poetry, writing, tips, Andrew Motion

Tips for writing good poetry – Andrew Motion

Andrew Motion was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom for 10 years – and he’s come up with 10 tips to help you write good poetry.

You’ll find the full 10 in the original BBC article here.

Here are a few tips (in my words)

  • write from life, about real life as it’s lived now
  • what are you truly interested in? write about that
  • get skilled in the craft of poetry writing and use all those tools
  • read a lot, keep revising, keep writing
  • find your own best time of day to write

and a huge observation in Andrew Motion’s original language:

Reading your poetry out loud is crucial and absolutely indispensable because wherever we reckon the meaning of a poem might lie, we want to admit that it’s got as much to do with the noise it makes when we hear it aloud, as it has to do with what the words mean when we see them written down on the page.

In a really fundamental way, I think poetry is an acoustic form and we’ve slightly forgotten that in the last thousand years. Since the invention of the book, the aliveness of poetry has been perhaps slightly pushed to the edge of things.

For 5 minutes, he was interviewed with a string of questions – watch this for quick transfer of information:

In the short video above, he answers some big questions on (deep breath):

  • what is the difference between prose and poetry
  • how important is rhyme? does it have to be there in poetry?
  • what are you trying to achieve when you write a poem?
  • how did you come to writing poetry (answer: inspiring English teacher)

If someone isn’t ‘into poetry’ – where could they begin?

Andrew Motion: “I think they should buy a big fat anthology of poetry, and when they hit somebody that they like, they should persevere, go and get that person’s individual collection – and when they don’t like it, they should turn over the page and wait until they get to someone they feel is more sympathetic to them.”

Creative Takeaway

Expand your experience of poetry – read wider – by applying the same principle as for the beginner to poetry – get an anthology, and from it find new names/styles which fascinate you.  Then check out those individuals.

Try writing early in the morning – at one point, when Andrew Motion was writing a novel, he wrote from 5.30 am to 9.00 am.





6 tips for Writing Comedy from Script Editor

These tips for writing comedy come from Andrew Ellard, an English comedy writer and script editor who has worked on hugely popular British TV sitcoms such as “Red Dwarf” and “The IT crowd”.  In the video below, he’s giving advice about writing sitcom – but much of what he says will help us writing comedy of any type – whether in books, plays or for large or small screen.

Here’s a brief, non-executive non-summary of the main points in the video:

1. What makes a good sitcom character?

The main character should have a central flaw, a problem, of which they’re unaware.   (more…)

14 tips for new TV comedy/drama writers


The tone of this seminar at Xponorth2017 was very positive – some advice specifically for Scotland but generally useful for UK writers.



Main advice for new writers:

  1. Look at the website BBC Writersroom for writing opportunities in BBC but also theatres
  2. When there’s an open call for submissions, send in your scripts.
  3. Keep sending them your work so they get a sense of your writing style and you are on their database for future reference
  4. Easier to be a writer/performer (you already have your own audience)
  5. If you get your writing onto podcasts or youtube videos or theatre or radio – it will be spotted by these TV producers
  6. “The Break” is a great opportunity for new writers with no writing record
  7. If you want to write for River City get to know the show and its twenty-odd characters so you can write quickly and appropriately for them
  8. Write a sample script of an hour’s length – but make the first 10 pages fantastic – as these are definitely read
  9. make and send videos to the BBC Social programme
  10. find out the names of producers of TV programmes you like and try to contact them (they’re always looking for new content)
  11. an upcoming script editor is a great person to show work to, as they will champion you as a writer if they like your work (there was an example given where this got a writer noticed)
  12. be prepared to begin work in children or continuing drama (e.g. River city) as starting points, learning to write drama – many wellknown writers started out that way
  13. even tiny bits of experience on your c.v. (e.g sold a comedy sketch) will count towards getting you noticed
  14. the BBC Writersroom website has tons of resources – video interviews with writers, blogs, a script library with examples of layout – do use itIMG_2890.JPG(Lto R: Audrey, Keiran, Rab, Angela)

What are the BBC looking for in a new writer?

  • characters seem full and engaging
  • characters are fresh
  • you can write domestic (ie the ordinary) scenes well and make them exciting
  • a unique voice in the writer
  • you can write a full-length script for 30 mins drama
  • clear story
  • not derivative, something original
  • the reader instantly feels s/he cares about the characters

3 new major opportunities for Scotland-based writers:

  1. from October, the Writersroom based in England changed to have separate writersroom in the regions – so more local knowledge and chance to become known
  2. there is an upcoming new TV channel, BBC Scotland, which will need more content (begins broadcasting Autumn 2018) more on this at
  3. there is a new scheme coming up in August for 4 writers to become Shadow Writers for River City (ie be given the same brief as the professional writers, and given a chance to do the same work, in a separate stream).


(notes from a panel discussion at #Xponorth2017 in June 2017)


THE chocolate cake with cigarrillos

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From the moment I watched “Baking is Easy” It could only be a matter of time till I attempted to bake the lavish chocolate cake piled with raspberries and framed with cigarrilloes…. it looked wildly impressive, frivolous and colourful, had expensive ingredients, was unusual, involved multiple stages of making, and was well outside my range of skills and tools. Typical. When I open a new book on cookery/bakery/knitting/photography/crafts, I can’t see the opening chapters of useful everyday projects because my eyes are fixated on something fiendishly difficult on page 171 that would bring tears to the eyes of a professional.


And so, the urge to make The Cake grew upon me, like Some Thing which grows.


My enthusiasm sagged slightly in the supermarket when I saw the cost of some of the ingredients: raspberries a mere £1.99 per punnet and I needed TWO. Chocolate fingers as a substitute for cigarrilloes – again nearly £2 a box and I guessed I needed TWO….. But by now, cool-eyed logic was gone, and I was in the grip of a fervent compulsion.


Unusually for me, I put out all the ingredients first on the work surface (usually I’m up to my elbows in flour when I discover a key ingredient is missing) – so I knew I had the stuff. I hopefully set the oven temperature, although I know that it’s as accurate as a melting icecream in sunshine – and resolved to try and sidestep its evil overcooking ploy by cooking for the shorter recommended time. Aha!


Cake mix – unbelievably simple. There seems to be more coccoa in the mix than normal, because the chocolate ‘hit’ in the nostrils was more powerful than I get from my usual Chocolate cake mix. So far so good. Into the oven “for 30-40 minutes”. Right, so that would be 30, knowing my evil oven. But the moment I opened the door after 30 minutes, I saw a slight wobble on the top of the cake, and closed the door again. I rechecked at 5 minute intervals and finally, after 45 minutes, the magical skewer came out clean and lo and behold, the usual sign of cooking was right there – the sides were slightly burnt. There are baking standards – and mine are fortunately below perfect. At this point, the most important fact was I was certain it wasn’t going to give anyone raw food poisoning.


I set to, to make the buttercream icing. The recipe wanted softened butter, I used room temperature butter, and attempted to add the icing sugar while holding a teatowel over the mixer. That brief statement made it sound simple but, as in so much with baking, there is a knack to it. And if you don’t use that knack, it becomes difficult. No matter how loosely I held the teatowel, the revolving bowl tried to drag the towel into the revolving beaters and create a “what went wrong here” health and safety scenario. After varying my grip on the tea towel, some icing powder cunningly escaped and drifted onto the counter and floor. Not a vast quantity, just enough to be annoying.


The mixed buttercream wasn’t promising. It just looked like buttercrumbs. Surely it shouldn’t?


I checked the video of the make again – Lorraine’s icing not only had the consistency of softly whipped cream, she had also employed a cunning loose-handed grip on teatowel and revolving bowl rim at the same time and spilt nary a drop of icing sugar. So why did I have buttercrumbs? Not enough liquidity? Possibly the butter hadn’t been warmed enough? I microwaved it a little, added a little more butter for liquidity and finally the melted chocolate. Well, it got a little gritty, quite probably overbeaten (?) but at least it was spreadable. I’ll have to sort out that problem for next time.


Then it was time to cut the cake – horizonally, in half. Lorraine Pascale had a neat revolving cake stand for this, whereas I revolved the cake by hand on a flat surface, slicing it before my brain realised the disaster potential. For the icing, Lorraine had a cake base, the revolving cake stand (which was looking more useful by the minute) and a large palette knife. My local supermarket had kind of knife for cutting food but not even a tiny palette one I could purchase – so I was working with a serving plate and a spatula.


Because I was icing with basic tools, the cake was less than perfectly round in shape once covered with icing. Once again, I suspect that a knack and constant practice is what’s really needed here.


Now for the side decoration of the chocolate fingers. Firstly, I would say that on the BBC Good Food website, the chef does say that chocolate fingers are acceptable as an instant substitute for those who don’t have time to order cigarrilloes – she may as well have looked directly to camera and said “especially those of you who get compulsive urges to bake a difficult thing NOW and are undeterred by lacking the right tools or brain”. However, the two boxes of chocolate fingers were not Quite enough to go round the circumference of the cake (boo) and they do look reminiscent of a Fort shaped birthday cake for a child. So not at all the same level of sophistication and finish as the original. I had assumed the cigarilloes would be hideously expensive but probably not much worse than the chocolate fingers. I should at least have bought Bournville fingers, richer look and taste.


Finally, the 2 raspberry punnets. Again, these were just about enough to cover most of the cake’s top and give a little pile in the centre – but for a properly luxuriant covering I’d suggest you need two and a half. At £2 a punnet, I think I’ll relegate this to being a summer cake and hope the fruit is cheaper in season. I’d also consider sourcing from a local market/shop rather than supermarket.


IMG_6278.JPGHowever, the cake looked well, in a slightly more amateurish way than the polished perfection of the cake on TV. It certainly looked better than my usual homely aesthetic of buttercreamed small chocolate cake with Smarties on top.


And it cut like a dream. It is a cake which looks like it has Presence and does not disappoint once sliced. The cake took the cut accurately an

IMG_6280.JPGd cleanly, without the whole edifice splodging or the cake layers splitting on the plate, and the chocolate fingers behaved well and mostly remained stuck to the edge. The icing was made with 70% chocolate, normally too rich and dark an ingredient for this household – but it went fine. And thefreshness of the raspberries, although hideously expensive, was perfect to cut through the unctiousness. But it is party food – as an 8 inch cake it cuts at least 16 plus slices.


Recipe and video of how it should be made over at BBC Good food website:

Songwriter – Carly Simon

Just watched a BBC documentary on the making of the album “No Secrets” – which includes the song “You’re so vain”.  Absorbing.


We get to hear from the producer, bassist, sound engineer, drummer, lead guitarist, her manager and most of all Carly herself.  What were her inspirations for her songs?  What was it like to be at the centre of recording such a phenomenally successful album?

A great insight into songwriting and the team effort which is recording an album. And also of the personal and emotional toll it takes on the performer, in the concentrated pressure chamber of the studio. Should be watched by all wouldbe musicians.

Much of the documentary is about the single “You’re so vain” because there are so many little separate elements which made it special.  One of these is backing vocals by a very young Mick Jagger, whom Carly randomly met at a party shortly beforehand, and brought into the studio.

Carly also talks about how she was influenced by the soul stylings of singer Odette (photo featured above).  The photo on the album and its title were not chosen til the very last minute.  The photo used on the front cover was literally as Carly left the photo shoot, dressed in her own favourite clothes, to go back to the studio to work.

Much of this album and its making are indeed life and art combined – the life of one particular musician, at a particular phase in her life and in the technology of sound recording.

This one hour documnetary is available to view on BBC iplayer but only until 5 June – so watch or download soon.

I’m on the Riviera…..

with film star Richard E Grant.  And the painter Matisse.  And a BBC camera crew.

As you’ve probably guessed, I am watching a BBC Arts documentary – “The Riviera: a history in pictures”.  (We have only seen episode 1.  For UK viewers, episode 2 is on Monday at 9 pm, BBC4).



Joyfully, our companion/presenter/guide, Richard, is obviously glad to be there in the sunlight (he has holidayed there over many years) – and explains how the South of France coastal landscape influenced the artworks painted there by Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, Cross, Signac, Matisse and Braque (co-creator of Cubism with Picasso).  Richard is not only pleasant company, he has really done his homework well and unfolds an insightful story of art.

Through what he says, you can see the influence of the particular light and harsh rocks landscape on the way these painters made art.  And you feel like you’ve been sitting in sunshine, with a delightful, charming and witty companion.

Paying a visit to Jane Austen GU34 1SD

Jane Austen’s House Museum is the only home in which the writer lived, which is open to the public.  Here, she spent the last eight years of her life, revising earlier manuscripts, writing new works.

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This is the 200th anniversary of Jane’s death, and so there are many special events on offer.  These include an exhibition of “41 objects” celebrating her life.


Tuesday 20 June is a once-a-year opportunity to visit the house and gardens in a summer evening.  Tickets are only £8 each and includes access to the house as well as parts of the house not usually accessible to visitors.  Book now at:


Saturday 24 June, afternoon, there will be a presentation and talk by a BBC producer, about how Jane Austen’s works have been made and shown on the BBC.  So if you have ever enjoyed seeing her work on the small screen, this will repay an early booking.

For example, Mr D’arcy’s wedding proposal which is more like a series of insults:


If you can’t visit in person, you can still purchase from the online museum shop: