Over the last couple of months I have been to two literary festivals: Havant and the Portsmouth Bookfest. Both of these were very interesting and laid on all kinds of different events.
At Havant I was lucky enough to have the chance to sell some books (I managed to pay for my train fare and have some left over so thanks to all those that came and bought some). I also went to two talks in one evening. The first was with crime writer Fergus McNeill, who has written for the games industry too and he was also on the panel for the Gaming and Story session along with a leading figure in the game industry, Sam Barlow, and the actor Doug Cockle. Both sessions were very interesting and there will be a future post on computer games and storytelling.
The following evening I was back in Havant to see one of the keynote speakers, Will Self. His talk was most entertaining and I got a book signed. That’s the thing with these events: I’m running out of room in my signed-books box…
The Portsmouth Bookfest kicked off with a talk from historical fiction author Simon Scarrow. Simon is the author of the Macro and Cato series of Roman novels and has also written a series set during the French Revolution. There is now a game featuring the protagonists of his Eagle series which I should download at some point.
The following week was the launch event with the launch of the paperback of Portsmouth Fairy Tales. Give this a go as there are some brilliant stories in there (and, no, they have not paid me to write this!)
The Bookfest also has non-fiction events and there was a very interesting talk on Portsmouth during the Great War by local historian Sarah Quail, about the men that joined as soldiers, those left behind, the role of women and the navy at the time.
On Halloween I was lucky enough to be invited to perform a story from my anthology at the Day of the Dead event. This was a splendid soiree of spooky scribbling assembled by Mister William Sutton. Good fun was had all round.
Last Friday was another historical fiction event about sex, love and violence in the Middle Ages with James Burge and Michael Jecks. This discussion was very entertaining and I look forward to reading their books that I bought.
The final event I went to was CSI Portsmouth in the Royal Naval Museum. I enjoyed this series of discussions very much but not the cold that was doing a merry dance on my chest…
So it’s been another busy season of literary events down on this part of the South Coast so do keep your eyes out for next year!
Debi Alper took us through how to get inside the heads of our characters and the stages in which a writer can do this.
This skill is very useful when writing in the first person as the voice needs to be able to move in and out of the narration but, whatever voice is used, the work needs to manipulate the reader’s emotional involvement with the characters.
There are five types of sentences that each have a degree of connection with the characters’ psyche: 1) factual (and telly), 2) a bit of personal information, 3) a bit more, 4) even more 5) right under their skin (showy). These should be put together in equal measure but how this is done is up to the writer, providing there is no jump from one to five or the writing gets clunky. In a film it can go from being a long shot to an x-ray.
This session was very useful and interesting but unfortunately I had to leave early for a one-to-one but here is some further information about it: http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/psychic-distance-what-it-is-and-how-to-use-it.html
Last year I attended David Gaughran’s workshop on why self-publishing found it to be really insightful and useful. This workshop was a natural progression from the first and did not disappoint.
The purpose of this talk was to find out how writers can build an audience and make a living from publishing their work themselves.
The best time to get sales is within the first three days so the book can ride high in the Amazon charts and this will get it noticed by those who follow them. If a book is high in the charts, more people are likely to buy it. This is why sales are a good idea as they encourage readers to buy the book initially and later readers will be happy to buy more when the price goes up as they’ll pay a little bit more for something that looks good.
Mailing lists are essential for this. Don’t bombard subscribers but just let them know when a release is imminent and maybe have a link to the pre-order pages. Word of mouth is also invaluable and once you have a series, you can drop the price on that so you can encourage sales of further books. Boxed sets with other authors can also do this.
Jeremy Sheldon showed us how horror can influence any kind of fiction writing. Horror has potential and expectation that keeps the watcher/reader guessing and keeps building and releasing tension as the story unfolds.
There are three propositions in horror: the monster (not the hero), holding back and the monster that the hero has within.
The core component of all stories is the conflict that needs resolving and the characters need to be either motivated or pushed through the plot. There are various kinds of antagonist that the hero can come up against: 1) The Shadow (whoever the light of the story isn’t pointing at). 2) Formidable where the hero is no better than their enemy. 3) Proactive where the characters anticipate and plan for every eventuality. 4) Unrelenting where the antagonist is unstoppable and 5) the Ruthless ones that have a different morality to the hero. These stories are all about the monster and its threats, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Holding back is vital in horror as that is what creates the suspense. Alfred Hitchcock said the bang is not what frightens people, it’s the anticipation. The structure of a story should be the setup (where the monster is established to unsettle the audience then withdrawn). Development (where the uncertainty is held with the threat of something to happen). The Crescendo, which has a twist, where everything is pushed against everything else before the end.
Shelley Harris introduced us to how to be brilliant at backstory and used a quote from Jeremy Sheldon saying a story was a shark: it needed moving in order to stay alive. Backstory has everything the reader needs to know to understand the story.
Objects are a good way of introducing readers to a character and the world in which they are set up. It also saves the need to give out lots of information. The language that a character uses also gives an insight into where they’re from, their education and vocabulary.
Backstory is also good at creating tension. The writer can stop a story in its tracks at a crucial moment, come away and go back in.
Jeremy Sheldon took us through the problems that writers face and how to overcome them.
1) Going Backwards: Backstory is important but too much takes the story back when it should be moving forward. The purpose of the story is to move forwards with the character overcoming obstacles in his/her way.
2) Going Sideways: Too many points of view one after the other does not move the plot forward. They need to be juggled.
3) Staying Still: Voice needs to be balanced with drive. There needs to be some rest but not too much.
4) Going too Fast: There is no expectation or suspense in doing this.
The solution is the setup needs to be the first quarter of the story which sets up the story and sends the characters on their way. The development is when the journey starts and the pace picks up before it escalates (with some setbacks that are overcome) before the plot questions are answered at the end.
After lunch there was a panel discussion on the view from the industry (or should that be The Industry for more effect?). The panel for this was Antonia Hodgson, Bill Massey, Kimberley Young and Emil Fortune. Here’s what was discussed.
1) Science fiction has been doing well as there has recently been a big boom in dystopian fiction. Also many of the top selling films of recent years have been science fiction films.
2) Novellas used to be a challenge for publishers due to printing costs and having to sell them for a low price but the digital revolution means that this is no longer a big problem. Serials are also being experimented with.
3) No one knows who starts and stops trends. Usually the books that sell are the ones that reflect the times in which people live.
4) Open mic nights are good if the writer enjoys it as they are more likely to give a good performance. They do give a chance for creative people to meet.
5) Social networks are important but the book and the writing is even more so.
6) Print and digital books are now living side-by-side pretty much at the moment, after all: print books don’t need batteries. It seems the publishing industry has not suffered as much as music.
This panel consisted of Emma Darwin, Sophie Orme, Andrew Wille and Jamie Coleman who answered our questions. Here is what we talked about.
1) Timeslip is a popular genre with authors like Kate Mosse being very successful with readers.
2) Novels set at a time of British history are easier to sell as people would have learned about them at school (Romans, Tudors, World War Two, etc.) If there is no connection with a time or place then people are less likely to read the book.
3) The best word counts for debut authors is no more than 100,000 words. There are no real rules, however, as long as it’s good. Anything that’s not needed can be cut out and possibly used for something else.
4) How short should work be? Digital publishing has allowed writers to experiment and more novellas are being published as a result. Longer works allow for immersion but it’s all down to the reader’s taste. Historical short stories are very difficult to write as they do not allow for this immersion (I’m glad I’m not the only one that thinks that!)
5) How accurate should real life be described? The basic answer to this was the details of a place or event should be as accurate as possible while characters allow for a little bit more artistic license.
6) Dialogue can’t be filled with modern phrases as it ruins the authenticity of the work but it can’t be too much the other way as the reader may not understand what is being said.
7) Although it’s not possible to defame the dead, families could get offended and kick up a fuss, particularly if the relative is still in living memory.
This was very good and insightful and was interesting to hear the perspectives from an author, an agent, an editor and a publisher.
The first of the workshops that I attended was a repeat of a session from last year that was very well received. Julie Cohen explained that films for children are stripped down and simple and are, therefore, a great way of learning how to structure stories well. They’re fun, too. We were shown extracts and examples from the Toy Story films, Wall-E, Cars, Finding Nemo, Up, Monsters Inc and The Incredibles.
Much of the plot in these films are around the development of the main character using a three-act structure. Act One is the introduction and the inciting event. Act Two is where most of the action happens with life-changing events, a big problem which takes the character back to the start but he overcomes this with a new perspective on life and uses this to become a better person. Act Three is the end where everything is resolved.
The stories in these films are started very fast with the whole set up being established in the first six minutes or so. plot, setting, tone, etc. The backstories are shown in objects and brief actions are shown during the opening minutes and there are repeated motifs (such as Wall-E holding hands showing how he wants a connection. Subplots are part of the main plot and offer more insights into the character (such as Nemo learning bravery from stories about his father). The end of the story brings the story full circle and is both exciting and emotional in equal measure with the ending reflecting the beginning (such as a race in Cars).
Prologues are largely unnecessary and are mainly for the writer, not the reader, although the opening few minutes of Up opens the film up to an older audience as well as a younger one (and no I did not cry when we watched it!)
This was a very entertaining workshop and I can see why it was repeated this year. I’m now going to do the homework we were given which was to add Wall-E to my list of films to watch!