Research, Litfests and How to Make your Book Happen

antiquitiesSeveral months have gone by, and what have I been doing? I’m not sure, time goes so fast, but I have been researching my next novel – by doing a course in art crime and the illegal trade in antiquities – and it’s fascinating, if rather sad. I haven’t got to the art crime yet, but what I have learnt is that antiquities are stolen from historic sites in places like South America and Cambodia, to feed the appetites of rich collectors, which is a tragedy and travesty in many ways.

First, the items are now ‘out of context’, so even if they are subsequently recovered and returned to their country of origin, vital knowledge of their heritage has now been lost. Secondly, much of the money made in this illicit industry is made by the people at the top of the chain, when they sell the items to wealthy collectors, whereas the people on the ground (literally!) are often subsistence diggers who work for pitifully small amounts to feed their families.

It’s a fascinating, but difficult story, and I’m looking forward to learning more. Fortunately, nowadays, more museums and galleries are becoming aware of the need to be vigilent when receiving artefacts and art treasures. This is SO important, because while there is legislation in some countries, which goes some way towards limiting such trade, there is no international legislation or policing to protect such treasures.

The course I am doing is on FutureLearn – which is an amazing resource for a whole variety of online learning opportunities – from the power of colour to England in the time of Richard III. And the courses are free. Check it out.

Eventbrite banner for York Making your Book Happen eventChanging the subject, I’m running some writing workshops over the next few months. The next one is in York, on 13 March and is called Motivation & Moving Forward: how to make your book happen. It’s for writers with a work in progress, who want to complete, and are in need of help with motivation or practical issues. The last one was great fun, and what better place to have a writing workshop, than in lovely York.

Do come along if you’re in the york_night-writing-workshop-bingarea and the workshop interests you. Full details can be found here, and there are discounts available.

Speaking of great places to go, the next workshop is in equally lovely Stratford-upon-Avon, on 25 March, and is on writing for magazines – both non-fiction & short stories. You can find out more here.

Going back to York, for a minute, the writing workshop is three days before the York Literature Festival – also worth checking out if you’re in the area. In fact, with so many litfests (one in Stratford-upon-Avon in April, and one in Hawkesbury Upton, near Bath also in April – I’m reading at that one), it’s a wonder I’ll have any time to do any writing at all…

Hawkesbury Upton LitFest web page


The Floozy in the Park: history, hats and small islands

The Floozy in the Park by Ellie StevensonAt last! My third novel (ebook version) is finally available.

You can find it on Amazon.

But what’s it about, you ask? Oh, all the usual things, mystery, history and the occasional ghost. We also have an unsolved murder.

But rather than tell you all about it, read my interview with Jane Davis (author) on her blog.

And if you have any questions, please get in touch below.

Obea (Sark)

All on Board at the AsparaWriting Festival, Evesham

Heather Wastie, Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn & Fergus McGonigal

Heather Wastie, Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn & Fergus McGonigal

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of reading at the Aspara Writing Festival in Evesham, as part of the Open Mic event.

It was a great afternoon, with an eclectic mix of poetry and prose, with readings ranging from sad to humorous and everything in between.

Polly Robinson

Polly Robinson

Readers included J J Franklin, Debbie Young, David Penny, Alan Durham, Polly Robinson and many more. Here are a few images to give you a taste of the event and the great line up.

As well as a selection of excellent pieces we were lucky to enjoy fantastic work from Worcestershire’s poet laureates – incoming and outgoing, Heather Wastie and Fergus McGonigal.

David Penny

David Penny

Thanks to all for a wonderful time, and especially to coordinator, Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn – I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Jenny Heap

Jenny Heap

Ellie Stevenson

Ellie Stevenson

Alan Durham

Alan Durham

Debbie Young

Debbie Young

Tim Stavert

Tim Stavert
















Want to share this post on Twitter? Here’s a suggested tweet for your timeline:

#thehauntedhistorian attends #AsparaWritingFestival, hears some great writers & meets 2 Worcestershire poet laureates

Article written by Ellie Stevenson, author.
This article is copyrighted material. A brief extract, including a link to this site can be quoted but the article must not be reproduced in full anywhere without the author’s written permission.

Start as you mean to go on: writing first lines

laptopI’ve recently started my third novel (14,000 words so far), and that got me thinking about writing first lines. About why they mattered, and what they meant, and also what makes a good first line.

Why should you care what your first line is?

You want to make an impact – a great first line will hook people in and get them interested, make them read on.

It can also help establish a voice – maybe the voice of the main character, or, if your novel is a crime novel, perhaps that of the killer or victim.

‘Five weeks after Kirsten Waller’s body was found in a clifftop cottage in Cornwall, Grace Hobden cleared away the lunch, checked to make sure her three children were playing on the climbing frame at the bottom of the garden, then went indoors to murder her husband.’ (Joanna Hines, The Murder Bird, Pocket Books, 2007)

The above tells us that Grace Hobden, despite apparently planning murder, still cared for her children and was tidy and meticulous. In that one first line we are already getting to know Grace.

Strong first lines can sometimes surprise; make the reader stop and think and wonder Why?

‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ (George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Penguin Classics, 2013).

And sometimes first lines contain the whole story – its essence, its meaning, or give a subtle hint of the ending. Or maybe not so subtle.

I’m cheating here because in the example below, technically, there is more than one line. But the lines are short so maybe that’s okay. In Ship of Haunts, my first novel, Carrin starts off saying, ‘Not every girl gets stalked by a ghost. Or haunted by a ship. The ghost was called Lily but the ship came first. It always did. The ship was Titanic. I drowned on that ship.’

Here, these lines tell us that Titanic is key to the novel, that Titanic sank (we all know that!) and that Carrin died on the ship. But how did she die if she’s telling the story?

First lines can also set the style of the novel – serious, humorous, etc. Here, for example:

bookshelves2‘I turned the Chrysler onto the Florida Turnpike with Rollo Kramer’s headless body in the trunk, and all the time I’m thinking I should have put some plastic down.’ Victor Gischler, Gun Monkeys, Dell Publishing, 2003). Obviously a grim theme, but with a touch of humour, nevertheless.

Writer Francine Prose says that the first line has two roles: to get your attention; and to transmit all the key aspects of the novel – emotion, language and theme. Being a mystery writer, she says, requires the writer to analyse every word in that first sentence and make it work, make it count and have meaning.

Quite a tall order.

Some first lines just invite us to read on.

‘Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write. (Ruth Rendell, A Judgement in Stone). A great writer and a great loss.

‘In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.’ (Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter) You want to ask why they were always together.

‘It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.’ (Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar) Grim, but memorable.

Of course, in the end, your first line, whatever it may be, has only to be right and a good fit for your work, and one you’re happy with. But, in my opinion, it should be simple, striking and lead you into the next phase of the story.

But, don’t agonise so much over your first line that you never get to your second and your third. Your job is to write; perfection comes later…


Bunting, Joe. 7 Keys To Write the Perfect First Line of a Novel.

Reading Exercise: Top 10 Opening Lines of Mystery Novels on Los Angeles Mystery: Casebook of an Asian American Detective

By the way, the Hawkesbury LitFest in April was great – lots of writers, lots of readers, lots of fun. Those who missed it can always attend the August Hawkesbury Horticultural Show, where as well as fruit, flowers and veg, there will be readings from authors. Pray for good weather!

Article written by Ellie Stevenson, author.Ellie Stevenson, author

This article is copyrighted material. Brief extracts including a link to this site can be quoted but the article must not be reproduced in full anywhere without the author’s written permission.

Want to share this post on Twitter? Here’s a suggested tweet for your timeline:

#thehauntedhistorian Beginning your #novel How to write a great first line. #amwriting

Get a Backbone – structuring your novel

Are you a ‘seat of your pants’ writer? Or do you plan your novel with meticulous detail, including outlining all the chapters before you start? Or maybe you’re just not sure what to do.

Last week I produced a post on Structuring the Novel – looking at why structure is important and outlining some tips and tricks you can use. You can read the piece here.

And while you’re on Shelf Help, have a look at some of the other articles – there’s lots of useful information and advice. Finally, remember the most important part – write!

The Emotional Cost of Writing a Novel (OR, why we don’t always follow our dream)

Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisEveryone’s got a novel in them (so they say).

Some people even start to write it. Maybe that’s you.

But so many writers never finish, go on to the end. What makes you stop?

There are any number of excellent reasons.

    • You ran out of words
    • Your wife/husband has broken a leg, so you’ve got to get a job
    • You’ve already got a full-time job and it takes up your life
    • The kids are playing up
    • You have kids
    • Somebody said your novel was rubbish
    • etc, etc

Just a few dozen reasons why you’ve stopped, and each one of that list could be true. Some probably are. So that’s why you’ve halted in the middle of the thing. Right?


The real reason you’ve stopped is FEAR.

Somebody didn’t like your work – or maybe you thought they didn’t like it. Maybe they won’t like you, either, maybe their view of you will have changed. It could be true.

But the worst critic isn’t out there – s/he’s in your head, and will always be. Writing a novel fills you with doubt: your book’s no good, maybe you’re no good, maybe you weren’t meant to be a writer, not like all those ‘proper’ writers.

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

But notice, I said, writing a novel, not writing a book.

Writing any sort of book, or an article even, can cause the sorts of doubts I’ve mentioned. Doubting your ability to do the job, to put words on paper, to undertake research and to get the job done. But a novel brings an extra challenge.

It’s about your writing, and about how you’re seen, but it’s also about how you think and feel. When you write, especially fiction, long fiction, which gives your subconscious time to work, your inner critic and all sorts of demons show up to play. Showing you who you really are.

All sorts of things rise to the surface, to be dealt with, transformed, things you never knew you felt. Which can be a very uncomfortable process. No wonder we never finish that novel. Do we want to face who we are? Of course we don’t. But it’s not all bad.

Some writers, the ones who make it, revel in the process: might try their shadows out on the page, take those voices and channel that fear, all the apprehension, into their work. The subconscious mind is a vast resource of rich material waiting to be used. It can make you feel a little unsteady, but used properly, you never need fear writer’s block, and your true voice will emerge from the darkness, leaner and honed. And as for the demons, the chances are they’ll fade with time, as they rise to the surface, are changed on the page.

Transforming you, and creating a marvellous work of fiction. It’s not easy.

But then, remember, if you wanted easy, you shouldn’t be trying to write a novel.