Book Review – The Novel Inside You

Title: The Novel Inside You

Written and illustrated by: Paul Magrs

Published by: Snowbooks Ltd

The Novel Inside You is an autobiographical collection of writing tips collated into a unique how-to handbook suitable for aspiring writers and seasoned writers alike. It is a cross between Stephen Kings On Writing and Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer.

novel inside cover

This book is full of inspiring sentiments that are extremely quotable. The sorts of things I stick into the cover of my notebooks to motivate myself to keep going. Words that really resonate with me, such as:

“If you want to write the real stuff, then you have to know your real self.” (Paul Magrs)

And simple reminders such as:

“Make sure the reader knows exactly what is happening.” (Paul Magrs)

And epiphanies like:

“In order to write anything of lasting value you’ve got to reach deep inside yourself and pay attention to the person you set free when you give yourself permission to write completely freely.” (Paul Magrs)

Each page is constructed from vivid memories and entertaining anecdotes of Paul’s early life as a writer and creative writing teacher. He is telling his own stories in his own way with dramatic and inspiring effect. In between he has illustrated the book with his own artwork.

cartoon pm and socks the cat

I particularly enjoyed the way he shows (not tells) us how he gets his ideas for his stories by people-watching, analysing their behaviour, studying their interactions and jotting down conversations to develop his own characters and their voice. Paul does not say this is the way you should do it but more this is how I do it and demonstrates techniques that work for him, which as an inquisitive writer makes me want to try it for myself.

Weaved into his memoirs are practical exercises to try yourself from developing characters through your own observations to deciding your novels audience and what its structure should be. In this way, The Novel Inside You motivates you to start, continue and finish your writing whether it be a novel, poem, short story, or non-fiction. The ideas and exercise could also be used in your own teaching.

His advice to writers is honest and practical. It prompts you to re-evaluate your own writing and take a fresh look at your own writers’ toolbox.  It feels like having your own personal tutor sat with you whilst you work, helping you to analyse the process of developing good writing habits and create your own writing discipline.

I think Russell T Davis summed it up very neatly when he said:

“This is so much more than How To Write, its How To Live. Part-memoir and part-tutorial, this book asks Where do you get your ideas from? and, miraculously, finds an answer. From life. From memory, family, lovers, heartbreak, childhood, loss and joy, all captured beautifully in these pages” (Russell T. Davies)

The love for his family, friends, pets and partner, Jeremy, shines through. There is an underlying realisation that behind every writer is a great partner. (Very nearly a Eurythmics song). In the background it is the support of a strong, loving partner who helps us through the emotional turmoil of being a writer – all the fears and insecurities that our work is not good enough and a complete waste of time – and they are there at our side to share the triumph, relief and pleasure you can get from holding the, fresh from the press, latest book.

I will leave you with a final quote:

“There are two types of fiction. The good type, that you want to read and there’s the bad type that you don’t want to read. There are books that are crap and sound bogus. And there are books that ring true. Books that are about something. Books where the voices are alive.” (Paul Magrs)

I believe The Novel Inside You will help you to achieve the latter.

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