• Jane O'Reilly

Favourite books on writing

A long time ago, when I was at college doing my A-Levels, I had an English teacher who was really crap. I'll call him Tim Tambers (his name wasn't actually Tim Tambers, and apologies to any English teachers called that). If you're not from the UK you might not be familiar with A-Levels. Basically, you picked 3 or 4 subject, and then you studied them for 2 years before final exams. The grades you achieved in those exams were used to get you a place at university, so they were pretty important.

Tim Tambers was an idiot for many reasons. There isn't time to go into all of them now. Suffice to say that during that 2 years, he point blank refused to teach us any creative writing despite the fact that there was a creative writing exam at the end which made up a significant percentage of our final mark. He simply shrugged and said 'you can either do it or you can't, so there's no point teaching it.' (Yes, I complained. A lot. How he got away with this I do not know, but I can tell you that of the 30 of us who started that A-level, only 4 were left to sit the exams at the end of the two years).

When I started writing again over 10 years later, these words were still in my head. I wrote my first couple of manuscripts with no idea what I was doing. It quickly became deeply frustrating. The manuscripts were awful, the stories didn't work, and I didn't know why. I set about looking for an answer. What I found was an entire mountain of books about how to write fiction, because apparently, this is a thing you can learn. (Who knew!). So here's a list of my favourites. I haven't included ones about the writing life (such as Stephen King On Writing) because the ones that I have found most helpful are those that talk about the nuts and bolts of putting words together to create story.

1. Jack Bickham 38 Fiction Writing Mistakes

2. Dwight Swain Techniques of the Selling Writer

3. Nancy Kress Beginnings, Middles and Ends

5. Jack Bickham Scene and Structure

6. Deb Dixon Goal, Motivation and Conflict

7. Jeff Vandermeer Wonderbook

9. Christopher Vogler Writer's Journey

There are many others, and these might not be the right books for you, but they are the ones that I go back to time and time again.

And here are my feelings about Tim Tambers.

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