The Origins of Christmas: Part 2 - Shamanic Roots

After exploring the pagan roots of the midwinter festivals and the dying Sun God, we travel into the darkness of the far north. This is where we’ll find the origins of Christmas, its real meaning, and a hint at our true purpose on this earth.

The Origins of Christmas: Part 1 - Pagan Roots

Christmas is a time to feast and make merry, to gather the family and exchange gifts, sing wonky carols, and get so drunk you forget your own name. You decorate an unfortunate tree that’s been dragged inside your centrally heated home, send greetings cards to people you spend the entire year avoiding, lie to your children about a fat man dressed in red who climbs down chimneys, and pursue your colleagues around the office waving mistletoe while wearing a ridiculous jumper.

How to Write Point of View

Before you begin to write a story there’s one crucial choice to make: who is the narrator? The narrator is the character(s) telling the story, whether that’s the protagonist, multiple characters, or an observer.

The point of view (POV) taken by the narrator is the reader’s way in to the story – it’s how they connect with the characters. Get the POV right and the reader will forget they’re even reading. The characters and the world of the story will come to life and the words on the page become invisible.

How to Write Description

Description is the bedrock of storytelling. Good description brings a scene to life and makes it vivid in the reader’s imagination. This is achieved by following one of writing’s sacred rules:

How to Write Dialogue

Creating dialogue is one of the most enjoyable and the most challenging parts of writing. Dialogue isn’t like real speech. If you write dialogue to resemble real speech you’ll end up with something unreadable.

How to Write Characters

At the heart of every successful novel are good characters. And by ‘good’ I don’t mean a character who never does anything bad, is kind to small animals and children, and never swears. Well written characters bring a story to life and give the reader someone to care about, root for, or even love to hate.

Characters aren’t like real people.

How to Write Opening Lines

The hardest part of writing a novel is the opening. As attention spans shrink and a million distractions pull at our minds, it’s harder than ever to get people to sit still long enough to read to the end of the first page, let alone the first paragraph. An average novel is between 80,000 to 100,000 words, so reading a novel will take some time. (Writing one takes even longer!) Many would rather watch the movie version of a story instead – two hours and you’re done.

If you want readers to stick with your novel and read to the end, you must grab their attention right from the start. Opening lines, and the first page, are crucial.

How to Write a Synopsis

Writing a synopsis is one of my least favourite activities and I’ll do almost anything to avoid it. But a well written synopsis is essential if you want to sell the book you’ve been working on for months/years.

A synopsis is the sales pitch for your novel and it’s designed to entice an agent or publisher into reading your complete manuscript. It’s usually sent out with three sample chapters, but if the reader doesn’t like your synopsis, they won’t even look at your beautifully crafted chapters. So it pays to spend some time honing your synopsis, no matter how excruciating that may be.

Mind Training with the Puppy Technique

You may find this hard to believe, but your mind is a puppy. Train it well, treat it with respect, and you’ll have a lifetime of devoted service sitting between your ears. Wet nose optional.

Let me explain.

Get Carter Gets Demolished

You're a big building but you're in bad shape...
[note: written in August 2010]

The Get Carter car park is soon to be no more. It’s been a long time coming, but this week the concrete-eating machines began feasting on the decrepit monstrosity: the iconic Brutalist monument hunched on the prow of the hill overlooking the Tyne. About the only thing going for it was its starring role in Get Carter and its spectacular views of the area.

The Flammarion Engraving: Escaping the Crystal Sphere

This is the well-known wood engraving by an unknown artist. It's often attributed to Camille Flammarion because it first appeared in his book The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology in 1888, but he probably just commissioned it. The engraving depicts a medieval pilgrim carrying a staff pushing his head through the border between worlds to look at the inner workings of the universe.

The Creative Process: Sharing your Masterpiece

If the creative process has gone well, you should now be ready to share your work in the final stage: SHOWING. The moment of truth!

The Creative Process: Finishing your Masterpiece

The fifth stage of the creative process is COMPLETING. During the hard work of the previous stage, one question keeps coming up: when is my book finished?

The Creative Process: The Trance of Writing

The fourth stage of the creative process is WORKING – the hard slog of getting the writing done. You’ve got your story and done the research, shaped your character arcs and structured the plot. Now you write.

The Creative Process: Starting to Write

Throes of Creation

We’ve reached the hard part of the creative process: STARTING. This is the moment of commitment. You’ve made your choice, you have an idea – now you must start writing. This is when the demons come out to play and procrastination takes over your life. Suddenly there’s a million other things you need to do and the writing fades into the background. You need to find a way to navigate the moment of starting otherwise your inspirations will shrivel and limp away, never to return.

The Creative Process: Choosing the Right Idea

Your move...

CHOOSING is the second stage of the creative process and it starts with a question: what do I write? Inspiration has struck and you’re buzzing with ideas. Now you must choose between them.

The Creative Process: Nurturing your Creativity

WISHING is the first stage of the creative process and is about nurturing your desire to create something. This is where you look for ideas and inspiration, and research stories to obsess over.

A Writer’s Guide to the Creative Process

The Weight of Words

Writing a book is a transformative experience – terrifying and thrilling at the same time – like exploring a jungle or climbing a mountain. The process can take many twists and turns and you never know where you’ll end up. With that in mind, this series will explore the creative process and map out some of the territory. I’ll give you a detailed guide you can apply to your own creative process that will help you to start and then, even more importantly, finish your book.

Characteristics of a Writer

Sometimes it seems everybody wants to be a writer. Mention to your friends that you’re writing a book and you’ll be greeted by a chorus of: oh, I wish I could do that, if only I had the time, I’ve got loads of great ideas. Either that or they want to know if you’re writing about them. As if you would... 

So what does it take to be a writer?

Why Writers Are Crazy

After busting a few writing myths it got me thinking about why writers are often seen as crazy – by others and themselves. Is there something about writing that leads people to become unhinged? Or do you have to be crazy to be a writer in the first place?

Myths About Writing

People have strange ideas about writing. Some of those people are writers.

You can understand non-writers being baffled by the whole writing thing: the alchemy of transforming words into a world that transports the reader. From the outside it seems like magic. You open a book and begin to read: the ordinary world fades and into your mind springs another, complete with characters who seem so real you half expect to run into them in Tesco buying cornflakes or bratwurst or the latest copy of Cosmo.

This magical thinking can infect writers too, especially when they first start out. Writers can suffer from impossibly high expectations, or perhaps delusional fantasies, of what writing is really about. 

Books for Writers

A selection of recommended books on Writing. These are some of the books I’ve found particularly helpful over the years.

40 Rules for Writers

There are loads of rules for writers, ranging from profound wisdom to statements of the obvious. I’ve gathered together some of my favourites here, plus a few inspiring quotes. When I start to doubt myself or just need a confidence boost, I turn to advice like this to get me moving again. I hope it helps you do the same…

Why Do Writers Write?

I know the exact day I became a writer. It was Friday 23rd April 2004 and I was walking to work. As I dodged the rush hour traffic, a story unspooled into my mind that was so compelling I knew I must write it down. I arrived at work, grabbed some paper and scribbled down the scenes in a frenzy.

This had never happened before. I stared at the barely legible scrawl and wondered if I was possessed. The story was about a woman trying to find her way out of a confusing situation. No surprise there. But then I realised it was based on the Buddhist idea of the realms of samsara. I had been reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche and it must have taken root. In an attempt to process and understand this complex Buddhist cosmology, my unconscious had created a waking dream. And I walked right into it.