Tag: writing

People are adding “And then the murders began” to famous book openings

There’s a rule called “Laidlaw’s rule”, which basically states that any book will be better if the second sentence is “And then the murders began”.
People have started using this to hillarious effect! 😀

Here are some awesome examples:





My meeting with John Hart!

Today I had the privilege of being able to experience John Hart, award-winning author of books such as Redemption Road and Down River at my local library in Bergen.

It was a magical experience. He talked a lot about where he gets his inspiration from and how he creates his characters. But what I’d like to show you, my dear readers, are the tips he gave me as an up-and-coming author. Hopefully someone other than me will be able to utilize these tips as well.

I can only speak to (sic) my own experience, but I think that this can be a universal thing.

The world is full of people that will tell you you cannot do it. My mother literally said “don’t waste your time, you will never get published.” This was after she read my first two unpublished novels. Maybe she’s onto something! But I cannot listen to her; I would have stopped.

Had I listened to all the agents who rejected my first novel or my second, I would have stopped. Had I listened to the surgeon who’d heard I had quit my job to write my third novel, who accosted me in a coffee shop, poking me in the chest, saying “Who the hell do you think you are, the next John Grisham”, I would have stopped.

So, I think there are a lot of reasons for this. I mean, people walk away from their aspirations all the time, I mean, it’s just a hard world. If they see you walk away from yours, then maybe they feel better about their decisions. If you go on to become the next Jo Nesbø, then maybe they should not have walked away from their dreams.

So, it’s just the way of the world – there are people like that. You need to find people who understand what you’re trying to do, and will be supportive.

But – be careful about people you ask to read the manuscript. I’m going to tell you this from my own experience – there is no creature as insecure as an unpublished writer. I’m not saying that’s you, but that was me – in a very specific way. If you’re looking for someone to read your manuscript, it’s going to be someone you trust – obviously.

If they tell you that it’s brilliant, you’re probably going to think they’re being nice and not believe them. If they tell you it’s horrible, you’re going to be crushed, and you might never write again. It’s very, very difficult to find the right reader – someone who’s opinion you trust, who can deliver it in an honest, caring way. I was lucky in that my wife is great like that. And if I succeed, it’s great for both of us, so, she’s very capable of that honesty. She’s not going to leave you down the primrose path.

So I think those would be my two pieces of advice. The world is full of writers that will say “take classes, join workshops” – I never did any of that, so I can’t speak to that. I do think that there are countless rookie mistakes that keep you from being published – not you specifically – it’s very important to learn what rookie mistakes are. I don’t know at what level you write, but I did read a few books early on. Just “How to avoid passive voice,” “How to show, not tell,” you know, the proper use of certain types of punctuation, so that I’m able to present a manuscript that looks knowingly done.

Because publishers and agents are very, very busy, they’re very, very jaded because they’re inundated with manuscripts. They’re so busy with the ones they already have that are working, people that are selling, working on the next book and need this, that and the other. Thus, it’s hard to find the time to nurture the new voices. So, you need to be very careful to not rush the manuscript out.

And let me give you a personal anecdote: so, the first novel failed, the second novel failed, it was my third that was published. And this is a rookie mistake, and this is how eager I was. Remember I talked about that insecurity? What I wanted was validation – I wanted somebody in the know to say “you weren’t foolish to do this a third time.” So I think I was probably about ten pages away from finishing the book, when just on a lark I emailed an agent the first chapter, thinking “well I’ll hear back in maybe six weeks.”

Well I got an email that night from her assistant saying “Heidi really loves this, why don’t you send the rest of the manuscript?” I hadn’t finished the book! So I wrote like a madman for the next couple of days. But when I sent it off, I hadn’t edited. And then I got rejected. I got rejected and rejected and rejected. For nine months I got rejected, before I finally did what I should have done in the first place, which was to step back. I had done that through all those rejections – for nine months, I had not looked at the manuscript. I went back and read it with some perspective, and I saw all the problems that were obvious to everyone that said no. Plotholes, tin dialogue, overwritten purpley stuff. And I fixed it!

Three months of rewrites, I sent it out, and the first agent that saw it wanted to represent me. So understand that, yes, there are lots of agents and publishers, but you only get that one shot at the first impression, so don’t undo your good work by rushing it. It’s very tempting.

I hope that helps!

On the Nativity Story

I remember watching The Nativity Story at a cinema in Pittsburgh with my first and only girlfriend in 2006. It is the best film adaptation of the nativity gospels, if you ask me.

What is it that makes those gospels so great, such that they are embraced almost universally, regardless of background and religion?

I think the primary reason is that they are, at their core, good stories. Imagine Joseph. I believe he must have been scared to his core, scared to raise a child that he knew nothing about.

Imagine Mary. I think she must have been scared to her core, scared to commit to the stranger that had been appointed to her.


I think they found each other through the fear, while they both, each in their own way, showed immense strength and courage.

Joseph and Mary are idols, not just for marriage, but for how people should behave, full stop.

Imagine the magi. The travelled across half of the known world for something that they believed in. At the same time, they managed to fool the bad guy of the story.

Imagine Herod. A man so consumed by hatred, so power-hungry that he was indirectly responsible for killing all of the firstborn in a city the size of half of Oslo. I think you’d have trouble coming up with a better baddie if you tried.

You can say many things about the Bible. But the nativity gospels are good stories, about humans facing inhuman situations, humans standing up for what they believed in and inhuman humans of epic proportions. Everything sat against an exotic backdrop. That’s the kind of stuff good stories are made of!

Interestingly, both Matthew and Luke’s stories about the nativity are laughably short. Many scholars and theologians agree that the gospels were written down a good few years after Matthew and Luke had passed, and in light of this it could seem as though many years have been spent trying to peel away everything superfluous in the original stories, so that what was actually recorded was the essence of the essence.

We aren’t even privy to the details surrounding Mary and Joseph’s marriage – all we know about this is based on historical science.

This is amazing storytelling, even if taken to its extreme. If the stories were to have been written as a novel today, they would still be great stories, but shallow to the point of naivete.

Perhaps that says more about current storytelling traditions than it does about the nativity gospels.

After all, why spend six hundred pages trying to say something that could be said in fifty?

Agatha Christie

Last night I started watching a documentary about Agatha Christie’s life and work for the third or fourth time. She’s influenced me greatly in the way I think about plotting and writing in general.

I grew up watching David Suchet play Poirot on TV, and eventually also started reading the books. Agatha’s stories have sold so many copies that the only literary work to surpass them is the Bible. When asked about her success, John Curran told David Suchet that he believes that it is so enduringly popular because she wrote such simple plots. “Doesn’t matter if you have no education or whether you’re a nuclear scientist, you can understand where she’s coming from”.

Agatha Christie as a child.

Agatha Christie as a child.

Add to that multiple layers of psychological complexity in her characters, and you can begin to understand why people love her work so much. She’s obviously one of my literary idols, and she’s taught me to focus on my plotting and to tighten it as much as possible.

Agatha also has an edge in a lot of her novels. Many are placed in exotic locales, something which inspires me a lot, because I love to travel and I like love literature as a form of escapism. My current novel is partially set in Moscow, bringing an international flavor to the plot which is mostly set in Trondheim.

My other project: writing for tweens

Thought I’d write a little bit about my other project. It is a book aimed at tweens, and I started writing it in the summer of 2013. It has been submitted to a publisher, and I’ve been revising it for over a year now.

The main protagonist is a girl named Tiara. She’s thirteen years old, and is unwittingly taken on an epic journey to save the world as she knows it from evil dragons.



Along the way, she learns about herself and gains a new unlikely friendship in the prince of England, a shy, timid boy who just wants to be left alone with his books.

Together they have to visit vikings, fight pirates and face their fears.

This book is obviously a fantasy book, inspired first and foremost by Philip Pullman’s excellent Nothern Lights, but also by Robert E. Howard’s Conan, and Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I really hope it will be published within next year, and that I can begin to give out more information soon.

Trouble in Trondheim is currently on hold until this revision is done, but it is progressing nicely.

The 100 pages fear

I recently surpassed 100 pages on my novel!

While this is a great achievement, it comes with its own set of expectations and fears. The last novel I wrote is currently (it is still being edited) 135 pages, and I really want to surpass that with this one.

As soon as I surpassed 100 pages, I started developing a fear that my plot wouldn’t be able to sustain that number of pages. But currently I have at least three more chapters planned, plus the fact that I know I will have to go back in and add characters and details later on.

Thus it looks like I’ll end up with at least 135 pages (hopefully more), but I can’t seem to get rid of the fear. It feels a bit like trying to write while banging my head against a wall, but at least I don’t have a writer’s block yet.

The question is, will I finish in time for a Christmas publication? Right now, unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. But frankly I’d rather push back the release than not be satisfied with the final product.

I just hope by the time I finish there will still be people around that are interested in reading!

The psychology of character development

Last night, as I read and explained some chapters of Trouble in Trondheim: Bikers and Gangsters to my brother, he pointed out to me that some of the actions taken by the main character were so morally wrong that he probably wouldn’t be able to sympathize with him.

I found this very interesting. It made me see the character in a new light, and now I want to try to change him, or at least the actions that he takes.

When creating a character, as an author you’re creating a character purely out of your own egotistical need to see that particular character come to life. Without that, there is no motivation.

On the other hand, you’re also trying to create a character that the audience will root for (in this case, because it is the protagonist) and perhaps even identify with.

But, of course, you can’t please everyone. Even out of those who actually read your story, not everyone is going to like it – certainly not equally much!

Therefore, the best thing you can do as an author is to create characters that you love (or despise, if the character in question is the antagonist). And by “love”, I mean such that you would defend their actions to your grave – unless someone provides a very concise argument why their actions are such that they would be very hard to sympathize with. Or why they make no sense in the context of the plot, usually meaning you have a deeper problem in regards to plot rather than character.

This goes straight to the heart of good storytelling (regardless of medium). Somehow, if you manage to create a story that is loved by its audience, you’ve manage to uncover a vital part of their psychology. More often than not, it means your audience is more like you than you’d be comfortable admitting to.

To piss when writing: Learning Russian

So yesterday I started learning Russian here in Tallinn, after taking a test that even a guy from Canada who ended up in advanced class classified as hard. I was eventually placed in the intermediary class.

Matriuska dolls!

Matriuska dolls!

The teacher was speaking Russian all the time, and my friend Massa from Japan who speaks American English fluently with no accent said, half an hour into the first lesson, that his head felt like it was about to explode.

Today I switched to the beginner class, and it feels more comfortable, because I didn’t know any grammar. In a language where even numbers are inflected (I shit you not) that’s kind of important. Interestingly though, stress might be even more important!

The verb писать means “he is writing” if you put the stress on the first syllable, “he is pissing” when putting stress on the last one. In addition, Russian is a highly inflected language, meaning that different conjugations result in different meanings.  Я писаю, the standard conjugation, means “I am pissing”; to get “I am writing”, you need to use “я пишу”.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the days ahead with a mixture of trepidation and anticipation…

Mats out.

Tallinn: Day one

So today I arrived in Tallin. My hotel turned out to be conventiently located smack in the middle of the centre of the city, only a couple hundred meters from the university. The room is barely the size of a walk-in closet, but I figure I won’t be spending much time there anyway. At least it has wifi access!

Fortunately I managed to find a restaurant to eat at so I could sit down and write. I’m the type of writer who (sadly?) only seem to manage to write a few paragraphs to a couple of pages every day, even when I’ve planned chapters in advance like I’ve done with this book.

For my next book, I will spend even more time planning it in advance, as I’ve noticed it helps make the writing process easier.

However, at some point you just have to stop planning and second guessing yourself and just sit down to get the words on paper. I’ve become much better at it, but I still have a ways to go. I hope to some day reach Ian Fleming’s level – he could sit down and punch out a few thousand words each and every day.

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming sitting at his desk.

He taught me that when writing, you should never second guess yourself or look back at what you wrote previously, because you’ll always end up hating what you’re writing or what you wrote before. Just keep spewing out those words, and then you can edit later.

I already met a couple of students at the Tallinn Summer School, and right now I’m going out for an evening with some more students. Hopefully it’ll be a good one.

Mats out.