How To Kickstart Your Writing Career


Many of us have come to the (sad) conclusion that scoring a major book publishing deal worth millions is unrealistic, and we’ll have to settle for a regular job. But the thing about writing is that it isn’t a regular job. Copywriting, blogging, freelancing, editing, journalism, social media management – these are all occupations that require creativity and dedication, which means they’re made for those few who’ve been blessed with writing talent. But how do you get your foot in the door?

You might think that you need to have a degree to have any chance at landing your dream writing job, however this is not necessarily the case. Although university is great, many businesses are just looking for someone with experience and quality writing. The opportunities for good writers are endless, and if you can build up experience (with a degree or not) then you’re on your way.

Intern and Volunteer

The best advice I can give is to intern wherever you can and volunteer to help out at writing events. Unpaid work might not be ideal when it comes to paying the rent, but the right place can give you invaluable hands-on knowledge, and maybe even paid work at the end of it.

I’ve interned as a journalist, copywriter, blogger and social media assistant, and volunteered as a workshopper, writing prize judge, and even helped with the set up for a crime writing conference. Each job taught me something new about writing that launched me in the right direction career-wise and showed me how to be a better writer.

Many job search websites advertise for internships now, and is the best place to look. You can also try emailing organisations (writer’s centres and festivals, libraries, local creative groups) to ask if they need a hand with any activities; chances are, they need all hands on deck and would love to get to know you!

Be on the lookout for scammers, or people who want to take advantage of free labour. Internships usually last anywhere from one week to three months (usually one or two days a week) and anything more than that could be dodgy. Gain experience where you can, but don’t give your writing away.

Get Published Anywhere

Many magazines will advertise online for submissions from people, which could be one-off submissions or regular articles. These publications may also run annual competitions, or know of organisations that do, so submit your work to their writing prizes for a great way to get your work out there (and win a little cash).

Do an internet search, follow writers on Twitter, and email subscribe to writer’s centres to stay on top of current and up-coming submission deadlines.

Write for as many places as you can, because the more writing in the world with your name attached, the better it looks on your resume and in your portfolio.

Getting published is also a great way to make contacts and start networking within the writing industry, especially if you’re a regular contributor or a staff writer; it means you’ll have someone as a referee to vouch for your amazing work, and someone to introduce you around.

Stay Industry-Informed

Keeping on top of news in publishing and writing gives you a broader perspective of how your career dreams fit into the industry. It makes sense that you should know the ins-and-outs of the industry you want to be a part of.

Publishing evolves quickly, and if you’re not aware of its major changes you could be left out in the cold when it comes to finding a job or getting published. It’s also good to be informed so that you can weigh in on discussions with other writers, whether on your blog or through social media (or in real life).

Spend some time browsing the web for good writing websites and blogs that regularly post about writing and publishing. Check out Writer’s Edit writerly websites page for an idea of where to start. Many websites have a way to ‘follow’ them, whether through email or an RSS feed.

You can also subscribe to websites using a ‘feed reader’. A feed reader (‘The Old Reader‘ is my preference, Feedly is also quite popular) will put all the new posts from these sites in one place so you can scroll through at your leisure and see what’s new.

Create a LinkedIn Account

This website is ideal for writers to use as an online portfolio. You can add experience, skills, and attach documents or links to your published work and also connect with people to broaden your networking circle (though this isn’t absolutely necessary).

The best part about LinkedIn is that you can easily link your profile into emails, where potential employers can see uploads to your portfolio. It has a neat layout and you can add all sorts of information that you can download into a PDF (if you wish).

Apply Anyway

Half the battle when getting a job is determination, so don’t stop applying for jobs. It doesn’t matter that you might not tick every box on their advertisement, or that you don’t have years of experience in the field. You’ll never get more experience if you don’t put yourself out there to try new and challenging things, so believe that you can do it (because you can) and send off that application. It might take a while to get a breakthrough from someone, and it might not be exactly what you were hoping for, but try to look at everything as a learning experience.

Persevere, stay hopeful, and remember all the famous writers had to struggle through regular life before getting their big break. Most of us just want to write every day, and if we can fulfill that wish, then we’re living the dream!



12 Things All Science Fiction Fans Know To Be True, Because Your Neighbor Is Probably An Alien


In honour of the awesome Stephen Hawking, here is a Sci-Fi article, just for fun… RIP.

You know the Three Laws of Robotics, you can name half a dozen alien races, and you’re still holding out hope that your next vehicle will be a time machine. Hold that worn copy of Dune proudly over your head and embrace your fandom, because there is no shame of loving what has become know as “the last great literature of ideas.”

I fell in love with science fiction when I was in elementary school and I first read Ender’s Game. I was ready to sign up for Battle School, board a starship, and go hurtling through space faster than the speed of light. I devoured paperback after paperback, engineering robots alongside Isaac Asimov’s Powell and Donovan, hitchhiking through the galaxy with Douglas Adams’s Arthur and Ford, hacking computers with William Gibson’s Henry Dorsett Case, and walking through the exhibits of Kurt Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorian zoo. Page after page of expansive world building, adventure and terror, flashes of the future, drama, politics, and even the occasional love story, sci-fi has it all.

But after finishing a book like 1984, it’s impossible not to walk down the street without looking over your shoulder. Science fiction is filled with grim predictions of the future, some of which have already come to pass – overbearing governments, morally depraved corporations, and intrusive technology. If the books aren’t enough to give you the creeps, the movie and tv adaptations certainly will. I still have nightmares of the gnarly and enormous bugs from Starship Troopers and the glaring eyes of Big Brother from the telescreens in 1984.

Whether you like to read hard science fiction about physics and chemistry, social science fiction about a dystopian alternate reality, satire or stories about space cowboys, there are certain things you know to be true about your favorite books, and the world around you. Not all of them are pretty, but you can’t ignore facts like these.

1. Robots are people, too

Remember Andrew, the titular character of Isaac Asimov’s Bicentennial Man? He taught us robots have the capacity for creativity, personality, and emotions – all things that make them like people. Even the World Leader declared Andrew a man by law, so true sci-fi fans know to think twice before bad-mouthing the Roomba.

2. If you don’t like your reality, there is always an alternate one out there

If you’re miserable in your own world, science fiction has taught us that there are plenty of other options out there. Whether it is a different planet, a different time in history, or a different plane of reality, there is always another universe for you to try out.

3. Traveling first-class is nothing compared to travelling through space and time

Maybe you got bumped up to gold member on your last flight, but nothing can compare to travelling faster than the speed of light and conquering the aging problem. Who wants to go through TSA when you can skip the lines and board H. G. Wells’s time machine instead?

4. An alien invasion is inevitable…

Martians will come to earth, and they will destroy the planet. Whether they take the form of the Fithp from Footfall or the martians from War of the Worlds, the fact remains that the aliens are indeed coming…

5. …so is the Apocalypse, and only humans are to blame

Maybe it will be a nuclear holocaust or the accidental release of an ice-nine, but one thing is for sure: we’re all doomed, and there is no one to blame but ourselves.

6. The world’s population will likely be wiped out by a government-caused outbreak, and only those with mutant genes will survive

You know it and I know it: the government’s plan to develop a weapon or control the population will surely blow up in their faces, and wipe out 99 percent of mankind. Let’s hope we are one of the lucky survivors with superb genes and incredible fighting skills.

7. You probably have a clone out there… unless you are the clone

If you think you’re one-in-a-million, think again. Maybe you were cloned for the purpose of harvesting organs, or to serve out the narcissistic needs of your creator, but either way, you might want to think twice the next time you see a doppelganger on the train.

8. Science equals power

He who holds the Ph.D. holds the authority. In the realm of science fiction, the scientists, researchers, psychologists, doctors, and computer engineers are the ones who run the show. The enemy might have a bigger spaceship, but the victor is always the one with a handle on the scientific. (Unless this power leads them to a life of corruption, which is often the case, too.)

9. God is probably an alien

Science fiction has taught us many things, mostly that we don’t know as much about the world we live in as we think. There are other species, other climates, and other realities out there, so is it so far-fetched to think God is probably just an alien and we are probably living on the tip of his eyelash or something?

10. The corporation you work for is evil, and is definitely trying to take over the world

You think your boss is a jerk, but you have no idea how right you are. He is likely a cyborg planted by a greater evil to start a take over from the inside-out. Oh, and you know those newly designed cellphone ear pieces you’ve been working on? They’re actually brainwashing devices, so its time find your sexy but mysterious coworker and try and take down the man.

11. Big Brother is definitely watching you

He probably goes by different names – data mining, the NSA, browser history – but rest assured, you are not alone. Ever. Any true science fiction fan knows that Big Brother is out there, tracking your exercise habits and listening in on your plans to stage a coup.

12. You have every right to be a paranoid freak, because nothing is as it seems




10 Stories About Mothers and Daughters | Mothers Day

As it is Mother’s Day, here is a lovely article from the Guardian by Meike Ziervogel about her favourite Mother-Daughter stories. Perhaps there will be a few to add to your TBR pile… Enjoy!

Sons separate from their fathers to become men – many stories have focused on this challenge. But it’s also true that daughters have to break away from their mothers – and much less has been written on this subject.

The day after I graduated from high school, I boarded a train. I left my home town, my country, my language. For the next 10 years I believed I had truly found my own identity. It wasn’t until I gave birth to my first child, a daughter, that it dawned on me: I hadn’t even begun to separate from my mother. If I wanted to show my daughter how to become content as a woman, I had to look far more closely first at myself as a daughter before being able to become the mother – and the grownup daughter – I wanted to be.

I write to understand myself better. Each story is an exploration, a journey, a search for something I cannot express in any other way. Mother-daughter relationships have been my preoccupation over the past 20 years. So it is no surprise that my first two novellas – Magda and Clara’s Daughter – both deal with that subject.

Here are some of the books that have inspired me:

1. The Great Mother by Erich Neumann (translated from the German by Ralph Manheim)

Ever since the dawn of western civilisation, we have lived within patriarchal structures. So what has happened to the feminine in our human subconscious? The philosopher and psychologist Neumann was a student of Carl Jung. In this classic he traces the representation of the feminine from the beginning of image-making in caves via mythological storytelling to monotheistic religions. A psychologically insightful and thought-provoking read.

2. The Book of Ruth (Authorised King James Version)

Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, know how to play the game and pull strings in Old Testament times. The story presents us with a poetic reminder of how narrow traditional roles for women were – even if at first glance it might appear there was space for self-defined manoeuvre.

3. The Blue Room by Hanne Ørstavik (translated from the Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin)

A young woman is locked in a room by her mother. Or is she? The best book I’ve ever read on the internal struggles of a daughter to break away from the mother, and why it is so important to persevere.

4. A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir (translated from the French by Patrick O’Brian)

This is a masterpiece. De Beauvoir describes her mother’s final days and reflects on their relationship in view of the imminent death. It is written with empathy and honesty by a woman who has come to terms with a difficult mother. A wise book.

5. Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton by Linda Gray Sexton

Anne Sexton wrote brilliant poetry. But she was also bipolar and incapable of fulfilling her role as mother. Linda Gray Sexton’s intelligent, harrowing account of her childhood made me realise that women artists and writers who descend into a dark space for their art have a duty towards their children to climb back into the light on a daily basis.

6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The mother of all mothers is Mrs Bennet. She has five daughters, and no higher aspiration than to find husbands for them. At the end of the book the author sighs: “I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire … [made] her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life …” I guess that wish will not be realised. A hugely entertaining read.

7. A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe

A medieval Italian castle, two beautiful young women held captive by their authoritarian father and, from the vault underneath the floorboards, a mysterious knocking. A fantastic mother-daughter tale complete with a handsome lover and a happy end.

8. The Devil Kissed Her: The Story of Mary Lamb by Kathy Watson

Mary Lamb, sister of Charles Lamb, friend of Coleridge and Wordsworth, co-author of the children’s classic Tales from Shakespeare, killed her mother in 1796. Watson draws a vivid picture of the woman and the times and lets us ponder: was Mary a criminal – or was her society mad?

9. The Glass Essay by Anne Carson

“My mother has a way of summing things up. / She never liked Law much / but she liked the idea of me having a man and getting on with life.” The poet Anne Carson is a master of precise simplicity. This is a poem as much concerned with the end of a love affair as the mother-daughter relationship. After all, the narrator ends up sitting yet again in her mother’s kitchen.

10. On Matricide: Myth, Psychoanalysis and the Law of the Mother by Amber Jacobs

The goddess Athena sprang forth fully armed from the head of her father, Zeus. The part of the legend far less well-known is that Zeus had swallowed the pregnant Metis, and it was she who gave birth to Athena inside Zeus. Jacobs here offers a brilliant reinterpretation of the Oresteia myth, and in doing so shows us how we can change our thinking. It’s a must-read (and you don’t have to have read the Oresteia first).



Women Write Now | International Women’s Day 2018


It is International Women’s Day 2018, and to mark this great day Waterstones is celebrating women writers past and present.

This International Women’s Day, as we celebrate 100 years of women’s right to vote in Britain, we bring together our selection of 100 books which represent the wealth and diversity of women’s writing throughout history. Historians, novelists, thinkers, activists, campaigners, scientists and politicians; pioneering women of the past, inspirational voices of the future.

There are some fantastic books available on their site, and if you are an avid reader like me then this is a great excuse to see what’s available and pick up a few more books.

Check out the store here even if it is just to admire the wealth of women writers available and be inspired by the many amazing things they’ve written over the years.

Happy International Women’s Day! x


Waterstones Women Write Now Campaign:

Claire Dyer on Research and Imagination | The Literary Sofa


My lovely friend, Isabel Costello of The Literary Sofa, has been talking to Claire Dyer about her new book The Last Day. Here is what they had to say…

Today I am delighted to welcome the first of my Spring Spotlight guests, poet and novelist Claire Dyer. Her novel The Last Day is published by the independent Dome Press, who appear to have an eye for the magic combination of literary merit and broad appeal.  It is very much my kind of book and in my review at the end you can find out why.  But first let’s hear Claire’s thoughts on something which has always preoccupied writers and fascinated readers: the delicate balance between research and imagination in writing fiction:

I once heard that James Joyce trod the pavements of Dublin to make sure it took precisely thirteen minutes to get from point A to point B so he could represent this faithfully in his writing. Also, Wilkie Collins was known to consult astronomical charts to ensure he had a firm grasp of exactly what kind of moonlight fell on the precise night about which he was writing. In addition I also read somewhere that Audrey Niffenegger carefully researched paper making so she could write authentically about Clare’s work in The Time Traveler’s Wife.

However, authors also make stuff up, and it’s achieving a balance between research and imagination that fascinates me and is the topic I wish to explore whilst I’m here on Isabel’s Literary Sofa.

I too have embarked on many and varied types of research: I’ve done pottery lessons (for The Moment), travelled to Athens (for The Perfect Affair), interviewed carpenters, estate agents, doctors, florists, gardeners, bankers and many more to gain insights into the professions I have chosen for my characters along the way. I’ve also checked out train routes, fashions, newspaper headlines, TV listings, the music hits of the day on the internet; I’ve trawled through photographs, books, stared at Google Maps, sent detailed questionnaires to family and friends both here and in the US and have even stood on Newgale Sands in Pembrokeshire breathing in the salty air to help me prepare for the final scene in one of my books. I’ve visited the London Aquarium, Kew Gardens, the Surrey hills and plumbed deeply personal experiences of birth and death and the many stages in between.

I even visited a medium for a scene in my latest novel, The Last Day, a decision which produced a very surprising result. I went fully prepared to take notes, remain unmoved by anything she said and only think of my character, Honey, while I was there. However, half way through the session, the medium told me my mother, who had died when I was a girl, had arrived and wanted to say something to me. I can’t pretend it wasn’t a shock, one that I’m still coming to terms with, and it made me realise that sometimes the line between research and imagination can get very blurred indeed.

Yet amongst all this fact-finding, my imagination is churning away because in the foreground of all this research are my characters and their stories and it’s for them I have to get it right.

And what if I get it wrong? I remember when researching for the day at the races scene in The Perfect Affair, I looked up which horse had won which race, I studied the notes I’d made when I’d been to the races to remind myself of the small details, like how the tannoy sounds, how the horses skitter to the starting post, the press of bodies, the sweat on the animals’ flanks in the winners’ circle, and yet my scene was set in the 60s and so it was only when I pulled up some photographs on the internet that I realised two very important small details which I nearly missed. The first was that all the men in the pictures were wearing hats and the second was that the majority of the punters were smoking. And so, in my scene, I had my characters take off their hats when they arrive in the function room, which itself fills with the smoke of numerous cigarettes as the day progresses.

What if I deliberately fudge the issue? There have been times when I’ve been less than exact about road names, or the distances between places, or timelines, and also when I’ve used a little bit of artistic licence because to me such facts could be in danger of getting in the way of the all-important story. I do feel guilty about this but, on balance, I believe that it’s best for writers to try and achieve a balance between what’s made up and what’s real so that our readers (and, after all, the reader is the person for whom we are writing) can be immersed in the narrative, lose themselves in the ups and downs of our characters’ lives without worrying too much about whether the weather on the particular day in question was actually sunny or not.

And what is getting it right? Is it this immersion, this losing of oneself in the world of the novel? I think it is. And I guess I’m lucky because at least I can check my facts (if I wish to) whereas others who, for example, write fantasy novels can’t. They make up their worlds, they invent currencies, modes of transport, food, clothes and complete ways of life and I admire them greatly for doing so. I don’t think I ever could. And there are even those who like Laini Taylor blend the real with the imagined. In Daughter of Smoke and Bone which I read recently for BBC Radio Berkshire’s Radio Reads, she seamlessly melds modern-day Prague with a fantastical world of angels and monstrous creatures and gives them all hearts and consciences, hopes and fears. It is a huge achievement and one I admire immensely.

I shall continue to base my stories in this world, whether it be now or ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years ago and I shall do my utmost to mix fact with fiction, the exact with the inexact, research with imagination in the hope that my characters will have room to breathe and a voice with which to tell their stories.


See the original article, including a review of Claire’s book, The Last Day, here:

And check out more fantastic author interviews and book reviews on Isabel’s blog: the Literary Sofa.