Do readings without having anything to sell

Dear readers,

If any of you are in or around London on Wednesday 25th August, I’ll be performing a live show based on this blog at the Homework literary cabaret night in Bethnal Green. I’ll be reading a few blog posts, dispensing advice on becoming a better bad writer and generally lowering the tone. It’s at The Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, 44-46 Pollard Row, London E2 6NB and it only costs £3 to get in. If you like the sound of that, please do come along.

All the best,

PS. I do not regard “living on a different continent” as a valid excuse.

Use your prose to showcase your poetry

‘What are you working on, Pen?’ He leaned over her shoulder to look. Penelope put her hand over the page.
‘It’s nothing. It’s just...’ She paused, too shy to reveal what she had been writing. ‘It’s kind of a poem.’
‘Let me see.’ He picked up the paper and started to read. ‘My God,’ he gasped, after a few seconds. ‘This is amazing.’
‘No,’ she mumbled. She could already feel her face flushing.
‘I mean it,’ he said. ‘You’re an amazing poet. The best I’ve ever read, and I’m the poetry critic for a national newspaper. This is nothing short of genius.’
‘Honestly, I didn’t think anyone would be interested,’ she said, modestly.
‘You must read it to me,’ said David. ‘I could never do it justice. I need to hear it from you. Out loud. In full.’
‘Well...’ said Penelope, blushing. ‘Okay. Here goes...’ As she read the poem, the whole world seemed to fall silent as new layers of consciousness were opened by her words:
O! My aching soul aches for the refreshing touch,
Of crystalline water my soul too refresh,
Like a dry frog jumping in a pond after sunshine to much,
Our thought’s and feeling’s and live’s now must mesh.
The silver moon high up above us in the dark, black, night, sky,
Is like a silver light in the sky so black,
It hangs up above so very, very, very, very high,
It rises in the night and in the daytime it goes back.

Equate physical beauty with virtue

Dash Gallant stood over the cowering traitor, his dark eyes twinkling with disappointment. He ran a muscular hand through his thick, luscious hair.
‘I never thought it could happen,’ he said. ‘A double agent for the Mhal-Evol’Unt high command in my own engineering team. I trusted you, Sleezely.’
‘You don’t understand,’ mumbled Sleezely, spit dribbling from his cleft lip. ‘I didn’t know...’
‘You didn’t know what?’ snapped Dash, his perfectly chiseled jaw suddenly taut with anger. ‘You didn’t know you were broadcasting my shield frequency matrix? You didn’t know you were leaking classified information? Seems there’s a lot you don’t know.’
Sleezely wiped the sweat from his pimply brow and tugged at his lank moustache with one malformed hand. He was squirming with discomfort, his withered leg shaking uncontrollably beneath him. Dash shook his perfectly-proportioned head in pity.
‘I should have known never to trust someone so ugly,’ he said, placing one slender yet powerful finger on the airlock release switch.
‘No, pl– pl– please!’ stuttered the lopsided midget pathetically.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Dash, with a compassion that shone through in his rueful, heart-melting smile. As the hatch slammed shut and the airlock spat its physically repulsive contents into the emptiness of space, the moderately attractive engineers who had gathered to witness the confrontation breathed sighs of relief.

End with an unexpected moral

Digory Dog closed the door of his tumble-down house behind him and sat down in his favourite chair.
‘Thank goodness that’s all over,’ he sighed.
‘It was quite an adventure,’ squeaked Mousemouse. ‘Let’s do it again!’
‘Oh, Mousemouse,’ Digory Dog laughed. ‘You always want more excitement, don’t you?’
‘More more more!’ said Mousemouse, waving his little paws in the air. ‘More adventures! More mysteries! More fun! I’ve got to have more! More!’ He was shaking now, his little eyes wide and slightly bloodshot.
‘Mousemouse!’ Digory Dog said sharply. ‘Stop it!’ There was an awkward silence. ‘Look,’ said Digory. ‘I think it’s time you admitted you have a problem. This is getting out of hand.’
‘I just love adventure,’ said Mousemouse quietly.
‘It’s an addiction and you need to seek help,’ said Digory Dog. ‘You’re not just hurting yourself, you’re hurting those around you.’
‘I know,’ whispered Mousemouse, covering his face with his paws. ‘I know.’ He was crying now, tiny mouse tears of remorse splashing onto the floor beneath him.
‘Come here,’ said Digory, hugging Mousemouse to him. ‘It’s going to be okay. You’ve taken an important first step.’

Make it hard to distinguish between characters

Christopher, head of molecular biology at ICSBS, was just coming to the end of a long day in the lab. He was about to hang up his goggles and go home when he heard a knock on the door. He looked up. It was his friend and colleague Chris – who, as the head of biological sciences with a particular interest in molecular research, was his immediate superior.
‘Hi Chris,’ said Christopher. ‘I was just leaving.’
‘Me too,’ said Chris. ‘As soon as I’ve found Christine. Have you seen her?’
‘Christine? She was here earlier.’ Christine, a molecular chemist with a head for biology, was one of Christopher’s closest colleagues. ‘Have you asked Christof?’
‘Christof?’ asked Chris. ‘Is he the new guy?’
‘Yes,’ said Christopher. ‘He’s heading up the biochemical molecular engineering division, which means Krissy might be heading for chemical bioengineering.’
‘Doesn’t she have more of a biomolecular chemistry background?’
‘No,’ said Christopher. ‘I think you’re thinking of Krystal.’

Fail to see the funny side

The Doctor sat down and removed his glasses.
‘I’m afraid the situation is very serious,’ he said. I scanned his face for clues.
‘Is it...’
‘I could’t be sure until we had the test results.’ He pinched the bridge of his nose, then replaced his glasses and picked up the sheet of paper in front of him. ‘Mr Baumgale, I’m afraid I have bad news. You suffer from a rare condition affecting the gastric system and lower digestive tract.’
‘What does that mean?’ I asked, quietly.
‘One of the main characteristics of the disorder is chronic, uncontrollable flatulence which, combined with the associated diarrheic hyperactivity, could cause you quite intense discomfort.’ He put the paper down and sighed. ‘There’s really nothing we can do.’
‘But...’ This was the news I had been dreading. ‘But... My ski-jumping career...’
‘I’m afraid not, Mr Baumgale.’
I blinked to hold back the tears. I knew what this meant. The lycra bodysuits, the pristine white snow, the lucrative promotional deal advertising Bran Flakes – all of it was gone. I could feel the bottom falling out of my world.
‘Oh, I... You’ll have to excuse me,’ I said.

Make light of tragedy

By the time the family had gathered their possessions, it was close to lunchtime.
‘I’m hungry,’ said Becky. ‘When are we eating?’
‘Certainly not any time soon,’ joked her father, jerking his thumb at the soldiers. ‘Unless they want to share their rations with you!’ The family laughed.
‘Not likely,’ said Ethan. ‘Besides, I hate German food.’
‘Hey, I heard that,’ said the nearest soldier, smiling. ‘Right, no bratwurst for you!’
‘No thanks!’ laughed Ethan.
‘Right, that’s enough chat,’ said the soldier, patting Ethan on the head. ‘It’s off to the holocaust for all of you. And hurry it up, you crazy kids. I’ve got a busy day’s genocide ahead of me.’

Risk the narrator’s life

As I dangled from the precipice, I felt absolutely certain that I would die. My fingers were slipping slowly but inevitably from the ledge and with no one else for a hundred miles in every direction, I knew for a fact that there was no hope of rescue. In fact – and I don’t mind telling you this now, in the warmth and comfort of my own home – I had fully accepted the fact of my own death even before I lost my grip and went hurtling into the abyss below.
As dictated by cliché, the entirety of my life unfolded in my mind’s eye, from birth through childhood to early adulthood and finally to this, my final, fatal misadventure. As I tumbled through the air towards absolutely certain death with no hope of a reprieve, I found a strange kind of peace. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that my days were at an end (to the extent that if by some highly unlikely miracle I was to survive, it would be so unfeasible as to to be virtually an insult to any hypothetical audience who might be observing me). I was a goner and I knew it.
Before I continue my story, may I refresh your glass? Are you quite comfortable enough? Excellent. Now, on with the tale...

Assume prior knowledge

He lifted the object and examined it. It was the same as it had been that time before, just after the event which had changed his life. Just thinking about it sent a chill down his spine, for obvious reasons.
‘So,’ he said, ‘what do you think?’
‘Same as always,’ she replied with a shrug. He nodded. The things they had experienced together in the past shaped their current relationship in exactly the ways you would expect. He placed the object back where it had been before he picked it up.
‘Some things never change,’ he said.
‘Everything changes,’ she said, just as she had on that one occasion before. He felt the same way about it now as he had back then. Would the same thing happen this time? He already knew the answer.


Each absorbed in their own silence, they gathered around the coffin! The pale grey light of morning slanted through the window and lay in a distorted square across the dark wooden surface!
‘So!’ said Peter! ‘I’m glad we could all make it!’
‘Of course!’ said Cassie, quietly! ‘You think I’d stay away?!’
For a moment, no one said anything! The air conditioner hummed quietly!! All eyes were on the coffin, long and dark in front of them! Peter seemed to be about to speak, but paused, then just shook his head! Michael took a step back!!
‘It’s time to go!’ he said!
One by one, they turned and walked slowly to the door, each pausing before they left to glance, one final time, at the last home their father would ever know! Peter was the last!! He looked back into the room and nodded once, curtly, before letting the door close behind him with a click!!!

Find the bone mote

As he sat discomfortably on the chase lounge, Dan realised he was the centre of attraction. Something was a rye. He had a feeling that in this particular click, he was to be the scrapegoat. Had it been wreckless to come into this den of thiefs? If the worse came to the worse and the yolk of responsibility rested on his shoulders, wherefore would he turn for assistants?
When he had set out on this long sojourn, he’d known it would be risqué, but no one had appraised him of just how risqué, or even eluded to it. Even if they had, he would of been suspect of them having an anterior motif. But that was a mute point now. These viscous criminals would test his medal irregardless of weather he wanted them too – he just had to keep his moral up in the mean times.

Burn through your plot

Ben, who had grown up in foster care without any idea who his real parents were, or even if they were still alive, woke up early and had toast for breakfast. He had got dressed and was just about to leave for his job in the registry office, where he helped to bring order and certainty to other people’s births, marriages and deaths, thus fulfilling an unacknowledged psychological need on his part, when he heard the letterbox rattle.
When he had read the letter, which contained the name and address of a woman who the investigating agency had deduced might be his birth mother, he went to the train station instead of going to work and set out on a journey to find this woman. As he travelled, he met various people and encountered various situations which made him remember details of his early life. It was poignant.
Finally, he arrived at the address and met the woman named in the letter and they talked at some length before it became clear that she couldn’t be his mother after all. It’s possible that he would never find what he was looking for but maybe, after all these years, the search itself was more important than the answers he might one day find.

Use onomatopoeia to make your writing pop

Susie knocked – thunk thunk thunk – on the door. After a few moments it opened with a creeeaakk...
‘Susie Thirskiss, I assume? Salutations,’ hissed a lisping voice.
‘Uh... I... Uh...’ stu-uttered Susie. From inside the house, she could hear a metallic clanking clatter. ‘I don’t know if–’ CLUNK ‘–I have the right–’ CLUNK ‘–address,’ she said.
The man behind the door coughed out a low, rasping laugh – kakh kakh kakh – and grinned. He waved a hand in front of him – swooosh!
‘This address,’ he said, with a twinkle in his eye (blingadingading), ‘is always the right address.’
Susie’s heart had been beating fast – badabump badabump – but now it sank – psheeeeeeew – as she realised – ding! – the horrible truth – RAAAAAAGH!