I was about to post my latest (and probably final) information about Douglas Gordon Bruce, for my Mystery Challenge,
when I was suddenly whisked back to the end of June last year, at the Winchester Writers Conference, where the indomitable Director of the Conference, Barbara Large, MBE, kindly invited me to attend the plenary address on the Saturday morning, and say a few words about Novel Press and Paper Lanterns.
I was looking on the Conference website to see if the details of this year’s event had been published there yet, and I was reminded of an interview I’d given in the previous year. Some of the university students had been allocated the task of interviewing delegates from that year’s event.
I had walked out after Sir Terry Pratchett’s address to the conference into the blazing sunshine and was immediately accosted by a small group of young people wielding photographic instruments: Would I be willing to answer a few questions about why I was there, and what advice might I give to other aspiring writers?
When it comes to an opportunity for me to talk about writing in general (and mine in particular!) I’m not likely to turn it down, so I rattled on for several minutes, until I came to a natural ending. The interviewers were university students, and it was their project to make a record of the weekend for the university archives, with special reference to Terry Pratchett.
After that, I forgot all about it, so when I saw the yellow boxes on the left of the screen, I clicked on the one that was labelled ‘Delegates reactions to the 2010 WW Conference’. I started watching with interest, but without really expecting to see myself there.
I have to admit, that I did cringe a bit at the sight of me, jabbering away, seemingly non-stop. But on the other hand, I had to give myself some credit for being able talk off the cuff like that. Watching and listening a couple of times, I was slightly reassured to find that the words I’d spoken then were more or less what I’d say now, nearly a year later, (especially my final comment in the second section, on advice to other writers).
Although I’ve seen myself in action on a screen a few times, I don’t think I’ll ever get over the weird sensation of seeing myself in action, and what I must look like to others. Fortunately, I don’t give that a moment’s thought in everyday life! I was impressed by the clarity and calmness of the other five speakers – I wonder if any of them have had similar feelings.
I was pleased to see a pleasant man I’d had a conversation with, the evening before. He’d told me a little about his published book and it sounded very entertaining, but I’d forgotten all about him and his writing till I saw him on the video, so I was pleased to hear the title of his book, ‘Vet in Prospect’ and was able to find it on Amazon. I was delighted to hear that he’d landed a three-book deal as a result of attending the conference.
As you can see from the start of the video, he is not the only writer who has owed his success to this Conference over the last 30 years. I would heartily recommend this event to anyone who is serious about their own writing. There’s always a wealth of useful and encouraging information. Above all, it’s great fun!
For some reason, my blogging brain staged a shut down after my latest post on October third, and here I am now on 5th November, wondering, to the sound of exploding gunpowder, if some part of that missing month is hiding in my attic.
I blame the accumulation of clutter in our house over the last two decades. I could stand it no longer and embarked on a frenzied clearout that could not be completed methodically, step by step. What was done in room A, would affect Room B, and room C had to be half emptied, to make space for refugee pieces of essential items that were banished from room D . And so on, from mild untidiness to chaos, then utter chaos and eventually, after several trips to charity shops and the municipal tip, to soothing order.
Phew! I was able to draw breath, and after producing a couple of passable poems to ease my creative famine, I turned to my neglected blog and started browsing some of the headlines on my daily updates from the on-line Bookseller. Poetry and clearouts were combined several months ago here in the post
Last week I received an email from one of my favourite bloggers, Litlove of ‘Tales from the Reading Room’,
asking if I would take part in an on-line interview with her. Coincidentally, publishing was the topic. Litlove was interested in my own venture into publishing, Novel Press. Though probably it wasn’t such a coincidence, since Litlove feels that small publishers and publishing cooperatives are going to be important in the years ahead. She is not the only blogger to be investigating publishing trends, as you can see from this post.
I was pleased to spend time in looking back on my experience of being published and becoming a publisher. All sorts of half-forgotten details came to the fore, and now I can see more clearly what a challenge it has been – and, in spite of some frustrating moments, how satisfying I have found the whole venture.
Thank you, LitLove, for asking me in the first place, and also for tidying up my rather rambling answers to your stimulating questions!
This hasn’t been the only interview I’ve taken part in this week. I’ll wait till my next post before I tell you about Tuesday afternoon, when a small BBC team brought their own clutter of lights, tripod, camera, monitor and numerous trailing wires into my own little writing room. Very exciting, even though the focus wasn’t really on me and my writing.
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?
So what’s the connection between Rhubarb Crumble and getting published? The first clue is: The Custard Factory. I guess that won’t help much unless you’re familiar with Birmingham’s revolutionary new arts and media quarter, opposite the Coach Station in Digbeth.
For me, the relevance of that former factory building, is the fact that it’s the home of Radio Rhubarb – of which the jewel in its crown is The Crumble, a weekly broadcast presented by the multi-talented Jan Watts
I was delighted when she invited me to be interviewed on The Crumble. She’d already emailed me the link to her programme so I knew she’s a highly competent and enthusiastic presenter.
The last time I visited the Custard Factory was several years ago (It was when I handed over the complete manuscript of The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society to Luke Brown of Tindall Street Press – although they eventually rejected that novel, it was through them, in a roundabout way, that I found a different publisher.
Yesterday, as I approached the entrance to the Custard Factory, the narrow street seemed even more colourful than before, and I don’t remember ever having seen this amazing sculpture of a giant Green Man. (You can get an impression of the scale from the man at the bottom of this picture, on the left of the green wall.)
Here’s Jan in the studio (affectionately called The Fish Bowl – as you can see from the photo above) with Kip, the calm and very efficient producer.
After an amusing pre-recorded poem about Ants (or Aunts), I was fascinated to hear Steve Ball,
Associate Director (Learning & Participation) of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, talking to Jan about his work, which he describes as “the best job in Birmingham” and he made it sound as though that could be true.
You can listen to Steve and the rest of hour-long programme by following the link. If you can’t spare a whole hour, you can click the right-hand arrow below the bar, until the orange strip is about an inch along (just above the ‘r’ in ‘player’ in the sentence: ‘Open in popout player’.) Here,
you can listen to me reading an extract from The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society. After that, Jan asks me about getting published that first time, and what happened with my next book, Paper Lanterns. I mentioned the cache of real-life love letters
(see the Sunday Mercury article)
and I read the heart-breaking letter from the young Chinese woman. You can also hear me reading the prologue to Paper Lanterns, which is set in Sutton Coldfield in 1971. This is one of the three significant periods in the novel.
You can read an extract from the middle section of the book, in which I’ve used these letters to invent a whole new storyline, in the on-line magazine, Cairns Media.
If you’d like to read the first extract published by the same on-line magazine, you can see it here.
One of the benefits of writing a book, and better still, of getting published, is the way it opens doors to lots of other writerly activities, such as giving talks, running workshops, and attending Literary Festivals as a performer, as well as being a member of the audience. Another enjoyable aspect of being a writer (with or without being published) is making friends with other writers.
Last Thursday I was able to combine a visit to my writing friend, Crysse Morrison, with an opportunity to be one of eight castaways in an event listed in the Frome Festival Programme as Desert Island Reads. Crysse herself had to step in at the last minute to take the place of a performer who was unable to attend. You can read more about the event on her blog.
I’d left my own camera in her house so thanks are due to Crysse’s camera and to Wendy, one of the festival organisers, who took this picture, which features, from left to right:
Me, Kevan Manwaring,Keely Beresford,
Crysse, David Johnson, Philip de Glanville and Adrian Tinniswood
Desert Island Reads was described as “eight local celebrities share a favourite literary extract and tell us why they chose it.” I felt a bit of a fraud as I was neither “local”, not a “celebrity” but no one seemed to notice. When Crysse had first invited me to take part, I’d thought about including some real-life letters, because of the role that real-life letters had played in my novel Paper Lanterns, but it was proving quite difficult to find something that not only had inspired me in the past, but still lived up to the memories of it.
After searching my bookshelves I found an edition of the letters and poems of John Keats and was relieved to find that the he could still work his magic on me. I’ll quote some of the extracts that I read in a future post. Take a look at the on-line programme for the ten-day Festival and you’ll be amazed by the wide variety of all the events.
Crysse was heavily involved in the organisation of several events, but she’d booked tickets for us both so that she could relax with me for the evening at ‘Cabaret Sans Frontiers’, a totally surreal and highly entertaining event –
and here I quote from her own blog: “the eccentric energy of Cabaret sans Frontieres, this year offering its macabre and madcap medley from a ship bound for ‘the edge of the edge of possibilities, and beyond.’ “
Here are a few more photos of the music
and strange exhibits that we were encouraged to inspect during the interval, such as this ’spider’ appearing to rest on the top of a cabinet, to whom I offered a sip of my white wine spritzer.
The next morning, before I set off for Sussex to visit my mother for the weekend, Crysse insisted on taking me to an amazing exhibition featuring the intricate, imaginative, and brilliantly bizarre constructions and sketches of Ralph Steadman.
If you’re anywhere near Frome, make sure you take a look.
There were no signs anywhere asking people not to take photos of the exhibits, so I’m hoping that no one will object to these.
On my return from Sussex
I was greeted by the sight of multiple copies of The Birmingham Sunday Mercury that Gardening Husband had bought for me to use as marketing material for my novel, Paper Lanterns.
I’d been told that it would be published today, and I was delighted with the double page spread, giving the story of the cache of real life letters that inspired the middle section of the book.
Here’s a photo of the man on the receiving end of the love letters from two different women,
and here’s the young Chinese girl, with a small selection of the letters behind her. It’s fascinating stuff, and anyone who’s read the book is likely to enjoy seeing the originals of the letters that I have adapted for the novel.
Following on from my post last week (About the most welcome phone call of my life),
when Nikki Read from Transita said, ‘We would like to publish your book.’ here’s what came after the magical words, ‘But our marketing person feels that the title will have to be changed.’
This was a surprise, because so many of the rejecting agents and publishers had been intrigued by the unusual title: The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society. But at that moment I was floating on cloud nine, and the loss of my treasured title seemed a very small price to pay for publication. I soon learned that it was Transita’s Editor, Marina Oliver, who had felt that some people might be put off by the word Euthanasia. She might well have been right, but now, over four years later, I still believe that more people were attracted by it than the reverse.
After my feet had eventually settled on solid ground once more, I attempted to find a suitable alternative title, but anything I managed to think of seemed very weak in comparison, and I became more determined to keep to the original title. I gathered a selection of agents’ and publishers’ favourable comments on the name, including one from Sara Maitland of The Literary Consultancy, and Nikki and her publishing partner, Giles Lewis, were persuaded to keep it. ( I got the impression that they were almost as pleased as I was to have received what turned out to be compelling evidence in favour of The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society!
I’ll write in more detail soon about my experience of the various stages between that phone call on 19th February 2005 and the publication date in October of the same year – I’d thought that it would take at least a whole year, (maybe even two years) , but Nikki and Giles weren’t the types to stand around while the grass grew up around their feet.
That April, they brought out their first four novels, and over the following months, they kept up the comet-like pace of publication. They’d already gained their expertise from their other publishing venture: Howto Books, and I’m glad to see that this is still flourishing, in spite of the sad demise of Transita after the publication of thirty two novels in the eighteen months or so of its short life.
But I’m running ahead of myself. I haven’t yet come to the launch of my book – probably the best evening of my life!