There’s no such thing as a free lunch – should you write for free?

Actually, there is such a thing as a free lunch! My church put on a free lunch on the first Saturday of every month. They offer soup, fresh crusty bread and cakes, and it is very popular. Some of the homeless people in the town are waiting eagerly outside, at 12 pm, ready to come and eat and stay until the end, at 2. I have known people who are struggling, who are down on their luck, or just not making ends meet that month, come and enjoy a free hot meal. Not even a collection is taken – it is completely free.

However, when you are setting out as a writer, where do you find opportunities to write, if not for free? There are job ads everywhere, offering internships, voluntary positions, or even, the old chestnut, more paid work will be along soon! How do you know whether this is a position that will give you good experience and bring along better things, or whether you are just being taken advantage of? Here are three opportunities, where you might consider offering your services for free, and three where you would be well-advised to stay clear.

Take it!

  1. A local charity is looking for someone to help with writing some articles for the magazine. It is a subject that you know something about, and you would like to write more about. Yes – especially if you are looking for some clips for a portfolio. This kind of thing is fine, especially for smaller, local charities. The only time I would be hesitant, would be if this were for a charity that could afford to pay. Also, make it clear that it would take second place to paid work, and limit how much you produce for them.
  2. A friend is starting up a business and wants to set up a website. They are looking for help to put content together. You agree to write some pages for them, if you can link to their website on your portfolio. Yes – but with provisos! Not everyone chooses to work with friends – it can be a fast way to lose a friendship! Decide on the scope of the work before you start – how many articles, and know how long it is going to take you. Again, free work should only be done after paid work is done.
  3. You decide to join an article-writing website. The article titles are chosen by you, so you can write about what you want, and the website puts advertising on your articles. You can collect the money for the advertising, once it reaches a certain amount. Your articles are passed by an editor before being published. Again – a qualified yes! This is something that I did, when just starting out. I liked the idea that the article had to be passed by an editor, so that meant it had to pass certain style guides. It taught me how to write a headline and how to write for the web. I made a little money out of it – but don’t expect to get seriously rich from this kind of set up! Also do some research before joining such a website – some are better regarded than others. It’s best to check out reviews first.

Don’t Touch it!

  1. A company posts on a job board, looking for writers. They suggest that the opportunity will be great exposure and experience for a writer – but they can’t afford to pay yet. They say that there may be payment somewhere down the line… no! The problem is, that you don’t know the person and you have no idea about their circumstances. They may be telling the truth, but they may not. Stay clear or be taken advantage of!
  2. You are emailed by a person you don’t know, out of the blue. They offer minimal compensation, but ask for a free trial of your writing to check whether you are up to the right standard. Not recommended! If they receive enough writers willing to do a free trial – will they need to pay at all? They may have emailed you, but you have no guarantee that this work is going to be worth your while. I have occasionally sent over a trial piece – but on the understanding that if they want to use it, I want to be paid for it!
  3. You offer an article to a publication that pay for print and online pieces. Their reply tells you that they won’t be paying you because your piece will published as a blog post. You are a new writer, looking for clips – what do you do? This happened to an experienced freelancer who pulled the piece rather than give this publication free work. They would not have offered the work if they had thought that they would not be paid. This feels like a scam – and you should value your work too much to be taken in by it. If something doesn’t feel right – then walk away. There will be other opportunities.
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7 retro blog posts you might like to check out

7 retro blog posts

When you’ve put a lot of effort into writing your blog posts, it can be difficult to lose them off the top page and awkward for visitors to your page to find and read them, unless of course, they found them through searching a specific topic in Google. So it is good to occasionally write a blog post review to search through your blog and find some of the highlights that may enjoy seeing the light of day again.

I have enjoyed searching through my blog and finding some of my highlights from recent years. Many of these were from a 30 day blogging challenge I undertook in 2016. Definitely think it’s time for another one!

  1. Great Hero Character Names

In this blog post, I wrote about some of my favourite character names in novels and why I liked them.

2. My Top 10 Fictional Villains

What is a hero without a villain to try to foil them? These are some of my favourite villains, but I know there are many more.

3. Writing Prompts, Story, part 1 and Story part 2, and Editing a Story

I’m cheating here – there are actually 4 blog posts in one go: writing prompts and parts 1 and 2 of a story. I had fun creating this. Then I wrote a further blog post, explaining how I might edit the story, having read it back and analysed what I had written.

4. Procrastination and the Writer

This blog post was one of the most popular on my blog at one point. I think it chimes with most people who want to be writers.

5. 30 Ways to find Blog Post Ideas

For those days when procrastination is at its highest…

6. Six Girl BFFs in Fiction

I love a story with a really good girl BFF in it and here are some of my favourites.

7. Ten of the Best Bromances in Fiction

You can’t leave the boys out! Here my top ten bromances in fiction too.

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How to start using Twitter as a Freelance Writer

One of the main things about becoming a freelance writer is the need to network and connect with other writers and clients. How successful you are in connecting with people is partly dependant on getting to grips with social media and learning to use it to your advantage. Here are some tips on getting the most out of your social interactions.

Do you use Twitter?

Do you use Twitter personally? What is your attitude to meeting people through social media. It is easy to be wary and restrict interactions with friends when it comes to our own personal accounts, but the whole reason for using social media for our business means that we need to reach out to others that we will not necessarily know. You may need to change your mindset in order to use social media effectively.

Where do your clients hang out?

I can remember attending an interview for a builders’ merchants who were looking for a social media person to build up their Twitter accounts. I didn’t get this job, but I still wonder whether builders actually have time to hang out on Twitter and pick up their offers. Most businesses these days offer email, many send out newsletters and have a website, usually developed by a third party, but Twitter and Facebook are very personal choices that not everyone wants to use. Check whether potential clients that you want to contact are choosing to use the method of social media that you are planning to use.

Where do you begin?

Choose a username that reflects your business. All the social media make it very easy to set up an account and the hardest thing can sometimes be finding the right name that has not already been taken.

Set a profile picture and a cover picture too. Most social media accounts also give you the option to reach out to people from your contacts list, so that you have a ready-made list to start connecting with. It is best to set up your profile as fully as you can.

Write your first post and publish.

Check in with your account regularly and monitor the activity. There are tools available to help schedule posts to help save time, depending on the form of social media.

What to post?

Social media is great for promoting your blog posts, website, offers and promotions, or just for sharing an article that you found useful or news. Decide how often you want to post. Posts should never just be self-serving promotions but full of useful information for others. Keep in mind the people that you want to reach and what they might be interested in reading about, or the knowledge that they might like to acquire. When you post, include a link and an image if possible.

You can also share videos, podcasts and infographics. You can curate news to post, writing the headlines in your own words and including a link. This can be a useful way of posting more often. Keep it relevant to your business and make it useful to your clients.

Social interaction

The most important part of social media is the social bit! Each form of social media has its own way of interacting. Twitter allows likes, replies and retweets. Retweeting other people’s tweets is a good way to begin your interactions. Follow people and their tweets will show on your feed. Look for people and companies that align with the people you are trying to reach. Thank people for following you and use hashtags.

Hashtags enable your posts to be found by interested parties. The most popular hashtags will appear when you start to type a word after a hashtag. Choosing one of the more popular ones will help people find you. Post regularly and follow up when people try to contact you. Some companies set up automatic replies to people who follow them, to let them know that it is appreciated. This can be a good idea, but make it a thank you and possibly a freebie that you offer rather than a hard sell.

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The Writer vs the Blank Page

Writing vs the Blank Page

“You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” (Jodie Piccoult)

It can be tough settling down to work, but there is nothing worse, as a writer, than settling down to write, then realising that you don’t know what you want to say. Facing a blank screen or blank page is almost guaranteeing that your brain will go blank too!

When I was young, there was something enjoyable at school about turning over a fresh new page to write on. I used my best handwriting, carefully drew the curliest ‘y’s and ‘g’s and tried to make sure that my work looked good. As a writer, there have been times when I have found myself with a little valued writing time, opened up a document and – nothing! All words have left me and it can feel very frustrating!

So why do writers put this pressure on ourselves? Why do we panic when faced with a blank page and what can we do about it?

There may be a few reasons why we freeze:

  • we genuinely don’t know where we want to go next in our writing
  • we are starting a new project but don’t know where to start
  • we need to do some research before we start writing
  • some other reason

Where do I go next in my writing?

You’ve opened up a blank document, but you really haven’t a clue where to continue on with your writing. How can you find a way around this and use your writing time productively? A good idea can be to always leave your work at a point where you have an idea where it is going to go next. So you are writing a story where the main character is going to visit her friend and chat about the leading love interest. If you leave your story where the main character knocks on the door of her friend, then you have something to start writing about straight away when you come back to your work. If however, you finish work at the end of a chapter, then it can be harder to come back in to a completely new one.

Similarly, if you are writing an article, try to write down some planning and research points rather than just plunging into the first paragraph. Of course, if a great idea for the first paragraph comes to you, then write it down, but if you normally find it hard to get going, then it is best to anticipate this and make sure that you are able to write something down. Often just getting going is a good way to overcome the blank page.

Starting a new project

Sometimes you want to start a new project, but you don’t know where to begin. You might have fragments of a story in mind, you could have an idea for a new blog post or you may have found a great title that you want to use in a piece of writing. The idea is sketchy and you are unsure where to go next with it.

Again, the trick is to release the pressure on yourself. No one is able to write a perfect first draft, so don’t worry if it’s a bit rough. Write notes, sketch out some characters or interview them, write some outlines, play with the concept. For blog posts, you can check out what other writers have written on the subject, to get some width on the subject, play with the title and list out the points you want to make. Try to always have something on the page, even if it eventually gets deleted.

Need to do some research

Some writers just go straight into a piece of writing, then they come up against a blocking point where they need to research in order to finish it. As a writer, you could look at the positive side – at least you wrote something down and are not faced with a blank piece of paper! By all means, go and find the answer to your question in a text book or search engine. Your work will be waiting for you when you come back. Sometimes it takes longer than you think to find the answer to something, so before you leave your work, write down some markers so that when you come back to it, you will be able to pick up your thought thread. Nothing worse than coming back to a piece of work, only to realise that you have absolutely no idea what you were going on about. Almost worse than that blank piece of paper!

Something Else

Insert your own reason here – for whatever reason, you find yourself facing a blank document with the blank brain to match. However, if you’ve been smart and paying and attention, you will have realised that this doesn’t need to be the case! You can leave yourself notes, character sketches, research notes and references or anything else that will help you pick up the work when you come back. If you are writing whole blog posts, then decide what the next topic is going to be and leave a title on a piece of paper along with a couple of references to remember where you planned to go next.

There is no need for a writer to be afraid of that blank piece of paper. It is just a blank page, waiting to be written on. If you find beginnings hard, then always start your beginning before ending your work for the night. Then you should always be able to spend that unexpected but welcome piece of writing time, productively.

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7 Ways to Find that Next Blog Post

Blog post ideas can come from anywhere if you just look.

There are times when writing a blog comes so easily. Then there are times when it becomes more difficult. It seems that every subject that you want to write about, has been already covered many times before, by more esteemed writers, in such a better way than you could ever write.

What’s the point?

Surely, when it has been said before, there is no point in rehashing old ideas, old arguments, boring anecdotes and yawn-worthy lists. No one can possibly have any interest in what you have to say.

Well, possibly not, but do you really speak for the whole of the global population? In these days of the internet, absolutely anyone could come across your blog and read your next post. And this could never happen, if you hadn’t written it. You see, writing something, anything has to be better than writing nothing. At least then you have something to show for your time.

So, assuming that you are not going to give in to unworthy feelings, here are some ideas on where to start when all inspiration for the next blog post has left you.

  1. Read a couple of favourite blogs. Find out what other bloggers are talking about. This is not so that you can copy what they are doing, but one possible blog post is to acknowledge another author’s post and answer it, or give your own twist on it. It can be helpful to see what others are talking about. Read critically and an idea may pop into your own mind. If two or three ideas come along, then jot them down. It is always useful to have some ideas on the go.
  2. Look at news in the niche that you want to find a blog post for. You may find some inspiration in what others have been achieving. There is nothing stopping you contacting someone to ask for more information, or even an interview for your blog if you wish. Most people like the idea of some self-promotion.
  3. Are there any authors who have books coming out linked to the topic you blog about? Reach out to them and see if they would like to promote their book on your blog. You can email an interview if you prefer not to interview in person. This can also be a great way to network.
  4. Answer a question. This could be a question asked in a forum, a question that you have been asked, or even a question that you, yourself have asked in the past. If it is your own question, then research the answer and give the best two or three replies. Chances are that someone has answered it, somewhere.
  5. Write a book review. Is there a book that you have found really helpful, or that you enjoyed reading? Let others know your thoughts.
  6. Write about something controversial. Put forward your arguments, or even debate the rights and wrongs of the situation. However, be prepared that you may get some attention over this, possibly even the wrong kind of attention. It’s a good way to get yourself noticed, though!
  7. Write about a problem you are having. Explain how you solved it, including the steps you took to get there. It may strike a chord with other people.

These are just seven ideas for how to find a blog post to write when you feel as though you have written it all before. Hopefully you have found something there that will work for you.

How do you come up with new blog posts to write? Do you have periods of time where you find it difficult? Share your tips below.

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Seven Tips for Creating a Freelance CV

Creating a freelance CV or curriculum vitae is an important part of your business. It sets out your experience for potential clients and enables them to understand where your previous work could help them in their business. It can also help to establish you as someone who sees their writing as a job and not just a hobby.

There are plenty of websites that can help you write a CV, so do look around and read a number of author’s ideas on how a CV should look. There is no one perfect way to write one, although professional CVs should contain a number of things.

  1. Include your personal details including address, email and a phone number by which you can be reached. You want the person who is reading your curriculum vitae to be able to contact you if they have some work for which you are a good fit. Make sure that your email and phone number are up to date and include Facebook business pages, Twitter account and any other social media accounts that you use for work. You should have separate accounts for private and business use.
  1. Open with a statement that includes the kind of work that you have been doing and some of the strengths and skills you have. For example:

      “Sarah has been a freelance writer for 7 years. In that time, she has worked with many clients and companies to create strong content that delivers interest and information. In her current role, she also manages social media on Facebook and Twitter, curating relevant content and interacting with other users on behalf of the company.”

Not everyone is comfortable using the third person, but some argue that it can look more professional. In the end, it is a personal choice. I have seen some great CVs that also write in the first person. The important thing is that you think about the client that you are approaching and include some work experience in the area that you are hoping to work in. How long should it be? As long as it needs to be. Some application forms seem to expect you to write a 2,000 word essay in support of your application, but I feel that this can be a bit much to wade through and also could be repetitive to write. Write as much as you need in order to explain what you do and how you could fit this role.

2. List out the relevant jobs that you have undertaken, together with a brief explanation of how you fulfilled them. If you have done hundreds of jobs, then you may need to choose the most relevant. If you apply for a number of different jobs such as editing, proof-reading or content writing then you may need to create a different freelance CV for each situation. You could also include links to content you have written if you wish.

3. Take a look at your CV each time you are preparing to send it out and make sure that it matches the client or job that you want to send it to. Be prepared to alter it to ensure that the client understands what you are offering and that it is relevant to them.

4. Include the highest level of education that you undertook and the qualification. You can also include any relevant courses that you have since done. Even though my degree is not strictly relevant to my work now, it is good that employers can see that I am educated to degree level.

5. Including a skills section can enable voluntary work to be included if it has not been included in the main work experience section. Make sure that the skills you include are relevant to the application.

6. Testimonials – ask previous and current clients for testimonials so that you can offer snapshots of what others think of your work.

7. References – if you have clients who would be willing to be a reference for you then include their contact details on your freelance CV but do ask them first.

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New Look Creative Writer – Spot the Change

My blog has changed its theme. I really liked the old Dynablue theme, but I felt it was time for a change for three reasons:

  1. I was looking for something more clean and up to date. I felt that the old blue theme was looking a bit dated. I needed a change
  2. Websites have moved on quite a bit since I set up Creative Writer and I Needed to move on too
  3. I was bored!

Changing the theme is reasonably easy in WordPress; you just find a theme you would like to use, check it out as a sample, then click and use. Some of themes can be customised to suit your tastes as needed.

Hope you enjoy the new look.

What have you done differently this week?

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How to work at home and get stuff done

Working from home sounds like the ultimate dream – no motorway car park to negotiate, no need to wear tight uncomfortable clothes – you can even work in your PJs if you want and you have 24 access to a fridge! However in order to stay focused and get your work done, you may have to be a little more organised.

Here are some top tips for getting on with work when you’re working from home.

1. Have somewhere to work. You need a clear space of desk, kitchen table or laptop stand to work. You need to be able to keep the things you will need close to hand, and you need to be able to use your printer or scanner when necessary. This means that you will also need access to plug points. It can be somewhere like the kitchen table where things get cleared away each day, or you might like to create a work station that can stay as it is for whenever you have some work to do.

2. Find a comfortable chair. Try to set up your workspace as ergonomically as possible to suit you and your needs. Make sure that you are not straining joints like wrists, that you are sitting with as good a posture as possible and that you take time to walk around at regular intervals.

3. Take time to exercise. There are a number of studies that point out that sitting still all day is not what the human body was designed to do. Do some stretches, go for a walk (or walk the dog) or take some other form of exercise.

4. Remember to shower and change into clothes. Tempting as it sounds to stay in your onesie all day, it does not help to put you in a work mood. In order to get work done, sometimes you have to take care of yourself and then get on with the day.

5. Check emails only once or twice a day. Three times if you’re addicted. Remember to turn email notifications off so that you can work undisturbed.

6. Turn social media off too. Social media managers get some leeway on this – it’s part of the job! However remember to keep on the client’s social media and away from your own unless you have scheduled it in.

7. Organise your paperwork. One of the most important things about working from home is to keep track of your income and expenditure, keeping paperwork filed and organised for those all-important tax returns.

8. Keep on top of your invoices. Set aside time to make sure that you generate and send invoices out. Don’t forget to chase any late payments.

9. Try and set aside definite times for work and times for housework. It can be hard to work with a pile of washing up behind you, so either get it done before you start work or agree with yourself a time to get it done. Sometimes I enjoy the fresh air and hang up the washing at the same time. House work can be done in small chunks as a way of getting away from the keyboard for a bit.

10. Connect with like-minded people through social media and find your own ‘watercooler’. It can seem lonely at home on your own if you are used to being in a busy office. However the internet is a great place to find other people who are doing the same thing that you are doing. Find your people and swap ideas.

Finally, the best thing about working from home is the flexibility. If the day is clear and you want to go out for a couple of hours and take your camera, you can do it! You choose your hours and as long as you get your work done, you set the pace and the schedule.

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How to write a guest blog post

I have had a guest blog post accepted at the Oxford English Dictionary website on the language in Jane Austen adaptions. I really enjoyed writing the blog post although it did require checking out some adaptions of some of Jane Austen’s books – a real hardship!

It’s one of the first times that I’ve got my own byline – usually I write for someone else. It never normally bothers me, but it’s hard to point your mum at something and say, ‘I wrote that’ when it has someone else’s name at the bottom of it.

I enjoyed writing the blog post and I hope it leads to more. In this instance, I was approached with an idea and it was one that I was happy to write about. What questions should you ask if you are approached with a request to write a guest blog post?

1. Can I have the website address please?

It’s a good idea to check out the blog that you are being asked to write for. Look at the style – does it fit in well with your writing? Is it a blog that you would like to write for? Do the blog subjects fit in well with the kind of thing you like to write? Make sure that it is something that you would be comfortable writing about.

2. How many words are you looking for?

It’s good to know how much you are expected to write.

3. When is the deadline?

You also need to know how long you have to write it.

4. What is your budget?

The subject of money needs to come up at some point. They may ask your rates. At this point, you can ask their budget and see if they match. You also need to ask whom copyright will reside with and make sure that you are comfortable with the answer. Finally do they pay on acceptance of the blog post or do they pay when it is published? There can be a big difference.

5. Can I promote my blog post on social media?

The answer most likely is ‘yes’ but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Once you are happy with the answers to these (and any other questions you may have) then you can go ahead, research and write your blog post.

Three DOs

DO turn it in on time – or slightly ahead of time if you can.

DO accept any suggestions or revisions gracefully. I found that the revisions suggested improved my piece, but they were not so many that they completely changed it. The editor may suggest a new title or the piece may look different on publication, but at the end of the day, it is their blog and they know their style best. If you really disagree with something, then you can perhaps say something, politely but it is usually the Editor’s final decision.

DO let friends and family know when it is up and encourage them to go and read it and comment!

So on that note, please do go and check out my guest blog post on Jane Austen and feel free to start a conversation!  Thank you.

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Ten of the best Bromances in Fiction

There’s something about a really good bromance that stirs the heart. Bromances have been a fiction winner ever since Jonathan & David way back in the time of Saul!

together by Z S on Flickr CC

These days we ship all kinds of bromances from TV series, books and films, but here are some of my favourite bromances from literature.

  1. Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson. These two are not strictly a book but started life as a syndicated cartoon. I remember the very first one coming out and I was hooked! Calvin is a six year old American boy and Hobbes is his stuffed tiger. Hobbes comes alive whenever the two are playing together, but all Calvin’s parents ever see is Hobbes as a toy. The cartoons are funny, touching and true-to-life. Everyone needs a friend like Hobbes.
  2. Pooh & Piglet. Actually all the characters from Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne are wonderful friends. The stories are lovely and we can all relate to the characters. Winnie the Pooh is wonderfully self-deprecating (“a bear of very little brain”) but he loves nothing better than to play pooh sticks with his friends.
  3. Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham. I seem to be getting away from bromances at the moment, but hear me out. The joy of Toad’s friends trying to save him from his own foolishness never fails to delight me. The friends all have very different personalities, but they also have lots of fun together.
  4. Harry & Ron, Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. Harry meets Ron on the train to Hogwarts and it is the start of a beautiful friendship. I love that Ron is one of the youngest of a huge family and that he has everything passed down to him from his brothers. Harry may be able to afford everything new, but he would give it all up to have his parents back. They always watch out for one another and their friendship only grows stronger throughout their years at Hogwarts. Other bromances of note in the Harry Potter series include Fred and George Weasley and Sirius Black and Remus Lupin.
  5. Darcy & Bingley, Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. These two friends are opposites – Bingley wears his heart on his sleeve, is handsome and affable, sociable and enjoys being in company. Darcy appears dark and brooding and is not willing to open up to anyone. He is however, very loyal to his friend, and although he made the wrong choice, being willing to upset the girl he loves in favour of his friend is a courageous thing to do.
  6. Sherlock & Watson, Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. I’m not sure that anyone would ship these two from the original books, although their friendship is very clear in the stories. Interest has risen in these two characters through the recent TV adaption involving Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Their characters are modern friends, with Dr Watson being the steadying hand on Holmes’ more manic personality. The original stories are well worth going back to even if it’s just to see which bits they ‘borrowed’ for the TV series.
  7. Percy & Grover, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. I love Rick Riordan’s series and have thoroughly enjoyed all the books. Percy and Grover have a great supportive friendship which lasts through all the different Greek monsters they meet.
  8. Frodo & Sam, Lord of the Rings by JR Tolkien. Although they are hobbits rather than people, I love the friendship between Frodo and Sam. Sam is just so loyal and Frodo would not have made it through the quest without Sam. Their loyalty and friendship is timeless.
  9. Hiccup & Toothless, How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell. If you have not yet introduced your junior age children to Cressida Cowell’s series, then do so immediately! Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III is the son of the chief Viking. The books are not the same stories as the films – they are better! The names of the characters are outrageous and hilarious in equal measure and the illustrations are wonderful. The friendship between Hiccup and Toothless is as loyal and true as any bromance should be.
  10. The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas is the ultimate bromance book – sword fighting, dastardly deeds, brave heroes and an anti-heroine – what more could you want? If your knowledge stops with the BBC TV series, then check out the books – yes he wrote more than one and they are a really good read. He also wrote The Man in the Iron Mask. I read them in my teens and now I come to think of it, I am definitely due a re-read. Enjoy!

So there, you have it – my top 10 bromances! There are loads I have missed out, so feel free to post your favourite literature bromances below.

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