How to write a book without losing friends or putting wizards in it

  1. Put on your ‘writing jumper’. It’s oversized, woolly and you found it behind the dressing gowns at Scope. Forget that it still smells of a gouty pensioner. Breathe. Feel powerful. You are ready to begin.
  2. Coffee
  3. Have a shot of hot water if you drool any of the grounds.
  4. Limber up: Look about your room and create luminous, poetic similes. The widow shines like a pair of shiny glasses in the glassy sun. The can of coke is as crepuscular as an isotope of beryllium. The sunrise is as bloody as a road traffic victim. The road traffic victim is as flat as a bad simile.
  5. Reread yesterday’s work. Eat / snort another coffee. Know that life is dark, hopeless and devoid of all meaning. Tape cotton wool over all the sharp edges in the vicinity of your desk and lock all windows above the ground floor.
  6. Ha ha ha! Look! What’s a pig doing on a surfboard?! Look at it wobble about! Remove facebook from your bookmarks.
  7. Decide on style of section break, *     *    * too cliché. Maybe a lozenge ◊, maybe that nameless fleuron §. Wait, was there something about the *     *     * thing that I didn’t fully appreciate the first-time round?
  8. Ask a friend to read your first chapter and provide feedback. Explain that yes, you appreciate that they’re a full-time carer, and yes, if your mum had multiple sclerosis it would be devastating too, but none of that changes the fact that your deadline is approaching and it will only take nine hours and she won’t know if you don’t wash her once.
  9. Email your agent. Explain how the industry doesn’t understand you, go into detail. Remind them of how many genres you are, right now, defying. Explain about that woman who wrote about the boy wizard and how many times she was rejected by publishers. Tell them you are almost exactly like her, but with significantly less wizards in your work.
  10. Apologise to your agent for your behaviour. Blame gin. Tell her alcoholism will add a frisson to your biog.
  11. Research what is selling really well right now and adapt so that a publishing deal is a shoo in. If nature writing is all the rage, add badgers.
  12. Redefine your audience in your book proposal to include all Corbyn voters.
  13. Go online and book a ticket to a reading by a published author. It will be motivating. Watch them closely, pinpoint their smugness. Know that you could be that smug too.
  14. Go to the British library archives and research the fascinating life and letters of a historical pioneer. Never question the relevancy to your book until at least 17 hours of hard study have elapsed. Then make little sobbing sounds until the staff escort you from the premises.
  15. Check out this months Amazon bestsellers in the closest genre to your work of great genre-defiance. Hate this genre. Lean out of the window. Scream ‘WHHHHHHHYYYYY!’ Do not make it sound like a question.
  16. No creative sparks flying? Go for a walk. Do not come home until you have a clear head and have been suitably inspired. Also: pack supplies, say goodbye to close relatives, get a vaccination for Japanese encephalitis.
  17. Edit for specificity: I climbed through the forest in the darkness. I elevated my hand and gripped a rock and curled my fingers around it and heaved myself up and moved my other hand and gripped another rock and noticed that the light that fell across the larch was roughly that of a three-watt bulb in the corner of a 3 by 4 metre square cellar at 67 degrees latitude at 5pm on midsummers day.
  18. Make your writing sensory. What did the wind taste like?
  19. Remember that listicle you were going to write for your blog? No better time than the present.
  20. Write 1000 decent, effortless words. Chortle to yourself. Stroke your own face. Go to high five yourself… whoa! too slow! Sleep soundly. Wake up. See point 5.

My mum loves Levison Wood

My mum loves Levison Wood.

In case you’ve been on hiatus from our star system, Levison is an adventurer whom Channel 4 follow about doing venturesome things.

‘He’s such an adventurous guy’ my mum says.

‘Mum’ I begin, steadily. ‘I’ve been cycling around the world for six years.’

‘I know, I know darling’ she says, before lapsing into a reverie.

‘But he’s so handsome, isn’t he?’


She follows him on Twitter. It makes me wonder when she’s going to follow me. ‘Oh, are you on Twitter? I didn’t know’ she says when I remind her. I send her the link, but she’s lost to Lev’s feed, embarking on a festival of ‘likes’.

She bought tickets to see him speak at the Sheldonian theatre in Oxford, weeks after I’d given a talk to the students of the Oxford University Exploration Society, in a classroom. They were lovely and full of appreciation, all 16 of them.

Bears and how to beat them

Thank you everyone for your online votes. This piece was shortlisted for the Pure Travel Writing Contest 2014 and was then judged the winner by a professional travel writer. I won 1000 pounds – which will buy me a lot of noodles! Here it is…

Bears and how to beat them

‘Stephen it’s inside! My God, it’s inside! INSIDE!’