NaNoWriMo: How to write a novel – advice from Seren novelists

how to write a novel advice from Seren novelists

It’s November and that means NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) has begun. If you’re not familiar with it, NaNoWriMo is a worldwide writing challenge, where participants have one month (1st–30th November) to write a 50,000 word novel.

Are you taking on the challenge? Perhaps you’re in need of a little motivation? Or maybe your novel has been in the works for a while now, and you need some guidance to get it finished? Whatever the case, Seren novelists are here to help.

Take a look below for some novel writing tips from the experts. Whether your novel takes a month or a year, we know you can do it.

Bethany W Pope author of Masque1. Start by letting your mind wander where it will. Taking long walks helps. Don’t ever say ‘no’ to an idea, however ridiculous or obscene it seems at first. Every idea is a seed; it’s best to let it grow. (Bethany W. Pope, author of Masque)


Jayne Joso author of My Falling Down House2. Don’t begin until the ideas preoccupy your thoughts, until you have read and researched to a point of exhaustion, until your mind is full of the world of the book, and the characters inhabit it freely. Things will change and move, grow, and diminish, and some will brutally be cut, but if you begin with a world that you can see, characters that you are beginning to know, then, when you settle down in the quiet to write, the world of your novel will begin to emerge as though by itself. Research more as you go, as you need to; sleep well, exercise and eat well, and always have something else to read. Stay with the world of your book in your mind, and switch off when you need to, sleep some more, run or swim some more. Then write and write, with fight, with joy. (Jayne Joso, author of My Falling Down House)

Bethany W Pope author of Masque3. Eventually you’ll spot your characters. Once you’ve seen them, the best way to capture what they’re like on the page is by inhabiting them, mentally. Use the actor’s method. Wear the skin of the role that you’re playing; write as if you are them and the writing will breathe. This is easier than you might think — after all, you are them, really; or they are aspects of you. Even the bad guys. Especially the bad guys. They’re parts of your psyche that you never let out. (Bethany W. Pope, author of Masque)

Jo Mazelis author of Significance4. There are two ways to approach a novel: some writers plot the whole work in advance, others begin with a vague idea, character or situation, then plunge in allowing organic development to occur. Neither is right or wrong, but there are certain advantages to both, every writer will discover along the way which works best for them. (Jo Mazelis, author of Significance)

Bethany W Pope author of Masque5. When it comes to the actual writing, do it wherever you can. By this, I mean that you should write wherever you can actually produce work. My top two choices are at the gym (I think best whilst moving — the stepper is my friend) and while sitting in my (empty) bathtub with a budgie on my head. There is no ‘should’ when it comes to writing. If it works for you, do it and give no thought to what other people think about it. You have to if you want to finish the job at hand. Once the story starts coming it will continue to come. If you love it, you will finish it. That which we cannot live without is that which we love. (Bethany W. Pope, author of Masque)

Jayne Joso author of My Falling Down House6. Drink whiskey, drink tea. Plan, don’t plan. Write. Tear it up. Start again, as you like… but finally, remember, there ain’t no way round but through, so just write the darn thing! (Jayne Joso, author of My Falling Down House)


Bethany W Pope author of Masque7. Do not worry about proofreading or editing until after the first draft is finished. Get it out, as fast as possible, even if it’s rough. It’s much, much easier to edit a finished manuscript than a few measly pages. But once it’s out of your head, for the love of God, go over it with a fine-toothed comb. Remove all the nits and every last tangle before sending it out to meet the world. It’s your child, after all. It deserves a clean face. (Bethany W. Pope, author of Masque)


We hope these helpful tips from our talented authors give you the push you need to get that novel finished – however long it takes.

‘I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.’
– Douglas Adams




Free extracts from our favourite Halloween books: read them if you dare…

read these free extracts from our favourite Halloween books

Get yourself in the Halloween spirit – read these chilling extracts from our favourite spine-tingling stories.

trick or treat: happy Halloween from Seren

Ritual, 1969 by Jo MazelisRitual 1969 by Jo Mazelis
From ‘The Twice Pricked Heart’:


When Margaret returned to the cottage she saw that her father and stepmother had retired to bed, though it was not yet night.
She put Esmerelda in a chair and the child settled down to sleep as she sang softly to her. The light in the room was made strange by the dark sky and glittering snow. The quiet of the house seemed to swell with each passing second. Margaret sat upon the settle and took up the workbasket and began to mend her father’s shirt. It was torn under the arm and this she made good before turning it over to inspect it for other signs of wear. She froze at what she saw, for there on the chest where it lay over his heart she found a small puncture hole, the edges of which were stained in a halo of what must be dried blood. She gasped to see this for to her mind such a wound was unlikely to strike the same place twice.
A chill crept over her flesh and looking up she saw that the sun was at the lowest point in the sky and shadows filled the room. Then while she looked about her she saw a movement in the darkest corner of the room that she likened to a moving cloth, such as a woman’s cloak, for there was a sort of fluttering wavelike movement to it. Never had she perceived the like before and there was nothing in the room to cast such a shadow.
She kept to her place too terrified to move or make a sound, then just at the moment when she had made up her mind to gather Esmerelda in her arms and flee the house, she heard a step upon the stair and there was the sailor’s eldest daughter, dressed in her shift and a wrap, her cheeks aglow, her eyes bright and her lips red and wet and swollen.
‘Bring me cheese,’ she said, ‘and bread and wine.’

Want to keep reading? Buy your copy of Ritual, 1969 now: £8.99


Sugar Hall Tiffany Murrayfrom Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray:


His cry echoed in the empty shed, his breath coming out in puffs of white. Dieter thought about London: he thought of the broken buildings and the cracks, he thought of the wide spaces and the rubble, and he thought of all those adventures he was missing. He gazed up at the dust dancing and the cobwebs pulsing, and Dieter heard a noise.

‘Pop!’ it said. Then,‘Pap!’

There were sparks and a shimmer that had to settle. Then, by the window and the filthy crates, there was a boy’s face.

The face was moving as if the boy was already standing up, but there was no body beneath it.

The Cheshire Cat, Dieter thought, as the face moved towards him. He gripped his pa’s crisp shirt tight, he stopped breathing, but he was determined that this time he wouldn’t run away.

The face was making a strange noise, as if tiny wings were fluttering in its throat. Dieter felt the balloon’s skin crackle beneath him; there was electricity: a crackle beneath his bottom and a crackle in the air.

He’s not a duppy, Cyn, Dieter thought, he won’t hurt me.

‘I – I brought you this shirt, these trousers,’ Dieter said. ‘I thought you’d be cold.’

Then Dieter wondered how the boy could use the shirt if he didn’t have a body.

A hot breeze of golden sparks cut through the freezing air and suddenly the boy was all there: his chest, his arms and legs, his neck and around that a silver collar. The boy shook himself and stretched up: Dieter had never seen anyone so naked, not even himself. The boy walked from those filthy storage chests and it was soundless, but Dieter watched the pitpat, pitpat of his footprints in the dust. Pitpat, pitpat; like steps in the sand and no one there.

The boy was thin. He was small, but Dieter couldn’t tell how old he was.

The boy hunched over and bent into a squat. His arms dropped, hands palmup and circling in the dust like little fish. The golden sparks were gone and Dieter saw the boy was pale for all his blackness.

Want to keep reading? Buy your copy of Sugar Hall now: £8.99


Masque by Bethany W PopeFrom Masque by Bethany Pope:


It was my job to see that she was properly dressed for company, to escort her to the room to meet her lover and the other admiring gentlemen, and then to change the subject any way I could when her natural whimsy took a turn for the disgusting as it often might.

One night, while De Changy was speaking to his managers (this was, you remember, two sets of managers back) she started speaking to a tall, nearly skeletal man who had appeared, dressed in a cloak and dinner jacket, a fine fedora aslant, shadowing a face as bland and unlined as a new-born baby’s. Her laughter had grown its most dangerous edge, the short hairs on my neck, cheeks, and arms rose in fear. La Sorelli was sweet, and she had a good heart, but her tongue could suddenly become impolitic and there were many investors present there this evening.

Annie and the stranger were standing at the point where the glorious stairs that make the Palais Garner famous intersect and form an enormous marble Y, glittering in the light refracted in a thousand tear-shaped crystals that drip from the tremendous chandeliers and gaslight torches. Whoever he was, he stood terribly erect, his gloved hands hidden behind his narrow waist, clutching a fine ebony stick. My friend, who I was meant to be watching, was sloppily drunk, spreading her barely covered breasts against the wide, pink-veined bannister. I could not read his face as he looked at her, his features were oddly stiff, expressionless, but the arch of his body signalled contempt. I rushed to her side, a quickly as I could, pleased that my new silk shoes did not slap against the carved stone stairs, pleased that I did not slip and crack my skull against the pavement…

Want to keep reading? Buy your copy of Masque now: £9.99


Bonus: download Jaki McCarrick’s short story, ‘Blood’, for free!
‘Blood’ from The Scattering by Jaki McCarrickShabby academic Fred Plunkett, working alone in his aunt’s Victorian house, has his peace disturbed by a sleek intruder with matt red lipstick, a lampblack dress and high, plastic heels. Lara claims to be researching vampires and the theory that Dracula fled his native Transylvania to take refuge in the Cooley Mountains of Ireland, in Fred’s home town. But when she smiles, submerged thoughts of blood and desire begin to wake in Fred’s mind…

Download ‘Blood’ for free from

‘Blood’ is one of nineteen stories in Jaki McCarrick’s critically acclaimed short story collection, The Scattering, available from the Seren website: £8.99



50% Off All Books: Editors’ Picks

50% off all books this week

2016 has arrived and with it, our January sale. For one week only, enjoy 50% off all books available on our website!

That being said, we know choosing which books to buy can be a little tricky so our three editors are on hand to give their book recommendations. Be it poetry, fiction or non-fiction that tickles your fancy, we have suggestions for one and all.

Mick Felton Non-Fiction Editor
Mick Felton – Non-Fiction Editor

As our non-fiction editor, Mick sees a wide variety of books each year, including everything from history, crime, autobiography, music and sport. So which two books does Mick think you need most on your shelf?


The Road to Zagora by Richard Collins
The Road to Zagora

After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, Richard Collins sets off with his partner Flic on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. The Road to Zagora is a singular travel book which takes in India, Nepal, Turkey, Morocco, Peru, Equador and Wales.
Though not shy about the hardships of the disease, any sentiment of self-pity is denied through Collins’s resolute and independent-mindedness and the quality of writing.
£9.99  £5.00

Losing Israel by Jasmine Donahaye
Losing Israel

After discovering by chance that her family had colluded in the eviction of Palestinians in 1948, Jasmine Donahaye set out to learn the story of what happened. Her discoveries challenged everything she thought she knew about the country and her family. Losing Israel is a moving and honest account which spans travel writing, nature writing and memoir. Jasmine explores the powerful and competing attachments people feel for their country and its history, by attempting to understand and reconcile her conflicted attachments, rooted in her family story – and in a love of Israel’s birds.
£12.99 £6.50


Amy Wack Poetry Editor
Amy Wack – Poetry Editor

Amy has read and enjoyed a dazzling array of poetry over the twenty-plus years she’s been with us. Trying to narrow down her choices to just two books was hard, but here goes…


A Formula for Night: New and Selected Poems by Tamar YoseloffTamar_quicksand cover

The eagerly awaited summation of Tamar’ work, encompassing selections from four published print volumes: Sweetheart, Barnard’s Star, Fetch and The City with Horns; and poems from her collaborations with artists: Formerly, Marks and Desire Paths.
The book also includes a generous selection of beautiful new poems, which are often artful explorations of paradox: death/birth, dark/light, clarity/mystery.
£12.99 £6.50

House of Small Absences by Anne-Marie Fyfe
House of small absences
Anne-Marie Fyfe’s poems have long dwelt on the role that the spaces we inhabit, the places in which we find security, play in our lives: House of Small Absences is an observation window into strange, unsettling spaces—a deserted stage-set, our own personalised ‘museum’, a Piedmont albergo, underground cities, Midtown roof-gardens, convent orchards, houseboats, a foldaway circus, a Romanian sleeper-carriage—the familiar rendered uncanny through the distorting lenses of distance and life’s exigencies, its inevitable lettings-go.
£9.99 £5.00
Penny Thomas


Penny Thomas – Fiction Editor

Which fictional words would Penny have you delve into first? We’ve published a beautifully varied range of books, and below are just two of Penny’s favourites.

Swimming on Dry Land by Helen Blackhurst
Twelve-year-old Monica Harvey is looking for her sister Georgie, who has disappeared. The Harvey family has recently moved to Akarula, south-west Australia, having been persuaded to set out in search of a new life by their rich Uncle Eddie, who owns the town. Unbeknownst to them, Georgie isn’t the first person to vanish.
As their dream-like vision of life in outback Australia begins to be tainted my mystery and deceit, the history of the land unfolds and answers to the strange disappearances slowly suggest themselves.
£9.99 £5.00

Foreign Bodies by Candy Neubert
foreign bodies
Fresh from the UK, Emma thinks she has fallen in love with a place, a person, and pursues the man of her dreams with a colonial zeal. But for all her poetic sensibilities, she seems unaware of the destruction she is capable of leaving in her wake.

A beautifully written first novel, Foreign Bodies explores the spaces between people, and the nature of encounters in romantic idylls on the other side of the world.
£7.99 £4.00


Don’t forget, absolutely everything on our website is 50% off– so if you’re eager to see beyond our suggestions, then go forth and discover a new read for the New Year on our website.

Half price offer ends midnight, Sunday 10th January. Happy book hunting!

The Road to Zagora | Travelling with Mr Parkinson

In 2006, author Richard Collins was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Spurred on by news of his illness, Richard and his partner Flic resolved to seize life by the horns and see more of the world. The Road to Zagora tells the story of their subsequent adventures.

the road to zagora by richard collins

Here at Seren we’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of The Road to Zagora, a unique sort of travel memoir in which the author explores the good, the not-so-good and the surprisingly funny aspects of travelling with Parkinson’s disease. We thought we’d give you a sneak preview of the book to wet your appetites – so read on to hear about the adventures of Richard, Flic, and Mr Parkinson.

A is for Aqaba (Jordan)

Travelling enriches your life and changes your understanding
of quite a few things. Home is a different place on your
return. You are a different person, having travelled. I have had
some preconceptions of other people and places quietly
overturned. I spend a lot of my time at home now because of
my poor health and have the opportunity to reflect on these
things. Or I do something daft like make an A to Z of place
names, each from a different country, and write a little
anecdote about each one. I once spent a couple of rainy days
doing this, starting with Aqaba in Jordan:

Forget Lawrence of Arabia arriving in Aqaba on camelback at
the head of a Bedouin army: we crossed the desert by bus, in
comfort, with wi-fi and air-con and reclining seats.

Aqaba is a port but also a seaside resort, a holiday destination
for Jordanians. We were at the beach on a Friday, the
Muslim holy day, and found that it wasn’t wall-to-wall joylessness
as Sunday is in some parts of Christendom (we once saw
a children’s playground in the west of Scotland with a sign
Closed on Sundays). People may have been to the mosque in
the morning but now they were having fun. Women were
dressed conservatively, some in long black robes, but it didn’t
stop them from going into the sea, snorkelling or messing
about on inflatable plastic ducks.

We had already had our preconceptions of Islamic society
challenged in the first Jordanian town we visited. The shoe
shop proudly displayed in their window a number of pairs of hi-heeled thigh-high leather boots in a choice of colours, red or
black. Did the women we passed on the street wear these under
their long robes? In what other context, we wondered, would
they be worn? I really can’t imagine.
The people of Jordan are renowned for their hospitality,
friendliness and sense of humour.

The Road to Zagora, Richard Collins


Richard Collins





I hope you enjoyed this cheeky preview of The Road to Zagora! If you did, then good news – you can find the book in our store here, and get a 20% discount through our store.

Recommended Reads this Easter!

There’s no denying that Christmas is a fantastically fun time of year, but a lot of stress, tears and an inordinate amount of planning goes into it – just 1 day out of 365 – meaning we barely get a chance to acknowledge it until the day’s over and done with, and we have to spend January living off what seems like an endless supply of turkey sandwiches.

Easter is a much more mellow holiday; a chance to enjoy a long weekend with a pile of chocolate and celebrate that spring has arrived at last! What better way to spend a weekend like that than with a good book?

judas cover rgbDamian Walford Davies’ latest collection, Judas, is a perfect read for this time of year. No matter your opinion of Judas, we guarantee this collection will both fascinate and horrify you, and by the end of it you may find your perception of the most famous traitor has changed. Check out our interview with Damian here!

If you’d prefer to take a step back from the religious elements of the holiday, perhaps Philip Gross aA Fold in the River_Layout 1nd Valerie Coffin Price’s A Fold in the River would be more to your taste. The arrival of spring brings out the green fingers in everyone, and with their marriage of poetry and paintings dedicated to the landscape around the River Taff this collection is an evocative tribute to our natural world.

Perhaps youseren_-_the_advantages_of_an_older_man‘d prefer to read prose, and if you’re in the mood for something fun and quick to enjoy over the weekend then why not read Gwyneth Lewis’s Advantages of the Older Man? In this light-hearted novella a young Swansea woman finds herself possessed by the restless spirit of Dylan Thomas, who is in the middle of a mid-afterlife crisis himself.

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray. £8.99Sugar Hall is the ideal read for you if you’re in the mood for something a little spookier this Easter. Set during the Easter of 1955 on the edge of the English/Welsh border as Britain prepares for its last hanging, Tiffany Murray’s chilling ghost story is inspired by the tales of the slave boy that surround Littledean Hall in Gloucestershire.

You can find all of these books, and many more, on our website. From all of us at Seren, we hope you have a wonderful Easter!

Forthcoming Title: ‘Jonah Jones: An Artist’s Life’

To be released on 18th July 2011.

Peter Jones

Sculptor, painter, letter cutter, stained glass artist, novelist, travel writer, academic and administrator; Jonah Jones (1919-2004) was a twentieth century renaissance man.
Born near Newcastle into a family of miners he became a librarian before reluctantly volunteering for a non-combatant role in the Medical Corps during he second world war. He saw action in North Africa but also met a number of artists and craftsmen in the RAMC who fired his own passion to become an artist. After the war, now married and having survived severe case of TB he settled in his family’s homeland of Wales and began his ‘on the job’ education as a sculptor and letter cutter. Much of his early work was at Clough Williams-Ellis’s Portmeirion villages. The two became close friends and Jones widened his circle to include Richard Hughes, Bertrand Russell, John Cowper Powys and Huw Wheldon.

In a varied career Jonah Jones produced intimate sculptures, monumental installations, and beautiful inscriptions, in addition to writing novels published by leading London houses, a biography of Clough Williams-Ellis and a hugely regarded survey of the lakes of North Wales.

Join Our Online Book Club

Join our Online Book Club to get 20% off every book you buy from us.

It takes seconds to sign up to the Seren online book club – you will enjoy 20% off every puchase made.

You will be kept up-to-date with forthcoming titles, news and events. Be the first to know when a new title has just been released, see exclusive videos of Seren authors reading from their books and enjoy special offers which are available to our online Book Club Members only.

We want to contact people interested in Seren, its list, authors, events and news. And even the multinational publishers can’t rely on the usual media for this information so we want to open our own channel of communication.

Members help us understand our readers (ensuring we can continue to publish the books you enjoy), and help us make a better website. We know readers of Seren titles will be literate, informed and interested in a variety of styles and subjects. Our ambition is to make this site a prime port of call for all those interested in the goings-on in the (independent) publishing sector and beyond. We need feedback from visitors and recognise the value of their comments as a resource to make the site relevant and attractive.

We hope you’ll enjoy your membership, remember to log in as a member as soon as you enter the site

Click the link below to edit your account and sign up to become a full member of the Seren Book Club.

Sign up to the Book Club now!

Nia Williams, ‘The Colour of Grass’, Book Signing

Nia Williams author of new fantastic novel, The Colour of Grass, is holding a book signing at Waterstones in Cardiff on Saturday 21st May 2011 at 1pm. 

To find out more about Nia Williams the author or the novel’s synopsis, there is information on her if you click the tagged ‘Nia Williams’ or check the seren site – – to read more about her and her work.

Book Submissions

Thinking of submitting your work to Seren? Read our Submissions Policy first.

Submissions Policy

Seren publishes between twenty and twenty-five new titles a year across its list. Fiction currently accounts for five or six titles and poetry six or seven.

As a successful and prize-winning publisher Seren receives hundreds of typescripts. We do our best to respond as quickly as we can, and like all publishers we’re eager to read remarkable new writing.

Please be aware though that in many areas we are considering titles for publication two or more years ahead, and that the ratio of submissions to editors means that proper consideration of your typescript may take some time. We hope that our continued success will mean an increase in titles, but for the moment please bear with us.

You are welcome to make non-fiction submissions by email, to the addresses below (please note we are not currently accepting poetry or fiction submissions via email). If sending a submission by post, please include a stamped addressed envelope for return of manuscript, and for acknowledgment of receipt if required. (Unfortunately we are unable to acknowledge receipt or return MSS without these.)


Seren publishes  a small number of quality literary fiction titles. We do receive a large number of submissions, but are always keen to read innovative, exciting manuscripts. We do not usually publish genre fiction, such as historical, saga, sci-fi, etc, and are not currently publishing children’s fiction. Writers wishing to submit fiction should first familiarise themselves with the Seren website to ascertain whether their book would contribute to the Seren list.

To submit a manuscript please send a synopsis, covering letter, two or three representative chapters (around fifty pages) and a stamped addressed envelope to Penny Thomas, Fiction Editor, Seren, 57 Nolton Street, Bridgend, CF31 3AE. Email submissions are not accepted.

Our list has now reopened to submissions, but please bear with us as it may take some time to get back to you.

Penny Thomas, Fiction Editor:


Poets who wish to submit should have track record of publication in literary Journals like Poetry Wales, New Welsh Review, Planet, Poetry Review, etc. Poets should send hard copy manuscript of approximately 50 pages, along with a one-page cover letter with details of previous publications and brief biographical details. It will also be helpful to show some knowledge of the Seren list. Simultaneous submissions are discouraged.

Amy Wack, Poetry Editor. Hard copy submissions only


For us to consider a book for publication, you should send a clear proposal in the first instance. We may subsequently request a sample of the work. 3-4 pages of A4 should be sufficient, covering the following areas:

Author/Editor: brief biographical details of the author, editor(s) or collaborators. Where the book is several edited chapters or essays, brief biographical and professional details of all contributors are useful.

Title of Book: This need only be a working title, but it should give a clear sense of the book’s scope and range.
Synopsis: One page or less outlining the book, its subject, approach and method.

Chapter Outline: A chapter by chapter outline of the contents, showing how the argument or subject is developed.
Illustrations, Figures, Tables: please give an estimate of the number and kind of illustration needed (colour/black and white etc.)

The Market and Competition: What is the envisaged readership? Might the book be used on courses? Is there likely to be overseas interest? Are there any possible tie-ins or media interest likely? Do any similar books exist? If so, what are they and how does yours differ?

Date of Delivery: When can you complete the book?
Please also include the author/editor’s CV.

Mick Felton, Non-Fiction Editor:

We wish you every success in your submission and look forward to reading your work soon!

WIN a proof copy of Tony Bianchi’s ‘Daniel’s Beetles’

We are giving away 5 proof copies of Tony Bianchi’s latest novel Daniel’s Beetles, 10 weeks before official publication. Daniel’s Beetles is the author’s translation of his prizewinning Welsh novel, Pryfeta. Daniel’s Beetles is an absorbing, unnerving novel about memory and forgetting, stories and lies. It describes our attempts to recreate ourselves in ways we can never fully control.

All you have to do is write Daniel’s Beetles in the subject line of an email and send to

Closing date is 4th April 2011. See Terms & Conditions

To learn more about the novel and the author check our blog under ‘Seren Authors’ and ‘New Releases’.
All information is also on our website.