Steve McHugh at Hampshire Writers’ Society.

Special Guest: Caroline Routh

Caroline Routh Feb 2018

Caroline Routh is the chief executive of the Nuffield Southampton Theatre which over the last six decades has emerged as one of the leading independent production theatres in the UK. Over the next few years, its evolution enters an important and invigorated phase with the establishment of Nuffield City, a brand new innovative, creative dramatic enterprise right in the heart of Southampton. Nuffield City, scheduled to open its doors on the 16th February 2018, is set to shift the paradigm of provincial theatre in the UK. The new performing arts venue, Nuffield Southampton Theatre (NST) will open in Southampton’s city centre in Guildhall Square. NST will run NST City alongside its long-standing theatre, NST Campus situated on the University of Southampton’s Highfield Campus.

This new state-of-the-art venue will include a flexible 450 seat main theatre, a 133 seat studio, screening facilities, a sprung-floor rehearsal room and workshop spaces. There will also be a bar and restaurant serving award-winning food and drinks, providing the perfect bookends for the artistic and dramatic entertainments that are planned. One of the enduring challenges facing UK theatres, especially provincial ones is to bring theatre to traditionally under-represented audiences.  The drive to encourage community participation through the strapline ‘Southampton can do it’ underscores the campaign to reach as many people as possible with the aim of increasing artistic engagement.

That Caroline explained the theatre is intent on encouraging emerging writing talent was of particular interest to listeners and with the advantage of Arts Council funding a New Writing venue now provides opportunities that include writers’ residencies. The theatre is proud of its continued association with Southampton University and anticipates that collaboration, offering a mutual advantage, will continue into the future.

The new City venue and the handover of the facility including Studio 144 now allows a bespoke creative space for which the theatre will have sole responsibility.  The hope and ambitions for the development of an even greater range of artistic creations have now become a reality.

For more information about the fantastic developments taking place visit the NST here.

Keynote Speaker: Steve McHugh

Steve McHugh Feb 2018

If you’re an aspiring writer of fantasy with a love for creating alternative realities inhabited by believable, vibrant characters then Steve McHugh provided a plethora of useful and practical information on how to go about it. Using the device of familiar urban worlds on which to frame his own humour-infused fantasy, Steve McHugh elevates the intrigue of his plot and sales figures nudging half a million suggest he’s getting things right.

In a story that will be familiar to many struggling writers intent on becoming published, Steve’s journey to becoming a best selling author was not straightforward. Faced by the ever-increasing agent and publisher reluctance to ‘take a punt’ on new writers, Steve eventually decided that the self-publishing route was the only viable one if he was to reach a wider readership. For the most part, publishing is governed by the market and the market, in turn, is driven by revenues. Following very impressive sales figures, Steve was approached and eventually signed by 47 North.  So the formula is simple; self-publish, generate remarkable sales figures, attract the attention of the mainstream players – et voila!

The rules of writing a stand-alone novel are amplified when the writer’s ambition is to produce a series.  For series writing, consistency of world and characterisation must be impeccable or eagle-eyed readers will spot mistakes. To this end, Steve utilises a spreadsheet system to track and map his fantasy worlds as his stories unfold. So familiar is he is now with the nuances of his main characters he is confident he can write them as if they were people that he knows intimately and personally.

An example of the insight his sojourn in self-publishing gave him in the marketing aspects of the publishing was understanding the importance of choosing a memorable title. Contrary to popular myth, whilst you may not be able to judge a book by its cover, a good cover certainly helps to sell one.

A cautionary note regarding the necessity to avoid writing gratuitously was sounded with Steve’s advice about treating death and gore responsibly. The shocking elements of these aspects of any narrative diminish if there is too much of them or if they are included just for the sake of it. Occasional violent deaths are effective but when they appear with monotony their ability to shock is diminished and they become irrelevant within the arc of the story. When writing series it is also important that each individual book is able to act in a stand-alone capacity whilst not forgetting that a good approach is to have important aspects of the narrative bleed into the next book in the series.  This acts as a real incentive for reader engagement and is in itself is an important marketing strategy.

Steve McHugh’s talk was packed with writing tips and anecdotes born of hard-won personal experience but he signed off with the very sensible advice that writers should find what works for them and focus on enjoying the process of producing stories that above all else that they themselves want to read.

Images by Alex Carter, Lexica Films
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