#17 – Writing Conferences and Events

Anna and I have a conversation about the benefits and struggles of attending writing conferences. We talk in some depth about the 20Books conference that happened at the end of July in Edinburgh.

We agree that there are many benefits to attending events. They can provide the motivation to be more productive, to share and connect with other authors. 20Books was unique in some ways. There was a real collaborative feel, and it felt like every single person wanted to help others in some way.

It can be daunting to go alone and then there’s the cost of travel, accommodation and the conference itself. Overall, my experience is that the benefits outweigh the cost but it is worth considering a few things before you go.

Think about the purpose of the conference. Edge-lit and 20Books were two very different conferences; both valid in their own right. Like most things, you will get more out of the experience if you consider what you would like to get out of it beforehand.

#16 – Secondary Characters

A secondary character should help reveal the details of the plot and progress the story in some way. They can either inspire the protagonist or oppose the protagonist.


  • Attach them to a place so that the reader can remember who they are.
  • Go shallow, go deep to make a rounded character. As an author know something superficial as well as a character’s greatest fear.
  • Use a character to illustrate the world you’ve created.
  • There ensure that there is a reason the character is in the scene.


  • Have too many characters
  • Make them into caricatures or too black and white.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

All human beings have to have their lower levels needs, such as food and water met, before the character can pursue self-actualisation.

  • Food, water and shelter are the most basic needs.
  • Safety and security.
  • Love and belonging, inner wellbeing.
  • Accomplishments and self-esteem.
  • Self-actualisation.

#15 – Six Senses

In episode 15, Anna and Lucinda talk about incorporating six senses into writing and give some tips on how to achieve this.


Anna talks about her experience of NPL (Neuro Linguistic Programming) to determine how people learn in different ways, and with a primary sense.


Anna reads an extract from Philip Pullman’s novel, The Golden Compass, where the author cleverly invokes three senses to good effect. Lucinda choses Sarah J Maas, Queen of Shadows, to demonstrate how to the author brought emotion into a scene.


#14 – Goals

In this episode, Anna and Lucinda revisit goal setting and discuss why it is okay not to achieve those goals.

Goals aren’t meant to constrain us. They are tool, like many others, that’s help us to get where we need to go. Lucinda’s goals changed when she discovered Story Grid.

Lucinda talks about the need to structure her novel. One of the ways to do this is using Story Grid.

Anna recognises that life can get in the way of novel writing goals and that is okay.

Lucinda discusses how Scrivener has helped in the planning process and how it can be used in conjunction with the Story Grid methodology.

What tools help you to write? What goals have you achieve or not achieved?


Shawn Coyne The Story Grid – What Good Editors Know


#13 – Conflict

In today’s episode, Lucinda and Anna talk about how conflict and motivation add tension in a novel.

Almost every important character in a novel needs two types of conflict.

External conflict:

Character vs another character/nature/technology.

Internal conflict.

Character vs self.

Inner conflict is a vital aspect of storytelling because it creates empathy in the reader, which is one way of making the story compelling.

Outer stakes are related to the character’s goal whereas inner stakes equal a yearning. To create tension, the two should be in further conflict.

It can help to ask a question – what important decision does your character have to make?


All action or non-action has consequences and tension is created when a character has to make a difficult decision or choose between two unpleasant options.

The greater the stakes (what’s at risk), the greater the tension. The writer should aim for a reader to be left with questions after each scene.

The character has to take action in line with their motivation and that motivation needs to resonate with readers.

This makes sense but the difficulty comes putting it into action. For me, Lucinda, this is only something I think about in the editing process, which is where the larger part of my work is done.

Attaining the Impossible

The greater the war within the character, the more satisfying the story. One way of raising personal stakes is for the writer to ask how they can make the goal matter more and then show the resulting internal turmoil going on inside the character. This will make the reader identify with the conflict and care about the decisions that the character makes.

Another way of making the story stronger is by giving the character multiple conflicts weaved together with the internal and external conflicts of other characters. Sounds easy, I don’t think so!

Characters can have a wound that’s a source of inner conflict. This can be due to a traumatic event, such as the murder of their family or a sad early life that taught them not to trust. Another possibility is that the character wants something that they daren’t go after which results in something missing from the character’s life.

The character might have a blind spot created by the trauma and their goal, which prevent them meeting his or her need.

They may have a wound that causes the character to live in a fantasy world or fear relationships or avoid all conflict. They could be bitter or angry at the world or seek attention.

What does your character want?

What’s the opposite of what they want? What reason is there not to pursue their goal?

Your character cannot have both so, how does this became apparent?

Other ways of creating inner conflict: –

A powerful fear and desire to avoid confronting it.

The antagon­ist forces the character to face their fear.

The character might have a secret fear that they are ashamed of getting out or it could lead to them getting arrested.

They might have a flaw that leads to trouble.

Other sources of conflict

In the podcast, Anna came up with a number of life issues, such as, where to spend Christmas and the resulting dilemma about a cause of action, guilt or self-doubt.



#12 – Standing at the Sky’s Edge


Anna and Lucinda share their joy at going to see a play called Standing at the Sky’s Edge, written by Chris Bush about Parkhill flats in Sheffield. They go on to talk about character and character development.

Standing at the Skye’s Edge

Standing at the Sky’s Edge cleverly weaves together the stories of three families who all live in the same flat at different times. It explores the social norms in the difference time-periods, as well as the changes that happened to the block of flats over the years. It cleverly defies expectations and comes up with surprising plot twists, linking the beginning and the end in an unexpected way.

The pair go on to talk more about character development and practical ways to achieve this.


Anna reads out a passage where the protagonist first encounters Long John Silver in Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, demonstrating how powerful a description can be when written by a master.

Does a character have to be nice?

Lucinda discusses the anti-hero in Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Fools and identifies what makes the character engaging. Anna talks about Steve Larson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Spider by Patrick McGrath.

There is some discussion about the importance of character arc and internal/external motivation.

Anna describes some exercises that she has done to get to know her characters. These include:

  1. Describe something a character carries with them.
  2. Describe a character’s belongings or their environment.
  3. Pretend to be Sherlock Holmes to uncover the layers of meaning about an object in the room (from the mslexia website www.mslexia.co.uk)

Internal and External Motivation

One way to make a character more interesting is for there to be tension between their internal and external motivation.

What do we mean by this? The protagonist may want one thing but need the opposite.

Anna and Lucinda provide examples, such as, a character who may believe that they want to win that race at all costs and be unaware that that is because they need to prove themselves as worthy.

Questions to ask your character

What secret is your character hiding?

What pain is your character suffering?

What was their childhood like?

What motivates them or what are they trying to achieve?


Happy writing, see you soon.

Lucinda and Anna.








#11 – Process and Goal Setting

In this episode, we talk about process and help Lucinda set goals with the aim of becoming a full-time writer in 5 years.

Each author develops their own process over time, but that process does not necessarily remain static. As knowledge and understanding grow so an author’s process might change. Consider your own process and how it might have changed after you took a course or read a non-fiction book or article.

Let us know about writing process.

#10 – Mental Health and Wellbeing

Episode 10 is about creativity and mental health. On examining the evidence, few scientific studies support the widely held assumption that there’s a link between creativity and mental health. While the research says that exercise helps mild to moderate depression, there is no clear evidence that creativity is linked to mood disorder.

Despite this, many activities for the prevention or treatment of mental health conditions focus on creative activities, such as writing. The opportunity to connect with others is what’s important, but what does this mean for writers who spend large amounts of time in their own heads? They often work alone, where there’s a risk that ruminating might get out of control.

Most people suffer from mental health problems at some stage in their lives. In many ways this seems as obvious as pointing out that most people will suffer from an illness at some point in their lives. Life is generally tough and regularly hits us with issues such as grief and loss whether that’s a person or the loss of a job or relationship. No matter how strong you are, there is a chance that something will get you right where it hurts at some stage.

Mental health, like physical health, is on a continuum and dependant on what stress versus resilience an individual had as to where they are on the scale at anyone time.

MIND and Young Minds encourage group creativity; building a network of support and getting in the habit of challenging negative thoughts and ideas.


These are UK based resources, but if anyone wants to add anything local to them that could help others, feel free.

British Psychological Society

MIND – see the website to find the Wellbeing Being Journal. Journaling helps me when I struggle to find the words when I’m too angry, despairing or confused to know what I think. It gives me a voice.


Mental Health Services NHS

Your Brain on Fiction published in The New York Times 2012, reported on research that demonstrated that the brain can learn from stories in the same way as if we experienced it.

Factsheet Mental Health Disorders

Factsheet Mental Health: – Strengthening Our Response

There are the Headspace and Calm apps that support the practice of mindfulness.

Happy Place; Calm Journal; Happy Journal by Fearne Cotton

#9 – Barriers to Writing

In this episode, Lucinda and Anna talk about barriers – internal and external. They discuss trying to find a way through, from family issues to imposter syndrome.

Signs of being stuck:

While deep down we might know that we should be writing, it is not always apparent to the conscious mind that we are struggling to write. What does that mean? If you aren’t achieving your goals, it might be a good idea to look at why that could be. Self-sabotage could be to blame. It’s worth considering whether you are experiencing a fear of change, of failure, or even a fear of success.

Other signs are; there is always another small task that just has to be done, interrupting your writing time.

Is research writing? Well, it might be, but it can also be an effective way of avoiding writing.

Other symptoms include; feeling confused, starting and then going blank. The story itself or the characters are not right, making it difficult to muster the motivation to carry on.

There are also external barriers, such as a noisy environment, no space or demanding children, pets or relatives.

Some solutions:

An activity such as running or walking can kick start the brain and get it unstuck, plus increase your daily step count, burn calories and help you get fitter.

Brainstorming or writing for fun. A change of project can get you back into the habit. It isn’t supposed to be torture – honest.

The noisy egg timer helps Lucinda concentrate for a short period (it only goes up to 50 minutes, which is plenty long enough for her).

Surround yourself with people who encourage you. If you find some who supports you and believes in you, treasure them and/or marry them.

Take a break from writing to have some new adventures. Just like the body, we need to take care of our creative brain. Just remember to plan a writing session at some point in the future.

Allow yourself to be inspired by other writers. Reading replenishes the soul, it’s a fact!

If stuck – look at your life and throw out the unworkable stuff. This is probably a good recipe for living whether you are a writer or not.

Be open to the present moment. That sounds easy! Train the brain to make it easier with techniques like mindfulness.

Shut off all distractions – phone, Facebook etc. – and when you are bored enough, perhaps you will write.

Books mentioned:

Reasons to Stay Alive Matt Haigh

The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron



Let us know any barriers we’ve missed. Any that are specific to you or even better, how you have overcome them. We’d love to hear from you. Good luck,


Lucinda and Anna.

#8 – Writing Education

In this week’s podcast we discuss the benefits and pitfalls of writing groups and give listeners some ideas of the options available (see below).

The links included are local to Sheffield but you will find similar classes near to you unless you are in a remote area, in which case you can check out online courses. You might prefer an online course for a variety of reasons. If so the links below are an example of what’s available.

The different types of writing educations/groups available:

In person, local classes that often run for a number of weeks for a set fee. People can also sign up for day, weekend retreats, or even longer. https://www.arvon.org/

Fellowships and grants are sometimes available https://literatureworks.org.uk/resources/bursaries-and-grants-available-for-writers-in-the-uk/

Online courses that range from free,  https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/start-writing-fiction to paying a set fee. http://www.open.ac.uk/courses/find/creative-writing

If you fancy becoming a graduate or post graduate degree there are a range available at Universities, such as the Sheffield MA https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/english/ma/course/creative-writing


Free writing community groups, http://www.hivesouthyorkshire.com/young-writers-groups

WEA courses, https://www.wea.org.uk/yorkshire-and-humber/autumn-2018-19-courses-rotherham-sheffield

Library courses https://sheffield.carpe-diem.events/calendar/9083795-creative-writing-group-at-sheffield-central-library/

Courses can be tutor led or peer led. You can of course start your own group and/or you might consider getting together with a writing friend to encourage and support each other.