Gill Hornby's top tips for debut authors

This month, Mumsnet Introduces...Gill Hornby and her debut novel The Hive, which we reckon is so Mumsnet-esque it could have been written on our very own discussion boards: PTAs, playground bickering and competitive parenting are some of the themes that arise in this sharp and very funny book.

Here, Gill offers her advice on getting started and top tips for writing.

Ten tips for debut novelists

  1. The HiveIt is never too late. I'm ancient. There are plenty of wunderkind out there, but I could not have written fiction when I was younger; I had nothing to say, and even if I had, no confidence with which to say it. Writing is one of the few things you can start doing in middle age, after a career break, older, wrinklier, heavier...and nobody seems to mind. 
  2. You don't have to be sitting in front of a screen to be working. Unless you want to write a book with no humans in it, your material is all around you. At the bus-stop, in the supermarket, at a party, whatever you are doing, watch people, listen to them, store it all away. It might come in handy.

  3. Buy some earplugs. There may be many writers out there, first-timers as well as old-hands, who write in quiet spaces and perfect, peaceful solitude. But they're probably not on Mumsnet. With earplugs, you can hear enough in the house to know that they're all alive, but not enough to know exactly what they're up to – it may not be complete tranquillity, but it's as near as you're going to get.

  4. Only do a creative writing course if you want to. Many people find it helpful, even life-changing but it is not obligatory. Lots of pretty decent people have managed without: Austen, Dickens, Tolstoy...
  5. Get a writing buddy. I had one, who was also starting out after years of childcare. We emailed our word counts to each other every Friday and told each other off if we hadn't done enough. Miraculously, we both finished our books and both ended up being published.

  6. Download software called Freedom. It bans you from the Internet while you're working – like a teacher or your mum. I would never have got beyond a paragraph without it.

  7. Writing brings down writing. If you feel uninspired, or unsure what it is you want to say next, just start writing around it and you will find that through the very act of writing, the content will appear.

  8. Listen to your characters. Once they are fully functioning, they become a lot less malleable. I have found that when I get stuck, it is often because I am trying to force a character into doing something she wouldn't naturally do just for the purposes of my own plot, and – perfectly reasonably – she won't put up with it.

  9. Be careful who you show it to. If you haven't got an agent, it might be best to start with a respected friend rather than a nearest or dearest. Writer's spouse is a tough gig, and it should not, necessarily, be your partner's job to tell you if you're going wrong. One woman I know said "hmmm, well, I suppose it is a first draft..." By the time the book was finished, so were they.

  10. Don't start until you feel ready. And if you do feel ready, what are you reading this for? Get on with it!


Gill HornbyMore about Gill Hornby

Gill Hornby is a writer and journalist. She lives with her husband, Robert Harris, and their four children in Kintbury, Berkshire. The Hive is her first novel.
Gill will be joining us to discuss the book on Friday 6 June at 8.30pm when she takes over @mumsnetbookclub. Everyone who joins Gill using #TheHive will be entered into a draw to win £100 worth of books courtesy of LittleBrown publishers.

Follow Gill on Twitter @GillHornby 


Last updated: about 3 years ago