Out now! Diary of a Scaredy Cat

Some of you have been waiting for this … and today’s the day you can finally get hold of Diary of a Scaredy Cat: a year in the life of a frightened writer.

The writer’s guide, with exercises, is available in paperback, for £5.99, and on Kindle, for £2.99. Overseas markets will follow in a few days. Retail outlets will take a little longer.

But UK readers can order a copy right now!

Diane Wordsworth was struggling to get back into the swing of being a full-time freelance writer. She’d done it very well in the past, thank you very much. But years of editing books for various publishers had taken her out of the discipline of the freelance writing world and she needed to get back in.

When she met her future husband in 2013, he very quickly encouraged her to gradually do more of her own work while he supported her as best he could.

This is Diane’s account of that first year as she tried to get back onto the writing ladder. It was written as part of her blog, Tales from Baggins Bottom. But this anthology includes 165 practical writing exercises not previously published.

See more books by Diane Wordsworth here.

52 books in 52 weeks: Writing the Cozy Mystery

05-the-cozy-mysteryI set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 5.

Writing the Cozy Mystery by Nancy J Cohen is another short read, although this one took less than 30 minutes. But I thought that was great as I was able to read it through in one sitting, something I’ll do again, but this time trying out what the author suggests.

There is only one actual exercise in the book, but the rest of the content is step-by-step in the order the author recommends. This suits me very well as I’m not really a beginner and I don’t need great reams of advice telling me how to write or create character, etc. I just need some kind of road map of what to do next.

I really liked the author’s friendly, no-nonsense tone and her succinct style. There’s no waffle, it’s to the point, and the only references she makes to her own works are as examples rather than ramming them down the reader’s throat. Therefore, I was actually more than happy to then go and buy the first in her own cozy mystery series, Permed to Death, so I can readalong with the writers’ guide.

I wouldn’t recommend this book for beginners as it really is very specific to the cosy (UK spelling) mystery and it doesn’t go into the great details others do. But for writers wanting to give the genre a go, then it does all it needs to do, in my opinion.

Writing the Cozy Mystery is available on Kindle for 99p (or $1.24) and in paperback for £4.84 (or $6.99).

52 books in 52 weeks: How to Write Fiction – a Guardian masterclass

04-fictionI set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 4.

How to Write Fiction – a Guardian masterclass is similar to the 60-minute masterclass books in that it takes around 60 minutes to read it from cover to cover. There, however, is where any similarities end.

The book comprises a number of contributions from different “experts”, interspersed with writing exercises lifted from The Writing Book: a practical guide by Kate Grenville. And if you already have this particular writers’ guide, I’d suggest sticking with that (I may review it in the future, if I decide to buy a copy).

The introduction by Geoff Dwyer spends most of the time telling you to forget whatever you read in the introduction … Then the “expert” contributors include the likes of Jill Dawson, Andrew Miller, Rachel Cusk and various others that aren’t familiar to me. Two who are, however, in my opinion, provided the two best chapters, both in “Plot”: Kate Mosse and Mark Billingham. Apart from these two sections, the rest of the book was quite verbose. I often found myself drifting off thinking of something else, glazing over or quite simply skipping great tracts to get the the next point.

Personally, I am often happy to see writing exercises in a book, and this one has borrowed plenty. But once again they’re exercises for exercise sake. I mean, what is the point, really, in writing an entire paragraph omitting the letter “e”? Or describing myself in first person, second person or third person? Exercises like this may exercise the writing muscle and there are plenty of people out there who are happy to do exercises that don’t lead to anything. But I prefer something more practical.

Because there is a different person providing the material for each chapter, and sometimes two people per chapter in some cases, this book felt a little disjointed and a bit waffley. And, as other reviewers have pointed out, there are a lot of unnecessarily long and wordy sentences and paragraphs that simply encourage skipping.

Buy this book only if reading writers’ guides is a hobby. If you want to know how to write fiction, choose another book.

Only available on Kindle for £1.99 (or $2.49), How to Write Fiction – a Guardian masterclass is one of a series from The Guardian.

52 books in 52 weeks: Writing Short Stories – a 60 minute masterclass

03-writing-short-storiesI set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 3.

Writing Short Stories – a 60 minute masterclass by Shelley Weiner took me just under 60 minutes to read. But I was lucky to get through it as the literary comparisons and the lack of practical exercises that build on each other almost stopped me in my tracks.

I’m glad I got over myself, and my own personal prejudices, though, as once you get going, it does actually get better.

It was the references to Chekhov, Poe, Hemingway and Dostoyevsky that blocked me as they came across as quite pretentious in a short 60-minute read. But get over that and you do come to the basics of short story writing – and if literary fiction is your thing, then go for it. It’s just not mine.

The exercises then didn’t really build on each other. They consist of:

  • Studying a selected short story by Checkhov
  • Using “What if”
  • Creating a character from a picture
  • Giving your character a voice
  • Creating a setting from a picture
  • Placing your character into your setting

And that’s it. Apart from the last one, they are simply exercises for exercise-sake. I would have also liked to have seen the exercises listed in the contents, as I may then have chosen a different book to buy instead of this one at this stage.

Following chapters go on to give the same old advice about narrative, viewpoint, presentation, etc. But the author has used the age-old examples of the king dying and then the queen dying (of grief), and Hemingway’s baby shoes for sale.

I would much prefer to see exercises in a writing guide that build on each other to produce a finished, publishable piece of work, or even several. And I also think the author could have come up with some of her own examples to demonstrate those age-old ones cited above. To simply recycle what has already been out there for years and years seems a little … lazy, in my opinion.

Saying that, beginners will find this book quite refreshing, with lots of solid, standard, good advice. Experienced writers may find it a little … prosaic. But get past the odd little niggles and it’s a good introduction to writing the short story.

Only available on Kindle for £2.99 (or $4.07), Writing Short Stories – a 60 minute masterclass is one of a series from The Guardian.

52 books in 52 weeks: Feature Writing – a 60 minute masterclass

feature-writingI set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year … and then right in week one was struck down by lurgy. So the first in the series is a little late, but it’s a short enough book.

Feature Writing – a 60 minute masterclass by Rob Orchard does exactly what it says on the cover. It took me just about 60 minutes to read it in one sitting. and the exercises – all five of them – are practical and realistic.

There are no arty-farty write-about-how-the-surface-of-a-stone-feels pointless (in my opinion) exercises that don’t actually help you become a working writer. There is no puff about every step of the author’s own personal journey that don’t actually teach anything really. In fact the writer’s credentials don’t even appear until the end matter.

These exercises start with finding and researching new markets in this digital and global age, through how to come up with features ideas and angles, how to contact ten target publications, pitching your best three ideas to your best three markets, and finishing with tips and advice on obtaining and conducting interviews.

In between the exercises, which are what I read these books for, are chapters filled with who to pitch to, what to pitch,  how a features editor works, how to negotiate commissions, and questions and answers to and from working features writers.

All in all, this is a nice little book that gives you just enough information to actually crack on and DO, rather than sit and dream and read yet another book on the art of writing. The exercises are simple enough to build into a regular working week and the book is short enough to read again and refresh the creative well whenever required.

Only available on Kindle for £2.99 (or $3.67), Feature Writing – a 60 minute masterclass is Book 13 in a series from The Guardian.