Catherine King speaks to Hampshire Writers’ Society

Report by Lisa Nightingale

Not a Romance Novelist. Catherine King is a Professional Yorkshire Lass and Career Novelist.

Catherine writes (and is contracted to do so) a book a year. ‘It is achievable’, she says, ‘if you are writing full-time.’ Which as this is her career, she does.

Apr 15 Catherine KingChoose your genre and be prepared to stick to it. Eg. Historical Saga for Women.

She researched and learned the genre’s rules. Her heroines meet its criteria – vulnerable and strong. They need to be strong, as she adds with a wicked grin, ‘because I (the writer) am going to make it worse’. But Catherine does relent – she always gives the heroine a happy or at least promising ending.

‘Whatever your genre. Use what you know.’

The North is in Catherine’s blood. So, why go anywhere else? And this is where the Saga comes in. Each of Catherine’s novels is regional.

Having settled on her genre, she needed a period. Victorian times were thrilling and industrial. But, for women times were challenging. This gave Catherine’s characters an important, enticing trait – they had to be resourceful.

Not a Romantic Novelist – Catherine is a scientist!

Being a novelist is more fun.’

Catherine’s education taught her the rudiments of research and what to do with it. Local libraries and museums are teeming with tit-bits. At least three times during her talk she mused; ‘I must revisit that….’ But, she does admit to evidential espionage, a Hampshire health farm which had a beautiful setting was moved up north.

Always be nice. To everybody.’

Network! Catherine cannot stress enough the Importance of Networking. There is luck in publishing, but by Networking, you may increase your chances of netting it. Through a group of novelist friends Catherine was introduced to an agent.

Being a Career Novelist, Catherine endures much input from her publisher. The decision of the title and cover has been relinquished to the marketing department. And the publishers have even, once or twice weaseled the plot line and period to suit what they know will sell. The up-side of this though, is that when a drop in sales does happen – it is not Catherine’s fault. And she can and does play them at their own game. A new slant on a story poo-pooed by the publishers persuades them and her plot is agreed.

All this may sound a little stifling but it is these peoples’ business to know how to get a success and Catherine is successful. Plus being a writer is what Catherine has always wanted and she loves it.

Special Guest, Judith Heneghan, 

Director of the Winchester Writers’ Festival

Apr 15 JudithWriters! Come and Play said Judith Heneghan, Director of Winchester Writers’ Festival. The Festival is a safe environment – a workshop with an experienced lecturer.

Even for those not embroiled in their ‘big work in progress’ the one-to-one meetings are the brazen opportunity to pick the brains of knowledgeable writing doyens. Ask your questions. Gain inspired feedback.

But, there is also Hard Graft. The Festival is somewhere where the writer can find their audience. Perhaps even their agent. Connections have been forged here and will continue to do so. Networking formal or informal at the Festival surrounds the writer with people interested in ‘what we do’.

And after that crazy day’s workshopping and playing, join us for dinner and let the professionals do the work.

Come to see the Keynote Speaker, award-winning, best-selling  author Sebastian Faulks. Take away new friends to sustain you through the rest of the year until you can come to the festival again in 2016.

The festival dates 19th – 21st June 2015. More information about the workshops, talks, competitions, 750 one-to-one appointments can be found on the website.

Elizabeth Buchan Evening March 2014

Report by Gill Hollands.

Bobbie Neate was introduced as an ex senior lecturer at the University of Winchester. She left to work in educational publishing and has now set up her own non-fiction business. Her new book is called Conspiracy of Secrets which is about a family tragedy and serendipity. The book took nine years to write and research, five of which were full time.

Bobbie’s reason for writing this book is because of her stepfather, Louis Thomas Stanley. He had always been very secretive about his birth and when she found a picture of Asquith and compared it to one of her stepfather, the likeness was striking. Digging deeper. she found that Asquith, who became Prime Minister in 1912, despite having seven legitimate children already, had a girl friend, Venetia Stanley, who was twenty-one at the time. Bobbie found several letters that made it clear that Asquith turned to Venetia for advice during the war. Further investigation confirmed that indeed her stepfather was the illegitimate son of Herbert Henry Asquith. For full details, see The Asquith Report.

Bobbie Neate & Elizabeth Buchan
Bobbie Neate & Elizabeth Buchan

Elizabeth Buchan was introduced as a historical writer with a double degree in history and English. She began as a blurb writer for Penguin, even writing the introduction to Peter Rabbit, and was the Fiction Editor for Random House. She writes critical reviews, is the patron of the Guildford Book Fair and the ex-chair of the Romantic Novelists Association, as well as being an RNA prize-winner with 16 titles to date. Her book Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman is now a TV movie and New York Times Bestseller. Her new book ‘I can’t begin to tell you’ comes out on 1 August.

Elizabeth started by saying what a great community, writers are. She quoted Red Smith ‘There is nothing to writing – all you do is sit at a desk and open a vein.’ She feels this is correct. However, the bald sentence leaves out the fact that you begin on a rich and fascinating journey, both physically, as she has now been all around the World, and internally, as you discover a new internal landscape; a surprising adventure.

She found being a blurb writer for Penguin, a great job; feet on the desk, reading the whole catalogue. She became a dinner party bore with all the facts she took in. Basically, she said blurb writers were pond-life who get kicked by sales, editors, marketing and authors. They took their revenge in words; e.g. if the blurb said ‘enchanting’ there was a dog in it; if it was ‘heart-warming’ there was a dog and a child; if it said ‘heart-wrenching’ they died; if it said ‘thoughtful’ it was boring; if it said ‘provocative’ it was irritating, etc. She considered blurb writing a mini art form. She did get into trouble once due to a misunderstanding and received a ‘To Whom It May Concern’ letter from a disgruntled reader whose name she had used by mistake for a dog. Even Dirk Bogarde in his writing days was upset by praise asking, ‘If I’m a writer on top form, where else do I have to go?’

Catherine King with Barbara Large
Catherine King with Barbara Large

The lesson to learn is that each word has to earn its place and be genuine, apt and fresh. With writing novels it helps to be disciplined. Search for the essence of the book before you start. Empathise with the material and be economical with the truth. Each word has to count.

The main requirement is to love what you are doing and do it with a passion, not as a grind or a chore. Keep your love for it sparkling and alive. You don’t have to travel to experience great changes. Good stories can be created just as well in a domestic setting. Be aware that you handle subjects differently as you age.

Elizabeth was recently inspired by a visit to Denmark which was invaded during the war in 6 hours and became a protectorate. When the Nazis wanted to round up all the Jews they disappeared, hidden in barns or rowed across the sound by sympathetic Danes. She was very interested in the coding and the mistakes that were made. She wondered how a psyche would cope with the violence and how you go back to normal when it’s over. War is about lies.

Finally, she offered one last anecdote about a writer who read a factual account in a local newspaper about a woman who fell under a train and a custody battle. This is what triggered Leo Tolstoy to write Anna Karenina. With that, she rested her case.