‘My favourite type of mystery, suspenseful, and where everyone is not what they appear . . . Christine is great at creating atmosphere . . . she evokes the magic of the stage, and her characters [have] a past to be uncovered before the mystery is solved.’ [Stage Fright]

- Lizzie Hayes, MYSTERY WOMEN

Favourite books on how to write

I’ve got far more books on writing than I can care to admit to. There’s some justification. Some of them have been essential tools in learning how to write. And then too writing is a solitary occupation and it’s good to have a few old friends to turn to when I grind to a halt. But do I really need to have so many? In truth they are something of an addiction. Here are a few favourites. For inspiration, rather than technique there’s Dorothea Brande’s classic Becoming a Writer (first published 1934) and Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write. I wish I had known Brenda. The biography in the reprint of her book notes that she lived to 93, achieved an international swimming record for the over-80s, and was knighted by the King of Norway. As for her book, what woman writer wouldn’t warm to this chapter heading: ‘Why women who do too much housework should neglect it for their writing.’ Not that I have ever needed much encouraging to do that. Now that I’ve got the book down from the shelf, I want to read it again. Also good when I need a pep talk is Stephen King’s On Writing. Plot and structure are what I have always found most demanding and in the early days Robert J Ray’s The Week-end Novelist and Robert Mackee’s Story were constant companions. And then there are Lawrence’s Block’s excellent books on writing, one of which has the great title, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit.

Recently, another couple of books have joined these (and many others) on the shelf beside my desk: Antony Johnston’s The Organised Writer: How to Stay on Top of all Your Projects and Never Miss a Deadline and Howdunit: A Master Class in Crime Writing by Members of the Detection Club, edited by Martin Edwards. Reading The Organised Writer is like having a writing coach at your elbow and contains excellent advice on how to do that one thing essential to maintaining a career as a writer: clearing away the welter of other things that clamour for your time and attention and getting down to it. The book itself is extremely well-organised and easy to use. I know I will refer to it again and again. Antony practises what he preaches: he is one of the most productive people I know. Howdunnit is more of a book for dipping into. Ninety members of the Detection Club write on every aspect of crime-writing. The books runs to 500 pages and is stuffed with fascinating insights and excellent advice.

So, two worthy additions to my collection – and the only problem is that I do rather tend to find myself reading books about writing when I really ought to be, well … writing …


  1. Margot Kinberg
    November 17, 2020

    I’m glad you’ve made me think of this topic, Christine. I have a few books on writing, and they have helped me. There’s definitely something to be said for getting advice from people who are experts. And, yes, there is that sense of community. I also find that writing blogs have some helpful ideas, too, and again there’s the sense of camaraderie.

    • Christine Poulson
      November 17, 2020

      Yes, that sense of camaraderie is important, Margot, and there are some blogs that I also follow regularly – including yours, of course!

  2. Crysta Winter
    November 18, 2020

    What a wonderful last sentence when you catch yourself doing something and turn the whole story upside down. I love these last sentences. They are magical.

  3. Deborah Mainwaring
    November 23, 2020

    I’ve always liked this bit of advice from Flannery O’Connor: “You ought to set aside three hours every morning in which you write or do nothing else; no reading, no talking, no cooking, no nothing, but you sit there. If you write all right and if you don’t all right, but you do not read; whether you start something different every day and finish nothing makes no difference; you sit there. It’s the only way, I’m telling you. If inspiration comes you are there to receive it, you are not reading. And don’t write letters during that time. If you don’t write, don’t do anything else. And get in a room by yourself. If there are two rooms in that house, get in the one where nobody else is.”
    Of course, if you look at O’Connor’s output over her short life, you can see that a lot of the sitting sessions came to nothing much. But what did surface was solidly fine writing. Of course, she did have her mother to do the housework and make the dinner…

    • Christine Poulson
      November 24, 2020

      Thank you for this, Deb. She is spot on. I try to do this and fail far more often than not, but somehow something does in the end g get done. Yes, having someone else to do dinner and so on must have helped – and she didn’t have the terrible temptation of the internet! She also said something else that I like along the lines that ‘the writer can do whatever they can get away with’ and added ‘but no-one has ever gotten away with much.’


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