Creative Writing Articles – from me and other authors


It turns out I’ve had good many and varied things to say about the art of creative writing in the years since my first novel was published. I also continue to find other authors’ perspectives invaluable as I continue to learn how to improve my own craft as an author.

Here’s a good range of reading for you to browse and dip into at your leisure. The listing is in roughly reverse chronological order, which is to say, the most recent pieces are linked at the top, the oldest at the bottom, and I’m including guest pieces by me which have appeared elsewhere.

Below that you’ll find links to guest posts from other writers which have appeared on this blog.

And do find the time to check out The J.R.R. Tolkien Lectures on Fantasy Literature, an annual series on fantasy, sci-fi, and other speculative fiction, held at Pembroke College, Oxford. The Pembroke College MCR generously make videos and podcasts of these lectures available.

2019: Marlon James, author – ‘Our Myths, Our Selves.’
2018: Victoria E. Schwab, author – ‘In Search of Doors.’ 
2017: Susan Cooper, author – ‘A Catch of the Breath’
2016: Terri Windling, author, editor, and artist – ‘Tolkien’s Long Shadow: Reflections on Fantasy Literature in the Post-Tolkien Era.’
2015: Lev Grossman, author and journalist – ‘Fear and Loathing in Aslan’s Land.’
2014: Adam Roberts, author and academic – ‘Tolkien and Women.’
2013: Kij Johnson, author and academic – ‘Inaugural Pemroke Lecture on Fantasy Literature in Honour of J.R.R. Tolkien.’

I’ll aim to update this page every so often…


My thoughts

Sex and violence in your writing. When, why and how?

Thoughts on writing and publishing, from me and others.

Let’s talk about second and third tier characters.

Not at a SF&F convention this weekend? You can still enjoy some genre chat and debate

What the black scientist Rufus Carlin brings to “Timeless”

“Journeys”, “The Road to Hadrumal”, and a story’s journey

If you’re going to tell lies, what’s your justification?

Mental health in fantasy fiction – where to draw the lines and how to do the colouring in?

The balance between basics and breaking new ground. An underlying principle common to aikido and to writing.

When the end is nigh, take another look at your characters’ “victory conditions” My guest post for Gail Z Martin, as we swapped thoughts on ending a multi-volume series. Her own article is in the guest posts from other writers collection below.

Why knowing the history of history is vital for any writer drawing from the past Epic fantasy fiction is often accused of being backward looking and reactionary. The danger of this certainly increases when those who write it are working from outdated historical source material.

Just what is a trope and what should you do with it? My guest post for Kate Elliott’s Worldbuilding Wednesdays blog series.

“You can teach craft but you can’t teach talent.” Exploring the reasons why this is perhaps the single most useless creative writing cliché.

My guest post for Charles Stross’s blog “Warlords and eunuchs and slaves, oh my! Picking the problematic for The Aldabreshin Compass” Why I deliberately chose to include elements to challenge readers.

The importance of thinking about ‘local values’ when you’re writing. Because your personal definition of ‘normal’ may well not apply for your characters or your readers.

Getting Feedback – A Novel Concept. Guest post for the SciFi Fantasy Network, explaining how failing to get published twenty years ago taught me vital lessons on the importance of feedback which led to The Thief’s Gamble.

Western Shore. Mapping the Aldabreshin Archipelago and Beyond The bit of world building where I break out the coloured pencils and tackle physical geography.

Learning to Let the Seeds of a Story Ripen When is the right time to write it? Sean Williams’ guest post for me prompted this piece which I wrote for his blog.

Here Be Dragons! Northern Storm’s new cover and associated thoughts

Building the world of The Aldabreshin Compass

There’s a point to ‘rainbow sprinkles’ for writing and ice cream. This is one of my posts on equality and diversity in SFF – you can find those rounded up here

Mythmaking Where There Are No Myths. A particular worldbuilding challenge, discussed over on Laura Anne Gilman’s website.

How Writers Write. My contribution to a series of posts over on Tony Ballantyne’s blog.

Let’s Hear It for the Quiet Girls Because we need more than the faux-male model of heroine.

The Heroine Question Alyx Dellamonica asks me some very interesting questions on her blog, in another series of posts well worth browsing.

Light and Shade in Epic Fantasy Fiction versus Grimdark Unrelenting and universal misery is as unrealistic as non-stop rainbows and kittens.

The Classics, Science Fiction and Fantasy. Looking back is as important as looking forward.

Language problems for time travellers – the ones we don’t see.

“Don’t Do What’s New, Do What Never Gets Old.” Is This Good Advice For Writers?

Heroes are hard to write – and The Warrior’s Bond has two of them…

What Do Female Villains Do That Bad Guys Don’t?

Where are our Female Villains?

Religion in Einarinn. Another bit of worldbuilding that’s a lot more complex that it might seem at first glance.

Names Need Their Rough Edges Knocked Off My guest post for the “Names: A New Perspective” blog series.

Serial Thriller – How Writing “The Ties That Bind” Has Been A Whole New Experience

The Swordsman’s Oath. ‘Oh, it’s not Livak telling the story!’ No, and here’s why.

The Art of Writing Fantasy a guest post for Forbidden Planet International in which I discuss using visual references to inspire my writing, up to and including early cover art of my own books!

On Irene Adler and outrage (and influences and Charoleia)

Do you ever get writer’s block? No, but I do get stopped dead. Not just about writer’s block but also on the relationships between real-world death and violence, and writing.

The Uses of History in Fantasy

War? What is it good for? If the answer is absolutely nothing, why is it so central to the epic fantasy genre?

“That girl looks like trouble!” The distinction for me between writing epic fantasy as a feminist and writing Feminist Fantasy.

It All Depends On Your Point Of View Looking at the six-fold narrative in The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution.

Blood in the Water? Where does it come from? Where does the modern writer, living in peace and prosperity get inspiration for the blood, sweat and tears of hand-to-hand combat?

But Don’t You Just Make It All Up? Because people can be quite surprised when I mention doing research as a fantasy writer.

The Art of Writing Fantasy Is your story the one you cannot bear not to write? Does thinking about it consume your idle moments? Do you lie awake at night worrying about bits that aren’t working? Thoughts on the passion you’ll need to create a story that inspires passion in others.

Lost in Translation A few thoughts from my first experiences of having my books translated.

Caution – Construction in Progress A few thoughts on character building.

How to be Edited – A Personal View Invaluable early lessons I learned on the value of someone else’s perspective.

How to be Original and Still Get Published Thoughts on genre fiction’s very own Catch-22. By the way, this is one of those more-than-a-decade-old articles and those submission statistics I quote date back to circa 2000. The numbers have gone up every year since then!

Fantasy? But that’s just rubbish about elves and dwarves and stuff… Thoughts on why what looks easy can turn out to be horribly difficult…

On the Fifth Day of Our Journey Looking at the conventions of quest fantasies.

World Building The eternal challenge!

Three Facets of Fantasy Writing My life as tabletop gamer, live role-player and novelist

Guest Posts


Guest post – Juliana Spink Mills on a winter’s journey.

Guest post – Dan Jones on his “Journeys” story

Guest Post – E.C. Ambrose on the challenges of getting the words right in a historical novel

Guest Post – Gaie Sebold on Villainous Pleasures

“I Dream of Genie” Guest post by Lisa Tuttle, on searching for family history

Guest post from Gail Z Martin – When The End Comes “So how do you wrap up a series in a satisfactory way, and in today’s digital publishing world, is goodbye ever really forever?”

Guest post – Zen Cho on ‘My Year of Saying No’. On being inspired by Jonathan Strange as she wrote her first novel, and also as she deals with life now it’s in print.

Jacey Bedford on whether she writes SF or F? And how the twists and turns on her road to publication influenced this.

Tricia Sullivan on World Building and the Kobyashi Maru. Thoughts from a gamer’s perspective

“Death by a Thousand Shortcuts” according to Sean Williams. Taking the long view.

Laura Anne Gilman on the origins of ‘Silver on the Road’.

Kameron Hurley on Building Enigmatic Gods in Fictional Worlds.