Report by Lisa Nightingale and Summer Quigley
The 2017-18 season was opened by wonderful violinist Adrian Adlam who provided his own hugely enjoyable musical adaptation of Munro Leaf’s story of Ferdinand the Bull. Adrian interacted with the audience as he played the violin and narrated the story, with a Spanish accent for added effect.
Following this literary musical ensemble the audience heard from Chairman Alan Stephens or Read Easy, Winchester – a non-profit organisation that recruits, trains and supports volunteers to give one-to-one tuition to adults who struggle with reading.
The audience heard how the difference Read Easy makes is genuinely ‘life-changing’; it’s a phrase that their new readers use over and over again. One such new reader was Steve who bravely stood before the audience and explained his experience, bringing many close to tears.
‘Six months ago I would never have done the things I’ve do now, like joining the library, reading newspapers, going on public transport and going to coffee shops and the supermarket. They seem such simple things but I stayed home before. I would start reading but I’d get to the end of the page and didn’t understand so I put it down.
He continued, ‘I used to stutter but now I can pronounce even pronounce long words clearly. I’ve slowed myself down, just like when I’m reading I’ve slowed myself down. I’m thinking about what I want to say.’
If you think you would be interested in volunteering as a reading coach or know someone who may benefit from the Read Easy programme, please visit the Read Easy website
This month’s main speaker presentation was delivered in an informal interview style with biographer John Miller. Opening the conversation, a bemused John Miller advised the September meeting of the Hampshire Writers’ Society that Slaughterford, the setting of The Hiding Places, Katherine Webb’s newest novel, is an actual place,. It is an idyllic village in Wiltshire where the Sunday Times bestselling author now lives.
The story of The Hiding Places unfolds just after the First World War and as Katherine points out, all her books take place at a time shortly following a cataclysmic historic event; the fall-out provides much useful material. She recognises though, the period that she has chosen is not so far back and survivors still live but far enough to be out of her own time-line. It is the richness of the research, that ensures authenticity. None is more plentiful than the first world war. Still, there are areas such as Post Traumatic Syndrome where an historic lack of knowledge is evident. ‘It is amazing that any soldiers came back of sound body and mind.’ She says.
The other strikingly different area was that of class distinction. In the 1920s, the gaps were major, something that Katherine was keen to explore.
‘What is your typical writing day like?’ John Miller asks.
‘Disciplined,’ she replies. Katherine sits down to write at 9:00 a.m. and will not get up again until she has written 2,000 words. ‘This,’ she says, ‘could take a couple of hours; it could take until 5:00 p.m.’ A novel a year seems to have become her comfortable rate of productivity, lucky as this is what is required contractually from her publisher. She doesn’t re-write her manuscript many times as ‘there will always be notes,’ from her editor. Before she starts writing she will have indulged in a long period of research and thought processes, although she doesn’t meticulously plan her novel.
Katherine confesses to having spent a long time writing submissions to agents ‘…because that’s the way it’s done,’ she says. She followed guidelines and did things ‘by-the-book’ in order to get her first novel published and she collected lots of rejection letters. But it was through the website YouWriteOn.com that Orion found her. From there it was the agents who were contacting her, rather than the other way around. But, as she has no head for business, an agent is an invaluable help.
In response to a question from an audience member who is having difficulty perfecting the dialogue, Katherine responds: ‘Dialogue must always move the plot along. Read it aloud, if it sounds like it’s been written, then it’s probably not right. take another look at it.’ Another piece of advice is to par-it-down.
For a decade, she wrote in isolation; only after that did she join a writers’ group and this is something of a regret, saying that she should have joined the group a long time ago.
Her advice to new writers is to ‘Give yourself permission to write a terrible first draft. Just write it. ‘You won’t know what the novel will look like until you’ve written it.’