Dear Auntie Ora,

I'm sure I have a novel inside me, though my therapist insists that, "It's all in the mind". Is there any way I can prove her wrong?

The Delphic Research Inc. Guide
How to Write a Novel

Rule 1 Don't have a short, bald hero who isn't very interesting - if you start with him, you're just making a rod for your own back.

Rule 2 Before you start, you should decide how fat your book is going to be. If it's going to be a doorstop, you'll have to fill a lot of pages by describing things in great detail as if people had never seen them, for example, a door. You can also introduce a vast army of minor characters who are briefly amusing but then suddenly and inexplicably get killed off.

Rule 3 The longer the book, the shorter the title: one word titles for more than 600 pages (e.g. Quagmire), one syllable titles for more than 1000 pages (e.g. Quag). Very short books must have long titles, such as The Pastimes of the Lost Ephemera. You can get away with titles such as this because once you've read the title you've picked up most of the plot and are a good way through the text.

Rule 4 Long books may have happy endings, because in order to have a happy ending you have to start happy, get sad and then regain happiness. Short books don't have time for all this, so they start miserable and get worse quickly.

Rule 5 Fashion applies to novels as it does to everything else. You won't get far with Tea With Mr Gumblewick even though Sibyl likes that sort of thing.

Rule 6 Seamy undersides are all the rage, especially if the overside of your underside isn't very pleasant either. Only one book a century gets away with the bright underside of the lovely overside. If life was that cheery, people wouldn't be reading books.

Rule 7 Don't restrict yourself to writing only about what you know. Publishers and editors suggest you should do this to try to stop stamp collectors getting their novels published - even though they have got snappy, one-word titles such as Unhinged.

Rule 8 The great thing about fiction is you can make it all up without doing a lot of research about anything. As long as you have one gratuitous fact per page, readers will think you know all about nuclear fission, Iceland, or micro-surgery.

Rule 9 All novels these days must have long passages of gratuitous sex. These are very difficult to write if you've never had any gratuitous sex, let alone long passages of it.

Rule 10 (or Cassidy's Corollary) If you make up the stuff about sex, there's always the danger that you'll make some fundamental biological error that will embarrass you in print forever. This is the only time when it's an advantage to have a short bald hero with the sexual magnetism of a face flannel.