The Key to Writing is Reading.

Over the years, many have searched for the ‘best’ creative writing tip out there. The fact is that one of the most important tips has no direct link to writing. You may have heard this advice before, but that does not necessarily mean you don’t need to hear it again: READING is the single most important skill that aspiring writers need to hone in order to write better. Read until your brain is filled, then read some more.

Writer William Faulkner knew the importance of reading in writing, saying, ‘Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write.’


Devour every book within your reach, then move within reach of more books. Hunt down and explore new, unfamiliar genres. Haunt libraries. Allow the words to seep into your soul. Ask friends for book recommendations. Check out second hand bookshops and see what’s on sale near you. Read reviews online to see what new novels you may enjoy. Try delving into non-fiction as basic inspiration for fiction. Join a book club and really throw yourself into analysing the chosen novel. Mix things up a bit! Ask your grandparents what their favourite books are of all time, then see if you agree. Force yourself to study self-editing tips and tricks to truly make an effort to understand grammar and the nuances of the English language. Note down what you like and dislike about each author’s style in the books you read. How are the characters fleshed out in a novel? What elements come together to make a good plot? Read interviews of your favourite authors — what do they have to say about finding inspiration and their writing process? Learn from the masters!

As author Stephen King (you may have heard of him!) once said:
‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.’

stephen king

So, which book is your favourite of all time? What in particular do you love about it? What elements of this book – stylistic or otherwise – have you taken as inspiration for your own writing? Drop us a quick comment below – we’d love to hear from you!

Bandits, Bank Robbers & Three Smoking Hot Bananas – Review by Frances Turpin

Despite the warning in the prologue of “the more debase outbursts of the human body” being featured (and certainly judging by the detailed descriptions you’ll be pleased this book isn’t scratch and sniff!), BB&THSB has a certain sophisticated humour that will appeal to kids and their older siblings/parents alike.

With caricature characters along the lines of Roald Dahl and David Walliams, and interspersed with illustrations as detailed as the narrative, reading about Moan-and-Groan-Upon-the-Sea and its inhabitants feels like a hyper-realised visit to every small town in Britain. Albert Grunge is an anti-hero with a grudge with plans of revenge against the town that wronged him that you can get behind despite his general appearance, attitude, personality and, by all accounts, scent. His bumbling nephews Tag and Cal prove themselves to be prototype comic sidekicks-slash-motor vehicle geniuses (sort of…), who inspire Albert on his journey to right the wrongs of the past.

Easy to read but with a fun and complex enough storyline to keep you gripped until the bitter, car-chasing end, this will be a perfect summer read to inspire many games of banana-bank-robbery come September.

To purchase a copy of Bandits, Bank Robbers & Three Smoking Hot Bananas in both eBook and paperback formats, visit

Capturing emotion on the page

Emotion is an integral part of writing. If the emotion isn’t there in the text – be it the author’s emotion, the character’s emotion, or an emotion which readers can connect with – then the words are likely to be left dead on the page, a disembodied fragment soon to be forgotten about.

With this in mind, it is vital that writers can create a text which will strike a chord with themselves or readers (or both) by being sure to write emotively.

Some writers find this comes naturally to them; others may struggle a little more to weave emotion into their writing. Either way, we can all use a little help in our writing. We all struggle finding inspiration and motivation sometimes. These prompts are brought together with a goal of helping writers find that spark of emotion and incorporate it in their work. Feel free to comment with an example of your writing exercise or, if you prefer, keep it for your own reference.

1) Loss. Write about something or someone you’ve loved and lost.

2) Happiness. Write about the kind that splits your face in two with a smile that you can’t hope to hide, the kind that makes your heart fill up until it might burst from your chest, the kind that is impossible to ignore.

3) Depression – either clinical or otherwise. Write about a time when you felt so hopeless and despondent that you could barely function.

4) Lust. Write about a time you lusted for something or someone so badly that you lost control, until it became your obsession.

5) Love – quite different from lust. Try writing about a time when you felt a love for somebody or something, when the passion filled you up until you wanted to share it with the whole world.

6) Exhaustion. Write about a time when you felt exhausted with the world, tired of someone, drained by a situation.

7) Stress. Tell us about a time you felt so overwhelmed by stress that you felt you couldn’t cope. How did you overcome this? Or are you still struggling?

8) Anger. Where you ever so angry that it blinded your judgement? Write about that.

9) Irritation. Everyone has a person, object or situation that drives them crazy. Write about yours.

10) Inspiration. Write about a time when you felt so inspired by something that you had to act upon it. Remember how it felt, how you reacted to this feeling.

Derek Smith on his childhood and the reasons behind his writing

My name is Derek Smith, author of  The Curse of Morton Farmhouse. I was born in a tiny thatched cottage in a large village on the edge of Salisbury plain army ranges. I was the third son of a farm labourer — though later, two sisters followed. The village was self-contained with three shops, a post office, a butcher, a baker, a blacksmiths, two pubs, a garage, two building companies, a second-hand furniture shop, a church, a village hall and a funeral directors. There was no need to go outside the village for any shopping and, as a farming community, the majority of the villagers seldom ventured outside the parish.


We were a close-knit community; everybody knew each other and we would share everything with each other. For example, during the hot summers I would sometimes share a homemade penny ice lolly with my friend, taking it in turns to have a lick. I attended a Church of England school from the age of five until I was fifteen. There were only three teachers who taught most subjects at different levels: infant, junior and senior. I remember my headmaster, who was also the senior teacher, saying, ‘If you are able to read, write and add up, the world is your oyster. With these basics you can learn anything.’

I had a very happy childhood. My dad was a Romany and his parents also lived in the same village. Despite this slightly unusual heritage we were generally made feel part of the community. We never went on holiday, but then again nor did most of the other residents. Summer school holidays were spent on the farms, riding the corn wagons and catching rabbits as they tried to make a bolt away from the binder as it cut through the corn. This was a little dangerous as we all carried knobby sticks on these ventures and sometimes we all went after the same rabbit… Can you imagine little boys flailing sticks everywhere?


Anyway, without making this into another book, I would like to tell you that the books I write are not in the hope of fame or fortune; some of the happiest times in my life came from having no material things and no money. I loved sharing what we had and still try to share to this day, as Father always said one gets more pleasure in giving than receiving. And so, my aim in writing these books is that hopefully readers will get pleasure reading them and that I cover my costs. Beyond that, it will be my pleasure to share any profits with those in need. I hope you enjoy the books as much as I have writing them — don’t forget that reading, writing and arithmetic are your keys to the world.

Harvey Jones – ‘Hook Up’ Book Launch

Sian Jones and Jan Harvey: together we are Harvey Jones. We met when through the care system after Sian caught an illness and hit it off immediately, becoming firm friends and enjoying trips out to the local beaches and nature spots. It had been a surprising and eye-opening journey right from the very beginning; we have learned many lessons, not only about the writing and publication process but about ourselves as well — including the importance of believing in ourselves.

We were inspired to write Hook Up by our observation that so many people label and judge each other for no real reason other than ignorance. Is this what mankind has come to? We don’t think so. We strongly believe that no matter who you are, you have the right to be just you; we are who we are and we love who we love. If only one person learns to accept themselves or others as a result of reading our book — job done!

We were also inspired by the bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey books, which we found them to be harmful to young women; to be thrashed until you’re a crying mess is not, in our eyes, pleasurable. We wanted to show that you can enjoy being spanked in a way that benefits both parties — or even three, depending on your taste. And that’s the whole point of this book; anything goes as long as it’s consensual between two or more adults and it’s safe. Also, we tried to portray the importance of honesty with each other, for the person you love is the one who you should be able to share with your deepest fantasies. We’ve surely all got some desires we would really love to try!



The book launch for our debut novel, Hook Up, took place on a beautiful, warm June evening; The Coffee Cove in Barry Island was buzzing with chatter as many of our friends — and some strangers! — joined us for drinks and nibbles to celebrate the publication. Everyone mingled happily for a while, then we gave a short reading of the first two chapters to give people a teasing taster of the story — it seemed to go down really well! We then held a question and answer session and were asked some pretty searching questions! A lively, interesting and enthusiastic discussion then followed which delved quite deeply into Hook Up’s themes of honesty, sexual exploration and acceptance. After that we cut our beautiful Hook Up themed cake made by our friend, Sian Twinney (many thanks, Sian). We signed copies of the book until we had sold out! We also raised £50 for the RNLI with a raffle.


Neither of us could quite believe that we had done it; we had written the glossy books on the table, and people were buying them! When most people had left we sat outside the café, enjoying the cool evening and some chilled wine, and felt grateful for where our friendship had led us and to all the friends who had supported us, including Alex at The Coffee Cove and the team at Rowanvale Books. We would also like to thank our families, especially Sian’s son, James, for his unstinting support and his help in enabling her to get to events. Thank you all, you wonderful people.

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Outlines and Obscurities

Let’s be honest, plot outlines are kind of like Marmite: writers either love ’em or they hate ’em. 

Some writers like the fact that they structure ideas and help them get organised, yet others find them too constrictive, limiting their artistic flair. Here at Rowanvale Books we can see both sides of the coin; we understand that plot outlines aren’t the magical cure to solve all organisational issues an author may have, but we also know that some authors simply wouldn’t get their novel off the ground without them. Heck, even the best authors could use a little structure sometimes!

plot outline

Pictured above is part of JK Rowling’s plot outline for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Plot outlines come in many shapes and forms, and it’s important that you as a writer don’t let them get out of hand. I recommend getting some sort of outline sorted in your head before starting to write your first draft. Start with a novel outline (a running summary of what happens throughout your book in as much detail as you like), then move on to condensing this into a briefer chapter summary (a few lines/bullet points of the main events, character development etc that occur in each chapter).

There are numerous benefits to writing a plot summary which you may find outweigh the drawbacks.

  • A plot outline can help disorganised or forgetful writers see where their story is heading; keep to a schedule to get their voice heard faster; and remember the key components and plot threads to their story.
  • It can help writers to keep track of what’s important in their story so that they don’t stray  too far from the main plot threads; it keeps their plot moving forward.
  • A plot outline can always be changed along the way! Some writers may be discouraged by the regimented nature of an outline, but always remember that nothing is set in stone. A rough plot outline at the start may even enable you as the writer to see alternative plots which might have stayed hidden to you if you did not take such a structured approach.
  • A plot outline is good practice for writing a synopsis for publishing houses – it is important that you can effectively sum up your novel to both yourself and other people.

 What are your thoughts on plot outlines? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Sit Down and Shut Up Robbo – Guest Post by Jonathon Ward

For a time there was a seriously strong possibility that the position I currently find myself in (that of a first-time author taken on by Rowanvale, slap bang in the middle of my maiden publication process) would have been a mere pipe dream if I had allowed head to overrule heart. More specifically, a head heavily influenced by fellow ginger, Anne Robinson.

My initial incarnation of Mutant Tummy Apple Tree (MTAT) was penned way back in 2007 as a descriptive poem piece, a far cry from the round-the-world adventure story it is today. For a few years it lay dormant in a drawer until I had a conversion with a cousin of mine who is an animator. He had read MTAT many moons ago and so I just casually asked him if he thought it was up the standards required, from what he had seen in the industry, to potentially make it print. He told me that for it to go anywhere there would have to be more of a ‘story’ element to the piece, rather than it being just a descriptive rhyming poem. So began the rebirth of Mutant Tummy Apple Tree, a good four years after I first concocted it up on a bus in Huddersfield whilst eating an apple (as Isaac Newton-y as that sounds I genuinely was eating an apple at the time, which figures!).

So the next couple of years were spent sporadically adding sections to the story. The easiest way for me to do that was to have each segment of MTAT’s journey around the globe broken up into a series of mini-adventures. I focused on one at a time, never thinking ahead to the next part of the story until I was completely content with the one before. I have a Dad’s Army notebook in my desk that has every scribbling, every idea, and multiple versions of each section that I did over the years, each with a separately titled set of pages for each segment.

Continue reading

Rowanvale Books: An Interview with Naomi Burman-Shine


Congratulations to Naomi Burman-Shine, author of children’s book, Stonely’s Pet Dinosaur, which has recently been the silver medal-winner in the pre-school picture book category of The 2014 Wishing Shelf Independent Book Awards.

We are excited to let you know that Naomi’s book is being showcased in the children’s category of the 2015 summer collection of The People’s Book Prize. This national competition is voted for exclusively by the general public. To vote for Stonely’s Pet Dinosaur and help Naomi and Rowanvale Books reach the finals, please click on the logo below. The general public can cast their votes from 1st June to 31st August 2015. Thank you!


Naomi is visiting our blog today to answer a few questions about Stonely’s Pet Dinosaur and her writing. Thank you, Naomi!

How did your book come about? Where does the inspiration behind the book lie?

Naomi: I wanted to write about a theme that young children could relate to. When I was thinking up ideas, my young sons were interested in all things dinosaur, and they were also constantly asking me to buy them a pet. I combined the two subjects and came up with an idea for a story about a young cave boy who wanted to own a roaring red dinosaur.


Young children love bold colours, and I therefore decided to make the dinosaur red, which is a popular colour. Along with the word ‘roar’, it makes a great alliterative phrase! ‘Please can I have a pet that is red and roars?’

Who will your book appeal to?

Naomi: My target audience is children aged three to seven, but my book is being enjoyed by younger and older children, and adults, as my amazing Amazon reviews indicate.


Who is the main character in the book?

Naomi: The main character is a young cave boy called Stonely. Many picture books have animals and adults as their protagonists, but I wanted my central character to be a child so that young readers could more easily relate to him and empathise with him.

How would you sum up your book in under 40 words?

Naomi: The Wishing Shelf Independent Book Awards summed up Stonely’s Pet Dinosaur perfectly. Judges said it is ‘Colourful, exciting … fabulous fun for kids’!

Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?

Naomi: The basic message of the book is that applying determination and perseverance help you to achieve your goals, which are great values to instil in young children.

Do you have a specific writing style?

Naomi: Stonely’s Pet Dinosaur and the next two books in the series are written in rhyme. Many of the picture books I shared with my sons were written in rhyme – rhyming books are always fun to read aloud.

Particular favourites of the boys included Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae (illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees), Dragon Stew by Steve Smallman and Aliens Love Underpants by Claire Freedman (illustrated by Ben Cort).


The boys were always engaged in reading these books, and loved guessing the rhyming words at the end of each stanza, which helped build their listening skills and language skills. Rhyming text makes a story lively, captivating and memorable. As a musician, I love the intrinsic rhythm of the text, which enhances the mood and pace of the story.


What is unique about your book?

Naomi: I can’t think of any other rhyming picture books series set in prehistoric times where the central character is a child…

What was the hardest part of writing your current book?

Naomi: Writing picture books in rhyme is certainly a challenge for a novice writer. I had to make sure that the story wasn’t sacrificed because of the need to use rhyming words. Online rhyming dictionaries and thesauruses thus became my best friends!

Finding the correct metre to allow the words to fall off the tongue naturally was the hardest part, and having a great editing team was essential to produce a smooth-flowing final text. I would like to thank my fabulous editing team: Australian story-writer Robyn Opie Parnell, copy-editor and proofreader Jane Hammett, and the lovely Sarah Scotcher at Rowanvale Books.


Is your book part of a series? Are there any more sequels lined up?

Naomi: Yes, Stonely’s Pet Dinosaur is the first book in a series. I have written two more Stonely books, Snore’s Roar and Snore’s Stinky Feet, which I hope will be published in the near future.

When and why did you begin writing?

Naomi: I believe that books can change our lives, and I have always tried to instil a love of reading in my kids, starting from when they were very young. Sharing books together is very special, and every bedtime I read to – or with – my young sons.

I enjoy new challenges and I thought it would be amazing to know that young readers everywhere were tucked up in their beds, just like my own sons, with a book I had written. I therefore set myself the task of writing a fun children’s story

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Naomi: I first felt like a true writer when I saw a copy of Stonely’s Pet Dinosaur in the front window of two local independent bookshops where I was doing my book launch events last September! It suddenly dawned on me that my dream of young children enjoying a book that I had written was going to come true. That was a very proud moment.

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Who are your toughest critics?

My children! They are the sounding boards for my story ideas, and if they don’t like something then it is immediately given the chop.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Research, research, research! Read and analyse lots of books in your chosen genre before putting pen to paper.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Naomi: I hope that readers enjoy my books as much as I relish writing them.

For up-to-date Stonely’s Pet Dinosaur news, please visit Naomi’s website at

Amber: A Fairy Tale – A Review by April Heade

From his Wandering Woods fairy tale series, David Gibson presents the enchanting Amber: A Fairy Tale – a story of family, adventure, and the battle between good and evil.

The first fairy tale of the series introduces us to Amber, a playful young girl who is ‘anything but ordinary’. Amber lives with her mother Blossom, a witch of good nature, in a beautiful cottage within the Wandering Woods. Cursed as a child by her evil sister, Blossom has to take a special potion every day, and collapses at the beginning of the tale when this potion runs dry. In a bid to save her mother, Amber seeks out her evil aunt, who sends her on a deceiving mission to collect ingredients for what Amber thinks will make a new potion for Blossom.

In Amber’s search for the ingredients, the real magic of the story begins. As she makes her way through the woods, she faces many perils and challenges and encounters a number of imaginative and fascinating characters, including Water Sprites, Harpies and even a fairy queen, and finds friends for life in the form of a friendly goblin and a kindly ogre. The magical tale flows quickly and effectively, capturing the reader’s attention and retaining it until the very last page. The pace and captivating language make this tale a fantastic read for young children, while Amy Sayers’ beautifully dark and mystical illustrations add a maturity to the tale, and help to further conjure the scene and spark the imagination, making this tale accessible to readers of all ages.

The story is flourished with beautifully descriptive language to conjure an image of the enchanting Wandering Woods. ‘Vast’ and ‘unimaginable in size’, with towering trees and sparkling rivers that stretch from the ocean in the west to the fairy mists in the east, the Wandering Woods is a broad, imaginative setting that not only lends its magic to this tale, but will be the setting for future stories in Gibson’s series of fairy tales. I certainly look forward to how he will use this fascinating space next.

‘Finding your Zone’ Part II

Finding your ‘zone’ Part 2

Last week, we discussed ‘writing zones’ and how they can inspire different individuals to get writing. This week, we continue with even more suggestions…


Public transport.

Trains, buses, and planes can all be great places to write. Have you ever been stuck on a commute into work, perhaps dreading the working day ahead? Settling down with a hot beverage and your laptop may be the cure. Looking around you, you’re bound to see someone who catches your eye as interesting or unusual or remarkable in some way. Try a writing exercise to write a story which is very loosely based about them, their life, their personality etc.

Best for: People who want to liven up a daily commute, people who struggle to fit writing around their daily routine.

Less great for: People who prefer more private writing environments and, of course, people who get travelsick whilst reading/writing.

Image result for reading on the bus

Walking and spending time in nature.

Of course, this is not always feasible, but when it is, boy, is it worth it! Take a brisk walk along a river… roam through the woods… stroll around a local park… wander through a different part of your city…the possibilities are endless, and this can work wonders for your writing. Take a notepad and pen (or even a laptop or tablet) and amble around the countryside, observing the scenery, people — and even wildlife — around you before settling in a comfortable spot and starting to write. This can be a great way to get ideas, drawing inspiration from the environment around you.

Best for: People who struggle to write from the imagination, people who easily find inspiration in their surroundings or need visual cues to write.

Less great for: People who prefer to write indoors, people who are uninspired by their current surroundings and cannot travel very far afield for various reasons.

In a library.

Where better to find literary inspiration than in a place that’s filled with literature? By writing in a library, you’re opening yourself up to a wealth of knowledge and motivation to progress. This is perhaps the perfect spot to let your imagination run wild — assuming you can resist the pull of thousands of books!

Best for: People who read for inspiration, people who prefer literary motivation and writing in the public eye. People that are distracted by loud noises.

Less great for: People who get too lost in a book and forget to write!

So, what are your thoughts on ‘writing-zones’? Do you believe that there is such a thing as a ‘perfect zone’? If you have one, share your special ‘writing zone’ in the comments below – we’d love to hear from you!