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

 

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

A Question for Romance Writer Kate Walker

‘You mentioned in your talk (April 2016) that you took inspiration for one of your heroes from an interview with a chap on the radio. You have 65 different heroes; where do you get them from and with that many, how do you ever come up with different appearances for them, surely there can be only one ‘tall, dark and handsome’ hero?’

 

Your question chimes in well with my overall approach to writing popular ‘category’ romance; one that I always say is the most important consideration when I’m teaching. 12PointGuideKWAnd that is character. Romance writing has been established so long (since 1908 in the case of Mills and Boon) that it’s very difficult – if not just about impossible – to be really original when writing this mass-market genre. But the thing that keeps me fresh, again and again, is writing about the different characters I create, and telling their stories to the reader. I find myself fascinated by – and perhaps falling a little in love myself – by my hero and heroine, particularly the heroes. That way I can hope to create a fascinating, flawed and exciting man, who will entice his heroine – and my readers along with her. It certainly seems to be that way as my books have been selling, and republished in so many languages for over 30 years now.

A romance novel is the story of the emotional journey of the two central characters from first meeting (or reunion) to the sort of love that will lead to the ‘happy ever after ending the reader is hoping for. Each character is different – some heroes are the fantasy sheikhs that are still popular, such as in my duo of linked books A Question of Honour and Destined for the Desert King some are Spanish or Greek, some artists, some are sportsmen. . . And it is that individuality that, when combined with the heroine’s own personal; story, makes the ‘emotional journey’ different each time.

So – when you ask where I get my heroes from – the answer is that, as with every sort of story writing, ideas can be found anywhere in life. In newspapers, magazines, on the TV – in drama or documentaries. Something will provide a ‘seed’ that can be planted to make me think what would happen if . . .? And to develop a story from there. The man on the radio I heard – in your example the Italian Forced Bride ItaliansForcedBride– was telling how he had been a foundling, abandoned by his mother, without ever knowing his parents or family. That sparked my interest and I wondered ‘what if. . .’ that man met a heroine, fathered a child. . . And what would that heroine be like? How would she react to him? Asking those questions gives me my characters’ stories. And because my characters are all different in their ages, nationalities, interests, careers, family backgrounds (that’s what helps keep my interest in writing their stories fresh) then each book/each hero and heroine has its own individual plot, its individual flavour and atmosphere.

The line ‘tall dark and handsome’ is really just a form of shorthand for the type of hero that romance writers create. What it really means is that the hero has to be the man who would most appeal to the heroine when she meets him and begins to fall in love with him. This is the way it should be because, to a woman in love, the hero will be the most attractive man she has seen. But of course heroines come in all shapes and sizes – some are five feet nothing, and some over six feet tall. Obviously, a very different sort of man would be ‘tall’ to either of those. And we will have our favourite sorts of looks that we find appealing. Life would be terribly boring if we all liked the same sort of man. So the reader sees the hero through the eyes of the heroine in the story – and vice versa.

AQuestionOfHonorIt’s well known that the ‘tall dark and handsome’ is the type of hero who is most popular the world over, but often the heroine might start out thinking that this particular man is not really that appealing. Rochester, after all, is stern-featured, heavy-browed, craggy-faced, rude, abrupt – at the beginning – but he fascinates Jane Eyre and then that fascination grows into something more. Darcy, in Pride and Prejudice is acknowledged to have a ‘fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien’ . . .’till his manners gave a disgust which turned to tide of his popularity.’ But as the novel progresses, the feelings of the heroine(s) change – just as his feelings about her are changing.

I’ve always written these stories by concentrating my focus overall on the characters I’m writing about. So perhaps the answer to your question is really that ‘surely there can be only one ‘tall, dark and handsome’ hero’ . . . for each heroine.

February Meeting Report – Jude Evans

JudeEvansFeb2016

Happy 30th Birthday, Little Tiger Press!

Publishing is exciting and challenging,’  says Jude Evans ‘It’s a good time to be writing.’

The range of reading products for children is rich and diverse with YA, a huge crossover.

Jude could not stress enough: ‘know your market.’

Know your audience.

Get to know the interests of your chosen age range and remain reflective of a broader society.

At Little Tiger Press, the character is the key.

Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Think; what is my book (super commercial, literate, contemporary) therefore, what is its ‘tone’? It is essential that the opening hook them in.

It is our aim that children WANT to read. We are introducing them to the ‘magic’ of words.

You should consider the ‘travel’ of your story – how will it translate into other cultures?

When you’ve finished your manuscript. Put it away for a while – when you return to it, you’ll be able to remain objective. Also ask for the opinions of it from those most valuable to your progress.

Then, think like a Publisher. An agent will already have a familiar relationship with publishers and will negotiate on your behalf.

Your covering letter should be brief and pertinent.

Your synopsis; no more than two sides. Don’t bombard agents/publishers.

DON’T GIVE UP. It can take weeks before you receive a reply.

Investing in business cards might be opportune. Use them in conjunction with your manuscript or a conversation – don’t just drop them willy-nilly at book fairs.

Jude signing books
Jude signing books in the Stripe foyer

Finally, Jude issued an invitation to all of us present!

For full report –  see the members’ Newsletter. Not a member? Join us for only £20.