The website of the historical fiction writer.

Archive for June, 2012

Winchester Writers’ Conference 2012

There comes a time in a writer’s life when you want to not only mingle with your partners in scribbling crime (if you’re a crime writer, if not then just partners in scribbling), both published and unpublished. Whilst you’re there it would also be handy to mix it with the Great and the Good of the Literary Agent and Publishing World (see how I use capitals there?) to show off your work, have one-to-one appointments, go to talks, pick up tips and generally have a good time. I bet you’re thinking ‘that’s brilliant! If only there was an event like that.’

Well don’t you worry because there is one: The Winchester Writers’ Conference. And it is brilliant.

For thirty two years this event has been helping new and unpublished writers learn about their craft, meet their fellows and get book deals. At the plenary address delegates were introduced to three writers who had secured agents and publishing deals the previous year at the conference. Very inspiring stuff.

I had one-to-one appointments with an author, an editor and an agent and all were very helpful. I had advice on the pitch letter I sent to them and learned the importance of why the book is unique. I also discovered the importance of not telling too much information in the first couple of pages (come on by soon for a post about that as I describe my attempts to tidy it up). All in all, despite having more work to do than I first thought, the meetings were very helpful and encouraging and I strongly suggest anyone going next year to get in early and book them (after I’ve sorted mine out, of course).

I also attended three talks. The first was about what rejection letters really mean and the important message to all who have had one is that the manuscript has been rejected, not you so don’t give up. After a very nice lunch I then went to a talk about writing Flash Fiction (very short stories) which was good fun and very engaging. There was also discussion on how images such as photographs can be useful for getting ideas and how twists can be very useful (when used properly). Flash fiction is also a very good way of practicing editing as you have to be ruthless when fitting into the word limit but that’s for another post! The final talk I went to discussed the various ways an author can publicise their book. This includes talks and readings at schools/libraries/community meetings, newspaper and radio interviews and being a guest at a book club. There were also tips on how to set up an ideal book launch. Although I’m not at that stage yet this information may come in useful one day. You never know…

I stayed on for a very nice evening meal. The good thing about these events is that you meet new people and the good thing about Winchester (and I’m sure other conferences) is that everyone is genuinely nice and helpful. By the time I arrived most of the seats were taken but the people I sat with were all very welcoming and interested in what I do. I enjoyed my time with them and wish them all the very best.

All in all this was a very helpful and inspiring day out where I learned a great deal, met up with friends and bought a book for my niece. I also went to the Awards Ceremony and discovered this: http://www.writersconference.co.uk/competition.htm Not bad, eh?

So, I hope that’s inspired you all to sign up for next year (after I have, of course!) You will not regret it and will learn much (shame I still can’t navigate around Winchester though…)

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Scott and Stalin

As you saw yesterday I went to London last week for a day out.

First stop was to the Natural History Museum, the Home of World Science and the Holy Land for children everywhere (it certainly was when I was young). There is an exhibition about Captain Scott’s voyage to the South Pole which is very interesting. The exhibition room is built the same way as the Terra Nova Base Camp hut. Areas have been marked out such as kitchens and bedrooms and objects they would have used, such as food, tools and scientific equipment. To put this in context, there are photographs and film showing the explorers and scientists inside the rooms. Along with diary extracts, there are maps showing the expedition’s progress compared with that of the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who beat Scott to the Pole. Although Scott’s party were visibly disappointed in the photo of them at the Pole and they died on the way back, reaching the South Pole is a great achievement, even today.

Next stop was the National Theatre to see Collaborators. I don’t know why but no matter how much time I give myself to get there, I always arrive at the theatre by the skin of my teeth! Then there’s the squeezing past people to get to my seat (a bit like that scene in Inglourious Basterds when the two assassins have to get to the middle of the row pretending to be Italian: ‘Scusi… scusi… scusi… scusi…’) Anyway, everyone was very nice and displayed much British reserve (not complaining) as I sat down so, if you’re reading this, thank you all.

Anyway, the play is set in the USSR in 1938 and a playwrite who falls foul of the NKVD is bullied into writing a play for Stalin’s sixtieth birthday. As the story unfolds the audience learns about Stalin, life in Soviet Russia just before the Great Terror and how easy it can be to fall under the sway of an absolute power. It reminded me a bit of The Last King of Scotland where the British Doctor is taken in by Idi Amin (played brilliantly by Forest Whitaker).

Anyway, if you’re in London and stuck for something to do I can strongly suggest you try these:

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/whats-on/temporary-exhibitions/scott-last-expedition/index.html

http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/68811/productions/collaborators.html

(But hurry up with Collaborators as it finishes next Saturday!)


First Base Reached

If you’ve got a copy of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus then this would be a good time to put it on.

‘Why is that?’ You may be asking. Well, last week I completed the first draft of my second novel! This has not taken as long as the first one. Half as long, in fact. The Viking book (still available for representation if any agents are reading) took a year to write the draft although it’s bigger and was my first effort but another reason is how I went about writing it.

I started writing the draft for the Viking novel (which would dearly love to be available in all good bookshops) whilst I was studying for my MA and had other assignments to do in the meantime. Also I would do lots of writing then leave it for a few days before starting again. Binge writing. A bit like binge drinking as you feel drunk if you’ve been doing it for a few hours, not eaten before hand and you sometimes feel hung over afterwards. This time I have written a little amount each day. This is useful to get drafts finished quicker but you may find you don’t get as involved with the story as before as you’re in and out very quickly. The important thing in both cases is to try to keep it in mind when you’re not writing. Compose scenes in your head but don’t act them out in public, especially if there’s violence and lots of swearing.

Anyway, although the book is far from finished, a milestone has been reached. If you have got to this stage, you’ll probably have heard other writers say ‘leave the book alone!’ This is important. Give it a month and do other things. You’ll begin to forget it and this will help with the editing. This is a good time to go to conferences, do lots of reading and learn how blogging software works. It’s also time to enjoy a few well-deserved treats.

Therefore, on Thursday I treated myself to a trip to London and went to see the Scott’s Last Expedition Exhibition (try saying that out loud twenty times) and the play Collaborators but you’ll have to drop by tomorrow to find out about those. Firstly I get more posts out of it and secondly the Hallelujah Chorus isn’t really appropriate music for them.