- Go Outside – Kate Mosse told us that settings and places that fascinate her are key to her writing success. Whatever the weather, she stands in her setting, lets her imagination run riot and listens to the voices of those who have passed through the place before her. OK; so you may not be able to stand in exactly the right place, especially if you’re writing Sci Fi, but you get the idea – woodland in the rain, sandy beach in the wind, any stately home, castle or gallery may do and even a car park in hot sunshine. ‘See the vista through their eyes.’ Chris Cleave told us of his characters. As James Marrison suggests; a good walk is soothing when the writing gets tough.
- Take the Kids? – Della Galton admitted that much of her writing is driven by emotion. Children are good at provoking an emotional response in us. Yes, cinemas still have Saturday morning clubs – feel free to get emotional; the kids do. Children also have the ability to overlook the macabre in the most natural way, take weirdness in their stride and come up with the original character names. Children are valuable tickets to ‘hands on’ research and ‘behind the scenes’ glimpses that, for some reason museums don’t hand to adults.
- Have a nice day! – High Fantasy Author James Barclay gave us a master class in world building and battle creation in which ‘Be Realistic’ was his advice, ‘A peasant is most unlikely to defeat an experienced fighter’. Individual guides dotted around historic sites or animal park keepers are only too keen to depart with their knowledge. Don’t be shy about asking them either they spend most of their time with people who don’t need to know and then you come along wanting nothing more than to hear their stories. You may not come away with a file full of research, but you’ll most likely pick up a snippet and definitely a feeling.
- Volunteer – ‘Put yourself in your reader’s shoes.’ said Jude Evans of Little Tiger Press. ‘Know your market.’ The Library’s annual Summer Reading Challenge plunges children’s writers right in the middle of their target market. Volunteers are needed to man the Reading Challenge desk where you will need to quiz the readers. If you don’t come away with a clear idea of the literary needs of your chosen age range then you haven’t been listening to your market.
- Rain stops play? – ‘You’re only really listening to the conversation when you’re not in it’ said Chris Cleave. Clare Morrall told us that dialogue is often underestimated as an aspect of bringing characters to life. ‘Absorb the voices around you and let a hint of the waffle remain for believability’, she advises. So, buy a coffee and nurse it till its cold whilst you listen in on the conversations around you. ‘Carry out your market research.’ said Della Galton. Sit in a waiting room and read the magazines.
I first started to write a novel at the age of thirty-five, which wasn’t clever timing, as I was spending long hours teaching violin and piano, and bringing up my two young daughters on my own. At first, I would put the girls to bed early and write through the evenings. It was good for them, I told myself, a regular routine, a calming-down period before going to sleep. But children soon get wise to these things. Early bedtimes became harder to justify.
Eventually, a friend offered me the use of a room in her house, and I would sneak off for a couple of hours on a Wednesday and the occasional Saturday afternoon when the children went to their father’s. There was no time for procrastination. I had to sit down, turn on the laptop and start writing immediately. This was my only chance and I wasn’t going to waste it. Occasionally I would go to sleep, it’s true – there was a lot going on and I was usually exhausted – but mostly I got on with it.
I would always write something, anything, even when I didn’t feel like it. I made myself continue typing, whatever the results, because I knew that my thoughts would eventually start to flow and sometimes, sometimes, inspiration would take over. I still write like this, forcing myself to produce something in the available time, then going back and rewriting, shaping, moulding like a sculptor.
I’ve been asked to give tips on how to produce a consistent voice. When I wrote After the Bombing, I was very conscious of the need for authenticity, so I spent a great deal of time online, reading first-hand accounts of the bombing in Exeter, absorbing the feel of the language, the phrasing, the expressions, until I had to stop myself and start writing. The future world of When the Floods Came presented another difficulty, how to portray language that was familiar, but also evolving. I decided to invent expressions – catchphrases, new cliches – especially for the younger characters, allowing the words to grow out of existing jargon. But my main advice for convincing dialogue would be to listen. Absorb the voices around you, let a hint of the waffle remain for believability, then cut everything down to the bare bones. Fictional dialogue reflects real conversation, but doesn’t reproduce it exactly. It’s not a good idea to crush your readers with meticulous accuracy. You don’t want them to die of boredom.
My daughters have moved on, both married, so I can write at home again, no longer having to lose the travelling time. Writing a novel is hard work, a formidably long process. But it’s what I do. I write for the satisfaction of creating, for love, not because it will make me rich. In the end, if people want to write, they’ll write anyway and nothing will stop them. Advice is probably unnecessary.
‘You mentioned in your talk (April 2016) that you took inspiration for one of your heroes from an interview with a chap on the radio. You have 65 different heroes; where do you get them from and with that many, how do you ever come up with different appearances for them, surely there can be only one ‘tall, dark and handsome’ hero?’
Your question chimes in well with my overall approach to writing popular ‘category’ romance; one that I always say is the most important consideration when I’m teaching. And that is character. Romance writing has been established so long (since 1908 in the case of Mills and Boon) that it’s very difficult – if not just about impossible – to be really original when writing this mass-market genre. But the thing that keeps me fresh, again and again, is writing about the different characters I create, and telling their stories to the reader. I find myself fascinated by – and perhaps falling a little in love myself – by my hero and heroine, particularly the heroes. That way I can hope to create a fascinating, flawed and exciting man, who will entice his heroine – and my readers along with her. It certainly seems to be that way as my books have been selling, and republished in so many languages for over 30 years now.
A romance novel is the story of the emotional journey of the two central characters from first meeting (or reunion) to the sort of love that will lead to the ‘happy ever after ending the reader is hoping for. Each character is different – some heroes are the fantasy sheikhs that are still popular, such as in my duo of linked books A Question of Honour and Destined for the Desert King some are Spanish or Greek, some artists, some are sportsmen. . . And it is that individuality that, when combined with the heroine’s own personal; story, makes the ‘emotional journey’ different each time.
So – when you ask where I get my heroes from – the answer is that, as with every sort of story writing, ideas can be found anywhere in life. In newspapers, magazines, on the TV – in drama or documentaries. Something will provide a ‘seed’ that can be planted to make me think what would happen if . . .? And to develop a story from there. The man on the radio I heard – in your example the Italian Forced Bride – was telling how he had been a foundling, abandoned by his mother, without ever knowing his parents or family. That sparked my interest and I wondered ‘what if. . .’ that man met a heroine, fathered a child. . . And what would that heroine be like? How would she react to him? Asking those questions gives me my characters’ stories. And because my characters are all different in their ages, nationalities, interests, careers, family backgrounds (that’s what helps keep my interest in writing their stories fresh) then each book/each hero and heroine has its own individual plot, its individual flavour and atmosphere.
The line ‘tall dark and handsome’ is really just a form of shorthand for the type of hero that romance writers create. What it really means is that the hero has to be the man who would most appeal to the heroine when she meets him and begins to fall in love with him. This is the way it should be because, to a woman in love, the hero will be the most attractive man she has seen. But of course heroines come in all shapes and sizes – some are five feet nothing, and some over six feet tall. Obviously, a very different sort of man would be ‘tall’ to either of those. And we will have our favourite sorts of looks that we find appealing. Life would be terribly boring if we all liked the same sort of man. So the reader sees the hero through the eyes of the heroine in the story – and vice versa.
It’s well known that the ‘tall dark and handsome’ is the type of hero who is most popular the world over, but often the heroine might start out thinking that this particular man is not really that appealing. Rochester, after all, is stern-featured, heavy-browed, craggy-faced, rude, abrupt – at the beginning – but he fascinates Jane Eyre and then that fascination grows into something more. Darcy, in Pride and Prejudice is acknowledged to have a ‘fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien’ . . .’till his manners gave a disgust which turned to tide of his popularity.’ But as the novel progresses, the feelings of the heroine(s) change – just as his feelings about her are changing.
I’ve always written these stories by concentrating my focus overall on the characters I’m writing about. So perhaps the answer to your question is really that ‘surely there can be only one ‘tall, dark and handsome’ hero’ . . . for each heroine.
Report by Lisa Nightingale
HWS Member Marion’s collection of spiritual poetry has been published by Sarsen Press, a Winchester printing company offering a book production service.
Marion formed tight bonds with a writing group in Hampshire, but 20 years ago was cornered into returning to full time work as a teacher. Sadly, she gave up writing.
Marion’s poetry uses traditional styles which are not affected by the whirlwind progress of society and recently, she has been able to resurrect her writing. Having heavily edited everything she wrote as she went along and never having severed those contact made in Hampshire 20 years ago, Its Own Place was pretty much ready to go.
Sarsen has printed and proof read Marion’s work, but she has had to do her own marketing. Again contacts have helped here – Winchester Cathedral publicised a performance from Marion although she says ‘She’s not a performance poet!’ The Cathedral was packed to its patchwork glass windows with an audience 2000 in strength.
Marion has a strong on-line presence. But here she writes under a pseudonym. That pseudonym is also a valuable contact as she advertises Marion Bond!
You can tell by talking to Marion that she is incredibly knowledgeable about her craft and cares very much about quality.
Its Own Place is available to buy from Amazon UK
Report by Lisa Nightingale
Brenda is a teacher of Creative Writing and a proud grandmother. For most of the year she teaches and lives in Sri Lanka.
When in England she quickly becomes the object of the centre of entertainment for the grandchildren.
Sri Lanka is where she completes the bulk of her writing
As a teacher, Brenda’s colleagues offer proof-reading and editing services. She says. Marriage, a Journey and a Dog went through sixteen re-writes. Brenda is also privileged to be part of an intimate group of Published Writers in Southampton. ‘As a small group we all trust each other’s criticisms to be constructive.’
The book has been self-published by Brenda using Matador, part of Troubador Publishing Ltd. Brenda reported that she has enjoyed the process. But, with some aspects of the publication process she felt that she had to redo the job herself – if she wanted it done sufficiently.
Marriage, a Journey and a Dog is a Romantic Comedy. Natalie, the main protagonist is a character that many women will be able to identify with. Natalie travels across France and Spain on the hunt for the hospital where her sport-obsessed husband awaits a lift home. On the way, she forms an unexpected affinity with works of art. They become friends, confidents and a housewife’s oracle. And then she returns home; to Eastleigh and predictability. But she is a new woman now. How will she re-adjust?
Book two, a sequel in many ways will be available to you shortly.
Marriage, a Journey and a Dog has been described as a great holiday read, a terrific road trip story with colourful characters. It is available to buy at Amazon.
Report by Lisa Nightingale
Fourteen book sellers lined the Annual Members’ Book Fair finishing off the Hampshire Writers’ Society’s fifth successful season. Keep an eye on this blog for their details.
It’s been an inspirational year! Talks came from High Fantasy Author James Barclay, Crime Writer M J Arlidge, Kate Walker on her Twelve-point Guide to Romance and Children’s Author Steve Voake. In between these we fitted in a short story masterclass with Della Galton. Screenwriter Robin Mukherjee will be returning as an adjudicator in September’s free competition.
Kate Mosse shared her writing secrets in May and in June Clare Morrall joined Chris Cleave who came over all weird!
Our competitions this year have been judged by among others; Author Allie Spencer and Adrienne Dines, Emma Scattergood, Senior Lecturer in School of Journalism, English and Communication at University of Bournemouth and Winchester University’s Creative Writing Degree Programme Leader Glenn Fosbraey.
Our mission is to encourage writers of any style or standard introducing them to Publishing World Professionals. We’ve had talks from Literary Agent Simon Trewin and Little Tiger Press Publisher Jude Evans.
Next season’s programme is all but finalized. Renowned Comics Writer Pat Mills, Historical Romance Writer Adele Parks, Cosy Crime Writer Simon Brett and Women’s Saga Writer Margaret Graham will be joining us. We’ll also talk poetry with Maura Dooley and Maggie Sawkins, short stories with Clare Hey and Radio Programmes with Whistledown’s David Prest.
Report by Lisa Nightingale
‘A novel is an enormous project taking up a vast amount of your thoughts and time.’ says Clare Morrall, Shortlisted Booker Prize writer of When the Floods Came.
Astonishing Splashes of Colour, her first book took five years to complete. Not because the commitment wasn’t there, more because it was. When her children were still young, Clare became a single mother, therefore writing had to fit with her life and her work. She was offered a room in a friend’s house one afternoon a week in which to write. Sometimes this time was lost to her. ‘One thing about using a room in a friend’s house – you know you have to get on!’
Clare’s starting point for each of her novels is something small, unusual and usually not obvious. The starting point for Natural Flights of the Human Mind was a thought that came to her when looking at an advert for a holiday home – What would it be like to live in a lighthouse? This grows into the novel – Why would you choose to live in a lighthouse? Why isolate yourself?
At the start of her writing process, Clare doesn’t know how her story will end. Throughout the project, she continuously is asking questions of it, the answers to which provide the action and ending. Her novel is a growing discovery and the end will not show itself until half way through.
‘We all write from within ourselves’, she says, ‘If you have a story to tell; build a fictional world around it. But beware, it can become obvious when a writer has based their story on themselves’.
A reader needs to be able to identify with their characters. Having sympathy for a character isn’t the same as liking them. A writer needs to ask ‘Why’. No one knows the background to anyone else’s actions. Why does the baddy do what they do?
Dialogue is often underestimated as an aspect of bringing your characters to life. The way the character speaks identifies them. Writers need to be wary of the danger of all their characters sounding the same. When writing After the Bombing, Clare read many war time reports in order to gain an awareness of how people of that era spoke. For When the Floods Came which is set in the future, she studied the history of speech which brought to light the way old sayings resurface over the years.
Plot moves the story along and the narrative arc certainly helps here. However, to over plan can make a writer’s life boring.
Action is also necessary and the trick is to interweave it as the story progresses.
Structure, like plot is more of a feeling. Try physically holding a book; your hands can feel where you are; you will be able to think ‘I’ve come to the bit when something’s going to happen.’
Once she has started on a novel, Clare sticks with it. No, she never rewrites the start. She may edit and move sections, but never completely rewrites it.
Report by Lisa Nightingale
‘It never occurred to me not to be a writer.’ began Chris Cleave award winning author of Everyone Brave is Forgiven.
Thanks to his mother who filled their home with books his discovery that he loved writing came at just age six.
At seventeen, he submitted his first book to all the agents in London. A short story about a man roadtripping across Mexico eating only what he found at the side of the road. Chris had never been to Mexico and of course being only Seventeen couldn’t drive. The book was rejected.
Following the birth of his first child, he found that the issues such as human rights which as a teenager had been at the forefront of his mind were now burning in his heart.
The next novel he wrote, Incendiary was published most successfully. His next three novels followed suit.
‘As I’m among friends ….’ He said feeling that as writers we would make more use of his sharing his experiences of research and his own writing journey.
Chris doesn’t start a novel with planning, narrative curves and character arcs. He starts with a question:
Can you ever recover from a broken heart? – Incendiary
How far would you go to help a stranger? – The Other Hand
Isn’t it wrong to strive for and achieve your dream by crushing those of your friends? – Gold
He then interviews the people and the ‘life’ that will go into the book. ‘Let them talk to each other’ he tells us.
In the case of Gold, Chris spoke to athletes, daring to ask the questions that other might shy from. He found excitement when their answers came so different to what was expected. Talking to your subjects gives you a deeper insight into their behaviour patterns than any other form of research.
Only then does he interweave the plot.
The mantra that he has adopted whenever he begins to write is to cross a boundary. So he writes as a woman or a different culture. This forces to keep the story away from himself. He finds a true story and using fiction reports back on it.
‘You’re only really listening to the conversation when you’re not in it.’ He says and imparted two strange tips for finding out how people really speak. 1) Disguise yourself as an IPod listener on the top deck of the bus, but don’t switch your IPod on. Instead listen to the conversations around you and 2) read Dating sites.
Having learned his lessons which are securely sealed in his ‘big, brown envelope of Bitterness’, Chris never uses a setting in which he hasn’t spent a lot of time. See the vista that the character will see or stand in their footsteps. This exercise will raise questions of its own. Questions that you would never have known to ask had you not been there.
Chris is deeply thankful that he and his Clinical Nutritionist wife are able to ‘tag team’ their childcare needs allowing him valuable research and writing time.
It has been a pleasure working with Adrienne Dines, our adjudicator for June. The time between the dead-line and the event was generous which allowed Adrienne to read and comment on your entries, she was even kind enough to choose two commended and has also shared her observations for them. There were 21 entries this month.
Adrienne’s individual comments can be read below with the winning entries. The winners are:
1st Prize: ‘For The Dead and The Living’ by Mari Thomas
2nd Prize: ‘A Lovers Reunion’ by Kristin Tridimas
3rd Prize: ‘Waiting’ by Andrea Parr
‘Lovers Reunion’ by Wendy Fitzgerald
‘Peter and Karen’ by Scratch
We feel that we have been asking a lot from our adjudicators as the entry cut-off date and the event are sometimes very close, so please note that from September the cut-off date will be noon on the 25th of the previous month. Also, to keep the competition fair, entries will be restricted to one entry per member. Don’t forget to read the full competition rules on our website.
Enjoy the summer and keep writing,
For The Dead And The Living by Mari Thomas
Adrienne Dines: “Written in second person, this is very skilful storytelling. The reader is forced to feel every tense moment as our heroine approaches her reunion. We don’t know the nature of their relationship but we can feel the damage it caused her and we worry for her now. Skilful use of pacing to keep us waiting, wonderful strong voice. This was a clear winner for me.”
You are sitting in the most uncomfortable chair of your life, the metal digging into your shoulder blades. Sweaty hands clench into fists; you have to force yourself not to fiddle with your clothes.
Opposite you, two court bailiffs are staring you down. You miss Sally, your contact from the UKPPS, but you know she can’t be here. Too much publicity. Too high a chance that she’ll become the lynch pin in someone else’s carefully crafted fake life.
Inhale. Exhale. You can do this.
The door opens. You’re beckoned forward. You go.
So this is it – the final call to arms. A battle of suits and jargon and you are the centre fighter. The king on the chessboard. You end the game.
This is, you realise, the most important thing you will ever do.
With each successive step, you can feel yourself regressing, falling back into your old identity. You dyed your hair blond for this, you remember, and it itches at your scalp.
You’ll feel better when it’s brown again.
He’s the very first thing you see when you enter the courtroom. You wonder if he has a new lover now, if he has someone else to smear with blood and kiss in the middle of his self-created carnage. You wonder if he’s found another person to tear apart.
You take your seat.
As you state your name and date of birth for the record, he stares at you. His eyes are wide, as if he never saw this coming. Good. You hope it’s unexpected. You hope he never forgets this moment. You hope it feels like the worst sort of betrayal.
“And what,” asks the prosecutor, “is your relationship to the accused?”
You look out at the courtroom. Take a deep breath.
“He’s my husband.”
A Lovers’ Reunion by Kristin Tridimas
Adrienne Dines: “The tension between the exterior and interior voice works perfectly in this story. In a few carefully chosen words and phrases the whole backstory is filled in and we don’t need to know what happens afterwards, only that our heroine will not fall prey to this Lothario again. Beautiful controlled writing.”
“May I introduce Paul Armstrong,” says the vice-consul and she slides away, her duty done.
I recognise him straight away: tall, erect, ice-blue eyes, his dark hair now silver at the temples. The slightly cruel twist of his mouth caused by a tiny scar; the result of a childhood accident. He stands out from the small group of talkers. And even after twenty years, I find my heart beats faster and my palms feel cold with sweat.
“We’ve met.” I give my professional smile, perfected over the years: neutral, dispassionate, efficient.
In a bar. Or a nightclub. I forget.
I hold out my hand. For the briefest second my skin touches his and I look into the blue of his eyes.
Flesh on flesh; thigh on thigh; his lips on mine. The sweet smell of pheromones mixed with aftershave.
“It’s been a while,” he says and the warm blanket of his voice has deepened. His eyes send coded messages.
Someone in the group says something. I respond, an automaton; I know the protocol.
“What are you doing now?” I ask Paul as soon as I can, the measured politeness in my voice disguising my curiosity.
I never really knew what he did. It didn’t matter.
My brain whirrs. I should move on, forget him.
Secret kisses. Snatched moments. Anonymous hotel rooms.
“This and that.” He smiles and his scar stretches into oblivion. “I import British shoes. They’re very popular here.”
I sense a familiar frisson of danger.
I didn’t find out he was married until I was already in too deep.
“And look at you, Celia,” he says. Haven’t you done well?”
I nod; smile politely. False modesty. I’m proud of where I’ve got.
Right on cue, there’s a low murmur in my ear. “Ambassador?”
Waiting by Andrea Parr
Adrienne Dines: “Lovely romantic reunion. The backstory is fed into the woman’s waiting and her pregnancy is hidden until he acknowledges it. We are given clues – the to milky tea, her discomfort – but we have to wait for the ‘ah ha’ moment to realise. A good example of showing, not telling! I particularly liked how this writer varied her sentence lengths to control the tension.”
Her tea was too milky. One tasteless sip and she left the cup, a pink smear of lipstick on its paper rim. No matter how she shifted, she couldn’t get comfortable. The seat was too hard, too plastic. Switching her gaze between the arrivals board and her book made her neck ache. With a snap, she closed it. She couldn’t concentrate on reading anyway.
Eight months, two weeks, five days since she’d last seen him.
“I have to go,” he’d said. “I’m a doctor. I help people.”
And her. Infantile, selfish. “It doesn’t help me.”
She twisted her fingers. Glanced up at the clock. Rechecked her phone.
His flight number inched upwards. Long before it reached the top, she moved to the barrier, the metal cold under her grip.
People streamed in from the arrivals hall, piled luggage obscuring each other. So many, her heart raced until his familiar figure finally appeared. Tousled brown hair, rumpled from the flight. A slight frown creasing his face as his eyes slid anxiously over the crowd.
When he saw her, he stopped. The crowd flowed around him. Like the sun dawning, a slow smile spread across his face. In two strides he was pulling her close, careful not to crush her against the barrier.
“I was so scared you wouldn’t wait.”
“Of course we waited.”
Almost too quiet to hear, he said,
“I’m sorry I left you.”
He’d gone because he needed to. She understood that; she accepted it. She smiled as he bent to face the full moon of her belly.
“Your daddy promises he won’t go again.”
Tangling her hands in his hair, she tugged his head up. His breath whispered warm against her cheek.
“I love you so much.”
Her mouth found his. That was good enough for her.
Lovers Reunion by Wendy Fitzgerald:
Adrienne Dines: “Lovely complete story with an ending that suggests there is life afterwards – absolutely what a short story should do. The characters (particularly hers) are well drawn. We know that they will stay together and she will be the stronger. His love for her is captured in a couple of killer lines!”
He had trudged endlessly beside his father, leaving behind angry bombs, jagged buildings and the broken bodies of his mother and sister. Hunger and exhaustion were constant companions across lands and angry seas; the makeshift sprawling camp a welcome haven.
He recognised Lili immediately. Tousled dark curls, light grey eyes and the scent of home. They became inseparable.
‘Tomas, we must attend the school,’ she told him. ‘Education is everything, even for girls! History to learn from; science for our future, languages to talk! Besides, it’s warm there, and there is always food!’
He went because he would have gone with Lili anywhere. It became their refuge, their playground, their home.
‘We’re leaving, Tomas. We go to Germany, to distant family.’ Tears streamed down dusty cheeks, whilst a sickening abyss opened up before him. ‘Promise me you will keep learning. Look,’ she pointed to the battered globe, ‘the capital Berlin. Meet me there when we are grown!’
‘But how, and where, Lili? Cities are big!’
‘There’s a ‘Brandenberg Gate,’ she said carefully. ‘Midday, the first of January, every year after we turn eighteen. Auf wiedersehen, dearest Tomas!’
She hugged him tightly, fiercely; he felt warm soft lips fleetingly brush his mouth; then she was gone.
Desolate, homeless again, he complied. He worked tirelessly, driven; maths to afford a better life, precious languages to talk. And here he was full-grown: thin, serious, shyly handsome, in Berlin. Waiting.
It was bitterly cold, but he perspired with fear. Would she come – that girl he had once lived for? Would he recognise her? Could life ever be that kind?
Then – a slight figure with dark curls hurtled towards him, his name on her lips; laughing as she launched herself into his arms. Familiar, and unfamiliar, all at once – but she smelt of home.
‘Peter and Karen’ by Scratch
Adrienne Dines: “Voice, voice, voice. We were straight into the head of this cool teenager with his patter and his vinyls. The opening was particularly strong. I’d like to see this continues as a longer story – staying in the past as the relationship develops.”
I pretended I liked the Bee Gees but I was really into Motorhead and Punk. On Wednesday afternoon I’d bunked off maths, nicked a copy of God Save the Queen from Menzies, and hid it in my wardrobe. I was going to play it for Karen on Saturday afternoon when my mam was out but then couldn’t find it amongst the junk. It didn’t matter because we got distracted. It was the first time we’d been as distracted as that. Karen had been doing ballet since forever, so sidelining Lemmy for Barry Gibb was a price worth paying.
We’d started going out on sports day when Anne-Marie Rigby collapsed onto the parched grass after winning the 1500m. Her pounding stomach was mesmerising. She’d her legs bent and was too gassed to realize that every lad in my form could see the curly black pubes sprouting from either side of her maroon knickers. Karen followed me over to the long-jump pit and asked why I’d moved. I told her it didn’t seem right to gawk at someone like that, she smiled and that was it. Love.
“Peter, someone who knew you from school rang”. My mam explained about the planned reunion.
When I got there everyone looked the same, just 20 years older. I stood at the bar wondering about Karen, then a voice behind me. ‘Pete, it’s me, Kaz,’ she looked different but her smile was still the same, ‘I’m glad you turned up, I’ve something that belongs to you…’ she held out The Sex Pistols single, ‘I shouldn’t have taken it. Sorry. Probably worth a fortune now.’
‘It’s funny how some things appreciate over time, Kaz. You married?’
‘Still single,’ I held up the record, ‘tell you what, let’s see if they’ll play it for us.’
I always wanted to be a writer and, whether it was university essays, short stories or legal pleadings (I’m a lawyer by trade) I have always put pen to paper in one form or another. The idea of writing a novel, though, was rather daunting. As someone who read a lot of novels, it was probably inevitable that sooner or later I would have a go but…well…they’re quite big, aren’t they? And don’t they take a long time to write? Then, after a bit of research, I discovered that all people initially want to see of your novel are three chapters and a synopsis – and that instantly seemed a lot more manageable. So, with an idea in mind and a rough synopsis beside me, I booted up the laptop, opened a new Word document and typed ‘Chapter One’ at the top of the page.
Writing the novel was easier than I’d imagined. The flaw was that once I’d finished it, no-one seemed to like it. In fact, after the blood and – literal – tears sweated over it, the poor thing was roundly rejected by every single agent in the country. One publisher did ask to see the full manuscript but, after due and weighty consideration, they rejected it too. However, I’d been well and truly bitten by the bug and I duly began Book Two. Around this time, I heard about an event in Winchester called a ‘Writers’ Conference’ (now the Festival of Writing). Here, I was told, you could not only attend classes and workshops but you had the opportunity of pitching your work directly to agents and publishers. I signed up for a Saturday session and the most extraordinary things began to happen. I saw an agent and an editor who were both very enthusiastic about Book Two. Crucially, this gave me the confidence I needed to press on, get it finished and begin the submission process all over again. This time, the outcome was completely different: twelve months later, I had secured an agent and, the year after that, I had a two book deal. ‘Tug of Love’ – formerly known as Book Two – went on to win the Romantic Novelists’ Association award for the best debut and was shortlisted for the prestigious Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance.
The Winchester Writers’ Festival, though, is about more than publishing deals. Being an author is a lonely life and it is all too easy to let doubts creep in about your work or for you to feel isolated and unsupported in what is a highly competitive industry. Coming to Winchester allows you to be part of a writing family; a family where people want the best for you and will do what they can to help you succeed. Each Festival I have attended – whether as a delegate or, later, as a tutor – allowed me to come away recharged and enthusiastic. It is about meeting kindred spirits, finding your tribe and, most importantly, it is one of the best ways I can imagine to get your writing journey off to a flying start.