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

The Book

Spectator Best Book of the Year

‘There are three rules for writing a novel,' Somerset Maugham once said. ‘Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.'

So how to bring characters to life, find a voice, kill your darlings, avoid plagiarism (or choose not to), or run that most challenging of literary gauntlets—writing a good sex scene?

Veteran editor and author Richard Cohen takes us on a fascinating excursion into the lives and minds of our greatest writers—from Balzac and Eliot to Woolf and Nabokov, through to Zadie Smith and Stephen King, with a few mischievous detours to Tolstoy along the way. In a glittering tour d'horizon, he lays bare their tricks, motivations, techniques, obsessions and flaws.

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.


‘Provides amazing insight into the working methods, techniques, tricks and flaws of some of the greatest writers in literary history…An engrossing read for bibliophiles and lovers of literature as much as aspiring writers.'

- New European

‘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