The next session was about the art of the rewrite with our host Julie Cohen.
The first of Sunday’s workshops I attended was Kerry Fisher’s Pipe Dream to Publication which looked into how to increase a book’s chances of success.
Sunday Morning began with Futurecast 2016 where a panel of authors, agents and publishers, both traditional and independent, discussed the future of the publishing industry for the next twelve months.
The session began with a poll as to whether or not the audience thought the publishing industry was in trouble. Twenty percent said yes while eighty percent said no.
The panel discussed this question. There has been much closer work with film and television and other artistic industries where in the past they would have been further apart. Self publishing has also been growing steadily over the last few years with a big surge in electronic books being published as e-readers are useful things to have but print is still going strong.
A new initiative is Bookouture, an e-book publisher, which is selling as many as the big five traditional publishers. There is a quick turnaround between a book being accepted for publication and it being available to buy while on Amazon e-book sales from independent authors are rising while traditionally published books are falling.
After the discussion the audience were asked the same question again. Only a few changed their minds to say the publishing industry was in trouble but we were asked to agree to disagree and be terribly polite in doing so.
This post comprises two sessions, both dealing with the basis and application of the role of a character in a plot: Character is Destiny.
C. M. Taylor discussed the three parts of a story: the theme (what the writer says about the world), the character (who lives in it) and the plot (what happens to them). The way a plot moves is how the relationships change. To illustrate this we were shown the four-act character arc where the crucial moment in the story is the midpoint, which can be seen in the Godfather where Michael saves his father from a second assassination attempt and joins him. Another is Gladiator where Maximus confronts Commodus, vowing revenge for the murder of his family. At this point the old self dies and the new self is born.
The next workshop was about making historical fiction relevant and commercial with author Jenny Ashcroft.
Ideas for historical works can come from anywhere and can be about almost anything. Readers want a good story that is told well with a good hook, convincing characters and a compelling plot.The book has to be rooted in chapter one and reflect the period, politics, people and places but in a way that does not make it a history book.
Research is vital and there are many sources that can be used depending on what you are writing but it is important to get the writing done as well, especially if you have a contract to write a book a year.
Next up was the Industry Keynote Address with editor Sophie Buchan and agent Jenny Savill.
Fewer books are being published by publishing houses these days but the marketing campaigns are getting bigger and better. We also heard that print sales are rising while their electronic counterparts are not selling as much. Print copies are still popular, particularly with authors who like the validation of being traditionally published.
When approaching agents and publishers it is advisable to go for those in your own country. This makes face-to-face meetings easier for discussings things like royalties and rights.
Having a book published is a slow process and having an agent is no guarantee of a publishing deal.
The first workshop I attended was about overcoming obstacles to writing success hosted by Tracy Rees.
Here are the handy tips Tracy gave us on how to be successful:
1) Enter competitions. These will not only give you a chance to practice but the success is something you can tell others about.
2) Follow agents’ submission guidelines to the letter. Many good works have been rejected purely for not following them.
3) Treasure your rejections. They are part and parcel of every writer’s life.
4) When getting critiques you will have some that conflict. This happens a lot as writing is a subjective business.
5) Don’t write for the market. Fashions do come round again.
6) Sometimes time is hard to come by so snatch whatever free moments you have. Every little helps.
7) There is both fear of failure and success. To overcome them try and enjoy what you do, fighting negativity with positivity.
This was a good first session. It gave much good advice and worthwhile tips.
A week after the Historical Novel Society Weekend in Oxford I packed my bags again with paper, pens and post-it notes and went further north. This time it was to York for the Festival of Writing.
After meeting up with old friends and making some new ones on the Friday, listening to some great work at the Friday Night Live and waking up on Saturday without a hangover, the Festival kicked off with the Opening Address with C. L. Taylor.
After getting rejection letters (the first of which at the age of eight) she went on a creative writing course and a short story bootcamp. After some success with short stories she wrote her first novel and was taken on by an agent. After a bidding war it was a published and became a bestseller, taking advice along the way.
After changing genre to fit in with changing tastes and to get a new book deal, Cally then undertook the 100,000 words in 100 days challenge to write her third book. She recommended trying different genres, especially through short stories, learning from everyone and accepting constructive criticism. The most important message she gave us was to never give up.
Sunday’s Keynote Address was from author Tracy Chevalier who told us how researching her family’s history helped her write fiction and nurture an interest in the past. She also gave us some good advice such as doing as much research as possible and to consider the times we live in now as an age of great change. It is also useful to have regular times for writing to keep the momentum going and only do what social media you feel comfortable with.
The final session I attended was on times and places far and strange with Laura Morelli, Liz Harris and Karen Maitland. The advice given here was to start with what is familiar to the reader and go from there, using all the character’s five senses to give a true sense of place. While being able to visit the places you are discussing is essential, YouTube and guide books are good for when that’s not possible. Folk tales are a very good introduction to the people in a new time and place while swear words and forms of address lend themselves to give a degree of authenticity.
And that, dear readers, was that! A good time was had by all in Oxford and I even got time to have a quick look around the Ashmolean Museum. My thanks go out to the organisers, the agents and workshop leaders who gave up their time to make the weekend a good one.
Now for the next Festival…