How to Write a Novel (Psychologies Magazine Column)

31 Aug 2017



goldsboro window

Click on the links below to read my first six Psychologies Magazine ‘How to Write a Novel’ columns. They are short and basic but maybe they’ll give you a few ideas:

Month 1: How to Write a Novel

Month 2: Don’t Lose the Plot 

Month 3 Make Time to Write 

Month 4 Looking for Trouble

Month 5: How to Cut 

Month 6: Tricks of the Trade






Inspiration for the Victorian Gothic manor in The Night Visitor

11 Aug 2017

Spooks, memories and visitors

Henry Fuseli - The Nightmare

When I was a teenager, growing up in a village near Lewes in East Sussex, I had a friend whose house was very different from everyone else’s. For a start, it had about five times as many bedrooms. It also had tall iron gates, a long, tree lined driveway and a haunted Minstrel’s Gallery. This place – which I now know to be a Victorian Gothic Manor – looked very grand on the outside. It had tall grey flint walls and grand, mullioned windows, but the inside told a different story. The house was in coming undone.

My friend’s family was not landed gentry, far from it. Her father, a drinker, keen on the races, had won the house some time in the 1970s in a bet. It was crumbling and damp, with rattling casement windows and no central heating. There was no money to fix anything. I got the sense that nobody really cared because the family was breaking down. The house was not just physically gloomy, but unhappy and troubled in a more profound, less tangible way. And I felt, instinctively, that it was not just the container of the family’s sorrows, but – somehow, inexplicably – feeding them.

I would go there from time to time during the secondary school years. I’d marvel at the grandeur of those iron gates and that long driveway; we’d climb the sweeping staircase to what is, in my memory, an endless procession of dark and musty rooms with plasterwork damp to the touch, old quilts, a pervading chill and flitting shadows. It was thrilling for a teenager. I remember one party – twenty drunk fourteen year olds screaming across the unkempt lawns, only to end up crammed into the (surprisingly tiny) kitchen, too spooked to venture further into the house.

My friend, a tall, loyal, bright girl with a hint of wildness behind the eyes, confided to me once that she sometimes had a ‘visitor’ in the middle of the night. She would wake in the small hours to find a shrouded and malevolent old lady sitting on her, pinning her to the mattress. She was paralyzed when this happened, she said, unable to even cry out for help. This terrifying apparition, she was convinced, meant to choke her.

The friend and I lost touch when I went off to university. Her life, I heard, did not unfold as happily as mine, she has had troubles. Her family broke up and the Manor was sold. But thirty years on, I found it again, in my imagination, a huge, neglected flinty beast set in an idyllic spot beneath the South Downs, a stone’s throw from the spot where Virginia Woolf drowned herself. The Manor – which I called Ileford –  became a key setting in my novel, the symbol of how the most grand and imposing façade can conceal rotten secrets. My friend’s ‘night visitor’ came to life again too. But that’s another story.

I still long for the Sussex countryside – the chalk paths up to the South Downs, pheasants panicking across country lanes in the early morning mist, and my hometown, Lewes, slotted in the cleft of the hills. I live in Oxford, now, and people tell me I’m lucky to be here but I still long to move ‘home’. I did go back to the Manor while researching my novel. I went up to the iron gates, held them and peeked through but I could see very little. I thought about going up the drive, knocking on the door and introducing myself, trying to explain who I was, what I was doing. In the end, I didn’t dare.


The Night Visitor launch photos

8 Jun 2017

with beetlesBook Launch night visitor launch crowd night visitor launch crowd 2 night visitor launch noodles 2 night visitor launch signing night visitor launch ted and prosecco night visitor launch with Helen nightvisitor cupcakes There were two parties to launch The Night Visitor. One in Blackwell’s Oxford, and another just a week later in Goldsboro Books, London. Night Visitor_launch invite_LondonIMG_1867 IMG_1848
IMG_1845 Quercus editor Stef Bierwerth
IMG_1844goldsboro cupcakes

Psychologies Magazine How to Write a Novel column

23 Feb 2017

Here’s my first column for Psychologies magazine. I’ll be writing one a month for a year.

Tips and discussions of techniques, overcoming blocks, facing fears and all that…. Have a read of column 1 here. 

proofs TNV

The Night Visitor – coming 1 June 2017

3 Feb 2017

The Night Visitor

The Night Visitor cover reveal

3 Feb 2017

double click on this blank page….

How to Get Published Masterclass: further info for writers

29 May 2016

This was a great evenGreenwich Book Fest with FBt, a big lively audience with lots of questions.

I said I’d put some of the links up, so here goes:

A few Good Creative Writing Courses:

We talked about some high-impact (though not cheap) creative writing courses that can boost your writing skills and help with contacts:

The Faber Academy

Arvon Foundation 

Curtis Brown 

This is the weekend Festival of Writing in York  – a great place to meet agents, get critiques from editors, and generally find out about the business of getting published.

We also talked about pitching to an agent on Twitter. You can read more about that here in this Bookseller article 

Good luck with your book – do feel free to ask me any questions. And I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

The Birthplace of The Missing One

19 Jan 2015

The Missing One USA hardback The Missing One USA hardback


I keep remembering what it was like to guiltily work on a book I was sure would never be published. I wrote The Missing One while living in a suburb of Boston, USA. I’d sit in Lincoln Street Coffee (now closed – perhaps too many customers stayed 3 hours with one Americano?) or the tiny George Howell Coffee near our house George Howell Coffee   or  – frequently – the beautiful Newton Free Library  feeling really guilty (I had other things, paid things, to work on) and wondering what on earth I was doing this for.  And now, a year after it’s UK publication,The Missing One is about to hit the shelves back in its birthplace.

My favourite bookshop when we lived in the Boston area was the beautiful Newtonville Books  and they are kindly hosting the launch event for The Missing One on 12th February.  My friend, Nick, sent me this photo as he walked past the window yesterday. All those lonely, guilty, self-doubting hours in Newton, MA were worth it in the end.

missingone newtonville books


The Real Missing One – my uncle

2 Aug 2014

Article about Uncle Des in the Guardian family section Article about Uncle Des in the Guardian family section


When people ask if my book is autobiographical, I always say no – totally made up.  Then, a month or so ago, someone asked me a direct question: has anyone in my family ever gone missing? I couldn’t believe I’d never thought about this before – my Uncle Des, who we all adored, went missing when I was 8 years old.  Without knowing it,  I’ve written a novel drawing on some of those feelings of loss and longing, of family secrets, and the unknown. My subconscious has clearly been very busy and my book makes sense to me now, in a way that it never did before. Weird, and also oddly satisfying.

My mum is still convinced Uncle Des is in an ashram somewhere so I’m expecting his facebook friend request any day now…

The Book that Changed My Life

2 Apr 2014

Sept 1978 Mum's dictionary publishedLast week I was asked to write a piece about The Book That Changed My Life. I wracked my brains for ages – thinking of things like Jane Eyre or Rebel Pony  – yes really – a book I read repeatedly as a child – the book that got me hooked on reading.

But then I realised that there is only one book that I can honestly say changed my life. It’s the book that made me believe I could be a writer. It’s the first place I saw my name in print. It’s been sitting on the shelves of every home I’ve ever lived in – so much part of the furniture that I don’t even notice it any more. I wouldn’t dream of reading it for pleasure. But I treasure it.

It’s The Collins Robert bilingual dictionary – written, painstakingly, over years and years, by my mum.  The first edition was published 1978 (see her proud pic, left).  I used to have to fight my way through index cards, stacks of paper, shelves and shelves of dictionaries to say hello to her when I got back from school each day. The family joke is that when The Dictionary was finally published, I was dim enough to be genuinely confused, since I thought ‘The Dictionary’ was a place in our house (‘mum’s at The Dictionary again’ or …’where’s mum?’ ‘The Dictonary’).

Here’s why it changed my life:  Novelicious post

← Older posts Newer posts →