I love the act of writing fiction and poetry, but can never be quite sure which of the two I enjoy most, as they each have their own rewards and frustrations. One of the unexpected pleasures of becoming a published novelist is the way that it’s led me to giving occasional talks to readers and other writers about my own writing experiences, and being invited to attend other ‘writerly’ events.
Event Number One was at Selly Oak Library, as you can see from this picture.
I’d just given a talk about my writing, an enjoyable way of spending a Monday morning.
For those of you who don’t know Birmingham, Sutton Coldfield (my home) is in the far north of edge of the city,
while Selly Oak is ten miles away on the south side.
On Wednesday evening, it was back to Selly Oak again, this time giving a talk to 30 members of Open Circle, a Ladies Group who meet once a month at the Methodist hall – an attentive and generous audience. In my previous post I wrote about my visit to Castle Vale, where I met a flourishing Reading Group, most of whom had recently read my first published novel, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society, and it was wonderful to have an opportunity to hear their comments about the characters and the story-line and to answer their questions.
Meeting a new group of people who know nothing about me and my writing is equally rewarding – especially when I know that 75-year old Agnes Borrowdale, and all the other characters from that first novel, will be introduced to a new set of readers. It’s nearly five years since that book was published and I find it strange how I can still be so attached to these invented characters, especially as I now have the cast of Paper Lanterns alive in my head.
I’m lucky enough to still find interest and enjoyment in my job with Adult Education after nearly 30 years, and I’m sure that this is partly because of my career as a writer. As I’ve explained above, it’s not only the writing itself, but also what I call ‘writerly stuff’. Starting Novel Press, my own publishing venture, is a recent addition to those activities, and on Friday afternoon I’d been invited to attend a meeting for local publishers, organised by Jonathan Davidson of Writing West Midlands, at The Custard Factory.
I often feel that I don’t merit the title of ‘publisher’, since mine is still the only product of Novel Press, so I find it very encouraging when Jonathan and other experienced people ‘in the know’ take my publishing venture seriously. Alan Mahar of Tindal Street Press reminded me that when they started up ten years ago, the lottery funding for the arts was in a much better state than in this difficult financial climate. So maybe I should feel at least a little bit proud of what I’ve accomplished so far.
That was a nice feeling to take away with me on my journey down to Sussex for the weekend. I felt particularly lucky to be there on Saturday, enjoying a quiet morning in brilliant sunshine with my mother, strolling up a country lane to an ancient church which I’d hadn’t been near for decades! Click here to read more about the history of this building, and why the windows appear to have no glass!
One of my sisters lives nearby and she encouraged me to go to Seaford in the afternoon, our nearest beach.
It was almost hot in the sunshine and out of the sharp wind, but even in the shelter of the wall it wasn’t nearly warm enough
for me to venture into the sea – my sister is more hardy than I am, as you can see from this picture.
The brilliant white of the cliffs behind the beach and the bright blue green of the sea
almost convinced me that summer was still with us, but the wind gave a different message.
This might not have been her last swim of the season,
but for me it definitely seemed like the last day of summer.
I had a wonderful morning last Thursday, talking to a lively group of enthusiastic readers. I never know quite what to expect when visiting different reading and writing groups, though one thing I can be pretty sure of is that it won’t be boring. Not for me, anyway!
Giving talks about my writing is second only to the pleasure I have when I’m at my desk creating characters in a novel, or finding the words to express my thoughts and feelings in a poem. This has been one of the unexpected benefits of finding a publisher for The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society nearly five years ago (October 2005). I’d already had a small collection of poems published (Single Travellers, Flarestack, 2004) but I was amazed by the difference in people’s reactions when they heard I was now a published novelist. Suddenly, I was being invited to give talks to reading and writing groups and a range of other organisations - I’m still receiving requests for these types of events.
I feel so lucky!
Thursday’s visit was particularly enjoyable for me, as most of the group had only recently read the Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society and were keen to give me their comments and ask me questions. It was wonderful to know that this novel is still being appreciated by readers, especially those who know and love Birmingham, and liked the positive image of the Brummies in the book. Here’s a link to Sheila Arthur’s reviews of the book and her reflections on the event on the Active Arts website, and her own blog.
After introducing the ideas behind my new novel, Paper Lanterns, I read a few extracts, which gives me the opportunity to present the voices of different characters, something that I love doing. It reminds me of how I felt when I was part of the poetry ensemble, Late Shift, reciting in front of audiences at Literary Festivals across the country – a skill that I acquired to my great delight, in my early fifties, after experiencing painful self-consciousness in front of groups of strangers for most of my early life. What a gift that was – as you can see in : “ How I didn’t get Stage-Fright “
I always have a box of my books in the boot of my car – not because I have any expectations that people will want to buy a copy of one or other of my novels, but as part of my ‘Just-in-Case’ approach to life. So I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who were happy to hand me some cash in exchange for a copy of Paper Lanterns. There was even a huge display board with information about me and my books, and including a copy of the Sunday Mercury article about the Chinese letters. Thank you for arranging this display, Lesley!
Funnily enough, when I browsed the headlines from the daily on-line Bookseller, I came across a link to an encouraging article that seemed particularly relevant to me in my guise as Novel Press: Re-inventing Book Marketing, by Dave Weich, who tells his readers,
“In the next ten years, book marketing will radically reinvent itself.”
And guess what? His closing paragraph states,
“Word-of-mouth will always drive book sales…”
I was pondering the impact of place names yesterday afternoon as I drove down the M5 to Worcester for a writers’ networking event, organised by Jonathan Davidson, Chief Executive of Writing West Midlands. When I first moved to Sutton Coldfield with my family, more than thirty years ago, the county of our address was Warwickshire, a name with a rural and picturesque ring to it, but soon after that, it was changed to West Midlands, which conjures up a distinctly urban and industrial landscape.
It was only quite recently that I fully realised that the term, ‘West Midlands’ has two meanings:
(1) the West Midlands metropolitan county,
(2) The West Midlands region which encompasses many rural shires, from Staffordshire to Herefordshire.
A meeting room had been booked in The Guesten (a beautifully restored Queen Anne House) in the grounds of Worcester Cathedral – a lovely setting. Jonathan introduced the proceedings by asking everyone to give a brief account of themselves as writers. I felt very privileged to have been invited to give a short presentation about my own writing and my publishing experiences to the 20 or more other writers present, many of whom were published authors and poets with decades of experience themselves.
After a brief welcome by Peter Spalton, who had helped organise the event, I was interested to learn more about Apples and Snakes, a national organisation which promotes the spoken word and describes itself as Poetry with Bite.
The presenter was Bohdan Piasecki, Programme Coordinator for the West Midlands, based at The Drum, in Birmingham. For me, the highlight of the afternoon was Bohdan’s response to a request for a demonstration of ‘performance poetry’ by delivering a poem of his own.
After a short pause, he announced that he’d try out a brand new piece that hadn’t yet been tested. It was brilliant. The silence that followed his performance spoke volumes – it took me a while to step out of the space he’d created, back into the reality of the present. My only complaint is that I haven’t got a paper version, or better still, a video clip, so that I can see and hear it over again.
As for my own talk, I enjoyed myself enormously. Somehow, when I’m addressing an audience of writers, I come away with renewed energy, and today was no exception. Talking to a group of readers produces a similar effect, but there’s something about sharing the experience with other writers that gives me an extra boost, especially when I’m explaining how and why I started Novel Press.
Yesterday’s event made me focus on my achievement in transforming a manuscript into hundreds of copies of a beautiful and totally professional paperback book, a good proportion of which have already been sold – and are still steadily making their way across the UK and around the world. Who knows what the future will hold for Novel Press?