Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Simon Brett's Writing Tips

Photo by Sylvia Kent

Top Writing Tips from a Master Crime-writer: Author of three critically acclaimed detective series featuring Charles Paris

'One of the wittiest crime writers around,' says historical novelist, Antonia Fraser, in praise of versatile whodunnit author, Simon Brett. Other accolades directed at this prolific novelist and screenwriter include: 'I stayed up till three in the morning and chewed off two fingernails.' (Daily Mail) 'pure pleasure from beginning to end.' (Birmingham Post) and 'a master at subtle characterisation.' (Booklist). Surely every aspiring writer dreams of such glowing tributes from the world's media.

Simon Brett has produced three series of detective novels, each featuring its own protagonist, the amateur, drink-swilling detective, Charles Paris, a shady widow, Mrs. Pargeter and a pair of amateur female sleuths from the fictitious village of Fethering. Also a successful sitcom-writer for radio and TV: (After Henry, No Commitments, Smelling of Roses) Simon was responsible for producing the first episode of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy while working with the BBC between 1968 and 1977. His 1984 novel about a vengeful business executive, A Shock to the System, (Mcmillan) became a film starring Michael Caine. The latest book to appear on Simon's site is Blotto Twinks and the Dead Dowager Duchess, published by Constable, (2010).

What's more, he's still going strong. What is the secret of such enduring success?

Simon Brett Believes that Writing is Never a Waste of Time

With seventy-five titles now on the shelf, he admits, 'I wrote four very properly unpublished novels before I had one accepted for publication.' He hopes this will encourage new, aspiring writers, but he's also anxious to point out that no time spent writing is ever wasted. 'The more you do of it, the better you get at recognising what you should do, and, more importantly, what you shouldn't.'

'Rushing' is definitely one thing you shouldn't do, and Simon learned this the hard way, writing in his limited spare time while working as a producer. 'I had a tendency to rush at things. As a result, my files were full of the first thirty pages of novels, which is as far as I could go without any planning.' Nowadays, he will first identify ideas with potential development into works of fiction, noting them down and allowing time and his thoughts to bubble away on the back burner of his consciousness. Despite the pressure on his time, producing helped Simon with his writing as he had to edit and improve other people's writing. He learned what worked and what didn't.

'One rule I have in my writing is: if it's boring me, it's sure as hell going to be boring my readers,' he says, proving once again that the most successful writers are those able to self-evaluate with honesty. 'I'll be writing a scene that I'd planned to be a long one, and after some exchanges of dialogue, I'll get bored with it. All the points that needed to be made have been made - in less space than anticipated. This is the moment to stop the scene and move the action on.'

Writing Competitions - Absorb and be Flexible

Committed to helping other writers, Simon is much in demand as a judge of writing competitions and is generous in his feedback to hopeful entrants. His advice is to read as much as you possibly can. Listen to anything and everything on the radio, watch television. It's not idle time-wasting - it's research! It will help you identify what you like/dislike and help you develop your own style. 'Write stuff that you would enjoy reading.'

When a new idea can suddenly turn your thinking on its head, Simon Brett believes you should follow to see where it leads. He will plan what to write but will change it if he gets a better idea. 'Unpredictability is one of the recurrent excitements of writing. Those unexpected better ideas are the ones to cherish, when suddenly you're going into territory you've never been before.

It's scary but it's also a wonderfully liberating moment.

Simon's Tips for what Distinguishes a Professional Writer from an Amateur:

Accept that writer's block is not an amateur's disease but one of the inevitable cyclical rhythms of a writer's life. Sometimes it's exhaustion from a piece of work just finished, or lack of preparation for a work you're about to start.

Don't rush at the writing process - allow time and creative thought to do their work in your consciousness.

Never forget that writing is an organic process and a writer has to be flexible enough to follow where the story goes.

Remember, reading, listening to radio and watching television is research.
The instinct to make something longer is almost always bad; the instinct to make something shorter is almost always good. Everything you write benefits from editing.

Avoid elaborate covering letters when submitting your work. Don't tell your life history. Give basic information about the piece you're submitting and say you look forward to hearing the recipient's response.

Don't be disheartened by rejection - remember that every writer started out an amateur.


Brett, Simon, A Shock to the System, published by Mcmillan, 1984.
Brett, Simon, Blotto Twinks and the Dead Dowager Duchess, Constable, 2010.
Brett Simon, personal interview.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, originally a sci-fi comedy radio series, first broadcast in 1978.

Article first published with

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