To Plan or not to Plan…

Andrew Norriss Guest Blog for Young Writers on Monday 9th March 2015

To Plan or not to Plan…

The actress Sarah Miles has a story of how she wanted to find out what her husband actually did when he disappeared off to his study for hours each day. He was Robert Bolt (world famous screenwriter) and she knew he was busy ‘writing’ but… what did that involve exactly?

So she got a ladder, climbed up to the window of his room on the first floor, and peered in. There he was, sitting at the table with his typewriter, and she watched as he typed for a bit, then stopped, pulled the paper out of the machine, screwed it up and threw it in the bin. He put in fresh paper, typed a bit… then took it out and threw it away. She stayed there half an hour and that was what he did. Again, and again.

I could have told her that’s what she’d see. Because that’s how I spend most of my day. Except I have a computer and a delete button instead of paper and a bin. It’s how all writers work. They write stuff, look at it, throw it away, and then write it again. And again. And again…

It always makes me laugh, when I see a ‘writer’ in some Hollywood movie sit down, type the words ‘Chapter One’ and just start bashing away until they’ve done 500 pages which they send round to a grateful publisher. I mean… that’s not how it works! A book has to be constructed. Before you start, you need a story arc, you need to know who your characters are, you need to know how your main theme will build to a final crisis, you need… you need a plan!

At least, that’s what I thought.

It was only when I started meeting other writers that I discovered there were some – not many, but some – who did no planning at all. They had an idea and, just like in the movies, they sat down and wrote, blindly trusting that their intuition would lead them through the narrative to a satisfying conclusion.

Listening to them talk, I was intrigued enough to think that it might be worth trying it myself, just to see what happened. I had had this idea about a girl – I called her Jessica – slowly realising that the reason everyone is ignoring her is that she’s dead. I had no idea how she’d died or what was going to happen to her, but… what would happen if, instead of working out a plan, I just started writing?

So I did. I sat down each day and pretty much wrote whatever came into my head. No planning, no story arc, no worrying where this whole thing might be going…

And the weird thing was that it worked. Sort of. The story that came out is pretty much the one you can read in Jessica’s Ghost and… and I liked it. In fact, I thought it was rather good.

…The only trouble was, it was very badly written.

Which is why, if anyone had peered in through the window while I was working on the umpteenth draft of Jessica’s Ghost, they would have seen me, sitting at my computer, writing for bit, then deleting it, and then doing the same thing again.

And again.

And again.


Many thanks to Young Writers for originally hosting this piece as part of the Jessica’s Ghost Blog Tour. Do have a look at their brilliant website which has advice, resources, recommended books, author interviews and encouragement for writers of all ages, and teachers and parents too.

Edoardo, Edwin and Oswald…

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Edoardo, Edwin and Oswald…

EdwinOswald by Edoardo AlbertEdoardo-Albert1

I am a writer’s wife and one of the roles I have taken upon myself is to check online for any mentions of the writer, and that is how I discovered the wonderful writing of Edoardo Albert. I found Edoardo’s reviews of my writer’s books on Goodreads. They were so perceptive and beautifully written with wit, wisdom and originality. In particular my writer was astounded that Edoardo described exactly the way he writes (’with not a single spare word – achieved by boiling the word stew down until only the strongest broth remains’), and picked out the very essence of the story that he had wanted to convey. With delicious serendipity, by passing on our thanks and appreciation to Edoardo via Twitter, a connection was made and we were fortunate enough to discover Edwin and Oswald, Books 1 & 2 in The Northumbrian Thrones Series.

I have to admit to some trepidation when Edoardo generously sent us copies of Edwin and Oswald. We know many writers and I try to read their books, but mostly they are not the style of story or writing that I enjoy and so I keep quiet and have certainly never attempted to write a review. Imagine my relief and great delight when I started Edwin and loved it from the very first paragraph. I immediately felt at home and in safe hands. This was a writer I could trust; beautifully told stories that are so readable; the barest descriptions bringing alive another time and place; characters who feel so real. Without any emotional manipulation I cared about the lives of people from long ago and on occasion wept. Edoardo has the gift, as my writer does too, of writing without long descriptions and yet making pictures in my head. I don’t understand how they do it but it works. I admit to images from Game of Thrones appearing in my head when reading Oswald!

Edwin and Oswald are the best historical fiction; wonderful stories that give a complete view of life in those early times including religion, and the gradual change in beliefs and values. Christianity which has played such a large part in our history is subtly integrated as a natural part of people’s lives. I found it most interesting to read about its introduction and the effect it had on people’s lives and thinking. Oswald is such an interesting character as he wrestles with convention, family and tribal expectations, and the growing feeling that there might better way to live and rule. Beautifully done.

When I got to the end of Edwin in a very short time I was just so pleased to have Oswald to hand. Bernard Cornwall said Edwinleaves the reader wanting more’, and I would add so does Oswald! The only thing that could have made these books better is if there were more of them and I look forward to Oswiu, Book 3 in The Northumbrian Thrones Series in the future.

Edoardo Albert has a great gift for words and story telling that I could never begin to emulate
so enough of me,
go and read his books. They are a real treat. @thewriterswife

Buy the books

My review of Edwin

My review of Oswald

Goodreads Reviews of Edwin and Oswald

Edoardo Albert’s Website

Lion Hudson PLC

Anglo-Saxon and Viking Northumbria

Goodreads: Edoardo Albert’s reviews of Andrew Norriss’s books, works of art in themselves…

Jessica’s Ghost:So, let’s start a review of Andrew Norriss’s new book by talking about Alan Garner. Yes, that Alan Garner -‘
The Unluckiest Boy in the World: ‘Andrew Norriss is, in fact, The Unluckiest Author in the World. In any sane society a writer who consistently produces such unfailingly delightful books for children would be lauded and applauded, hailed…’
Ctrl-Z: ‘If, in the immortal words of Cher, I could turn back time, what would I do?’
Aquila: ‘Wonderful story. Two boys – united by friendship and a determination to pass through school entirely unnoticed -‘
Aquila 2: ‘Tom and Geoff’s adventures with Aquila, the Denebian escape pod they discovered in the first book, continue.’
The Portal  ‘I’ve now read six of Andrew Norriss’s books and I think I know what his work is about: every story I’ve read has been a drama of the good.’

Edoardo, Edwin and Oswald…


Click on this link Oswald Blog Tour Poster to see a larger clearer version and you will find me on Saturday! I am honoured and don’t feel up to the task but I shall do my best. I shall reveal more anon…

Visits from the Black Dog

By Andrew Norriss

Back in the days when I had regular visits from the Black Dog – the phrase Churchill used to describe his occasional bouts of depression – what really pigged me off was the lack of any objective reason for it all. If I had been in chronic pain, or unjustly imprisoned, you could understand it, but I faced nothing like that. In fact one of the worst bouts came when, on any rational basis, I appeared to have everything I had ever wanted. It is called, I am told, ‘endogenous depression’. Depression without any apparent cause.

Alan Garner, in a brilliant essay on the subject, describes how he was overcome one day by ‘the blankness of me and the blankness of the world’ and then spent two years, twelve hours a day, lying curled up on the settle in his kitchen, unable to do… anything. I remember my sense of guilty relief on reading that. How reassuring it was to know that others had been through something even worse than my own experience, and yet survived.

A lot of people go through life without ever meeting the Black Dog, but many of us get to know him all too well. It can start at an early age and is, I am told, affecting an increasing number of children in today’s pressured society. Not that I’d want to use it as a topic in any of my books of course, any more than Alan Garner did. I mean… who’d want to read a book about being depressed?

Andrew NorrissAnd then, to my considerable surprise, this was exactly what turned out to be a theme in Jessica’s Ghost. I hope that doesn’t put anyone off, because it’s not as grim as it sounds. If all I had done was express the thought that life can be a bit of a bugger at times, my story would not have been one I wanted to read myself. But, fortunately, my characters were smart enough to find a way out of the abyss and the book is mostly about how they did it.

You don’t have to be an expert on mental health to know there are no slick and easy answers to the problem of depression, but there do seem to be a few consistent signposts to the rescue ladder. One of them is the power of loving friendship. Alan Garner describes how his children would gently stroke the back of his neck as they passed through the kitchen. In my case, the rock on which I rested was my wife. With the young people in my story it’s the support they give each other because they’ve all been to the same dark places and know what it’s like.

It also helps to know that the clouds will not last forever. This may be difficult to believe at the time, but moods are like the weather and the sunshine will one day return. As it did for me. And as it did for Alan Garner, who woke one day to find his depression had vanished as mysteriously as it had arrived. And that is what he reminds himself, when he hears the ‘tinkle of ice bergs’ heralding its possible return. That the mood will pass.

It’s important to remember that.

It will pass.

Published in The Bookseller April 20, 2015.

Jessica's Ghost by Andrew Norriss

Oswald by Edoardo Albert

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Oswald by Edoardo Albert

Oswald by Edoardo Albert

Oswald is the second book in the series The Northumbrian Thrones. After the death of Edwin, who slew his father, the young prince Oswald seeks to regain the throne.

Oswald is a tremendously good read!

Having read and enjoyed Edoardo Albert’s book Edwin: High King of Britain I am delighted to say that, Oswald: Return of the King (Book 2 in The Northumbrian Thrones series) is just as good. These beautifully written stories bring to life a period of history of which I knew nothing in a most convincing manner. I feel enriched by reading these books and am left wanting to know more of the time and the area.

As Oswald is the second in the series it is probably best to read Edwin first but it is not essential as there is an excellent explanation of ‘events so far’. I also really appreciate the dramatis personae, glossary and author’s notes all of which go to make this a most satisfying book.

This is not dry or worthy history but the story of people’s lives, loves and families, feuds, battles and power struggles, based in fact and full of atmosphere. I love this style of writing – the minimum description necessary to convey a convincing world. Life then is simple in many ways compared to ours and yet so complicated when it comes to land, gods and gold – much as now I suppose… As with Edwin I got the feeling that if a time machine took me back there I would recognise my surroundings and have a good idea of how to behave, eat dress, talk. I can see it all clearly in my head but without having had long detailed descriptions to plough through.

I have read many books over the years and become an increasingly fussy reader. I rarely find books now that completely draw me in as Edwin and Oswald have. I don’t like emotional manipulation or contrived tension in books and Oswald had neither, but there was one section in particular that left me almost breathless with excitement and unable to stop reading until I knew the outcome. How extraordinary that it is possible to care about the people and outcome of distant historical events!

As a Christian I was interested to read about the early days of Christianity in these Isles which is so subtly written as an integral part of the history and lives that I can happily recommend Oswald to our devoutly atheist son. He won’t feel preached at in any way and it might help him to understand the appeal of Christianity and the impact that it had and has on some people’s lives without trying to convert him.

Spoiler Alert! It is tempting to go online for pictures and more info about people and places but I recommend waiting until the end of the book. I looked up someone only to find how and when they died before I got to that part of the story and wished I hadn’t!

I am pleased to see that there will be a third book Oswiu, in The Northumbrian Thrones series, and although I’d really like to read it now, I hope the publisher isn’t tempted to rush it out before the author has time to write it to his satisfaction. As a writer’s wife I know that a good book needs time to write and redraft in order to get to the best it can be. I am happy to wait until Oswiu is as excellent as Edwin and Oswald.

My review of Edwin

Edoardo, Edwin and Oswald

Edoardo Albert’s Website

Goodreads Reviews

Visit Northumberland

Lion Press

Anglo-Saxon and Viking Northumbria

Buy from Amazon, Wordery, LoveReading

Edwin by Edoardo Albert

 Buy the books

Edwin by Edoardo Albert.

EdwinEdwin is the first book in the series The Northumbrian Thrones.

The book Edwin by Edoardo Albert was a gift in more ways than one. I do not usually read historical fiction, but having been given this book I had to give it a go and I loved it. It has opened my eyes to what good historical fiction can be like. From the first page the world of the 600s AD comes alive with the lightest descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells. Scenes, characters and conversations are all completely believable. I felt that if I shut my eyes I might open them to find myself back in time – perhaps Edoardo Albert had a previous incarnation in early Northumbria!

Having found myself in the past, I was captivated by the wonderfully adept storytelling of the events of Edwin’s life. Such a ripping yarn! I was completely caught up in the lives and families, friends and foes, conspiracies and battles. The very idea that 30 men was a large army I found extraordinary. There was no avoiding the pretty savage nature of the times and the unpleasant things that happened on occasion but neither was there any glorifying or excessive description. The well balanced writing combining plot, language, description and emotion brought the events to life so well for me that I have to admit to a tear near the end for this High King who lived in such a different time and place from me. I also found it most interesting to read about the spread of Christianity in these islands at that early time.

I was glad to find a dramatis personae, map and glossary at the front, and having looked up the occasional character and event to look at illustrations on line, I was completely reassured at the historical accuracy and I am in awe at the reading and research that Edoardo Albert must have done to be able to produce such a fine story of Edwin’s life and times.

I am not a writer (although a writer’s wife) and feel slightly embarrassed that I should even try to put into words my feelings about this book except to say that I enjoyed it hugely, am about to start Oswald, Book Two of The Northumbrian Thrones, and look forward to more in this wonderful series in the future.

My review of Oswald

Edoardo, Edwin and Oswald

Edoardo Albert’s Website

Goodreads Reviews

Lion Hudson PLC

Anglo-Saxon and Viking Northumbria

Buy from Amazon, Wordery, LoveReading

Thoughts on a Challenging Read…

Those of you who have read Andrew Norriss’ books will know that they are enjoyed by any age. There is no swearing or violence, nothing gritty or urban. Here are his thoughts on challenging reads and how Jessica’s Ghost is a little different to his previous books. With our thanks to Kirsty.

Thoughts on a Challenging Read ….
You know how, when you pick up a book and read the blurb on the back, there are certain words which act as flashing red lights warning you that this one’s not for you? more

Jessica’s Ghost – a book review for #worldbookday

Cubik's Rube

There’s a new book released today – on World Book Day, no less! – called Jessica’s Ghost, by Andrew Norriss. It’s a book which you should buy for any young people you know, but also read it first yourself before you give it to them, so that you get to read it before they do. It’s the Book of the Week over at Books for Keeps, and hey, I’ve just decided it’s Book of the Week right here at Cubik’s Rube as well. That’s two major plaudits in one paragraph! The buzz around this thing is electrifying.

It’s the latest book from a successful and long-standing children’s author with an impressively hefty back catalogue, who’s won various awards for his writing over the years, but more importantly is also really good at it.

(Any resemblance between his surname and my own is purely non-coincidental.)

So, here’s the…

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Children’s Book Giveaway!

Win a signed copy!

Win a signed copy!

To celebrate the publication of Jessica’s Ghost by Andrew Norriss I am giving away signed copies of Andrew Norriss’s books. To win a signed copy of Ctrl-Z all you have to do is follow @thewriterswife on Twitter or fill in the contact form below. Winners will be announced on Saturday 7th February.

Spread the word as far as you like as the more people who enter, the more copies I shall giveaway!

To find out more or to read an extract from Ctrl-Z click here.

Andrew Norriss–The Unluckiest Boy in the World (2006) [audio book]

I Just Read About That...

[LISTENED TO: August 2014] The Unluckiest Boy in the World

unlkcyMy kids enjoy just about any audio book, but I try to find ones that seem funny (and age appropriate for both of them).  For reasons I’m unclear about, it seems like most of the audio books that are age appropriate are British or Australian–either they release more audio books, or that’s just what my library orders.  So we wind up listening to a lot of British readers (I think my kids can tell a British accent now).

I didn’t know anything about this book (or its author) but the title sounded great and the age was appropriate.  We listened to it on our trip to Michigan, and it was a perfect length to fit near the end of our arrival.  Boy did we like this book.  There are so many funny unexpected moments.  And the story has…

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