Jack Sheffield – Tuesday 8th November

Dear Members of the Hampshire Writers’ Society,

Another day cannot pass without sharing with you the highlights of the third meeting of the Hampshire Writers’ Society, at which Jack Sheffield spoke so informatively…so entertainingly about his Journey Toward Publication in his carefully prepared talkPaperback Writer. Please do share this with other writers who may be interested in joining us for the next meeting which featuresThree Poets at Work.

‘Jack, You Have Commercial Potential’ was a revelation to this aspiring novelist

A cornucopia of talent took centre stage at the November 8 meeting of the Hampshire Writers’ Society.

Special Guest, Councillor George Becket, Winchester City Council opened the evening with his praise for the Creative Industries that are forging a place in Winchester and the District and his confession that he would like to write his memoirs as a musician, nurseryman and a politician.

The packed audience listened intently as Jack Sheffield, a retired Yorkshire headmaster and author of the bestselling

Teacher, Teacher series of novels, described his new career as a novelist. His carefully prepared talk, Paperback Writer; The Journey towards Publication described his meeting with a literary agent at the 2005 Winchester Writers’ Conference who wanted to represent him to publishers.

He explained the precision of his editing process and the auction of his manuscript among six mainstream publishers that resulted in Transworld Publishers offering him a contract for his first four novels Teacher, Teacher; Mister Teacher; Dear Teacher and Village Teacher, under the Corgi imprint. These were the Waterstone’s Books of the Year for 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010. He explained the publisher’s commercial need to change the name of his fifth novel, Please Sir, which was published this year. When his publishers declared: ‘Jack, you are a brand’ it was a revelation to him. He though he was just a writer.

He cautioned ’never set your wit against a child’ a proverb attributed to the 18th century essayist, Jonathan Swift and he illustrated this with a child’s observation that ‘ a new born baby can’t talk, it just thinks all day’ Another child wistfully answered, ‘Christian have only one wife…it’s called monotony.’

He advised writers to write about what they know best. He displayed his diaries which he kept as a schoolmaster and from which he has drawn a rich seam of village school life. ‘Listen for natural dialogue and the cadence of the language and write them down. Otherwise, they vanish’.

He described being rescued from a car accident by the a police officer ‘who looked all of 15’. He fastened a protective leather collar around Jack’s neck so tightly, that I couldn’t identify myself nor could I reach for my wallet tucked in my pocket. He pointed and croaked ‘Wallet’ to indicate where his identity papers were located. However the officer thought it was his name. ‘Don’t worry, Wally,’ he said cheerfully, we’ll soon have you right’. He captured the precise dialogue of that car crash episode in one of his novels.

‘Do intensive research, look for a niche in the market and aim for it.’ His talk, interspersed with hilarious observations, was packed with sound advice on developing three dimensional characters, villains as well as ‘good guys’ and creating believable settings.

Mr Bevis Hillier, author of the magnificent three volume biography of John Betjeman, Poet Laureate, adjudicated the writing competition ‘My Favourite School Memory’ and asked the winning writers, Celia Livesey 1st, Hermione Wilds 2nd, Helen Adlam 3rd, Susan Piper 4th, Pat Kerley 5th, Hilary Gregory 6th, Marion Dante 7th, to read their 50 word submissions, which we are including below. Transworld Publishers presented some of Jack’s books as the first, second and third prizes, of course!

I hope you enjoyed this meeting as much as I did. Do remember that the Hampshire Writers’ Society meeting on Tuesday, 13 December, 7:30 pm will be held in our new venue, the Lecture Room, upstairs in The Stripe Building. The programme, Three Poets at Work, will include Mark Rutter, Peter Dixon and Tom Masters, a fantastic trio. December’s competition: Write new words for a traditional Christmas carol.

Free parking will be available in the Dytche behind The Stripe and also on the Burma Road, which faces the Main Reception. Take the lift in the Student Union building, (part of Reception Office) down to Level One and walk across the tarmac to The Stripe. It will be easy.

I look forward to welcoming you and more new members and visitors then.

Barbara Large MBE

Chairman, Hampshire Writers’ Society

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