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

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

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

Snegurochka to Winchester

Dr Judith Heneghan, Creative Writing Senior Lecturer, Programme Leader for the MA Writing for Children and award-winning children’s writer, has returned to the beginning. Her first contemporary fiction for adults, Snegurochka, has been published.

Snegurochka, an English mother’s experiences in newly independent Kiev, is to be published by Salt with a release date of 15 April. Another first for Judith was seeing it for sale on P&G Wells’ stand in the foyer at April’s Hampshire Writers’ Society meeting:’A very special moment for any writer,’ she says.

It was at the Winchester Writers’ Festival that Judith met her editor and publisher. A writer needs to be part of a community, a convergence of like-minded writers, a portal into the world of publishing. Hampshire Writers’ Society is one such community and The Winchester Writers’ festival provides another.

Recently retired as Director of the Winchester Writers’ Festival, Judith intends to concentrate on the activity of actually doing the writing.

Sara Gangai will very capably follow in her footsteps, but before she commenced her talk to us, Sara paid tribute to Barbara Large, founder of both the festival and the Hampshire Writers’ Society. ‘Barbara’s voice, with its feisty nature and inability to say the word “no”,’ Sara said, ‘is a constant in my head, reminding me to be considerate, kind and inclusive to all writers.’ A memorial service for Barbara will be held in the University chapel on the Sparkford Road Campus on the Saturday of the Festival. ‘Barbara’s spirit will be “chuffed” to be there,’ Sara laughed.

The Festival will be held on the weekend beginning 14th June. Enterprising writers will be given the chance to build up a network of writing friends and contacts; ‘People come from all over the world,’ Sara advised us.

Friday sees two panels running along-side each other on both floors of the Stripe.
Let your hair down afterwards at the open mike in the Terrace Lounge right next to the Terrace bar before the knuckle down of Saturday begins.

The day begins with the plenary speaker, award-winning children’s author, Katherine Rundell. Tickets for this event alone can be purchased. The rest of the day is filled with a variety of workshops, tea, cake and an on-tap agony aunt! Seventy or so industry specialists will be in attendance and the opportunity of a fifteen-minute, one-to-one interview with one or two of them will prove invaluable.

Sunday forms a writing workshop, ‘a chance to put into practise everything that you learned on the Saturday,’ Sara tells us.

Tickets are selling fast. The community created by the Festival will be abuzz with writers. It really is a must just to be around so many friendly faces. Please do come along – it will be wonderful to meet you.

Report by Lisa Nightingale

Christine Hamill

‘Time’s running out,’ was Christine Hamill’s thought when she was twenty-five, ‘better get that book written.’

In her mid-forties she was diagnosed as having breast cancer. Amid torrents of tears, she thought, ‘time really is running out.’ and “B is for Breast Cancer: From anxiety to recovery and everything in between – a beginner’s guide”, was written during treatment.

Christine wanted to convey the irony of many of the situations that arose from her diagnosis and treatment, filling the book with humour. Her retort to those who, horrified said, you can’t do that was: ‘Well, I’m the one with breast cancer.’ Still, you’d have to be a raving lunatic not to take breast cancer seriously, she says. It is funny though, the way a fully clothed doctor will expect you, while semi-naked and having your breast handled, to hold an intelligent conversation.

“B is for Breast Cancer” is an A-Z of everything you might experience whilst being treated for breast cancer. D being for diagnosis, Christine read us a very comical excerpt. C is for crying, which she admits she did so much that a nurse told her “she was taking the cancer diagnosis badly.” !!  

Book two, “The Best Medicine” is not biographical, although it does mirror the situation that Christine and her ten-year old son found themselves in. From the point of view of the boy at the heart of the story, “The Best Medicine” tells how he feels that Mum is getting too much attention when he is dealing with such ‘big’ school issues as bullying and girlfriends – or lack of them! Christine read an excerpt where, Philip conducts a bare bottom poetry appreciation.

Each book took six months to write, but both took a while to get published. Originally “B is for Breast Cancer” was published on the internet which led to its being voted Ireland’s book of the year. Christine then put it in a drawer.

The Best Medicine went the same way winning awards such as the Lollies and the Haringey Children’s Book Prize. But it was turned down by so many publishers that the agent sent it back. Undeterred, Christine knew it had to be good and took it to a small, independent publisher who took it on. “The Best Medicine” has since been published in more than six countries including the US and Canada, won further awards and rave reviews from best selling authors and comedians.

Report by Lisa Nightingale

Judy Waite Creative Curiosity

Judy Waite, award-winning writer of over fifty Children’s and Young Adult fiction titles, began her talk to the Hampshire Writers’ Society with a tribute to Barbara Large, who was our friend, founder, inspiration and a great ally within the publishing world.

It was at the Winchester Writers’ Conference that Judy, a novice, found not only access to specialist workshops, but also the confidence to take Barbara’s advice: “Keep writing.”

It was a crazy time, Judy says, as she was working as well as writing. Time, she agrees, is one of the writer’s great enemies. Once published, she enrolled on an MA in Creative Writing. A bit back to front; but she still felt unsure when talking about how to write.

Judy was not just here to talk to the Society though. She treated us, the gathered members and guests, to an interactive exercise, introducing an envelope, sheet of spare paper, pencil and candle for each of us.

“If you’re trying to get a child to write a story,” she told us, “don’t get them to tell you it first – they’ll think, job done!”

Encompassing a wide age range, Judy has written for four-year olds, “Mouse Look Out”, and fourteen-year olds, “Game Girls”. She writes trade fiction, research and rigour books which are usually aimed at older boys. Educational books, like “Jamboree Storytime Level B: I wish I Had a Monster”, are mostly for schools and are commissioned, but still publishers of these are always pleased to hear from authentic authors.

Judy also writes High Low books, like “The Street”, a collection of short books aimed at older children who have difficulty reading – perhaps English is not their first language or they are dogged by dyslexia.

‘Where do you get your ideas from?” is the most common question that Judy is asked. Ideas are all around us, she says, suggesting that we use the pen in front of us – imagine that pen full of optimism, wonder and energy to write ethical, positive works, in the wrong hands. Or the pencil on the desk – what is its one true desire; could it be, to be a crayon?

“So that’s how your mind works,” a student commented. That started Judy thinking that of course, all writers may indulge in creativity, but not in the same way. We write from the heart, she enthuses, not the head. It is neither easy nor natural to write with your head saying, I write like this, because this is what the publishers of my chosen genre require.

Judy’s teaching was a resounding success, but at the time, she felt as though she was “standing on the top of a hill on a windy day, throwing her ideas into the air”. This was when Wordtamer was born. Judy was commissioned to put all her ideas into a book.

Her teaching takes the form of: de familiarisation, character connection, free-writing (the Freudian method of helping shell-shocked soldiers to cope with what is going on in their heads), the silent zone and visualisation. These all were incorporated into the continuing interactive exercise.

The most interesting of Judy’s methods is Active Research – she once had a character who spent some time in prison “…so I decided I’d better get arrested.” she said. This, after having auditioned for a position in a boy band and visiting Cardboard City, London. Judy is not our only author who indulges in active research – remember Karen Hamilton’s Characters on the Couch, Penny Ingham’s archaeology?

“When I’m asked to write a story, my mind goes blank,” one of her reluctant writers said. Five weeks later, that same child wanted to be a writer, because thanks to Judy Waite, he was no longer “blank in the mind.”

Report by Lisa Nightingale