Turning Creative Ideas into Page-Turning Storytelling – Clare Morrall

Report by Lisa Nightingale

Clare Morrall


‘A novel is an enormous project taking up a vast amount of your thoughts and time.’ says Clare Morrall, Shortlisted Booker Prize writer of When the Floods Came.

Astonishing Splashes of Colour, her first book took five years to AstonishingSplashescomplete. Not because the commitment wasn’t there, more because it was. When her children were still young, Clare became a single mother, therefore writing had to fit with her life and her work. She was offered a room in a friend’s house one afternoon a week in which to write. Sometimes this time was lost to her. ‘One thing about using a room in a friend’s house – you know you have to get on!’

Clare’s starting point for each of her novels is something small, unusual and usually not obvious. The starting point for Natural Flights of the Human Mind was a thought that came to her when looking at an advert for a holiday home – What would it be like to live in a lighthouse? This grows into the novel – Why would you choose to live in a lighthouse? Why isolate yourself?NaturalFlightsoftheHumanMind

At the start of her writing process, Clare doesn’t know how her story will end. Throughout the project, she continuously is asking questions of it, the answers to which provide the action and ending. Her novel is a growing discovery and the end will not show itself until half way through.

‘We all write from within ourselves’, she says, ‘If you have a story to tell; build a fictional world around it. But beware, it can become obvious when a writer has based their story on themselves’.

A reader needs to be able to identify with their characters. Having sympathy for a character isn’t the same as liking them. A writer needs to ask ‘Why’. No one knows the background to anyone else’s actions. Why does the baddy do what they do?

Dialogue is often underestimated as an aspect of bringing your characters to life. The AftertheBombingway the character speaks identifies them. Writers need to be wary of the danger of all their characters sounding the same. When writing After the Bombing, Clare read many war time reports in order to gain an awareness of how people of that era spoke. For WhentheFloodsCameWhen the Floods Came which is set in the future, she studied the history of speech which brought to light the way old sayings resurface over the years.

Plot moves the story along and the narrative arc certainly helps here. However, to over plan can make a writer’s life boring.

Action is also necessary and the trick is to interweave it as the story progresses.

Structure, like plot is more of a feeling. Try physically holding a book; your hands can feel where you are; you will be able to think ‘I’ve come to the bit when something’s going to happen.’

Once she has started on a novel, Clare sticks with it. No, she never rewrites the start. She may edit and move sections, but never completely rewrites it.

Robin Mukherjee: The Art of Screenwriting

Report by Lisa Nightingale


Robin Mukherjee was pleased to speak to us on Tuesday night. Writers so often deal with their neuroticism’s alone, he says, Hampshire Writers’ Society provides a place to feel safely insane.

Robin is a modernist. He gave us a refreshing take on many of the issues that get writers down. Whatever your type and model.

For starters – structure. Look at it the way Robin showed us? Without structure, that chair you’re sitting on would collapse. Without structure (your skeleton) you would collapse.

Robin Mukherjee

Robin began in what is now the BBC Writers’ Room where he was given a mentor. A stereotypical screenwriter at the time (chain smoking and inflexible) he was afraid that by confining it in a ‘shape’ or ‘form’ his integrity and passion would be suffocated and he rebelled against structure. But much like your skeleton structure goes unnoticed. Until it doesn’t work properly. Your story needs its structure to work well or else it will not move forward naturally. It won’t be nimble.

So on to Dramatic Structure. Think of Drama as an Act (this is what the dictionary defines it as) An act (dictionary – a thing done) can be anything, from making a cup of tea to robbing a bank. It will have a beginning (get cup) a middle (make tea, drink tea) an end (wash up cup) return to start (put cup away)

To perform your act you need:

  1. Time and space. Your story’s environment/world including the when, where, context and theme.
  2. A protagonist (someone to do the act) They need a story of their own. Once they have this they become a character rather than a ‘device’. They have desire/assent.
  3. Effort – immediately there is conflict. No matter how simple their idea, there will be something overlooked and this leads to:
  4. Opposition –
  5. Crisis –
  6. Denouement – it’s over! The protagonist is free of all ‘acts’.

All this sounds like a lot of planning. Let your story have an organic life, Robin says, you have the gift for some bits. Others you will have to work at. There will always be a certain amount of planning. Find out what your project wants.

OK. You have done all this. What do you do with your manuscript then? Be there (there being the industry), have something. Think of the industry as a motorway – no one is going to stop to let you in. You have to get up to speed. Look like you belong there. It is all very well doing the postage thing, but you will stand a better chance if you can back this up with ‘Dear Joe, we met at ….’

Publishers exhibit a fear of change. It is a shame that the genre question now comes first. If you stay true (details remember) to your subject. In the film, Lore which Robin wrote for, some children are throwing stones at a group of Russian soldiers. The soldiers fire at them and they run away. A viewer might say that the soldiers would give chase. But the truth of the matter is that they probably wouldn’t (they are hungry, tired and if their commanding officer is not looking, then they will ignore the children) Portray your truth well and you might not have to follow the troupe. Settling on your genre might be helped by returning to your Time and Space. What happens in your environment? A crime? A meeting? Or perhaps the discovery of a portal to mystical lands.

Special Guest Glenn Fosbraey
 Programme Leader for the in Creative Writing Degree at University of Winchester.

When offered the spot of January special guest and adjudicator, Glenn jumped at it. The Creative Writing Degree at Winchester University includes a module in which the students use a Gothic novel (Dracula, Jeckyll and Hyde) and manipulate it as though it were elastic. Taking text and playing around with it is an excellent exercise in creative writing, he tells us.
Glenn is passionate about lyrics. For too long, song lyrics have been the poor relation to poetry. Writers like Paul Simon are regarded as Poets rather than song writers. A song, however contemporary can hold much more information than immediately meets the eye – a social system, the fight against oppression, the plight of a gender. Song and music are ‘absorbed through osmosis’ and whether we like it or not, a soundtrack to our lives is formed.
So, Glenn has designed a new degree, one which he hopes to incorporate into the Creative Writing department next year – Popular Music.