James Barclay, High Fantasy Author

Report for HWS 13th October 2015

by Lisa Nightingale

Michael Byrne, debut author of the Lottery Boy

Don’t give up writing. Do whatever helps keep you going!

After painstakingly picking over the first paragraph of multi-selling Lottery Boy which took him 3 hours plus, Michael Byrne got brazen. He threw it away with his doubts and questions. Then ‘just wrote it’.

But caution snuck back in. Rejections wrecked the flow of his energy. Lottery Boy got thrown in a drawer.

Ironically, he won a Tesco competition that he wasn’t even unaware he had entered. This persuaded him to try Lottery Boy in the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction competition. He didn’t win. ‘If Barry Cunningham didn’t want me,’ he says, ‘all was lost’.

Perhaps his apathy had turned super productive though. An agent seized Lottery Boy.

‘Increasingly,’ he says, ‘agents will work as editors with their authors. They are like terriers.’ His agent would not let it go.

Publishers’ showed interest in Lottery Boy, and where Michael might have (in typical, dreamy, star-struck writer style) accepted their offer, his agent remained dispassionate and hung on for a better deal sticking with the book and Michael.

Michael continually pointed out that ‘an agent is invaluable.’

It was Walker Books who bought him and Lottery Boy. ‘Who?’ said Michael. Again his agent was strong and when Lottery Boy sold internationally, he finally called himself a writer.

‘It’s the voice.’ He says. Agents look for a ‘spark. And that is your voice’.


James Barclay, High Fantasy Author

Oct 15 James Barclay Barbara Large 2 _0236 (2) [371321]The high fantasy genre certainly is another world. Be realistic seems to be James Barclay’s mantra. Really?

Author of twelve high fantasy novels to date (the thirteenth comes out next March) James was first published in 1999. He hordes all his research and all his notes. And it shows.

When building a world, James uses our world as a yardstick. ‘Think of what war or religion has done to us.’

  • Know your geography: you need to know how tectonic plates work.
  • Where would your population live: People will live where they will survive. Our earth is a good fact-file – ports will always be well populated due to the abundance of trade to be done.
  • Your economy must work. Create a balance. Or your world will collapse. Remember our world – finance is a reliable source of disagreements.
  • What is your ruling system? A monarchy’s rule is different to that of an elected government. Look at our own world – monarchies can produce tyrants.
  • Religion – ‘nuff said!

Harness all of the above and then ‘Stick it on the wall in your shed’. Use it only for reference.

Your world must ‘hang’ together. Readers know how our world works, but they don’t know yours.

‘No battle plan has no contact with the enemy.’ Help!

Fight scenes, if you are going to use them, must have a purpose within your plot.

Know who is going into the fight. Know who is going to come out. Know their weapons – how big are they, how are they designed to damage?

Fights are noisy, smelly, uncomfortable and gory and fighters are disciplined. ‘Either I kill you or you kill me.’

With big battle scenes, James brakes the rules. Use a second point-of-view. One from high above the battle field that can give you an overview, the second from the middle of the mayhem. Short sentences shift between them or use paragraph breaks.

Try not to make your fight scene too ‘Errol Flynn’. If it does end up that way – use something genuine – a weapon failure or a stumble over a dead body to retain reality. Stay in your characters point-of-view and let them guide you.

Keep it credible – a peasant is most unlikely to defeat an experienced fighter.

Keep the magic credible too. Credible magic?

It is possible to have fantasy stories without magic. Lewis Carrol does it well. But James likes playing with magic.

If your magic system is all-powerful, then the magicians will be in charge. How does this fit with the economy of your lovingly built world? Give your system a flaw

‘No one person should say more than a short paragraph’ James says.

Imagine that you are overhearing the conversation.

And don’t be in a rush to get all your information over in one go. You don’t need to write in all the characters’ umms and errs. We all do it. Give the reader some credit – they can imagine it for themselves.

But dialogue can be a tool. It can give your reader snippets about the characters’ world; the landscape, the geography. It can inform the reader of characters’ traits, flaws or emotional state.

You don’t need to tag every speech either.

But, James avoids giving characters accents. If you are clever, it can work, but it can also be tiring for the reader.

Although the writer can give their characters new traits, – original fairy elves did not have pointy ears; Tolkien gave them to them. Be wary not to regenerate them completely and confuse the reader.

James is not above ripping it all up and starting again. His characters lead him and unlikely heroes begin to emerge. ‘You can’t afford to be proud.’ he says, ‘your first draft will be flabby and too much detail can be dull. Take out anything that states the obvious, unless of course it is integral to the plot’.

Read extensively. He says, ‘It goes in.’

HWS – End of Year Reports 11th June 2013

Report from Events  Secretary, David Eadsforth

The second season of the HWS offered its members an eclectic range of speakers and topics.  The ten events comprised: two famous crime novelists, including PD James; a comedy novel writer, a travel writer, two poets, two history authors, a screenwriter, a literary agent, the curator of the Charles Dickens Museum and a performance artist.  And several of the speakers had careers in a numbers of areas, which gave them particularly penetrating insights into their chosen subject.  It was clear that, whatever the subject, the members found all of the talks to be both fascinating and useful.  Perhaps the best feature of all of the talks was the sheer enjoyment experienced by both speaker and audience; it has been highly rewarding to be able to tell a prospective speaker “we’re a friendly bunch” and to have this proved time after time.

The 2013-14 season is now shaping up to be just as varied and interesting; if you have not yet reserved the second Tuesday of each month in your diary, then do so now…


Report  from Competition Secretary, Hermione Laake

We have had an interesting and productive year for competitions. There has been a very good response to our competitions, with up to 20 entries coming in per month.

Once again we have been able to offer free entry to competitions, and we have been given some wonderful book prizes to pass on to our winners.

Memorably, a particular writer’s insight into the disabled sensibility has been highlighted by adjudicators; that is the writing of Anthony Ridgway.

More recently we have been able to offer a token of thanks to our adjudicators. In many ways our adjudicators are the object of our desire when we put pen to paper; they represent the culmination of all our efforts as writers, since they are our readers, and we are very grateful for their learned judgement in their specific disciplines.

We have continued to grow and improve together (we are currently refining our rules and improving our communication), and we look forward to some exciting new adjudicators and some challenging and enjoyable competitions in the coming year ahead.


Report from Liaison Officer, Dr Gary Farnell

2012-13 has been a busy year in terms of Liaison at the Hampshire Writers’Society. Liaison has been mainly with the following:

1) the University of Winchester

2) Winchester City Council

3) Hampshire County Council

But it has spread from the local to the regional and, indeed, the national level as well (including liaison with the National Association of Writers in Education, for example).

The Liaison role within the Society has also entailed ‘liaison’ in the sense of acting as moderator at each of the monthly Society meetings, thus ‘liaising’ between the invited speaker and the audience in the post-talk discussions.

Similarly Liaison in the above sense has also been with future invited speakers for the 2013-14 programme of the Society. It is good to see that, at this point in June 2013, next year’s programme is almost complete. Forward planning is at a more advanced stage than it was at this time last year. And this is due to the combined efforts of the now-expanded Steering Committee of the Hampshire Writers’ Society.


Report from Publicity Secretary, Carole Hastings

Across this year we have increased our publicity coverage to sixty different locations or outlets. We have posters in a number of venues – colleges, libraries, bookshops and various other places. I also make contact by email to local press and writing groups cross the county and I’m happy to add more interested parties to my monthly mailings so contact me on:mrshastings@btopenworld.com and I will oblige.


Report from Membership Secretary, Karin Groves

This season 2012/2013, membership numbers rose to 129 members, which was an increase of 22% on the previous year. Members travel from many parts of Hampshire and surrounding counties: Dorset, Wiltshire, Surrey, Berkshire, West Sussex, and London to the monthly events in Winchester.
Amongst the members you will find published and established authors; those seeking literary agents and publication; students studying for undergraduate or postgraduate degrees or attending creative writing classes; and those for whom, writing is a passion or an enjoyable interest.


Subscriptions for 2013/14

We are able to offer a special discount price of £25 until end of June for 2013/14 Membership of  HWS. (Sign-up ASAP, if you haven’t already!) Please note: from July, membership subscriptions will be £30. Students are free on production of a student card. Non-members pay £5 per evening.

All exceptional value for 10 monthly informative and entertaining evenings with well-known authors, novelists, commissioning editors, literary agents poets, journalists, playwrights, screenwriters and industry specialists.

You can subscribe or renew membership on the HWS stand at the Winchester Writers’ Conference or you can contact the membership secretary by email: membership.hws@hotmail.co.uk

The next HWS event will be on Tuesday 10th September in the Stripe Building at the University of Winchester when Andrew Taylor – crime and historical novelist – talks about crime fiction – Living to Write and Writing to Live and the special guest is John Apta, Chairman of the Police Federation.

We welcome ideas or suggestions for speakers, topics, activities or events, and we are always looking for members who would like to take an active role in the organisation of the HWS. You may wish to contact the HWS Chairman,Barbara.Large@winchester.ac.uk or for more information about joining the HWS, please email Karin, membership.hws@hotmail.co.uk  or get in touch via Hampshire Writers’ Society Facebook page.