This is a most unusual review, one which will make it on to my ‘Recommended Resources’ page in the near future, but is difficult to define. I want to introduce you to a man, his course and his book – which is, in itself, rather unusual too.
John Yeoman is a gifted writer and teacher whilst being wonderfully eccentric in a way only the British can do. That his favourite character and hero of his novels is named after himself tells you something of what makes this chap tick. Despite being a learned Oxford scholar with a PhD in creative writing, he manages to avoid coming across as an arrogant and pompous lecturer. Instead, John comes across as a quirky, interesting and fun kind of a chap who just happens to live, breath and veritably ooze good writing advice.
He has run a writing course for a long time now which has helped thousands of students – myself included – to write stories much more effectively. As a regular judge for writing competitions, John has a great deal of expertise about what makes a story work and what can derail it. He’s compiled this experience, along with scholarly research into a huge course which is still my first port of call when beginning a new story. Sometimes I go over the course again, reminding myself of valuable gems I missed the first time, other times I dip randomly into one of more than fifty articles each looking at one aspect of story-writing on which I can focus as I begin a new tale of my own.
While taking the course, I enjoyed reading the extras which John provides – including many of his own short stories which illustrate some aspect to do with the lesson they accompany. Many of these stories feature John’s Elizabethan character: the apothecary Hippo Yeoman. I began looking forward to each new fortnightly lesson just in case the lessons would also include a new ‘Hippo’ story.
John has now brought out a series of books featuring his kind-hearted and eccentric ‘cunning man’, the first of which is Fear of Evil. It would be enough if this was just a full-length historical murder mystery but John Yeoman the writer can’t help but be John Yeoman the teacher too and so he has created what he calls the world’s first ‘fictorial’.
Fear of Evil not only is a great whodunnit but is also a mine of information for the would-be novelist. As you read the story you also have an annotated commentary explaining the devices John uses and why he uses them. Added together, these make a great collection of ‘on-the-hoof’ tips and hints about how to write a novel.
I think this makes the book something of an oddity – is it for readers or for writers? And I’ve come to the conclusion that it is perfect ‘armchair reading’ for anyone interested in the mechanics of crafting a good story. If you’re a jobbing writer like myself and pressed for time, this is a book you really can justify reading because it isn’t merely recreational but also research. Apply the principles John teaches and your story or novel really will be all the better for it.
Personally, I would have liked to see an additional chapter at the end giving an in-depth analysis of how the author constructed the whole book and others at Goodreads and at Amazon have made similar comments. Nevertheless, for the price, it’s an excellent buy regardless.
Overall then, I heartily recommend John Yeoman to you as an entire entity. He’s a very nice chap, has an encyclopedic knowledge of story-writing, his course is worth every penny and – if you love Hippo Yeoman as I do – Fear of Evil is a great book to read – both for the reader and for the writer who is ( or should be) hungry to learn more.
You can sign up for John Yeoman’s writing course here: http://www.johnyeoman.org/
You can buy John’s novel on Amazon.co.uk here: Fear of Evil