Notes from genre author Stephen Palmer

The Science Of Storytelling by Will Storr

I don’t read many ‘How To Write’ books, but The Science Of Storytelling by Will Storr was recommended by a couple of author friends and looked pretty good from the reviews. It is however much better than pretty good: it’s exceptional.

Why? In a word – clarity. Not only is this a fantastically clear, insightful and succinct look at how and why we tell tales, it’s a clear, insightful and succinct look at human beings. In some respects it transcends its subject to become a primer on aspects of the human condition.

The book has a single thesis: that telling stories is about people, about character, about our visible and concealed flaws, about our irrationality around those flaws, and about what authors can do with all this. Split into four sections it covers scenario (including theory of mind) and the importance of change, our flawed characters and why they’re endlessly compelling, asking the dramatic question which not only kick-starts a novel but sustains it, and plot/endings/meaning. A concluding section details the author’s own technique of the Sacred Flaw, which he uses in his writing classes.

At this stage of a review I usually add a few quibbles or point out some things I didn’t like, but in this case I have nothing to add. Compelling, lucid, engaging and fascinating, it is above all true. I recognise the truth of the human condition in this book, and much of it matches my own notions, for instance a point about emotion being about value – here summarised in a single sentence! The book is comparatively short, yet contains terrific insight, which, with skill and grace, the author lays out for his readers.

I was reminded when I read this book of another short work containing wisdom and clear insight, Karen Armstrong’s A Short History Of Myth. Storr’s book is a kind of partner work: where he looks at storytelling and the individual, Armstrong looks at storytelling and cultures. Reading the two together is a real lesson in life.

Unreservedly recommended.

Startling Timing

Just a couple of weeks before the 25th anniversary edition of Memory Seed comes out, today I came across this new article in the Guardian written by Erin Brockovich. This is the exact issue which, twenty-eight years ago, led me to devise the all female version of the novel. Startling timing!

FCC Fictions New Story

The FCCs ongoing thought experiment Fictions: Health & Care Re-imagined continues with another story from award-winning Anne Charnock. As usual… read the story, then join the debate!

Why I Blame Men

Men* could easily change the inhumane social circumstances they set up for themselves, but they don’t.

Men refuse to see the truth of the social world they set up, instead seeing only their version of it.

Men refuse to acknowledge any version of reality exists other than their own.

Men promulgate only their own version of reality, which bears little relation to the human truth.

Men devised patriarchy for themselves and themselves alone: a self-selecting elite.


Men allow themselves recourse to violence if they can’t control and dominate any other way.

Men deliberately remove themselves from the consequences of their violence.

Men use any and every technique to justify their violence regardless of the truth of it.

Men like war, and want it.


Men reject human connection, instead substituting “honour,” “buddies,” and any number of other cold substitutes.

Men dehumanise others via characteristics such as race, which happens because first they dehumanised women.

Men rejected mythos in favour of logos, through which it was much easier to lie.


Men believe they have the right to be where they are in the social world, and expect everyone else to believe it too.

Men believe they have more to lose than to gain if they change.


Men justify all their beliefs via religion and secular custom, expecting everybody else to believe the same.


The problem of patriarchy cannot be solved until its fundamental level is seen, described and understood. That means focusing on the problem: men.

*Think I mean all men? Think again.

FCC news

Recent news about Future Care Capital’s Annemarie Naylor, who with Keith Brooke put together the Fictions: Health & Care Re-imagined series, to which I was a contributor.

Return Of The Britishers

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Xana-La, Hairy London, The Humour Mines, Pharaday Lemmington’s Various Adventures, Anglocide, The First Britishers In The Moon... may or may not be a complete list!

Anne Charnock’s FCC story shortlisted

Great to see Anne Charnock’s FCC story shortlisted by the BSFA. Here’s the FCC on it.

Fictions: My Third Story

My third and final story in the FCCs ongoing thought experiment Fictions: Health & Care Re-imagined is published today. This story is about the hidden assumptions in data, not least medical data.

Read the story, then get involved in the debate!

Writers’ Lab free online event

The Shrewsbury Library Writers’ Lab is hosting a free online event on Tuesday 9th February from 5.30pm – 6.30. Myself and a host of other authors will be reading from our works – fiction, poetry, flash fiction and much more. I’ll be reading from Hairy London.

Roll up, roll up!

Carnival Row tv series

My second recent television series was Carnival Row, first broadcast by Amazon Prime in 2019.


This review contains spoilers and is of the entire 8 episode series.


What would happen if refugee Fae from Tirnanoc were racially abused and discriminated against? What if they suffered violence at the hands of another people in a foreign land? This is the premise of the eight-part television series Carnival Row.

The setting is basically nineteenth century London with added Fae, Pucks and other sundry fantasy folk. Orlando Bloom plays a detective investigating a series of grisly murders in the Burgh, but this main character has a secret which puts him in a dangerous position, one symbolised by his Fae lover (played by Carla Delevigne) and his human one. Elsewhere there is much by way of politics, not least because the underlying theme of this series is racism. All fantasy races are discriminated against. Pucks are not allowed into polite society, being servants or other working classes. Fae are outsiders in all regards. Religion also plays a part – there’s a form of Christianity with a hanged martyr.

There’s a lot to like about this series, not least the theme. Too rarely do we see such clear explorations and depictions of casual racism. But there’s humour, wit, and plenty of twists and turns too. The pace of the thing is good, with episodes three and four being terrific flashbacks from which the latter half of the series then proceeds. Visually it’s stunning, with the grimy, dark city superbly photographed.

As the series progressed however I began to become aware of a flaw in the concept. For me, Carnival Row is a mash-up too far. The nineteenth century stuff is fantastic, anchoring the plot, but the Fae – winged, and that just doesn’t work – are to my mind bolted on. The wingless Puck aren’t so obvious a bolt-on, I think because they seem to fit in better. The series is the television equivalent of wizards in spaceships: fun, possibly, for half an hour, but entirely lacking depth and stylistic coherence.

Having said that, the acting was terrific and the scenario overall was enjoyable. I do think Orlando Bloom was perhaps a little too restrained in his performance – monochrome with hints of sepia – though Delevigne was superb. The supporting cast also contained gems, notably the racist policeman and the delightful posh girl/Puck-made-good couple who provide a lot of the wit and humour. I watched the series to its end, and wanted to find out how it ended – and it finished with a great plot twist.

Yet I remain ambivalent about the thing as a whole. Two halves too disparate are patched together here. It’s rather appropriate that the concept of the Darkasher represents the series as a whole – created from dissimilar parts and only animated by force of will. How ironic!