Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Residential Courses

I just wanted to bring to your attention a couple of residential writing courses coming up at the Perpigne Activities Centre in the South of France, being run by some good friends and excellent tutors.

Lorraine Mace is a columnist for Writing Magazine, freelance writer, competition judge and creative writing tutor (at the Writers Bureau) and will be running a course entitled, Writing for Magazines. During the week - from September 24th to October 1st - there’ll also be the opportunity to have a one-to-one tutorial to gain individual help and advice on all aspects of writing. 

A few weeks earlier, July 26th to August 2nd, Iain Pattison, who has tutored for the Writers Bureau and is the author of Cracking the Short Story Market, will be running a course on - you've guessed it - writing short stories. 

For further details of Lorraine's course visit:

whilst more details about Iain's course can be found here:

Monday, 28 March 2011

Festival Fallout

I'm writing this post whilst I'm still awake (and scheduling it to appear at its usual time) because if I go to sleep now, without having written it, I'm not sure when I shall wake up. I've spent the last three days at the Festival of Writing in York and these events are informative, amazing opportunities, great fun and blooming knackering! You don't realise how far you walk at these events, between workshops, talks, lectures and meals! (I took over 10,000 footsteps on Saturday!)

I'll be reveal more about the advice given at these various workshops over the coming weeks, but I thought I'd offer you a taster here, now, whilst much of it is still fresh in my head. (It's going to take a while to go through all of my notes!)

In the picture on the left, on stage are Carole Blake, one of this country's most important and influential literary agents (she is the agent for Barbara Erskine, and has been for the past 32 years), and Patrick Janson-Smith, a publisher, who spent around 25 years in charge of the Transworld imprint, part of Random House. (Patrick published and helped launch the careers of some authors you may have heard of: Terry Pratchett, Bill Bryson, Andy McNab).

Both expressed the importance of writing the best book that you can write. And when you've written it, edit it hard to ensure that it is as polished as it can be? Why? Because not only are you competing with all of those other new, wannabe writers, but you are also competing with the big, already established, authors too.

British books actually sell well in Germany, France, and Italy, in fact one of Carole's clients sells tens of thousands of copies of her books in the UK, but hundreds of thousands of copies in Germany. (If you've ever wondered, it is the foreign publisher who pays to provide a 'full and fair' translation of the text.)

Patrick explained that authors are now expected to be 'performance artists'. That doesn't mean to say that you have to appear on television quiz show panels, or literature festivals, (although many will be pleased if you do) but blogging, tweeting and social networking is becoming vital for authors. Carole then interjected to say that because of this, agents were now pushing for changes in contracts. A full time novelist, for example, may be previously have been expected to produce a novel every 12 months. But with all of this extra promotional (or performing) activities, agents are trying to get this treadmill extended to a novel every 18 months. Authors are finding it increasingly difficult to find the time to write the novels, because of the constant promotional work now required!

E-books were mentioned many times. In America, e-books account for 50% of total sales for some titles. E-books are coming and there's no escaping them.

This panel discussion here included: Donna Condon, editor at Piatkus Books, Beverley Birch, editor at Hodder Children's Books, Hannah Westland, agent at Rogers, Coleridge and White, Piers Blofeld, agent at Sheil Land, and Jonathan Telfer, editor of Writers News / Writing magazine.

They discussed the benefits and drawbacks of E-books, stating that most saw E-books were seen as an opportunity. They believed that E-books meant that more authors would be bought, tried and tested, which could lead to more books being sold overall (both print and in electronic format). However, they also warned against authors uploading their own text onto platforms such as Amazon and offering it for free, or cheaply, for less than £1. This, they said, undermines the e-book market, which not only affects traditional authors, but ultimately all authors, including those uploading their texts online. Both agents and publishers are against devaluing an authors work. Now, many people will disagree with that and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it may be something you want to bear in mind, if you're toying with the idea of 'whacking' your text onto the Internet to see if it gains any interest from the public before approaching an agent or a publisher. Their message was, "don't."

Want to be demoralised? Agents take on, roughly, one new author for every one thousand manuscripts they read.
It's common for festivals to offer 'goodie bags' and the York Festival was no different. Here are the two hardback books and five paperback books that were in my goodie bag. I have plenty of reading for the next few months!

I had an opportunity to discuss my novel with a London agent, and a 'book doctor' (editor) which I found immensely useful. These ten-minute one-to-one chats with these experts are nerve-wracking. Some writers received positive comments, whilst others had their dreams dashed. It can be emotional in many ways, going to an event like this. And of course, it's an opportunity to meet lots of other writers and make new friends. It does mean that the nights are late (which doesn't help when the event takes place over the weekend when the clocks go forward for British Summer Time).

Any networking opportunity can help your writing dreams. And over the next few days, many of the agents here will be receiving letters from festival attendees beginning with phrase, "It was great to meet you at the Festival of Writing at York last weekend. As promised, pleased find enclosed the first three chapters and synopsis of my novel ..."

These events are an investment in your writing career.

Good luck.

Monday, 21 March 2011

A Sense of Place

So, if you ever wonder what people get up to at a writers' circle, then the picture here should be quite revealing! Actually, the group's Vice Chair, Julie Phillips, produced an interesting workshop at our meeting on Saturday. Having worked with children at her daughter's school, she'd been inspired by the amount of creativity the children exhibited during play, so to inspire some creativity in us adults, she brought along a range of toys to play with!

Some played Twister, whilst others reacquainted themselves with Lego, and Play-doh (I'm particularly proud of my palm trees in this image) and we had a great laugh. When the time to stop playing arrived, we behaved like 5-year-olds and cried, "Oh miss!" and some even progressed into a full blown tantrum. But eventually, we returned to our desks and began writing.

When it was time to discuss the exercise, one key word kept cropping up - senses. The aroma of the Play-doh sparked off many memories, as did the feel of the lego bricks and the sound of squealing and laughter with many of the board games. Julie had even rigged up a few boxes containing some unusual textures for us to feel and guess. (The Strawberry Jelly produced the most squeals.)

Our senses are important to our writing, and if ever you find it difficult getting started with your writing, then the following exercise may prove useful:

Exercise 1
Write a paragraph describing your favourite place (a holiday venue, a room at home, meeting place) using your sense of sight only.

Exercise 2
Now, write another paragraph or two describing the same favourite place, but this time you can only use your senses of sight, sound, smell and touch.

Read both paragraphs and see which one provides the most powerful description. If you want, you can try merging the two exercises together, to provide a fully-rounded description of your favourite place.

Use more of your senses in your writing and you'll invoke memories of those senses in your readership too. Oh, and don't forget to have some fun from time to time!

Good luck!

Monday, 14 March 2011

A Breathtakingly Stunning Post

As writers, do we always choose the right words? That question crossed my mind yesterday when, in a moment of madness (I have them quite frequently), I found myself gawping at the snow lying in the tops of the Lake District's fells. The moment of madness was not to do with the gawping, but with the snap decision to have a day trip to the Lake District, travelling up from Shropshire.

But there, before me, lay a most stunning scene. As soon as I thought of the word 'stunning', a conversation on the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild forum came to mind. When it comes to describing a view, scene or location, do we think about what we're writing? Take 'stunning' as an example. The verb to stun means to "make somebody dazed or briefly unconscious." Hmmm, so if the scene is stunning the person viewing it will be knocked unconscious, if only briefly. Do scenes actually knock people unconscious?

And then there's 'breathtaking'. If views are breathtaking, the mountain tops of the Lake District should be littered with bodies that have had the breath taken from them.

One forum member discussed his hatred of the word 'nestled'. It always annoyed him to read of towns 'nestling' in their surrounding hills. According to two of my dictionaries, to nestle is to settle down snugly or comfortably. How many towns do you see wandering around their locality and then hoisting up their skirts as they wiggle their bums and nestle into the folds of the surrounding land?

In reality, many of these words have become cliches and our use of them is simple laziness. We can't be bothered to come up with something more original. So, next time you find yourself writing a travel article and want to describe the scene in front of you, just stop and think for a moment. Are the words that spring to mind the most appropriate? Do they mean what you think they mean and are you being lazy with your choice of words?

As for my view, well, all I can say is that it was pulchritudinous ;-)

Good luck!

PS - Sally Quilford's excellent blog, Quiller's Place, is hosting an Anti-Conning Writers' Day on 25th March. She's looking for examples of unscrupulous or dubious 'services' that are offered to writers in order to bring these scams to the attention of writers. For more information, visit the post in question here: http://sallyquilfordblog.co.uk/2011/03/anti-conning-writers-day-friday-25th.html

Monday, 7 March 2011

Focus On Opportunities.

While you're reading this, I shall be battling my way through crowds similar to those in this picture. In fact, I could even be in this picture here, because it was taken at last year's Focus On Imaging Show at the NEC in Birmingham.  (If you think you've spotted me, I should be standing next to a (shorter) bloke with little hair - also known as my Dad.)

Anyway, assuming the drivers of Arriva Trains Wales have done as they've promised and finished their strike action on Sunday night, I should be shuffling my way between stands at Europe's largest photographic trade show. But what has this got to do with writing? The answer is - Opportunities. Trade shows and exhibitions offer a wealth of opportunities, whatever the specialist trade or subject matter.

Firstly, look out for magazines. At the Focus On Imaging Show, many of the photographic magazines will be there. Not the editorial team, but the subscriptions department, looking to sign up new subscribers. What this means though, is that you may come across magazines that you don't see on your local newsagents shelf. That could be because your newsagents simply can't carry a wide range of magazines, or perhaps the magazine is aimed at a specific trade or professional body, and therefore, is not available in the shops.

These subscription stands appreciate that people may not want to take a subscription at the show (although there may be a tempting 'show offer') but what they also do is sell back copies cheaply. I've bought back copies of magazines for £1 at trade shows like this. Whereas the current copy may cost £4, I'll pick up the previous three issue for £3. That's great value for market analysis!

Alternatively, you can often buy the current issue at normal price, useful in itself if the publication isn't available in your local newsagents.

 Of course, these shows are a great place to get to know a target publication's readership! You're standing right next to them!

Publishers sometimes attend these shows - especially niche publishers. It was whilst I was at the Outdoors Show one year, that I came across a stand selling outdoor books. It wasn't a book retailer, but a publisher, and they also had copies of their latest catalogue available, which I took. Flicking through it at home a few days later, I had an idea for a book and after a bit more research, put forward a proposal, which became my fifth book, Best Walks in the Welsh Borders.

It goes without saying that, with so many people at events like this, the opportunities for eavesdropping are great! At last year's show, I overheard one woman say to a gentleman, "Here, yours doesn't extend that far!" They were looking at the equipment on a tripod stand, but I may find use for that in an article or short story one day!

So, next time you go to a trade show with friends or family, enjoy your day out, but keep wearing that writer's hat of yours. You never know what writing opportunities may arise from it!

Good luck!

(PS - if you want to know what I did on the day of World Book Night, visit my new personal blog, on my recently revamped website at http://www.simonwhaley.co.uk/blog/ )