Let's face it. There are loads of how-to-write-a-novel books out there. Some are full of lots of technical gumph and you feel disheartened just reading them. Others are light and fluffy and you wonder how anyone could write a postcard using their advice. This book falls somewhere in between, having the positive aspects of both alternatives.

Louise Doughty is a published author who wrote a regular newspaper column for the London Daily Telegraph that took her readers through a steady year-long process. Starting with the building up of possible material through some basic exercises, they progress to actually formulating plans for structure and plot. Unlike some books, the author assumes you are starting with only your enthusiasm and that you may not have a single idea to bless yourself with. Readers of her column wrote in and lodged their responses to her fortnightly exercises on the website and by the end of the year, the following was enormous. Hence this book.

The advantage with the book (as opposed to the articles) is that you can read it at your own pace, and selected answers from the posters are included to illustrate and/or amuse. The tone is friendly and engaging and eminently readable. So readable in fact, that this may actually be a fault, as there is the temptation to skip the exercises and just keep reading. Several chapters and exercises are spent on generating ideas and they steadily increase in depth. About half way through the year the author adjudges that there should be enough ideas and patches of scene work and description to start stringing together the beginnings of a storyline, and by the end she is talking specifics on dialogue construction and testing point-of-view alternatives.

Readability makes this book seem deceptively light, however there are some great tips/reminders that even the most experienced writer could do well to refer to when needing some inspiration to rewrite or freshen up a scene, for example: 'what is the weather doing at the time?' and could it contribute to the action or mood? and 'take some of your own anger...and give it to a character quite arbitrarily.' The exercises are above all practical and fun and could be reused with different material (with different results) or shared in writing groups.

The challenge will be to see if you can make it spin out over a whole year.