“The house of fiction has many windows, but only two or three doors.”

I saw someone on Twitter the other day declaring that “everyone can write”. This was in a discussion about how much one should pay a copywriter to work for them. I argued, “Everyone can type. Not everyone can write.” I like to think of myself as someone who can write (and I’ve managed to write a blog for seven years and publish two novels, so there must be something in this) but I’m still learning and I don’t think we ever finish improving. Fiction is a complicated business and in his book, James Wood pulls back the curtain and exposes some of the secrets of the craft.

The book is simply Wood exploring various aspects of fiction writing, including narrating, detail, character, form, language, dialogue and realism. He explains the limits of first or third person narration, how to hide the author from the text and how to expose him, how to bring a character to life with a simple maxim, why flat characters often lead stories and round ones sit in the background, the difference between plot and form, and how to use a unique metaphor in a way that won’t put the reader off.

This is one of the best books about writing I think I’ve ever read. Full disclosure, there is a lot of emphasis on literary fiction and I’ve not read most of the titles he talks about (life is still too short for me to bother with Tolstoy), but the points he makes are universal. Wood summons up examples of authors working magic, as well as producing some of his own, and showing what work a single word can do in a sentence, or why some metaphors work better than others. He gives examples of things not working, too, and manages to explain why and how they do or don’t work. He is a man who understands all of this.

It’s a niche book and probably only of interest to writers, although I should imagine most hardcore bibliophiles would be able to get something from it too. I’m curious to see how if my writing will change if I start looking at it through the lenses he suggests. And will I start reading differently too? Maybe. A fascinating foray into fiction for anyone who likes to see the secret cogs and gears of grand machinery.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!