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The Five Rules of Writing

All writers have rules they swear by – or love to break. In this series of podcasts, writers discuss the “always”, “nevers” and “only in emergencies” of producing the work in which they are expert.

Episode 23 – Novelist Freya Berry (The Dictator’s Wife) shares her five rules for writing an anti-heroine

Freya Berry’s recent debut The Dictator’s Wife features a chilling portrait of a late eastern European tyrant’s partner, as she prepares to go on trial for her life. Here the author describes her five rules for creating such an intimidating and compromised anti-heroine

The Dictator’s Wife:



Episode 22 – Novelist Zoë Somerville on how to use the countryside to unsettle your readers

Zoë Somerville’s recent novel The Marsh House concerns a single mother’s Christmas visit to the creepy Norfolk coast, and her reading a life of a previous resident of her dilapidated cottage while nature does its best to frighten her. Here she shares her Five Rules of Writing on how to create pure rural fear.


The Marsh House:


Episode 21 – Author and journalist Christina Patterson on how to write a memoir

Writer Christina Patterson, whose most recent book is Outside, the Sky is Blue, a crystal-clear account of the havoc visited on her family by illness, on her Five Rules of Writing memoir.


Outside, The Sky Is Blue:


Episode 20 – Novelist Jan Carson on how to write about Northern Ireland 

Jan Carson, whose most recent novel The Raptures concerns a spate of deaths at a rural Protestant Northern Ireland primary school, on her five rules for writing about the province.


The Raptures:

Episode 19 – Music biographer Richard Balls on how to interview difficult people 

Richard Balls, author of the superb Shane MacGowan biography, A Furious Devotion, on his five rules for interviewing someone who has little desire to cooperate.


A Furious Devotion: The Life Of Shane MacGowan:

Episode 18 – Idler magazine editor Tom Hodgkinson on how to write idly

Tom Hodgkinson, whose magazine is devoted to the quest for maximum satisfaction from minimum effort, on where writing fits with this equation.


The Idler:

An Idler’s Manual:

Episode 17 – Debut novelist Virginia Feito on how to write an unlikeable character

First-time author of the sublime Mrs March, Virginia Feito shares her five rules on writing “a gloriously grotesque antiheroine.”

Buy Mrs March here:

Episode 16 – Journalist and author Lesley-Ann Jones on how to write a rock biography

Lesley-Ann Jones, Fleet Street survivor and writer of the recent Love of my Life about the relationships of Freddie Mercury, on how to write a rock biography.

Buy Love Of My Life here:


Episode 15 – Songwriter and lyricist Rob Davis on how to write a hit song

Rob Davis, guitarist with glam nobility Mud and co-composer of Kylie’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head, on how to write hit records.


Episode 14 – Nina-Sophia Miralles on how to write about Vogue

Author and editor of the Londnr culture website Nina-Sophia Miralles, on her five rules of writing about the ultra-haughty fashion bible, Vogue magazine.


Episode 13 – Jay Glennie on how to write about the making of Hollywood movies

Author and publisher Jay Glennie, who specialises in deeply researched records of the making of classic films, on the five rules of getting A-list movie folk to share their stories.

Buy the sumptuous limited edition Raging Bull – The Making Of:


Episode 12 – French novelist Jean-Baptiste Andrea on how to write that difficult second novel

Film director, screenwriter and bestselling French author Jean-Baptiste Andrea, on writing his second novel One Hundred Million Years and a Day, one of Strong Words’ 20 best books of 2020.

Episode 11 – Author and journalist Pete Paphides on how to write about childhood

Music writer and author Pete Paphides, whose autobiography Broken Greek describes the vital role played by the Top 40 in his formative years, discusses his seven (!) rules of writing about one’s own infancy.


Episode 10 – Tom Holland on how to write riveting ancient history

Ancient historian Tom Holland, author of bestselling works on Julius Caesar, the first Roman emperors, Persia in its imperial pomp and a history of Christianity, on turning the remote past into a gripping read.


Episode 9 – Dr Gillian O’Brien on studying Ireland’s history via its sites of “dark tourism.” 

Dr Gillian O’Brien, historian and author of the superb “The Darkness Echoing,” on her “dark tourism” itinerary of Ireland’s “places of famine, death and rebellion.”

Episode 8 – Words and picture sisters Scarlett and Sophie Rickard on making stunning graphic novels

In episode 8 of The Five Rules of Writing, Scarlett and Sophie Rickard describe how they turned Robert Tressell’s “intimidating” Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists into a dazzling page-turner of a graphic novel.

Episode 7 – Journalist and author Dylan Jones on the art of interviewing for an oral biography

In episode 7 of The Five Rules of Writing, Dylan Jones, the GQ editor and author of entire libraries on music, politics and culture,  provides instruction for those wondering how to write an oral biography.

Episode 6 – Horror king Matt Wesolowski on how to write supernaturally-tinged crime

In episode 6 of the Five Rules of Writing, Matt Wesolowski, creator of the “Six Stories” brand of podcast-as-novel ultra-creepiness, on how to scare your readers witless.

Episode 5 – Cultural inspector David Hepworth on how to write rock history

In episode 5 of the Five Rules of Writing, David Hepworth, the journalist, broadcaster and writer of several bestselling volumes on how rock music changed the world, shares his views on how it’s done. You won’t be needing a chair.

Episode 4 – Thriller novelist Sabine Durrant on generating exquisite tension

In episode 4 of The Five Rules of Writing, Sabine Durrant, a masterful creator of unnerving domestic tension, sheds a little light on her techniques, including a superb method for surprising yourself.

Episode 3 – Crime writer Mark Billingham on writing at the darker end of the spectrum

In episode 3 of The Five Rules of Writing, novelist Mark Billingham shares some of the keys to writing bestselling crime stories around calculating psychopaths, including the need to keep your killer in plain sight, and the correct number of twists permitted per plot.

Episode 2 – Novelist Anthony Quinn on writing a love letter to Jürgen Klopp

In episode 2 of The Five Rules of Writing, novelist and Liverpool FC obsessive Anthony Quinn talks about how he set aside his fiction writing toolkit to compose an appreciation of Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, even going as far as to sit through press conferences in German, a language which he doesn’t speak.

Episode 1 – Tammy Cohen on writing novels as two people