Online Novel Writing Course starts 24th March

I’m starting a new 6 week online novel writing course this Saturday 24th March.  The course is aimed at complete beginners so don’t worry if you like the sound of it but think you won’t be experienced enough – all you need is some enthusiasm and your imagination!  We look at how to get started, where writers get their ideas from, how to develop characters, how to build a compelling story, how to edit your work, and all sorts of other things along the way.  Students come from all walks of life and are interested in writing all kinds of different things – from fantasy to women’s fiction, novels based on true stories, epic historical adventures, dark Gothic tales and frothy romantic comedies – all are welcome!  It’s the perfect way to get that novel you’ve been wanting to write kick-started, and it’s the last course that I’ll be teaching for a few months as after this one I’m going on maternity leave to focus on the new project that I’ve been working on recently… (I’ll be back in the Autumn).  Do drop me a line if you have any questions about how the course works or would like more info.

You can book the course online here:


Four couples, a wedding and a funeral… (The Daily Mail)

Four couples, a wedding and a funeral – there is as much heartache, hopelessness and dastardly behaviour in this breathless rollercoaster of a novel as in any Hollywood blockbuster.

The Darker Side Of Love, Jessica Ruston’s third novel, explores the sanctity of love, marriage, friendship and family ties through the prism of its underbelly: betrayal, deceit and self-delusion.

As the recession bites, and disappointment turns to desperation, we see the lives of eight gilded thirty-somethings implode. Of course, someone, or something else is to blame – the children, or lack of, the mistress, money.

The women are as bad as the men: they lie, to themselves, and to each other until they have only one lifeline left: honesty. But telling the truth can be as hard as turning the clock back on your past.

Read more:

From the Gazette & Herald.

This story is about four friends who seem to have everything they could possibly dream of; Caroline is about to get married to the man of her dreams; Harriet is happy with her dependable partner Will; Izzy, her husband, James, and two children live in a beautiful home where she can indulge in her creative cooking and Stella is in an unconventional marriage with her rock star husband and beautiful son.

But then the recession begins and life suddenly seems fall apart. How do you hold on to everything you took for granted when it all seems now to be slipping away and controlled by the lives of others?

Shame brings secrets and, what at first is a small lie, suddenly becomes a much bigger part of life and what was only a few months ago a beautiful existence, can suddenly become a worst nightmare.

Jessica Ruston has written an enthralling novel that explores the many sides of friendship and marriage. While we become emotionally sympathetic to all the characters, the author brings suspense into the actions of everyday life that we all identify with.

What starts as a comfortable piece of ‘chick lit’ suddenly becomes a tense drama that will have you staying up reading until you reach the final page.

They say that love makes the world go round – and maybe it does…

They say that love makes the world go round – and maybe it does.


But it can also bring pain, disappointment, heartbreak … and danger.

Jessica Ruston departs from standard chick-lit here in a gripping tale of love in its many guises, a fascinating slant on the age-old concept of ‘romance.’

She takes four seemingly ordinary couples – all friends, all very modern and successful, all seemingly happy with their lives and loves – but beneath their shiny exteriors lurk dark shadows, frustrations, secrets and lies.

And it’s this hint of foiled ambitions, broken dreams and a burgeoning sub-plot of growing menace that makes The Darker Side of Love so refreshingly different and rewarding.

It’s the late ‘noughties’ and a global recession is looming. The four thirty-something friends – Stella, Izzy, Caroline and Harriet – are bound together through school, marriage and a tightly woven web of memories.

Caroline and her new husband Bart are a ‘grown-up’ sort of couple. They like exhibitions, smart shops and talks by eminent speakers.

It took Caroline a long time to find Mr Right and now she’s desperate for a baby before her body clock starts its countdown. But there’s no sign of pregnancy and she’s getting desperate…

Harriet and Will have been dating for seven years so why won’t he pop the question? His lack of enthusiasm for marriage is becoming an embarrassment for poor Harriet.

Izzy and James are married with two beautiful children but such perfection makes glamorous, ambitious Izzy feel bored and trapped. She’s even looked into flights that would whisk her far away from home.

And then there’s party girl Stella who has a very bohemian marriage to wild musician Johnny and is mother of their baby son Viking. Recently Johnny has changed the ‘rules’ and suddenly they are like strangers to each other.

They are all telling lies to those closest to them and they are all about to discover that the truth won’t stay buried forever…

Ruston carefully crafts her characters and then allows their present and past to unfold. Hidden worries, jealousies and desires rise to the surface as each of the women is forced to face her demons and, ultimately, a violent showdown.

A clever and thoughtful story from an author with her eyes fixed firmly on the game of life.

(Headline Review, paperback, £6.99)

By Pam Norfolk for the Lancashire Evening Post

Read the opening chapter of The Darker Side of Love

Here’s the opening chapter of The Darker Side of Love  – I hope it whets your appetite!

Download the PDF extract here.


The Darker Side of Love – Book List

To celebrate the publication of The Darker Side of Love I did a little competition on twitter, asking people to suggest dark love stories for one of my lists.  Here’s the list – winners at the bottom – please drop me an email through here with my address and I’ll send you your prize!

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

The Monk by Matthew Lewis

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (by far the most suggested book)

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

After You’d Gone and The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell

Hunted and Tempted by Kristin Cast

The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis

Sleep With Me by Joanna Briscoe

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Damage by Josephine Hart

Asylum by Patrick McGrath

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

The End of The Affair by Graham Greene

That Mad Ache by Francois Sagan

Heart Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Killing Me Softly by Nicci French

Therese Raquin by Emile Zola

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

Thanks so much to everyone who took part – the winners are @Readingwriters and @IssyFlamel – please email me your addresses!


6 Week Online Novel Writing Course for beginners starts 28th January

Just a reminder that my Novel Writing course is starting again on 28th January.  There are still places available, but lots have already been booked, which is great as it means there should be plenty of scope for lively conversation and debate as the course runs.  You don’t have to have written anything before, it really is designed to be suitable for writers of all levels of experience and confidence.  Quite alot of students have either an idea for a novel, or something partially written when they start the course; sometimes the idea they started off with changes beyond all recognition over the six weeks that we work together and as their ideas develop and as they spark off other students.

There’s lots of scope to discuss the course and writing in general, both with me and with your fellow students. The course is run via a private forum as part of the Writers’ Workshop discussion forum, The Word Cloud (it’s well worth signing up to join this, regardless of whether you decide to do the course or not – it’s a great community, and it’s totally free).  Only course members can access the discussion, so you don’t have to be concerned about putting your work up in public.  Each week I post a new set of course notes, which follow this order:

Week One: Ideas. Week Two: Character. Week Three: Story, plot and narrative. Week Four: Structure. Week Five: Style. Week Six:Editing and the business of publishing.

Each contains a homework exercise, related to the week’s topic, which you send to me and which I then post in the forum with comments.  It’s not compulsory to have your work posted for the rest of the group to read – if you really don’t want me to then I won’t – but I strongly encourage it.  Students often find that they learn as much from reading their peers work, and my comments on it, as they do from the feedback on their own work; it also gets you into the habit of reading other writers work critically and assessing its strengths and weaknesses for yourself, a skill that you’ll find invaluable in your future writing.

Do contact me via the website if you have any questions about the course.  I’ll be running another one in the Spring.  You can book a place on the January course here:

Novels About Marriage

I started reading The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides over the weekend, but abandoned it after about 120 pages.  I just couldn’t connect with the characters, who felt two-dimensional, their dialogue unrealistic and forced.  And the story felt slow and leaden.  I was disappointed, as I’ve loved Eugenides’ previous novels.  But it did get me thinking about novels about marriage, so here’s a book list full of suggestions from twitter of fiction on the subject.


Brick Lane by Monica Ali

Mr and Mrs Bridge by Evan S Connell

One Fine Day by Mollie Panter Downs

The Woman Who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle

Middlemarch by George Eliot

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Notes From an Exhibition by Patrick Gale

We Had It So Good by Linda S Grant

The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins

The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

Diary of a Mad Housewife by Sue Kaufman

Rose Madder and Gerald’s Game by Stephen King

Comfort & Joy by India Knight

War Between the Tates by Alison Lurie

Greenery Street by Dennis Mackail

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

American Pastoral by Phillip Roth

Happenstance by Carol Shields

Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee by Meera Syal

The Adultery Club by Tess Stimson

Anna Karenina by L.N. Tolstoy

The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler

Couples and Roger’s Version and the Rabbit novels by John Updike

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Novels narrated in the second person

Another twitter book listed, this time of novels written in the second person.  It’s probably the least commonly used viewpoint and can be difficult to read, but here are some novels that use it that seem to make it work…

Rashomon by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Complicity by Iain Banks

The Sound of My Voice by Ron Butlin

We, the Drowned, by Carsten Jensen

The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa

Afterwards and Sister by Rosamund Lupton

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

A Pagan Place by Edna O’Brien

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Ablutions by Patrick de Witt

First person novels and unreliable narrators

I asked on twitter what people’s favourite novels written in the first person were (in particular, but not exclusively, ones with unreliable narrators) as part of my research for my work-in-progress, and got a huge number of brilliant suggestions back.  So I thought I’d collate them all into a post here, in case any of you are planning your New Year’s reading lists or just looking for some great new and classic fiction.  Do let me know of any other favourites and I can add them to the list.  (As an aside, it’s interesting to note, as pointed out by Dorian Lynskey on twitter, how many of the unreliable narrators turn out to be psychopathic killers…)

Money by Martin Amis

A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth

The Wasp Factory, Espedair Street, The Crow Road, by Iain Banks

The Book of Evidence by John Banville

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

The Curious Affair at Styles, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Endless Night, by Agatha Christie

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield

David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Bleak House by Charles Dickens

To the White Sea by James Dickey

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle

Submarine by Joe Dunthorne

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Collector by John Fowles

The Fantora Family Files by Adele Geras

The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

Something Happened by Joseph Heller

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

When We Were Orphans, The Remains of the Day and Floating World by Kashuo Ishiguro

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Ulysses by James Joyce

A Disaffection by James Kelman

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester

The Horned Man by James Lasdun

If This is a Man by Primo Levi

The Treasure Seekers by Edith Nesbit

The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe

As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

Asylum, Spider, Trauma, Martha Peake, Port Mungo, by Patrick McGrath

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The Last Weekend by Blake Morrison

The Story of You by Julie Myerson

Pale Fire, Lolita and Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

Life: An Exploded Diagram, by Mal Peet

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak