Writing and publishing advice from a ballet-scarred rhinoceros
Updated: Nov 15
Once, when typing at speed, I described a character as a "ballet-scarred rhinoceros”.
I shared the joke with a friend, and she gave me this fine girl.
I identify strongly with my ballet-scarred rhinoceros: she too is an ancient, endangered product of my home country, South Africa. She loves to plié and pirouette, and her attempts at grace have marked her with welts and wounds. But she’s still dancing on tippy-toes and sporting glittery headgear. She’s my spirit animal, and I thought I’d let her be in charge of my blog.
I'm a writer
Twenty years ago, on a train to Leeds, I opened a Word document on my laptop and typed the words “Chapter one” for the first time. Or maybe it was “cHpater oen”. I’ve always been a terrible typist.
In the two decades since that day, I’ve written thirteen novels, seen eight of those traditionally published and sold somewhere around 100,000 copies of those books. I’ve had international deals and film options, book launches, glowing reviews and bestseller flags on Amazon.
I’ve also been in and out of contract with four different publishers and submitted to upwards of a hundred agents. I have seen some industry success, but I’ve also wallowed in an enormous amount of failure. It’s been brilliant and it’s been brutal. I bear some deep scars from the days when it’s felt like it was too hard, too lonely and too humiliating to carry on.
More than a novelist
Alongside my work as an author, I’ve churned out millions of words as a copywriter, journalist, TV writer, stand-up comedian and playwright. It’s unlikely there’s a writing problem you’re facing that hasn’t crossed my desk at some point.
Seven years ago, I undertook a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education and an MA in Creative Writing. I became a teacher of writing. I train people in business writing and editing, but mostly, I teach and mentor novelists for the brilliant Jericho Writers. On the Ultimate Novel Writing Course, I guide students through planning, completing and editing their work and I offer support and advice as they seek representation and publication.
What's "The ballet-scarred rhinoceros" all about?
This is a blog about writing, about editing and the foibles of the publishing industry. It’s also about success and failure and thinking about what you want from your life as a writer.
I’m no academic, so my advice will tend to be practical rather than theoretical, and, I hope useful. I’ll cover all aspects of writing and editing, starting with where you get a great idea, and how to create a brilliant first page. I’ll also look at ways to structure and manage your novel, big-picture editing, some advice on grammar and punctuation and more. If you send me questions, I’ll do my best to answer them in future posts.
What's in it for you?
I’m guessing you’re here because you’re a writer. And before you say it in your head, you’re not an “aspiring” writer. If you’re engaged in the process, trying to put words on the page, you’re a writer. Wear that badge with pride. I hope you’ll find some stuff here that helps you.
I invite you to be a ballet-dancing rhino with me. Wear your scars with pride and learn to toughen your hide, but never forget your sparkle. Pin on your glitzy headdress, slip on your ballet shoes, and let’s dance!