Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Word of Mouth Writers Roadshows, Hebden Bridge

Anna Turner has just forwarded me the following information on the Word Of Mouth Writers Roadshow and events for October.

There is a Writing Workshop on Sunday 14 October 9.30am - 5pm featuring James Nash, Char March, A. J. Ashworth, Alison Taft, Louise Doughty, Antony Clavane and Sarah Savitt at a cost of £35 and a Poetry Day on Sunday 21 October 9.30am - 5pm featuring Valerie Laws, Andrew Oldham, Sherry Mack, Helen Burke, Chris Tutton and David Tait, also £35 or £25 for concessions.  Both will be held at Hebden Bridge Library.  There is also a Poetry Reading event on 19 October at 7.30pm with Kathleen Jamie and a Melinda Hammond workshop on writing historical novels on 20 October.  For full details and booking information, see www.calderdale.gov.uk or contact Anna direct by email at anna.turner@calderdale.gov.uk or phoning 01422 392606.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Cleckheaton Writers Group meeting 23/7/12

Just got back from a very productive CWG meeting.  Tonight we welcomed our new member P who is a fantastic addition to our little group.  P writes a number of genres, but is currently working on two crime novels and she has a liking for fantasy and sci-fi, so she will fit in perfectly.  We had a very lively discussion on a lot of interesting topics and we also went through various writers courses, events and competitions that are happening locally, including the Sue Townsend event on Thursday as part of the Harrogate International Festival - see www.harrogateinternationalfestivals.com 
D shared her writing challenge (which was dialogue this time) which was a brilliant piece on a very realistic domestic disagreement.  We all agreed that the characters and their emotions came across perfectly only with the use of dialogue.  I shared my piece, which featured three voices and then P shared her piece which was a fabulous take on the inner voices that we writers know so well.  We then talked about the things we were working on (or had worked on) and N promised to post his dialogue piece on his blog.  D then fed back on the chapter that I had sent her and N and P expressed an interest in reading what I had written so far.  It was agreed that should a writing task be set for the next session, D will email the members with the details.  A very productive meeting indeed and hopefully the start of a good thing for us all as it is so refreshing to have a new take on writing.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

We Bought a Zoo film review

I went to see this excellent family film earlier this month and I loved it so much I pre-ordered it for it's release (Monday 16th July) on triple play blu-ray.  When I went to see it at the cinema I took plenty of tissues as my children had warned me it was a weepie, but I hadn't expected to cry so much it almost gave me dehydration.  This movie is inspired by a true story and the main character's back story really talked to me personally, so I was already over-emotional before he even bought the zoo.  But the brilliant story and fantastic acting had me running the full gamut of emotions before the film was over.  Matt Damon (best known for Bourne) plays Benjamin Mee, a widowed father with a young daughter (the indescribably cute Maggie Elizabeth Jones who is an even better actress in this than in her brilliant turn in the Footloose remake) and rebellious teenage son (another excellent performance from Colin Ford who I recognised as playing the young Sam Winchester in the scarily awesome Supernatural) who tries to make a new start following advice from his brother (a spot-on, as always, performance by Thomas Hayden Church of Sideways and Spiderman) by moving house to a property that has just one drawback (that's right, you guessed it, it's a zoo).  Here he meets his new staff, who include the feisty Kelly (Scarlet Johansson), even feistier MacCready (a hilarious Angus Macfadyen who I recognised as the baddie from Chuck), untrusting Rhonda (Carla Gallo from TVs Bones) and sweet Lily (a goofball Elle Fanning best known for Super8) who has eyes for his son Dylan.  Much hilarity follows as they try to get the zoo ready for inspection by hated Walter Ferris (played to a T by John Michael Higgins of Bad Teacher and The Ugly Truth).  This movie is fantastic family entertainment and I give it a resounding 10/10 and recommend you buy it as soon as possible.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

This Means War film review

This film is out on DVD to buy now and I thought I would do a quick review in case any of my followers were thinking of buying it.  The premise is that two undercover agents (the gorgeous Chris Pine, known for his excellent roles in Unstoppable and Star Trek, and Tom Hardy from Band of Brothers and Inception), who are 'grounded' due to their last case, meeet and fall for the same girl (Reese Witherspoon).  When they realise this, they agree to act like gentleman and continue seeing the girl separately without telling her they know each other and let her choose who she wants.  It's kind of a 'may the best man win' situation, but it escalates when they decide to utitlise their spy advantages with comedic results.  This is a really good family film, that is not really believable, but if you take it as the popcorn viewing it is meant to be, a good time can be had by all. A rib-tickling 8/10

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen review

I went to see this film today and was pleasantly surprised.  Ewan McGregor stars as Dr Alfred  (Fred) Jones a scientist with aspergers syndrome who is asked by Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (an excellent Emily Blunt) to help with a project to bring salmon fishing to the Yemen.  Unsurprisingly, as the government expert in salmon fishing, Fred informs her that her client the sheikh (Amr Waked) would be better off wasting his money on buying a football team.  When the Prime Ministers Press Secretary Patricia Maxwell (a film-stealing Kristin Scott Thomas) decides it is a good press story to help with Anglo-Yemeni relations, the unlikely vision is given the help it needed.  This sets the groundwork for romance and militant sabotage, but ultimately culminates in a feel-good ending.  For me, Kristin Scott Thomas is the best thing about the movie in a role not unlike her excellent Fiona in Four Weddings, where I feel she is proving to producers she would have made an informed choice to play Margaret Thatcher in the recent Iron Lady.  Brilliant British movie.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Diety review

Just finished reading Steven Dunne's book Diety that I bought following the Crime on Tour event I attended.  Let me start by saying it is very different to Dark Winter (one of the other two books purchased at the same time) but I expected this as one was through the accepted route to publishing and one was not. 

The book is longer, the protagonist is a policeman with the usual ex-wife, drinker, smoker, persona (not sure why most crime fiction novels have to have such flawed heroes) with depression and mental illness thrown in for good measure.  But having said that, you do kind of warm to him.  He genuinely puts everything on hold to track down the killer known as 'The Embalmer' even though his colleagues think someone bumping off drunken down and outs is not such a big deal.  He is also on the case of four students who have disappeared without trace and it feels particularly relevant when his estranged daughter comes to visit (she has a similar background to the missing students and a kinship that can help in the case) and he feels that he doesn't want to let them down in the same way as he believes he let his daughter down.  When a website starts to show details on the case and a countdown begins that could mean the students will die, his work and his daughters insights bring him closer to discovering the truth.

Without giving the ending away, I did anticipate two of the major twists, but one I have to admit I did not and I have to say that reading the book did feel like watching a crime series on television as it was so visual and intertwined.  The only thing I would say is that I was slightly disappointed by the ending, but again, I cannot say why without spoiling it for any of my followers who wish to read it.

I recommend this book as it is very enlightening in judging what it is about Steven's style that made his novel stand out for publication on a 'slush site.'

If you wish to find out more about Steven, you can find him on twitter @ReaperSteven

Sunday, 15 July 2012

So you want to write a novel? Workshop Part 2

I attended the final day of this two-part workshop today at Hebden Bridge Library.  This time the focus was on the structure and time-line of the novel.

Anna started by asking each attendee to choose a book or film from the room and explain to the group why we had picked it.  This was to encourage us to think about the things we love about a novel or a film and to bring those things into your writing - you have to love it.  She also recommended being a control freak - write about what you want and want to read, you are the creator of this world, you may as well make it one you love to be in.

We then started work in our groups on subplots.  First we were asked to choose an object from a selection Anna had provided, then we were asked to use this object to link to a subplot.  This was to take all the character names we had been given originally (in our group we had Louisa Wilde (the protagonist) and Joshua Scott, Francesca Filistowicz and Josie Pratt) and use the objects to inspire a subplot.  We had the objects - a pack of cards, a pair of pink childs goggles, a small tribal man ornament and a small bottle of patchouli essential oil.  We linked the patchouli oil to Louisa's Mum Francesca (her perfume) and the cards to Joshua Scott as he is a gambler and she meets him again in a casino.  They then go to an art gallery (where the tribal man is one of the exhibits) and meet Josie Pratt.

Anna explained that the subplots should follow the shape of the whole story but that it does not have to follow the same timescale.  You do need to have some link /connection to the main plot though.  Anna then circulated a paper that had a graph set into four sections as follows: PART ONE beginnings, PART TWO middle 1, PART THREE middle 2 and PART FOUR endings and we used this to work out the timescale of the novel by arranging the events into the four parts and hooking the reader in to make them interested.

Anna then explained about the DRAMATIC PRESENT (the 'now' of your novel) which is where you're standing when you tell the story - you need to decide where it is.  You can tell the story following a linear plotline (i.e. from the beginning to the end), via flashback (to tell us information from the past that we need to know - it can illuminate but it can't come out of left field, it has to fit in and make sense to them), using repetition (establishes a continuous presence e.g. Groundhog Day) or foreshadowing (telling the reader something which will happen in the future but this will affect the way the reader reads the story).

Anna said that the characters journey is both practical (what happens to them) and profound (how it changes them because of what happens).  You have to decide 1) What is your novel about and 2) Themes (e.g. pride comes before a fall, good overcomes evil or the emptiness of wealth).  She suggested writing two sentences about our novel using the practical and the profound to write a possible 'blurb' for the cover of your novel.

Anna recommended that you give yourself permission to write rubbish - if you are a perfectionists, you will block yourself and that it is better to make it up and then do the research afterwards or this could also block you.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Musical Pitch Event WYPH 10/07/12

Attended this event at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on Tuesday and it was very informative.  The event was run by Henrietta Duckworth, Producer at WYPH along with Andy Barnes, Pitch Perfect, James Bourne and Elliot Davis who co-wrote Loserville (currently showing at WYPH) and Richard Taylor (The Go Between).

Henrietta started by emphasising the WYPH's commitment to new musicals and their investment in writers, composers, musical directors etc. and asked how do they create more opportunities?  The answer is in getting more audience - consistent supply to regularly feed it, so audiences start demanding new work.  She then introduced Andy, the representative from Perfect Pitch.

Andy explained that Perfect Pitch had been going for 6/7 years and that it is a development network with resources around the UK that can help move the canon forward, be it for the West End or small demographic - something new and interesting to put on.  Musical Pitch started as a format of festival work, which sometimes leads to full script reads or workshops.  The Arts Council supported the idea as a pilot and then they gained a national portfolio of funding for 2 years.  He wanted the attendees to be aware that there are opportunities that exist here and abroad and it is not just happening in London.

Then Elliot and James explained their journey to getting Loserville on the stage.  Elliot explained that Leonard Bernstein (West Side Story - WSS, Oliver) advised him to get a lyric and a musical phrase, i.e. somewhere for WSS or love for Oliver and work the musical around this. 

They explained that it took preview shows, a change of production, cast being frozen while most people say no, but then you get a yes and work with them before getting anywhere.  It then changed with the creative team and technical rehearsals and started getting positive feedback.  They then explained their process when they write together.  For Loserville, 'Slacker' is the blueprint of what the show is all about and from this they wrote new songs for the show and a detailed story map.  James works on guitar, which is unusual as most work on piano, and they would take it from a lyric.  Writing to fit a story is easier in some ways as the concept is already there.

Richard Taylor then gave the background to how The Go Between came into being.  It started as an adaptation from the L. P. Hartley book and then workshopped at Perfect Pitch, but it took 12 years for it to arrive on the stage.  Hartley gave permission, but it was felt that although everyone loved the songs, the POV was wrong as the audience should only see what the little boy sees (if he doesn't see it neither should we, nor should the characters emote).

The Perfect Pitch webiste www.perfectpitchmusicals.com was recommended as being very informative.  Andy said that they look at everything for free, but don't offer feedback due to staff shortage, but they are trying to promote new musical developments.

Mercury Theatre network helps people connect and find out what's out there www.mercurymusicaldevelopments.com sometimes in a 'speed-dating-type format' i.e. writers can meet up with composers etc.  One pays to be a member and then you are informed about events and opportunities e.g. open process writer residencies.

YMT www.youthmusictheatreuk.org commissioning/developing new music theatre has a writers residential course in August.

The floor was then opened up to questions and when asked why musicals were popular again, it was felt that musical theatre has always been popular but it has been rejuvenated thanks to TV shows like Glee and shows like Wicked, as musicals lean to the popular music of the day without the loss of revenue in the music industry.  As James Bourne put it 'You can't download a performance' and this is a good revenue stream.

Andy informed a questionner that most musicals are composer-driven as it is easier to get the music out there than a book.  It was agreed that one should never worry about asking for help with a project as people can be really generous because they need product, but the pressure is in finding something that is broadly appealing and Henrietta believed that partnership was the answer.  WYPH alone did not produce these two shows as it is much less segregated.  They must find an audience, so a better way of achieving this is by joining up their organisations and she hopes the need for fresh and new may hopefully kick-in in October.

When asks if it important that musicals be commercial, it was pointed out that only 4/5 of West End theatres produce new musicals, so it was felt that it was more important that the work is good than 'commercial.'

The event ended with a call out for feedback on the evening which can be accessed via twitter on #musicalpitch

Monday, 9 July 2012

Cleckheaton Writers Group Meeting

The CMG met this evening and we discussed the courses/writing events that we had attended this week.  I fed back details of the So you want to write a novel? workshop I attended yesterday and handed out photocopies of the various notes, character questionnaires etc. and related the useful information learned during the first of the two sessions.  D & N related the events of the Philip Pullman event they attended at Manchester on Thursday plus the salient points of most use to the novelist.

We then discussed the writing challenge and gave feedback on each of the three 'man in a local pub but he's been dead for 2 weeks, why?' stories.  This was very helpful in terms of what worked and constructive on what did not.  Unfortunately we could not discuss the chapters sent by D as he did not attend the meeting.

D then set the writing challenge for the next meeting.  It is a dialogue exercise taken from the 'What If' book, where two people who know each other take the opposite side of an issue or problem, with a word limit of around 550 words.

As promised, here is the 'What is your characters earliest memory? exercise I undertook yesterday as part of the So you want to write a novel? workshop:

When I play it takes me there.  Back to the time when I was happy, before things changed and I split in two.  Separation is like the keys of my piano.  Black can sit next to white, but it cannot leech into it, it cannot stay together.  Like oil and water they can only coexist as two separate entities and in a way that is me, the person I am and the person I should have been.  I am here in the black, but long to stay in the white.  I can intermingle my two lives, as the keys take turns to make the music of life, so it dictates mine.  But I am the composer, always the composer.  I know when to still the fingers of my story, when to hold back and when to build to a crescendo.  The time is not now, but it will come.  I feel certain that it will come.

She was there, now she is just a shadow, the black to my white, but then we could sit side by side and make melodies together.  When I look down at my hand, sometimes I see hers and I know although I am two halves, one of them is hers and it always will be.  I cannot change that, nor would I want to.  I need the dark to sit with the light, without it there would be no music.

Sometimes when I play it takes me back there, but plays are never real, only the words that make up the story of what someone else wants you to believe.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

So You Want to Write a Novel? workshop

Attended the first session of this two part workshop today at Hebden Bridge Library.  The course is run by Anna Turner (AKA Anna Chilvers, author of Falling through clouds) and the aims are 'to learn some skills and techniques needed to complete a novel and also gain the belief that you are capable of undertaking this task.'

We were given a first line (It started raining that night and it didn't stop for two weeks) to write and were told to keep writing until told to stop (by an incredibly irritating clock timer).  This was to get us into the habit of writing (and stopping) to order and the challenge (between the end of this session and the next) was to allocate 10-15 minutes that one can write and write for this set time each day in the exercise book we were each given.

Anna explained that some writers plot chapter by chapter (i.e. First draft in 30 Days by Karen Wiesner) and others just write (rather like how we will be doing on this course) and this is a method to find out which one is the one that works best for you.

David Lodge says that the structure of the novel is 'like the framework of girders that hold up a modern high rise building.  You can't see it, but it determines the edifice's shape and character.'

Anna then handed out two sets of character questionnaires that we had to work to in groups of 3 or 4 having each been given a character name.  We had to decide which name was the protagonist and work out his/her character using the character questionnaire prompts.  This soon evolved into realising that we all had very different ideas on who/what we wanted the protagonist to be (though the beauty of writing is that you and you alone get to decide this when writing your novel).  We then had to feed back to the group where we had got to.

Then we had the clock timer go off and had to write again for the alloted time.

Once this time had elapsed, Anna informed us that we had now created somebody you can believe in and this is essential.  This character is now 'ripe for change' and we had to come up with something about them that, when it changes, it is interesting.  This novel will be about that character - do you want to live with that character?  Can you keep your interest in that character going for a year or can you not stand them? 

Then we were asked to go back into our groups and work on the answers to the second character questionnaire, followed by the written answer to one of the following questions:

1) What is in your characters fridge right now?
2) Where does your character go on holiday?
3) What is your characters earliest memory?
4) What is your characters bed like?

I chose to answer question three (which I will post tomorrow) and some of the writing was read out to the group.

Then we had to go back to the timed writing and then we worked on structures.  Anna said that the structure within the novel is made up of: Dramatic action (i.e. what happens) and Time.  You have to start with a situation and then create conflict and take your character on a journey from the situation they are in now, to the place where you are going to take them to.  She then gave out leaflets on The Characters Journey (influenced by Noah Lukeman's The Plot Thickens), The 7 Basic Plots and finally, Requirements for a Plot.

For the 'inciting incident' you need to decide how your character will react.  What will they do?  Where will they go?  It was decided that your group can have more than one version.  Before we could get to this the alarm went off again and we all began to work on our timed writing.

After, we worked on our 'inciting incidents' and then came back together to read some of them out to the group.  Then Anna gave out a sheet of paper outlining The Shape of the Whole Story, which she said is used when making films and she used the example of Red Riding Hood to explain how it works.  This will give us the vague shape of what happens in our book.

The alarm went off again and we completed some more timed writing and then Anna read some Rough Guides to Classic Novels and asked us each to write a summary of the novel we had just been planning in our groups and then to share some with the group.

This was mine:

Louisa Wilde's life was best when it played out in her fantasies rather than in real life, but when a chance meeting with the mother who abandoned her occurs, everything changes.  The life she thinks she wants is now within her grasp.  Joshua Scott is the loose brick that can send the tower of her lies falling back to earth, but try as she might to isolate him from her new existence fate, it seems, will not allow it.  Unlike the keys of her beloved piano, life is never quite so black and white.

When the course reconvenes next week, we will be dealing with the timings of the structure of the novel, but meanwhile, I have to keep writing in my timed exercises - wish me luck.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Up coming writing Festivals

Having attended the Hebdent Bridge Arts Festival, it reminded me that there are a number of Writing Festivals coming up, so I thought I would share this information with my followers:

Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Festival Thursday 19 July - Sunday 22 July features workshops such as Crime in another dimension, Drawing the line, Ebook, Writing for your life, American writers, 1920/30s crime fiction, New Blood, Women crime writers, Literary crime fiction & Translating crime. In conversations with John Connolly, Kate Mosse, Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson, Peter James, Ann Cleaves, Harlan Coben and Jo Nesbo. To view full programme and prices:  www.harrogateinternationalfestivals.com

York Festival of Writing Friday 7 - Sunday 9 September features mini-courses (How to write a novel: Harry Bingham, Self-editing your novel: Debi Alger, Children's authors do it differently: the fabulous 'crabbit old bat' herself: Nicola Morgan, Historical fiction masterclass: Emma Darwin, Be a professional self-publisher & succeed: David Gaughran and Talli Rowland), Keynote addresses by JoJo Moyes, Agents and Publishers and Stuart MacBride and various workshops, genre panel Q&As and book signings: www.writersworkshop.co.uk

The Festival of Romance celebrates romantic fiction in all its forms and gives readers a chance to meet favourite and new authors as well as taking part in lots of fun activities.
The 2012 Festival takes place from 16th to 18th November 2012 in the historic county town of Bedford. With over 35 romantic fiction authors taking part over the weekend it promises to be unmissible for fans of all types of romantic fiction. Check out the programme and find out which of your favourite authors will be there: www.romanticfiction.org

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Jane Green & Linda Green author event Hebden Bridge Library

D and I attended this event on Tuesday evening and it was much more welcoming than the previous days event.  Unfortunately, Jane was running late, so fortunately Linda stepped in to be interviewed (prior to interviewing Jane) so that the evening could get underway.

Linda started by telling the audience that she had been a journalist in regional newspapers for 10 years.  She decided to give up the job in 1996 and pursue her novel-writing career and in 5 years got 102 rejections from agents.  She believes that fiction is an art compared to other writing.  She went on a writing course at Ilkley Library where Martin Bedford looked at 3 chapters and a synopsis of her novel and offered a critique service.  This resulted in her deleting a third of her book!  When it was re-written and sent off, she got an agent straight away, but a dozen publishers positively rejected it, so her agent told her to write a new novel.  Unfortunately upon reading the new novel, the agent said he preferred the first and let her go.  Again, she re-wrote the novel with help from Martin and then got 2 agents who wanted it.  She went with Antony Gough (who also represents Jane, although the two authors are not related despite sharing the same surname) and when it was put out to auction, she got a bid from Headline review.  She sold 75,000 copies even though she had had 8 rejections previously and she feels it may be down to publishers not wanting to take chances.  One of her books was marketed as 'chick noir' which she is pretty sure was made up and she feels that 'chick lit' is just so broad a spectrum, that it is confusing to readers.  At the same time, it can cause patronising comments to not want to have your novel under the term 'chick lit' as she was once told 'You're not Ian McEwan you know.'  It is seen as a massive risk to not put pink on the cover of her novel and marketing led the objections.  She feels that epublishing can be a good thing as suddenly a book can come from nowhere and get 100s of readers (i.e. 50 Shades of Grey which last week accounted for 40% of all fiction sales) and feels that this might open publishers minds and make them willing to take a risk.  Linda is now with Quercus and feels that she has had a lot more consultation on her novel.  Sales are 20-70% down on books, with womens fiction hit harder.

Linda feels that writers write books that they want to read and feels that it is a mixture of inspiration and autobiographical that becomes less and less so the more you write.  Her latest novel 'And then it happened' came from interviewing a woman years ago when she was a journalist who had cared for her brain-injured husband for 10 years at home and then in care for the last 7 years of his life.  She found a thing that interested her (the womans situation), then she throws away the facts and throws in what ifs.  The novel she is writing at the moment involves 3 women who band together to stop the lollipop lady from getting fired and then the interviewer asks if they would stand for the general election - what if they said yes?  The Lollipop Party snowballs on social media (in the book they stand for Calder Valley, Halifax and Huddersfield).

Jane Green then arrived, so Linda turned to being the interviewer rather than the interviewee.  Jane is over from the United States on a packed schedule.  Her first book 'Straight talking' 1996, brought about a new genre of womens fiction and she has had 13 bestsellers ('The patchwork marriage' is currently at no7 on the bookchart) and sold 10 million around the world.  'The patchwork marriage' is about Andi and Ethan who marry and Andi gets a ready-made family of 2 stepdaughters.  When Jane began her writing career she was single in London and looking for Mr Right and she feels her books have chartered her life but are not about it.  Her novels deal with all aspects of a womans life and the current novel deals with the challenges of a blended family.  She feels all children secretly hope that their parents will get back together (even in adulthood) and that a new marriage means new loss to them (girls in particular feel that they are losing their father).  Jane never takes characters from her life but may take situations, except for her novel 'Mr maybe' where she told an ex that she would write a book about him and name the character Nick and she feels that 'it is revenge on all the awful men.'

Asked what she feels the difference is between readers in the US and here, she thinks that the english jackets for books are patronising (echoing Linda's earlier conversation) and that Americans take the business of writing more seriously because they feel that writing is a craft and they take workshops, study etc. so there is better quality.

When asked how she felt about the 'chick lit' term, she said that she and Adele Parks did an open book on Radio 4 and that although Adele hates the term, she feels that it is the domain of the young and she no longer feels her writing applies any more.  Penguin are making her covers more grown-up, although she is thinking of writing a YA book because she had enjoyed writing in the role of the 17 year-old (she wrote a mini series for Alicia Keys a few years back).  She drew on her experience of being less than and not fitting in when she was that age.  She starts with a big picture theme when writing a novel and then does a lot of work on the characters, because if you do the work on your characters, they tell the story for you.  She feels you have to go where the character leads you.

Jane feels that publishing is in a state of flux at the moment because technology has changed everything and is isolating us.  She believes it is cyclical and that we will go back to our books.  Ebooks are out-flanking hardcovers in the US, but it will happen in England.  She feels women read for two reasons - to escape and to relate - ideally both in one book and she believes there is nothing else that can give us both things.

What a fascinating and enlightening evening it was.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

New Blood author event, Hebden Bridge

Attended this event yesterday evening as part of the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival.  It was held at the Little Theatre and I went with two of my fellow Cleckheaton Writers Group members D and N.  I have to say that as none of us had been to an event at the Little Theatre in Hebden before, we did struggle to find it.  Thankfully we had arrived early and a pedestrian kindly pointed us in the right direction, but I don't think a few signs would go amiss to help newcomers.  Stephen May interviewed the five new emerging writers (Sophie Columbeau, Peter Salmon, Selma Dabbagh, Ros Barber and Suzanne Johnson) about their books and the road to publishing success.

Sophie Columbeau is a PHD student based in York who used to be a fast-track civil servant who has written the novel 'Rites' about a virginity pact using eleven narrators and four protagonists.  She sent the first 10,000 words and the synopsis of her novel to a North West under-30s writing competition at Root Publishing and was shortlisted, so then had to draft the rest of her novel in two weeks as it had been sent in before it was finished.  She then read the first section of her book as the book has no chapters and the narrative goes back and forth.

Peter Salmon has been a bookseller, tv writer and Arvon Foundation tutor who said that his novel 'The Coffee Story' has taken him years to write.  It has a hero Teddy, who even he doesn't love, who grew up in Ethopia, so he researched it for five years.  His hero is a coffee magnet who helps uprisings and the novel is written on his deathbed.  He then read a 'sex scene' from the novel.

Salma Dabbagh is a British Palestinian lawyer who started writing with short story competition success.  She found that some of her characters seemed to come from Beirut, with one aim and driving a lexus.  She started her book 'Out of It' with an image of a young man, half-stoned and frustrated, jumping up in defiance against the aircraft above him.  She read the section of her book that had come from this very first image.

Ros Barber is a poet with three poetry collections and has written her novel 'The Marlowe Papers' as a novel in verse (131 poems linked).  She was a teacher of creative writing and felt she needed a big idea to get funding for research and after seeing a documentary, her novel brings to life the theory that Christopher Marlowe survived and was the true author of the works of Shakespeare.  The novel took her five years (research for one year) and as she told the audience, Fay Weldon said at a Writers Conference recently that 'research is another word for cowardice.'  She thought the only authentic voice that would work was iambic pentameter.  She read a section from the book about his exile in France following his staged 'death' from a knife fight.

Suzanne Johnson's travel with her job and reading travel writers lead her to research missionary narratives in archives.  This and her background of 'hippy childhood/council estate clash' inspired her to write her novel 'A Lady's Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar' which is similar in that it has two narratives that wind and connect.  Suzanne read a section of her novel centred around a photograph her character Freda finds of her mother whilst pregnant with her.

The floor was then opened up to questions:

Peter gave the very sound advice that 'a book gets written by writing' and that the time waiting in between was part of the process.  Ros agreed in that she found plot planning didn't work for her as she found that her novel came out 'dead' but, when you just write it and you wand to know the ending yourself, it works.  Selma said that she plots hers around the ending and then works backwards, but finds that it can still be innovated as you go along.  It was mentioned that Ian Banks said that he plots out, or his book would never end.  Sophie said that as she had to do 3,500 words a day to complete her manuscript, she had the first half plotted, but the second not so much and she suggested that writers set themselves a goal and embarrass yourself by telling all that you are going to achieve this goal - then you have to.  Suzanne said that you have to get over your own personal confidence issues.  She won a prize for a short story competition and got an agent through that and she had the clear deadline of childbirth.

When discussing style, Selma said that a knowledge of how you want it to be shaped helped, i.e. set in Gaza and London.  She knew she wanted it to have young characters and to have short chapters and sentences to keep it fast paced.  Suzanne said that her dual narrative helped with her book being set in 1920s Kashkar and contemporary London, shaped the whole thing in terms of pace and plot.  Peter said that his hatred of the well-crafted novel as a literary trope helped as he can't read it, or write it.  He found the fact that his non-reader character was dying, helped him to have a disjointed narrative.  Sophie found that story came before style in that she felt her love of Julian Barnes' 'Talking it over' and 'Love etc.' as a teenage reader had opened up the troubling relationship between the reader and the narrative.  Ros found that when she addressed the novel to 'you' she realised it was letters that connect to the 16th century and human emotion.

When discussing motivation, Peter confessed that the feeling that he is still not sure he is a writer, even when he has been published, never goes away.  Ros had the conviction that she was a writer from an early age (and in her early 20s it nearly happened in poetry) and both she and Sophie agreed that relationships were the key and an audience member wondered how much of a writer goes into each book.  Sophie thought each of her eleven narrators has 36%.  Peter said that he always writes as an old man, so worries that he is writing his future.  Suzanne felt that all art is a return in that it has a clash of culture, theme, loneliness, wandering and Britishness.  Ros said that being a 16th century man in her novel was a blissful escape from the autobiographical poems that had got her into trouble with her family.  Selma thinks she has certain types who have bits of people that she knows and each has one aspect of her personal relationship to the struggle.  She feels that memoir is extremely difficult whilst avoiding the personal, but keeping the resonance.

The evening ended with a book signing and I was very lucky to get to meet Sophie when she signed her book for me and Ros who I found very inspirational.  She gave me some excellent advice on the piece that I am working on at the moment and I can honestly say that meeting her was the best thing about the whole evening.  Sadly, the same could not be said about one of the women who worked at the Theatre, who spent the entire evening doing her utmost to make attendees feel unwelcome.

Tomorrow, I will post a review of the Jane Green author talk that I attended this evening.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Bridlington Beach

Yesterday we all had a family trip to Bridlington.  We drove from sunshine at home, then through torrential rain to get there (thankfully it had stopped by the time we got to Danes Dyke) and had to keep an eye on the clouds the whole time we were there.  We started off with a picnic at Danes Dyke and then walked down to the beach, only to find that the sea was in (typical).  We played frisbee and skimmed rocks into the sea on the tiny bit of pebble beach that was left and then decided that the huge black cloud was too threatening to stay.  We drove to Bridlington and walked into the town to let the kids play in the amusements (my son particularly enjoyed the bingo, as he won the first two games in a row and then won again shortly after).  We walked on the beach on the way back whilst looking for fossils and then had a round of crazy golf (my husband, my son and I, all scored holes in one) before setting off back for home, where we encountered the torrential rain again.

You can see from the pictures below, how changeable the weather was:

Now you can see why we British always talk about the weather...........