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The Road to Writing Renown



The Road to Writing Renown

If you needed an operation would you put yourself into the hands of a surgeon who didn’t have the necessary knowledge, experience and qualifications? It’s highly unlikely. Yet when we choose a novel to read we don’t question the level of education of the author.

How many people have written successful books without first achieving recognised literary qualifications?  The answer is too many to mention here and some of them are well known literary names.


Sir Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015. British science fiction and fantasy novelist, famous for his Disc World series, he finished his formal education at high school. He is quoted as saying ‘I didn't go to university. Didn't even finish A levels. But I have sympathy for those who did.’

With sales of over 85 million books in 37 languages under his belt, he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1998 and was knighted for services to literature in 2009.  He has also won numerous other awards for his work. Surprisingly only a handful of his work has made it to the big screen.


George Bernard Shaw 1856-1950. An Irish–British playwright, critic and novelist, he attended four schools and hated them all.  He finished his education at high school level and from then on taught himself. He later wrote ‘Schools and schoolmasters are prisons and turnkeys in which children are kept to prevent them disturbing and chaperoning their parents. Unsuccessful as a novelist he turned playwright and wrote over 60 plays. Perhaps his most famous play was Pygmalion which was turned into a movie of the same name and also a famous musical entitled My Fair Lady.

Shaw became the leading dramatist of his generation, and in 1925 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.


Ernest Hemmingway 1899-1961 was an American novelist, short story writer and journalist. His best known works are, A Farewell to Arms,For Whom the Bells Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, the latter won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. He left high school and continued his education by reading anything he could lay his hands on, for hours at a time in his bed. Much of his work inspired films. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954.


Jane Austen, English Novelist 1775 – 1817. She wrote Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma and others. Her schooling ended when she was 10 years old because her family could no longer afford the boarding school fees. The remainder of her education came from reading.  Jane began writing very soon after finishing her schooling.

Her novels have rarely been out of print and all of them have been turned into films or adapted for television production.


Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012. American novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, screenwriter and poet, he graduated from high school and ended his education at that point. He said: ‘Libraries raised me. I don't believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don't have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn't go to college, so I went to the library 3 days a week for 10 years.’

Ray Bradbury is famous for his novels Fahrenheit 451, The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles.  Many of his novels have been made into movies and TV series’.

He was nominated for many awards for his works and won over 20 of them. In 1992 a newly discovered asteroid was named 9766 Bradbury in his honour.


Doris Lessing 1919 – 2013. British-Zimbabwean novelist, poet, playwright librettist, biographer and short story writer. She declared her intention to be a writer at the age of 11. At 14 she left school due to illness and never went back.  She said: "I didn't have any proper education or qualifications, so I had to be a writer. What else would I have done?"

Doris wrote over 25 novels of different genres covering social issues, psychosocial issues and some science fiction. Her novels include: The Grass is Singing, The Golden Notebook, Shikasta, Alfred and Emily and The Good Terrorist . Her work has inspired a number of films and she was awarded numerous honours. In 2007 she became the eleventh woman and the oldest person ever to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 2008 The Times ranked her fifth of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.


Charles John Huffam Dickens 1812-1870. Recognised as a literary genius, he was probably the greatest novelist of the Victorian era despite the fact that he never won any awards for his writing. His schooling ended when he was 15 due to the fact that his father was sent to debtor’s prison and he was forced to work to help his family.  The terrible working conditions he suffered influenced much of his work.

Charles Dickens published a number of major novels. The titles are so renowned that I really don’t need to mention them.  He also wrote novellas short stories, a handful of plays and several non-fiction books. His novel Oliver Twist was turned into a very successful musical, Oliver. Time Out magazine ranked it the 69th best British film ever.


It would seem that to be a successful writer, all you really need is a passion for the language you write in, determination, a vast amount of imagination, a thick skin and the ability to spin a darned good yarn.

Whether you swotted for a Creative Writing BA at university, or not, where will your writing road take you?

Step Away from the Desk Tags: writing colour senses

I love the autumn colours. Walking around at the moment I often stop and look at the trees, or a few scattered leaves on the ground. Having lived in Hong Kong for seven years where the definition of seasons is less defined (and there are far fewer deciduous trees), it feels like I’m experiencing this for the first time. I hope the novelty never wears off.

Recently I’ve read that colour is a good detail to add into a story and where better to draw inspiration than from the nature around us. Even if you’re not experiencing the autumnal colours like me, I’m sure there’s plenty of colour to find if you look in the right places. In Hong Kong, there was always colour everywhere, which made it easy to overlook, but you can try walking a different route, see something (as if) for the first time. Stop, take out a notebook and jot down a few lines about it, go home and write about it in detail.

As I peg out the washing in the early morning, there’s often dew on the grass, sometimes I can see the plumes of my breath as I chat to my children. The sun is now noticeably lower in the sky, casting different shadows, and effecting the light. Fewer daylight hours evoke different feelings in people, many negative, and this in turn can be used in a variety of ways. Squirrels dart around the garden and that makes me think of animals hoarding food for the winter, and others preparing for hibernation.

I think it’s easy when we’re working on a story, or a section of a novel, to get stuck inside; whether that be physically inside our homes, or the places where we choose to work, or stuck inside our heads. I’ve never been a big one for exercise, but am starting to see the benefits of spending time away from the desk. Sometimes a quick walk allows me to formulate a sentence or paragraph or story that I’m struggling with and sometimes I see something completely new that I just know will one day make it into a story.

So, get up and out. Just don’t forget to take a notebook and pen with you.

A Novel is Not Just for November
Category: Writing
Tags: writers abroad online writing community nanowrimo novel writing first drafts

If you've been around the writing circuit for some time, you'll know all about the annual writing challenge known as NaNoWriMo. Short for National Novel Writing Month. It takes place in the month of November and the idea is to write 50,000 words within the month. It started way back in 1999 with 21 participants and last year, in 2017, the challenge attracted over 400,000 participants.

Now there are some who are sceptical of the challenge; 50,000 words for instance does not necessarily make a novel but that's not the point. Well, not for me anyway. As with most writing advice and suggestions, it's all about what suits the individual. I have taken part 7 times and achieved the goal five years out of those. And from those words I've produced at least three (and a bit) full length, self-published novels and working on a fourth. So, I guess it works for me.

The challenge is getting that dirty first draft onto paper with the notion that it will not be the polished article­ – it will be the beginning of something.

The month of October has been deemed as the preparation month; put some thought in now and during November all you have to do is write the words. Here are some of the tasks you could be thinking about to make sure that your NaNoWriMo goes as smoothly as it can.

For Your Story:

  • Ideas – well at least one would be a start!
  • Character Development - get to know your major players at least
  • Plot - at the very basic a Beginning, Middle and End
  • Scene list - as brief or as detailed as you like
  • Timeline - rough sketch or detailed
  • Research – especially if you write in a genre which demands realistic facts or world building if you prefer the stuff you can make up

For Your Life:

  • Menu Planner – for main meals; have a cook and freeze fest so you don’t have to think about it
  • Other Work Must Do's – lots of us have other commitments, how can you clear your desk for the month ahead?
  • Play List – Like to listen to music as you write? Put together some inspiring music to help you along
  • Friends and Family – tell them what you are up to and how they can support you
  • Goodies – Chocolates, wine, a good film; whatever floats your boat and will serve as a treat when you hit that word count

For me, it's about motivation over a concentrated period of time. And having proved to myself that I can do it during November, well then I can achieve it any month of the year. If I put my mind to it.

Remember: A Novel is not just for November.


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