Monday, 16 September 2019

The non-advice column

Author Steven Cooper on Advice for Writers: where to go (and not to go).

The Non-Advice Column
Post by Steven Cooper

Advice and expertise are two different things. It will be easier on all of us if we just accept that. Anyone can give you advice. Ask your mother. Or your Aunt Betty. Or Cha-Cha Marie, your chihuahua. I’m guessing your chihuahua is not an expert on writing fiction, and I’m not all that sure about your mother or her sister, Betty. They’re lovely people, of course, but when you ask them to give you feedback on your manuscript, remember that unless your mom is Anne Lamott you’ll likely get a lot of opinion and not a lot of expertise.

Everyone has an opinion, and opinion often comes out in the form of friendly advice. Writers don’t have a lot of friends, so forget friendly advice. Especially from your “friends” on social media. This is where so many new writers turn for help. Every day I find all kinds of writing advice on Facebook and Twitter. The twitterati is practically gushing with all the Dos and Don’ts of writing fiction. Write what you know! Do sex scenes! Don’t do sex scenes! Adverbs are evil! Dead body on the first page! No dead body on the first page! First person! Third person! Never write in present tense! Limit yourself to 2 POV only! No, 3! No, 4! Write as many POVs as you want! Your editor won’t care.

Your editor will care. Your editor will care very much if your writing is completely informed by what you learn from entirely unvetted sources on social media. Social media can be a swirling pit of bad advice. Avoid it. That’s my non-advice advice.

My other non-advice advice is to find someone who is further along in the publication process who you feel might have some bona fide expertise to offer. This might sound like a daunting proposition, but this is where you must get off your butt and network. This is when you go to writer’s conferences and workshops and build relationships with people (real people, not twitter or FB handles). This is how it works. You listen to people on panels. You go talk to those people. You exchange business cards. Now you’re in business. You’re building a network of people whom you might be able to trust with your writing questions. Some will prove to be worthy, others not. But you don’t need an entire glossary of experts to guide you. 

I know that writer’s conferences and workshops can be expensive. Do you know what aren’t? Books. You’ll find some of the best expertise on writing in books about writing. There are heaps of them. Some great, some not so great. I can’t possibly publish a list here of all the greats, but I’ll suggest a good batch to start with:

Stephen King, On Writing

Anne Lamott, bird by bird

Ursula K Le Guin, Steering the Craft

Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel

Colum McCann, Letters to a Young Writer

Strunk & White, Elements of Style*

William Zinsser, On Writing Well

*this is your Bible, treat it as such. You will need to refer back to it often. What do you mean you don’t have it?

So, now that you’re done reading the batch above, I have another suggestion: read, read, and read some more. Find a book by your favorite writer. Read it three times. That’s as good, maybe as effective, as meeting your favorite writer and asking for advice. The proof is on the paper. You want to know how it’s done? Observe how it’s done. Over and over. The more you read, the more will resonate. Every book is like a lecture on writing. Even the bad ones. The bad ones tell you what not to do. Don’t read too many bad ones, though. They will make you angry that bad books get published.

Here’s my final piece of non-advice advice: Maybe this isn’t the time for you to worry about expertise. Maybe you need some more time to improvise. Who am I to crush your spontaneity? I am nobody. Go wild. Take an adventure. Get that stuff out of your brain and onto the paper. Put your dead body on the third page and your sex scene on the first. Sprinkle adverbs liberally (Stephen King will vomit because he famously hates adverbs) then kill them just as liberally. Write in first-person present tense, or past tense, or future tense. Who the f-ck cares? The point is: just write. Worry about seeking expertise when you’re done with the first draft. Seriously. Just write that shit down. Asking for expertise or, God forbid, advice before you’ve written a first draft is just procrastination by any other name. If you’re just looking to procrastinate, go have lunch with your mother. Or take Cha-Cha Marie for a walk. Give my love to Aunt Betty. 

This article first appeared on the Crime Thriller Hound website.

Former investigative reporter Steven Cooper’s latest Gus Parker and Alex Mills novel, Valley of Shadows, is out now.  

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Stanley Middleton Celebration

Thursday 1st August, Celebrating the Centenary of Stanley Middleton's birth

Sherwood Library at noon, including the launch of Poetry and Old Age.
Then, at 1pm, a new Blue (Sherwood Green) Plaque will be unveiled at his former home, 
42 Caledon Road (a short walk from the library)

LISTEN to Dr. David Belbin and Prof. Philip Davis talk about Middleton and his writing on BBC Radio Nottingham (Skip to 2h.07) 

Monday, 8 July 2019

NUCoL Collaborative Board Meeting

Want to find out more about Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature and meet the people who make it happen? Then read on...

Every summer, NUCoL holds an annual open meeting to report back to the city on their plans and what they’ve been doing for the past year. This Saturday the NUCoL team will answer your questions and hear your ideas about Nottingham’s role as a UNESCO City of Literature. This year's meeting, which will also be attended by members of the NUCoL’s collaborative board, takes place on Saturday July 13 at 1pm at Nottingham Mechanics ( on North Sherwood St.

The meeting is expected to be ending by 2.30pm. Please come along, meet the team, hear what they’ve been doing and find out more about NUCoL. There will also be opening the call for a Nottingham writer to join the NUCoL’s board of trustees and this will be an opportunity to find out what the role involves.

Big City Readers' Day Fri 12th


Friday July 12th is Big City Readers’ Day, with four of the featured authors appearing between 9.30am and 1.00pm in the Council House Ballroom.

As part of Nottingham's first ever Big City Reads campaign, you can join us as we celebrate the power of reading for pleasure in this special readers’ event, co-produced by Nottingham’s 14 Young City of Literature Ambassadors.

Welcoming a selection of authors from the four books featured in the campaign, the event will feature a blend of author readings and discussion/creative activity and will be of particular interest to individuals/organisations engaged in working with young people and literacy projects in the community.

Confirmed authors (so far) are Alice Oseman (Heartstopper: Volume One), Natalia Gomes (We Are Not Okay), Catherine Johnson, Ayisha Malik (A Change Is Gonna Come)

IMPORTANT: Tickets for this event must be booked in advance online, as none will be available at the door.

Link for tickets:

What Is The Big City Reads?

Four books, championed by our young ambassadors, have been nominated for distribution to libraries, schools and cultural venues across the city, ready to fill neighbourhoods with stories that speak to what it is to be alive in 2019: engaging with the voices, themes and issues of our time:

A Change Is Gonna Come - Anthology

We Are Not Okay - Natalia Gomes

Heartstopper: Volume One - Alice Oseman

The Boy Who Lied - Kim Slater

The books have been available for free and feature positive messaging that explores relevant, experiences, including assets such as reading guides to encourage discussion, debate and a deeper exploration of the diverse stories found within them.

Why Are We Doing This?

We want to celebrate reading for pleasure and encourage everyone in Nottingham to pick up a book. We believe there is something for all communities to connect with in our selection of books and want to champion the range of voices and experiences of our readers. This is also a timely opportunity for us to shine a spotlight on our young readers in a campaign co-produced by them, championing what they are reading and why.

For any queries around this event or the Big City Reads campaign as a whole, please contact our Programme Manager, Jim Hall:

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Football V Literature

In 2014 Nottingham was named the first UK City of football. A year later, Nottingham became a UNESCO City of Literature, a permanent title. But which accolade do we most deserve? That question was answered at last Sunday’s Ey Up Duck event at the Canal House.

I presented a strong argument for each title. Kicking off with football I began with Forest’s first great player Sam Weller Widdowson who came up with the first formation, invented shins pads, helped introduce the whistle, refereed the first match with goal nets (the first player to put the ball in the back of the net was a Hyson Green man playing for Everton), facilitated the first night matches (using gas light then electricity) and founded the amateur cup. Cloughie was then given the full ‘top one’ treatment before the focus shifted to Nottingham’s shaping of Italian football, our current obsession with the game, and the rise of girls' football in the city.

As for literature, I explored how our radical writers have changed the world with their words, looking at how we influenced the American constitution and the UN Declaration of Human Rights, how we presented the first coherent theory of evolution, how the Chatterley trial impacted on censorship, and how working-class characters have been represented. Writing of many forms was highlighted including the role our journalists, scriptwriters and poets have played in making us a city of literature, and how we have led the way in children’s reading with the first children’s library, Mee's The Children’s Newspaper and Children's Encyclopaedia, Trease, Howitt, and our current writers and plans for the future.

The audience were then asked the question, are we a city of football or a city of literature? and a vote was undertaken. The result was a resounding win for literature with about 75% of the audience deciding that Nottingham is a City of Literature.   

Monday, 1 July 2019

Masterclass with Megan Taylor

Fiction Masterclass with Megan Taylor
Thursday July 11th 2019 at 7pm - 9pm
Join Weathervane Press in the elegant surroundings of Newark's Carriages café, on the platform of Newark Castle station, for an evening with widely published local author Megan Taylor. With three novels already out, plus one on the way, a short story collection, and stories regularly winning competitions and featuring in literary magazines, Megan will offer the benefit of her experience, read from her work and answer any questions. 

After the interval she will give a taster creative session where you will be encouraged to fire up the imagination, develop an idea and produce a short piece of work of your own.
All proceeds for Newark-based charity Think Children.
Tickets cost £7.50 and can be purchased in advance from Think Children by calling 01636 676887, emailing Sarah at or at Carriages Cafe.
Ticket includes a filter coffee or tea. Fully-licensed bar available.
The event will be hosted by Newark publisher Weathervane Press and all proceeds will be donated to Think Children.
Please note there are no parking charges in the station car park after 6pm for Carriages customers

BIG City Reads

A brilliant new project launches today which aims to encourage everyone in Nottingham to get reading.
Books are appearing in a host of unusual and wonderful places from July 1st. Four special titles, selected for their suitability for teenagers and upwards, and championed by Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature’s Young Ambassadors, are available for free – you just have to find them!

The city’s collective page-turners are:

A Change Is Gonna Come – an anthology
We Are Not Okay by Natalia Gomes
Heartstopper by Alice Oseman
The Boy Who Lied by Kim Slater
Clues to the books’ whereabouts are being left on social media via the hashtag #BigCityReads

A tip: you might want to try Five Leaves Bookshop, Broadway, Rough Trade, Nottingham Contemporary, Metronome, Nonsuch Theatre, Jam Café, Dice Cup Café, Sobar, New Art Exchange, Zero Latency, CRS, at Nottingham Beach and Splendour.

If you find a book please celebrate the fact with a photo. And, after you’ve read it, pass it on to a friend. You can even submit a review of the book to the City of Literature website.

There is to be a Meet the Authors event taking place on Friday July 12th at the Council House, with the books’ authors all in attendance (tickets can be booked HERE).

Big City Reads 2019 is supported by generous grants from Arts Council England and Nottingham Hospitals Charity. Key partnerships include Nottingham City Libraries and Nottingham Education Improvement Board.

Jim Hall, Project Manager of Nottingham Big City Reads said “Big City Reads is a unique chance to collectively celebrate the power of reading for pleasure. We are excited to create a dialogue throughout the city of the stories matter to our communities, encouraging everyone to track down a book, read it, then share how it made them feel using our hashtag #BigCityReads.”

For updates, follow @Nottmcityoflit , Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Website #BigCityReads