August 2013

Messages like this below from Säde, 16, in Estonia are one of the very best things about what I do.

I think I read your book when I was around 12 or 13, but I still remember it as one of the first books, that I couldn’t put down before I had finished it. The reason why I’m writing you now is that I didn’t thank you for writing such an amazing book and I think The Black Tattoo got me into sci-fi and fantasy novels and is the reason I can hardly read any other genres now.
I’ve wanted to write a book for a very long time. I’ve always had dozens of ideas circling around and evolving in my head, but I just don’t know where to start. So I wanted to ask how can you do it? How can you write something you love, without leaving anything out that is appealing to you, but isn’t actually really important to the story? Thanks again for your work.

Here’s my reply.

Hi Säde,

It’s a thrill and an honour to read your kind words about The Black Tattoo. There’s no need to thank me – I had a lot of fun writing that book – instead it is I who should be thanking you: Thank You! 😀

Your question is one to which I’m still working out the answer myself – and I look forward to continuing to attempt to figure it out for the rest of my writing life. I’ve learned some stuff I think, but if I’ve any chance of telling you anything useful here on this Guestbook I’ll have to be selective. Hope that’s ok. ;D

First answer: /you/ should be selective too. Don’t try to put /all/ your ideas into one story. Pick your very best ideas – the ones you’re most excited and passionate about – and focus on those. Make a list if you like: that’s how I started The Black Tattoo. I listed all the things I could think of that I – at the moment I sat down to make the list – would most love to find in a story. In that case the list began ‘swordfights, demonic possession, flying kung fu’ and continued from there, as you know. ;D Next I started asking myself how I could put the elements together in a way that was the most exciting I could possibly think of at the time. Then, later, once I thought I’d worked that out as best I could, I started working out how to write it.

Starting from a list of what made me excited worked very well for me as a way to begin. It meant that whenever things got tough with the book (as is inevitable in any project) I had my excitement about what I was writing to keep me going. I needed it.

Two other shorter points about what you’ve said, if I may. I’m a little puzzled by what you said about leaving things out. I think that learning when to leave things out is one of the core skills in writing. What gets left out is often what makes a piece of writing great. I suggest that the more you read, watching and learning from other writers’ technique, the more you might see why. And this is my second point: I think you should read as widely as you possibly can – not ‘just’ your chosen genre (though of course it is one of the richest and most inspiring!) but others too. The wider you read, the richer a stew of ideas you’ll be able to simmer, stir and serve up in your writing (sorry for that metaphor, it’s almost dinner time as I’m typing this and I’m hungry ;D) If you’re interested in book recommendations, I’ve got a list of things that I think are terrific at my LibraryThing profile, here.

Thank you so much, again, for your wonderful message, Säde. I’m delighted and honoured that my work has inspired you, and very grateful that you took the time to write and tell me so.

Best wishes from London,



Back at Trapped By Monsters this week, a meaty dose of Golden Age SF.