Morgen’s day at Get Writing 2015

Get writing - registrationUp to this year, the one-day writing event that is ‘Get Writing’ took place in Hitchin, Hertfordshire in April, but this year moved to Watford’s West Herts College and was last Saturday, 26th September. Here’s how I found the event. Please forgive the ‘reportage’ feel but many of the events were panels so there was lots of back and forth. Anyway, I hope you enjoy…

The day started with an introduction by one of the Verulam Writing Group’s member, Ian, who explained the plan for the day, and the rooms where the separate events were taking place. It was the first time Get Writing (GW) was held at Watford’s West Herts College so it was new to me as it was for everyone else, although the programme for the day was very similar to previous years.

A few of us stayed in the main hall for the agent panel where the panelists (Francesca Best, Lisa Eveleigh, Lucy Malagoni) were introduced then talked about the genres and the authors they handle. Only Lisa welcomes unsolicited manuscripts. Francesca and Lucy only take submissions via agents which is where being able to pitch to them at an event like this is such a fantastic opportunity.

Get writing - agent panelThe first conversation was about cross genres and they discussed where The Time Traveller’s Wife fitted, with them saying that it was romance, sci-fi, paranormal etc. A member of the audience then asked how far away they were from their comfort zone. They either cover more than one or pass to a colleague.

Q: How does a writer approach an agent?

A: Go to the agent’s website and follow the guidelines. This was reiterated by the moderator and Chair of the VWG, Dave. Lisa said how annoying it was to receive non-genres, first drafts etc. when her guidelines are very specific.

Q: Francesca and Lucy were asked whether they only work with certain agents.

A: They said that it would be foolish of them to limit when the market is changing so often. Lisa added that as well as their own submissions, publishing agents also get asked to read some of their colleagues’ submissions where they want second opinions. Francesca then talked about the other people in the organisation including marketing department and how commissioning meetings can make or break the progress of a book.

Q: One member of the audience (a chap called Peter) said how difficult the process was to get published (his popular science book is coming out next year with an independent press).

A: Lisa said that she doesn’t have the expertise in that area but congratulated him for his perseverence.

Q: Are there more opportunities with digital firsts (where the digital version is published first or only) than with mixed format publishers?

A: There are authors who would love to see their book in paperback but the reality is that the emphasis with some publishers is on eBooks.

Q: I then raised the topic of authors writing different genres and pennames.

A: They all recommended sticking with mainstream genres and one name.

The panel’s advice was to persevere. Regardless of who rejects you, keep going. Don’t send out a first draft. Lucy’s never written a novel and admires those who have and doesn’t think she could. She agreed to keep going and read a lot. Join a writing group, get group feedback etc.

Q: Lucy was then asked whether she has people who keep submitting to you with different things each time.

A: She wasn’t aware of anyone and said she may not remember unless they stood out.

Q: Are books touted as being the next JK Rowling etc.?

A: Lucy said that some books are promoted like that but more for the benefit of the reader as they will like similar books to those they have read already.

Q: A lady in the audience is writing a business model book and asked whether an agent would be interested.

A: Lisa said she doesn’t cover business books and that most agents wouldn’t. She recommended the author go straight to business publishers.

Q: What do you think about post-graduate courses?

A: Lisa wants more non-fiction and memoir at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and doing an MA.

Keep writing.

*

After a break, I went back into the performance theatre for the Crime panel with M R Hall, William Ryan, Claire McGowan, and Helen Giltrow. After being introduced by VWC member Ian, the authors, starting with M R (Matthew) Hall, talked about their working methods.

Get WritingMatthew said that he can’t understand authors who don’t plan, or say they don’t plan. He is a meticulous planner but then he has a TV script background so he has to plan for that in advance. Claire that she doesn’t plan. She gets an idea but pretends that she doesn’t do it. She writes the first 30,000 to 40,000 words longhand which she said is secret from everyone, almost herself. Not knowing what happens thereafter excites her and she enjoys it so much.

William admits to being a pantser but is now writing something other than crime and although he did some planning, the novel ended up being quite different to the plan so he clearly is a planner.

Helen is also a planner but says there is more flexibility with a thriller. She can plan but says when she does she plans rubbish, just a plan, not a book. She likes being surprised when she writes freely. The characters don’t take over for her, or at least they don’t go off in directions she doesn’t expect, which surprised me because mine do.

Matthew has been told by his agent / publisher that the latest novel’s (a non-crime historical set in which does have some crime in it) synopsis didn’t reflect the book he ended up writing. Claire said she keeps her synopsis vague so she doesn’t have to stick exactly to a story that could go elsewhere.

Q: A lady in the audience said that she has written a book where a friend reading it felt she gave the plot in the first chapter by having the end then going back to how they had come to that (one character goes from rags to riches, another from riches to rags).

A: William mentioned William Holden’s Sunset Boulevard where there was a reveal but then the rest of the story lead to that point. Helen recommended you give more of a hint at the ending without giving the ending away, or better still imply a reveal but then deliver a punchier plot.

Q: Heard that you need a body in the first five pages.

A: William said that you don’t need a body but you have to grip the reader in any way, pulling in the reader, giving them clues etc. so they think, “Oh I wonder what that’s all about.” Claire agreed and said that you need a sinister tone with a growing tension.

Helen said it was the sense of foreboding. If you can get them to turn the page to find out what happens next. By refusing to give the reader something it’s a different way of keeping the reader gripped. No book should have too much backstory.

Matthew said new writers should be conventional (or cautious about going too off piste) if they’re submitting to an agent or publisher until you’re more established and can take risks (perhaps why I have received the feedback I have on my comic crime).

Claire concluded there could be evidence of a body (blood or signs of a struggle) or no body. Because of the Kindle, authors have less time to grip.

William said you can start a chapter with description but it has to have a purpose and has to grip. His first novel is violent and the character had an unusual reason why he would be doing it. Agents want to know that you can write and that you have a strong story to tell. He says he rewrote the first chapter sixty or seventy times.

They then talked about chapter endings and Helen said that her editor chopped off some of her final sentences, saying that she (Helen) had added extra sentences when they weren’t needed. She then asked the panel whether the hardest part of a novel is the middle and how they write their middles.

William suggested that Matthew was the expert of middles. Matthew said it depends on what kind of story you are writing. Mysteries and crime you are exploring your characters (sometimes unexpected things).

William said you are trying to uncover bit by bit and said some novels have revealed too much in too short a time. Create pressure, send the main character in different directions.

Claire said that she has seven people die in her latest novel so she had plenty of content.

Matthew said that thrillers are written on a deadline where they’re stopping something terrible happening so it heightens the pace which with a cat and mouse plot is easier to keep going.

William said crime novels tend to have an ordinary person under pressure trying to solve the crime.

Q: Helen asked her other panellists whether they know where their characters are going throughout their series.

William, who doesn’t plan, but he writes historical fiction

Q: A member of the audience asked the panel whether they feel they are genre writers.

William said that genre fiction has rules within their own genres e.g. no bombs in a romance etc. So writers need to know their genre and (sort of) stick to it, with elements of other genres. (Bond has romance elements after all).

Q: I asked the panel what they thought of crime novels from the criminal point of view rather than a detective etc.

A: Helen said she writes from the criminal’s point of view.

Matthew mentioned Braking Bad and the Sopranos. I mentioned Dexter.

Williams said they have to have redeeming features. He’s reading The Hitman’s Guide to Housekeeping.

*

Get writing - tvNext up was the ‘From Script to Production Across the Dramatic Media – TV, Radio and Theatre’ with Jeff Povey and Peter Leslie Wild.

Q: How to get a science script published?

A: Both members of the panel said that they only work with fiction.

Q: What is the main difference between writing a script and writing a novel?

A: Jeff said that there are limitations for writing TV and film script because it has to be feasibly portrayed and they always have a budget.

Peter added that you can do anything you like for radio because the setting can be anywhere. Another limitation with TV and radio is the amount of settings and actors the budget and timings will allow.

Peter then talked about the process once you’ve sold your story. You go through a scene-by-scene synopsis. Generally there are four or five drafts before it’s complete. It should work if the writer is good at dialogue.

Jeff said you get more help because you have a script editor and others when involved in collaborative ventures. A writer should think of themselves as part of a team. Some teams meets once a month (Eastenders and Emmerdale). Some soaps will have one new story of the day but with other threads going on.

Peter said a writer has no control over where the story is going once everyone else is involved but it’s very much a collaborative effort.

Jeff said new writers to TV shouldn’t write for Eastenders, Holby City etc. because they should have their own voice. Peter said you could write for Doctors as it consumes writers. In order to write one, the best way is through the Shadow Scheme but not through writing for Doctors but by submitting their own dramatic script and some from the scheme get commissioned to write for Doctors.

Q: Jeff works on several TV series simultaneously and was asked how he keeps track of all the characters.

A: He said he gets bored easily. Peter said if he listens to the Archers he knows who has written the piece within a few lines.

They both said that some great novelists can’t write script so if you write prose, you may not be able to write script.

Q: If an actor said, “Oh but the character wouldn’t do that,” would they get the script changed?

A: Jeff wrote Phil Mitchell ironing but the actor playing him said “Phil don’t iron” so Jeff changed it.

Peter added that he loves it when an actor approaches him because it means that they are invested in it.

The discussion then turned to the minor characters (someone mentioned Tracey and Ron in Eastenders).

Q: How does the rule for good writing and writing a script format marry?

A: Peter said it is in the storytelling. If there are established characters, they need to stay within that character unless there’s a valid reason why they are doing something out of character. Re. the story of the day – it shouldn’t be obvious as a story of the day as its lead by a regular character, He told us about an episode of Doctors where a down syndrome teenagers mother and sole carer became seriously ill and it was how the existing doctors would deal with that storyline.

*

Get writing - marketingI then went into Debbie Young’s marketing talk but only for a few minutes because I then had an agent pitch session…

Debbie suggested to go whichever route suits you e.g. marketing etc. One of the other attendees has turned a poem into a novel. She does inspirational talks etc. and was very vocal about herself and her writing, and Debbie said that not all writers are confident about marketing themselves. She suggested you think about…

– What would people find fascinating about you?

– Marketing should start at home e.g. local events, library talks etc.

– Is your book the best it can be? You’ve put your heart and soul into it.

I then had to go to the agent pitching and was due to come back within a few minutes but I got the chance to speak to a publisher’s editor so I took it. They were very complimentary about my novel (a comic crime) but said that it was too niche a subject, although the agent did take my cover (query) letter, synopsis and extract to read so hopefully I’ll hear with feedback. I have other novels that I’m thinking of self-publishing so I may consider doing the same with that. We shall see. I may well submit it to other agents once I’ve heard back from the one I saw.

When I returned to the marketing talk, Deborah was asking for questions and I asked if she could sum up the last half an hour in a sentence (an impossible ask). She laughed and said that an author should have an active online presence (which I have) and wound up the session.

*

Get writing cupThe final event of the day was the announcement of the Get Writing Cup for the winners of the short story competition, after a discussion about why people entered and why anyone attending didn’t enter, and what writers look for in a competition.

It sounded like they hadn’t had very many entries but there are many competitions on so more… er, competition! A £50 top prize isn’t much for a £6 fee (for example the H.E. Bates comp offers £500 for the same fee!) but the Get Writing competition is only open to those attending and there weren’t as many people attending this year (or at least it seemed to me) so that won’t have helped.

Get writing - JoyAll in all, as I expected it to be having been to every single Get Writing going, a lovely day. For the first time, I was joined by friend, Joy (also one of my editing clients) who had never been to a writing event before and by all accounts had a wonderful time.

***

Morgen Bailey Cover montage 2

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Short Story Saturday 010: Sexy Shorts charity anthologies

Welcome to the Short Story Saturday review slot and the tenth review in this series. This week’s is of the Sexy Shorts charity anthologies by Accent Press.

Anyone who knows me or has been following this blog will know how much I love my short stories and none more so than funny ones (and dark ones) and the Sexy Shorts series are just my thing. Although the stories are predominantly written by women (and quite probably for women), Robert Barnard, Bill Harris and David Wass to name three of the male contributors, they have something for everyone. Each book is themed and I have…

  • Sexy Shorts for Summer: including stories by Cathy Kelly, Fiona Walker, Adele Parks, Carole Matthews, Jane Wenham Jones, Lynne Barrett-Lee and over thirty others. One of my favourites (and not because she’s a prospective interviewee but probably because it’s about two writers :)) is short story author, novelist and writing guru Della Galton’s story ‘Waiting’. As you would expect these stories are written with a summer theme but in most cases this is just timing and with titles such as Julie Cohen’s ‘Whipped Cream Dreams’ (I’ll never see Sainsbury’s and stationery binders in the same light :)) and Sara Sheridan’s ‘HP Sauce’ just make sure you’ve eaten before you start reading them. Julie Cohen did a talk last weekend, by the way, at the Chipping Norton Literature Festival, on writing sex scenes – it was fantastic! 🙂
  • Staying on the topic of food is the Sexy Shorts for Chef collection, foreworded by Anthony Worrall Thompson. As you would expect they revolve around food but are so varied that you get caught up with the story not the theme. Top names such as Adele Parks, Sophie King and Veronica Henry mix with lesser known authors and that’s what I love about these collections, even if you think you know an author’s writing, there are still pleasant surprises in store… occasionally perhaps where a novelist is outside their comfort zone (although this is not a bad thing).
  • Jane, Katie Fforde and Sue Moorcroft appear amongst many others (including better-known-for-her-crime-writing Lesley Cookman) in Sexy Shorts for Christmas and although you would expect all the stories in this collection to be Christmas-themed (and best read at that time of year) surprisingly they’re not; Jane’s (hilarious Carla’s Gift) and Lesley’s (Wedding Day) being two of the exceptions and like the others in the series they’re so varied that they needn’t be themed at all.
  • Sexy Shorts for the Beach is another light read and as ‘Woman’ magazine put it, “A fine collection of heart-warming stories”. Of course there are levels of heart-warming but suffice to say they all have a degree of ‘sexy’. Regular short story authors in this collection include Jan Jones, Linda Mitchelmore and Sally Quilford.

With each story averaging less than 10 pages they’re perfect for a coffee (or my case, tea) break. Whatever your taste in short story, there’s something for everyone here and with a contribution from every new copy sold going to Cancer Research, even if the book sits on your shelf you’ll have had a warm glow from knowing you did your good deed for the day… or in my case four of them. 🙂

If you’d like to submit your story (50 to 2,500 words) for review take a look here.

Mystery / suspense author and interviewee Patricia Gligor’s spotlight follows shortly then the blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with short story author, article writer and 30-day challengee Christopher Starr – the three hundred and fifty-forth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords, Sony Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, iTunes Bookstore and Kobo. My eBooks are also now on Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum and you can follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Transcription of BWT podcast: Oundle Lit Fest (March 2011) – Day 2 of 5

The eighteenth special episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 9th May 2011 and featured the second day of five as a volunteer at Oundle Literature Festival here in Northamptonshire, England. The content has never been released other than website links (on my website http://www.morgenbailey.com).

Thursday 17th March: Sarah McIntyre, Children’s Illustrator & author

Introduced by Committee Member Leigh Giurlando, she explained that Sarah’s London studio, based in London, was a former police station which Sarah renamed The Fleece Station after her love of drawing sheep. Sarah initially talked about her children’s book ‘You can’t eat a princess’, featuring Princess Spaghetti, which she read out to the wonderfully enthusiastic audience of Years R, 1 and 2 (5-7 year olds) alongside projected stills of the book. Every few seconds she’d ask the audience questions and each time dozens of hands went up in the air. Looking around the room, all eyes were on Sarah in her colourful pink dress, furry bolero and jewelled headdress, especially captivated when she imitated voices of the characters including aliens, monsters, Princess Spaghetti and her father King Cupcake.

Sarah explained that she has been drawing since she was a toddler and professionally since she was the same age as the children she was speaking to, carting the pictures around her neighbourhood selling some for 10c. Other slides included early sketches of Princess Spaghetti and her father (which looked nothing like the finished characters). The rear inside cover of the book has about a dozen of nameless aliens so the next few minutes were spent with the children naming them with suggestions including Giggly, Jemima Cupcake, Greedy and Mr Five Eyes.

Sarah then drew an alien on a flip chart starting with a basic semi-circular body shape and three feet, each with three toes. Next she asked for a number of eyes and ended up with nine; one close to the body and eight on long stalks. With help from the children, she gave it a huge open mouth with five triangular teeth then added long lashes to the eyes. Giving it fish breath (delightfully depicted by a curly line with a fish at the end of it) and then seven arms, one holding his favourite food: poo ice cream. A long stripy curled up nose then followed just before another arm held a pen flavoured hot dog, topped by delicious blue mud. He was then given seven spiked hairy ears, pink pointy punky hair and a large pink moustache. Finally two of the children added some facial hair and suggestions from the children lead him to being named ‘Silly Bogey Rudra’. A poo tree was then added to the picture.

Pencils and pre-printed sheets with the original body shape were then distributed to each child who took to drawing their own alien with help from their teachers the festival volunteers. I was on pencil duty until everyone had them so I joined in providing limb suggestions.

Sarah then moved on to drawing a spaceship which she did again with initial suggestions from the children, allowing time for the children to draw their own on the reverse of their sheets while she continued hers.

Mentioned briefly at the start, Sarah’s other books include ‘Morris and the Mankiest Monster’ and ‘Vern and Lettuce’, and all three were available for sale at the Oundle Bookshop stand.

Once the spaceships were drawn, it was time for a Q&A session:

She was first asked whether she enjoys drawing, to which she asked the children whether they had enjoyed drawing your ship? (a resounding yes) and replied “Well, that’s the fun I have all day”. Next Sarah was asked whether she draws flowers and she showed us a mouldy flower she’d drawn in one of her books. She was then asked what it’s like to be an author? She said, “it’s really fun – I get to go places like this and I get to work with other authors, she then mentioned that one of her friends draws for the Beano but then said that sometimes it’s hard work.

To the question of what her drawings look like, Sarah explained that the initial drawings often look quite different to the finished version, as we had seen earlier with the Princess and King pictures. She was asked how much did she have to pay?

First of all I had to pay for printing, ink etc but then when you get successful people pay you. The final question was ‘How do you make the front cover?’ to which Sarah explained that she sometimes has to paint (ink and watercolour) the cover two or three times, although she said the ‘You can’t eat a princess’ book was right first time.

After the book-signing the children were then escorted back to their coaches and I was incredibly impressed at how organised they were, walking hand-in-hand, in pairs, out of the Great Hall in small, but uniformed, regiments.

Thursday 17th March: Literature quiz

I arrived back at the Great Hall after spending three hours wandering around the town (including a trip to Oxfam where I bought a notebook and DVD) and found that the hall was filled with tables in preparation for the evening’s literature quiz. Events Manager & Committee Member Simon Price, some of the other volunteers, and I then covered them with tablecloths while Community Events & Committee Member Paula Prince covered the main top table with a variety of wrapping paper, shoe boxes and other oddities. With a few minutes to spare before people arrived for the quiz, I was able to chat to Paula which was recorded as the first half of special episode no. 12, released on 22nd March.

As I was there in the capacity of paying member of the public, Paula wouldn’t let me in on any of the secrets (rightly so) and I’m glad she didn’t as not knowing made it all the more hilarious when she gave us the instruction to make her a present and wrap it in the shoe boxes. Two of my team mates were artists so made her a fantastic pair of biscuit and wool earrings, beautifully wrapped in a bowed box. In between the tasks we had rounds of questions on a variety of themes, during one of which we could play a joker. We decided to play it on the children’s round which turned out to be our strongest and I learned the next day that although we’d not won (the team who had, had won the previous year) we had in fact come second.

So, that’s what happened on day 2 out of 5 – links to the transcriptions of the other days will put listed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/bwt-podcast when they’re posted.

Bailey’s Writing Tips – Special ep 014 (Oxford Lit Fest review pt2)

Episode 14 of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was made available last night: part 2 of my day (Saturday 2nd April) spent at Oxford Literature Festival – links on my website (http:\\morgenbailey.com) and via the ‘Where to find me’ menu of this blog (https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com).

Part 1 (special ep 013) talked about the first session (of three) of the day: a panel discussion about ‘voice’ with poets Patience Agbabi and Kate Clanchy, and children’s author Philip Pullman, chaired by author James Hawes.

Part 2 covered the lunchtime panel session (Michael Rosen, Louise Rennison, Nicolette Jones), a Highland Park whiskey-sponsored author talk with Stephen Clarke then a discussion between 2010 BBC National Short Story winner David Constantine & poet/novelist Jem Poster.

The next podcast episode will feature my chat with crime novelist Lesley Cookman (http://www.lesleycookman.co.uk) and in the not too distant future Jack Martin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Martin_%28entertainer%29) will be talking about his crime books (our discussion about his westerns was recorded as special ep 006) and sneaking in somewhere will be the belated ‘my five days as a volunteer at Oundle Lit Fest’… probably in three or four instalments…

All good stuff.