Before I launch into my brief visit to the Winchester Writers Conference last weekend,
I have to tell you about my excitement when I opened my email just now, to find that Google Alert had spotted an enthusiastic review of my first published novel, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society.
As you can see here it’s the responses of ‘my’ readers that helps to keep me going when the going gets tough.
Any opportunity for mixing with other writers gives me a boost, whether I’m leading a workshop for aspiring writers, or joining in as a participant myself, or listening to talks and readings from other authors, I always find some new understanding to add to my store of knowledge and skills. One of the most stimulating of these events in the UK has to be the annual Winchester Writers Festival that takes place at the end of June.
I’d heard about it several years earlier, and was thinking of signing up for the 2005 Conference, when I received that phone call from Transita, saying that they wanted to publish my novel. I’d reached my goal of publication, and foolishly imagined that I’d learned everything I needed about writing a book and getting it published. How could I have foreseen the sad demise of Transita, and my return to square one in a search for a publisher for my next novel, Paper Lanterns? I won’t go into details now, but you can read about some of the resulting difficulties here.
Eventually, I realised that although I’d learned a huge amount about marketing and the difficulties of getting published, I still had more to learn, so I signed up for the 2008 Winchester Writers Conference. That turned out to be an extremely useful decision. No, I didn’t find an agent or publisher to take me on, though, as usual, there were plenty of them milling around the University campus, giving pre-booked one-to-one advice, or delivering lectures. However, I did learn more about how to bring what I’d thought was a finished product to a properly publishable state. (I’ll write more about this in future posts).
When I’d implemented all the necessary chopping and changing, I sent it out again. And again. And again…until I came to the dead-end of every possible path. I knew that Paper Lanterns would be appreciated by many of my previous readers, and many new ones too, and if it was ever going to appear in print, I would have to do it myself. And here’s how I did it.
I was so delighted with the Novel Press’s first product that I sent a copy to Barbara Large, MBE, the amazingly energetic, enthusiastic, supportive and perceptive Director of the conference, and she very kindly invited me to attend the plenary address on the Saturday morning, and say a few words about Novel Press and Paper Lanterns.
If I hadn’t already committed myself to a family event at my mother’s house in Sussex, I’d have signed up for the whole weekend.
It was lovely to be back there, even for a short while, meeting up with writing friends, Adrienne Dines, and Crysse Morrison, as well as talking to strangers. (Though when a writer gets talking to other writers at such an event, they don’t remain strangers for more than a minute or two).
The plenary address was delivered by the indomitable Sir Terry Pratchett – what a fantastic(al) story he tells about his own experience of getting published. No one would imagine in their wildest dreams (that is, no one who knows anything of the current state of publishing) of being taken on so casually by agent with their first book, and some time later receiving a publisher’s cheque and a commission for a second book. ‘Oh, so that’s how it happens,’ thought the young Terry P, ‘You send off your manuscript, and back comes a cheque.’ He spent it on a greenhouse!’
Among the numerous amusing anecdotes and fascinating insights into his own writing practice, was what he described as ‘The valley of clouds’. Once he’d unravelled the analogy, I was delighted to find that his approach to plotting a novel accords with mine. As he explained, he can see the distant peak across the valley, and knows where/what he’s heading for, but the details of how the story will unfold is shrouded in the mist. He discovers these as he writes.
But there the similarity with this hugely talented and successful author ends. According to Wikipedia, as of December 2007 he had sold more than 55 million books worldwide, while I was happy with my sales of (nearly) 3,000 copies of the Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society.
ENTRANTS IN MY VIRTUAL TREASURE HUNT, WILL FIND THE FIFTH AND FINAL QUESTION IN MY NEXT POST.
I’m pleased to say that there are several Treasure Hunters out there who are on the way to winning one of the free five books on offer. You’ll find the fourth question below. The fifth and final one will be posted next week.
Each of the posts with a Treasure Hunt question will take you back to the previous one, so for number 3, click here (or just scroll down). This will make it easier for newcomers to join in, and have the same chance of winning, as answers can be sent in one by one, or all at once with the correct answer to question 5
What were the words that Dave Reeves used to introduce me on his radio show?
(HINT) This group give great PERFORMANCES. Once you’ve found them, you’re just one click away from the post that holds the answer.
And now for a few totally irrelevant photos –Well, they are relevant to my life at the moment, but not to my writing activities.
I’ve mentioned Gardening Husband in some previous posts, and one of those links him with poetry though he’s as much of a poet as I am a gardener – in other words, not at all!
However, he has made a significant contribution to the content of Paper Lanterns, my latest novel, as you can see here and here.
These pictures show where he spends a great deal of his time.
In the last few weeks
we’ve been devouring:
baby broad beans,
and, just recently
some of the new crop
Eaten within a couple of hours from being wrenched from the earth, they are the best you could possibly ask for.
The taste of them is as near to the irradiated, several-months-old spuds from supermarkets
as our Earth is from the moon!These are the first digging of Jersey Royals.
The sight of these is a poem in itself!
Is it ever acceptable to read other people’s personal letters? ( This isn’t Question Three in my Virtual Treasure Hunt, you’ll find that further down the page.) I’ll get back to those letters in a minute or two.
Meanwhile, I want to mention that more correct answers to my Virtual Treasure Hunt are still arriving in my in-box, and it’s not too late to join in. For those of you who haven’t yet entered the TREASURE HUNT, you’ll find Question Two here
You’ll find the THIRD QUESTION below, and I’ll be posting a few more over the next couple of weeks. The first five people to contact me with all the correct answers will receive a free copy of either Paper Lanterns or The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society.
It’s exactly a year since I posted this picture of a Greek Island – If you didn’t read that post, you’d probably wonder what possible connection there could be between a course on Novel Writing in that idyllic setting and the terrible Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001. (There’s more than one HINT in this paragraph that will lead you to the answer to this question – via a link to another post)
What was the last line of the poem which won me a cheque for £100?
As for other people’s letters, I wouldn’t dream of reading something personal that wasn’t meant for me. However, when the letters were written nearly one hundred years ago, it’s a different matter. Though, as I explained in an earlier post, it is still a very strange and moving experience.
Here is one that was written in 1916 by a young Chinese woman. You’ll need to read Paper Lanterns to see how I’ve woven this into the novel, which is set mainly in Hong Kong.
When I saw you, my love began. Many thanks for your kind treatments to me, therefore I was able to get more to you and as I found you were really love me therefore I greatly pleased allowed you to have my room prepared for you. I hate that it (mean heavens) could not give us a favour of a long time for you to stay here, and so each now is on his way.
If I could I would cut the big mountain down and make the rivers as dry level lands in order to see you easily even in a far distance and to come quickly to you. But these are all in vain.
If I try to remember the words you were talking to me, my heart suffers a great deal. (Chinese words really means my stomach breaks).
I cry to say I was not born in a rich family and therefore I am obliged to live on such business.
Oh, heaven! If there is any one who can pick me up from such dark valley, my world is once again bright.
Herewith I enclose my photo as a remembrance and hope you will let me know when you have got it.
I should be much pleased by an answer and don’t let me suffer more.
Congratulations to the six readers who have already contacted me with the correct answer to the first of my questions in the Virtual Treasure Hunt.
If you get this one right, and the others that I’ll posting over the next couple of weeks, the first five people to contact me with all the correct answers will receive a free copy of either Paper Lanterns or The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society.
For those of you who haven’t yet entered the TREASURE HUNT, you’ll find Question One here
I’ll give plenty of notice when I’m about to post the final question, and will let you know the latest date for submitting your answers.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed about writing this blog is the opportunity to use some of my own snapshots – I make no pretence to be a photographer – all I do is point the camera and press the button. I’m always amazed when I see the picture on my monitor with details that I hadn’t noticed at the time. Hurray for digital cameras!
My TREASURE HUNT is giving me an excuse to display photos a second time – This is one that I’m quite proud of!.
Here’s PART TWO: with just one question. This will involve scrolling down through some previous posts – and the Peacock is the first HINT.
Once you’ve landed on the correct post, you’ll need to follow ANOTHER LINK to find the answer to this question:
What was the date of Nicola Morgan’s ‘Party’ for her blog’s first Birthday?
Woops!! I missed my first blog birthday!
I only realised that after what should have been an occasion for celebration on 10th May this year, so now I’m drawing attention to my ONE HUNDREDTH BLOG POST. This seems like a good time to launch my VIRTUAL TREASURE HUNT.
ALL the ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS can be found somewhere on this blogsite.
THE TREASURE HUNT will have at least THREE PARTS, and some of these will contain more than one question. The first FIVE READERS who come up with the correct answers to ALL THE QUESTIONS will receive a FREE copy of either Paper Lanterns OR The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society
PLEASE USE the ‘Contact Me’ page to give me your answers. In this way, I’ll be the only person to see your answers .
PART ONE: A single question to start with.
1) What is the title of the post in which this picture appears, and what is the name of the cat? (HINT: Notice the archives on the right: June is the month for strawberies!)
Look out for PART TWO of the TREASURE HUNT in my next post
Meanwhile, I want to tell you what I was doing this afternoon. One thing I enjoy (almost) as much as hearing other writers talk about their work, is giving talks and readings to groups of other writers myself. There’s nothing that develops a taste for self-promotion quite as much as having a novel published. I won’t go as far as saying I was a shrinking violet before The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society was published in October 2005, but I’ve definitely acquired a taste for it since then. (you might guess that from this photo of my first book launch!)
So there I was in the new community room in Erdington library, being introduced to a lovely group of local writers, led by Jan Watts. I’d already met some of these writers at a talk I gave last year, in a cramped corner behind the bookshelves in the library itself. What a wonderful resource this room is!
Although I also enjoy talking to reading groups (or, to be honest, to anyone who’ll listen to me) there’s a particular stimulation in the questions asked by fellow writers. Just as I learn from listening to what more experienced authors have to say, I know that many aspiring writers may be looking for some practical tips and encouragement from me. I have to take extra care with my answers because I want to be honest about my own experiences, both good and bad, without saying something that might leave people feeling disheartened about their own endeavours.
I can’t deny that it’s a tough old world out there for writers (look at my post on rejection letters!)but we all need something to aim at, and there’s more than one way of getting your work into print.
The most important thing for me, is the satisfaction I get from the writing itself - playing around with the words until they are conveying exactly what I want them to do. (This doesn’t happen every time, but when it does, it’s definitely its own reward.)
I have to admit that I experienced a twinge of annoyance and a dollop of disappointment last Saturday morning at the Spring Thing Literature event, organised by the Birmingham Book Festival. But before I tell you why I felt like that, I have to make it clear that those feelings were quickly replaced by enjoyment and I was grateful that the organisers had kept some last-minute information close to their chest.
I’d been looking forward to hearing Helen Dunmore giving a talk about her latest novel and prize-winning poetry, and it wasn’t until I’d seated myself in the large auditorium of the Birmingham Conservatoire that I found out that she was unable to attend, and two other novelists would be taking her place. I had a lot on my plate that weekend (a long drive down to South Wales that evening, followed by an even longer drive to East Sussex the next day) and if I’d been informed beforehand, I’d have chosen to miss that first session – so I’m now grateful to the organisers, because I’d have missed hearing Judith Allnatt (The Poet’s Wife) and Clare Clark Savage Lands) in Conversation with each other, expertly led by Jonathan Davidson of Writing West Midlands .
It was fascinating to hear both authors explain what had inspired them to write their historical novels and compare the particular logistical problems they encountered and how they resolved them. They make a very good combination for a session like this.
When they were talking about their research methods, I particularly enjoyed Judith’s description of the process of accumulating information almost randomly, following whatever paths presented themselves, immersing herself in her chosen period almost randomly until she ‘knew’ it so thoroughly she didn’t need to think about it – it had become a part of her. The analogy of growing a crystal in her school lab was something I understood at the time, but couldn’t explain it clearly now!
The next session was also excellent: a Panel Discussion, again chaired by Jonathan, with three more novelists, Aifric Campbell ,(The Loss Adjustor) Samantha Harvey (The Wilderness), and Amanda Smyth (Black Rock).
The only difficulty for me was to resist the temptation of buying all three of those novels to add to my To-be-Read mountain.
Stuart Maconie’s books sounded amusing informative and I felt that his latest, Adventures on the High Teas, (wandering through Middle England) would make an ideal present but at that time my mind couldn’t come up with the exact person to give it to.
The day itself was a satisfying feast, with just enough down-time between each of the five sessions and plenty of opportunity to chat to other readers and writers over coffee and lunch. I was sorry that I had to leave early, missing Carol-Ann Duffy’s session at the end, and only allowing myself a brief taste of Jo Bell
and another last-minute stand-in,
Oh! and I mustn’t forget to do my share of eavesdropping on July 1st!