Am I a planner or is my writing organic?

They say that there are two kinds of writer: those who plan their books before they start writing and those who get an idea, start writing and see where it leads.


At the risk of contradicting some of the experts, I have to say that I fall somewhere between the two.  I want to plan.  I try to.  But I often get an idea and just have to start writing.  Even when I succeed in planning at the outset, I find the book can take on a life of its own and I go off at tangents.  A sub-plot becomes the main plot.  A short section keeps growing.

I think that sticking determinedly to the plan could be the way to getting stuck.  Is that the so-called writer’s block?  You could call my approach flexibility.  I stick at it but go in a different direction.

Sometimes I abandon a book, half-written, because I realise that what seemed like a great idea did not sustain itself when I began to get it on paper.  Some of these I may return to and rescue.  Or borrow the best bits to use in another book.

So you could say I make plans but let the work develop organically.  Or, there again, you could say I am disorganised.

It is reassuring to know that I am in good company.  I have heard that some successful authors fit into this middle category with me.  If I sometimes produce books you enjoy reading, it will not matter to you how I got there.  Why should I worry?

How is the Bible a help to writers?

I have written before about the value of the Bible to almost anyone, regardless of faith or its absence.

Why be interested in Bible Sunday? (Unless you are a Bible-basher).

I have just thought of something I omitted.  A special thought for writers.  Someone asked me recently about my own reading.  I mentioned lots of crime writers, historical novelists and a few other well-known authors.  Then I realised that I had forgotten to mention that I read the Bible quite a lot.

“Oh, but surely,” was the response, “that’s just for your spiritual or moral guidance – nothing to do with writing?”

Well, of course, we writers need our spiritual and moral guidance as much as anyone, but there are ways in which the Bible can be a help to you, specifically as a writer.

  1. There are lots of great stories.  Many have been drawn on by writers down the ages, as have Shakespeare, Chaucer and other classical works.
  2. Nowadays, there are lots of different translations and paraphrases, in English as well as other languages.  Reading different versions helps you see how you can express the same thought in many different ways.
  3. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all told the story of Jesus.  There are duplications but it is fascinating to see how each one brings his own emphasis to it, by what he leaves out as much as by what he puts in.
  4. It has been suggested that John is the most different because he was the last to write his account and assumed his readers had read one or more of the others.  He wanted to concentrate on things they had not mentioned, as well as bringing us his own understanding.  This shows how you can produce different stories from the same basic material.

Finally, if you are upset at Donald Trump’s election, if it has shaken your faith in…whatever you thought you had faith in, read the Book of Daniel in the Bible.  A lot of it is hard to understand, but I noticed when I last read it that God used some pretty unpleasant kings to fulfil his purposes.  Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, Belshazzar. I would not have voted for any of them.  There’s hope yet.  We have to balance faith and doubt.


What has Guy Fawkes got to do with Highwaypersons?

Guy Fawkes was a Roman Catholic extremist who hoped to see his version of Christianity imposed by force on the rest of the country.  He resorted to terrorism and failed.

Some people think the Pretender, who would call himself King James the Third, and his supporters, the Jacobites, had a similar agenda.  Not everyone agrees.  There is some discussion of that in Highwaypersons, when the main characters come across Jacobites and some of their sympathizers.

They find that life is not as simple as some people would make out.  Oscar Wilde said, “The truth is never pure and seldom simple”.

You might see a similarity with attitudes towards Islam today.  And similar differences within Islam.  Perhaps there is hope for a similar peaceful accommodation in the long run.  You must decide how relevant the parallels are.

However, the book is not a political treatise.  The politics and philosophy never hold up the action for long.

What kinds of horses do you like?

I have mentioned that I have had a riding holiday in Cornwall.  I rode five horses over seven days.  The only one I found difficult was a thoroughbred mare.  We got on OK at times but she seemed moody and unpredictable.  Some people say that is more common among mares.  Some even go so far as to make comparisons with humans, leading to sexist comments.  I would not dream of expressing an opinion.

Three of the other four horses I rode were Cornish-bred cobs. Similar in many ways to Welsh cobs except they tend to be piebald and skewbald.  That is, black and white or brown and white.  Most Welsh cobs are of one main colour.  I find them tough, resilient, sure-footed and usually good-natured.  Many of them can perform well in the school or over jumps.  I find thoroughbreds over-rated.  Except for racing, of course.

The hero of Highwaypersons, Billy Rhys, shares my feelings on this subject, among others.

Finally, I would like to compliment the producers of Poldark for the casting of that hero’s horse.  He is just the type I would expect a man of his class and means to have.  Not too showy.  A good all-rounder who could pull a cart when needed.   I have always imagined Caledin, Billy’s second horse, as being similar to Ross Poldark’s, except Caledin was a light grey.  I hope that helps you to picture him when you read Highwaypersons.

Have you read the poem about The Horse by Ronald Duncan on my website?  It reminds us why some of us love horses and why they have a special place in historical novels.

Go to and click the link to Horses.

Horse Shoe