Often when I am at booksignings aspiring writers will come along and ask me how they can become a published author. What are the secrets?

I tell them if you want to be a writer don't just think about it, start writing. Set aside a corner in your home where you can work, and if necessary, tell your family this is your place and your time. Get into the habit of writing something every day. Set yourself a target of so many hours or so many words, whatever suits you best.

Keep a good dictionary and thesaurus on your desk. If you think your grammar is shaky there are grammar guides and books of usage, too. Sign up at an evening class if that would give you confidence.

Treat yourself to some 'How-To' books. I love 'How-To' books! I find it interesting to learn what other writers do, even if I don't always agree with them. And nowadays you can find plenty of advice on the Internet; even how to lay out your manuscript.

It will help you to have some sort of filing system for if you're like me, you'll be cutting things out of newspapers and magazines, anything and everthing that you may be able to use in your writing.

And read, read, read! Not only the sort of books you would like to write but other genres too. We learn from the way other writers write. Observe the world around you; people are fascinating. Don't be a snoop but casually listen to them talking. Sometimes a snatch of conversation will get your imagination going. Keep a notebook handy and jot down ideas.


Booksignings can be lonely especially when a different author had been expected


Where to begin

Maybe you have a story to tell but don't know where to begin. In 'Alice in Wonderland' the King told the White Rabbit: 'Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'

But where exactly is the beginning? Every good story begins just as something important, some change, is about to happen. Don't waste time describing the scenery or the previous lives of the characters; once the story is going along nicely you can fill in the details. Give the readers a character they can care about and make a start. Then keep going no matter what.

Never give up even on the sort of day when inspiration has fled. Don't sit staring at a blank screen, write anything, even if you think it's rubbish. You can always change it the next day. If you want to be a writer, write.

Writing can be hard, lonely work, but the day your book is published and you see shiny new copies on the shelves in a bookshop you will know that all the effort has been worthwhile.

And sometimes people give you flowers! On this occasion the bookshop manager.

This photograph was taken at a book launch in Fenwick's in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Your readers

At booksignings you get to meet the nicest people