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How To Write A Novel

November 2016Words by Mr Sam Leith

Illustration by Mr Joe McKendry

Many of us – once we’re too old to entertain a reasonable likelihood of being rock stars – dream of being writers. Who wouldn’t want to see their name on the spine of a new hardback on the shelf at Waterstones, or their signing queue at the Hay Festival snaking out past Ms JK Rowling’s?

Be advised: it’s possible. But it’s difficult. And most of what makes it difficult is that it’s hard work and you only get good at doing it by doing it. There’s an old cartoon by Mr Barry Fantoni, – featuring a quote by Mr Peter Cook – showing two men in a bar. “I’m writing a book,” says one. “Neither am I,” says the other. As someone who has written a novel and spent more than two decades in the company of people who have written much better ones, let me offer a few humble suggestions to get you started.