Writing Tips

Ready, steady... write?

- Sometimes we are buzzing with ideas.
- Sometimes it's as if we've an empty space between our ears.

What's the best way to start?

  • Read some of the past winners' work on this website.
  • Get hold of copies of the Pushkin Prizes anthologies and read some of the winning entries. Think about which styles and subjects most appeal to you.
  • Go to The Real Deal section on this page for guidance and tips from professional writers.
  • Write about what you know, or on subjects you feel strongly about - fiction or non-fiction.
  • Don't write about something just because all your classmates have chosen that subject.
  • Work hard to ensure that spelling, punctuation and grammar are as good as they can be. The judges are always disappointed by careless entries.
  • Once you've finished a piece of work, give it a little break and then revisit it a few days later. Is it as good as it possibly can be? Does it say what you hoped it would say? Might you substitute more suitable phrases, nouns or adjectives?
  • Read your work aloud to your friends - you don't need to take their advice, but it might help. 
  • Read as much as you can - novels, biographies and autobiographies, newspapers, magazines. The more you read, the more you will learn about the kind of writing you like - and why you like it. If you would like some book recommendations, contact us at the Pushkin Prizes - we'll be happy to tell you about books we've enjoyed.
  • Always have a notebook and pencil at the ready - just in case you have a blindingly good idea! Or to note down something you overhear on the bus...


The Real Deal

Here are some tips from professional writers - people who make a living from communicating their ideas through words on paper. Click on the names below to jump to a specific author or just scroll down to read them all... 

  Gill Arbuthnott Christine de Luca         Linda Strachan
  Stewart Conn Catherine Forde Zoe Strachan
             Robert Crawford            Jamila Gavin Hamish Whyte
  Gillian Cross Alan Gibbons Joan Lennon
  Anne MacLeod Keith Gray  

Why don't you take a note of some of the hints and tips you particularly like, so that you can refer to them later?


Gill Arbuthnott

Gill was a pupil at James Gillespie's High School in Edinburgh, the setting for Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Might that have influenced her career choice? Perhaps, but her books are very much her own. The Chaos Clock, The Chaos Quest and Winterbringers are all fast paced fantasies with a twist. The first two are set in Edinburgh, and the third in Fife. Gill has written non-fiction - Mad Scientists and Crazy Creatures and her most recent novel - The Keeper's Daughter has been published in the UK and the US.

Gill recommends embarking on a career as a spy, a thief, and a cannibal if you are going to be a successful writer. Click here to find out why.


Stewart Conn

Stewart grew up in Ayrshire, and much of his writing reflects his affection for and familiarity with this landscape. Stewart is a dramatist and poet, he's a wonderful reader of his own - and others' - writing, and he was the first Edinburgh Makar (or Poet Laureate of the city).

Stewart is also very experienced in working with new writers - click here to find out why he compares writing to knitting!

We're especially grateful to Stewart as he was the Chair of our Judging Panel from 2007 to 2010.


Robert Crawford

Robert is Professor of Modern Scottish Studies at the University of St Andrews, but as well as knowing a great deal about literature - especially Scottish literature - he has published several collections of poetry in English and Scots including Sharawaggi and The Tip of my Tongue.

Click here for some excellent ideas - and a reminder that in poetry, the line-endings are crucial.


Gillian Cross

Gillian is a multi-award-winning writer for young people. Apart from her bestselling Demon Headmaster series, she rarely writes sequels and every book is completely different from the last. She writes comedy with as much skill as science fiction, and historical adventure with the same confidence as contemporary drama. 'When you're a writer,' she says, 'you never know where the next book will lead.' Find out more about Gillian on her website, http://www.gillian-cross.co.uk

Click here to find out why Gillian believes that experimentation is an important part of being a good writer.


Christine de Luca

Christine was born and brought up on Shetland, and although she now lives in Edinburgh, she remains very closely associated with those northern isles through her poetry. Indeed she writes in her mother tongue of Shetlandic and is so committed to the preservation of the language that she is currently writing children's books in Shetlandic.

Christine's poetry appears in many anthologies, and has been translated into many different languages, and she has several collections of her own, including Voes and Sounds and Parallel Worlds. Visit her website to find out more. http://www.christinedeluca.co.uk

Click here for Christine's creative checklist for writers.


Catherine Forde

Catherine's books are ideal for S1 and S2 pupils and have won her several awards. Her most recent novel, Firestarter, is a memorably creepy story which takes a highly original look at the nature of bullying. Unusually, she's also written with another writer - she and Kevin Brooks teamed up to create the excellent I See You Baby, about what happens when you try to recreate yourself as somebody else. She also writes plays. Find out more about Catherine's writing on her website (http://www.catherineforde.co.uk).

Amongst her words of wisdom, Catherine recommends talking to yourself - to find out more, click here.


Jamila Gavin

By the time she was 11, Jamila had lived in the Punjab, Shepherds Bush, Poona (near Mumbai) and Ealing - it was a restless but happy childhood about which you can find out more in her fascinating autobiography - Out of India. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that Jamila writes books set all over the world, and in different periods of history. She is clearly fascinated by the connections and interplay between different cultures - visit her website (http://www.jamilagavin.co.uk) to read her account of a visit with two other writers for young people to Iran.

Click here to find out how Jamila suggests you embark on a new piece of writing.


Alan Gibbons

Alan nearly missed collecting his Blue Peter Book Award for Shadow of the Minotaur because he was so sure that he hadn't won and worried that he might miss the train home! He's gone on to win many more awards since then. His books are outstanding - often tense, always gripping and never predictable. His characters live on in your imagination.

Alan is a teacher, and passionate about what reading can offer. He loves books. He loves reading them, talking about them, and recommending them - if you ever have the good fortune meet him, you won't be able to resist his terrific passion for books. Visit Alan's website (http://www.alangibbons.com) to find out more about his many novels.

You'll be unsurprised to discover what Alan's first recommendation is. Click here to find out.


Linda Strachan

It is quite likely that Linda helped you to learn to read. She has contributed to several Reading Schemes for new readers throughout the world. She is the author of What Colour is Love? a beautiful picture book. You may think you're too old for picture books, but they are often like little poems, and we can learn as much from what the author has left out, as kept in. Linda, with the illustrator Sally J Collins, has also created the bestselling Hamish MacHaggis series of stories, and a retelling of the moving tale of Greyfriars Bobby. She has now added teenagers to her readership with tense thrillers Spider and Dead Boy Talking. Visit her website (http://www.lindastrachan.com) to find out more.

Click here to find out what Linda says about the art of short story writing.


Zoe Strachan

Zoe writes for adults. She didn't study English Literature at university (she hated the way it was taught) - but she did study creative writing, and has since published - to great acclaim - Negative Spaces and Spin Cycle.

Click here to reveal Zoe's five point route for writers.


Hamish Whyte

Hamish is a poet in his own right, but he has also published books by many other writers, and edited numerous anthologies of poetry.

Click here to find out what he'd like young poets to think about


Joan Lennon

Joan has written stories and poetry for many years. She is the author of Questors, The Seventh Tide and The Night of the Kelpies for young adults, and she has also written the four Wickit Chronicles, the Slightly Jones detective mysteries for readers of 8 to 11, and the Tales from the Keep stories for 6 to 9 year-olds. Joan has given writing workshops to schools and festivals throughout the UK. To find out more about her books, visit Joan's website (www.joanlennon.co.uk).

You can then go via the website to her blog which gives unique insight into the process of being published - and she welcomes comments!

Click here to find out why Joan thinks you should pay attention.


Anne MacLeod

Anne lives in the Black Isle, when she's not travelling the country talking about writing. The Dark Ship, a novel which was inspired by the real tragedy of a troop ship which sank hardly any distance from shore, drowning soldiers returning from the war to the island of Lewis, is a wonderful, moving piece of storytelling, in which she includes poetry.

Anne's fascinated by words. Click here to find out why she wants you to think about how they sound.


Keith Gray

When Keith was growing up he couldn't see the point of reading books. But then somebody asked him to read Robert Westall's The Machine Gunners. That changed things completely - Keith became an avid reader and successful writer, selling his first stories to his school friends. He'd ask them for feedback and the better they liked his story, the more he'd charge! Keith is now a full-time writer - when he's not visiting schools throughout the UK. His most recent novel for teenagers - The Ostrich Boys - won a Royal Mail Book Award. To find out more about Keith and his books, visit his website. www.keith-gray.com.

Keith says that to create characters for your stories, you should start by looking in their pockets. Click here to find out why!

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