‘Always leave room to surprise yourself’ – Writer William Shaw shares his writing tips with Author Advice

William Shaw


Before becoming a crime writer, William Shaw was an award-winning music journalist and the author of several non-fiction books including Westsiders: Stories of the Boys in the Hood, which is about his year spent with the young men of South Central Los Angeles, and A Superhero For Hire, a compilation of columns in the Observer Magazine.

Starting out as assistant editor of the post-punk magazine ZigZag, he has been a journalist for The Observer, The New York Times, Wired, Arena and The Face and was Amazon UK Music Journalist of the Year in 2003.

The New York Times has called William Shaw’s trilogy of detective books, set in late sixties London, “an elegy for an entire alienated generation”. Featuring DS Cathal Breen and the brash young constable Helen Tozer, they are set against the cultural and political revolution of the times. A Song from Dead Lips was picked by Time Out as one of the crime books of 2013; The Daily Mail hailed A House of Knives as “a distinctive British crime drama, which benefits from a clear moral sense”. The third book in the series, A Book of Scars, was picked by The Sunday Times as their Crime Book of the Month, and subsequently as one of the picks of the year.

His standalone novel, The Birdwatcher, set in Kent and Northern Ireland, was released last month and has been dubbed by C J Sansom as “his best so far”.

William is currently working on his latest novel Sympathy For The Devil. This will be the fourth book in the Breen and Tozer series and is due to be published by Rivers Books next year.

William Shaw 2


My Three Top Tips for Writers

1. Don’t wait till you’ve got the perfect room/desk/shed/garret.
‘Actually, I’ve got a great idea for a novel. I’m building a shed in the garden and as soon as I’ve got that finished, I’m going to start.’ Pshaw. It’s great to have a nice place to work but it has nothing at all to do with writing. I wrote A Song From Dead Lips in 30 minute bursts on a horrible commute to London. Start now.

2. Aim to write every day.
Writing is a muscle. You have to exercise it. Write every day and you’d be surprised how much easier it is to do. Even if what you write absolute rubbish, write as often as you can. Sometimes, amongst the rubbish, there’s a gem. As for real exercise, you’ll find that goes out of the window when you write, sadly.

3. Surprise yourself.
You may be the kind of writer who needs to plan everything they do but always leave room to surprise yourself. The most enjoyable moments for a writer are when a character does something they totally didn’t see coming. They are the bits of grit that will convince the reader that yours is a real, original world. It’s a complete mystery where those bits come from, but they’re great. And, of course, they happen the most to those who are doing number 2 on the list.


You can find out more about William on Twitter or via his website williamshaw.com.

His latest book, The Birdwatcher, is published by riverrun books and is available from Amazon here.





About Donna-Louise Bishop

I'm a writer, freelance reporter, creative writing tutor, and blogger, living in the beautiful county of Norfolk UK. In my spare time I am also a wife, a mother to three boys, and a human washing machine.
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One Response to ‘Always leave room to surprise yourself’ – Writer William Shaw shares his writing tips with Author Advice

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