Get on the Customer’s Shelf

“Booksellers are Pragmatists,” says Crispin Drummond, proprietor of P&G Wells independent booksellers in Winchester, “not Romanticists.”

The Shop at College Street

P&G Wells have been in the business of selling books for over 200 years. Crispin was sold the shop on College Street after one too many glasses of wine. His only credentials — he liked to read. A year of learning on the job followed. He learned that the horror stories are true; there are too many books, chain-stores are closing and yes, authors are getting a bad deal from publishers.

The bookseller is firmly on the side of the customer and P&G Wells’ first policy is to give thoughtful customers a wide choice. So, when looking at new titles, deciding what to stock, he considers the customer and listens to their wavelength. The bookseller will think on over 50,000 titles, of those they will stock roughly 8,000. For a pragmatist, choosing those titles is blissfully free of the sentimentalities suffered by the romanticist. Of course, he doesn’t do “blissfully”.

“The average British reader only buys 3 books a year.” Crispin reports, “5 at most.”

The bookseller’s customers will not be swayed by the Best Seller label, they can get those anywhere. It is the fresh books that sell. P&G Wells supports a far larger number of authors than any of the chain stores, regardless of who publishes them.

To get your book on the P&G Wells customers’ shelves, it must be well-written, it needs to have something new, bring something special to the shelf. The customers would not forgive the bookseller for offering them something that was run-of-the-mill. They do not buy the same-old, same-old.

“Obviously, the booksellers’ best time of the year is Christmas.” Crispin told the members and guests gathered, “When the ideal customer is the one who wants to buy presents for every member of their family. And P&G Wells has just the book for each of them.”

Crispin is the Hampshire Writers’ Society treasurer. He is the bookseller in the foyer at every Tuesday night meeting.

Report by Lisa Nightingale

E.M. Davey: Fiction as a Window on Our World

E. M Davey

“A thriller writer needs to gain the trust of his reader.” E.M. Davey informs the gathered guests and members of the Hampshire Writers’ Society. With this in mind, he seeks out genuine ancient text, quotes and voices from those who were there, actually on site at the time to use in his conspiracy thrillers.

No stranger to the media, Ed decided on the use of the pseudonym E.M Davey, after being confused one too many times with Ed Davey MP. His day-job is in investigative journalism, harbouring a stint in undercover filming with a passion for travel and he uses it all to influence his thrillers. He grins when he points out that his job is exciting and a lot of fun. If the anecdotes he regaled us all with are anything to go by, his novels will be full of fascinating characters, beautiful settings and bustling cities.

“There’s something about that world that attracts absolute nutters!” he assures us.

It was the British Museum that captured his interest in history and he went on to study it at University. That was 15 years ago and he confesses to still uncovering ancient unknown civilisations. Clearly, he remains fascinated.

After pin-pointing the idea that will spark a novel, Ed totally immerses himself in his subject. He reads up extensively on it, attends exhibitions about it, watches documentaries on it and visits the setting. Seeing himself as a magpie, collecting snippets of information that will interest people, he’s never without his diary and now has a shelf of colourful, one-off, first account records for the 60 or so settings that he has visited.

“Find your Investigator’s Friend.” he advises.

Ed’s was invaluable when after researching in China he arrived home to find he’d been so blown away by the setting, he hadn’t taken any notes and for a writer so bullet pointed as E.M. Davey that wasn’t good.

“Its like being a bad, tabloid journalist, taking a quote and blowing it out of context.” he says.

A knowledge of the law is handy, although a writer, no matter how absorbed in their subject should have a care for the humanity in people. Those who have only recently passed-away may have family trusts set up.

There’s no right way to writing a novel, he tells us. In fact, Ed’s wife writes in the exact opposite way to his organised, chronological plotting, arcing, drafting and editing.

Ed’s system is to equip himself with a large Black and Red book which he then divides into colour coded sections in which to file his research. When the book is full, he creates a word document for each part and transfers all the information.

He then makes around 50 bullet points and begins dropping bits and pieces of story, character, setting in between these until an unashamedly large first draft is formed. A hard edit is then embarked upon, followed by 2 or 3 more until the final edit is down to roughly 80,000 words.

Here, Ed imparts a piece of advice that he was given when concerned that his books were boring. “Remember, none of your readers have read any of your book before. So, it is bound to seem boring to you; especially after 2 or 3 hundred reads.”

Report by Lisa Nightingale

September is a New Year

September! For Hampshire Writers’ Society, September is the start of a whole new year. The programme for our forthcoming season is now shining brighter than a diamond on the website.

E. M Davey

We’re starting the year off with Thriller writer E. M Davey. Ed spent eight years with the BBC, going undercover for Panorama, presenting the BBC World Service, and working on investigations for Newsnight, File on 4, and News at Six. He has visited more than sixty countries and next Tuesday Winchester where he will recount to HWS how adventure, travel, history, and investigative journalism have inspired his thrillers.
PG Wells Proprietor and HWS Treasurer, Crispin Drummond is our special guest. Crispin will spill the beans on how book shops choose the books that they stock and sell and where those books come from. His talk will be a must for writers planning on self-publishing.

Claire Dyer

In October, our speaker is Claire Dyer. Claire is a novelist and poet who likes love stories and cheese! However, she is “allergic to mussels, oysters and the like.” Still, Claire is proud to announce that she has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London which, when added to her BA in English & History from the University of Birmingham, and her MA in Victorian Literature & Culture from the University of Reading she has “three degrees so all she needs is to be able to sing in tune and wear sequins without looking foolish!” You must join us for Claire’s talk; it promises to be a giggle. Writer and poet Hilary Hares joins Claire as special guest.

Laura Williams

Literary Agent, Laura Williams in November is going to bring us all back down to earth with some myth-busting about the publications industry. November special guest is to be novelist of history and the supernatural, Emma Nichol-Lewis.

Caroline Wintersgill

Editor, Caroline Wintersgill in December is going to let us in on a secret – What Editors Want. Our own wonderful historical novelist, David Eadsforth is our Christmassy special guest.
Before you get excited about Christmas, HWS has four excellent speakers worth a listen even if their writing isn’t your thing. All genres, types, makes or brands of writing go into making a novelist and our speakers are eager to pass on that tip-bit that will click all your everythings together.

Check the programme on the website for monthly competitions and the remainder of the 2019-2020 programme.

Post by Lisa Nightingale

A Bond of Brothers (and sisters)


HWS blog is going Guildford this time to meet the Hogs Back Writers. Fellow writer and Winchester Writers’ Fest goer, Richard Fuller is our inspiration, here he tells us what Hogs Back Writers get up to at their meetings:

Hogs Back Writers’ Village Hall

We walk up the unlit, unmade, muddy lane, past mouldering gravestones and uncut grass, a bitter winter wind at our backs, before climbing the steep uneven steps at journeys end.

No, not the beginning of a novel, but the path from the car park to Hogs Back Writers regular meetings in a small village hall, between Farnham and Guildford. Why so remote? The answer is long gone. I’ve been a member for nigh on ten years, and the group was old then. I can give the reason for us staying, the hall is cheap and convenient(ish), though on a January night…

So why belong to a writer’s group, and why Hog’s Back?

I’ll answer those questions in reverse order to explain the benefits of our great little group of seventeen members, which include two published, and another two agented authors. Nearly everyone is writing novels, with a couple of exceptions in non-fiction. There is no poetry and only the occasional short story. Nearly everyone has managed to complete a first draft, we are all in the same metaphoric boat.

Writing, we know, is a solitary business, hours locked away with just a keyboard and spell check for company, but it needn’t be. I look forward to seeing my fellow writers. We share our problems, discuss sticky plot points, get considered feedback on our hard penned words. Not the ‘Lovely, dear,’ from friends and relatives, who think you need to be humoured.

Why Hogs Back? We meet most Mondays for critique of manuscripts. Bring along up to 2500 troublesome words, hand out half a dozen printed copies and read out your worries. The printouts are marked up with whatever anyone feels appropriate, and a ten minute discussion (not hard and fast) follows, in which members describe what they liked and where things might be improved. Of course it doesn’t always work, one person may say they thought the “voice” was perfect for the character, and the next may well suggest the opposite. But at least it gives you, the author, something to think about.

Our biggest benefits though, are not just in the critique. Every third Monday we lock away the manuscripts and meet in a pub, aptly named The Good Intent, to have a themed chat about writerly things, such as character, viewpoint, plotting, book blurbs, or anything else bothering us. These nights are some of the most useful things we do.

Then there are the Jellies.  We hold them a couple of times a year in a local hall. A writing day with quiet distraction-free time and a social buffet lunch. More recently we’ve taken to holding Trifles as well. Oh come on, a trifle is like a Jelly but more complicated- it’s a writing weekend. We have used the same large house in Margate several times, lots of bedrooms and writing spaces, sea views, and the companionship of fellow writers, oh yes and wine, lots of wine.

We also offer each other much needed support with such painful topics as synopses, and agent letters. We celebrate member’s successes and awards. We occasionally have guest speakers and of course there is the annual Christmas party with it’s hard fought flash fiction competition, mince pies, and, dare I say, lots of wine.

So that is Hogs Back, a very sociable addition to the solitude of writing. But please don’t rush to contact us, we are not looking for new members right now…

Post by Richard Fuller

 

Beacon Productions

Our blog post this week comes from Portsmouth based Simon Sansbury. A member of the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub, Simon is also part of Beacon Productions. If you have a drama, comedy or thriller you’d like to see produced either on screen or audio Beacon would love to hear from you – read on…

Beacon Productions is a not-for-profit group based in the Locks Heath area of Southampton. We’ve been running for over thirty years and currently have about fifty members aged between 18 and 79.             

Over the years the group has produced numerous shows. The longest running of these being the science fiction show, ‘The Adventures of Stephen Brown’. We’ve also produced soap operas, thriller series and short films.  

Beacon Nonsense

Currently in production we have a drama serial based around a coffee shop ’80 degrees’, an escape room show ‘Big White Doors’, a gameshow ‘Beacon Nonsense’ and have just begun a legal/socio-political science fiction audio series ‘Phipps Files’. As well as converting thriller series ‘Ninth Man’ for audio, we have a podcast and a couple of stand-alone audio dramas.

Zombies in a field – Day 66

Being a small group, our resources are limited and thus feature length films with a large cast, complicated set or location requirements present difficulties. But, set and location considerations don’t apply to audio dramas.

Knowing how many characters a script has, what genders and ages they are, what locations or sets are required (for film) helps us decide what is practical. The simplest things of all for us to record are of course short stories which require neither locations, sets or actors.

All of the output we create is uploaded to our YouTube or Soundcloud. You can find out more about us on our website.

 

CHINDI

The Winchester Writers Fest, attracts attendees from all over the world and a week ago on Saturday, Karin and I met up with many of them. So, for the next couple of posts, the blog is going to branch out into our surrounding counties and hear some of their inspirational stories

CHINDI (Celebrating and Helping Indy authors) is a network of independent authors based in West Sussex. Running online and live events, sharing ideas, expertise and contacts, they encourage independent authors to follow their dreams by supporting them in the creation of excellent printed, ‘e’ and audio books, followed by marketing, promotion and selling opportunities.

Helen Christmas, member of CHINDI and author of five self-published romantic thriller suspense takes time out from event organising at the Festival of Chichester to tell us a little more about them.

CHINDI Members at the Southern Book Fair

It is CHINDI’s belief that independently published books are as valid and exciting as those produced the traditional way; the authors have the same expectation and levels of excellence in production values and gripping content.

CHINDI works with retailers, media and event organisers to promote our member’s books, working in harmony with traditional agents and publishers.

The advice on offer comes from authors who have been there, done that. Answering many and varied questions, the likes of: Where do I find a good proofreader? How do I produce an e-book? What the heck is an ISBN? We share what worked and what didn’t through our private Facebook page CHINUP.

Members support each other through social media campaigns. We attend events, hold our own panel discussions and library talks, we regularly run competitions and blog tours too promoting our books. CHINDI has supported charities including Dyslexia Action, Words for the Wounded and Cancer UK.

A very enthusiastic group of authors, we encourage members to actively support each other as much as possible, whether that be simply reading each other’s books and manning book stalls or joining in our events.

At the Arundel Festival

New members are invited to join the CHINDI Facebook group, Chinup, where we share resources, such as self-publishing tips, seminars and blogs, anything to help with promotion. We follow each other on Twitter too and have a CHINDI account which is an easy way to share content.

We occasionally have meetings by zoom online conferencing!

The benefits of being a member are numerous but here is some information from our website:

Profile on CHINDI Author Website,
Have your books listed by genre in our Readers Section,
Join our CHINUP Facebook page for online discussions, sharing promotions and networking,
Eligibility to upload own videos/book trailers to Chindi Youtube Channel,
Inclusion in media PR programme,
Speaking opportunities at events,
Sales opportunity at events and market stalls etc.
Access to database of writing competitions,
Inclusion in CHINDI quarterly newsletters,
Shared knowledge and experiences of the group,
Free feedback on proposed cover designs and early drafts (this is not a full proofreading or editing service but might suggest you need these)

Chindi is set up as a not for profit Community Interest Company. Fees go towards hosting the website, booking rooms, funding promotional material etc. Find out about membership and events at https://www.chindi-authors.co.uk/

Festival Season – Writers are no Exeption!

The HWS stand spent last weekend at the Winchester Writers’ Festival. The festival, if you’ve ever been, is one exhilarating time. Friday night is spent debating discussions, before thrashing out the open mike. See Damon’s blog spot of April 29 Ends – Bar the Shouting in the Terrace.

Back to back workshops run all day on the Saturday, stopping only for a short lunch. But one-to-one appointments booked with any one of up to thirty agents, editors, writers and publishers continue throughout – there is so much to think about. And it’s all nourishment for a writer’s mind, inspiration stimulating the imagination. Its bliss! The fresh faces that started the day are, by tea-time blushed with unspoken ideas, itching to get onto the page. That’s all before socialising once again at the sumptuous evening dinner.

This year a well-deserved memorial to our beloved Barbara Large, the founder of, not only the Hampshire Writers’ Society, but the Winchester Writers’ Festival too, took place in the on-campus chapel at six o’clock. It was somewhat satisfying to discover what a foodie Barbara actually was. Long live the Luscious Lasagnes!

The Winchester Writers’ festival can be credited with the creation of so many new friends and contacts. A writer’s life need not be so lonely after all. Travel, trips abroad and holidays were one mainstay of the HWS stand, intriguing stories were another and of course, vampires! Oh, and writing

All in all, twenty-five new names have been added to the HWS lists. Welcome all! We so hope to meet you again in September. In the meantime – stay right here!

Writing Crime, Reporting Crime; Story Telling Is Innate In All Of Us.

“Being a writer is wonderful – it gives us carte blanche to get away with everything.” Simon Hall, seven times published novelist, former BBC News Correspondent of twenty years and tutor at the University of Cambridge, tells the gathered members and guests at Hampshire Writers’ Society’s Tuesday night meeting.

Simon loves to ‘people watch’; often from a spot in the pub in his beloved Cambridge. It is characters that drive his writing. Adam Breen and Dan Groves, even Rutherford the dog, the characters that he created for his TV Detective novels work together, not only literally, but together they form a crucial ‘relationship’.

Dan Groves, the TV reporter half of the duo appears to have everything. He also suffers with depression which he calls “the swamp”. Simon tells us that he has received many emails from men suffering the same affliction, saying thank you for giving the illness this coverage; it is good to know that they are not the only ones, the character of Dan is one that they can relate to.

Story telling is innate in all of us, he says. There’s no secret to writing a story, there may even be a formulaic way to do it and plenty of stories start at the end – reverse chronology. Simon once killed off a character; something for which he, his editor and publisher received much criticism – in reality, the character would have survived. But Simon argued the necessity that she be “killed off” – Dan, having had three successes, was in danger of succumbing to delusions of grandeur; he had to be taught a valuable life lesson.

So, here Simon imparts a piece of advice – “Let the story find you. Use your characters and your experiences.”

Research is done on-the-job. Simon recognises that it is important and suggests a researcher try to get as close to the original source as possible, because there you’ll often find an interesting fact to support your research. For his new book which is out in September this year (as yet it has no name – The Editor is a popular choice – although, Simon likes to have at least three words in the titles of his novels) he spent much time researching the city of Cambridge, which of course he greatly enjoyed.

“Writers are a species apart.” he says. It is a relationship, which is possible why everyone has their favourite authors – they can be relied on the to give ‘value for money’. As such, Simon follows four unbreakable rules which he calls the Four S’s

1                 He steers clear of science. Except for on the peripherals – a crime novel will always need a little of science.

2                 He skips on what he calls “slop”, we would understand slop as gore. The reason for this is that he feels he could not write anything worse than the reader can imagine. Most people will say that their favourite scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho is the shower scene. “You don’t actually see the murder.” Simon points out. The mind bridges the gap, your imagination does the rest.

3                 He avoids swearing, using it only to keep the dialogue real.

4                 He doesn’t do sex. His first attempt at writing a sex scene was laughed out of the draft by his editor.

“Humour is ubiquitous in our society”. he says. Humour is what keeps us going, it forms a bond between us. It is therefore omnipresent in Simon’s writing. “Everyone seems to think that the past is terrible and that the future is scary,” he tells us. Horrible things do go on and, as a reporter for the BBC, he has seen some of the worst. But, he truly believes that the majority of people are good.

Report by Lisa Nightingale

Ends – Bar the Shouting in the Terrace

Author Damon L Wakes

The Winchester Writers’ Festival sees visitors from all over the world drawn to its weekend of talks, workshops, and one-to-one meetings, and they pay a pretty penny to be there. But did you know that some portions of the Festival are open to the public 100% free?

Turn up on Friday 14th June, and you’ll be able to enjoy the full range of evening events on offer, including an open mic where you’ll have the chance to hear the work of local authors, as well as those from farther afield. And if you’re feeling up to it, you can even share something of your own!

The open mic runs from 21:00 to 23:00 in the Terrace Bar Lounge, and is perhaps the best opportunity to meet like-minded writers at the Festival. After all, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to spontaneously read out their work over lunch! It’s also a particularly good chance to practice reading in front of an audience: an essential skill for book launches and other author events.

These free evening events are perfect for anyone already living nearby, offering a taste of the Festival’s activities without any of the cost. If you’d like to read at the open mic, be sure to sign up as early as possible on the day as slots fill up fast. For those living in Winchester, it may be worth visiting the Stripe Building foyer to get your name down in the morning (and perhaps making use of the trip to look around the book fair while you’re there) so that you’re sure of a slot when you return. For those making a journey in, that likely wouldn’t be practical but you can still get in ahead of everyone who signs up at the start of the open mic by putting your name on the sheet before the other evening events.

The Stripe Lecture Theatre

The other free offerings on Friday 14th are a panel on writing for children and young adults (in the Stripe Lecture Theatre) and a talk by three Salt authors celebrating the publisher’s 20th anniversary (in the Stripe Auditorium). Both these events start at 19:45, so you’ll have to pick your favourite!

If you find you enjoy the Winchester Writers’ Festival open mic, you may also be interested in Poetry Platform, a similar event that runs on the first Tuesday of every month, 20:30 at The Railway Inn. Outside of Winchester, your other open mic options are Write Side of the Tracks (7pm on the third Tuesday of every month at Steam Town Brew Co in Eastleigh) and Write a Note (7pm on the last Thursday of every month at Caskaway, Southampton). These are typically billed as “poetry nights,” but they’re equally welcoming to prose writers and every bit as supportive as the Winchester Writers’ Festival.

Post by Damon L. Wakes

https://damonwakes.wordpress.com/

Damon L. Wakes is the author of Ten Little Astronauts, Face of Glass, and over 200 works of flash fiction, which can be heard at events across the UK.

 

Going Incognito, a Tuesday Night Talk by novelist, TV Writer and Producer, Neil Arksey

 

Like all of us, Neil Arksey, novelist of mid-grade, YA and now dark adult crime, TV head writer, series producer and screenwriter, is in awe of Barbara Large’s work in founding the Winchester Writers’ Festival and the Hampshire Writers’ Society.

A closet writer for years, Neil, the only Neil of his kind was successful in acting. But after falling asleep whilst leaning on a column at Shakespeare’s Globe in the guise of Brutus, the fault of heavily overpowering pain killers he assures us, only to be awoken by a prod from Cassius, he decided a ‘sitting job,’ was needed. That was when Neil turned to writing.

Short stories were his choice to start with. One such story he sent to his nephew, Tom. On Tom’s advice, Neil submitted it to Random House. Here, he gave us some advice not to take – borrowing a book from his niece’s shelf, he copied the publisher’s address onto an envelope, stuffed the ice-cream stained copy of the story in, along with a post-it note saying: “My nephew liked this, you might too,” and sent it to Random House.

The problem was that Neil had unwittingly stereotyped himself. The view of his publisher was: “We own you and you are a brand.” More stories like Brooksie, Neil’s first novel, was what they wanted. MacB, Neil’s third book which was a slight change was rejected.

At this point he was feeling a little vulnerable. Neil took the advice of a fellow author and sought out a writer’s community. It was at an event held by Penguin, where he’d gone to hear one of his favourite authors, Melvin Burgess, speak, that he networked and found a home for MacB.

‘How hard is it to be a writer?’ Neil asked not just the present members and guests of the Hampshire Writers’ Society, but of himself, when his novel writing still failed to pay the bills.

Taking on writing for TV, Neil became a head writer. After a while he found that his own personal writing had taken a back seat; this was not what he wanted for his career. Teaching came next. A smattering of hours gave him enough to live on and he got back to writing.

Reading tomes of adult crime and using their techniques, Neil produced his much-loved dark adult crime fiction. ‘It took much longer than writing middle grade,’ he admitted. It needed drastically reducing. So, he re-wrote it.

The publishers were less than supportive. After fifteen years as a children’s author they were not keen to remarket him.

‘Do I really want to throw it all away and start again?’ he asked himself. Well, thank goodness the answer was yes.

Neil bandied about and re-hashed a pseudonym, finally settling on: James Brodie. Looking on it as active research for his students, he set about submitting his novel to agents. The role of head writer had given him some much welcomed experience of sitting ‘on the other side of the desk’ where he was used to receiving up to eighty unsolicited scripts a week. Tailoring his synopsis and covering letter to fit each of a list of thirty agents, he made a start in October last year and submitted to one a week.

‘Irritate them,’ he says, ‘you’ve spent so much time working on your novel, if you get even a glimmer of interest, send your work again. Even if you don’t, send it again – what’ve you got to lose?’

The response he got was the same lack-lustre response that many writers receive. It wasn’t until he’d somewhat alarmingly reached number twenty-three that he received some genuine interest.

Determined to play the game, Neil then contacted all those agents who’d requested the full manuscript only to brush him off and told them about the interest he’d had. Suddenly they all wanted him. After a ‘feeding frenzy’ as he called it, he selected an agent.

‘I think,’ he said, ‘We’ll leave it there.’ We wait with baited-breath for the next chapter.

Report by Lisa Nightingale