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03 September 2020

#WriteCBC tip and task from Erin Kelly

Erin Kelly, author
by Anna Davis Events, Writing Tips

September is the traditional ‘back to school’ month for CBC and #WriteCBC – but this year our online courses didn’t actually take a summer break at all, and neither did our monthly Twitter competition! Nevertheless, the team definitely has ‘new school year’ energy, and we’re excited about all the new stuff we have coming up this autumn – including our brand new online course on Writing A Psychological Thriller, taught by bestselling author Erin Kelly, who just happens to be this month’s #WriteCBC special guest … If you haven’t taken part in #WriteCBC before, we’re delighted to have you join us – and you can quickly get up to speed by reading this blog with information about how to play. It’s lots of fun and you might just win a free place on Erin’s new course (or on whichever of our six-week online writing courses you’d like to take).

To say a bit more about the wonderful Erin Kelly: She’s the author of He Said/She Said, which spent a total of twelve weeks in the Sunday Times bestseller list – plus four further critically acclaimed psychological thrillers, the latest being We Know You Know, recently out in paperback. Erin has taught many times on our three-and six-month novel-writing courses in London, and her students have included published alumni Laura Marshall, Jenny Quintana, Caz Frear and Hazel Barkworth, to name but a few. We’re delighted that she’s now working with us on the new psychological thriller course, and it’s great to welcome her to #WriteCBC!

Erin’s writing tip:

If you want to write psychological thrillers, get into the habit of people watching. Take note of strangeness; the little indications that all is not as it seems. Then ask yourself questions to mine for story and make the characters your own.

We’re always talking about the importance of being watchful and curious as writers – and the usefulness of notebooks. This is true for anyone wanting to write fiction – and if anything it’s doubly true for the writer of suspense.

Patricia Highsmith, renowned author of psychological thrillers, including the Tom Ripley novels, was particularly keen on people-watching. She’d sit in cafes for hours, looking very carefully at those around her – noticing people’s odd bits of behaviour, their mannerisms, furtive looks, nervous laughs – anything and everything that interested her. My partner John L Williams (writer, journalist and crime fiction reviewer) was lucky enough to meet her at a pub on one occasion, to interview her for a magazine piece. He tells me that the whole time he was talking to her, her eyes were wandering to the people seated at other tables – and he could see how fascinating she found them.

Take a leaf out of Highsmith’s book: Pay close attention to other people and think hard about what makes them tick. Eavesdrop on their conversations, look closely at their body language and whether it matches the tone of what they’re saying – and take notes. Later you can take some time to try to imagine what might really have been going on behind the scenes of what you observed – and ask yourself questions about these people which could help you to flesh them out into characters with a story that you want to tell.

Erin’s writing task:

Take a look at the photowhat do you see? I mean, what do YOU really SEE beneath the surface? Write a mini-scene inspired by the photo, which sets up an intriguing or suspenseful situation and leaves the reader wanting more.

We’ve given you a photo to work with for this month’s task. Take some time to study the people it shows, as well as their environment. Are there one or perhaps two characters in the photo who attract your attention more than others? And why? Is it something about the expression on their face that draws you? What do you think they might be saying to the person they’re sitting with – and who are these people to each other? Are they in love? Or, conversely, does one of them actively dislike the other, and why? Perhaps you’ve chosen a character who’s sitting alone – if so, what are they doing, and do they want to be alone? There are so many questions to think about – so many possible stories to tell. What will yours be?

Give us a story – or a fragment of a story – which focuses in on one or more characters in the photograph, and uses this scene as its jumping off point. We’d like to read something intriguing or suspenseful. We’d love you to give us a tweet-length piece of fiction that makes us want to read on …

This month’s winner is … Carey @careytodabble

Profile picture is dated. In reality: more belly, less muscle. That’s okay, his laughter lines run deep. He takes a picture of his coffee. I pretend to read my menu, the clue that brought me here. When I check Instagram, I’m in the picture. Practically across the table.

Carey’s done a great job of observing and capturing the essence of modern dating as well as touching on questions of privacy. There is also mystery and intrigue to the scene, what ‘clue’ is our protagonist following from the menu? What is their ulterior motive for this date?

Well done to our runners-up! @StrugglingMJ, @ameliabutterly, @clarnic and @natalietheo each win a £50 discount to be used on the six-week creative writing course of their choice. Email us ( to claim your prize.

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Our Courses

Starting to Write Your Novel

Starting to Write Your Novel

05 Nov – 10 Dec
Erin Kelly, author

Writing a Psychological Thriller

08 Oct – 12 Nov
S J Parris, author

Writing Historical Fiction

22 Oct – 03 Dec