Tips For Writers from Sally Nicholls, Author of ‘Things A Bright Girl Can Do’

Today on Heart Full of Books, we have the pleasure of hosting a spot on the Things A Bright Girl Can Do blog tourIf you haven’t heard of TABGCD, we’ll give you all you need to know: it follows three girls and their fight for women’s votes. They come from vastly different economic backgrounds, and two of them even fall in love. Gay Suffragettes, I mean, come on? Do you really need to hear anymore? If that still hasn’t convinced you to check it out, then know that Louise O’Neill (as in Louise O’Neill, author of deeply feminist and totally kick-ass Asking For It and Only Ever Yours) is calling it:

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Now, you’re all caught up, Sally Nicholls has some writing advice to share!

Sally: Most of these tips are very boring – you’ve probably heard them a thousand times before. That’s because the business of writing a book is boring. If anyone has ever told you to only write the book you NEED to write or if it’s hard, you’re doing it wrong, then those people don’t know the first thing about writing. Writing fiction is like any other long project; a report, a dissertation, a house refurnishment, a revolution. It takes a long time. Sometimes it’s boring. Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes you hate it. I tell kids in schools it’s like doing the same piece of English homework every day for a year. Because sometimes it is.

  1. Writers don’t own time-turners. I know, gutting right? But they don’t. Writers have families, and jobs, and elderly parents, and social lives, and partners, just like you do. I’ve lost count of the number of people who tell me they don’t have time to write, and it always makes me want to shake them. Do you have time to see your friends and partner? Read books? Watch television? Surf the internet? Cook dinner? Then you have time to write. Neil Gaiman famously wrote Coraline in fifty-word chunks in the time he would otherwise have spent reading before bed. I have a friend who wrote her first novel while at home with two small children, on the basis that she was going to be this busy for the foreseeable future, so she had to do it now or never.
  2. Make writing one of the most important things in your life. I’m not saying it has to be the most important thing, but it should definitely make your top three. When you have a spare half an hour, writing should be a very strong contender for what goes there. I like to blame writing for my messy house and unwashed dishes, but let’s be honest – I was messy long before I was a writer. I just have an excuse now.

  3. Read. This should be obvious, but it isn’t. Read lots. Read widely, read genres you wouldn’t usually read, definitely read the genre you want to write. If you want to write horror films and television, watch horror films and television. If you want to write poetry, read poetry. It all goes in, and it all comes out somewhere.

  4. Write what you love. Not all science fiction writers have gone to space, but they all love the idea of space. Write about the things that get you fired up with excitement, and they’ll get your readers fired up too.

  5. Follow the market, but don’t be lead by it. It’s a good idea to stay current in the area you’re trying to write, partly so you can get excited by all the great stuff that’s being written, but also because crime editors really, really don’t want any more dull Agatha Christie rewrites, and children’s books have moved on somewhat from Enid Blyton. Also because when your weird obsession suddenly becomes popular, you want to know about it. On the other hand, don’t write something just because it’s currently popular. See 4.

  6. Hate your books. Seriously. If you don’t hate something, how will you ever spend the months and months (oh, god, the months) editing it? If you can’t see all its flaws, how will you fix them?

  7. Love your books. Every author secretly thinks this one is going to be The One. Why? Because why else would they ever spend the months and months (seriously, the months) writing a first draft.

  8. An idea is not the same thing as a plot. Again, not always obvious, but it should be remembered. In a hole in a ground there lived a hobbit is an idea. Not a plot. And a wizard dragged him off on an adventure to rescue a treasure from a dragon? That’s a plot. Once there was a boy who didn’t know he was a wizard? Idea. And he had to defeat the greatest dark lord the world has ever known? Plot. Make sure you have both before you start writing, or you’ll get stuck halfway through chapter one.

  9. The ability to string together a decent sentence is a tiny, tiny part of what is needed to be a professional writer. There are a lot of people in the world who were good at English as kids. Probably a couple in every class in the country. Most of them aren’t professional writers. It actually isn’t that difficult to write a competent paragraph. Plot, story, character, pacing … these are all much harder. And harder still …

  10. Be a professional. Put in the legwork. Research publishers and agents. Read their submissions guidelines. Write professional-sounding covering letters and synopses. Send the submission to every agent in the yearbook. And when they all turn you down? Get started on the next thing and do the same again.

Good luck!

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The Opposite of You Blog Tour: Interview with Lou Morgan (and Bex & Naomi!)

34338745Very recently we read, The Opposite of You by Lou Morgan, and you can read our review here! It’s a fast-paced story about twins, running away and a very special connection. Before we chat to Lou about her debut and writing in general, we have a few  questions for Bex and Naomi about being twins. Ready for Twins Interview Twins? Let’s go!

  1. What’s your favourite shared memory?

Bex: One of the camping holidays we went on with our parents, where…
Naomi: Which one?
Bex: The really hot one. In the campsite on the beach?
Naomi: The one where you got bitten by an ant or something and your foot blew up?
Bex: No. Obviously not.
Naomi: That was my favourite one. Right up till the foot thing.

(Bee: haha! Once, when we went on holiday, Maddie’s hand got bitten by a horse fly and it blew up so it looked like a plastic glove water balloon!)

  1. Have you ever switched places?

Naomi: Yes. But I can’t tell you when, because Mum might read this.
Bex: What she said. (Sorry, Mum.)

  1. Describe each other in three words

Naomi: For Bex? Artistic, kind, funny. Sometimes.
Bex: Naomi is… brave, loyal, funny.
Naomi: Seriously?
Bex: Like you said: sometimes.

  1. What’s your favourite thing to do together?

Bex: I kind of like just… hanging out.
Naomi: Hanging out? Nobody says that. Are you Dad?
Bex: Dad says that?
Naomi: Yes.
Bex: Fine. Just being at home, watching Netflix with pizza.

  1. If you could have anyone else, alive, dead, fictional or real, as your twin for the day, who would you choose?

Naomi: Janis Joplin.
Bex: Naomi.

Okay, so, Bex was ridiculously sweet with that one, I could cry! And we have to say ditto to the Netflix and pizza thing! Now we have a couple of questions for the creator of this  pair:

  1. What inspired you to write about twins?

It actually came out of a conversation with my editor, Ruth. I’m always very interested in how human minds work and what makes us who we are: in this case, we were talking about the old theory that twins – and particularly identical twins – have some kind of ‘psychic connection’ between them. We thought it would be interesting to tell a story that explored that from both sides. Personally, I’m not sure I believe it, but it definitely makes for an exciting place to start a story…

(Bee: In case you were wondering, readers, no, Maddie and I cannot read each other’s mind, or feel each other’s pain or say what the other one is doing if we’re five hundred miles apart, or…)

  1. If you could have anyone as your twin for the day, who would you choose?

Oh, wow. That probably depends on my mood and what I was doing on any given day. Let’s say… Andrew Scott, because he’s awesome.

  1. What part of the book did you find most challenging to write?

Balancing the two different voices, and the need to show how the relationship between Bex and Naomi had changed over the years while keeping it fairly fast-paced was a bit of a juggling act. When it came to the main characters, both of them needed to have their own personalities and voices, but also had to have the kind of similarities you find in any family – not just one that includes twins – and that meant there were a couple of drafts with a lot more background detail around Bex, Naomi and their parents… but in the end we had to cut most of it because it was slowing everything down!

  1. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Read everything – and I mean everything – you can. Keep writing, and finish what you start… and don’t be afraid. Most of all, write for you. If you write because you love it – because you can’t not – then whatever happens, whether you’re sharing it with people or keeping it to yourself, submitting it to agents or sticking it in a drawer that makes you a writer. No ‘aspiring’ about it. So what are you waiting for…?

Thank you so much to Stripes Books for letting up be part of this blog tour, and thank you to Lou for answering all our questions! You can add The Opposite of You to your Gooreads by clicking the button below, look at the book on Amazon, by clicking here!

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You can check out the previous stop on the The Opposite of You Blog Tour, hosted by maiaandalittlemoore by clicking here!

Goodbye Days Playlist Blog Tour!

31575528Today, Bee and I are lucky enough to get to celebrate one of my favourite books of the year, by one of my favourite authors ever, Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner. As part of the GD Playlist Blog Tour, Jeff has picked five songs that speak to the book in some way.

Today’s song is Avalanche by Leonard Cohen!

Jeff Says: This song is mentioned specifically in Goodbye Days. It’s not the brightest spot of realism in the book, since it’s the rare teenager in 2017 who’s going to be super into Leonard Cohen. But still. I had to include the song there and here. I couldn’t tell you exactly why this song is so emblematic of grief for me, but it is. The lyrics don’t seem to have any direct connection to grief, but that’s ok, because grief is often irrational anyway. The imagery of an avalanche is so powerful and consuming. It has no regard for what’s in front of it. Nothing can stop it. It covers you up so you can’t breathe. This is what grief feels like.

Goodbye Days is a really powerful book. It’s saturated with grief, and sometimes that’s overwhelming. Emotions are going to pour out of you whether you can help it or not. Just the concept of recreating a loved one’s favourite activities makes me want to tear up, let alone actually doing it. But, I really like the emphasis the book places on celebrating life, and sharing stories. It’s sensitive, heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time, to know that you can find friendship anywhere.

A Maddie and Bee Goodbye Day would be identical, just like us. There’d be a take-away reading list of all our favourite books, a visit to the library, a screening of our favourite Disney Channel Original Movies and Mary Kate and Ashley’s ‘Winning London’ from back in the day, with colourful wool so people can knit while they watch.

What would your Goodbye Day look like?


Jeff Zentner.jpegJeff Zentner is the author of both The Serpent King (2016) and Goodbye Days (2017) and can be found on Twitter and his website!

Be sure to check out the other spots on the tour which can be found on the graphic in the side bar!

My Top 5 Historical Couples by Sophia Bennett, author of Following Ophelia

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Hey everyone! Something very exciting for today’s post – Sophia Bennett joins us for the penultimate stop on the Following Ophelia blog tour to talk about her favourite historical couples. Romance was one of the strongest elements of the book, so we can’t wait to hear what inspired Sophia for Ophelia’s love story.

(Check out the banner on our blog to find out where Sophia’s stopping next!)


Thanks for having me, Bee and Maddie, and thank you for your review of Following Ophelia. I loved it!

It wasn’t until my seventh book, Love Song, that I wrote a proper romance. I’m interested in girls who make things or do things and they never (not even in the romance) rely on a lover to sort their lives out. But there is something wonderful about love.

I’m lucky that I ended up with my soulmate – someone I trust absolutely, and who makes me laugh every day. He also put up a light for me yesterday, but knows that I could perfectly well have put it up myself, if I didn’t happen to be gardening. He is awesome. It took a while to meet him though. We didn’t marry until I was thirty-nine.

Before that, I experienced all the ups and downs of love. I want my readers to feel the heady thrill of lust, the joy of feeling a connection – but I don’t want them to think that automatically means ‘happy ever after’. It’s usually just the start of a roller-coaster, so I wanted Mary’s experience in Following Ophelia to follow mine a little bit. She’s only just started on the journey of love. I have more to write, and she has further to travel.

It’s been fun setting her story in the 1850s, with all the complications of class, money and sex the Victorians experienced. Here are some of my favourite couples from history and legend, whom I got to know while researching various books. It’s not always easy being in love.

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  1. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert – from Following Ophelia. I’ve always loved the strong connection between Victoria and Albert. Albert is underrated, I think. He was highly intelligent, curious, and passionately supported the arts. We have his energy and support to thank for the V&A Museum, for example.

    Victoria became boring and distant after he died, but she was quite different while he was alive. (Check out Daisy Goodwin’s fantastic TV series about them if you haven’t already seen it.) If only he’d lasted longer than 1861 …

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  2. Persephone and Demeter – from Following Ophelia. I had to research this Greek legend for the book, as Mary takes on the name and inspiration of Persephone. She was a daughter of Zeus and Demeter, stolen by Hades and taken to the Underworld.

    Demeter, the goddess of the Harvest, desperately searched the world for her missing daughter. Eventually, she found her and begged for her return. But there was a catch, involving 7 pomegranate seeds … It’s a tragic story, driven by a mother’s love. I won’t spoil it if you don’t know it, but there’s nothing like a Greek legend for drama. And isn’t this statue of mother and daughter unusual and beautiful?

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  3. David Bowie and Iman – from Love Song. It can’t be denied: they look incredible together. This could have gone so wrong, the pop star and the supermodel, but as she said, she married David Jones, not David Bowie.

    They kept their relationship fairly quiet – no big Hello spreads – but I never saw them look anything less than deeply in love. He always seems so utterly entranced by her company.

    It might seem odd to have them as a historical couple, but when David died last year it felt as though a special period of history had come to an end. RIP David. We still miss you.

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  4. Sah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal – from Beads. He loved her so much he built the Taj Mahal as her monument. That says it all, really.

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  5. Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé – from Threads. Researching fashion designers as I did for the Threads series, I became fascinated that so many of them – almost all, in fact – had a brilliant business manager by their side, who was often their lover too.

    It takes a combination of creative flair, passion and cold business sense to make a fashion house work, and very few individuals have that in one package. Yves needed Pierre, and Pierre needed him. They were so lucky to find each other. If you’re a creative person, it really helps to fall in love with someone who appreciates and supports what you do!


After getting all flustered by how adorable all these couples are, you’re probably dying to read Following Ophelia, right? Check out our reviewFollowing Ophelia‘s Goodreads and find Sophia Bennett on Twitter!