The Book in Us All

For those with a brilliant idea for a book, James Newman reviews his own trials and a source of literary help...

I am sat in the cool, white-walled dining room of my friend and Spanish tutor’s Arequipan home. Peru is the perfect place to learn Spanish and I have surprised myself with my progress, such that I have just begun my ultimate goal - to read Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind in Spanish.


As a final test, Malena leaves to prepare some chamomile tea for our regular mid-morning break and instructs me to write my own story using the words from Shadow of the Wind that I had not understood. So, I take copper, kneeling and half-light and weave them into a story. Malena returns, reads my efforts and wants to know more.

Over the next years I keep writing, first in Spanish and then in English. I write on the park benches of Peru, in the corner cafes of Buenos Aires, in the jungle huts of the Amazon, and in the less exotic confines of a Starbucks in Gateshead. Seven years on, I have a fifteenth draft, ready to bag me an agent.


Or so I thought. The truth is, writing a book is the easy part – writing and selling a good book is hard. Agents only take on 1 in 1000 manuscripts and not all of those find a publisher. The question for me and my 15th draft was: is it any good?


"We all have a book in us..."

Now, lets rewind. The old saying goes that: we all have a book in us. You might have thought of writing a book? You might have a first draft or just a first chapter. You might have an idea but no idea how to progress it. I am going to give you some golden advice. Advice I wish I had been in possession of before I finished my first draft.


Take a breath. Seek help.


Writing should be fun and there are no rules (though you might need some rules if you want someone to buy your book). Feel free to just scribble or type away and see what happens. However, if you are like me, you will come to a point where you kind of need a plot and could benefit from knowing a little more.


This is where I am now, and I am so pleased I stumbled upon Jericho Writers. Jericho offered me a few months free membership in return for an honest review but, I had been a subscriber to their emails and tips for a while.


Jericho was started by best-selling author, Harry Bingham, and their membership offers writers access to a wealth of resources that can guide fiction and non-fiction writers at any stage of their process. The site offers so many services it is hard to take it all in! There is a wide range of video courses on writing and publishing; a townhouse community to share ideas; an agentfinder database; and numerous seminars, festivals and workshops where you can meet editors, agents and other writers to support your goal of getting your story shining and on a shelf (or Kindle).

I opted to start where I probably should have seven years’ ago, with the ‘How to Write’ video course. This is a 17-hour tour of pretty much everything you need to consider to get from idea to final draft. The course is taken at your own leisure and broken down into short modules, such as: how to write magical prose; how to plot a novel; clichés and how to kill them. Even though I have a draft, the course was equally applicable and guides you in going back and editing.


Each one of the course’s videos introduced something I wish I had known before. Great examples of how to structure your story and develop your characters are provided and having finished the course, I am left in no doubt of the key ingredients needed to write a good novel. Doing it is not the same as knowing it – but it’s a good start.


Aside from the excellent video courses on writing and publishing, they have created a community that genuinely wants to help. Subscribing to their emails will allow you access to lots of free content – including documents that can help you plot your novel or write a killer agent letter. If you do get to a stage where your novel is as good as it can be, Jericho also offers a professional editing service that can both assess your manuscript and edit it. This will increase your chances of making a sale.


Top 3 Things I’ve learned from Jericho so far:

  1. Ramp it up: your idea has probably been done, so you need to ramp up your characters and/or premise to make sure it stands out.

  2. Really know your main characters: write 100s of questions and answer them for your character. You need to know who they’d vote for, if they like fish - the details.

  3. Every chapter should change the story: movement is the key to a good story.


If you have an idea and want to take it further, give Jericho a go.

Jericho Writers offers monthly and annual membership, visit jerichowriters.com to sign up!

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