Poets: Fleur Adcock and Julian Stannard

Report by David Easforth.

Barbara Large opened the meeting by welcoming everyone and reminding us that the purpose of the HWS was for all of us to learn to write to ‘industry standard’.  Our membership was growing and now included many people from outside Hampshire, in fact from West Sussex to Dorset.

Barbara welcomed Fleur Adcock and Julian Stannard, the speakers for the evening, and then introduced Dr Stephen Wilson, Trustee of the Poetry Society, and Brian Evans-Jones, who was to be the competition adjudicator for the evening.  Barbara then invited Judith Heneghan to talk for a few moments about the upcoming Writers’ Festival.  Judith outlined the main schedule, which would comprise a series of workshops, talks, and courses over the period of the festival: Friday to Sunday, 20-22 June, 2014.  There would be opportunities for one-to-ones with literary agents and publishers, and Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, would be the keynote speaker.  Free events would include two book launches on the Friday, and there would be an “Open Mike” session where new work could be introduced.  On the Friday, poet Rhian Edwards would be present, as would Sathnam Sanghera.  There would be many other literary figures attending, including Julian Stannard on the Sunday.  She reminded everyone that full information could be obtained from the festival website: www.writersfestival.co.uk.

Barbara then announced two very sad events, the deaths of Keith Bennett and Hazel Donnelly.

Keith had been a great champion of young writer’s poetry, and had managed the Tesco-sponsored National Poetry Day competition, which had resulted in 850 entries from the three age groups: 6-11, 12-15, and 16-18.  Keith had written comments to the entrants on all 850 entries, which had indicated his enthusiasm and commitment to the event.  Keith, a probation officer by profession, had passed away at his desk.  All contributions will go to the British Heart Foundation.

Hazel had been a great supporter of the HWS and sadly had passed away after suffering an asthma attack.  Hazel had won several of the monthly competitions and, as a tribute, Brian would read her entry for April.

Dr Stephen Boyce then spoke about the Winchester Poetry Festival.  Stephen explained that he came to poetry late in life, but had now edited two collections of poetry which were being published by Arrowhead Press.  The Winchester Poetry Festival had been the brainchild of a group of poetry enthusiasts who had noted that while there were a number of poetry festivals in Britain; St. Andrews, Ledbury, Aldburgh, the “south coast” was not represented.  Thus the Winchester Poetry Festival had been born, and would take place 12-14th September, 2014 at the Discovery Centre.  The group of trustees had raised £40k.  There would be three strands: WWI, Poets with a Hampshire connection, and contemporary poetry.  Stephen gave examples of some of the activities; Patience Agbabi, author of a modern rewrite of the Canterbury Tales would be present on the Friday, and there would be a poetry slam.  On the Sunday there would be a commemorative reading of WWI poetry, with poems from Britain, France, Germany, and Russia.  On the 14th of May, there would be a big preview event at the Discovery Centre, and the band “Epic” would perform three thousand years of poetry in sixty minutes.  The aim is to make the festival a biennial event.  Full details are to be found at www.winchesterpoetryfestival.org.

Fleur and Julian were then introduced, and in turn read a number of their works, which were under the heading of “Travels in Poetry”.  Fleur, bravely continuing despite being afflicted by a bit of a cough, read a number of poems which reflected her personal experiences. “The Saucer” was a poem about sighting a flying saucer which she had started and then returned to some years later. “Alumni Notes” was a poem addressed to a friend, and “Charon” asked where the ferryman was when he was most needed. Fleur took a well-earned break and Julian took over.

Julian Stannard & Fleur Adcock
Julian Stannard & Fleur Adcock

Julian began with a poem to his first father-in-law, Bruno, “Bruno Cuts My Hair In A Place Called Ether” which recalled Bruno’s talent as a barber. “Horizontal” made the remarkable link between the French poet Rimbaud and a green wheelie bin. “September 1939” about the day war broke out, “I’m Homesick for Being Homesick”, about dressing up in an assortment of hand-me-downs before taking the dogs for a walk.  “The Blessing of the Octopus at Lerici” recalled Julian’s time spent on Genoa. There were also poems about lunch: “Lunch with Margot and Tinker”, “Lunch with Alex and Mildred”, and even “Lunch with Fleur”.

Fleur then returned to read “The Royal Visit” about the royal visit to New Zealand she witnessed in 1953, and “Slaters”: an interesting species of arthropod.  At this point, Gary took over to handle questions from the attendees.  There was, naturally, interest in how Fleur started her career in poetry, and she replied that she had always been fascinated by poetry from a young age, and had started writing in earnest by the time she reached adolescence.  The more she read, the more she wrote.  The question was also asked as to what time of day was the most productive for her, to which the answer was early morning or late at night; being half asleep seemed to trigger the creative process.  In answer to the same question, Julian remarked that inspiration always occurred at a time when he was not carrying a notebook.  However, sparks often began to strike when in conversation.

The question came up as to what would poetry be like in two thousand years, to which Fleur replied you could also ask what it would be like in ten years. In answer to the question “Do you follow a theme?” Fleur’s reply was yes; the years her father spent running a farm in New Zealand. This had inspired a recent collection which was now with the publisher. And if Fleur was “inspired by places she had lived in” what did she think of modern Britain? Fleur replied that some thoughts were not publishable! Julian also responded to the question, and said that living in Southampton provided most inspiration; especially Shirley High Street, where gems such as a goat butcher and 1970s pubs were to be found, with the distinct possibility that, at one end, the end of the world was likely to be encountered.  Brian asked Julian if place names meant something just to him or were they also intended to affect the reader.  Julian replied that it was always nice to mention place names; very self-satisfying, and the readers seemed to like it.

Fleur was asked if writing poetry was natural, or did she have to work at it.  Fleur replied that the more she did the more easily it came; one was always thinking and refining.  To finish the session, Julian read Fleur’s “Smokers for Celibacy”, an Ogden Nash’ish appraisal of sex which pretty well brought the house down.

Barbara closed with some comments about the next two meetings; James Wills, literary agent, in May; and would people please email their questions for James in advance so that as much material could be made available for him prior to the event?  Lady Carnarvon would be the speaker in June, where the venue would be Chawton House, and the usual strawberries and cream would be available, as would an area for people to bring their own picnics.  Finally, Brian mentioned that he had a workshop in plan for Saturday the 26th of April, 10.00 to 16.00, for which there were still places.

Funeral of Hazel Sara Donnelly

Family flowers only please, but donations in Hazel’s memory to ‘Asthma UK’ would be gratefully accepted.

Links to a gift aid form and to Asthma UK can be found below:

If donating cash or by cheque, please consider including a Gift Aid form available on this link: http://search2.hmrc.gov.uk/kb5/hmrc/forms/view.page?record=qcUc55GzefQ&formId=734

Alternatively, if you wish to do this online and therefore make the Gift Aid element slightly easier, please visit this link:  http://www.asthma.org.uk/Pages/Appeal/#

Megan Farr and Sarah Mussi PowerPoint Presentation January 2014

How to write a children’s book that editors know they can go for…

What do editors want?

  • This is a total mystery to most writers , so we have to be cunning sleuths…
  • What might they go for? … Pick up your magnifying glass – let’s start to see if we can find any clues…
  • Start by examining the crime scene…
  • Checklist
  • What do children like reading
  • What will parents buy/ librarians stock?
  • What has succeeded before?
  • Why has it succeeded before?
  • Others?

Red herrings…

  • Editors go for some books that include factors which are totally beyond your control.
  • So don’t be side tracked…

Things beyond your control

  • Being famous like David Beckham
  • Already being published by the editor
  • Having entered the canon like To Kill a Mockingbird.
  • others?

What does that leave?

  • YOU
  • So only look at books that:
  • Are written by a writer like you
  • Have no extraordinary advantages in terms of editor-go-for-ness.

So what DO editor’s think they can go for?

  • I’m an author –so I don’t really know – so I have to make an educated guess: a book that they can:
  • Sell rights to?
  • Get into festivals?
  • Interest bloggers?
  • Get into schools?
  • Create a buzz about?
  • Take to book fairs?
  • LIKE ? (that’s pretty vague!)

Hopefully Megan can tell us more!

Back to the crime scene…What did those successful books do?

  • Pleased librarians
  • Engaged       child readers
  • Were age appropriate
  • Educational ? Or dealt with interesting issues?
  • Page turning
  • High concepts
  • Original and unusual USPs
  • Well written
  • Saleable…

What do I (The Mussi) do?

Before I try to get that killer contract I…

  • Research books being currently published (by publication house if possible)
  • I try to create a data base of the interests of editors (don’t often get very far with that)
  • I read new books out
  • I interview children on their likes and dislikes

4 Key Ingredients – I always try to include in a proposal

  • Some depth in the story
  • Page turnability
  • Original and exciting concept or a new original exciting take on an old one
  • Interesting voice or narration

So how do I set about doing that?

  • I brainstorm ideas that suit
  • I eliminate any idea that are not original enough
  • I check the idea against the list /data base I’ve created
  • I write a story pitch for the idea
  • I repeat this until I have a portfolio of possible ideas
  • I send them out to other trusted readers for feedback (I am only interested in negative feedback)
  • I redraft the ideas

What then?

  • I can go straight to my agent…
  • but if you don’t have one…
  • You will need to write up the first few thousand words. (If an editor is interested in one of my ideas I have to do that too.)
  • And send it out or pitch it – at a one to one.

And what if nothing happens?

  • I do it all over again.
  • My philosophy is very simple
  • If at first you don’t succeed – give up (with that idea)
  • Where there’s a will there’s a way (and if there’s no way there’re always excuses)
  • if they aren’t interested in an idea, and don’t think it’ll sell – then why the heck should I be?

Dr Ros Barber at the HWS

Barbara Large opened the evening by welcoming special guest Dr Mick Jardine, Head of English, Creative Writing and American Studies at the University of Winchester, Dr Ros Barber our main speaker and Mark Rutter adjudicator for the November competition.  She also introduced James Walpole, the new Social Media Secretary on the organising committee. James is in his final year studying English and Creative Writing but also is a contributing author to Cinema Chords.

Dr Ros Barber & Dr Mark Rutter
Dr Ros Barber & Dr Mark Rutter

Mick described himself as the warm up for Ros Barber. He joined the University in 1978 and been a key player in the theory revolution team that has facilitated the original English Studies morphing into Cultural Studies. He himself has recently produced papers on celebrity culture, writing about David Beckham and Michael Owen rather than Hamlet as he did for his PhD dissertation. Now there are more students of Creative Writing than English Language students at the University.

David Eadsforth introduced Dr Ros Barber who as well as being a celebrated academic, has written three collections of poems, written for radio and TV, held various writing residences and written an award winning debut novel entirely in verse, The Marlowe Papers.

Ros was told that she was not allowed to research whether Shakespeare did write work attributed to him as part of a PhD project, unless it was with the intention of producing a novel. It seemed there was a fear of doubting caused by snobbery, ignorance, conspiracy theory and a belief that those interested to find out more must be Shakespeare haters.

Her investigations showed that there is hard evidence that Shakespeare was a business man and a broker involved in land, grain, tithes, shares, marriage dowry transactions and money lending. He was a shareholder in a number of theatrical organisations and had his name on thirteen plays. There were other plays and poems that had his name that he did not write. The repressed Elizabethan era was a difficult time to be a writer and often writers might use a front person to avoid torture or death. His signature that appears on various works seems to have been the work of up to four people and his hand writing is difficult to read unlike those of other playwrights of the day such as Marlowe and Bacon.

Ben Jonson, the satirist hinted that he doubted that Shakespeare wrote all he claimed to although he appeared to support him publicly. His authorship was also doubted by John Marston and Joseph Hall in 1598. Diana Price, in her book Shakespeares Unorthodox Biography, developed a Literary Paper Trail of ten indicators of an individual being a writer at this time:

  • evidence of education
  • literary letters
  • evidence that they were paid to write
  • direct relationship with a patron
  • original manuscript
  • hand-written literary notes
  • commendation verses
  • miscellaneous personal references
  • books owned or borrowed
  • notice at death as writer

Jonson had all ten indicators, Nashe nine, Marlowe as few as four or three and Shakespeare had none, though a lot of work attributed to him appeared to indicate a Cambridge University education he did not have.

We are led to believe he is the author of William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies, as it has his name on it. There is also a memorial to him in Stratford upon Avon referred to by Ben Jonson.  The engraving on the monument uses rare Latin words for the day whose initials spell the word IMPOST – a tax on merchandise. The main script is ambiguous too.

untitled

All the real evidence as to who Shakespeare was, profiles a business man broker with supporting comments from his contemporaries that he may have been involved in buying and selling plays and poems. Ben Jonson, “Poet-Ape, who would be thought our chief”  “from brokage” to “thief”; John Ward, Shakespeare “supplied the stage with two plays a year”; Michael Drayton, Shakespeare “trafficked with the stage”.

Ros ended her exciting and scientific appraisal by saying it does matter that Shakespeare’s authorship is doubted. An error needs to be corrected so that the right person gets the credit, we need to understand the genius that comes from groundwork, understand the sonnets better and stop barking up the wrong tree.

Writer, broadcaster and producer, Susan Marling at the HWS

report by Carole Hastings

HWS Chairman, Barbara Large, opened the evening by saying it was the Society’s intention to help move members closer to their writing goals with an exciting programme. She welcomed Susan Marling who she had met at the Society of Authors and apologised that Sasha Twining from BBC Solent could not come due to a work commitment. She will be part of another evening in the future when she will bring a small crew with her for a short session on producing for radio. Barbara encouraged everyone to pick up details of the 37th Pitstop Refuelling weekend in November from the welcome desk. Details on the ‘Events’ page.

David Eadsforth, Events Secretary, introduced Susan Marling who set up Just Radio in 1995 and is consistently producing programmes for radio with original approaches on Ernest Hemingway to Salvador Dali and Pete Townsend.

01_ Oct Susan MarlingSusan started her career as a Head of English in a London comprehensive school before she started writing for national newspapers and radio. She approached producers with the offer “I’ll give you five ideas if you let me do one of them.” After working in TV, she decided to move to radio as she recognised that women have a short shelf life on television.

She said ideas are the currency of a writer and they need the ability to adapt their texts to appeal to a wider audience for radio. Writers need to be able to mine the treasure they have e.g. a travel writer needs to create a number of angles on a trip to be able to sell the idea to a number of outlets.   Commissioners want writers to draw their work into the present day and to have a fresh look on history and historical events.

To that end, Susan worked with Jenny Uglow on taking her acclaimed book on Hogarth and reframing the material as Hogarth, the modern moralist, by overlaying the Rake’s Progress on Soho. She also produced Uglow’s The Lunar Men about the Lunar Society of Birmingham who shaped and fired the modern world under the leadership of Erasmus Darwin. James Bond, the Last Englishman written by Professor David Cannadine who theorised that Fleming invented James Bond as a consolation to the British for loss of empire after World War II, was also one of Susan’s Just Radio Productions.

Last year she produced Lawrence of Arabia: The Man and the Myth, presented by Allan Little. This positioned Lawrence as the father of modern guerrilla warfare and as the man who predicted future strife in the Middle East in the wake of WWI and the Sykes-Picot agreement.

In May this year, she produced Food: A Scandalous History when the horse meat scandal was on everyone’s thoughts. It was recorded at Borough Market and fronted by Giles Coren who interviewed Rosalind Crone, writer of Violent Victorians on what was used as food fillers in Victorian times.

We heard that the BBC commission twice a year and a tender document is used for both in-house and freelance producers. These outline slots that are available from 15 minute pieces that might run across the week to longer pieces.

An idea needs to be captured in 200-300 words and the commissioner will explore a dozen ideas and then the pitch takes place. Often you don’t get the result for a long time and there is usually a delay on getting your work on air. Currently Susan is working on a programme which will not be aired until March 2015 at the earliest. In house producers at the BBC have their work guaranteed as there is a quota system.

Susan’s recommendations on how to pitch were as follows:

1          Identify a producer

2          Think about what you want to say

3          Refine it

4          Be clear on what you can bring. Is it:

  1. an untold story
  2. special access of some sort -[story of family etc.]
  3. talent

5          Be aware of when to stop selling – don’t spoil a potentially good relationship!

She said it was impossible to patent ideas but worth testing them on people you could trust before approaching the BBC. Commissioners welcome comedy but it needs to be clever and witty.

This interesting talk gave the audience plenty of food for thought and a number of writers went home considering how they might adapt some of the work they had already written.

Listen out for…  Just Radio Productions

Selling British Luxury (BBC Radio 4, Monday 14th October 11am)

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen investigates the popularity and success of British luxury brands abroad. He traces the appeal of British manufactured products in emerging economies and discovers how heritage brandssuch as Rolls Royce, owe their healthy sales to the highest quality British manufacture, and, often shrewd online marketing.

The British Mosque (BBC Radio 4, Thursday 17th October 11.30am)

At a time of unprecedented mosque construction and following Newham council’s rejection of the controversial Abbey Mills ‘super mosque’, architecture critic Jonathan Glancey examines the architectual state of the British Mosque.

The Devastation of British Art (BBC Radio 3, Sunday 20th October, 6.45pm)

Diarmaid MacCulloch marks the start of the Tate Britain exhibition on iconociasm with a programme on the destruction of religious art6 during the English Reformation.

Programmes coming up:

Whitsun Weddings presented by Jean Sprackland (poet) (Radio 4, 1st December)

Bryan Ferry’s Jazz Age ( Radio 4, 9th December)

Algo World presented by Natalie Haynes (comic) (Radio 4, 9th December)

Staging a Revenge presented by Isabel Sutton (Radio 4, 8th Juanuary 2014)

Crime writer, Andrew Taylor speaks at the Hampshire Writers’ Society

Report by Carole Hastings 

Barbara Large welcomed members and guests to the start of the new season of exciting HWS talks with acclaimed authors Andrew Taylor as the main speaker and Lindsay Ashford as special guest and adjudicator for the September competition.

Lindsay is an internationally published crime writer whose book The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen will be dramatised on Radio 4 in February 2014.LindsayAshford She shared her top tip for writer’s block. When she is developing her characters for a novel, she studies photos from papers and a plethora of magazines for people who have features that match those of her characters. She sticks these images on index cards creating a box of faces for each novel. When she’s stuck, she stares at a card and lets the face take on a life of its own. She lets any idea come into her head to unlock her creativity. The Gothic face of the antagonist in her book Where Death Lies came for a teen music magazine. The book is available from September on Kindle for 98p for a limited period only.

Andrew Taylor, author of 40 crime novels, won the Creasey Dagger Award in 1982 with his first book Caroline Miniscule written whilst he worked in a library. It was the first in his eight book Dougal series and he hasn’t looked back.   He has won a number of awards including the prestigious Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2009 for his outstanding contribution to the genre. Most recently in 2013 he won the CWA Ellis Peter Historical Dagger for the third time, this time for The Scent of Death, which was set in Manhattan during the American War of Independence and explored the relativity of loyalty.

Andrew TaylorAndrew writes organically with no defined plot or structure, just some fragments that he wants to feature. He likened it to having a packet of seeds but no idea of how the plant will look when it’s fully grown. He said when faced with writer’s block he forces himself to write, even if he’s not sure where it will go. He stressed the importance of creating a hook at the end of each chapter to keep attention high. His first novel developed into a crime novel but the intention at the outset was purely to write a page turning story that was authentic. His publishers made the point that crime is always popular so this would secure a place on the booksellers’ shelves which is more difficult for mainstream novels. However they asked him to edit it by a third, an act that he said felt like sawing off the legs of his first born, but one that he eventually saw made the book a success. He made the point that professional writers take advice that amateurs won’t…

Crime fiction has had a renaissance over the past thirty years and the market has gone from simple “who dunnit’s” to complex psychological thrillers set in any time. Barbara Vine’s novels that explored moral dilemmas in the 90’s marked a turning point for the genre. The importance of a corpse and a real story that entertains the reader are of paramount importance to Andrew, as is thorough research rather than relying on memory for period fiction. He watches film, listens to music, reads the papers, checks social history records of any era he writes about. His Lydmouth series about a policeman and female journalist in the 1950’s was his first testament to that. There is a final book in the series waiting in the wings. Most of his work includes issues relevant to the day e.g. worries about the Cold War, social mores, class and sexism.

As well as generating his work from scratch, he novelised the TV drama Bergerac on the invitation of Penguin and created four novels in eight months. Some years later The Roth Trilogy, three psychological thrillers inspired by Fred West, were televised as Fallen Angel and starred Charles Dance and Emilia Fox.

Andrew advised everyone to keep their writing simple, not to over-complicate the plot and to avoid too many characters in too many settings.

For more information on Andrew and his books see: http://www.andrew-taylor.co.uk

Jane Wenham-Jones speaks to Hampshire Writers’ Society

Report by Carole Hastings

Barbara Large opened the evening by inviting Local writing group, Pencils and What-not, to promote their new self-published book, Journeys and What-not. It’s a miscellany of sixty pieces of fiction, travel tales, poems and assorted writing. £1 per book will go to the charity First Story that supports creative writing in schools where at least 50% of the children are deprived. The book is available from P & G Wells in Winchester, The Winchester Discovery Centre and from their website.

Then we heard from special guest Jenny Knowles who runs a small publishing company in the New Forest, called Little Knoll Press.

Her mother wrote stories of her life in China and India and sent them to Jenny at boarding school rather than ordinary letters and these inspired Jenny to get into publishing. She has published some of her family’s stories and as well as a few others. She will soon be publishing a book of postcards accompanied by stories produced by a local artist. She thinks that people considering self-publishing use an external editor to get their work to a publishable standard. She recommended that people interested in travel writing join the Itinerant Writers Club via their website: http://www.lizcleere.com. It’s run by a woman called Liz Cleere from a boat near Cochin in India and provides a good support network.Jane Wenham-Jones (1)
The main act was Jane Wenham-Jones and was pure entertainment. She recounted saying to one audience that it was easier to rob a bank that make money from writing. The audience were guests at HMP Send! This set the tone for the evening.

She sees herself as a jobbing writer – novelist, short story writer, columnist, features writer, agony aunt, speaker. She’s feisty and tenacious and deals with her rejections by sending out another script the same day – often reworking a piece depending on the comments she may have had back. Her record for sending out the same piece was11 times across a period of two years. Her advice was to do something positive when you get a rejection – it’s normal to get plenty and few people really get their first novel published.

She believes in writing what you know and her first novel Raising the Roofwas based on her experiences in the buy to let market where one of her tenants actually stole the boiler and another filled the place with stolen goods and replica guns. She tends to keep research to a minimum – mostly Google and asking people to tell what she needs to know. She’s a firm believer in not trying to sell your book until you’ve written it – the first three chapters are not enough. Keep your focus in what you want to write as you can easily pick up so much contradictory advice – bigger plot/bigger characterisation etc.

IMG_1253Jane never wastes her life experiences – they all provide her with material for books and features -domestics even find their way into her column… Woman’s Weekly Fiction Specials are a great outlet for short stories.

In the name of research Jane has been botoxed, [better performed by the dermatologist than the dentist apparently], been painted naked [her laptop strategically placed] and had a go at stand-up comedy. The audience found her funnier in real life than when she was trying to tell jokes.

Her second book Perfect Alibis was based on research from a friend on how to have an affair which led her on to work on The Sun and an appearance on Kilroy. Her most recent novel,Prime Time, based on her experiences in day time TV was nominated for The Romantic Comedy of the Year Award.

She currently has a 15,000 word book on Kindle called 100 ways to Fight the Flab and this will be out in paperback as a 60,000 word book by Christmas. She is running a “How to Lose Weight” competition for a week’s writing course in France.

James McConnachie: Writing to Order and When to Strain Against the Leash

Report written by Gill Hollands.

The evening began with three announcements. Barbara Large invited Nita Saini to talk about her pocket book which she has self-published after eight dark years of depression. She had discovered that current books on the subject were thick tomes offering no help. She felt that people who were depressed needed help to get themselves out of their situation and off drugs. While she was researching, her notes lived in her back pocket and determined the size for her new user-friendly book. She feels that her tips on de-stressing, happiness, relaxation and reducing anxiety will be relevant to every reader. The book has been endorsed by Stephen Fry, The Barefoot Doctor, Lorraine Kelly and MIND, who have recommended it to GPs. Nita said she wants to light up people’s lives. We are sure this will be a success and hope to hear more in the future. Check out the website on www.movingonupthebook.com.

Alice Young’s new book, was recently published on Amazon. They provide an e-book, ISBN and allow you to set your price. It can then be turned into hardback if required. Alice belongs to a group of supportive undergraduate writers who gather frequently to help each other with various projects. This motivates them all to keep going. Congratulations to Alice.

Joan McGavin, Faculty of Arts, announced a summer poetry course in Normandy on 24-28 June.

Barbara Large gave the dates for the 33rd Winchester Writer’s Conference Festival and Bookfair, 21-23 June 2013 when Lord Julian Fellowes, author and script writer and renowned for the television series Downton Abbey, will give the Plenary Address. In-depth Writing Workshops are planned for Monday and Tuesday, 24 and 25 June, following the conference. Details will be available online soon.

James McConnachie, professional reviewer, traveller, part time historian, 2008 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year, writer for The Author, the quarterly journal of The Society of Authors and currently their temporary editor, gave an outstanding talk punctuated by many questions from the audience. He said that he felt honoured and delighted, yet daunted to be speaking to peers and fellow writers in his home town.

Writing to Order and When To Strain Against the Leash

He began by discussing his latest book, The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories. He has been a major contributor to Rough Guides since they began and believes deeply in their value to travellers. He often has to return to various countries to update the details in new editions. He stressed the importance of providing information which give access for the disabled. He felt that the books were very good value considering the time and energy he had committed to them. The books are aimed at an intelligent readership.

He admitted that most of the conspiracy theories in his latest book attracted even the most sceptical writer. As a writer he strived to keep focussed on the topic. Most of the theories continue to be battlefields long after the event. His friend, Robin, who is a ‘rabid conspiracist’ helped him come up with the initial idea. He felt it was important to introduce humour and scepticism into dry facts, especially with tiptoe-ing into legal minefield. The risk of libel and defamation lost him many nights’ sleep; the potential for suing a constant nightmare. He explained in some length that the UK libel laws are an antiquated and complex maze which is under review currently. Even with proof of the facts, a court case could not be ruled out and reporting any facts from other sources is no defence. As a result, there were many decisions to be made when choosing which subjects could safely be covered in the book. He still feels some topics are on shaky ground. The agreed disclaimer at the beginning of the book ‘almost turns the whole thing into fiction’; that everything should be viewed with ‘complete disbelief’. In fact, he had wanted Terry Jones to write the introduction but he declined when he realised the potential risks.

How long did it take to write the book? The first edition took 1½ years of solid work. The 2nd edition was more of an update and therefore only took months. The books cover 97 different subjects: the research was extensive.

Do you shred everything? Every note and piece of paper used in his research is kept in case it is needed for defence. One possible claim involving the DEA and CIA came at the end of the first print run. Changes were to have been made before the next printing. Thankfully the threat came to nothing and the first run did not have to be withdrawn.

Do the libel laws limit what and where you can publish? They do. He hates the restrictions.

Could the problem not be shipped out to avoid UK law? The laws are about to change ‘libel tourism’. The law is currently ‘rotten’. A proper effort needs to be made to change it.

Does this apply only to the written word? The law to prevent injustice is effective but writers should be able to speak the truth without being sued.

What about the Official Secrets Act? He has not needed to sign this document. It does not apply to authors. It does apply to government workers in MI6: for example, in the case of Kelly’s death. The case is still open. James felt that he might come under pressure, but his book may sell 10-20,000 copies whereas newspapers sell millions.

What about publishing on a foreign server? Could you still be sued under UK law? James was not certain.

James said that he prefered non-fiction to fiction. He found the boundaries of being a guide book writer comforting, even liberating. He is humbly proud of being useful; being able to make a reader turn down a certain street; to change their experience of a place.

He enjoys helping people, even being an ‘agony uncle’ for the Metro, the free London daily newspaper. When he responds to problems, he hopes that it will help other people with similar problems.

James also reviews books for The Sunday Times. He is given the unusual books, those that don’t fit into a particular category or popular science, which he prefers. He admires the editor, also believing that book reviews should be simple, useful, fulfilling their duty to the reader. He read an excerpt that showed how he carefully balances his prose, reflecting and shaping matching words, a satisfying experience. He said writing is like boxing, use small punches and big swipes. He felt creativity has to be squeezed out in different ways. Even a book review gives the opportunity to write creatively. Non-fiction is becoming more interesting now; more creativity generates more energy.

James referred to his book, The Rough Guide to Sex. He wanted to address all types of relationships, young, old, straight, gay; not assume the age-old stereotypes, which had limited other volumes.

He struggled at first with the process, even thinking of basing it on a Rough Guide with a map. Eventually he began with attraction; love, desire, hormones, culture, beauty, sexuality, science and legality. These aspects reflect in many areas. He covered contraception, health and religion. He went on to bodies, including minds. Of course there is a chapter called ‘How to do it’. He addressed sex though life, through disability,(although he admitted that there were many aspects of this topic that require more thought), The book even discusses early changes in a young child’s brain toward love and affection. He mentioned that he also wrote about the dark side of sex and violence and its effects. Abuse is widespread and occurs in every culture. He feels very strongly against pornography.

He also wrote about gay sex: no-one has covered this subject. To some it would seem shocking: in some societies, it would be illegal. Views vary with different cultures.

Would this question even arise in 50 years? The norm varies widely in many cultures but society is constantly changing.

James discussed TheBook of Love: the Story of the Kamasutra.

His research into this topic began when James was given a special edition of The Kamasutra as a gift. He realised it was rather more like a book of conduct, a guide to Indian sexual relationships. He became obsessed by the attitudes to sex in the east and west and fascinated by the story of the original book which had to be translated by a friend.

Finally James talked about The Society of Authors, a trade union for members who are very helpful to all writers. He works with no agent or accountant. Instead The Society of Authors have guided him. He has written various articles for their issues of The Author and he has been offered the post of temporary editor.To be on the other side of the fence was a new experience; accepting articles rather than pitching them. He welcomed letters to the editor.

James does not used social media although he is on Twitter. While he feels it can be entertaining and the internet has its place, he feels that we should turn off the screen and read a book. His favourite authors are Rebecca Smith, a lecturer at the University of Southampton, Mick Jackson, Jonathan Buckley and Robert McFarlane. He admires his metaphors and ingenuity and the creative use of language.

Graham Hurley speaks to Hampshire Writers’ Society

Brian Evans-Jones, Hampshire Poet Laureate, is our guest blogger this month.

IT’S A STEAL: SOME THOUGHTS ON ‘FINDING YOURSELF’ AS A WRITER

I spent an enjoyable and thought-provoking evening last night at the Hampshire Writers’ Society. I was invited as the warm-up act, giving a brief plug for the Writing Hampshireproject, which is going strong: over 100 poems now, and more coming in all the time. Next I hope we can get 200 poems, including more by kids, and more for poor old Basingstoke, which is badly under-represented at the moment! But the main pleasure of the evening was listening to the main speaker, crime writer Graham Hurley.

Graham gives a mean lecture: energetic, funny, revealing. If you’re interested in becoming a full-time fiction writer, and you get the chance to listen to listen to him, you should. His talk told me a great deal about fiction publishing, and what it might take to succeed. But beyond that, his story also made me think about how we can all find our ways as writers: figuring out what kind of writer we want to be, and what we can be good at.

Graham’s story started with a rejection, as so many do. In 1999, with a dozen or so standalone thrillers published, his publisher refused to take any more. Instead, they ‘asked’ him to try something new: a three-book Rebus-style crime series, set in his home city of Portsmouth.

A decent opportunity on the face of it. But Graham hated, and still hates, crime fiction: he hadn’t read any then, and he doesn’t read any now. He was being asked to change his genre completely; rather like Faber offering me a contract on the condition than instead of poetry I send them a cookbook. Being 100% dependent on his income from publishing, he had to give it a go. And as you’ll have guessed by now, he succeeded; the series became 12 books long, sales have gone ever upwards, and there are popular adaptations on French TV (and possibly soon in the UK).

So here’s my moral 1, and any writer who’s ever written a piece with constraints should recognise it: Be thankful for problems and limitations in your career, because your best results may come from them.

How Graham responded to his new limitations is also revealing. He said he had two options. I think he had three. The first, which it’s clearly not in his personality to do, was to grumble and be bitter about this new twist in his life.

Which leads me to moral 2:If you want to fail as a writer, be as bitter and resentful as you can, and focus as much as possible on the ‘if onlys’ of your career. I can’t think of a better way to ensure you’ll never get anywhere.

To go back to the two options that Graham saw, they were: 1) To read every book of modern British crime fiction he could find, and then try to imitate them; or, 2) To start from scratch, and find his own way to write the genre. The first option comes straight from the advice that I have many times seen, and many times given: you’ve got to read what you want to write. But Graham hates crime fiction; so he chose not to. He has, in fact, become a complete exception to that ‘rule’: a proof that you don’t have to read what you want to write.

(However, I want to make clear there are caveats: he was already an experienced and proficient writer of thrillers, so he knew the craft. And while he doesn’t read crime fiction, he has read a lot of good work, and still loves reading. You still can’t succeed as a writer without reading anything at all.)

Instead, he took option 2; and here I think is the most interesting moral from his talk. He drew intelligently and profoundly on the kind of person he is, and the unique skills and experiences he’d acquired. He’d worked in TV as a journalist and documentary maker for 20 years; he was also, and therefore, in touch with every strand of life in Portsmouth. His TV experience had involved investigating in depth, and recording with fidelity, the lives of a wide range of people, so he did that again: he spent months shadowing Portsmouth police, getting to know police work and police officers with clarity and precision. Then when he wrote, he combined what he’d learned with what he knew about the city; and the combination worked. I’m making a selective interpretation there; there was a lot more to it than that, but Graham explains it better than I could (in his Kindle book ‘Backstory‘).

Which leads to moral 3: To be a good writer, don’t try to do what others have done. Draw on what makes up you – your skills, interests, experiences – and chances are it will work.

Not only will it work for readers: it will work for you as a writer. You’ll believe in it, and probably enjoy it.

And here’s another benefit: it will make you stand out from other writers. Graham’s work stands out from other crime fiction in two ways: by being factually accurate in its portrayal of contemporary UK police work (so much so that Hampshire Constabulary started to invite Graham on special police operations, so he could use them in his work); and by dealing with wider concerns – the life of a whole city – than is usual than the genre.

So here’s moral 4: being yourself can give your writing that ‘USP’ that publishers are so keen on.

And that’ll do for now. He also said some things about the role of luck in a writer’s life, but I think that’s another post for another day.

 

Happy New Year everyone.
Brian Evans-Jones
brian@brianevansjones.com

An Evening with Nicolette Jones

Report by Celia Livesey

The special guest speaker, Cllr Frank Pearson, the Mayor of Winchester, was accompanied by the Mayoress, Mrs Ann Pearson. The Mayor gave a fascinating talk on the history of Winchester. The office of Mayor of Winchester is one of the oldest mayoralties in England, dating back to the period when the city was the national capital. The current Mayor of Winchester, Cllr Frank Pearson is the 813th in the office. IMG_1216 (2)

During his term as Mayor, Cllr Pearson’s chosen charities will be The Magic Wand Appeal for the RHCH, the Felix Fund-the bomb disposal charity and Bishop’s Waltham Community Responders. The theme of the chosen charities is ‘A helping hand’.

After a tremendous opening of the new season in September with Baroness James and a terrific follow on with Marc Morris, historian and author in October, I knew it would be a difficult task to top the previous speakers. However, for November, I am delighted to report that the HWS have managed to pull off a ‘hat-trick’ with last night’s main speaker, Nicolette Jones, writer, journalist and broadcaster.

Nicolette gave a brief outline of her early years, and how her love of art and books was very much shaped by her father. As Children’s Books Reviewer for the Sunday Times, author of The Plimsoll Sensation, and co-author of Blooming Books, as well as Children’s Books Consultant for the Louise Allen-Jones Agency, Nicolette said that sometimes ‘good books slip through the net’.  A photo of her study, heavily carpeted with wall to wall books, demonstrated the problems all too clearly.     

IMG_1215 (2)The Plimsoll Sensation took ten years to research and write, but Nicolette said that the story of Samuel Plimsoll, British politician and social reformer, was such a wonderful story of human courage and determination that she had to write it. She went on to say that the story had everything – corruption, power struggles, politics and human misery, but the legacy of the ‘Plimsoll line’, (a line on a ship’s hull indicating the maximum safe draft), is something that all sailors today are grateful for.

Nicolette’s popularity was such that the question and answer session was the longest on record. The evening ended with a book signing by Nicolette, and also a surprise ‘free’ books donation for everyone from Crispin Drummond of P& G Wells Book Shop in Winchester.

P.D. James Talks to Hampshire Writers by Adrienne Dines

There are two elements to a successful Detective Story:

  • Mystery with plenty of clues to be solved;
  •  It has to stand alone as a good novel.

The golden age for Detective Novels was between the great wars; we are now in another golden age. That said, there is never a convenient time to write any novel. You have to decide ot get on with it – then get on with it!

All fiction is autobiography (and a lot of autobiography is fiction!). While we stay within the constraints of a detective novel, we tell truths about men and woman. Our ambition must be to be a good writer and for this we are lucky to have such a colourful and expressive language. English is the most beautiful language in the world and it is a privilege for us to be able to work in this language.

 

Protagonist

Who am I writing about – a professional or an amateur?  There are dis/advantages to amateurs:

  1. they can have your own interests and hobbies;
  1. they can’t keep falling over bodies (except in Midsomer);
  1. the police won’t really welcome the interference;
  1. they can’t be more clever than the police;
  1. they have to know which policeman to call!

 

There are dis/advantages to professionals:

  1. they’ve got all the resources;
  1. you need to be accurate – talk to pc’s;
  1. being accurate can slow down the action.

 

Characters like retired couples are great – they have time, and possibly money, to snoop around and the dynamics of their relationship adds interest.

Currently, there are no famous detective teenagers – opening for a writer there.

 

Inspiration

Once you have the detective, you need to get the idea, the new method of murder! You need to research forensic pathologists, new ways to poison, new instruments to hammer blows on the victim.  You need to think of a suitable setting – an old house; a stretch of beach; a community of people; a nuclear power plant; a nursing home.

 

Writing

The setting must come alive but it must not hold up the story so you must practise your descriptive writing. Get into the habit of writing down the description when you see something useful and choose carefully. Setting, character, plot and theme have to hold together so be careful when the setting is very distinct. Currently – nobody had written a crime novel set on an oil rig because it is too hard to get access/first-hand accounts (*except that I can!!).

 

Characters

Character have to come alive.  Some writers, like Agatha Christie had stereotypical characters – the canny spinster, the vicar, the wealthy cad, the suspect man from abroad, the apparently (but not really) innocent secretary, the ne’re-do-well brother.

All your characters come from real life but are subtly changed by imagination. We must look to ourselves for our characters, use our own emotions and reactions.  For a writer, no experience or emotion is ever lost but you must find the right words to convey that emotion so that it is real for the reader.

 

Structure

The construction of a novel is important – the excitement must be distributed evenly. The beginning isn’t always written first.  Ngaio Marsh had great beginnings then wheeled the characters in for interview. Different characters had different reactions and she chose the best.  The characters set the tone of the novel, a sinister portent that the calm will soon be shattered.  In the end, the truth must come out.  One way to approach it is to write everything that happens in order then divide it up so that there’s excitement in every chapter.

 

Theme

It is good for the story to be about something, not just death and discovery.

 

Language

Respect the language, respect the words you use and use simple words in new ways. Be sensitive to devices and desires. Make sure your opening sentence is a good one – “Brenda was the fifth victim of the murderer because she missed the bus…” suggests a whole back story that has to be fed in so it works well as an opener.

 

The Writer

The writer is in a strange position. S/He has to be both the character and the creative artist. You are in the scene, so work out what will frighten the character and transfer/recreate that fear for the reader.  Graham Greene said that you must have “…a splinter of ice in your heart.”  You are both within and out with the action so you must “…feel the emotion but be the writer.”

P.D.James is particularly proud of a line in Death comes to Pemberley which she wrote in the style of Jane Austen – “Elizabeth knew that she was not formed for the sad contrivances of poverty.” When asked who her favourite writers were, Austen was top of the list, with Evelyn Waugh and Hilary Mantel.  When asked why ‘P.D’ she said it was simply for speed if there was a long signing!

 

EXERCISES

  1. Make a list of your own hobbies and interests.
  1. From that list, draw out skills that are required to pursue the interest.
  1. How might those skills be useful for a) a criminal; b) a detective?
  1. Make a list of character traits.
  1. Make a list of everyday situations – a traffic jam; a school run; preparing a meal…
  1. How do those traits dictate how a person might react in the various situations? For example, an impatient person will not suit a traffic jam but a dreamer might welcome to opportunity to tune in to Classic fm.
  1. What makes a person appear innocuous – consider looks, mannerisms, occupations (this should be a comprehensive list!).
  1. For each of your characters, choose a name. How does the name affect how we respond instantly to the character (think of Uriah Heep).
  1. Make a list of distinctive settings.
  1. Again, draw out from those settings the elements that make that it a suitable venue for a crime to take place.
  1. Make a list of crimes and briefly outline their method of execution.
  1. Marry the crime with a setting and a character and think about what theme your story might have.
  1. What’s your opening line?