“It’s the best job in the world,” Laura Williams, Literary Agent for Greene & Heaton told the members and guests gathered at the Hampshire Writers’ Society November meeting, “I get to work with authors, from day one of their career, until the end of their career.”
“Agents are not out there to take the author’s money,” she says, “and neither are they there to crash your dreams.” Outside the agency, they are super competitive. But, inside they are very forgiving. They talk books all day, swap manuscripts and read unbelievably fast. As agents for authors, they need to get to know all the publishers and booksellers in the industry. They go to book fairs and carry out a huge amount of editing. Laura’s message is that; if her author isn’t happy, she isn’t happy. Myth numbers one and two — busted!
Myth number three: your submission needs to be perfect? No. A bad synopsis will not preclude your submission. Your synopsis should be like a “greatest hits of your book.” The end MUST BE INCLUDED. Your covering letter needs to be polite, to the point and endorse that you know your book thoroughly. Also include a little about yourself. It doesn’t matter that you might have your genre wrong, that is fixable.
It also doesn’t matter who, in the industry, that you know. Laura is keen for us to understand that “It is all about the book.” Myth number 4 — busted!
Until she reads it, Laura sometimes doesn’t know exactly what it is that she is looking for in a manuscript. Her list varies from horror to big love stories that make her cry. As for timing and luck of your submission? The year’s two biggest book fairs take place in March and December. Do not expect an expedient reply if you submit at those times. Also, manuscripts submitted on Christmas Day are not likely to be read until the New Year! “Try three pm on a Thursday in August.” Laura says in jest. But yes, Agents really do read every submission that they receive.
On to myth number six – no, you do not need to live in London. Perhaps this was partly true in times of posting hard-copy manuscripts. Agents travel well and they are eager to try out all other cities. Laura even has clients in Canada.
Myth number seven: it’s about the prizes that you’ve won. It isn’t! A list of the competitions in which you’ve been successful, and your membership of societies (Hampshire Writers’ Society for one) in your covering letter shows that you are serious about your craft. Again, Laura is keen to advise that; “It’s all about the book.”
The same answer shot down myth number eight: it’s essential to have an MA in Creative Writing. There is a plethora of websites offering free advice. The Writers and Artists’ Yearbook is another free resource readily at hand.
Find the “essence” of your book and use that to pitch it in answer to the question, What’s it about? The essence is not always what the book says. All books can be pitched in this way.
Do not write for the market or the current trend. Some trends pass by very quickly, going right out of fashion. It may well be that by the time your novel is to come to fruition, the trend will be long gone. Always write the story that you want to write. If the agent picks it up and the genre isn’t clear; they’ll just “make it up”. And that takes care of myth number nine.
Ten: it’s all in the great writing? It’s a great story that is necessary. If, however the agent suggests a change, it is a good idea to listen. Again, here the agent supports their author. Laura once spent a Sunday afternoon re-writing half of a future client’s manuscript in order to change the point of view; the author did the other half.
What about social media? The agent and the publisher are there to help you through social media. Even if you have no presence on social media at all, it doesn’t matter.
Finally, to number twelve: once you have an agent, you’re set for life! Laura wishes that were true, but unfortunately it is not. Not all books are sold. However, many authors debut is not their first book. In the rare event that the agent is unable to sell your book, they will talk this through with you and together you’ll work out a way forward.
“Carpet bombing may not be quite the right phrase.” Laura says, “But, you get the idea. Send your manuscript to everyone that you want to read it. That’s what she does.”
The November competition was judged by literary agent, Laura Williams. The brief was to write a creative piece entitled ‘The Waiting Room’.
And the winners were:
First Place: On the Landing Stage by Peter Duncan
Second Place: Smart Rooms by Nigel Luck
Third Place:The Room, Waiting by John Quinn
Highly Commended: Waiting for the Word by Barbara Needham
Highly Commended:Teething Problems by Dominique Hackston
Photo by David Eadsforth
First Place: On the Landing Stage by Peter Duncan
‘This is the ideal short story – a snapshot of a moment, leaving you satisfied but also imaging more. A worthy winner!’
The bus drew to a halt. The driver turned off the engine. Jarred into movement by the brief silence I stumbled toward the doors, heaving the rucksack onto my shoulders. The driver glanced up, then went back to counting his fares.
The lights in the deserted ferry terminal shone pointlessly bright. Above the covered walkway leading down to the landing stage I saw familiar adverts for department stores and local newspapers, now oddly distorted by the brightness. The echo of my footsteps on the wooden boards carried too loudly all around. I had never been here so late before.
Out in the open again I faced the wide dark river, my senses caught by the wind coursing in from the sea and the rank smell of industrial estuary. The lights of the city were spread out all along the distant farther shore.
I spotted a weather boarded, dimly- lit cabin right at the end of the landing stage and began walking slowly towards it. Oily water slapped against the steel piles beneath me. The river night was all around. It felt for a few moments as if I was walking into oblivion.
I pushed at the door. Inside, nothing more than a long and heavily graffitied bench beneath a wide dirty window. The place smelled thickly of stale cigarette smoke. I laid my rucksack on the bench, sat down and gazed through the grimy salt- smattered window at the river and the city way beyond. Behind me was the place I could no longer call home: somewhere ahead was a destination I didn’t yet know. I sat in that cheerless room waiting for the ferry to arrive, held terribly between the life that had been and the one that was yet to come.
Second Place: Smart Rooms by Nigel Luck
‘This story is instantly intriguing and perfectly self-contained, with an original and clever concept.’
The problem with Smart Rooms was first recorded in the waiting room of a large hospital. Basic functions of these rooms were common across all, they could read people’s body temperature and adjust the heating or air conditioning accordingly. The more sophisticated could monitor occupants moods and make changes to improve their comfort.
Bathrooms could inform you when the shower had reached the optimum temperature thus avoiding the shock of a cold shower. Smart kitchens were able to do the majority of cooking or talk you through a recipe. Laundry rooms washed, dried and folded your clothes and even the playrooms were capable of putting away toys. It was noted that as a result injuries from Lego had been reduced by 100%.
The sensory detectors in these rooms were designed to read the needs and desires of their occupants and make adjustments in line with these.
Smart Rooms in large buildings were particularly sophisticated; Gym Rooms, swimming pools, restaurants and libraries were all equipped with multi functionality. Waiting rooms however were limited to adjusting room temperature, lighting, and occasionally playing easy listening music.
The difficulties in the Hospital waiting room began one afternoon in May when it deviated from the norm by instigating a game of charades with the waiting patients. It took the Hospital staff two hours to stop the game. Programmers were brought in and the problem was thought to be fixed. But the following week the waiting room compared a talent competition. Following activities included a mass game of hide and seek, a disco and a game of Sleeping Lions where the winner turned out to be dead.
It became apparent that while the resulting activities were direct responses to the occupants desire to alleviate the boredom of waiting, the Hospital deemed this type of behaviour inappropriate. The smart room function was turned off and Hospitals across the country reverted back to installing flickering fluorescent lights and torn magazines from the previous decade.
Third Place: The Room, Waiting by John Quinn
‘This story is so atmospheric and totally heartbreaking – a real achievement in so few words!’
The heavy brocade curtains defiantly stared out of the windows, inside their linings, beige and dull, remained mute. Only the slimmest shaft of sun evaded the room’s defences, momentarily and theatrically illuminating a small speck of Turkish rug or a plank of the once mirror-polished oak floor.
It was in these rare moments, when the interior of the music salon was dimly illuminated, that the room took a shallow breath, surveyed itself in its gloom and, reassured, settled back into a melancholy wait.
It noted the tuning fork, dust covered and slightly rusting, lying unloved and abandoned on the music stand. Even the metronome, that transmitter of time, could not recall when last it had been wound and allowed to sway and click and precisely and lovingly fulfil its destiny.
The Steinway, normally that proudest of grandest pianos, was relieved to have its out of tune embarrassment covered by dustsheets. Those sheets had last been respectfully lifted by blind Dr Cox, the piano tuner, but even his cane’s tap, tap, tap had been absent for more than a decade.
Since the riding accident Suzanne had been confined to bed or wheelchair and, out of respect or pity, no one had struck a chord or carried a tune in the room’s well-proportioned and once elegant interior. Bridy, the maid, had realised, several years ago, that dusting was pointless and had privately declared the room a no-go zone.
Now Jody, just five, tall enough to reach the room’s door handle and strong enough to turn it, clasped the brass knob. ‘Grandma, there’s a piano in here? I’m learning at school. I can play Chopsticks.’
Suzanne pushed hard down on the inner wheel rims of her chair to catch her mischievous grandchild. ‘Don’t go…’ But then she paused. Confused, Jody, turned to look at the grey-haired woman. ‘No, of course you can, darling. Turn the light on, be careful, I suspect it’s rather dusty after all these years.’
Highly Commended: Waiting for the Word by Barbara Needham
‘This is a very clever interpretation of the theme, and the author has been sophisticated in using the reader’s knowledge of history to fill in the blanks.’
There was a palpable sense of déjà vu. The Great Hall bustled with activity. Heralds in shining livery awaited their moment of glory, spitting into their trumpets. In a distant office, clerks eyed their copies of a royal proclamation. Complete … except for one important word.
Messages had reached Henry that events were underway in Greenwich. He waited, alternating between joyous anticipation and a sickening feeling he could not articulate. Hours went by. Restlessness gave way to anger. Why, in God’s name, was it all taking so long?
Henry was accustomed to being in control. Giving the orders. Making the decisions. He felt impotent and frustrated by lack of action. Blast those sycophantic courtiers surrounding him, who told him what they thought he wanted to hear. Blast those toadying cronies who were probably lining their pockets at his expense. And damn and blast all the soothsayers, prophets and priests who claimed in total confidence that, this time, he would have his wish granted. Not one of them dared to voice the question of what if…
Attendants sent for the court jester, but even his antics failed to lighten Henry’s mood.
The long-awaited deputation filed in. Henry’s heart sank as they bowed low. There were no smiling faces, no puffed up officials bursting to impart momentous news and no-one looked Henry in the eye. They were hesitant, muted and measured.
He prepared a trite answer to hide his overwhelming disappointment. When they had said their piece, he forced himself to ask about the welfare of the mother.
Henry made a perfunctory visit to the mewling infant, with her silky thatch of red hair. Meanwhile, clerks sharpened their quills and inserted the word princess into their documents.
Highly Commended: Teething Problems by Dominique Hackston
‘This story has a very funny and unexpected twist, which was well executed and neatly done.’
Bob sat next to his mother, his leg twitching. Silently he inspected every poster on the walls. Only one of them depicted looming torture. He twisted and untwisted the latest copy of Beano. Finally, his mother reached over and calmed his agitated leg.
“It’s only a check-up.”
“Do I have to?” he whimpered.
“Read your comic.”
Obediently he opened it but stared over the top at the huge perfect pearly smile opposite. ‘Bet she’s never had a filling’, he thought. His eyes slid to the story below. Dennis and Gnasher were having a bad day at the doctors and got stuck in a window trying to escape. Bob ground his teeth and wondered why Dennis hadn’t tried the larger window.
“I need to er…” He stood.
“You’ve just been. Sit!”
He sat. Dennis could never have got into trouble with a mother like his, he lamented. Bob returned to his comic where Roger the Dodger was cleverly distracting an old man with a photo album while he crept past with a steaming apple pie.
Bob rose and rifled through the pile of publications. He handed a glossy cookery magazine to his Mum, sat and waited for her to bury her head in a new recipe.
“Sit!” she hissed without lifting her eyes. “Lilly might see you?”
He checked the door and flopped onto the chair. An-hour-long five minutes later the dentist’s door opened. Giggles tinkled as Lilly’s blonde curls bobbed towards him in her mother’s arms.
“Mummy thaid I can thit on your lap too, Daddy.”
“Did she now?” He set Lilly down and she toddled straight back to the dentist. He followed. In the doorway, Bob scooped-up the chuckling child. He scowled at his mother and his wife, firmly closed the door on them and plastered a smile of his face.
EMMA-NICOLE LEWIS appeared last month on the HWS blog featuring in the trailer for a mini-documentary about, Eyam the town where her latest novel, A SHADOW BEYOND, is set. The documentary, for which she sought permission from the museum and church used, took her only a week or so to make and has brought interest in her from as far away as Russia.
“Making yourself visible is now what it is all about.” she told the meeting last night, “Amazon has done wonders, but for the writer, it has saturated their market.”
Writing has been a passion of Emma’s since a young age and following the success of her first novel, THE WISHING HOUSE, she made the decision to swap her career in business strategy for full time novelist.
“Define your reader,” she says. It is something that can be done within your other research. As an unknown, new to the market, you won’t be selling books on your name alone. Think about how your story might fit with your reader. Consider the sort of book clubs that they might belong to, what are their interests, their hobbies, where do they go for leisure time and what are the websites that they might visit. By pin-pointing your readers, you’ll find it easier to market your book. Emma’s stories are historical; many of her readers will be interested in history, so she made good contacts with the museum and coffee shops in the town where A Shadow Beyond is set, leaving advertising leaflets there for readers to pick up.
Have your marketing plan in place before publication day. “Getting those pre-orders in to Amazon will raise your stakes in their best-seller lists.” she tells us. This in turn encourages them to spend their advertising space on you. “So, line up your reviewers and bloggers before you go live.”
Establish a PR hook. Find a story within your story. When Emma told the story of how her first novel was written whilst she was on maternity leave (she still doesn’t know how she did it), the local press bit quickly. Interest seems to be on the person who wrote the story almost as much as the story itself, so Emma’s social media pages are peppered with pictures of her and her family on her latest research expedition. It brings out either the Aaah! or the humorous side of your readers.
“Love your readers.” she urges, “It might sound soppy but, if you love them, they’ll love you back.” Reply to contacts and comments when appropriate (DO NOT RESPOND TO REVIEWS; ITS NOT THE DONE THING) your readers will talk positively about you, share your work and comments. A sort of virtual marketing team.
Finally, what is it that you want to see from your favourite writer? An avid reader, Emma often gets to the end of which ever book she is reading, wondering about what that author will do next. She often looks into it. If that author is not doing what she wanted – she does it herself!
The 2018-19 season proved to be as exciting as we hoped. In September, Tracey Corderoy, the amazingly prolific author of sixty children / young adult books, and Barry Timms, author and editorial director of Little Tiger Books, described how they collaborated on picture books. In October, Ian Thomas, writer, programmer, and games developer for Talespinners, described the art of game writing and narrative design to a packed house. November saw deeply experienced literary agent Heather Holden-Brown describe the path to publication, and in December the year was rounded off by Penny Ingham, classical scholar, ex-BBC production assistant turned author, who explained the benefits of working with the small independent publisher to research, write, and publish historical novels.
2020 was opened by Lucy Courtenay, author and editor of children’s books, who described how to get started in writing an illustrated children’s book. In February, Edward Docx, thriller writer, explained the craft of creating the bones of a narrative in a single brainstorming session. And in March, Judy Waite, children’s author of more than fifty books, took an interactive workshop approach to tell us how to fire up our creative curiosity.
In April, Neil Arksey, screenwriter, script editor, producer, lead writer on a number of TV dramas, and now author of young adult novels, described how the challenge of finding an agent can meet with success. In May, Stevyn Colgan, policeman turned author, took us through the illustrious history of British comic writing and, to wrap up the year, Simon Hall, news correspondent for twenty-five years, gave us an insight into the real events that have inspired his crime writing; and how to locate a dead otter when circumstances dictate.
All in all, another great season for the HWS.
Report from Liaison Officer, Gary Farnell
2018-19 has been a busy year for the Liaison Officer at the Hampshire Writers’ Society (HWS). Liaison has been mainly at the University of Winchester, but also with other bodies – at both regional and national levels – where there is an interest in the Society’s activities. In addition, there has been further liaison with specific individuals, with a view to putting together the HWS programme for 2019-20.
When vacancies arise on the HWS Organising Committee there is often an element of liaison which comes into play, in order to fill these vacancies. 2018-19 has been no exception in this regard. It is pleasing to report that the HWS Organizing Committee continues to function, in 2019-20, as the hard-working body it has always been.
The Liaison role at HWS also entails acting as moderator at the Society’s monthly meetings, in the post-talk question-and-answer sessions. This is a very stimulating role to perform: it has been a privilege, and a pleasure, to be able to meet with the Society’s speakers and guests in this way.
There will, of course, be further liaison in 2019-20. The Society is already planning its next season: it will be exciting to try to shape a new programme from the activities of the past year.
Report from Competitions Manager, Helen Adlam
The 2018/19 season was busy in terms of competitions. As well as the regular monthly competitions, October 2018 saw the addition of the Hyde 900 poetry competition (organised in conjunction with Edward Fennell), which received 13 entries. The winning poems were read out by actor Nigel Bradshaw at a specially arranged Hyde 900 commemorative event in Winchester. In addition, children’s author, Judy Waite, organised a Wordtamer competition, inviting writers of children’s fiction to enter a short story/novel extract. The prize was a one to one session with Judy to develop the story further, as well as a selection of Wordtamer-related books. This competition received 10 entries.
In terms of monthly competitions, the average number of entries was around 10. However, the competition judged by Claire Fuller in February 2019 – Write a last letter from a parent to a child – proved to be particularly popular, generating 23 entries. Least popular was Write a story outline for a video game, adjudicated by Ian Thomas. This, disappointingly, only attracted seven entries (last season’s lowest figure for entries was 11). Competitions which evoke personal memories, or memories from childhood, seem to be the most popular. It is noted from last year’s report that the most popular competition drew 26 entries, so three less than the 23 generated most recently.
Report from Membership Secretary, Karin Groves
During the 2018/2019 season, the Hampshire Writers’ Society grew to 154 members. Amongst the members you will find published and established authors; those seeking literary agents and publication; students studying for undergraduate or postgraduate degrees or attending creative writing classes; and those for whom writing is a passion or an enjoyable interest.
In the past year, there have been two HWS Book Fairs (December and June) for mainstream and self-published members of the society. This gives authors an opportunity to display and sell their books. The occasion was a great networking opportunity for all members. I am currently taking bookings for the next book fair in December 2019.
Without members paying a subscription fee and visitors paying an entrance fee, the HWS would not have enough income to pay for the speakers, so it is essential to renew the membership, introduce new members and publicise our events to keep the HWS thriving.
The HWS was able to offer a special discount price of £25 until the end of August for 2019/2020 membership. From 1st September 2019, the membership subscription is £30. Students are free on production of a valid student card. Non-members pay £5 per evening. All this is exceptional value for 10 monthly informative and entertaining evenings.
For no extra charge. members have the opportunity to join the HWS Critique Group; enter the monthly writing competitions; and participate in the Members’ Book Fair in December and June.
Due to rising costs for the speakers and falling numbers of people paying a subscription fee, from September 2020, the subscription fee will rise to £35 per year. The cost of a visitor ticket to our Tuesday evening events will rise from £5 to £6. This is the first increase in nine years. Also from September 2020, free membership will only be available to full time students.
It is possible to subscribe or renew your membership at any HWS event by cash, credit card or cheque or email Karin Groves for the HWS bank details to make an online payment.
Planning for 2020/2021 Season
We always have our members in mind when the committee is planning for the next season. After many helpful suggestions and contacts last year, we were able to create a diverse programme of speakers for this coming season. Now we are planning for the next season, so we ask again for your suggestions! Please email your ideas or leave a list at the next meeting.
Volunteering, vacancies and ideas!
The Hampshire Writers’ Society is run by a very small committee of volunteers and we are always looking for people to help in any way they can.
· A Marketing Manager
· HWS Newsletter Editor/Compiler
Report from the Treasurer, Crispin Drummond
The financial statement for 2018/19 has been prepared. It shows a reduction of membership income for the year, at a time when the Society engaged with an increased number of speakers coming from the other side of the country. These additional travel and accommodation expenses meant costs rose importantly. In consequence the Society made a deficit for the year amounting to nearly £2000, and our capital funds are much reduced.
In reaction, The Organising Committee has met to view the forecasts of costs and revenues for the coming year, and to confirm the adequacy of our resources for the remainder of the year. At the same time steps are being considered to replenish the Society’s capital, to boost recurrent revenue, and to re-establish the financial strength as we embark on the next season of the Society’s activities.
Tuesday, 8th October’s meeting was one filled with warmth and a relaxed, chatty atmosphere throughout. Audience members were able to ask questions of the two friends as they thought of them which ensured that time was made for everyone’s questions, with two openhearted, welcoming speakers in Special guest Hilary Hares and main speaker Claire Dyer.
Special Guest: Hilary Hares – Writer and Poet
Poet Hilary Hares gave a captivating talk about honing your craft. While some poets may jest that you should never trust a poet who can explain what their poem means, Hilary told how it’s important to know the essence of what you’re
“When I’ve written it, I often cut it in half to distill the essence,” Hilary told, elucidating this further with “as much as property purchasing is about location, location, location, poetry creation is about revision, revision, revision.”
Hilary suggested the following edits and checks to strength your work after the first draft:
Read aloud to feel the rhythm;
Check your verbs – are they powerful enough?
Check your nouns – are they all working well?
Move things around;
Change the point of view;
Change the piece from passive to imperative voice. This will reveal which voice is stronger for this piece.
You need to know whether you’re just writing for yourself or for public consumption, because if for public consumption you will need to make decisions on how you want this to happen. A second pair of eyes is a must; Go to open mic open nights. There’s one in Winchester, even if it’s just to listen; You could Attend a tutor group or poetry school – some good ones are Arvon (https://www.arvon.org/writing-courses/courses-retreats/) or Live Cannon (http://www.livecanon.co.uk/courses).
“Most valuable is a trusted poetry friend. Claire Dyer is mine. You become to know each other’s style and likely edits. We know what will be e-mailed to each other now so we make those amends before sending for review.”
“I’ve written about 600 poems, so I use spreadsheets to keep track of where I’ve sent them and where they’ve been used.” You must be disciplined about sending work. Hilary recommends setting aside a day a month specifically to do this, whether sending to competitions, magazines or works being published. Set yourself small goals but be realistic with time lines. Print magazines may take six months to respond but online magazines’ turnaround is closer to three weeks. But also read the print or online publication you’re submitting to first, do your research. You want to be sure of quality.
Hilary told how ‘rejection is your friend.’ She voiced how it can feel personal when you put your heart and soul into a poem but ‘if you look at the poem as an entity in its own right which needs to find its way in the world, like sending your children off to university, it becomes easier.’
Hilary has used this system for 11 years and so far has had 150 poems published either in print or online.
“I take a lot of inspiration from Radio 4. For example, I heard on Radio 4 about a whale who gave birth to a baby girl and a baby boy. The daughter went off to be her own personality but the son stayed with his mother, learning from her. There is inspiration everywhere – Facebook, funnily enough. I don’t engineer inspiration. Things pop up.”
“Some of my favourite poets would be Jo Bell, Kim Moone, Simon Armitage, Alice Oswald. The list goes on. No particular genre. We would be here all night if I listed them all.”
Main Speaker: Claire Dyer – Chapter & Verse
Claire is an author of three poetry books and four novels published via two agents and two publishers (with many more written and hidden in the loft); being a writer of both chapter and verse, Claire is often asked which she prefers. But she finds this question very similar to ‘which one of your children is your favourite?’ the answer will always be: ‘I like them the same.’ “There are different challenges with poetry and prose but in both you need to use character, message, atmosphere, voice.”
It was the 10 years of experience on top of studies that led Claire to discover her voice. Claire joined the Poetry Society (https://poetrysociety.org.uk/), went to festivals, studied for a Masters at Royal Holloway, and 10 years later was when she noticed a change in her writing, “Nothing beats thrashing out ideas with other poets. All life is material. Nothing is ever wasted. Writers’ lives are exciting and frustrating in equal measure.”
Claire has been teaching creative writing for five years. She has seen writers grow in confidence and conviction during this time. She also runs a critique service – Fresh Eyes (www.clairedyer.com/fresh-eyes/) – which she hopes most writers will find less extortionate in price in comparison to the typical fees you expect from paid critique services.
“Writing can be frenetic and other times can be silent. I had to learn to be silent.” Putting a poetry collection together can take years, Claire’s first collection took 10 years, her second took four years and her third took five years to compile.
“And learning to live with rejection is important. Writing is a journey of wonderment. We’ve been to some amazing places, but I also have enough rejections to wallpaper St. Paul’s Cathedral… and I still don’t take them well,” she laughs, self-deprecating.
But Claire’s favourite part of writing is the personal connection: “Living with the work is so wonderful. Living with the writing life is my oxygen, publishers are a secondary consideration. It doesn’t matter whether it’s one page or a 100,000.” Claire loves writing a character that even she doesn’t know what they’re going to do next, until she sits and writes their pages. “Many writers will know exactly how their story is going to end but I like the ending to be a surprise for me and then I know it will be a surprise for the reader.”
Claire started her writing journey with ‘very bad short stories’. Her first novel at just 20,000 words she was advised to put under the bed. So she did and it’s still there. Claire said how with rejections you only ever remember the negatives, those directions to hide things under beds, you miss the positives comments of what worked well. But there are things that you can do that will help, Claire suggests ‘being in a writers’ group – such as Hampshire Writing Society – is step one; and to read! Read in your chosen and other genres. Look for good dialogue/bad dialogue; ask yourself ‘how is it constructed?’; inspiration is everywhere.
“I’m often inspired by one tiny idea, one tiny thought; for example, with my book Last Day, I wanted a love triangle where everyone got on and wondered how that would play out. Inspiration could be found looking at a photo, looking at a door, books can grow from the smallest idea. I have even spent time with potters, carpenters, firefighters just to learn.”
Last Day, underwent three major rewrites. “It’s no surprise it can take 18 months for a book to reach the shelf when you see the process of publishing a book.”
“Sometimes you’ll have three sets of experiences live in your mind at one time,” Claire explains. “The book that’s on the shelf selling, the book that’s with the publishers going through the process and the book you’re currently writing. I’m a nightmare to live with at this point,” Claire quips.
With 15 books written, Claire is familiar with sometimes falling out of love with a book when you’ve left it a while. And then it can be impacted by timescales, continuous advances in technology, for example, and can make it even harder to go back and change it. Changes in readers’ expectations as time moves on also plays a part. As a comparative in example, modern day readers like to be thrown into a book but Victorian readers enjoyed the slower introduction.
“It’s about the journey, not the destination. So much of what we do is predicated by luck. Our chances are slim but we keep hold of hope. Keep the faith in your work and maintain public contact… And don’t get too drunk at book launches.
“Enjoy the friends you meet, the points of view you get, live the writer’s life. You’ve got to be in it to win at it, after all.”
In just over two weeks, Literary Agent Laura Williams will be speaking to Hampshire Writers’ Society. Her talk, Myth-busting the Publications Industry will be live at the Stripe. So, I thought it would be good to resurrect the report of a talk from the Literary Agent, Lorella Belli. Especially as Lorella appears in one of this website’s banner photos, plus it’s Halloween time; resurrecting things is topical!
Lorella talks about the role of an agent regardless of whether the author has chosen to self-publish or the more traditional route of ensnaring the interest of a publisher.
What are the pros and cons of getting a traditional deal or choosing the self-publishing route? In this rapidly changing landscape, what is the role of the agent?
It was Lorella Belli’s ambition to set up her own agency. She set out to know the publishing industry inside out. Her brief to discover ‘new blood’ gave her not just invaluable insider experience but introduced her to many unpublished authors.
‘An agent works for their Author.’ Lorella says. As an agent, her primary concern and something which she feels forms a vital part of the agent/author partnership is; ‘What does the author want from their writing?’
She is the first to declare that the agent’s role in the modern author’s career remains unchanged regardless of chosen route of publication – self or traditional. An area of particular interest is the protection and exploitation of the author’s rights and here, Lorella is well versed and diva.
For the most part, a writer wants readers, they want to see their work in a bookshop. Equally, it is important to recognise the financial aspects of a writer’s career. Both the traditional route and the contemporary self-publishing route provides remuneration, but in different ways.
It is her belief that an agent has a responsibility to be aware of the many platforms of publication available to authors both new and experienced, how those platforms work and therefore be able to fit the author to the best publisher.
Lorella’s agency is vocational towards the needs of an author. There is no room for the agent’s preciousness over writing. ‘So, what if the book is ‘trashy’.’ Lorella says, ‘If the writer is happy, then their readers are happy and so is the publisher.’
An author can retain some control over publishing decisions e.g. the cover even through the traditional route. An informed agent will know to insert such clauses into their contract. Similarly, self-publishing has given the publishing houses some much needed competition – authors now have an alternative.
However, authors must be aware that by choosing the self-publishing route, they are choosing to take on their career in its entirety and inevitably this will cut into writing time. A publishing house provides editing, a marketing department, a sales department and publicity.
The traditional route may seem like it is taking its time, whereas self-publishing can be a whirlwind. Of course, this is after the author has learned all the skills needed to be a publisher.
One huge pro for the appointment of an agent – they get the hurtful rejections! However, an agent of Lorella’s talent will believe in the book and wants to see it published. It is that agent’s job to spot the writer’s talent and therefore their target audience.
It is hugely important that authors remain professional. When an agent is passionate about a book and has an author that they can build on, they will stand more chance of promoting it, even if it does not appear to fit, or is the wrong length.
Even to an agent as talented as Lorella, the next big thing is a mystery. There will always be the wild card – who could have predicted 50 Shades of Grey? However, a writer can keep their eye on publicity to hang on e.g. the Olympics.
As a writer grows more successful, their chosen path can become more complex. Lorella suggests building a team – delegate, remember the AAA (Association of Authors’ Agents) and ask an agent for advice. That is the bottom line of their job – to work for the author.
An agent’s website will state what they are looking for. There is no divide between male and female, it is all down to what that agent wants to feel when reading a book. For Lorella, it is what makes her laugh and what makes her cry.
The members present were left in no doubt of Lorella’s message – the agent works for the author, no one else, not themselves, not the publishers. Just the author. They thanked her for her candid, refreshing approach and dependably constant open door
The October competition was judged by novelist and poet, Claire Dyer. The brief was to write a memory of being read to as a child.
And the winners were:
First Place: Special Knight by Lynn Clements
Second Place: The Final Half Hour by Peter Duncan
Third Place:The Ghosts in the Pages by Esther Fernandez-Florente
Highly Commended: Read to Me by George Rodger
Highly Commended:Bedtime by Linda Welch
Photo by Alex Carter
First Place: Special Knight by Lynn Clements
He always came in the night, when he could. I snuggled down under my cherry pink, candlewick bed spread, pretending to be asleep. The door creaked…that’s when I couldn’t contain myself. My eyes would fly open and out of my mouth came, ‘another story pleeeeease.’ (Dad was a sucker for the soft soap). Inevitably there would be, ‘just one more,’ and I had him to myself.
Dad was away a lot during my childhood, so times spent with him were precious. The Gulf War and the Bosnian War interrupted my early years. Mum was often left with just me and my brother for company. She did her best to hold down a full-time job and bring us up proper, as she used to say but there wasn’t much time or energy for reading stories. And when dad was home she had her hands full. She worked extra hard to make him happier.
My dad loved myths and legends from the Egyptians and Greeks. He used to tell me about Amun Ra, king of the Gods and Osiris, who was chopped into pieces by his brother and how Icarus had his wings melted because he flew too close to the sun. He held the books open but didn’t turn many pages, yet the stories poured out. His voice was like drinking hot chocolate and my heart felt full. His eyes twinkled in the dim night light, and it was then he smiled most.
‘Special nights,’ I said at his funeral. He was forty-five. My brother nodded in his front row pew. Mum just bowed her head and shakily held onto her son’s hand. Cal read a poem that dad had taught him, about a knight in search of Eldorado. The gallant knight rode long and hard in his quest but couldn’t find what he was looking for. The poem then tells of a shadow falling over his heart as he realised Eldorado was unobtainable. It was then that we all wept.
Second Place: The Final Half Hour by Peter Duncan
The morning was for arithmetic and spelling (hopeless at one, a bit better at the other). After lunch it was music (no voice, terrible timing) or games (always the last to be picked). But in the final half hour of those long and long- ago days, something magical happened.
Mr Barlow wiped the blackboard, consigning forever a blur of words and numbers to my slowly lengthening past. Sitting on the edge of his desk now, he would pick up a battered paperback book and begin reading to us. Well, he was really reading just to me. Even after all these years I remember his voice: gentle and kind and carrying the promise of the story he was beginning to tell. Mr Barlow was always reading just to me.
I sat cross- legged on the polished wooden floor, barely noticing the others all around. Autumn turned to winter and then to spring and summer: the days outside the classroom windows gradually grew darker, then slowly lighter again. And all the while I listened enthralled to the most wonderful stories ever. I was in a city called Paris outsmarting thieves trying to get their hands on millions of francs. I was gazing into a rubbish- strewn chalk pit when I caught sight of a cave man. I was standing at the gates of the most marvellous chocolate factory the world had ever known.
Mr Barlow read on and I was in one of those wonderful other places. It didn’t matter that I was hopeless at arithmetic and not much better at spelling. It made no difference that I couldn’t sing and was always the last to be picked at games. Now I was somewhere else: Now I was in a story.
Third Place: The Ghosts in the Pages by Esther Fernandez-Florente
I don’t know whether I believe in ghosts but I know that a book can be haunted and, for me, memories of my parents fall out of the pages of certain books like old pressed flowers. What I remember most clearly is the cadence of their voices as they read books with me. The turn of a particular phrase is a twist of recollection, sharp as a paper cut. The one time I really and acutely miss either of them is when I find them between the leaves of a book.
There are pages that I can’t read without hearing my mother’s laughter bubbling up under particular words and sentences: in Saki’s short stories (especially ‘The Lumber Room’), Just William, “no harm just looking at it”, anything by Nancy Mitford. She loved a descriptive passage too; we relished T. H. White’s evocation of Merlin’s study in The Sword in the Stone. ‘There was a real corkindrill hanging from the ceiling.’ (I’ve wanted one ever since, even after I knew what it was.)
With my father, it’s the reverence in his tone when he read poetry to me that remains. A dyslexic Fleet-Air-Arm veteran of the Second World War: he might well have been voted ‘man least likely to be found reading romantic poetry’ but that is often how I found him of an evening. He adored Byron.
‘And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!’
I can hear the awe in his voice: for words rather than God.
I read to my mother when she was dying, my father went too fast. I wanted her to hear my voice in the pages she taught me to love, as I wish my father had. Now the page is where I hear them best.
Highly Commended: Bedtime by Linda Welch
Every morning, Peter Tiggwigg trit-trotted past Mrs Goose’s toyshop on his way to school. One day she called out to him. ‘Peter Tiggywigg,’ she said …
How well I remember the opening line of that story, but after Mrs Goose’s call to Peter Tiggwigg my mind is blank. Nestled in my father’s arms, snug and warm in my red Ladybird fleece dressing-gown, after my evening bath, I was already sleepy by the time he began the bedtime ritual. His tone was quiet, not so animated that I would perk up at the story, but I remember he had different voices for the characters: Mrs Goose, prim and proper, with a slightly shrill manner – as an adult, I realize he modelled her on Aunty Wendy, still shrill, prim and proper at nearly 90. Peter Tiggwigg, the schoolboy piglet, sounded cheeky and mischievous, a little like my brother although, over 50 years later, no-one could accuse him of either of those things.
More important than the stories themselves – from Tales of Peter Tiggywigg to Tales of the Riverbank – was the security and warmth of my father’s arms around me as we held the book together, turned the pages together, pointed to pictures and spelled out difficult words, and the utter certainty that reading me a bedtime story was the high point of his day, just as it was mine.
Long before the story was finished I would be asleep, and he would carry me up to bed and tuck the blankets around me. He would leave the book on my bedside table, knowing that I would wake early and pick up where we had left off, carefully tracing with my fingertips the words we had read together.
I still can’t remember why Mrs Goose needed to speak to Peter Tiggywigg.
Highly Commended: Read to Me by George Rodger
Nobody read to me when I was a child. No parent or older sibling sent me to sleep with a few pages of Enid Blyton. Even at five years old, I was sceptical that four kids and a parrot could save the world anyway.
So, I read to myself.
I left school at fifteen. No job. I had a bike which was stolen for me up in Barnet and I used to run errands for people who sometimes needed to avoid the attentions of the police.
One day I was knocked off my bike. A leg and both wrists broken, I was laid up in the trauma section in Tooting Hospital.
A hospital volunteer came to my bed and asked if I needed anything. She was called Jacqui. I asked for a book to read. She pursed her lips, thinking, and walked on. She returned later, laying a couple on the bed. My arms and leg were in casts so I couldn’t turn the pages. Jacqui, who looked early twenties, had watched her brother die, in this hospital, after a motorbike accident so she’d started volunteering on the wards. She picked a book up.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” She read. The story was about the French Revolution. The book was finished by the end of the week. Next, she read a book that started “Call me Ishmael” and was about whaling. By the time she finished reading it, I could wriggle my fingers under the casts. Four books later, I was on my way home.
After a few days, Jacqui came to visit me at home where I was recuperating. I could see she liked me but she was six years older than me. Could she be looking for another broken body to grieve over?
This week we’re very lucky to have Sue Moorcroft Sunday Times and international bestselling author send us a writing tip. Sue is worth reading, she has reached the coveted #1 spot on Amazon Kindle, won the Readers’ Best Romantic Novel award and the Katie Fforde Bursary; and she’s been nominated for several other awards, including a RoNA.
A writer of short stories, serials, columns and writing ‘how to’, Sue’s courses have appeared all over the world!
Her current release is Let it Snow, in which Lily the heroine searches for her half-brothers. Lily’s quest takes her from the frosty cottages of Middledip village to the snowy mountains of Switzerland. The ebook is out now with the paperback and audio available on the 14th November 2019
- A tip from Sue Moorcroft
You’ve written a story, a good one. You’ve created a high-stakes conflict to hurl at your central character and had her or him solve it via a pivotal moment. Your setting’s vivid; your characters jump from the page; you’ve spoken your dialogue aloud. There’s no overuse of adverbs, repetition, passive or loose sentences. Your metaphors and similes are poetry.
And yet you’re not satisfied.
Where do you look for that extra ingredient to catch the eye of an editor or judge?
How about a specific angle in your structure? An easy example of this is the ‘epistolary form’, which means a story told in the form of correspondence. For years – centuries, I suppose – it often meant letters but now we’re equally likely to see email or other electronic communication. For the purpose of this post I’m going to use the word ‘message’.
Maybe it’s because we’re taught not to read the messages of others that reading one within a story can be so intriguing? You can tell an entire story in the form of messages or just introduce one at the right moment.
We tend to write (text/message/e-mail) in our own voice or some version of it. You can use this fact to create a strong impression of the character responsible. This can be especially useful if you want to bring out the voice of a character who has no viewpoint and little or no dialogue.
A teenager’s text or WhatsApp:
hope u & dad r ok. thx 4 sending my course work can’t believe I forgot it lol.
A solicitor’s letter:
Dear Mrs Bell
I am writing to update you on …
A love letter:
Hey, sexy buns …
A threatening note:
Some people should know when to shut up …
Everyone knows you’re …
Messages can be a brilliant way of getting information over to readers without the dreaded ‘infodump’. If you’re writing about a character with an unusual medical condition, creating a message board for the sufferers in your story provides an accessible way to get background detail across.
Big Bob: What I find the hardest to deal with is the shakes from the meds. Anyone else get this?
Little Ted: It’s a stress when you’re trying to talk to a girl, isn’t it? I spend a lot of time with my hands jammed in my pockets.
This personalises the condition you’re trying to convey and prevents your story plunging into passages that sound like a medical text book.
Here are a few ideas for utilising written communications in fiction. Just add imagination:
oSocial media posts
oLog book entries
oExcerpts from books
oSongs or poems
Note: It’s important to be aware that it may not possible to use lyrics from songs or excerpts from books without gaining permission from the rights holder. Check out the relevant copyright law, especially if the author is alive or died less than seventy years ago. Or write your own!
“Booksellers are Pragmatists,” says Crispin Drummond, proprietor of P&G Wells independent booksellers in Winchester, “not Romanticists.”
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.