Tuesday, 8th May How to Find Your Writing Voice: Sophie King aka Janey Fraser aka Jane Bidder

JaneBidderA report by Carole Hastings from the Hampshire Writers’ Society May 8th meeting

Sophie King took us through the main session of how to create a voice that will have you stand out on the publisher’s pile. Sophie is a successful author who started her writing career under her name of Jane Bidder as a journalist and author of non fiction books for Orion. She has now published five contemporary novels and non fiction books under the name of Sophie King, a name deemed very marketable by her publishers. As Janey Fraser she has a new book called, The Playgroup.

She shared a number of tips and exercises to help us develop our voice or voices:

  • Your first and last sentence are key – these are the two that will make the agent/editor read more …
  • Use photographs to inspire you – try out different scenarios – use them as stepping stones – do it daily
  • Set yourself challenges and meet new people – more book material to help you widen your experience
  • Try writing with a buddy to create a change in tone
  • Use a change of circumstances to help you find a new voice
  • Write in a different place, perhaps at a different time, perhaps with a change of hairstyle
  • Read what you normally don’t read to see if another genre might be for you
  • Write for five minutes each day without thinking – try subjects you’ve never thought of before
  • Think about your characters and their relationships before you start on your plot
  • Use your book framework as a guide and let the characters evolve
  • Revise your work before you move onto your next chapter
  • Make sure there’s an action point or element of conflict in each chapter and aim to keep them of similar lengths
  • Try out different narratives/viewpoints but avoid first person for anything other than a short story as it may become restrictive in a novel
  • Have more than one viewpoint in a novel but don’t muddle them
  • Make sure you have a balance of narrative and dialogue
  • Avoid writing two different books in two different voices at the same time – you’ll lose your voice …
  • Try your hand at competitions – Writing Magazine is a good read for all writers

Check out Sophie’s website.

Stephen Boyce, freelance heritage and arts consultant and published poet talked to us about the developments in Southampton and Winchester on the cultural scene. He’s Chair of Culture Southampton and gave us the heads up the the new arts complex, including studios and a theatre, being developed on Guildhall Square in the heart of Southampton. There will be a public performance on June 16 for those who want a taste of what’s to come. He then read a tender poem about his father photographing his young bride en route for their honeymoon.

It was encouraging to hear from Hermione Wilds [Laake] that going to an English Literature session with Gary Farnell at the Winchester Writers’ Conference was the catalyst in moving her from aspiring writer to published author. Her book Bertha’s Journal is soon to be available on Amazon and from the publishers Strategic who are the joint publishing venture involved. The video link for Bertha’s Journal.

Review of Meeting 10th January 2012 Speaker – Beverley Birch

Those who were unable to join us for the January meeting of the Hampshire Writers’ Society missed an excellent talk given by Beverley Birch titled Between a Rock and Hard Place; Keeping Faith with Your Writing Self in Today’s Stormy Seas. Hopefully you will enjoy this resume of her realistic and supportive advice.

As Senior Commissioning Editor of Hodder Children’s Books and author of more than 30 non-fiction books, most published by Egmont Publishing Company, she urged writers to strive for individuality, ‘Be passionate about what you are offering to editors and agents,’ was Beverley’s keynote message.

Find your voice as an author. Choose wild, wacky settings that will catch the attention of editors. Make sure that you know who is telling the story, that your plot is well crafted with peaks and troughs that will sustain the interest of the young reader.’

She explained the editorial process of selecting marketable children’s manuscripts and then having to justify them at Acquisition Meetings peopled by company accountants, rights teams, export advisors, design teams, bookseller representatives and publicists and described it as a ‘blood bath’. ‘Frequently,’ she said, ’this process denies children the pleasure of reading excellent imaginative books because the book business will not take the financial risk of promoting a new writer.’

Editors are now looking for manuscripts that ‘ get you by the throat’ by page 3. Beverley explained that if the author has not ‘hooked’ the editor by page 5, that it was inevitable that the editor would read no further. ‘The editor needs to grasp where the plot is going by page five’. The marketing watchword is to ‘suck the reader into the story with alacrity’.

To be published, books need to be buoyant, distinctive and quirky’. In her experience, Beverley explained that children learn by reading about other children’s lives; the good and the bad choices that they make and the consequences of these choices. She recommended both Anthony Horovitz and Robert Muchmore as authors who expose these themes.

Self-publishing, e-books and print on demand were attractive alternatives to marketing new books to traditional but recalcitrant publishers. She commented that many writers now successfully market their books through their own websites or by using Amazon and Kindle opportunities.

She reminded audiences that David Armand suffered 25 rejections before he became a publishing success.‘Don’t give up! Keep writing! Remember that the cycle of editors change. New editors come to the fore. They will look for fresh ideas Tuck away your rejected manuscripts for five years and start a new script’.

HWS member, Celia Livesey said, ‘Beverley kept everyone enthralled by her energetic performance that described the parlous state of the publishing world yet encouraged everyone to continue with their writing’. Others spoke of her passion to support writers and valued the time she gave to answering a multitude of specific questions following her talk. One delegate declared to me that she was more determined than ever to get published.
Barbara Large MBE

Three Poets at Work Peter Dixon, Dr.Tom Masters and Mark Rutter

Review of 13th December Meeting of the Hampshire Writers’ Society

Three Poets at Work

Peter Dixon, Dr.Tom Masters and Mark Rutter


HWS member, Celia Livesey has written about the evening:

My husband and I were at the December meeting of the HWS featuring Three Poets at Work and we enjoyed a wonderful evening. In fact each meeting has been amazing and thoroughly enjoyable in a variety of ways.

The first poet to speak was Peter Dixon. He kept everyone enthralled with an energetic performance encouraging us to write.

‘Write about anything,’ he urged. ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s trivia. You don’t have to write about nature or leaves – write about a cupboard or anything, but just write.’

He went on to give a reading of the ‘Booster Boys’, a funny, yet poignant poem evoking memories of a time long past.

Tom Masters was the next up to speak. At first, during his introduction, I didn’t think I was going to be able to follow or keep up with the many ideas and concepts that darted backwards and forwards through his agile mind.

And then he started the reading. I was blown away. His performance was mesmerising. At the end I asked him if he had considered introducing stage performances of his work and he asked me if I knew of any actors. I can only say that I don’t know of any actor, who would be able to do more justice to this work, than the performance given by Tom Masters, himself. I would like to see a CD produced to be sold together with his book ‘Silence’.

Mark Rutter completed the evening with readings from a selection of his poems, some finished and also some work in progress. Again, a wonderful performance using poetry to weave stories about feelings and places.

What struck me most was that each poet appeared poles apart in style, performance and disposition. And yet there was a commonality between them. Each poet captured the poignancy of life and of the soul.

Many thanks to HWS for all the hard work, it really is worth it. We are looking forward to the January meeting with Beverley Birch.
Best wishes,

Celia Livesey.


Simon Hall – 11th October 2011

Following Simon Hall’s amusing talk,Writing Crime, Reporting Crime last evening at the University of Winchester, our Steering Committee thought you would like to have the following record of his advice for writing marketable crime fiction.

Simon Hall Advised Writers ‘ To Keep the Faith’

Simon Hall ‘s talk Writing Crime, Reporting Crime not only informed but entertained a capacity crowd of writers at the University of Winchester on Tuesday evening, 11 October at the second meeting of the Hampshire Writers’ Society.

His direct discussion of the techniques of crime writing informed writers how to use a strong protagonist to help solve the crime, the subtext to Simon’s tvdetective novels.. He demonstrated how Ben, his protagonist, as a tv reporter, is a mixture of highs and lows but that he is believable and memorable. His dog, Rutherford, adds another dimension to this character.

He reminded the audience how he uses his notebook to record the quirks that bring characters to life. He described a lady in a pub who rattled her empty glass as a signal to her obedient husband to return to the bar to replenish her drink and then nibbled food from her husband’s plate when he had left the table. ‘A character to weave into my plotline’.

As the BBC crime correspondent for the south east, he often works with the police to report crimes ‘These are often searing experiences’. He recalled being asked to report on the terrorist suicide attacks in London in 2005, to seeing the terror on the faces of total strangers as he approached the railways stations and his shock to see a police traffic sign with the words ‘Avoid London: Area Closed’!

He urged writers to be guided by their principles, that this leads to the ‘voice on the page’ and also to develop a relationship with the reader, to invest in their research and to provide all of the clues that are need to solve the crime satisfactorily. Aim for a plot with a series of twists and turns. ‘Readers want value for money…so do publishers’.

During question time he admitted that he writes ’nice crime: no difficult science, nor swearing, …which is an excuse for proper vocabulary, no gore but instead a worthy plot and no sex!

Settings are important as an angle on which to base a novel. He reminded listeners of Morse’s use of the city of Oxford and the multiple settings used by John Le Carre. Periods of history, travel, journeys, even personal tragedies are good starting points. ‘Humour takes us through tragedy’.

Simon Hall’s conclusion was that being a writer is not a God-given art…it takes much research, writing, editing and revision before you convince that commissioning editor and publisher. . We have the talent but it is important to work at it. ’Keep the Faith’!

We also remind you that Jack Sheffield, author of the Teacher Teacher series published by Transworld will give the next talk, Paperback Writer -The Journey Toward Publication on Tuesday , November 8th 7:30 pm, University of Winchester. We can promise you another hugely enjoyable and highly hilarious evening of advice and entertainment. Do come and bring your writer-friends. We want this society to be packed with talented writers.

With all good wishes for your writing success,

PS You may like to take a look at Simon Hall’s blog about the event last night.