How to Write Like Tolstoy

Pages: 352
Subject: Literature
Imprint: Oneworld

How to Write Like Tolstoy

A Journey into the Minds of Our Greatest Writers

Richard Cohen

The Spectator Best Book of the Year and a charming, eloquent love letter to the stories we adore
9781786070210 (1 Sep 2016)
RRP £16.99

The Book

Spectator Best Book of the Year

For anyone who has ever identified with a character from fiction, been seduced by a first sentence or been profoundly moved by a story's end, How to Write Like Tolstoy is a wonderful and illuminating journey into the minds and imaginations of the world's greatest writers.

What made Nabokov choose the name Lolita? Why did Fitzgerald tell The Great Gatsby in the first person? How did Kerouac, who raged against revision, finally come to revise On the Road? Why did Martin Amis give up on writing about sex? Veteran editor Richard Cohen draws on a vast and eclectic reservoir of knowledge to reveal what makes good prose soar. From plot and character development to dialogue and point of view, the motivations, obsessions, tricks and talents of a host of great novelists are brought to the fore, their published works mined and private beliefs unearthed. There's the nature of originality as plagiarism is discussed, and a weighing of the odds when trying to write about physical intimacies. And how to begin…Or end? From first page to last, How to Write Like Tolstoy is a unique exploration of the act and art of writing, one which enriches our experience of reading both the classics and the best modern fiction, and provokes in us an overwhelming urge to read and to write.

Additional Information

Subject Literature
Pages 352
Imprint Oneworld


About the Author

Richard Cohen is the author of Chasing the Sun and By the Sword, the former publishing director of Hutchinson and Hodder & Stoughton, and the founder of Richard Cohen Books. Born in Birmingham, he lived and worked in London, and represented Britain in fencing in four Olympics. He lives in New York.


‘This book is a wry, critical friend to both writer and reader. It is filled with cogent examples and provoking statements. You will agree or quarrel with each page, and be a sharper writer and reader by the end.'

- Hilary Mantel

‘A glorious patchwork of quotation and anecdote. It is a true commonplace book, the homage of a passionate reader to the writers who have provided his "main pastime”.'

- Sunday Times

‘Welcome, wise and witty…Aspiring writers will glean excellent advice here.'

- Literary Review

‘I very much enjoyed Richard Cohen's How to Write Like Tolstoy'

- Spectator, Books of the Year

‘An anecdotal, breezy and comprehensive approach…an entertainingly slick read.'

- Herald

‘The highest compliment one can pay How to Write Like Tolstoy is that it provokes an overwhelming urge to read and write.'

- Wall Street Journal

‘A book for the general reader as much as the aspiring novelist.'

- Tablet

‘Interesting, charming, and engaging…Cohen reveals the possibilities that lie in wait when authors practice selection and intention, sparking the literary imagination.'

- Library Journal, starred review

‘An inspiring book! It makes one glad to be a writer.'

- Fay Weldon

Elegant... Cohen [tells] amusing, often discursive stories about great literature and authors, mixed with the writers' own observations, which he hopes will further inspire readers and would-be writers. The advice is pleasant, and sometimes wise.'

- Publishers Weekly

Insightful… [Cohen] escorts his readers to Iris Murdoch for sage counsel on launching a novel, to Salman Rushdie for shrewd guidance on developing an unreliable narrator, to Rudyard Kipling for a cagey hint on creating memorable minor characters, and to Leo Tolstoy for a master's help in transforming personal experience into fictional art. Even readers with no intentions of writing a novel will relish the opportunity to join their favourite authors at the workbench.'

- Booklist

‘Cohen's myriads of examples are lush and instructive... he is a generous tour guide through his literary world'

- Kirkus Reviews