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Archive for September, 2015

Festival of Writing 2015: The Last Bit

The final workshop I attended was Psychic Distance with Debi Alper which was very interesting and useful. I attended this session last year and there is a blog post all about it.

The Festival was rounded up with a closing address with Eve Harris in conversation with Diane Beaumont. They discussed how behind each success story are tales of grit and determination. They are not easy but rewarding and require talent, time management and tenacity (the mindset, not the novel, although I can recommend you read it. It’s rather good). The best piece of advice we received was to stick to your instincts, keep trying and never give up.

So, that’s it for another Festival! I hope you enjoyed these posts and they’ve encouraged you to keep your eye out for the next one. Thank you to the Writers’ Workshop for organising this, the University of York for looking after us and to all the friends I’ve made for making it a really good time.

Right, back to the scribbling…


Festival of Writing 2015 Scene Nine: Here be Dragons

Sadly there were no pet dragons at the University of York but I did learn how to create a sense of place in the next session.

Allie Spencer’s workshop followed on nicely from World Building and discussed how to create a sense of place in the world that now exists in the novel. Different genres have their own opportunities and problems and so we were given some tips.

1) Characters and storylines are more important than the setting (although that is important too). If descriptions don’t move the plot forward the don’t put them in.

2) Read everything in your genre. This will help you to know the audience you are writing for.

3) Be consistent.4) The more unfamiliar the world, the more detail is needed.5) Build scenes step-by-step in layers like a painting.6) Do lots of research but not so much that will swamp the reader with too much information7) Atmosphere is more important that actual detail. Video games are very good for this.8) Remember the audience. Who are they and what do they want to know.

Festival of Writing 2015 Act Eight: World Building

With the ever-increasing popularity of superhero films and the industries behind them there is much talk of ‘reboots’ and ‘universes’ and this, that and the other. When I saw this workshop was on I thought I’d go and find out more about it and I’m really glad I did.

Tamsyn Murray gave a very interesting workshop on how to construct a world within a novel or series of novels. Historical fiction and alternative historical fiction requires rather a lot of world building as does fantasy and science fiction to name but a few other genres. Each of these worlds have their own rules about how the worlds work but the important thing is to make sure not all the information about them is dumped on the reader in one go. Dialogue is a good way of revealing the rules but it should be revealed to a character new to the world, not one that would know the rules already.

Some good examples of worlds that have been built include Oz, Middle Earth, Sherlock’s London, the Capitol in the Hunger Games and Hogwarts. A lot of work has gone in to building these worlds but not all has been revealed in the books. As long as the writer knows the world inside out, the relevant bits can be revealed to the reader. The biggest differences to the reader’s world should be shown first and the rest can follow as the story unfolds.

So good worlds will 1) Introduce the character and their lives 2) Help reader understand the characters’ actions 3) Add richness and authenticity. 4) Make the story stand out, 5) pass on information and 6) Draw the reader in.

Festival of Writing 2015 Segment Seven: Futurecast 2015

It’s always a good feeling to wake up early in the morning after a late night to find there is no hangover lurking in your head. No smug reminder dancing around inside your skull and turning your stomach into a circus, putting you off the very nice breakfast that awaited.

And on Sunday, I’m glad to say, I did not have a hangover!

The first session of the day was a panel discussion about the future of publishing for the next year. With author Claire McGowan in the chair, the panel was made up by Agents Sam Copeland and Philip Patterson and authors C. M. Taylor and J. S. Law and writer and self-publisher David Gaughran.

It seems over the last few months that the panic over the digital revolution is dying down with both print and digital books selling well side-by-side. The shape of publishing will continue to change, though. Houses are merging and growing but authors themselves are becoming more entrepreneurial and developing their own ways of publishing and selling books. Some are even going further and telling their stories through new means of interactive media, including computer games and applications. Writers are constantly experimenting with new technologies.

Do writers need agents to sell well? Ninety nine percent of the top five hundred authors are represented in the publishing business. While some self-published books do sell well, these really take off when a publisher backs them and an agent is needed to help the author through the business side of things.

So, it seems that while people tell stories there will always be publishers. And people will always tell stories as they always have.

Festival of Writing 2015 Stave Six: Talking the Walk: Advanced Dialogue

Near the town where I was born a book was launched. The book was Tenacity, a crime thriller set on a Royal Naval Submarine, which I can heartily recommend. The author of that book, J. S. Law, gave a very interesting introduction into writing advanced dialogue. So, let’s dive in and find out how to make dialogue sound much better.

The workshop discussed what dialogue should do, which is to put wind in the story’s sails and reveal elements of the character that is speaking such as their motivations and helps the reader understand them. It shows the relationships the characters have with each other and the world around them and how they deal with the conflicts that come their way.

Other points raised that are worth considering include the uses of tags and punctuation. If what is being said is clear then words such as ‘cried/roared/exclaimed/grunted/etc’ are not necessary and a simple ‘said’ will do. The same goes for exclamation marks. If it is clear someone is shouting or making a joke then they are not really needed. Another important thing to consider is to cut to the chase so it keeps the plot on course.

So that rounded off Saturday nicely and gave everyone food for thought. And on the subject of food, the University of York did a fantastic job at looking after us over the weekend and keeping us well fed.

If you’re sailing past tomorrow, drop anchor as we find out about the Future of Publishing.

Festival of Writing 2015 Part the Fifth: Trusting Your Voice

Welcome Back! The next workshop on the Saturday discussed the use of ‘voice’ in writing. Our host was Andrew Wille, writer, teacher and book doctor with the Writers’ Workshop.

An author finding their voice is one of the biggest myths in creative writing and writers need to be able to trust the voice they have and develop it. An author’s voice is vital for the work to get across clearly so it is important to read work out once it is written. Other types of writing (technical, selling, for example) is not the same as narrative storytelling, which requires a personal touch.

Good examples of this can be in the form of letters and e-mails. Stories in these are told fast and to the point while reflecting the tone or tones of voice and the personality of the writer.

Andrew gave us some very good advice including reading work aloud (both our own and others’) to see the rhythms of the stories, listen to audio books to see how they are told and write a page of ‘I remembers’ every day for a month. These can either be short statements or a brief description.

I found this session very interesting and will be listening to more spoken word on the radio and seeing what audio books I can plunder from the Public Library.

So, ‘what’s tomorrow?’ I hear you cry. Well, come on by and find out. It involves dialogue…

Festival of Writing Episode Four: Industry Keynote Address

Saturday Afternoon kicked off after lunch with a discussion between writer, teacher and book doctor Andrew Wille and Agent Euan Thorneycroft. This looked into a typical day for a literary agent and also had some good advice on how to get one.

Much of an agent’s day involves talking to the authors on their lists and various people in the publishing industry so much of the reading is done outside of office hours. When looking through submissions, some agents make a decision based on the first page as to whether to carry on for the rest of the submission or not. If they read the rest and like it then they ask to see the whole thing before making a decision whether to take the author on or not.

It is important to say, though, that if an agent does not take an author on, writers shouldn’t give up. Publishing is a very subjective business and it’s always worth trying again with another agent. It is also worth not trying to follow or second-guess the market as no one knows what the next trend is.

It’s also a very good idea to make sure names are spelt correctly before writing to people.

Festival of Writing 2015 Chapter Three: Historical Fiction Genre Panel

This years’ panel was chaired by Emma Darwin and had agents Jenny Savill, Piers Blofeld and authors Alex Christofi and David Gaughran.

One thing I found interesting was the amount of discussion given to alternative and speculative historical fiction and other genres such as steampunk. It is a growing genre (which is a good thing as that’s what I’m writing at the moment!) and gives new perspectives on historical events. To make these works work, the rules and events need to be clear (more of that to come).

One problem with alternative history is more research can sometimes be needed and I have found this with my own work. Once history has been changed, every consequence needs to be considered: how would have the relevant people reacted? What would have become of society? Would any wars be fought or stopped? What further consequences would have happened? Naturally, if you cannot find something in research, you can use artistic license to help you.

One interesting question that was brought up was can historical fiction be considered a genre or should works be given other labels such as crime/adventure/romance/fantasy with a historical setting? After all, these stories are not history books but are works of fiction.

Want to learn more about the publishing industry? Then come along tomorrow!

Festival of Writing Part Deux: Don’t Give Up the Day Job

The first workshop I attended was given by Agent Piers Blofeld, who gave some very useful advice on how to have a writing career.

The first thing to do is to know your situation. New authors need to decide on what genre they want to write in so they can be sold by agents and publishers. Name authors can sometimes write in other genres but even some of them write under a different name. Many new authors already have jobs and careers outside of writing and publishers usually want a book a year with a paperback edition in between. Therefore, it is a good idea to start the next book as soon as the first one is finished as time will be precious should you get a book deal.

The next good bit of advice was to have good relations with the publisher that signs you up. They are more likely to stick with an author whose books do not sell quickly if they like them. Problems can sometimes happen between writer and publisher as the writer creates the book but the publisher invests a lot of money into getting it onto the shelves. The writer is the junior partner in the deal and the agent is there to help them with any problems that might arise with blurbs, proofs and cover designs.

Another very good reason not to give up the day job is that advances may not sustain your lifestyle for very long and having a backlist helps. It is, therefore, a good idea to have a series on the go. Authors are also expected to do a lot more work in promoting themselves and their books, often for free. This can involve guest blog posts, long short stories for digital publication and appearing at various events.

So that was a very enlightening insight into how busy newly published writers can be. Drop by tomorrow to find out what we talked about in the Historical Fiction Panel.

Festival of Writing Part One: Opening Address

For the third year running I went to the Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing, held at the University of York. After meeting up with old friends, making new ones and hearing some great submissions at the Friday Night Live event, Saturday kicked off with a Keynote Address with Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, the husband and wife team behind Nicci French.

For inspiration they make use of news stories before working out the spine of the book, the plot and the point-of-view. When putting their novels together both write chapters alone and send their work to one another for editing and sending back. Changes are only made when necessary and cut outs are not put back!

Both discussed how writing and editing books with another person can be a rewarding experience. It can be a way of exploring the world with someone and is more sociable than writing alone. Also, as both edit and rewrite together, there is no way of seeing who wrote what as the book is a truly collaborative effort.

Tune in tomorrow to learn why it’s a good idea not to give up the day job.