I was asked to provide writing advice for a tournament.

A friend of mine is running a writing tournament , and has been asking various authors to contribute advice for the young writers it is aimed at. I was glad to do so, and you can read, watch or listen to my advice below. I’m also a judge for this, so I’m hoping to get some really great stories to read!

The tournament itself is part of the Hawick Reivers Festival which runs every year. From their website:

Step back in time to the mid sixteenth century when the Borderlands were an area of constant feuding – when loyalties were to kinship rather than king and country and when “Reiving” was a means of survival.

Through music, drama and re-enactments experience what life was really like for the men and women in the Border Marches.

Hawick Reivers Festival aims to help visitors and townsfolk alike Experience, Explore and will endeavour to Explain day to day life in this violent and turbulent period of our history.

Fiercely loyal and independent, hard-working and prepared to fight for what they believed in these men and women of the 1500’s did much to shape the character of the modern day Borderers.

Hawick Reivers

The tournament is aimed at young people, with two age categories: 8-12 years, and 13-16 years. It’s completely free to enter, and you have until 28th September 2021 to get your stories in. If you are (or know) someone of a suitable age then why not give it a go?

You don’t have to live in the Border region, but your story does have to be related to the Reivers. Don’t know about them already? Well this year’s festival was held online, and there are a lot of great resources on their website and the tournament’s page to bring you up to speed. It’s a fascinating period, with some amazing real life characters to inspire you!

Did I mention that there are prizes to win too?

Listen to my advice here:


Or if you prefer to see me, you can watch on YouTube:


Every story begins and ends with its characters.

Writing is great fun. You can describe the most thrilling events, mighty battles and huge empires rising and falling. You can imagine remarkable and fantastic settings, other worlds or bizarre creatures like no-one has ever seen before. Or you can explore your own back garden, your own attic or the town you live in. When the world is inside your head, anything is possible.

But none of it matters to a reader unless they know who it’s happening to.

We need a hero, someone to follow as they move through the glorious world you invented. We need a devious villain for them to fight, a loyal sidekick for them to lean on, a clever mentor to guide them. We need them all to feel so real that we can see the world through their eyes, and cheer them on to win. And win… what? What do they want? What do they need, what is their goal?

If you know that, then you know everything. Work out what they want, and then make it almost impossible for them to get it. All those wonderful creatures, all those terrifying battles, they all have a purpose now, they have a reason to be there in your world.

And it all starts with your characters. If you know what they want, you know who they are.