10 writing tips for new authors

10 writing tips for new authors

10 Writing Tips for New Writers

The internet abounds with writing tips for new writers and everyone has a take on how you “should” write your book. Always plot. Never plot. Write at the same time everyday. Don’t wait for inspiration. Grind it out. There are thousands of them. In this post, I’ve narrowed down my favourite writing tips for new authors. But, take them with a pinch of salt because your process may be different.

My biggest tip? Don’t let other people’s ideas of how you should write get in the way of your writing. Build your process to suit the way you like to work. However, if (like me) you like to dive into other people’s processess or need a gentle nudge, read on.

The first draft is where you tell yourself the story; the second is where you tell it to other people

Thanks Neil Gaiman.

If you’re struggling through your first draft, this tip will change your life. When you approach your writing with this mindset, it becomes easy to reconcile the bumps, inconsistencies, and banality of those first efforts. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter that your character’s name changes halfway through, or a new antagonist seizes the reigns at 50,000 words. It’s your story, run with it.

The second draft is where it’s at for actually crafting your work. And the third. And the fourth…

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” — Richard Bach

This is a fundamental truth of writing (and everything else). New writers are rarely told that writing, more than anything else, is an exercise in dogged determination. It’s a willingness to fix what you hadn’t seen as broken and change what you thought was perfect.

Your first draft isn’t ready to send out to a publisher, and it’s likely your second won’t be either. And while it’s tempting to send your shiny new story out into the world, you’ll be grateful you persevered through a round or two (or three) more of edits.

Don’t edit while you write

Don’t. You’ll go round and round in circles making a few pages perfect that you’ll end up cutting out later. See tip #1.
Over time, you’ll find that the quality of your early drafts will improve. You’ll subconsciously edit your work as you go and make fewer obvious mistakes. Let this kind of self-editing develop naturally.

Plot your story

This is a surprise addition to the list because I’m a pantser from way back. As a new writer, I never plotted. I hate plotting. It gets in the way of writing. Whenever I start, I get excited about the story and can’t resist diving into the writing way before I’ve worked out any of the details that a traditional plotter would be across. However, lately I’ve found that pants/plot hybrid works well for me (you might be different). I don’t need to delay gratification for too long, but I don’t stumble around blind for months on end either.

Life is about compromise, right?

I’ve also done a few time-based, subject-restricted writing competitions and found plotting invaluable when there’s a tight deadline, a word count limit, and a set of parameters that have to be met.

Kill Your Darlings

You’ll hear this piece of advice from every writer you’ve ever met and as a new writer it can be a near impossible feat.

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”—William Faulkner

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”—Stephen King.

Your darlings are those beautiful bits of prose that came to you in a moment of inspiration and made you feel special. They flow and flutter, dip and dive across the page in a flurry of whimsy and playfulness. Kill them. Do it. They’re dragging you down. Lock them away like Bertha Rochester if you must, but they’ll burn your house down if you don’t (oh wait… she did that anyway didn’t she?). See advice #2.

Be a reader; you can’t write in a vacuum

One of the best writing tip for new writers isn’t to write at all, but read. Reading other people’s work is the best way to educate yourself about writing. You know a well-written book when you see one, the next trick is to figure out how they did it. This means that you need to read as a writer. Look at language, structure, voice, plotting, setting, characterisation—all the ‘ations’. Many new writers worry that their work will be derivative or that they need to ‘be original’. Your words are always original and every piece of work is derivative, so put that fear aside and get reading.
And, who doesn’t enjoy reading?

Never trust anyone who does not bring a book with them. Quote by Lemony Snickett

Aim for rejection

This may seem an odd tip for successful writers because who wants to expereince that sinking, disappointing feeling over and over? But aiming for rejections means you’re writing. The more the better. After all, a rejection is a ‘not here right now’ response rather than a ‘this is no good’ response.

Write

You can’t fix it if you haven’t written it, and like anything, writing takes practice. Not only does your writing improve the more you do (who’d have thought?), but you build a body of work that shows you what kind of writer you are. Plus, publishers like writers who have a publication history (a real Catch-22, thanks Joseph).

This tip is also a variation on the ‘don’t edit while you write,’ and ‘the first draft is where you tell yourself the story’ tips above.

Hang out with other writers

Seriously, they’re the only ones that get it. That doesn’t mean you have to join a writing group if that’s not your thing, but just being able to talk to someone who understands the ups and downs is incredibly helpful.

Use less words

This is one of those tips for new writers that isn’t true for everyone. Some people love flowery, poetic language. I prefer simple, straight-forward language with details expressed in as few words as possible. This is as much a reflection of personality and preferences than a steadfast rule. However, as a reader, I often skim the sections of description and jump to the action and dialogue. I know I’ve found a gem when I gush at the beauty of a simple sentence that still portrays the complexity of place and emotion.

Final thoughts

Hopefully, these tips will help you get stuck into your writing. Take out of them what works for you and throw away anything that doesn’t. Writing is a mix of black magic, stubbornness and luck, and you never know what tip or trick will be the one that gets you through your next piece of work.

Looking for more inspiration?

The internet is a veritable rabbit-hole of ‘how to’s’ and ‘rules’, and ‘tips’ for new writers. Here are a few I think are useful.
Louise Allan’s ‘How to write a book’ series.

The Guardian’s ‘Ten Rules for Writing Fiction‘.

The Write Life is a great general resource.

Writers’ HQ have heaps of resources to support your writing journey.

And if you want a laugh, Writers Write post loads of memes and charts that capture the enigmatic world of words.

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Beyond Superheros: Why You Must Watch “The Incredibles 2”

Beyond Superheros: Why You Must Watch “The Incredibles 2”

This week I’m in Sydney for the Feminist Writer’s Festival and I had planned to repost an older blog post that pretty no one read. It’s lazy, but practical in the midst of an incredibly busy and blustery week. However, last night as I flew over from Perth I watched The Incredibles 2 and was so taken with this lovely little film that I changed my mind and decided to write about it.

Confession: Life is tough at the moment. I’m in The Queen Victoria building, waiting for my coffee to arrive. I slept in until 9am. Seriously, 9am? And am a free agent until six when the first lecture of the festival starts. Pity me.

The Incredibles 2.

The first Incredibles movie is one of my favourites. Anyone with small people in their lives will know what it is like to have to continuously watch the same trite, vacuous and irritating animated films on repeated loop for say… ten years? The Incredibles was one that I got into. It’s take on life after superdom. That is, life after the romance, the adventure, the thrill of the chase. Married life. Family life. How do we reconcile our young, beautiful former selves with this ragged person just trying to hang on. This, all mixed in with a super cute super-hero storyline.

The latest iteration of The Incredibles somehow does it better again. This time we follow the rebooted career of Elastogirl (The mother, wife and carer of the Incredibles family). The husband and wife team reverse roles and while there’s nothing new in that plot-line it is handled so beautifully and poignantly that I almost forgot I was watching a kids’ film. The film begins with the family saving the city from “The Underminer” (where the first film ended). When the action scene ends, the family is arrested. Superheros are still illegal. The insurance won’t cover the damage of their intervention. Now homeless and unemployed the family is destitute. This is when Elastogirl is offered an opportunity to raise the image of superheros through a suit-cam and PR campaign. Like the first film, the superhero plot is an absolute aside to the relationships and identities this film is exploring.

It is overwhelmingly exciting that the protagonist of a kids’ superhero movie is a middle-aged mother-of-three who is trying to recapture her own sense of self as autonomous and important while balancing her need to care for her family. Layered over this is the equally amusing but touching narrative of Mr Incredible. He too struggles to give up his past identity in order to do maths homework, care for a baby and steer his teenage daughter through adolescence. COupled with this is his own identity crisis in which he must manage his ego and expectations as he is outshone by his previously second-fiddle wife. While the film draws on familiar jokes about a father’s inability to cope in the home it swiftly dispels the rather insulting notion that it can’t be done. Mr Incredible adapts, learns and copes in order to give Elastogirl the space and the time she needs to thrive outside the home.

This film is funny, beautifully made, and full of pop-culture references. It engages with the social and political sphere in its ongoing storyline about doing what it right versus what is legal and the way that governments and legislation can lose sight of people.

Why do I think this film is important?

This film is about family. It is about the relationships that make us who we are. It doesn’t valorise youth and beauty. Nor does it dismiss its young characters as incapable or reliant. Rather, The Incredibles 2 is a film I want my children to see because it shows a family working together to navigate life and reminds us that every member has value, both within the family and as a member of the larger community.

 

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Great Feminist Fiction: N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy

Great Feminist Fiction: N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy

N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy is nothing short of incredible. Often fantasy fiction is written of as “genre fiction” which is code for a good story but essentially time-filling, superficial fluff. In other words, blockbuster material but nothing that is going to change the world. That honour is given to dark, moody, emotional dramas and often books that take two or three readings to really nail down. Given that the bulk of literature consumed is genre fiction this dismissive attitude from some writers, readers and critics of literary fiction must be wrong at least some of the time.

Fantasy fiction has come a long way since I was reading the same formulaic plot of teenage magician, dragons, mages, and journeys through deep, dark forests over and over again when I was a teenager. So burned was I by the generic template of fantasy fiction that I stopped reading it entirely for over twenty years. Then my hairdresser (seriously, I get book tips from my hairdresser) put me on to a few incredible authors and I’m back into a full-blown addiction. Science fiction is still my preference, but there are some serious players in the world of fantasy fiction.

N. K. Jemisin is one of them. Unsurprisingly all three books in the Broken Earth Trilogy won the Hugo award, with the final book also winning this year’s Nebula Award and Locus Award for Best Fantasy. These are a series of books that I would call literary fantasy fiction. Why? The prose is superb. The world-building immaculate. The magic system is new, imaginative and explored to its fullest extent. The novels are narrated in third and second person point of view—no mean feat. The protagonist is a middle-aged mother. Whoa. I know. How the *$#% did someone manage to make a middle-aged mother not only the heroine but portray her as tough, with emotional depth, and physically tangible without boring us? (Maybe this touches a nerve).

The strength of Jemisin’s narrative lies precisely in her choice of protagonist. There is no shortage of powerful male characters through which this story could easily have been told, but in choosing a female lead the personal and the political become indistinguishable. Her identity as a mother is inseparable from that of a community member, a “Raga”, or the potential saviour of the world. Jemisin balances the tension between the multifaceted identities of her protagonist in a way that is both heartbreaking and believable. Women, their bodies, their lives, their choices are expressed with nuance and sensitivity and no one identity is prioritised over the other.

These books are ultimately about the myriad of relationships that make up who we are: self, community, familial, maternal, global and environmental.

*N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy:

1: The Fifth Season

2: The Obelisk Gate

3: The Stone Sky

 

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Kings, Painters and Video Games: A Fairy Tale Revision

Kings, Painters and Video Games: A Fairy Tale Revision

A silly one for this week. This is a short story I wrote for a competition a few months ago. I had to include fairy tale (genre), a video game and a house painter.

Bluebeard’s Painter

Phil can just make out the top of the wall through the wispy clouds that slide like ghosts over the cold, damp stones. He sighs and lets the bucket drop from his hands. It clanks against the cobblestones, tipping over and spilling his paintbrushes into the dirt.

“Dammit!”

“Clutz,” a small, high-pitched voice mumbles. The other two squirrels snigger.

Phil kicks at them and growls, scattering the obnoxious creatures in a flurry of squeaks and flamboyant tails. The steady cadence of an approaching horse grows louder and Phil turns to see the King’s squire clinging to an enormous, dappled Clydesdale. Phil rolls his eyes—pompous ass. The squire pulls on the horse’s reins and turns the animal up alongside Phil and the newly regrouped squirrels. The horse, or Ralph as he used to be known, narrows his eyes and glares at Phil, steam streaking from his large, pink nostrils.

Phil tips his hat and nods to the horse. “Ralph.”

Prompted by an irritated cough, Phil looks up to meet the squire’s eyes, “Nice hat. Prey, what glorious shade of grey are my trusty companions and I to paint His Majesty’s wall today?” The squirrels chuckle.

The squire purses his lips and pulls out a scroll from his saddle-bag. Ralph doesn’t take his eyes off Phil.

“What?” he says to the horse, arms out in an innocent gesture. “Don’t pretend you didn’t enjoy it.”

The horse snorts and digs at the ground with its front leg.

Phil points at the horse. “Hey! Harden up. That princess thing was your idea. You might have that monkey on your back, but spare a thought for me. I have this sodding great wall and these little freaks.”

“Really?” The fat squirrel protests. “That’s harsh Phil. Really harsh. You need us little freaks to get to the top of that wall or it’s caput for you.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Phil waves his hand at the squirrel without turning around. “So? What’s the colour?”

The squire scans the scroll mumbling various royal decrees under his breath.

“Aah!” he says eventually. “Here it is. His Royal Highness Alfred the Magnificent, fourth of his name, Lord of the—”

“Cut the crap, what’s the colour.”

The squire coughs and squirms in the saddle. “Shale grey.”

“Shale grey?” Phil takes a step towards the squire, hands up in supplication. “Shale grey? Are you joking? Are you making fun of me?”

The squire turns pale. He grips the reigns with one hand and lifts his chin. “That’s what it says.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong here, but didn’t we paint this wall shale grey the day before yesterday?”

The squire purses his lips and nods, his eyes darting to the squirrels who stand behind Phil with their tiny arms folded across their chests. “Indeed, and in his infinite wisdom His Majesty realised his error in changing the colour to, to,” he stammers and fumbles with the scroll. “To slate grey yesterday and would now like it returned to its former glory.” He stuffs the scroll, still unravelled, back in the saddle bag and encourages Ralph to make a quick withdrawal.

Phil pinches the bridge of his nose and, without opening his eyes, tells the squirrels to get the paint ready. They scurry around his feet, picking up the fallen bucket and carefully dusting off the paintbrushes. When Phil opens his eyes the three squirrels stand around the bucket, their clawed hands clasped together to form a circle. They sway, slowly at first, then building to a frenzy, like trees in a winter storm thrashing against the wind. Slowly, with a tingle of a bell-tree ringing in the distance, the bucket fills with the drab, grey paint that is at the heart of today’s punishment.

Phil grunts as he pulls himself up on another handhold. Don’t look down. The fat squirrel squeaks as Phil catches the tip of its tail in his grip.

“Watch it!” The squirrel glares at Phil, using two hands to wrench its tail free.

Phil can only muster an inarticulate, humf, as an apology.

The other two squirrels run back and forward along the top of the wall. Phil is too tired to parse their rapid chatter. He pauses for a moment, taking a deep breath and wills himself to make the final climb.

“I see them! I seem them!” The two squirrels on the top of the wall jump up and down, pointing into the courtyard on the other side of the wall. “There’s a new one!”

The fat squirrel scrambles to the top of the wall. “A new one? Let me see.” He nudges past one of the smaller squirrels. It elbows him back.

“Hey! Don’t push me!”

“You pushed me!”

The fat squirrel stands taller, trying to menace his smaller workmate, but the short squirrel puffs out his chest, squares up and pushes the fat one with two tiny hands. The fat squirrel scrambles to save himself from falling. His arms circle in the air, grabbing at nothing as his momentum slowly pushes him beyond the tipping point. The fat squirrel whooshes past Phil’s head on his way to the ground but he doesn’t try to catch the furry lump. The rush of air passing is disturbing, but what sticks with Phil is the crunching, splattering sound of the fat squirrel’s explosion as it impacts the ground. Above, the two other squirrels giggle, assessing the radius of the spray of flesh and blood between tiny claws. They turn their backs and go back to watching the courtyard.

Phil pulls himself up another rung and reaches out with his paintbrush. Almost there. The air to his left shimmers as he sloshes the last of the grey paint onto a protruding piece of stone. Something appears, flickering in and out of existence for a few seconds then materialised on the wet stone. He’s used to the little tune that accompanies these reincarnations now. It jingles and hangs in the air for a few seconds before fading out, leaving him with the usual background noise of flutes, bell-trees and pig-skin drums.

“Guys!” The fat squirrel complains. He peeks over his shoulder and shudders at the sight of the mess on the gourd below then scurries back up the wall to join the others. “That wasn’t very nice.” The other two squirrels laugh and slap each other on the back.

When Phil reaches the top, the squirrels point out the new addition in the courtyard.

“Pretty,” Phil said through heavy breaths. She is tall, with long, plaited blond hair. Does he know her?

“Obviously.” The smallest squirrel rolls its eyes. “Wonder where she came from?”

Phil smirks, “A tall tower, deep in the forest.” Phil sits with his legs hanging down over the edge of the wall and stretches his arm across his chest. He still had to get down when the paint dries.

“I think,” the fat squirrel says, “that she’s Princess Ranielle.”

“Really?” Phil squints, trying to bring the golden-haired woman into focus. “But Antross’s army is four-times the size of the King’s. Surely he isn’t that stupid.”

“He wants the set,” the fat squirrel says.

Phil nods. There couldn’t be many Princesses left in the known kingdoms that the King had not ‘acquired’.

“What does he do with them all?” Phil says.

“I heard he makes them sew his clothes.”

The fat squirrel shakes his head. “I heard he makes them cook for him.”

“No, no, no. I heard,” the smallest of the squirrels pauses for dramatic effect, “that he keeps them in the banquet hall, sitting in chairs along the walls and just walks around looking at them. Like dolls in a museum. Creeeepy.”

“What I want to know is, how does he feed them all?”

Phil snorts and does a quick head count. Twenty-three. That’s a lot of precious, spoiled mouths to feed.

“Where do they sleep, do you think?” The fat squirrel asks. “Are they in one big room? Or locked up in cells at night? Look at that one, she’s still at it.” He points out an emaciated girl lurking in the shadowy corner of the courtyard. She’s fidgeting with something but Phil can’t make out.

“She’s been here for as long as we’ve been painting. So that’s at least—what?” his tiny clawed hands try to count. “How long have we been painting this wall?” They look at each other in shock.

Phil thinks for a minute, then shakes his head. “I can’t remember. I know we’ve painted it shale grey at least fifty times. Maybe more. Then there was steel grey, shark grey, cloud grey, natural stone, burnt stone, mood storm, ocean nights…” He trails off. “Holy shit. How long have we been here?”

A horn signals the end of exercise time in the courtyard. The Princesses form a line and let themselves be ushered back into the castle. The guards push the stragglers with pikes and, occasionally, boots. Phil stands, his legs wobbling, and contemplates the climb back down the wall. The squirrels collect the buckets and brushes and race down ahead of him. How many times had he painted this wall? Worse, how many more times would he paint it? The details of his life before the wall are vague. He knows that he’s being punished for cosying up to the King’s daughter, but he can’t remember the actual event itself, just the belief that it had happened.

He looks down into the empty courtyard. What would happen if he didn’t climb down the wall? What would happen if he followed the top of the wall around the courtyard to the small wooden door on the opposite corner? The squirrels, now at the bottom, rile each other up, pushing and shoving as they head down the cobbled road away from the castle, their incessant chatter soon inaudible beneath the jingle of the relentless ambient music.

Phil walks half bent across the top of the wall, waiting for one of the guards to call out and stop him. As he rounds the corner he thinks he hears wailing coming from below, but when he stops he hears only the lilting, hollow whisper of a flute. From this side of the castle he can see across the valley to the snow-capped mountain ranges of the next Kingdom and the geometric shapes of the hedges in the King’s private garden immediately below. Something stirs in him at the sight of that garden. He remembers walking through that intricate maze to tend the rose bushes with their vibrant reds, pinks and lavenders. He scoffs. As if he has ever been in the King’s private garden.

He slinks along the wall. When he reaches the wooden door, he closes his eyes and turned the handle slowly. It clicks open and the muted sound of women crying drifts through the door. He pulls it shut. Silence. Ready this time, he opens it slowly and steps onto the landing at the top of a wide stone staircase. His feet leave prints in the thick layer of dust on the flagstone. It reminds him of the moon landing. One small step, he thinks, then freezes. What?

He descends the stairs into a large, stinking dormitory filled with the stolen Princesses. They sit, some in small clusters, some alone. Several women lay curled up against the damp wall, their eyes fixed on some distant place. Bloody hell, how long have they been here? Large, ornately decorated silver doors dominate the wall on the opposite side of the room, but they aren’t the doors that lead to the courtyard, or the bolted, heavy wooden doors that presumably lead into the rest of the castle. If Phil is right, the silver doors lead to nothing at all. Just the blank wall above the castle’s deep moat. He frowns, contemplating the pattern of silver spirals and light spatters that cover the two massive doors. It moves. Twisting on itself and making Phil’s eyes water.

“They don’t open.”

Phil jumps. A thin, ghostly woman materialises next to him and stares at the doors with impossibly huge, dark eyes. He recognises her as the thin, isolated woman from the courtyard. She is even more bizarre up-close with large, dark eyes that are impossibly round. Inside her almost black irises are perfect, symmetrical white highlights, as though someone has drawn her forth from their imagination. Her lips are small, heart-shaped, and deep crimson though she isn’t wearing any make-up, and her head seems somehow too big for the slight, pale body it is perched upon. She has something in her hand. It is rectangular and black and its smooth surface glints between her fingers, reflecting the torchlight.

“Good grief woman! You scared the life out of me. What are they?” Phil points to the coiling, intertwining patterns on the silver doors. “Why do they move like that?”

She shakes her head and pouts. “We’ve all tried to open them but nothing happens.” She tilts her head to one side, as though considering Phil, then blinks with torpid lids. “Can you open them?”

He studies the doors. The movement across their surface is erratic. There is no sense to the patterns it makes and he can’t see a handle or latch. The woman presses the small black rectangle into his hand. The top surface of the object is dotted with brightly coloured buttons. A red button, painted with a small circle partially intersected by a white line catches his eye. He has seen one of these things before. He has used one before. But where? He smirks, Abbey hates it when he wastes the afternoon watching fishing shows. In a moment of clarity, he knows what to do. He points the box at the door and presses the red button with his right thumb.

“Open sesame.”

“What do you mean he’s awake?” Phil hears a woman’s voice. Her tone is sharp and angry, and even though she must be close by, he can’t see her. His view is dominated by a white ceiling, with ornate cornice-work and a ceiling rose framing an elaborate chandelier.

“He just woke up,” a man’s voice pleads. “I swear Your Majesty, we didn’t do anything. He must have… he must have solved the game.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Something clatters near Phil’s right ear. He tries to turn to look but his head doesn’t budge.

“It’s the only explanation,” the man says. It’s a familiar voice. Ralph? No, Ralph hasn’t been able to speak since the had King him turned into a horse. One of the squirrels? And the woman, who is she? Your Majesty. The voice doesn’t sound like the Princess.

“Are you trying to tell me, and consider your answer carefully, that my husband completed a quest that required him to be brave, selfless and valiant. My husband?”

The man coughs. “It would appear, Ma’am, that he did save all twenty-three damsels in distress.”

“Then bloody well put him back in it again. I have an official dinner tonight and I can’t have him cocking it up. Saved them? Or impregnated them? What was he this time?… A house painter? Make him,” the woman pauses. Who is she? Your Majesty? Oh, bloody hell. Abigail. His wife. Queen Abigail no less. “Make him a court jester or something.”

A man’s face looms over Phil. He frowns as looks into Phil eyes.

“Sorry about this Your Highness,” the man says. Arthur, that is his name. “It’s her Majesty’s orders. See you next time.”

 

“Ow!” A fat squirrel bites his leg then runs off laughing. Phil sighs and picks up his sack, setting the bells on his hat jingling. What ever made him think being a jester was any way to make a living?

 

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Viva la Podcast: “Steal the Stars” Review

Viva la Podcast: “Steal the Stars” Review

When I was a little kid I fell in love with Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The iteration that hooked me first was the original radio-play (and is to this day still my favourite version of this classic). It was a revelation to me—the sound effects, the cast—as though I were watching a TV show inside my head. The words floating through the speakers created a visual marvel in my brain, a fantastical universe complete with sound that nothing on TV could emulate. Since then I’ve mourned the loss the radio-play as a form. More recently I have been delighted by the rise of the audiobook and the podcast (having developed a serious addiction to both). Then Steal the Stars snuck up on me.

It’s a performance podcast, and I am hooked. Steal the Stars is a straight-out sci-fi story, complete with aliens and an evil military corporation. If you aren’t a fan of this genre then this might not be the story for you but, sci-fi fan or not, you would be hard-pressed to criticise the impressive production and immersive experience of this podcast. Tor-labs’ excellent production treats you to all the pleasure of the long-form novel, with the added sensory experience of a live performance. Be warned, it is seriously addictive.

The story, by Mac Rogers, is set on a secret, privatised military base which houses an alien spacecraft inside of which is the warm, unresponsive body of “Moss”—the proverbial big-eyed, grey-skinned man from outer space. The base is manned by ex-US military personnel who understand the harsh and indelible safety and fraternisation protocols of their employer, Quill Marine. Told from the perspective of the facilities chief security offer, “Dak” (Dakota Prentiss), we are pulled into the intrigue of the secret base and the mystery of “Moss” and the “harp” that appears to power the space craft. When “Matt Salem” starts working at the facility Dak’s previously unwavering allegiance to Quill Marine is questioned as she begins an illicit relationship (the consequences for which are potentially catastrophic). This story rolls together, thriller, sci-fi, romance and a healthy dose of social commentary into one.

I don’t want to say anything more for risk of spoilers, so let me get back to gushing about how much fun I have had binge-listening to this story. I started this on Tuesday afternoon and finished on Wednesday morning. I would have finished quicker but I had to, you know, live (feed my kids, pick them up from school, talk to them). The acting in this podcast is impeccable and Tor labs have created a universe that is completely believable, from the hollow, echoing sounds in the hanger where Moss is kept, to the creaking of the bed when Dak and Salem are whispering to each other in the night (spoiler), as well as other more horrifying elements of Quill Marine’s operations.

And the ending? Did I pick it? Sort of, almost, not really, which is the sign of good writing. At some point you have to let your reader/listener figure it out at least some of the big finale. If they don’t, if your ending is a complete, out of the blue shock, then you’ve let them down somewhere. You’ve led them up the garden path and deliberately left them lost in a paddock. Writing is a delicate balance between delivering the reader that sense of satisfaction—when they say “Huh! I knew it!”—and carefully misdirecting and obscuring the ending in a way that feels organic but doesn’t confound and anger them. In other words, the twist at the end needs to be twisty, but not random or disconnected from all the work you have made the reader do over the many hours they have invested in your story. Steal the Stars nailed it.

If you aren’t already loving everything the podcast and audiobook world has to offer, all I can say is you are missing out. Whether you’re driving in your car, folding the laundry (groan), cooking, walking, watching your kids at sport, on the train, or buying groceries, podcasts and audiobooks bring stories into previously inaccessible parts of your day. And we all need more stories in our day. I’m excited about productions like Steal the Stars (and am on the hunt for more), and hope this signals a renaissance of radio-plays across all genres.

This podcast had been adapted into a novel of the same name by Nat Cassidy.