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Kate Mosse


Foreword from the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2009 Kate Mosse advises unpublished writers

from the Writers and Artists’ Yearbook 2009

These articles are taken from the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2009, published by A&C Black (£14.99):


I bought my first copy of Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook in 1984, red and yellow, dog-eared, from a second-hand shop in London’s Charing Cross Road. A recent graduate with that least vocational of degrees, in English Literature, I was trying and failing to find a door left ajar into the world of publishing. Nearly 25 years later – having been an editor, one of the founders of an international literary prize, a presenter of book shows on radio and television, a novelist and teacher of creative writing – the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook is still essential reading, a treasure map, a literary ‘x marks the spot’, the A–Z of how to survive in publishing from every which way.

But despite having lived all of my adult life in books, one way or another, I find myself reluctant to give advice. It’s not just the weight of tradition of contributing to a publication more than a century old. Nor appropriate modesty in following in the footsteps of Doris Lessing or Maeve Binchy or Ian Rankin, all of whom have filled this space before me. My reluctance is that, even after six books, I still consider myself more a reader who writes rather than a bona fide writer. To hold one’s own experience up suggests there is a foolproof way of turning base words into literary gold. But as Somerset Maugham wrote: ‘There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are’.

Quite. The truth is that the journey from private scribbler to published author is different for everyone. There is no one road map, but many. And always, luck. So, rather than advice, here are no more than a few observations from someone who’s spent the best part of her adult life, as Margaret Atwood put it in Negotiating With the Dead, ‘labouring in the wordmines’.

There’s only one difference between published and unpublished writers and it is this – the first group see their work in print on the shelves of Waterstone’s or Tesco or online at Amazon; the second group are yet to have physical evidence of the hours, weeks, years spent fashioning words into their patterns. You are already a writer.

It is a peculiar truth that the books we most love to read are not necessarily those we can write. I’m addicted to old-fashioned detective stories, but it turned out that my reading voice is not my writing voice. If I’d realised this earlier, then I would have saved myself a lot of trouble and unpaid bills!

Although the rewards of writing can shine bright, there are times when a chilly old wind blows down from the north. This might take the form of a grumpy critic, or painfully modest sales, or your editor being sacked the week before publication. Every writer feels catastrophe snapping at their heels. The only way to cope is to take Kipling’s advice to heart and meet the two impostors, Triumph and Disaster, just the same. Let neither the plaudits nor the brickbats influence you. Whether you sell one hundred copies or one hundred thousand copies, it’s the same book!

There are no tricks of the trade that work for everyone. Be a jackdaw. Take lots of advice, then figure out what suits you and stick with it. I plan, plot, research, first; then write last. I’m a lark not a nightingale, so prefer the early morning, alone at my desk with a cup of strong sweet coffee and the white glow of the computer screen. Others do late nights with a bottle of Glenmorangie or spend afternoons at their keyboard with tea and Marmite sandwiches. Be yourself.

Finally, accept that writing is a job like any other. Five minutes writing a day is better than no minutes. And it is hard work. When asked, towards the end of his life when he was the world’s acknowledged greatest living artist, Pablo Picasso was asked why he still went every day to his studio. His reply? ‘When inspiration arrives, I want it to find me working’. Some days are harder work than others.

In the end, that’s the only advice you need. Just write. Start now. And, if you’re lucky, the rest will follow.

Kate Mosse


Kate Mosse is the author of two non-fiction books and four novels, including the international No 1 bestselling novels Labyrinth and Sepulchre. She is also the co-founder and Honorary Director of the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction and is a guest presenter for Open Book and A Good Read on BBC Radio 4.

This article is taken from the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2009, published by A & C BlackClick for A & C Black Publishers Publishers References listing (£14.99) and is reprinted by kind permission of the publisher.

Our review of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2009 edition.

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