Alex Call on Stephen King On Writing

There are shedloads of books out there about how to write. How to write a screenplay, how to write a bestseller, how to write a novel, how to write a children’s book, etc.

There are countless more blogs out there on writing, of which this one is just the equivalent of a tiny grain of sand on a vast beach.

But there is one book, which is widely accepted as the definitive work on the subject. Over the years, so many people have advised me to read it, recommended it, mentioned it – but I’ve never read it.

At least until recently, when I stumbled upon a copy of it during a recent undercover trip to check out the competition at Waterstones. I always make a point of looking for two books whenever I’m in a bookstore – The Uncle’s Story by Witi Ihimaera (my all-time favourite book, and I want a spare copy, just in case) – and On Writing.

Being a great believer in fate, that having kept my eyes open for it for various year, when I saw it, I bought it – even if it was from the enemy. Even the cashier said to me that it was extremely popular, and that usually when they got a copy it sold straight away.

The book is partly an autobiography – ‘this is how I did it, and this is how I do it’ – but it works for it, because there is no one way to be a writer.

There were some bits that I was completely amazed by – the bit where he talked about a book being like a fossil in the ground and all you had to do was find it, completely matches my own comparison when I talk about writing – and some bits that I was annoyed by.

Ultimately, though, Stephen King On Writing is the only book on writing you’ll ever need, because it reaffirms that you don’t learn to write fiction by reading a how-to guide.

You learn to write fiction by reading fiction, and by writing fiction.

I suppose I’d best get on with it.


No Copyright Infringement Intended

While I was writing my last blog post I was trying to remember the very first thing that I wrote.

I will apologise once again for bringing up JK Rowling, but my first piece of fiction (that I can remember) was very similar to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

I was in Year 4 of school and our teacher Mrs McAteer was arranging a class assembly. I can’t recall if there was a theme, or if it was just a loosely-connected series of skits, but I seem to remember that we were all asked to get into groups and write something that we could then act out.

We had a small green triangle, some sort of stone – green onyx or something, the type of ‘gemstone’ that one might acquire for twenty pence in a museum gift shop – as our inspiration. I can’t remember now if we were given it, selected it, or indeed if we got it from a tacky museum gift shop.

I was grouped with three friends of mine, Gary, Christian and Simon, and we came up with a story about four student wizards. We were to play a character each and we wrote the piece together, writing our own dialogue, while I naturally wrote the connecting prose – although a play, it wasn’t written in script form.

I was ‘Stupid Smee’ a dim-witted, simple fellow, Christian was ‘Jungle Jack’ a fairly average student who was actually a bad guy, Gary was ‘Scorpina Scorpion’ a foreign exchange student  and Simon was… ‘Magic Martin’

The stone – acting almost like a portkey – magically transported us across to a jungle, similar to the Forbidden Forest, where we had to fight a Voldemort-like dark wizard who wanted the stone to help him live forever, much like the Philosopher’s Stone.

In Smee we had Neville Longbottom, Scorpina was our Ron Weasley, Martin was our version of Hermione and Jack would have been the equivalent of Malfoy.

We were Harry Potter without Harry Potter.

Thinking back, I found myself amused by just how much like Harry Potter my untitled first project was…. And then I remembered, I was in Year 4 in 1995 – two years before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published.

I now can’t help wondering if JK Rowling ever visited a small primary school in Swindon, and watched a group of eight year olds pissing about in a school assembly.

I’ll let her off – I’m sure no copyright infringement was intended.

The Blue Continues

A poem I mentioned in my previous blog post, I wrote this during the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – I have not edited it since it’s original form. I don’t know much about poetry, but for me it is about expressing a feeling, and I feel that  poetry is less about it being a perfectly written piece of prose – and more about the feeling being conveyed.

As such, a poem in it’s first form is when it is at it’s most powerful. It means something to me, but it may mean something else to you, and so I present it now, without explanation


The blue continues

My heart beats on

This Day

This Day

This Day

But I will wait no more


The world goes round

The hummingbird flies

His love

His love

His love

But I will wait no more


Seasons soar

The ground below

My soul

My soul

My soul

But I will wait no more


The roses grow

The moonlight fades

Our time

Our time

Our time

But I will wait no more


A moment in time

A baby’s smile





And I will wait forever

I Was A Teenage Fan-Gurl

Forget Harry Hicks and Memories of a Murder – have I written anything else? What follows is a brief, almost-complete list of other pieces that I have written – or attempted to write.

Schooldays Are Such Fun

One of only two poems that I have written in my career thus far, this was a piece of forced creativity from my English teacher – Mrs Walker. Every member of the class was given the heading ‘Schooldays Are Such Fun’ and asked to write a poem to fit the title.

I still remember part of me rebelled at the thought of poetry being manufactured in this way, and so I wrote a poem about a boy who was bullied all through his school career, an experience which lasted with him all the way into his adult life, and ultimately his suicide.

Mrs Walker praised me highly, and she gave it a reading to the whole class, as well as putting it in pride of place on the wall. The reason it’s important to me, is Mrs Walker was probably the first person to read a piece of my work and declare that I might have a future in writing – and from an English teacher no less. I was thrilled.

I’m sure somewhere, I still have a full copy of the poem – I know I published it to an old LiveJournal account some years back – but I still remember the opening (and closing) verse:

Schooldays are such fun,

Schooldays are so great

What could be better

Than anger, pain and hate?


All Rhyme, No Reason

One module of my coursework for my English Language A-level was to write an original piece of fiction of approximately a thousand words in length. This told the story of Mary and Steve and their new friend Luke.

The story is told from Luke’s point of view and starts when Steve wakes up in the forest ‘as naked as the day God made him’. That was literally the first line – and there were several other examples of these subtleties throughout the story which signaled the surprise twist that this was actually the story of Adam and Eve – told through the eyes of the snake.

Luke/Lucifer spoke only in rhyme, which was quite a fun challenge – and to write the story without revealing too soon just what it was about.

I got 98% for that piece of coursework, but even now I still feel slightly concerned that I tried to pass it off as ‘original’ when it was basically a rip off of the first few chapters of the oldest story in the world.

Into The Darkness/A Series of Unfortunate Valentines

For a while, I channeled my creativity into writing fan-fiction for Angel the spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, obsessed as I was at the time with the beautiful Charisma Carpenter.

I do still have these, and I likely won’t be sharing them, but my reason for mentioning them is that Into The Darkness – a piece set at Cordelia’s funeral where Angel is comforted by a vision of Cordelia herself – is probably the best thing I’ve ever written. Slightly cheating, as it relied on over eight years of back-story to achieve the emotional pay-off.

A Series of Unfortunate Valentines was a challenge I set myself, and tracked ten different Valentines days throughout Angel’s long history. My main challenge was to write this one man throughout his whole history in all his different moods, and I taught myself a lot about characterisation during that. But also, each of the ten sections was written in a different style, including one where – recognising early on my over-reliance on dialogue – that contained no speech at all.

Both pieces were invaluable in terms of teaching myself to write and I’m not ashamed of them, but for a while there, I was a FanGurl.

The Blue Continues

Several years ago, while watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button I was so bored that I turned to writing poetry. The Blue Continues was partly inspired on the scenes I was being subjected to (truly an awful film, although a great idea). I do still have that, and I will post that in the near future.

There have been others, but these are probably the four most important ones, and almost certainly the only completed works in my catalogue.

The only other pieces in existence are half-hearted attempts at starting new novels with new characters. All of it is in my head, and much of it is in notepads and books that are lying on my bedside table.

Hopefully, they will be used again, in some form or another, because there are some great (even if I do say so myself) ideas in there.

Lastly, I feel like I need to end this post with an apology for my misleading use of the word ‘brief’ in the opening paragraph…

It’s Been Four Years!

 One of the reasons it took me eight years to write Memories of a Murder was because at the time of starting it, I was still in school. After that, college and then work – in short, life got in the way.

I worked in a shop and I got two days off a week – Sundays and a day during the week. I used Sundays to catch up with family and friends, which left the day in the week and evenings to write my novel.

To be honest, that day in the week was a write-off. I would sleep in until late mornings or early afternoons to recover from the previous long days, and I’d just want to switch off and do nothing. I’d end up just watching TV, or going shopping.

Then I got a job in an office, and suddenly, I had my weekends back. I was able to regain my energy, meet up with friends, and then still have some spare time in which to write. In short, I had a routine back.

Most of Memories of a Murder was written between 2007 and 2010, although the plot had been worked out prior to that, and in addition there have been some minor edits since.

Part of me now thinks – ‘It’s been four years! What have you done since then?’ and the truth is, I’ve not done much in the way of writing.

There are plenty of excuses, for a while I was a touch disillusioned with writing, I travelled to Australia for the best part of a month, I joined a book club, I met my best friend, decorated the flat and most of all work got incredibly busy. All of these led to more of my spare time being eaten up, leaving me less and less time for writing.

To be fair, there was still time to write, but with all that going on, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Writing is a horribly slow process, mentally – if not physically – exhausting. Even the most prolific of writers take six months to write a novel – on average, that’s about seven hundred words a day, assuming you get everything right first time and there’s no editing.

Taking the odd hour here and there was not going to deliver much quality writing, and so more often than not, I just didn’t write.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t write anything at all. While I was in Australia I managed to write about ten thousand words of my second book (there were a lot of planes and coaches involved!) and in the follow summer, I also wrote around five thousand words of Harry Hicks’ history – which may never go anywhere, but at least tells me more about the character.

On top of that I wrote eleven thousand words on an altogether new novel. Although, that one is parked for now.

One of my todgers (Incredibly popular Twitter game #ReplaceLodgerWithTodger invented by me. NB, may or may not be popular) once told me I’m too sociable to write, and maybe that’s true, but what’s also true is that a story won’t be told if you’re telling it wrong.

I made the assumption four years ago that Harry had led a successful life since the end of Memories of a Murder, however that created a false world, which made it difficult to pin down the motives of the characters involved. Now, I’ve realised that his life went down a different route and it’s helped me make sense of the how the plot progresses from there.

This realisation has coincided with a fairly relaxed period in my life, one where I’ve managed to pin down a proper routine. I’m finally ready to start telling Harry’s story again.

Storyteller, Storyteller, Tell Me A Tale

The obvious question that is asked by my previous blog posts is “Ok, so you’re not a writer, you’re a storyteller. Well, what stories do you tell?”

I have created countless characters and plots in my head over the years, that there isn’t enough space on the internet to write them down, but the one story that has dominated for me has been that of Harry Hicks.

The idea for Harry first appeared, back in December 2002, when there was a misunderstanding about something at a family Christmas Day meal. I’m not even sure what the issue was – but I do remember it bringing quite a frosty atmosphere on the day for some period.

That is until it was explained that what had been a perceived slight on one person’s part to another person was, in fact, completely innocent and not intended at all.

This idea that reality is dependent entirely on the perception of the person experiencing it was not a new one, but it was new to me at the time. I came up with the idea of a murder mystery which presented the facts of an event from various points of views, all the facts in the story would be presented, but they wouldn’t connect, wouldn’t be resolved until the end.

That idea bubbled under while I sat my GCSEs and then started work and college. Then one day, I was re-reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (pretty much everything I do will connect back to JK Rowling at some point or another) and it struck me, how intricately plotted and rich the Potter world was. Specifically, the mentions of Sirius Black and Mrs Figg in the opening chapters of book one, despite not actually making appearances in the story until books three and five respectively.

I was in awe. I wanted to be able to write some massive mind-bending complex plot that was both entertaining and impressive. Something, that with the last chapter of the last book tied up everything and referenced back to something from the very first chapter of the first book.

It was at this point that the idea of the murder mystery came back to me and the story of Harry Hicks and the Cromwells was born. Originally dubbed the imaginative Family Affairs this would be a complex novel with hints dropped in the very first sentences and red herrings littered about all over the place. It would take careful potting.

About eight years and over a hundred thousand words later, my first novel was finished. And it had gained a new name in the process

Memories of a Murder is my first fully-fledged novel and involves rising superstar Harry Hicks visiting his boyfriend’s family home for Christmas (about the only thing left from the very original idea is that it would be set at Christmas), and while they’re there, the patriarch of the Cromwells, Ernest is brutally murdered, with every guest a suspect.

I immediately started writing a second novel continuing the adventures of Harry, but that’s another tale, for another time…