Reviewed by CRAIG McDONALD
ThisWeek Staff Writer

Ernest Hemingway lectured interviewer George Plimpton, "It is not the writer's province to explain it or run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work."

Elizabeth George, best-selling author, has elected to do essentially that in her new book, Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life (HarperCollins Publishers, 275 pages, $24.95).

She has also gone a step further: George not only points out significant landmarks in her own works, but offers readers who are aspiring writers insight into how she drew the maps.

When so many guides to writing fiction are penned by authors nobody has heard of, it is compelling to find a best-selling author opening the door to her own writing process. George joins fellow star novelists Stephen King and Lawrence Block with her new how-to effort.

George's greatest stress is on character development and sustained discipline in parking oneself in the writing chair and having at it. She details her own rather unusual techniques for fleshing out her characters, such as a "prompt sheet" that lays out tiny but telling personal details including the names of characters' best friends, "political leaning," gestures when talking and gait.

Consistent with Hemingway's "iceberg" theory of composition, although many of these "prompts" may never find their way explicitly into the final draft of a novel, they nonetheless subtly inform the author's presentation of the character.

Each of George's chapters on technique, setting, dialogue and so on is punctuated with an excerpt from the author's writing journal. These brief blurbs run long on self-doubt and fear of failure, yet the books are finally written, and they are successful.

Write Away excerpts numerous other authors, including King, Dennis Lehane, Robert Ferrigno, Toni Morrison and Harper Lee. These excerpts, and George's comments upon them, will likely be most interesting and illuminating to the aspiring writer with little grounding in George's own work.

Because she does delve heavily into the inspirations and trials in shaping and writing her own novels -- and because she provides many, many excerpts from her own books -- the George fan with no ambitions of writing a novel of their own will still find much to love in Write Away.

The book concludes with a chapter on turning "places" into "settings" that reproduces many photos of English homes and countryside featured in George's own novels -- a further enticement to her dedicated readers.

ThisWeek Staff Writer