Wednesday, 11 March 2009


I can't remember precisely what prompted me to buy this book in 1995. I was working on a thriller - but why this particular book and not another handbook? I can't remember. But I'm glad I did.

It cost me a tenner - my MA cost me fifteen hundred quid - I wish I'd had this before, during or even instead of the MA.

First published in 1986 it's been through a few editions - I bought the 1994 edition - and was on sale at this years's BCNegra festival, so someone else must think it's worthwhile.

This book proffers good, no-nonsense basic advice that holds good for writing in any genre. However, its tone will irritate and alienate sensitive types. Tough love drives this book.

The book takes writers through the process of writing and publishing a thriller, from fleshing out the concept to checking the contract. The text is littered with anecdotes such as:

'A Nobel laureate once told me that, within a six-block radius of the bar we were in, there were a hundred better writers than either of us. ... The difference between us, as published writers, and them, as unpublished writers (perhaps not even knowing what fame they could be missing), was merely that we sat down and wrote a page every day or ten pages or some other immutable number, and didn't stop until we reached that number - and they didn't.'

Why do I rate this handbook as highly? Well, it gave me a kick up the arse when I needed it, and I found the chapters Breathing Life into Characters, Writer's Blues: breaching the blocks and The Power and the Pain: cutting and re-writing especially useful.

'A writer writes - it's axiomatic.'

I keep the book within reach and refer to it when I'm experiencing problems with flow or forward motion.

This book prompted me to buy André Jute's Writing Proposals & Synopses That Sell.

Do you have any how-to-write a thriller handbooks you would recommend? If so, please leave a note of them in the comments. Thanks.

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