have meaning.” ― Vera Nazarian

This doesn’t mean you should drown your story in facts or dull it down with lengthy explanations. Making your imagination realistic simply requires the ability to bring your story to life. 

Readers want to believe in the stories they are reading and find a sense of escapism. A poor plot will simply imply that you don’t have faith in your own creations. Write in a way that shows readers your world is real and convince them to believe in your story. 

Do some research 

Silhouette of Man Raising His Hands
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” ― Jack London

If you’re writing fantasy, it’s likely that you’ll draw upon your knowledge of the world to inform your ideas. Stories are often based on real places, people and events, and the world around you is the best place in which to conduct research. 

Visit or look up locations around the world, read about real events, think about your own experiences, note down your dreams. Through observation, experience, and knowledge, you can create fantastical worlds that will leap from the page. 

I don’t travel around the world to gain ideas, but I do take the time to observe what’s happening around me. I read the news, research interesting places and events, explore nature, and observe human actions. These observations, whether consciously or subconsciously, then feed into my writing. 

Know your world inside out

“An author must learn the principles of good storytelling only in order to write better from the heart. ” ― Uri Shulevitz

If someone were to ask you a characters middle name, would you know it? Would you be able to talk about their background, or label details about your setting?

To build a believable setting and plot, you need to know your fantasy world inside out. Learn everything there is to know: where it is, what it looks like, what makes it a fantasy creation.

Every writer has a preferred planning method and some don’t plan at all. I personally like writing down notes and ideas whenever they pop into my head. When it comes to writing a book, I already know many details about my story, whether they’re included in the final publication or not.

Laying out details which you can refer to time and time again will help you keep your writing accurate, succinct, and convincing.

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If you write fantasy, or any type of fiction in fact, I’d love to know how you make your writing believable.

Give Sorrow Words

Does grieving give us a better understanding of emotion, provide more empathy for others who are suffering? Does losing someone allow greater creativity, greater knowledge of the world? There is no simple answer to these questions. For some, perhaps grief does enhance the process of living, for others, it might not be as easy. 

Writers are faced with different kinds of grief. A personal loss, a character loss, a character who is grieving themselves. To write about grief is not to seek or project negativity, but to reflect the truth of death which is a part of life. 

Black Pen on Opened Book Beside Lit Taper Candle

Grief emerges in writing in different ways and along different gradients. Authors may write about personal experiences, or events they aren’t directly part of but relate to in some way. Whether the writer has experience of grief or not is irrelevant. We can all write and imagine grief. We see loss all the time, whether it’s on the news, in films, or in our own lives. The difference is that those who have experienced it can feel it more directly.

In Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling writes about Thestrals, beasts which can only be seen by those who have witnessed death. This is perhaps reflected in the process of writing itself, that to write grief truly we must know a little of it. 

As a writer, I don’t choose to write in depth about grief, but knowledge of this experience does seep into my writing. However, it’s not about pouring myself and my pain into a character’s experience, but about making their experience real. 

Woman Looking at Sea While Sitting on Beach

The aim with fictional grief is to make readers care. If they don’t care, then they won’t believe in the suffering of your characters, won’t be able to express empathy. To feel emotion when reading, whether happy or sad, is what readers look for. To be able to evoke those feelings is to write with honesty and heart. As humans, we naturally respond to the world around us and as readers, we seek to engage with stories which truly reflect our experience. 

Honesty and vulnerability. These are the keys to writing about grief and to writing any story in fact. Readers don’t want fakery; representations of heroic characters who feel nothing. While many of us like happy endings in fiction, we all face challenges in life and a character without depth will soon fall flat on the page. 

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.” William Shakespeare

6 ways to market your books

Marketing is one of the toughest parts of being published. Whether you’re traditionally published or doing it on your own, it’s likely that you will have to promote your own work at some point. The more work you put into marketing, the more sales you might make. 

This article looks at eight different ways you can market your book. These methods won’t necessarily guarantee you sales, but help you to get started

1. Know Your Market

Understanding your market is key to making good sales. Part of this is knowing your target audience. Do you write for children, young adults, or adults? If you know your audience, you can market your work with their interests in mind. 

The more you learn about the trends of your genre and your audience, the better. Knowing where people connect, what stories they like, and what kind of marketing they engage with is important. An uninformed writer misses out on marketing tricks, so do your research!

2. Utilise Social Media

Facebook Application Icon

Social media is one of the best marketing tools around. Publishers and agents often advise writers to build an author platform and they suggest this for a reason. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social channels are great places to promote your published works, so don’t simply dismiss them!

In order to successfully engage with these social channels, you need to create a regular online presence. Posting once a week isn’t enough, but every day can be time consuming. Research which days and times are best for posting and find out what other authors are doing. You’ll soon find your own schedule and style. 

Social media allows large numbers of people to view and engage with marketing material. There’s no better way to connect with fans and other writers from all over the world. You can share your ideas, create events, and promote your published works. The online community is vast, and you never know what you might learn from being a part of it. 

3. Organise Events

Silver Ipad on White Book Page

Events are one of the most successful ways to promote your writing and grow your community. Face to face events are far more memorable than online conversations and meetings. They allow for interaction, letting potential buyers and readers see who you are. 

Readers like to know about the author behind a novel as this makes the purchase and the story much more personal. Book launches, signing events, readings, talks, and author Q&A’s are some of the more common events authors and readers attend.  

Aside from events that are pitched at readers, you can join or create gatherings for writers. The online writing community is vast, but you may also find local book or writers groups in your area. However you choose to grow your community, you’ll find that being surrounded by like minded people gives you energy and confidence, both in your writing life and beyond.

4. Run a Website and Blog

Whilst websites gain little attention, unless you’re a well established author, it’s always useful to have one. There may be occasions when a publisher, reader, or employer looks you up and having a website shows you’re professional and serious about what you do. 

As with social media, a website and blog can be time consuming. Having both is a good idea as they tend to naturally feed off one another. As a general rule, posting weekly or fortnightly is acceptable, but anything less may struggle to gain interest. 

5. Gather Book Reviews

Black and White Typewriter on Table

Book reviews are a great way to increase sales. People buy products based on reputation and the more reviews a book has, the more likely it will sell.

Buyers don’t want to invest in a book with only one or two reviews, so make sure you get your friends and family to write some for you. 

Reviews are commonly placed on Amazon and Goodreads, where you can set yourself up with author pages. Beyond that, sites such as Reddit or more niche sites for specific genres are worth considering. 

6. Run Promotions and Competitions

Promotions and competitions are great ways to grab the attention of potential buyers. People love discounts and prizes, so setting up some events can be a fun way to stimulate sales.

If you are traditionally published, you will have to discuss this with your publisher, but for self-published writers, discounts can be set on Amazon. Likewise, if you do all your own marketing, running quizzes and prize winning events online is a good way to get your writing noticed. 

The art of writing

Writers write not only out of want, but out of a need to release the stories inside their heads that beg to be written.

In today’s world, there are more writers and authors than ever. We live in a world where publishing a book is relatively easy, although the hard work that goes into writing one should not be undermined. Whilst there are tips and tricks that guide and unite every author, everyone has their own individual experience which belongs solely to them. 

Sharing these experiences means we can give each other a sense of hope and help each other to improve. We are never perfect as writers and authors; even the best are still learning their craft. Whether 8 or 80, we’re all constantly learning how to improve, how to be better storytellers. The experiences of others can help teach us these skills, showing us how to write better stories and develop our creative selves.

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. It began with stories written in indecipherable squiggles which soon became more readable stories and poems. These were, inevitably, a little rough around the edges but when I revisit them, I can see how spending all those hours scribbling made me a better writer. At the age of eight, I decided I wanted to be an author and began writing my first novel. It was in reality about ten pages long and strongly resembled Enid Blyton’s work. But that’s how we all begin, isn’t it, by being inspired by the ideas of others?

Ball Point Pen on Opened Notebook
Being able to understand language is a great gift

Famous authors have often spoken about the power of reading and how, to develop true writing craft, one must read many books. How else can literary skill truly be developed, other than by reading an array of novels? I believe that reading and being read to as a child partly sparked my desire to write and share with others the wonder I felt and still feel when reading a good book. Everyone needs that sense of escapism, whatever age, and being able to understand language is a great gift. 

The process of becoming an author involves finding one’s own voice, but we must first learn from those who came before us. When we do find our voice, it is susceptible to change as we grow both as writers and as people. As a child, this voice changes more often and less consistently, but even when we are adults, it doesn’t simply stay still. Part of the beauty of being human is our ability to change the way we think and feel, however old we are. The more experiences we have, the stronger our voice can become. 

During my mid-teens I started writing several novels, but the problem was that I kept growing up. By the time I looked back over drafts, my literary voice had developed and I was no longer satisfied with my previously childish tone. When I did eventually start writing a novel seriously, I was just beginning to find my own unique voice. It was only when I finished university that I completed the final edits and felt satisfied. Although my voice now continues to grow and change alongside me, its core values remain the same.

Stacked Books
When writing is a passion, through and through, giving up isn’t really a part of the picture

In all the years of writing and self doubt, deep down I never stopped believing that I would achieve my end goal. I often felt so close, but with the continual rejections that came with wanting to be published, it was difficult to see the hope. But when writing is a passion, through and through, giving up isn’t really a part of the picture.

Writers write not only out of want, but out of a need to release the stories inside their heads that beg to be written. I, like many authors, live part time in my imagination. Wherever I am, whoever I’m with, I’m always wondering how I could write what I’m seeing, how best to turn what I see into words. I wake up at night to take down notes and always have a notebook with me. The voice that cannot be silenced should not be silenced and must be allowed to break free.

The problem is that somewhere, we all assume that getting the dream should be easy. We look at others and think, ‘well, how did they do it?’ I still think that sometimes, but I know that everyone has their own challenges and their own journey. I have achieved my dream, but it took many drafts, rejections, tears, bouts of hopelessness and a huge amount of resilience to get here. And cruel doubts don’t just go away. They creep back with every setback and success. But they have to be managed and understood as part of the creative process. 

So, to every writer out there, my message is don’t give up. There is no shame in rejection, in losing hope, in taking the time to pause and to rest. But I say this: if you are truly a writer, and if you want it enough, keep believing. Only you can make it happen, and you never know what lies around the corner. 

10 unforgettable literary heroines

What is it that unites some of the most well known female protagonists in literary history? What makes them such memorable characters who have been admired and revered by countless readers? 

Below is a list of 10 famous female protagonists whom I love and admire. Their ability to balance relationships with independence, humility with intellect and femininity with strength makes them, in my humble opinion, unforgettable literary characters.

  1. Elizabeth Bennet – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (1813)
Close-Up of Books on Shelf

Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine of Jane Austen’s most famous novel Pride and Prejudice. Second in a family of five sisters, Elizabeth is handsome, charming and strong willed. 

For Elizabeth, it is her determination not to marry for money that makes her different. Closer to her father than to her mother, she displays his calmness and clarity of mind alongside her own wilful independence. 

Elizabeth is amiable yet determined, romantic yet clear headed, feminine yet independent. It is this blend of characteristics which makes her one of literature’s most loved literary heroines. 

  1. Jane Eyre – Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (1847)
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An orphan, a school girl, then a governess and young woman, Jane Eyre refuses to let her background get the better of her. Blessed with intelligence, but not with beauty, her spirited nature has been admired by readers for centuries. 

Jane’s childish rebellion and fiery temper become steady courage and quiet intellect as she grows up. She may not have the same charm as Elizabeth Bennet, but her ability to create a life for herself from nothing and to remain in control of her destiny, whilst still falling in love, is certainly to be admired. 

  1. Jo March – Little Women, Louisa M. Alcott (1868)
person reading book

The second sister out of four and by far the feistiest, Jo March is Louisa M. Alcott’s most fiercely independent character.

Boyish and boisterous, she is unlike her sisters and yet shares with them the feminine bond of sisterhood.

Jo has family and friendships, yet her independence often isolates her. Her ability to remain true to herself in the face of challenges and her powerful determination are however what make her so unforgettable. 

  1. Anne Shirley – Anne of Green Gables, L. M. Montgomery (1908) 
Green Tree on Grass Field during Daytime

Full of charm and spirit, mischief and fire, Anne Shirley is a much loved character. 

First an orphan child and school girl, Anne grows up to become a college student and then a mother and wife. She demonstrates intellect and strong independence, whilst still desiring love and a family of her own. 

Anne is the embodiment of independent femininity. Her fiery nature never disappears entirely, but simply becomes more controlled. She is plain but elegant, dreamy and adventurous and has always been a praised and even envied protagonist.

5. Laura Ingalls – ‘Little House‘ series, Laura Ingalls-Wilder (1932) 

Green Grass on Forest

Laura Ingalls is a brilliant literary protagonist, inspired by the author’s own life growing up in 19th Century America. She is a stoic character who brings a unique sense of realism to the tale she lives within.

As a child, Laura is bold and adventurous. Although not as feminine as her mother and sisters, she is hardworking and deeply loyal to her family.

Laura’s stoicism and resilience, independence and loyalty, playfulness and poise have made her one of the most praised, honoured and unforgettable female literary protagonists.

6. Scarlet O’Hara – Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (1936)

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Scarlet O’Hara, the feisty heroine in Margaret Mitchell’s epic tale. The vane and spoilt daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, Scarlet isn’t always likeable but is often admired. 

Although the image of charm on the outside, Scarlet bears within her a fiery spirit and keen intelligence. She isn’t explicitly beautiful or even charming, but her mechanisms for survival and her ability to endure struggle have placed her amongst the most memorable and commended female characters in literary history.

7. Anne Frank – Anne Frank, Anne Frank (1947)

white and blue building

As an autobiographical tale, told in diary format, Anne Frank’s documentation of her family’s life in hiding during WWII is both captivating and astonishing. 

Although just a girl, Anne’s story is one of resilience in the face of hardship and struggle. Her introspective nature, vivid imagination and continual optimism make her a young woman and character who has, for many years, been honoured and admired.

8. Lucy Pevensie – Narnia, C. S. Lewis (1950)

The Chronicles of Narnia Book

Lucy Pevensie lives in a different kind of world, one in which magic exists. Although just a child at the beginning of the Narnia series, she is bright and brave from the start. 

Lucy’s courage in the face of danger, her ability to believe, and her continual desire to discover the truth makes her a brilliant character. Her wisdom and strength of will is incredible for such a young girl. 

Like other female characters before and after her, it is the ability to stick up for what she believes in and knows to be true that makes her such a cherished character. 

  1. Hermione Granger – Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling (1997)
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Hermione Granger is a bold and courageous character, often admired for her intelligence and independence. Although shamed by her rivals for being the daughter of non-magical parents, she refuses to let this hold her back. 

Like every other female character on this list, Hermione isn’t afraid to be exactly who she wants to be. Her knowledge, unique spirit and the kindness beneath her sharp exterior make her a treasured and greatly respected character.

  1. Juliet Ashton – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows (2008)
black Corona typewriter on brown wood planks

Perhaps less well known, but no less brilliant, is Juliet Ashton. Written in epistolary form, the novel she lives within captures her powerful sense of independence and ambition.

This ambition, paired with a desire for adventure, leads author Juliet to change the path she is on and find herself and a sense of belonging. She isn’t afraid to take the leap and go where her heart, mind and storytelling muses take her. 

Juliet is bright and unique and fights for the stories she wants to tell, in spite of the obstacles placed in her way. She is well read and ambitious, feminine and charming and this combination of intelligence, spirit and womanliness has made her a modern literary heroine. 

10 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

Every writer suffers from writer’s block at least once in their writing lives. Whether caused by a lack of inspiration, time, or exhaustion, it’s bound to happen at some point.

If your writing isn’t flowing, then there are some things you can do to get yourself back on track. The methods listed below may not work for every writer, but they’re certainly worth a try.

  1. Go for a walk
Man Wearing Blue Bubble Hoodie Jacket Walking on Green Grass Field

Taking time away from your writing to go for a walk can be greatly beneficial. Movement stimulates the brain by supplying cells with oxygen and this can help generate new ideas.

Walking, or exercise of any kind, also increases energy, reduces stress and helps calm the body and mind. This relaxed, energised state is ideal for focusing the mind and for processing ideas.

If you start taking daily walks, particularly when you’re suffering from writer’s block, you may find your focus and writing flow dramatically improve.

2. Take a few days off

Woman Sitting on Brown Wooden Chair Beside Coconut

It would be difficult to write all day, every day. Whilst you may think that other writers and authors write fiercely all the time, this is not the case. Yes, some writers are able to sit for hours and produce thousands of words, but most of us need to take a break now and then.

Taking a day or two off, or even more, won’t hurt your writing. In fact, you’ll probably find you write better after some time off. It’s important to step away from your work to give yourself time to relax and to generate fresh perspective.

If your block doesn’t dissipate, then don’t fret. The absence of inspiration may last for a few days or more, but with time and relaxation, it will come back again.

3. Change your environment 

Photo Of Woman Writing On Notebook

Whilst some writers like to sit at a desk to do their work, others prefer to write in a cafe or even outside. The choice is entirely down to personal preference, but if you do sit in the same place all the time, then perhaps it’s time to mix things up.

Changing your writing environment can help to shift creative blocks. Try writing outside, on holiday, on a train, or simply in a different room to where you usually work. You may find that your writing flows best in the oddest of places.

4. Develop a routine 

Person Holding White Stylus

We all know that routines help with many aspects of life, and more so than ever at the moment. They provide set guidelines which help us to structure our time wisely.

Whether you’re writing full time or only occasionally, finding a routine that works for you can be greatly beneficial. Try allocating yourself a set writing time every week, or every day, to get you started.

You can set yourself challenges, tasks, word limits and time frames. Whatever kind of routine you develop, it will soon feel natural and will hopefully improve your creative flow.

5. Develop a plan

Man Wearing Black and White Stripe Shirt Looking at White Printer Papers on the Wall

Although some writer’s prefer to jump straight into their story, creating a plan first can keep writer’s block at bay. A plan gives the writer a plot structure from which further details can be developed.

A plan can be created at any stage of the writing process, but it’s easier if they’re fixed before you start writing. You don’t even have to form a complete plan. If it’s easier, simply lay out a chapter, section, or even just a paragraph.

6. Write by hand

Person Holding Silver Retractable Pen in White Ruled Book

Writing by hand may take longer and give you cramp, but if you’re stuck with writer’s block it can offer a simple solution. If you write by hand, you don’t have any screen distractions and you can work without worrying about spelling, punctuation, and formatting.

If you struggle to write with a pen, try to at least plan or lay out notes on paper. The connection made between you and the pen generates new perspective and requires a different concentration process.

7. Don’t start at the beginning 

Scribbles On Wall

It’s a natural thought to start at the beginning of a novel or creative piece and work to the end. However, the beginning is often the hardest section to write. 

When you start a first draft, it doesn’t matter how you format your writing. What matters is getting the story out. If you’re struggling with the beginning, then jump to the middle or even the end. It’s entirely up to you. Just remember to connect all the threads when writing a second draft.

8. Don’t look back 

Photo of Person Walking on Deserted Island

When writing a first draft, its important not keep looking back! If you’re continually returning to the pages you’ve already written, you’ll never get to the end.

A far more successful way to write is to complete the first draft before you read the manuscript. It’s fine to run fact checks, but don’t get lost in the reading. No writer is entirely satisfied with their first draft, or even a final draft, so don’t put a block in your own way by constantly returning to the beginning.

9. Stop writing for readers 

Man Reading Book Beside Woman Reading Book

Many authors will tell you that if you write for a reader, you’ll always be trying to make it perfect. Start by writing for yourself, as if no one but you is ever going to read it. Whilst you still have to make your plot comprehensive and gripping, and have an audience in mind, there’s no need to get caught up with details during your first few drafts.

10. Stop comparing yourself to other writers

Colorful books on shelf

Every writer is different, so there’s no need to worry about what and how much someone else is writing. Write once a month, back to front, sitting in the kitchen sink if you like. It’s your choice.

Yes, there are certain rules that will help you write better and agents often set specific guidelines, but the creative process belongs to you alone. You’re the only one who can make yourself do it, so forget the rules and write!

For children (and adults) who love to read

Selecting some of my favourite children’s books was a great challenge as there are so many wonderful stories out there. I did however manage to narrow my long list down to ten. Whilst some of the books on there are less visible these days, their brilliance shouldn’t be forgotten. Here’s to helping wonderful books live on!

Anne of Green Gables – L. M. Montgomery 

Anne of Green Gables is one of those series that will remain with you for a lifetime. Set on Prince Edward Island, Canada, in the late 19th Century, the story follows the adventures of Anne Shirley, an eleven-year-old orphan girl mistakenly sent to middle aged siblings Mathew and Marilla Cuthbert.

The eight novel series follows Anne as she grows up and becomes a much loved figure of her community and beyond. The red-haired school-girl soon becomes a college student, and then a mother with children of her own.

Chronicles of Narnia, The – C. S. Lewis 

Written by C. S. Lewis, this series tells of four children and their adventures in the magical realm of Narnia. The seven books span its entire history, from it’s creation and discovery in The Magicians Nephew to its powerful end in The Last Battle.

The realm of Narnia is filled with bravery and companionship, but also fear and darkness. Although not present in the first book, the four children (Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy) soon become enchanted by the world they find hidden beyond the doors of a magical wardrobe.

Chronicles of Prydain, The – Lloyd Alexander

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The Chronicles of Prydain comprise five high fantasy novels. Author Lloyd Alexander draws magic and myth into his writing, using Welsh myths in particular to influence his stories.

The series follows protagonist Taran as he grows up and transforms from an assistant pig keeper into a heroic young man. Accompanied by a princess, a bard, a wild man and a dwarf, Taran faces many trials and is drawn into the heart of a dangerous war.

Dark is Rising, The – Susan Cooper 

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What fantasy would be complete without an epic struggle between light and dark?

Based on Arthurian legend and various mythologies, The Dark is Rising series combines the magical and mythical with the ordinary. The seven novels follow the adventures of eleven-year-old Will Stanton and various other children as they become caught in the age old battle between light and dark.

Dragonkeeper – Carole Wilkinson

Set in ancient China, this series tells of dragons, magic, love, and greed. The first few novels follow a slave girl named Ping as she ventures beyond the walls of her captive home, accompanied first by the old dragon Danzi, and then by a young dragon named Kai.

Comprising two trilogies and a prequel, the Dragonkeeper series explores the age of the last dragons and their keepers. Although human and animal characters change, the links between their lives and adventures binds the series together as a whole.

Harry Potter – J. K. Rowling 

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Most people have heard of Harry Potter and will likely have seen the films. However, relatively few people have read all the books from start to finish. The books contain important details that the films miss out, so you can’t call yourself a true Harry Potter fan unless you’ve read them!

Lionboy – Zizou Corder 

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Lionboy is brilliant fantasy trilogy, perfect for children and young adults. Written by Zizou Corder, the shared pen name of Louisa Young and daughter Isabel Adomakoh Young, the novels are filled with friendship, adventure, and of course danger.

The first novel follows protagonist Charlie Ashranti, a young boy who can speak to cats. On a mission to rescue his abducted parents, Charlie comes across six lions travelling with a floating circus. He the lions form a bond and the story follows Charlie and the lions as they embark on a dangerous journey together.

The adventures of Charlie and his lion friends continue throughout the trilogy.

Lord of the Rings, The – J. R. R. Tolkien 

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As with Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and it’s prequel The Hobbit, are stories that more people have watched than read.

Following the adventures of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings introduces Frodo Baggins as its protagonist. The books are filled with wonderful adventures, magic, evil, companionship, and loss and a simple summary couldn’t do it justice.

Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome 

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Set in the Lake District in 1929, Swallows and Amazons follows siblings John, Susan, Titty, and Roger and their adventures on and around Wild Cat Island. The children, who sail a borrowed dingy named Swallow, meet Nancy and Peggy Blackett who sail a boat named Amazon. Together the children go on many adventures and these continue for thirteen more books.

New characters are introduced throughout the series, but the sense of adventure and the wonder of the great outdoors never changes.

Swish of the Curtain, The – Pamela Brown 

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The Swish of the Curtain was written in 1938, when Pamela Brown was just 14. It wasn’t published until 1941 however, and the manuscript amazingly survived the Blitz.

In the first book, a group of children discover an abandoned chapel and decide to set up their own theatre. The story tells of their dramatic creations and ambitions, and the wonderful friendship they share.

The following sequels continue these adventures as the children grow into young men and women still intent upon a life on the stage.

A quiz about books

This quiz contains questions about well-known fantasy novels, young adult books, and stories about time. How many answers can you get?

Finish the line:

Train With Smoke
  1. “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to…” (Harry Potter
  2. ‘One ring to rule them all, One ring to find them, one ring to bring them all, and…’ (The Lord of the Rings)
  3. “Happy Hunger Games. And may the odds ever be…” (The Hunger Games
  4. ‘All children, except one, …’ (Peter Pan
  5. “Don’t you know that everybody’s got a … of their own?” (Mary Poppins)

Opening lines: 

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  1. ‘There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it’ is the opening line of which classic children’s novel? 
  2. “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink” is the opening line of which novel?
  3. What is the opening line of the hobbit?
  4. ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ is the opening line of which novel by Madeleine L’Engle?
  5. ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen’ is the opening line of which 20th Century novel? 

Authors: 

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  1. What do Tolkien’s initials J. R. R. stand for?
  2. Which author wrote The Wizard of Earthsea
  3. What was Lewis Carroll’s real name?
  4. Who wrote the novel Dragon Rider
  5. Robert Galbraith is the pen name of which famous author? 

Book titles: 

Books in Black Wooden Book Shelf
  1. What is the fifth Harry Potter book called? 
  2. What is the title of the Game of Thrones novel series?
  3. Name a novel by Mark Haddon containing the word ‘time’. 
  4. Name Erin Morganstern’s first novel. 
  5. Name a title by Ian McEwan that contains the word ‘time’.

General knowledge:

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  1. What is the name of the compass on The Northern Lights book cover by Philip Pullman?
  2. What are Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’s first names? 
  3. Name the five Divergent factions. 
  4. Beowulf is a text written in what language? 
  5. In which children’s fantasy novel does a girl named Ping appear?

30 writing prompts for 30 Days

Can you complete all 30?

These prompts aim to get you writing every day throughout April. Try sticking to the suggested ideas during this month, and then in May you could create your own prompts to play with.

  1. Pick an image you like and write a creative story or descriptive piece about it. The image below is just an example.
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A sea cave
  1. Write at least a page about an interesting place you’ve visited.
  1. Write a paragraph about an object that’s near you right now. 
  1. Write a creative paragraph or short story which includes the five senses: sight (visual), sound (auditory), smell (olfactory), taste (gustatory), touch (tactile). 
  1. Write about a memory. – It can be good or bad.
  1. Write a paragraph or short story about an extinct or fantastical animal. 
  1. Write a paragraph or short story about an imaginary place.
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Beyond reality
  1. Write about a recent dream. 
  1. If you could have any power, what would it be? Write a story where a character uses this power. 
  1. Write about your greatest fear. 
Are you afraid?
  1. Write two rhyming lines.  – It can be as simple or as complex as you like.
  1. Research several limericks and then write your own.
  1. Research several Haiku poems and then write your own. 
  1. Write a story in a sentence. – Try to keep it between 10 and 50 words.
  1. Come up with three different themes or titles that could each be applied to a story, poem, or book.
Person Holding Babys Hand
Love forever
  1. Write a story in 100 words. 
  1. Create a character in great detail. – You could write a few paragraphs, draw some images, or create a list.
  1. Write a dialogue between this character and another character. – This should fill at least a page.
  1. Write a short story about the future, from the future. 
  1. Write a diary entry. 
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Waiting to begin
  1. Write about a secret.
  1. Take the third book off your shelf, open to the third page, find the third word in the third paragraph in the third line and write about it. If it isn’t a good word, try another number such as the seventh page, seventh word etc. or alternatively, try another book. 
  1. Write a story using consecutive letters of the alphabet to start each sentence. 
  1. Find a world map, randomly point to a place, and write a story about it. 
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The world at your fingertips
  1. Write a non-fiction article on a topic of your choice.
  1. Write a book review.
  1. Write the first verse of a poem.  – You could use rhymes, free verse, or create a pattern of your own.
  1. Choose a favourite poem and write your own, copying the style, rhythm, and rhyme.
  1. Write your own poem.
  1. Write a short story or novel plot plan including setting, character, and action. You should include a hook, a climax, and a resolution. 

***

Anyone who completes at least five tasks during April and can provide evidence of completion, is in with the chance of winning a free copy of my novelThe Firestone’. Send me evidence of all five pieces, including your favourite prompt and response, via the contact form on my website (francescatyer.co.uk) at the end of the month and I will select a winner.

7 Challenges for 7 Days

Make, do, and learn something new every day

As another week begins, it’s time to think about how you want to enjoy time spent at home. Yes, work still has to be done, but there’s also time to explore new activities.

Reconnecting with nature or with projects that require hands and not minds is definitely worthwhile. This doesn’t mean you should stop working, or never look at a computer – it’s simply a reminder that there are other pursuits to enjoy. 

This post aims to encourage everyone at home to learn or try something new every day. Below are listed seven activity categories to get your seven day challenge started!

1. Painting and drawing 

Whether you’re a well practised artist or a novice, painting and drawing challenges can always be found. If you are new to either one or both, then try drawing a simple sketch or splashing some colours on a page. 

If you are already excellent at drawing or painting, then there’s nothing to stop you from trying a new medium or testing yourself with a more challenging picture. 

2. Sewing and crafting

If you know how to sew, you could try making something new for your home, an item of clothing for yourself, or even a gift for someone else. If you’re new to the craft, then try sewing simple items such as a phone holder or bunting. 

If you’re not into sewing, then knitting, crocheting, paper craft or carpentry are just some other options to try. There are however hundreds of crafting techniques and ideas to try, so do some research and start experimenting!

3. Cooking and baking 

Cooking and baking are for everyone, from professional chefs and experienced home bakers to those who’ve never tried it before. Now is an excellent time to experiment in the kitchen. Even if you are an expert, challenge yourself to make something you’ve never made before or even create a concoction of your own. 

4. Garden and house design 

If you have a garden, or even a small patch of land at the front of your house, then have some fun making it look lovely. Set up a window box or a hanging basket filled with flowers to brighten up your exterior. You could also plant some seeds and start growing your own crops.

Planting might not be your thing, but that shouldn’t stop you. Why not create a new garden feature, like a bench or a simple bird box?

If you have to stay indoors, then you could redesign your garden on a piece of paper. Whilst cooped up indoors, you could also spring clean your house, redesign the rooms, and even repaint!

5. Walking and exercise

You might be a regular gym buff or go swimming every week, but now is the time to try a new exercise at home. Exercise is important, so why not try a new physical challenge each day? This could involve a workout, different yoga styles, or weight training. You could even try meditation. If you are able to go out for a walk, then check out a map and try a new, untried route. 

7. Read, watch and listen 

Whether an avid or occasional reader, books can offer comfort and stay boredom. Reading and completing a book every week might be difficult, so set yourself a goal to read one a month instead.

It’s much easier to pick a new film or programme. If you watch familiar programmes every day, then mix things up a little and try a new show or film. Likewise, make yourself listen to a new song each week rather than always selecting those old favourites.

6. Challenge your mind 

Have you always wanted to learn a new subject, language, or skill? Why not start now? There are hundreds of online courses and apps available on a range of topics, so if you’re burning to learn something new, start searching and sign up to a course.

Whether you’ve always wanted to learn touch typing or French, or have an entirely new interest, start doing some research. You never know what you might find!

An interview with Robin Driscoll

Robin Driscoll is a screenwriter turned novelist, best known for his role as the primary writer for Mr Bean. Several years ago, he took up a new writing challenge and is now a mystery thriller novelist. Robin’s first book, Rough Music, is based on a script that he was commissioned to write. His second and third novels, The Unborn and Still Warm, form the beginnings of a series named the Josie King Mysteries.

I wanted to ask Robin about his writing experience and about his shift from screenwriting to fiction. At 10 am on Tuesday morning I picked up the phone and rang through to Robin. We talked a little and set the scene before I began asking questions.

Why did you decide to write a novel?

I’ve been writing comedy for over thirty years and after Mr Bean, which was a fantastic experience and which on and off took about 25 years, I decided that this new generation comedy on TV wasn’t something I wanted to do. Not that I don’t find present day comedians funny, I do, but they are better placed to write that type of material. I fancied a change and I thought I’d write a book because it was close to what I’d always done before. People expected me to write comedy and were surprised when I decided to write mystery thrillers. That was simply because I decided to write what I like to read.

Do you have a favourite mystery thriller writer?

Yes, Robert Goddard the English writer. My favourite crime writer, an American crime writer, is Michael Connolly.

Do you have a particular writing method?

As a script writer you have to learn to write incredibly economically. A script page with action and directions must run at the average of a minute long. With comedy especially, you have to be economical with the way you write dialogue. The rhythms and the economy that I learnt through writing comedy have crossed over a little into my writing. I’m still new at writing novels and I’m still learning, but I was at least able to bring those two things to the table.

Did your work on Mr Bean help to inform your novel writing?

The novels I like to read and try to write are fast moving mysteries. I had to learn a huge amount about writing books. I discovered that it was a totally different craft even though I already knew how to write structure, how to develop characters and how to tell stories. I discovered through someone telling me that I couldn’t write, a very good friend of mine who read some chapters of my book, that there were a lot more tools I had to get. I spent a year going to courses, reading about writing and doing what I should have done at the beginning, which was learn a new craft.

I noticed in the novels I like to read that description can be scant and yet cleverly done. The shortest sentence can put you in a place, give you a smell. If you think of Dickensian times, of people reading books by candlelight, those people didn’t have the internet, didn’t have films. There was nothing to inform them about the rest of the world other than the way they lived, unless they were wealthy enough to travel. Therefore, long descriptive passages in books were welcomed. Because we are now so well informed, we don’t have to put in so much. You can put someone in Egypt with three of four words. They know what it looks like; they can feel the heat. It’s almost like writing a radio play; the background sounds are informing you.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I don’t know where I get my inspiration from. As to how I find subjects, I come up with an idea of ‘what if?’ My first book, Rough Music, came out of a film script that I’d been commissioned for. That was a stand-alone book. The second book is the first of my Josie King mystery series. I didn’t know it was going to be a series until I fell in love with the character. I’m now writing my third Josie King! Now I have a character that I know, I can say ‘what if this happened to Josie King?’ The stories then become quicker in my head. When you’re writing a sketch, you have to come up with ideas quickly. You’re lucky if you’ve got running gags, where the same characters are showing up every week. When you’ve got a sketch show where that doesn’t happen, every idea has got to be fresh. You get used to quickly coming up with ‘what ifs.’

Do you think you’ll write more books in the Josie King series?

I don’t know; I hope so, but I think I’ll write another one-off novel before I go back to the series. I think I’ll give Josie a short holiday in my head. I’m thinking of writing a comedy idea that I have for my next book. It’s going to be about a little pub on the South Bank in London, used by Special Branch, MI5, MI6 and the Met. They all use the pub but the local brewery are going to demolish it to build offices. Basically, the brewery has picked on the wrong pub to try and close down!

Did you find it challenging shifting from comedy to mystery thriller writing?

No, because as I say, it’s the kind of material I like to read and it’s the kind of material I like to watch. I found that part easy, but comedy has still crept into my books. I just can’t keep it at bay and so I do have a few comic sequences and I use a couple of characters for comic relief. I think it’s much easier to write straight stories than it is to write comedy. I’m still very much learning myself and I’m always sure I’ve got a better book in me. After my books have been printed, I always look back over parts and think ‘I really want to rewrite that,’ or ‘I can do better than that.’ But I won’t get anything written if I don’t let them go.

What would you say has been your greatest writing challenge?

Writing the first book, Rough Music, even though the story had already been structured because it was first written in script form. Of course, with a book, you’re not just guessing. You’re there with it and so it’s harder. It took me five years to write the first book and I learnt a lot through doing that. Writing the first Josie King book took me four months and then Still Warm took me three months. I’m only about a third of the way through the third Josie King and this one is going to take me ages!

Do you base your characters on real people or are they entirely fictional?

Certain aspects of characters come from the people I meet. I do use the names of friends and people I know from the local pub and give them unlikely jobs just for fun.

Do you have a favourite out of your own books?

If I wanted someone else to try one of my books, I’d say read the first one. If you like that enough then I know I’ve got you for the series.

What would be your top tip for a young writer, or in fact any writer?

Learn how to do it, no matter how talented you are. It’s much easier to learn how to do something before you start. It’s easier to do it the first time round than it is to fix once its broken.

With many thanks to Robin Driscoll

©francescatyer2019

A reading list

Brilliant fiction that must be read 

  • Atonement – Ian McEwan

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A coming-of-age tale which focuses on thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis and her aspirations to be a writer. It is written in three parts, beginning in 1935 and ending in 1999, and covers themes such as love, loss, innocence, guilt, war, and identity. Although a modern novel, the language and plot capture the pain of war and the passing of time.

  • Book Thief, The – Markus Zusak

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This book is set in Germany during the Second World War. It follows the story of Liesel a young girl who steals books to read as a source of comfort. The book is narrated by Death which gives it a unique tone. The novel tells of history and struggle but also of knowledge and growing up.

  • Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

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Set between the 1920’s and early 40’s, this novel explores the life of Charles Ryder and his involvement with Sebastian and Julia Flyte. The book contains a deep sense of nostalgia whilst also exploring themes of romance, Catholicism, homosexuality, and the aristocracy. It is a classic and a novel which speaks of a certain time with assurance and skill.

  • Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell

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This novel is set in Georgia during the time of the American Civil War. This coming-of-age tale follows the struggles of the fiery Scarlet O’Hara and her attempts to escape a life of poverty. It is a large book and contains a wonderful amount of depth and detail.

  • Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows 

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This novel is written in epistolary form and is constructed through a series of letters sent between characters. The story explores the German occupation of Guernsey during WWII and the effect this had on the islanders. It’s protagonist, Juliet Ashton, is an author who compiles the letters to create a novel. It has a unique style and the characters are easy to fall in love with.

  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

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Bronte writes of Jane Eyre, a tormented orphan who becomes a governess at a large house named Thornfield. The story shifts from Jane’s life with her aunt to an orphanage and then onto her life at Thornfield under the master, Mr Rochester. The novel contains struggle and heartbreak but also a profound sense of romance and love.

  • Lord of the Ring’s, The – J. R. R. Tolkien

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A summary couldn’t do justice to The Lord of the Ring’s. Filled with excitement, the fantastical, and great adventure, it is one classic series that should never go unread.

  • Northern Lights – Philip Pullman

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This fantasy novel follows the story of an unusual and special girl named Lyra. It begins in Oxford before moving to London and eventually to the cold, icy North. The mystery and intrigue of the novel keeps every page exciting, filled horror and adventure but also  friendship and love.

  • Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

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Another classic that a description cannot do justice to. A novel filled with family, sisterhood, love, wit, and charm.

  • Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

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Rebecca begins with the meeting of the nameless protagonist and Maxim de Winter. She is shy and innocent and he is a widower with an estate. The new Mrs de Winter is continually haunted by reminders of Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca. The story traces the newlyweds romance which is tainted by dark secrets which are slowly revealed. The beautiful writing and mysterious happenings instantly make Rebecca a page turner.