Books and Courses

Personal recommendations of books and courses for the developing writer:

Arvon Courses


Although the day to day work of novel-writing is the long labour uphill, attending an Arvon course is like taking a ride in a helicopter and
getting a good look at the terrain.

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Anne Lamott – Bird by Bird


A great book for those early days of becoming a writer: gentle encouragement and sound advice on how to start writing, how to keep going, how to find your writing friends, your writing style, your writing confidence. And how to stand up to those inner critics!


Scarlett Thomas – Monkeys With Typewriters


I love this book. It starts with the basic plots (from Plato onwards), interrogates the techniques used by a wide range of writers – from classics to modern, and entertains as it goes along. Mind you, I love most of her fiction too.  As well as literary theory, there is practical guidance on ‘how to have ideas’, styles of narration, characterisation etc.

Robert McKee – Story


This is a recommendation from one of my Arvon tutors for use when considering structure. Structure can make or break a novel; so it’s worth getting it right. Although primarily written for screen writers, what he says is applicable to all story telling. As an aside, another Arvon tutor recommended watching the first couple of seasons of ‘Community’ as an example of great and economical writing. It’s also highly enjoyable!

Several Short Sentences about writing – Verlyn Klinkenborg


A wonderful book for honing and refining your prose at a sentence by sentence level. Each sentence in this book makes you think; it reads almost like poetry. Every sentence has been honed until it is significant, delightful and instructive. The ideas can be absorbed not just through what is said, but also by how it is said. A book to visit and revisit, to read and reread.

Writing Without A Parachute


Of course, by the time you’ve learnt all these skills and techniques, and thought about things at a sentence by sentence level, and done all that revision, there may come a point when you start thinking – “Yes, but what about that early freshness of voice which I had?”  Writing is the balance between technique and creativity. This is a great book for developing or revisiting the creative splurge, but with rules which help to shape this writing into useful and often powerful prose.