Jill Dawson’s novels include Fred and Edie, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award and the Orange Prize, Watch Me Disappear, longlisted for the Orange Prize, The Great Lover, a Richard and Judy Summer Read, and The Tell-Tale Heart, about a recovering heart transplant patient transformed in unexpected ways. In addition she has edited six anthologies of short stories and poetry, and founded the author mentoring scheme Gold Dust. Here are her brief tips on how to begin dusting for gold.
1. A talent for aloneness is a good skill for a writer to have, or cultivate.
2. The trick of a good novel is to tell a secret and keep a secret at the same time.
3. Write to show what you’ve found, not what you were looking for.
4. Swimming lots of boring lengths is a great way to figure out tricky bits in your novel. And writers need exercise to take care of their backs and to guard against depression.
5. Having 12 people who haven’t yet published or finished a novel tell you how to write yours in a workshop is not the only way to learn. Books and writers you admire are your best teachers.
6. When you read over what you’ve written, ask yourself: is it alive or dead? If it’s alive, you can work on it tomorrow. If it’s dead discard it.
7. Imagining, really fully imagining, is your job as a novelist. It should make your brain ache.
8. Ignore silly rules like making yourself write 1,000 words every day. That never worked for me.
9. Yoga, reflexology, music, strong coffee or a stash of Percy Pigs can transport you to a writing mood on days when you’re reluctant to sit at your desk. Percy Pig and Friends (Marks & Spencer sweets) work well for me. Although this is a silly rule you should probably ignore.
10. Tell your own story, the only way you know how.
Jill Dawson runs Gold Dust, a mentoring scheme for writers, and will be teaching an Arvon Course in novel-writing with Kathryn Heyman and special guest Louise Doughty at The Hurst in Shropshire in September 2014. The Tell-Tale Heart is published by Sceptre. Read more.
Author portrait © Timothy Allen