Jean Gill: " Never let the blank page win!"

Today’s guest, Jean Gill,  is a very experienced writer  brimming with information and helpful advice. She’s the author of twenty-one books, including the award-winning ‘Troubadours’ series. She’s a Welsh writer and photographer living in the south of France with two scruffy dogs, a beehive named ‘Endeavour’, a Nikon D750 and a man. For many years, she taught English and was the first woman to be a secondary headteacher in Wales. As mother or stepmother to five children, life was hectic.

Her range of work is very wide: prize-winning poetry and novels, military history, translated books on dog training, and a cookery book on goat cheese. With Scottish parents, an English birthplace and French residence, she can usually support the winning team on most sporting occasions.

Over to Jean!

You have a story in your head but you don’t know how to begin? Try one of the five ‘D’s to get you started!

1) Dramatic moment
Jump into a moment of high drama! A car chase, attempted murder, a stalker in the house, the birth of a dragon. (Ah! our old friend ‘in media res’)

2) Dialogue
If you can hear your characters speaking to each other and feel the tension, create the characters through what they say. One good tip I was given by a television playwright was to write down the conversation then delete as much as it takes (Hello, how are you?) to get to the interesting part (Why didn’t you go to the funeral?).

3) Description               
a) place
b) person

Many classic works of literature start with ‘setting the atmosphere’ or creating a character through descriptions that hook the reader. The technique can still work – try it!

e.g (place) Even the rats avoided Grampton Tip – or never left there alive.
e.g. (person) Jonah was a man who believed passionately that others should save the planet.

4) Dicton – a philosophical statement or quotation
I confess – I’ve cheated and used the French word dicton to give me the fourth D. This is another classic method. Who doesn’t recognize ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife’? This technique can be brought up to date as a statement or as a question e.g What woman in her fifties would marry for the same reason she did at twenty?

5) Double-back – start at the chronological ending
Try starting with the ending (or the middle), making the reader wonder how this point was reached.

An exercise for writers
Here’s a simple outline for a plot – write a beginning for it using one or more of the ‘D’ beginnings.
You can read my beginning below using technique number 5 – Double back.

  • Gordon and Ellie, both single cops, have been in a sexual relationship for 3 months but they work together so they have to keep it a secret.
  • The boss finds out and gives them the ultimatum – one of them has to ask for a transfer or they have to end their relationship.
  • Gordon wants to be self-sacrificing and be the one to move job.
  • Ellie doesn’t want the pressure of his being a martyr and is worried that it will become a cause of resentment between them in the future, but neither does she want to transfer.
  • They don’t want to split up and they love each other. The situation forces them to realize that they do want to commit to each other.

So they resign and set up their own consultancy private detective business as business partners and lovers, by their own rules.

Over to you – have fun trying out some ‘D’ beginnings of your own!

My beginning (Double-back)
‘I gave up my career in the force for you and look at us now! No, clients, no money and too many of these!’ Gordon picked up a handful of the bills in the Intray, scrunched them into a ball and through them on the floor. ‘And you just sit there, getting fatter! I’m going out. If I’m lucky, I’ll see someone murdered and get us some work!’

The bell tinkled cheerily on the door as he slammed it behind him and Ellie saw his angry stride along the street, carving up the gossiping strollers with their shopping bags and small children. She had always loved the bell, with its promise of clients and resolutions. When had it grown so sarcastic?

Every movement an increasing weight, pulling her further down to an airless void, Ellie bent to pick up the bills, opening them out, unfolding them, smoothing them again and again with her long fingers as she placed them neatly, in date order, in the overflowing Intray.

Thank you, Jean, especially for the challenge at the end!

Find out more about Jean
Website     Twitter:  @writerjeangill     Facebook


Read this short story from Jean’s award-winning Troubadours series

Cover for Nici's Christmas Tale

1157: Aquitaine. The wolves are coming! At midnight on Christmas Eve, while the blizzard blasts snow through every crack in the castle walls, Nici the Shepherd’s Dog stands guard in the sheepfold.

Beside him as usual are his pack and the flock they protect but this night is not usual at all. A small boy braves the snowy night, seeking the protection of his great friend while he is banned from his parents’ quarters in the castle.

Nici recalls other times and other dangers, his trials and failures, the reasons why he ran away with a young girl, now the little boy’s mother. He would still give his life in a heartbeat for Lady Estela.

And yet, on this snowy night, he cannot help her. So, while he waits and comforts Estela’s son, he tells his own puppies the story of a dog’s life.

‘One just wants to sit down with Nici as he shares his story in that cozy sheepfold while the cold winds rage outside on Christmas Eve.’ Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers’ Favorite

You can buy Nici’s Christmas Tale here: in your favourite ebook format.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO.CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.