Archive for the ‘writing conference’ Tag
Had a super day yesterday as guest of honour at Get Writing 2010, Verulam Writers’ Circle annual conference at the University of Hertfordshire, now in its fourth year and a brilliant achievement from Jenny Barden and team. My new office assistant came too – his first writers’ conference!
It was a packed day for delegates (one delegate’s experience) but I do think that events like these, done well, are invaluable especially for aspiring authors. I couldn’t stay all day but did enjoy the talks by agents John Jarrold and Anna Power, and publishers Simon Taylor (Transworld) and Marlene Johnson (Hachette Children’s) who outlined the publishing landscape as well as giving this piece of advice to aspiring authors:
Don’t compare yourself to authors who were successful 20 or 30 years ago, that’s history and publishers aren’t looking for that. Rather, have a view where you might fit into the market compared to authors who have done well in the last six or seven years.
Next stop: York.
A quick round-up of the conference from my point of view.
I arrived on Friday, spent about three hours in the student coffee bar locked away in my imagination writing… bliss! Then I checked into my room, which to my surprise, wasn’t en-suite. Having stayed at various University campuses over the last few years and always had an en-suite room I was unprepared. (The large bath towel I had brought with me was vital after all!) I spent the rest of Friday chatting with writers, which really is the pleasurable part of conferences. Caught up with Jean Fullerton, Catherine King, Sally Spedding, and Susan Franklin. I also met for the first time over the weekend Adrienne Dines, Lesley Horton, Sarah Ellender, agent Judith Murdoch, members of a writers group from Leicester and another from Worthing, and many other writers with whom it was a pleasure to meet and talk to.
Saturday was a marathon for me with my one-to-ones but most people attending the conference had a mixture of talks, workshops and a plenary session by Michael Morpurgo to enjoy. The evening ended with a gala dinner and a great talk by Lola Jaye in which she explained the determination needed on the long journey to publication. Lola got her lucky break at Winchester, which reminded me that I can attribute the “lucky break” to getting published first time myself to a conversation I overheard in the queue to the Ladies at a meeting of the Romantic Novelists Association. Get out and about, or as Lola described it, put yourself in position for those lucky breaks to become more likely.
This coming weekend is the Romantic Novelists Association conference in Penrith so I suspect I may get a little behind with submissions again. Do bear with me.
This weekend I spent at the Writers Conference in Winchester. I got down there on Friday so had a chance to relax before the big day which for me was Saturday when I was down to see 21 writers for 15 minute one to ones. I’d received opening chapters and synopses from almost all the writers in advance and had made notes on them so I could deliver useful feedback.
What I think I was most surprised about were the number of writers who clearly hoped that, on sight of their opening chapters, I would spend the 15 minutes offering them representation. Although I saw some promising work, I only requested to see more from a handful of writers, partly for reasons of personal taste, secondly for reasons of marketability, and thirdly, because a handful of the writers were clearly at the very beginning of their quest to write a publishable novel and still had a long way to go.
I thought I would share some of the things I ended up repeating on the day:
- Start your novel with action. Action does not mean there has to be an earthquake, but just that something is happening. Don’t write a first chapter full of backstory or introspection.
- I am always looking for great characterisation. Great characterisation is the most likely to be the magic bullet for me as to whether I love your story because I believe it’s what makes great stories. So if I say “work on your characterisation”, take this seriously.
- As a general rule, 1st person is more limiting for many novels, especially in certain genres such as thrillers. If you’ve tried 3rd person character point of view and are certain its not working for your story I’m fair more likely to take you seriously than a writer who tells me they’ve never written anything in 3rd person or that you can’t have charcater viewpoint in 3rd person.
- Know what your genre is. Most commercial fiction is either women’s fiction or crime.
- Crime novels are not only stories about detectives solving murders. (In the US crime is actually called mystery which is probably a better name to encompass the width of the genre).
- I represent the kinds of novels I like to read. So when I say “your writing is good but it is not for me” I’m rejecting it on the grounds of my personal taste. Keep trying other agents.
- I have to think about marketability. So when I say “your writing is good but there is no market for this kind of novel at the moment” I’m not just fobbing you off, I mean it. I could be wrong though, so keep trying other agents.
- Writing is not only about craft. First novels must have a wow factor. There must be something that makes them stand out.
- If I tell you your literary novel is a crime novel, believe me rather than arguing with me! I don’t care if its a literary crime novel or not. I just have to love it and it must be absolutely gripping and readable.
More about what happened at Winchester later.
I have had a rather busy weekend chairing – as Kate Allan – the Get Writing 2009 writers conference on Saturday. The keynote speakers at this one-day conference were the legendary John Jarrold, literary agent and script doctor, Barry Cunningham, publisher and m.d. of The Chicken House, the man who not only discovered J.K. Rowling but whose former beard – as he shared with us – was part-inspiration for the unruly beard of Roald Dahl’s Mr Twit, and Jonathan Pegg, literary agent newly-independent from Curtis Brown.
The conference also included a number of writers workshops by Toby Frost, Lesley Eames, Ian Cundell and Jenny Barden, an excellent lunch and great company. Caught up with a few friends and contacts including Alan Fisk from the Historical Novels Society; Pia Tapper Fenton, Henriette Gyland and Anne Styles from the Romantic Novelists Association and, from Verulam Writers who organised the conference, Jes Guy, Jonathan Pinnock, Kevin Bennett, Nick Cook, Amanda Smith, Dave Weaver, Jean Gardner, Steve Barley, John Spencer, Meena Wells, Tim Blinko and Susan Franklin.
John Jarrold has kindly given me permission to share some of his wise words which I hope to blog about tomorrow once I have relocated my brain and notebook.