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Archive for July, 2013

Read Through History – June

Alright, I couldn’t think of a witty enough pun for this month.

1) Wounds of Honour by Anthony Riches. Started this in late May and finished in June.

2) Luck of the Devil by Ian Kershaw. Another non-fiction about Operation Valkyrie.

3) Utopia by Sir Thomas More. Read this as a good friend of mine recommended it. Reminded me of reading Other Worlds by Cyrano de Bergerac when I was writing an essay for the MA.

4) The Chase by Lorna Fergusson. Recently republished I read it for one of my one-to-ones and got it signed.

5) Sharpe’s Prey. As you can see I had a bit of catching up to do with the Sharpe’s. This one features Lieutenant Richard Sharpe on an expedition to Denmark. Part spy thriller, part military book. A bit like Sharpe’s Tiger in a way.

6) Sharpe’s Rifles. Read this on the way to Liverpool. Much better than the TV programme, which isn’t bad itself.

7) The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. An alternative history that was in the list much later on but I read it in June as it came up for my book club and it was my choice.



Winchester Writers’ Conference 2013 Stave 4

The final workshop I attended at the Conference was about haiku, a form of poetry from Japan. Chris White, a Committee Member of the British Haiku Society, gave an introduction to the  form, some of the best known Japanese writers (such as Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki) and how it has been taken up in the West over the last hundred years with periodicals such as Frogpond and Blithe Spirit.

Some of the common misconceptions of haiku include the idea that it has to always fit to the 5-7-5 rule (five syllables for the first and third lines and seven syllables for the second. Although many competitions require this, it is not essential. Due to the nature of the languages, the 5-7-5 rule fits haiku written in Japanese better than English or German where it may not sound as natural. Another misconception is that all haiku have to be about nature. Although it is a popular subject, the poems should be more about natural processes and change.

The idea of haiku is to present an image that is not too abstract but clear and concrete. I like to think of it as a photograph of a poem as opposed to a story. Basho said 80% revelation is good. 50% is much better.

How did I get into haiku? My first writing course with the Open University had an exercise in the course handbook which suggested writing haiku as an exercise. It’s something I have tried to do every so often. Last year I was commended in the Haiku Competition at the Conference and this year I came second!

All in all, this conference was very good and I’ve got lots of good advice and met some very interesting people. If you’re getting into writing then this conference is well worth the investment.

Winchester Writers’ Conference 2013: Part the Third

When signing up for writing conferences you are usually given a choice of workshops that you can attend that suit your interests and Winchester is no exception. You are spoiled for choice with such a wide range of classes you can go to whether it’s the basics you’re after, talks about a particular form or genre or if you want to get into the business side of things and learn about what agents and publishers want and how to promote yourself. There are also talks about non-fiction, film making and self-publishing. On the Fridays and Sundays you can attend all-day workshops, which I am told are very interesting, and there are several running throughout the Saturday. I went to two talks. One about working with e-books, audio books and large print and the other on writing haiku. The first was given by Veronica Heley who has had work published the traditional way and has published work herself. This talk went into details about authors promoting themselves.

  • Websites should have a home page with details of the author and latest book, a writing CV and a contact page.
  • Blogs should be both fun and relevant (please nod and say that this is!) with up-to-date news and maybe a guest spot here and there
  • Newsletters are useful things for writers. These also need to be fun and are a good way of drumming up a following if you have a signup page on the blog.
  • Writers groups and author pages are also good things to have
  • Get contracts checked out by people such as the Society of Authors and make sure you get rights back when books go out of print
  • Get good covers and ISBNs if you want your books in a bookshop

Very good advice there. Drop by next time to learn about Haiku.

Winchester Writers’ Conference Part Deux

One of the many good things about the Winchester Writers’ Conference, as well as rubbing shoulders with big-time celebs, is the chance to have one-to-one appointments with different people in the writing industry. These include authors, agents, publishers and editors but there are also experts on marketing and social media, non-fiction specialists and filmmakers.

My appointments all had a look through chapters and a synopsis of my first novel and had questions and comments prepared. Important points to consider included:

  • Why should people read your work (essential for a synopsis)
  • Compare the work with the present day when writing historical fiction – it’ll help the reader sympathise with the characters more
  • Get/stay involved with writing groups. These are invaluable for support, critiques and much-needed pints. If they have a big following, they can be worth their weight in gold. Down in Portsmouth we have the Writers’ Hub, which is part of New Writing South. I also keep in touch with my friends from the MA and there are one or two other groups I’m planning to look into.

I hope those are useful for you, dear reader, if you are deciding to take up the pen (or computer) and write your own stuff!

The critiques of the manuscript also give technical advice on how it can be improved with crib sheets, etc. So, if you go to these conferences, try to get a range of people, depending on what you are doing. One of the best combinations is an author, agent and editor, particularly if it’s your first time so you can have different viewpoints of the same work.

Winchester Writers’ Conference 2013 Part One

On the 22nd June this year I attended the Saturday events of the Winchester Writers’ Conference. Again I had entered a round of competitions, picked some workshops to attend and sent copies of In the Shadow of the Gods to three people for one-to-one appointments.

Despite being full of what was either a mild cold or a furious bout of hay fever, I just about remembered where the University of Winchester was and got there in time for a nice cup of tea and wander round before the plenary talk. This year it was given by Julian and Emma Fellows (of Downtown Abbey fame) and Lieutenant Ian Thornton. Julian and Emma Fellows emphasised how important it was to be original in your work and to keep the faith. There is, however, an element of luck involved in any success story. Ian Thornton is a patron of the charity Words for the Wounded ( which helps with the rehabilitation of wounded service personnel. There is a flash fiction competition on the website too.

Lord and Lady Fellows also discussed the importance of doing something useful each day that is related to your work. Also, there is very little that appeals to everyone so write what you enjoy.

This last statement is something I agree with. It worked for The League of Gentlemen and if you enjoy something enough, your enthusiasm will inspire others to be interested too. If it’s good enough.


May I Keep this Up-To-Date

Yes, I know I’m behind with this! I do have an excuse, though: I’ve been moving house! As well as that I’ve been at various writing events (including two author talks) and took in a trip to Liverpool so things have been busy. Not only that, my laptop’s been playing up which means it is now pretty much housebound. It still works, though, providing the lid isn’t shut…

Anyway, here’s what was read in May while I was in Edinburgh:

1) Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle by M. C. Scott. The beginning of a series about the Celtic Queen of the Iceni who would not take any messing from the Romans.

2) Hero of Rome by Douglas Jackson. Set about twenty years later when the Boudican rebellion was in full swing. I met Douglas at the Historical Novel Society Conference. Nice man and a great writer. Have a read of his Caligula.

3) On the way back from Edinburgh I had a read of a bit of non-fiction: Valkyrie: The Plot to Kill Hitler by Philipp von Boeslager and Publishing E-Books for Dummies by Ali Luke. This will come in very useful soon but more of that later! After I got back I read Starman: The Legend of Yuri Gagarin for a piece of microfiction I entered into a competition. It didn’t win. Then, when I went to the capital to run the London (Exhibition) Marathon, I read Dava Sobel’s Copernicus for a bit of research. Again, more of this later…

4) The Eagle has Fallen by Brian Young. Another book about what happened to the Ninth Legion that suddenly disappeared from the records. This also features a plot involving the new Emperor, Hadrian.

5) Wounds of Honour by Anthony Riches. Another Roman Army tale with an officer who has fallen foul of Emperor Commodus. Not the sort of man you want to fall foul of.

So that’s May. Now for June…