Guest author: Graeme Cumming – Self help in writing

Photo: Sue Vincent

When I wrote Ravens Gathering, I knew it needed plotting carefully. There were several twists in it, and garden paths needed laying for the reader to be led up – difficult to do if you start with no real sense of direction.

So I decamped to Spain for a week and spent each morning on a balcony with a sea view in front of me and mountains either side. There are worse places to sit with a pen and A4 pad.

Over the course of that week, I wrote the outline. I started by writing out the events in chronological order, giving me a timeline. But, of course, that’s not the order you reveal things in. I also had to bear in mind that, although some of the events took place over decades, the core story needed telling over a few days. So it was like assembling all the ingredients, then deciding how to mix them together.

Something that helped me get the structure right was the decision to break the novel down into parts. That doesn’t work for all books, but it felt right in this case. Then I had to consider what titles to give the parts, because having sections headed “Part One”, “Part Two” etc. didn’t feel right.

The creative process isn’t always easy, so when you start looking for an answer and one pops into your head pretty much fully formed, you grab it with both hands.

A couple of titles came quickly and, in doing so, a theme emerged.

How to Win Friends

Most of you will be ahead of me on this as we’re conditioned to associate phrases and parts of phrases. So, if I said: “If it ain’t broke…” most people would add: “…don’t fix it.” For that reason, I’d expect a lot of you to read: “How to Win Friends…” and automatically think: “…and Influence People.”

It’s a phrase that’s fallen into everyday usage, but not everyone appreciates its origins. Published in the 1930s, it was one of the first self-help books. From a personal perspective, Dale Carnegie’s masterpiece is a must in my personal library, one that I’ve read several times from cover to cover, but also dip into periodically when I’m facing particularly difficult situations.

As for the title’s relevance to Ravens Gathering, it’s probably safe to say it’s used with a degree of irony for Part One.

Feel the Fear

A less iconic, but still influential, book was Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. As the title suggests, it acknowledges that none of us is without fear, and offers guidance on how to accept it but go ahead and do what we need to so we can achieve what we want in life. A great, motivational book, without being in the “rah-rah” category.

In this case, the chopped-down title seemed to fit with Part Two because of the growing tension and unease.

A Brief History

A Brief History of Time is hardly a self-help book, as it deals with scientific issues. So initially it felt like a bit of a cheat. But it considers the origins of our world and species so, in the final analysis, it felt an acceptable choice. More importantly, the truncated title for Part Three is suitably ambiguous, fitting nicely with my intention for the reader to see clues that aren’t there.

Families and How to Survive

Here I went back to a true self-help book. Families and How to Survive Them is another must for my personal library. Co-authored by John Cleese and his psychotherapist, Robin Skynner, it looks at psychological development from birth to old age, but in a very accessible way. I’ve found myself returning to it at various times in my life, and it’s helped me understand how and why I’ve felt and behaved the way I did.

As far as Ravens Gathering is concerned, by Part Four several family relationships have been established, but some of the characters are now facing real jeopardy, so taking most of the title felt very relevant.

Men Are From Mars

Although a much more recent book than Dale Carnegie’s, a lot of people will be aware of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray. Published around 25 years ago, it explores how men and women differ in their behaviours and are thus something of a mystery to each other.  By giving us a better understanding, it can help us appreciate our life partners better – though it’s fair to say that I probably should have read it more often.

The title of the final Part of Ravens Gathering hints at a possible reason for everything that’s happened so far, but maintains sufficient ambiguity to not give the game away.

Finding titles for the parts of the book was hard initially, but the opportunity to incorporate a theme seemed a good idea at the time. Only those who’ve read the book can judge whether the theme worked, and it’d be interesting to hear your thoughts. For those who haven’t, your comments on the concept would be welcome.


Find and follow Graeme

Website/Blog    Facebook Author Page    Troubadour (publisher)

Amazon UK and US   Goodreads

Twitter @GraemeCumming63


About the author

Graeme Cumming lives in Robin Hood country.  He has wide and varied tastes when it comes to fiction so he’s conscious that his thrillers can cross into territories including horror, fantasy and science fiction as well as more traditional arenas.

When not writing, Graeme is an enthusiastic sailor (and, by default, swimmer), and enjoys off-road cycling and walking.  He is currently Education Director at Sheffield Speakers Club.  Oh yes, and he reads (a lot) and loves the cinema.


Ravens Gathering

Martin Gates left his village fifteen years ago because he didn’t belong any more. Now he’s back, and looking for answers. The problem is, no one wants to hear his questions. Well, maybe Tanya McLean, but she has an ulterior motive and her husband won’t like it.

In the meantime, a horrific accident leaves a farm worker fighting for his life; a brutal killing triggers a police investigation; and even the locals are starting to fall out amongst themselves. Now the villagers have some questions of their own. Is it possible that Martin’s arrival is more than a coincidence? Do they really want reminding of what happened in the past? How has a whole farm disappeared from the map? And why are ravens gathering in Sherwood Forest?

As Martin makes his presence felt, it also becomes clear that he isn’t the only visitor. As the ravens gather and darkness descends, the time is drawing near for history to repeat itself…

Introducing characters with deep and unsettling secrets, Ravens Gathering is a gripping thriller, interwoven with horror and fantasy, that demonstrates how you should never take things at face value. It draws the reader in with neck-prickling tension as the layers are gradually peeled back. Only as the story reaches its heart-pumping climax is the shocking truth revealed. Ravens Gathering will appeal to fans of tense and creepy reads, and those who enjoy complex stories that keep you guessing. Its blend of horror and fantasy is reminiscent of the works of Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Graham Masterton.

“In an insignificant backwater village in north Nottinghamshire, generations of shame bubble below the surface till the return of a prodigal son. Will his presence bring release or destruction? Is he for good or evil? What will the clash between locals and incomers force to the surface and can his family accept his return after so many years?
This book is a mystery. The characters oscillate between hero and villain with every turn of the story line as the suspense builds to a shattering climax.” Extract of Amazon review by BEEJ.

Available as an ebook via Amazon.com and Amazon UK

and in paperback from the publisher’s website, Troubadour.


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About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She has written a number of books, both alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com
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38 Responses to Guest author: Graeme Cumming – Self help in writing

  1. Love Graeme! This post is fab!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A lovely post about Graeme and his writing. The extract was very intriguing.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Enjoyed reading this interesting guest post from Graeme. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Reblogged this on graemecummingdotnet and commented:
    I was delighted to be invited recently to share some thoughts on Sue Vincent’s blog. Sue herself has plenty to say on a range of subjects, all with a lot of thought attached to them. If you haven’t come across her yet, I’d encourage you to go take a look.
    For now, though, here’s the outcome of my own stream of consciousness…

    Liked by 2 people

  5. adeleulnais says:

    I have read this novel and loved it. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I always enjoy hearing about the thought process that goes into structuring a book, especially when there is so much complexity. Good luck with your book, Graeme. It sounds thrilling 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. esthernewton says:

    I’m reading it at the moment (not too far to go), so I found the insights into the writing process highly interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. TanGental says:

    Well it’s a splendid book and as he knows he’s a top bloke so no surprise the writing process is so engaging. Looking forward to the next one. …

    Liked by 2 people

  9. dgkaye says:

    I enjoyed reading the breakdown of Graeme’s structuring of what seems an intriguing book. Adding to my big fat TBR! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve had this for too long. I’ve got to move it up on my TBR list. As you know, I ❤ the cover. (Speaking of TBR lists…I think I'll add Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway to mine.) Nice to see you at Sue's, Graeme!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Only just spotted your comment, Sarah, so apologies for not responding earlier.
      Personally, I can’t understand why you didn’t just jump in and devour it when it arrived, Sarah. Clearly the cover wasn’t enough to draw you all the way in!
      I listened to Feel the Fear as an audiobook many years ago. I haven’t heard or read it recently, but I’m sure the principles are still sound. I can recommend it – but you’ve got another one to read first!

      Liked by 1 person

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