On Being Curious


In 2016, while the UK Brexit referendum was going on, I did an interview with Mandy Lehto. I mean, she did an interview with me.

When Mandy published the episode of her podcast, I think I felt a bit shy about sharing it because it felt like saying, “listen to me-me-me”, which is very silly indeed.

I heard it again yesterday (Dec 2020) and I thought it was a good summary of lots of things I care about, so I’m posting it here, with massive thanks to Mandy for inviting me.

If you have looked around at this website much, you may know that I got myself admitted to psychiatric hospital at the start of 2018 – ie, about 18 months after this interview. I was in a really bad way.

This fact seems to cast a bit of a shadow over the end of the interview, in which I talk breezily about asking for help. But hey, I’m only human.

Perhaps Mandy will ask me back on to Moxie Cast to discuss this…? Or maybe I should do a podcast of my own, and invite Mandy. Just thinking out loud, here.

PS: I wish I had mentioned by name the editor who was such an influence, Michael Watts. (Job done!) Here’s a picture of us, reunited after a longish spell:

“Invite, don’t push.”

5. Delivery, Editors and experts, Inspiration

Heather Urquhart is a theatrical musical improviser. She’s really good at it, and also at teaching people who aren’t (necessarily, or not yet, anyway) to become more than adequate at it.

I first met Heather a few years ago on a day-long musical impro session she ran with Joe Samuels. Long before the end of the day I was singing before an audience songs that I didn’t know till they came out of my mouth.

I’ve since done several more.

In this excerpt from a recent interview, for my coming book about speaking and performing in public, I asked Heather how she goes about creating a safe environment for participants (that is, her audience).

What she says should be of interest to anybody likely ever to face an audience, whether to improvise or deliver something scripted.

I’ll be posting more in due course. If you want to be sure you don’t miss anything, subscribe to my email list.

How sketching improves your writing.


Online drawing collaboration | JPF and Laura C

One of the great difficulties of storytelling is to thoroughly visualise a place – and the movement of people within that place. Storytellers I work with can become stuck In a frozen moment, and the story doesn’t go anywhere.

Paradoxically, drawing, which in its finished state is static, can help to create the movement. But it is not the finished drawing that matters, it is the process of drawing.

Laura C is working on a memoir, built around her father’s cookery books.

Working with Laura yesterday, we started with an empty floor plan of the house she is writing about. Sketching together online, not least because we are on different continents, we gradually embellished the floor plan.

Over 30 minutes, Laura remembered all kinds of things that had happened in her childhood home and I sketched while we talked (Laura sketched a little too). I also wrote down a few of the phrases she used.

I highly recommend that you do this exercise. It works much better if you draw with someone else, because a lot of the benefit comes from your conversation.

I’m sure you can find someone, but if you can’t – well, you know where I am.

Online Drawing Collaboration #11


“Not quite the dream” | JPF and Viv B

Viv wanted to draw the final scene in her memoir, a very funny book about (among other things) keeping goats.

This picture shows Viv (right) with her daughter in a disappointing cafe in the Hebrides, drinking yucky coffee:

Tech failure means I have no video this time, and am struggling to format the audio so that WordPress allows me to embed it. I hope to fix this!

Online Drawing Collaboration #10


“Wakes up, heart racing” | JPF and Cath H

Cath said she’s no good at visual art. She wanted to use our collaboration to get clearer ideas about a scene in a book.

We used drawing to work out who was in the room, and what was in there with them – then to use the “props” to develop her narrative. Bear in mind that we started with a blank page. This is what we finished with.

You can watch our process, and maybe pick up some tips about how drawing can help your writing, in the video recording:

Our drawing/writing process

Afterwards, Cath sent this message:

Hi JP, great to see you (on Zoom) again. I really enjoyed it. What a fresh way to unblock writers block- by having fun!

Online Drawing Collaboration #9


“Lifebelts for Improvisers” | JPF and Joel Levack

We decorated one of the sketches I made while training in impro with Keith Johnstone. It was just a line drawing, with the three “lifebelts” listed on the top right.

Joel used his iPad today for the first time. And to raise the stakes a bit we recorded it live to Facebook. I have no idea what people watching might have made of the sight of us drawing – the picture itself never appeared on screen.

At one point, as I was drawing the splashes and the big wave, I lost Joel for a bit and had to talk to myself.

Once Upon A Yikes…

1. Invention, Story power

Help for perfectionists

Every word in a story has to be followed by another (at least, till the last full stop).

Sometimes only one word could meaningfully follow. At other times, you could choose from thousands. (The average, apparently, is ten.)

Perfectionists find it hard to make a choice, in case it’s not the “right” word, and find themselves blocked.

I’ve created an entertaining one-hour online course for anybody who needs help with that. It’s HERE.

What format for a manuscript?

Case Studies

I received an email from an author I’ve been working with. Here it is:

I do sometimes get asked to read manuscripts. Generally I prefer not to, because I take a jolly long time over it.

But this is somebody I started working with three years ago. We met on an Arvon course, and continued to talk every month or so afterwards, in a tiny group:

Group writing exercise
Group writing exercise. Drawing by JP Flintoff

Anyway, back to the question about manuscripts.

I hate reading loose sheets of A4. And I can’t read anything book-length digitally, because I like to make marks and comments I can flick back through. I much prefer to read something book-like.

So I always print my own work in progress as an actual A5 book, glue-bound, with a cover image that changes from one iteration to the next. Like this:

Four draft copies of What If The Queen Should Die?, with different covers
Draft copies of my 2016 novel, What If The Queen Should Die?

My preference is to upload a simple PDF to Lulu.com, and a cover image, and get a glue-bound “proper” book. It’s cheap, for a start, and effective. Roughly £6 plus postage for the book I’m working on now.

But even without Covid-19, Lulu.com doesn’t deliver fast, so I couldn’t do it this time.

My own publisher wants me to make additions to my forthcoming book quite quickly, so today I got it printed and bound at a local print shop. Here it is, ready for collection with a happy smile from Charlie at The Print Team in Golders Green.

The same 280ish pages cost me £32, but it was a quick turnaround and I think it’s worth it.

Any questions, please leave a comment below.