The more observant among my several readers – do I dare to hope for ‘several’? – will notice I missed a week last week. Yes, I was on holiday, on what has long been an annual excursion to the Northumberland coast. Sea, sky, kippers and castles. And books. Lots of them.

It’s back to the grindstone now, but only for a week, as next Tuesday I take off again! I’m heading back up north to Teesside for the launch of Crossing the Tees, an anthology of the winning and commended short stories from their 2022 writing award, run annually in conjunction with the local literary festival. And it’s on a boat – a river cruise no less. I’m really looking forward to it, as I’m meeting up with a good friend I haven’t seen for far too long.


If you are in the Malton area, why not check out Kemps Books’ Under the Covers event on the last Friday of every month? I was scheduled to be a part of the upcoming event at the end of April, but the organisers have suggested I do a separate event at a later date, so I’ll keep you posted on that!

Here’s what they say about it:

“Join us for a curated tour of our shelves, insights into new publications, book talk, offers, discounts and promotions and a chance to immerse yourself in books and escape for a little while. Sociable, relaxed and definitely bookish. Places are limited and must be booked – £5 ticket price is redeemable against any purchase on the night.”

You can reserve your place here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/under-the-covers-bookshop-by-night-tickets-558784077217

(Ignore the typo in their graphics, the next one is Friday 28th April, not 29th!)

And if you are based in Derbyshire, then why not join author Deborah E Wilson in conversation at Whitwell Library on Saturday 29th April between 11.30am-12.30pm.

Writing Tips…

Here’s another extract from my short story course, The Heart of the Short Story. This week we will start to look at the use of language.


Your writing voice and the way you use language should be yours and yours alone, entirely personal and unique. If we all followed prescribed rules then every story would be the same. My writing is often praised for being ‘elegant’ but not everyone strives for elegance, and not every story is best told in elegant prose. But whatever your style, you want your sentences to be well-crafted, and this means getting the balance right, honing a prose style which is lyrical yet pared back, not over-worked. The writing shouldn’t wave its arms about in the foreground, showing off to attract attention. It should never overpower the story and the characters – those are the things you want to linger in the reader’s mind after the story has ended.

The art is in developing a deft and precise touch, creating crisp images that do the work of a full page, crafting uncluttered prose which is still rich with emotion, a collage of snapshots that come together to tell the full story.

The time your reader spends in your story is limited and precious, and the words you use need to earn their place. As we’ve already discussed, you only have a few sentences in which to grab the reader, and a limited number of words to make them care about your characters and immerse them in your story. There’s no room for long passages of description or details of your character’s breakfast – unless her breakfast is part of the plot!

A short story should be a sculpture rather than a painting. A painting has colour, texture, movement, but a sculpture has even more; it has depth and curves, it can be viewed from every angle, the largest part of it is beneath the surface. Everything we have studied so far will help form your ‘sculptures’ and give them shape, but the language you use, the rhythm and sound of your stories, will add an extra dimension and make them come alive.

Word Choices

Always think carefully about precise word choices when you describe things, people and places. Readers skim past generalities, so for example, instead of always saying ‘birds’ or ‘dogs’, think about describing them by their breed. The reader can visually engage more quickly with ‘sparrows’ or ‘dachshunds’ as naming them carries information as well as imagery. Precision can work as a linguistic shorthand, pulling the reader into the scene as they visualise the shape of the bird, its nest, its song, the sound of the dog barking, its colour and size. Similarly, don’t have characters reading a book or humming a tune. Let’s hear what they’re reading or singing – that will tell us more about their taste and personality. Think about the added value you can get from your words.

Try to choose the best words rather than the easiest, always remembering that variety is key. If you pepper your prose with unusual word choices then make sure you do it sparingly, or you’ll risk alienating the reader. It’s not your job to impress people by using big words, so it’s generally wiser to choose shorter ones. Cull excessive adjectives and adverbs too; ditch the modifiers and let the verbs do the work.

Avoid cliches (like the plague!). They have a tendency to slip in unnoticed. Every time you use a cliche you risk boring your reader slightly, and this will create distance instead of pulling them close.

Be careful of needless repetition. It’s so easy to use a word in one sentence and then drop it in again in the next – or even in the same one – without noticing. However, deliberate repetition can be a good thing when used effectively; it can reinforce and emphasise your message, add tension, atmosphere and emotion. It also creates resonance and rhythmic patterns in the way poetry does. It can even give your sentence a beat. But try not to repeat complex words – keep it simple.

The opening paragraph in my story, ‘Red’, also uses repetition to create rhythm and for emphasis:

“The track that led to Oakridge Farm was steep and dusty, and the dust was ox red, as though soaked with the blood of those who had worked the land before. It was a dust so fine that you could trace patterns in it with a blade of grass, and when the rains came it thickened into a paste that stained your skin like henna.”

Word of the Week…

This week’s word is the Ukrainian word for strength, міцність (pronounced “mitsnist”).

No explanation required…

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