20 #AmWriting Tips from Fiction Authors

20 Writing Tips from Fiction Authors

michael moorcock

Use these tips as an inspirational guide—or better yet, print a copy to put on your desk, home office, refrigerator door, or somewhere else noticeable so you can be constantly reminded not to let your story ideas wither away by putting off your writing.

Tip1: “My first rule was given to me by TH White, author of The Sword in the Stone and other Arthurian fantasies and was: Read. Read everything you can lay hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt.” — Michael Moorcock

Tip 2: “Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” — Zadie Smith

Tip 3: “Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of your novel. If you are writing a plot-driven genre novel make sure all your major themes/plot elements are introduced in the first third, which you can call the introduction. Develop your themes and characters in your second third, the development. Resolve your themes, mysteries and so on in the final third, the resolution.” — Michael Moorcock

Tip 4: “In the planning stage of a book, don’t plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.” — Rose Tremain

Tip 5: “Always carry a note-book. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.” — Will Self

Tip 6: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” — Jonathan Franzen

“Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.” — Zadie Smith

Tip 7: “Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.” — Jonathan Franzen

Tip 8: “Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out—they can be got right only by ear).” — Diana Athill

Tip 9: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov

Tip 10: “Listen to the criticisms and preferences of your trusted ‘first readers.'” — Rose Tremain

Tip 11: “Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.” — Jonathan Franzen

Tip 12: “Don’t panic. Midway through writing a novel, I have regularly experienced moments of bowel-curdling terror, as I contemplate the drivel on the screen before me and see beyond it, in quick succession, the derisive reviews, the friends’ embarrassment, the failing career, the dwindling income, the repossessed house, the divorce . . . Working doggedly on through crises like these, however, has always got me there in the end. Leaving the desk for a while can help. Talking the problem through can help me recall what I was trying to achieve before I got stuck. Going for a long walk almost always gets me thinking about my manuscript in a slightly new way. And if all else fails, there’s prayer. St Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, has often helped me out in a crisis. If you want to spread your net more widely, you could try appealing to Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, too.” — Sarah Waters

Tip 13: “The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can’t deal with this you needn’t apply.” — Will Self

Tip 14: “Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless!” — Joyce Carol Oates

Tip 15: “The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.” — Jonathan Franzen

Tip 16: “Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.” — Elmore Leonard

Tip 17: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” — Neil Gaiman

Tip 18: “You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.” — Will Self

Tip 19: “The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.” — Neil Gaiman

Tip 20: “The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire’ (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.’” — Helen Simpson

Even famous authors sometimes have a tough time with writing; they also go through periods of self-doubt. Despite this, they always manage to come up with the goods. So take a lesson from them and stop putting off your writing plans and get started on your publishing journey today.

Chris Thrall is the author of the memoir: Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland.

Drug-induced Paranoia on the Mean Streets of Hong Kong

 

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Eating Smoke reviewed by the South China Morning Post

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Life with the Triads

Author Chris Thrall

chris_thrall_author_pic_web

 

The secrets of Hong Kong’s underworld are revealed in the soon-to-be-released Eating Smoke. Hannah Slapper speaks to author Chris Thrall to separate fact from fiction

In 1995, UK-born Royal Marine Chris Thrall came to Hong Kong to make his fortune. Once here, his business went bankrupt, and a series of unsuccessful jobs led him to work in Wan Chai as a doorman for one of the biggest triad groups, the 14K. Dwelling in the criminal underworld drove him to drugs; he became addicted to crystal methamphetamine, and suffered from clinical psychosis. Now, 15 years on, he is ready to tell his story.

So Chris, how much contact did you really have with the triads?
I had contact with them every day. One of my fellow doormen was a 6’7”assassin that used to be smuggled into China to do a hit on someone and smuggled back into Hong Kong. So from that perspective I was quite up close and personal. I won’t give too much away in regard to my own involvement; I think that would ruin it for the reader. It was a phenomenal insight into the underworld. It could be incredibly traumatic.

What made you want to write this book?
There were a number of reasons. Firstly I think it gives a fascinating insight into a part of life not many people get to know about. One of which is referred to as the foreign triad, which is a Hong Kong crime syndicate made up entirely of expats, who operate using the exact same clandestine methods as the Chinese gangs do, such as communicating with secret hand signs and gestures. Another reason I wrote it is because I thought it would be interesting for people to read a book from the point of view of someone who is slowly slipping into psychosis and mental illness from using drugs. It’s not exactly an area that many people get an opportunity to experience firsthand, and then get to write about afterwards. Thirdly, because I think I had a kind of innate desire to
do something creative and prove myself as a writer.

You claim it to be true – did it all happen exactly as you say?
Exactly. I had a friend say to me a while back on a night out – why didn’t you write the book as fiction? And I said to him “Why would I want to take a story that is so bizarrely insane, it’s got to be one of the craziest ones ever told, and then tell everyone it wasn’t true?” I didn’t have to flower it up, I didn’t have to add anything.

What kind of trauma did you experience?
To descend into mental illness is an incredibly sad thing for anyone to have to go through. I can’t say too much about it, but in the club I worked I was set up to be murdered one night, by these foreign triads that I mentioned. And there was that cold dark moment of reality where you realise you’re about to die. I actually turned it around, but I’m not the sort of person that is easily intimidated.

How much do you think Hong Kong is to blame for making you the way you were?
It probably doesn’t help that Hong Kong has the most hardcore serious drug known to man available in abundance on every street corner, if you know where to look. Hong Kong really brought home to me how cultures can differ immensely. It’s about the philosophy and the psychology. And the Asian psychology is so ancient; it’s so different to the West.

How did you go about getting your story published?
I was very fortunate. I came across this guy called Tom Carter who put together an incredible book called China: Portrait of a People. I came across this article he wrote called Down and Out in Hong Kong and I sent him a message explaining that I actually was down and out in Hong Kong and asked if he would be interested in reading my book. He called me the day after I’d sent it to him saying he’d already got me a publishing deal. It was an incredible moment. The thought that 15 years ago I was that man you cross over the street to avoid, and now I’ve got all these people looking forward to my book being released. It’s a wonderful feeling.

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Eating Smoke: One Man’s Decent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland – the Maverick House Book Trailer

“Chris Thrall left the Royal Marines to find fortune in Hong Kong, but following a bizarre series of jobs ended up homeless and in psychosis from crystal meth.

He began working for the 14K, a notorious crime syndicate, as a nightclub doorman in the Wan Chai red-light district, where he uncovered a vast global conspiracy and the ‘Foreign Triad’ – a secretive expat clique in cahoots with the Chinese gangs.

Alone and confused in the neon glare of Hong Kong’s seedy backstreets, Chris was forced to survive in the world’s most unforgiving city, hooked on the world’s most dangerous drug.

Engaging, honest and full of Chris’s irrepressible humour, this remarkable memoir combines gripping storytelling with brooding menace as the Triads begin to cast their shadow over him. The result is a truly psychotic urban nightmare …”

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Eating Smoke: One Man’s Decent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland – a crystal meth addiction memoir

“Chris Thrall left the Royal Marines to find fortune in Hong Kong. Sacked from a bizarre series of jobs, he found himself homeless, hooked on crystal meth and working for the 14K, Hong Kong’s largest crime family, as a doorman in the Wanchai red-light district. Dealing with violence, psychosis and the ‘Foreign Triad’ – a secretive expat clique that unbeknown to the world works hand-in-hand with the Chinese syndicates – he had to survive in the world’s most unforgiving city, with addiction to the world’s most dangerous drug…”

 

 

– The Man in the Mirror –

I stared into the largest shard of blood-splashed glass.

“Do I know you…?”

“You’ve never known him at all…”

Sitting on the filthy concrete, I convulsed occasionally and whimpered like a sick dog. I hadn’t slept for days, the crystal meth pulsing through my veins denying all refuge from the madness enveloping me.

Now that the anger had passed, I found myself suspended in a ghostly calm, trying to focus my mind and piece together a life as fragmented as the mirror I’d smashed. I needed to make sense of what happened and put a stop to the Voice.

I leant forward, slowly, to examine the claw marks in my scalp and a haunted face I hardly recognised.

“Is this me…?”

The only thing still familiar was the eyes – although now they were bloodshot and yellow with pupils raging deep and menacing. I wondered if these black abysses would dilate further, triumphing over the turquoise rings around them, heralding the madness had claimed my soul.

I was in my flat, the Killing House, with its strange blood splats on the walls, not knowing whose blood it was or how it got there.

The Voice had named it that after the Special Air Service’s anti-terrorist-training house at Hereford Camp back in England. I’d seen it in the film Who Dares Wins and on a visit to the base during my own military career.

In my mind, people surely suffered a terrible death up here, the top-floor apartment of an decaying tenement in a rundown part of Wan Chai District.

As a mosquito whined in the glow of an underrated bulb, the sound of cats wailing, dogs barking and the hustle of the street scene below hardly made it up to the solitude of my smashed up hovel.

It may well have been a dive, but I called it home, a humble abode by day but an enigmatic one that came alive at night, a place I loved a great deal more than the two-bedroomed new-build I owned in Plymouth. It was a fleapit with character…my very own piece of Hong Kong…That’s exactly what it was.

“Where’s it all gone…?”

“I don’t know…I don’t know where…”

Memories of better days floated up out of the insanity like bubbles of clarity rising to burst atop a glass of mad soda…

…dining on top of the World Trade Centre with Dan, as teenage marines on our first proper holiday. Windows on the World they called that place, its lift shaking as it went up a hundred floors of a building already swaying in the downtown Manhattan breeze, then the ritziness of gold, marble, glass, and satin tablecloths, lobster, with strawberries and more of New York’s awesome skyline to follow.

I’d chuckled to myself as the elderly toilet attendant ran the gold-plated taps and, with a respectful smile, handed me soap and a towel – only three days earlier we’d been lying armed to the teeth and covered in shit in a ditch in the Belfast countryside.

After our meal, the evening just got better. A limousine picked us up with the girls from Texas and we drank a load more champagne.

“Great night…eh…?”

“Yeah…a great night…”

I’d left the Forces to run my own business in Hong Kong – or Heung Gong, to use the colony’s rightful title: the Fragrant Harbour.

But that was all bullshit now. I had to think about my family. Despite all the difficulties over the years, they were always there for me, my friends, too – the real ones, not the superficial ones struggling to understand themselves in this ego-fuelled city. There was no way I was going home, though, a failure with a bankrupt dream. How could I do that?

None of them would recognize me anyway. They certainly wouldn’t like the dump I lived in, the amount of drugs I took, or that triads followed me home, again, the other morning. I knew they were tailing me – hardly surprising after the bizarre chain of events unfolding that night…

An inch from rock bottom, I’d taken a job as doorman in Club Nemo. As with many nightclubs in Asia, although owned by a local businessman, the dominant crime syndicate organized the security, bar, prostitutes and drug deals. In Wan Chai, this was the Fourteen-K – said to be the most ruthless brotherhood in existence.

It was ‘Paul’ Eng, a cross-eyed psychopath, who’d asked me to come and work for them. He was the resident Dai Lo, or ‘Big Brother’, a middle-ranking triad who managed Nemo’s and the mobsters who ran it.

I was leaving the club the night they set me up to be murdered. I hadn’t been scared…okay…a little, but I wasn’t going to show these guys that. If they had put themselves in my shoes they’d have realised I was tougher than I looked and wouldn’t have played their sick game in the first place.

Laughed at them I did – frickin’ gangsters with their expat cronies and weird secret hand signs. I was still laughing when glancing over my shoulder I noticed a black Mercedes stalking me slowly from a distance through the morning-after litter adorning the Jaffe Road.

I was heading back to the sanctuary of my flat, off my face on the meth I’d smoked the previous evening and looking forward to smoking some more, wondering if this would be another twenty-four hours clocked up without any sleep.

As the terror began to take hold, I decided to give them the slip by scooting up a back alley – a dark stinking shortcuts that crawled with fat rats thriving on scraps thrown out of the backdoors of restaurants. They weren’t ordinary rodents, either. These dirt-matted mutants only scurried out the way so they could watch with contempt as you passed through their patch, jeering as stale water dripped down from antiquated air conditioners.

I ducked into the doorway of one of the grey buildings and shot up the backstairs, heart pounding the living daylights out of my ribcage, my breathing frenetic.

After several futile attempts at smashing through the aging exit door, I found myself out on the roof, desperate for a place to hide and fumbling in the leather pouch around my waist for the Mini Maglite and chain.

Illumination I didn’t need – only the blunt force the torch delivered when connecting with someone’s head. I’d never had cause to use it in the club – at least not as a weapon. It had come in handy at the end of the night, though, for scouring the disco’s dirt-caked floor searching for any drugs or valuables the customers may have dropped – a trick I learnt from Di Su, the ‘Violent Hand’ assassin.

They may well be coming with their meat cleavers – after all, that’s a triad’s prerogative – but it wouldn’t faze me. Not much does when you’re a mental ex-marine flying high on the world’s most potent drug. I would do my utmost to f### ‘em up, and badly if necessary. This wasn’t a place to mess around. There are no Queensberry Rules in Wan Chai.

Still, a hiding place might prove worthwhile.

Scanning around I spied a recess set down into the roof like some kind of utility shaft. I grabbed the rusting ladder but only managed to get a foot on a rung before slipping, falling headlong into the darkness and – “Umph!” –landing on some god-awful mess below.

“F###! What the f### is this?”

Something broke my fall, but it was far from pleasant. I sensed hair and cold, hardened flesh and a stench – “Urrrh!” – that would have been unbearable in anything less than a crisis.

It wasn’t just rancid, dead and decomposing…it was human, my mind flashing back to a corpse I’d stumbled upon on a riverbank in Cairo.

The next thing I knew the Maglight was on, and because of this being Hong Kong, where situations can always get worse, I believed what I saw.

I don’t know if it was a mother and her baby, or a woman and a baby. Nor what she’d done or why. What I did know was she’d been hacked to pieces as a result.

Her face – what was left of it – still contorted with fear, as if she’d realised death was imminent, grimaced and, after the chopper sliced from crown to ear, her features had stayed that way.

I wondered if her tormentor had lopped her arms and legs off before or after that fatal blow, as they now lay awkwardly against her torso.

The little boy was on his back, draped across her midriff, with eyes gently closed and mouth slightly ajar, as if in peaceful sleep.

His tiny belly wasn’t so composed. Through a single slash, a rainbow of entrails spilled onto the woman’s emaciated chest, time and bodily fluid welding them together.

I tried to back into a corner but could barely move my own limbs. Bodies or no bodies, I would lie low here until the danger passed. Although the meth had stolen it all – friends, health, career, possessions – I still respected myself and could sit in the darkness next to two corpses and say, “F### ’em! F### ’em all…!”

The Chinese have an expression: Life is meat. It explains how the country can lose a hundred people in a coal mining accident, hide it from the world and carry on the next day, business as usual. Well, I had my own saying as I listened to my heartbeat in overdrive: Meat is life. 

            Besides, waiting shit out in adverse conditions is what the Forces train you for and the Royal Marines are the best at it. Lying up all night in an ambush position in the Norwegian Arctic has that effect on you. I could wait. I could wait as long as necessary…

I awoke later that day on the Hawaiian-patterned mattress covering my rickety bamboo bunk – the one I’d built to make use of the room space I didn’t have. Cold in the tropical heat, ravenous and shivering with exhaustion, I gathered my thoughts and contemplated my next move.

It slowly dawned it was dark already and I should have been back at work by now. I reached over, flicked the light switch and checked the Casio G-Shock.

“Shit!”

It had gone 10pm. I was over two hours late. Along with pawning my treasured Swiss watch, it was another reason to feel like crap.

I threw off the rough blanket lying across my midriff and eased my legs over the edge of the bed, hopping the five-foot drop to land unsteady on my feet.

In amongst the other junk littering my gone-to-pot attempt at tatami flooring was a crumpled page from an old newspaper. As I shoved a Marlboro between my lips and set it alight, an aerial photograph on the yellowing sheet caught my eye.

It was some kind of brick construction set into the roof of one of the colony’s tower blocks. Filling the recess, as well as my attention, was the picture’s focus. It looked as though someone had tried to create a grotesque three-dimensional Picasso using real people…although in reality, the woman and baby had been hacked to death in signature triad revenge.

An eerie déjà vu spread slowly through every cell in my body, like a banshee’s wail building to a crescendo that both chilled and electrified my being.

Frantically I scanned for the date on the newspaper…

May 15th 1995…was three days before I arrived in Hong Kong…

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To watch the book trailer on Youtube click HERE