General Advice on Writing

You may wish to write for many reasons – for pleasure, as a record for your family, etc, etc. But if you want to be published and be paid for it, you must


Read other writers' recent work and analyse how they have met market needs. Check which publishers accept unsolicited typescripts, and their requirements. A publisher who only publishes novels of 50,000 words will not look at a script of 120,000 words.

Either use a computer count or estimate the words in your typescript the way publishers do to estimate the pages of the finished book. Average the words in 20 full lines, multiply by the number of lines per full page, then the number of pages, to estimate total words.

Getting ideas

One of the questions people ask writers most frequently is, 'How do you find your ideas?' Everywhere! They can come from events, people, phrases heard, incidents. But usually a writer will then turn the idea round, inside out or upside down, alter certain aspects, and in the end have a very different story from the one they started with. I explain how some of my novels began on the Books page.

Most of my books have been various types of romantic novels. There are very many types, more than most people appreciate. The article which I did for the BBC Bookcase web site for Valentine's Day included a description of the many different types of romantic novels.

Ideas come from everywhere

Many of my books started because I wanted to use a particular event, such as a Civil War siege or battle, or a particular background. Charms of a Witch and Player's Wench were written against the backgrounds of the seventeenth century witchcraft persecutions and the Restoration theatre. Runaway Hill was the nickname given to the battle of Roundway Down, Petronella's Waterloo featured that battle.

Sibylla and the Privateer arose from reading a small snippet in a guide book about the privateers who used the coves of Brittany to hide their ships. The Glowing Hours began because I love traditional ballroom dancing.

Often books arise from characters. The Cobweb Cage began with the idea of three very different sisters and their problems. My new crime book, A Cut Above the Rest, came about because I loved the character of my sleuth, much-married ex-starlet Dodie Fanshaw.

Tips for Developing Ideas

From the initial situation there are always alternative ways of moving on.
Ask what happens next.
Ask what you would do when faced with a choice.
Ask what your main character would be likely to do.
Look ahead – ask what will be the consequences of each possible choice.
Ask how you can make the situation more complicated.
Ask what problems you might introduce, or complications or obstacles.

Tips for Starters

Get right into the action
Make it exciting or intriguing
Establish time and place
Introduce characters
Pose questions
Show your style
Demonstrate the mood and type of book
Make the reader feel something good is coming

Research is fun

I had to do a great deal for the non-fiction history of Queen Mary's High School, A Century of Achievement, but I was also helped by friends who looked up various aspects for me in the local history centre, and former pupils and staff who contributed their own reminiscences. This was a really joint effort. Fiction, though, also needs a lot of research.

As well as reading books, both the background history and the specialist volumes, and searching for facts in libraries, I always try to visit places I'm describing. This way I can try and recreate in my imagination what really happened there. When writing Strife Beyond Tamar I dragged the family all over Cornwall looking at the places I needed to describe. For The Cobweb Cage I spent days walking round the town of Hednesford and nearby Cannock Chase. To my husband's regret, we didn't visit the Folies-Bergère for The Glowing Hours, but we did drive along the latter part of the Monte Carlo Rally Route for The Golden Road.

Keep trying – and good luck!