Winchester Writers’ Festival, six months on

Florianne Humphrey attended the three day event in June 2018 as the recipient of one of ten scholarships offered by the Festival this year.

Winchester Writers’ Festival claims it’s a three day-event. In fact, it lasts a lot longer than that. Six months on and I’m still putting pen to paper and thinking Oh yeah, I got that idea from Winchester. Three intense days of workshops, talks and panel discussions about all things literary have indelibly put a mark on my own writing. So how exactly have I benefited from Winchester Writers’ Festival?

Launching a website

Before the Festival, I’d been mulling over the idea of a website. Would it be too much effort? Did I have the time? Did I really need one? All it took was one Winchester workshop about blogging to make the decision for me. Okay, so I haven’t set up a blog exactly, but the great thing about Winchester is that it allowed me to take information and ideas from that workshop and apply them to my own comfort zone, interests and skillset. And so a website was born, one that has become a useful platform to promote my work.

Running workshops

The workshops are one of the best parts of Winchester (one of the best parts – there are many). The Winchester organisers must have a time turner because they manage to cram in such a range of workshops in such a short space of time, which means the chance to cram loads of valuable information into my head (or my notebook). I enjoyed these workshops so much that I thought – why not run them myself? A bold move perhaps, but one that has paid off with a series of successful workshops in the North East. So thank you Winchester for unearthing a new passion and a new-found confidence to share my ideas and experiences with others.

Writing new material

As all writers know, writer’s block is real. I repeat: writer’s block is very real, and it can be incredibly frustrating. But, you’ve guessed it, Winchester was that plunger that unblocked my ideas, as strange as that image may be. It was partly down to the workshops, and partly down to meeting and talking to so many fellow creatives. And the result? During Patrice Lawrence’s workshop on Young Adult fiction, all it took was one activity on choosing character names and, there she was, a flesh and blood protagonist with a new story to tell. During Claire Fuller’s workshop on short stories, one that I chose to purposely step out of my comfort zone, a full day session was enough motivation and inspiration to produce an entire short story – and spark a desire to write more.

Meeting like-minded writers

Fact: writing can be a lonely profession. There are outlets like Twitter and online writing groups to offer support, but they can’t replace spending a weekend with like-minded people who are going through the same experiences of planning, writing, querying, and publishing. There are writers of all ages, all backgrounds, and all writing disciplines, so what you don’t learn from agents, authors and industry professionals, you’ll learn from fellow Festival goers. And all this learning takes place in the sociable environment of the Open Mic sessions, the shared accommodation, the group meals or even a night out in the city. And six months on, those writers I met at the Festival are now a vital network of support that has helped me in my own writing journey and, I hope, in theirs. Although we’ve inevitably taken this support online, from tweets of encouragement to beta reading, it’s the shared experience of Winchester that laid the foundations for these relationships to grow. And that, above everything, was the greatest benefit of all.

Florianne Humphrey is a journalist who has written two Young Adult novels, a play and a collection of short stories, one of which was shortlisted for the 2018 Bridport Prize. Her articles on literature have been published by media platforms such as the Daily Telegraph, The F-Word UK, Pendora Magazine, Verve Up and Papaya Press. Florianne privately tutors creative writing and leads group writing workshops for universities, schools, charities, and arts organisations. She is a facilitator for Thorn, a group that organises multi-disciplinary art events around Durham City. Her three great loves are German Shepherds, cheese and beautiful bookshops.

Twitter: @flohumphrey3



Where do ideas come from?

Judith Heneghan, Festival director and Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester, discusses how she began to write her latest novel.

Where do ideas come from? Writers are asked this question all the time. Despite the slightly hesitant tone that sometimes accompanies the query, it is a fundamental concern, and one creative writing students frequently ponder. Because ideas are everywhere, but the underlying issue, so often, is how will I know whether a thought is worth the immense and sometimes overwhelming effort required to grow it into a novel?

I don’t see how I can know, until I try.

Ideas exist already, in our memories, in our daydreams, in our unconscious. Writers take something they’ve seen, or heard, or thought, or imagined, and they play. All that matters, at the start, is that the writer is curious, and that they pay attention to this curiosity.

Some writers commit quickly. Others take their time. I’ve been working on a novel for several years, but I started thinking about it twenty-five years ago. I knew I wanted to write about a city – Kiev. I’d lived there for a while, back when I was a brand-new mother, and I’d heard a story about an orchard that could only have happened in Ukraine. This was hardly a novel, though; it was barely more than a sentence. I tried writing a memoir piece. I experimented with flash, a short story and, little by little, I paid more attention.

Places are ideas. So are events, and people. Once I saw a boy in a back lane in Kiev. He was sauntering towards me, staring, smiling, and as he drew nearer I saw that he had two pairs of cherries hanging from his ears. Another time I had a disturbing encounter with a petty crook in a white goods shop. Then there were the old women, everywhere, on the trams, in the churches, queueing outside the shops.

Who were these people? The more questions I asked, the more intrigued I became. Now I was making things up, inventing connections, weaving daydreams into fiction. It wasn’t yet a novel so I kept writing, moving things around, puzzling over what I’d got until I found the answers to my questions and could go back and build the layers.

I’m thrilled that my novel Snegurochka will be published by Salt in April 2019. It’s taken me a while and there are edits still to do, but if anyone asks me where the idea came from, I might say a trip to an unfamiliar place. Or an old woman on a tram. Or the sound of dogs barking. Or a theft from a white goods shop. Motherhood, of course. A sense of vertigo, possibly. There’s a folktale about a daughter made of snow.

And those cherries…


Twitter: @JudithHeneghan

What goes on at an international book fair?

Becky Bagnell, literary agent and founder of the Lindsay Literary Agency, is a regular speaker at the Winchester Writers’ Festival. In this month’s blog post she demystifies the international book fair and explains what really takes place ‘behind closed doors’.

When I first started working in publishing I was completely intrigued and, if I am honest, slightly jealous when the senior editors and rights teams set off each year for the book fairs. Frankfurt, Bologna, Hong Kong, New Delhi, BookExpo America (BEA) – even London Book Fair (LBF) sounded glamorous.

The first I ever attended was in 1998, I was a junior editor at Macmillan and was taken along to LBF by one of the editorial directors. I must have been feeling a great deal of nervous anticipation, as I remember having bought a new outfit from Zara which had just opened its first store in the UK. Walking into the noisy Olympia main hall I felt like a fish out of water, but when my boss left me at the entrance to the exclusive international rights centre to which my pass didn’t let me have access, I realised that this was clearly the holy grail of the book world and I had absolutely no idea what went on in there.

So what are book fairs all about? In many ways the set up seems quite old fashioned; in the main exhibition space the big publishers create a mini-city with minor and major streets down which they showcase their wares in a kind of glamour contest. The big global players will be in the most prominent positions and will have the biggest, most dazzling stands, with brightly lit digital banners advertising their most successful authors. They set up a mini-reception area on a stage like platform behind which their key employees host meetings in semi-open booths so passers by, or more likely their competitors can ogle at their buzzing business in action.

The meetings publishers shout loudest about are the buying or selling of global rights such as translation, merchandising, film and television. However, the fairs also bring together booksellers, printers, warehouses, librarians, distributors, book clubs, special sales – the list is endless.

It’s really one big networking event, where the book industry can come face-to-face with counterparts from across the globe. Often the real ‘business’ of making and accepting of offers has been going on over the months and weeks leading up to the fairs. The meetings are for sowing seeds for future sales or consolidation and celebration after deals completed in the year just past. Occasionally there will be a ‘book of the fair’, and deals are done in frenzied corners, but this is less and less often the case.

When finally I was invited across the gated threshold into the ‘International Rights Centre’ for a meeting with an American colleague, I realised it wasn’t quite how I’d anticipated. The place that held so much mystery looks just like a glorified exam hall – lots of simple desks and chairs, all mixed in with mini coat lockers and the odd potted plant. But unlike exam conditions, this was a super busy, noisy place, where meetings are scheduled every 30 minutes and so at half hourly intervals the place erupts into chaos.

Many years later, when I switched from editing to agenting and had to host meetings myself, I discovered that things were actually much calmer when you can stay put and wait for everyone to come to you.

As a children’s literary agent the key fair is in Bologna and, unlike some of the other fairs, a lot of the UK and US editors come out on more of a speculative, open trip and are keen to hear about new scripts. Although it would be much easier to meet on home turf, sometimes the trip away from all the normal demands of office life provides time to reflect on the past year’s successes and listen to new ideas.

Bologna is also particularly special because they have the wonderful Illustrators’ Wall, which everyone passes on their way into the halls. Artists and illustrators from around the world come and pin up copies of their characters and design ideas and it’s impossible to walk by without something new or original catching your eye. Of course the other upside of Bologna is that after a long day of back-to-back meetings you can retreat to the centre of the ancient city with colleagues for some culture or, more probably, delicious pasta.

So how do authors fit in to all of this? None of this would exist without authors, they are at the heart of all book fairs and yet not often present in person unless they’re the ‘super’ authors. However, after all the preliminary chit-chat is over, almost every meeting at every fair will involve a point at which the agent or rights person will pitch a book they’re trying to sell. This is the most significant point and it all stems from the moment when an author is first asked, ‘So what’s your book about?’ An author who has worked on their ‘story’ and can sum it up in a couple of succinct and pithy sentences will have planted the seed that goes on to reach out, through word of mouth (still in my opinion the most powerful sales tool) across the world.

Creating a really evil character

Christina James is the pseudonym of our guest blogger Linda Bennett, a director at Salt Publishing and a regular speaker at the Winchester Writers’ Festival. Fair of Face is her sixth novel in the DI Yates series. 




      High on a throne of a royal state, which far
      Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,
      Of where the gorgeous East with richest hand
      Showers on her kings barbaric pearl and gold,
      Satan exalted sat ….

                             From Paradise Lost, John Milton



When John Milton created the character of Satan, he presented himself with a dilemma: how could he make the character of God the Father as appealing as that of Lucifer, the fallen angel? It turned out that he couldn’t.  God the Father, depicted as the sole monolithic force for good in Paradise Lost, actually comes across as a bit of a stodgy prig, smugly confident that, as creator of the universe, his own view of it is the only correct one and that he’s unquestionably right to banish Lucifer, that glamorous upstart, from his presence.

It’s clear that Milton himself became fascinated with Lucifer, giving him good looks and a fine intelligence, able to debate and agonise over what it means to sin. But, if Lucifer had been portrayed as an unthinking vile being – a monolithic force for evil – Milton would merely have created two tediously single-minded leading characters and, in all probability, left his readers cold.

Countless other authors have since wrestled with the problem of how to capture and explore the tension between good and evil without letting the glamour of evil take over.  Achieving such tension lies at the heart of all successful crime fiction… and the crime genre above all others requires an effective villain.

Most crime writers draw some of their facts from ‘true crime’ by studying accounts of notorious murders and murderers. These are often written by journalists or ex-policemen, who recount the crimes in lurid detail and apply a pretty simplistic moral yardstick: eg, this man was a monster because he killed young girls.  No one can dispute the validity of such an analysis, but of itself it doesn’t translate into good fiction.  No reader is going to spend several hours reading a novel if s/he suspects that it’s just about the pursuit of a really bad man or woman who is ultimately going to be caught and punished, because this would include no attempt to penetrate the perpetrator’s psyche.  It is the desire to understand what makes the villain tick that motivates the reader to carry on reading: what is the warped rationale underpinning his or her dreadful crimes? And, having gradually gained fascinating insights into that, the reader is ineluctably caught up in the suspenseful anticipation of likely further atrocities, intelligently if horrifically contrived, before the heroic man or woman on the side of right can intervene. In this respect, fiction is usually quite different from fact, because – shockingly, but at the same time not helpful to the writer – some of the worst criminals are banal people with little imagination. Their psyches, to the rest of us, are impossible to fathom and they, therefore, are not very interesting.

The genre of crime writing has its own conventions. Predominant among these is that harmony and order must be restored to the internal world of the novel at its conclusion.  Often such resolution will consist of the apprehension and appropriate punishment of the perpetrator, though contemporary crime writers employ variations on this theme and may tease the reader by allowing the villain to escape.  (A useful by-product of such an approach is that, ipso facto, the seeds of a sequel have now been sown!)  Two of my own villains, Peter Prance (In the Family) and de Vries (Sausage Hall) evade justice.  Prance, reappearing in Rooted in Dishonour, finally gets his come-uppance; I have yet to decide whether de Vries, as several of my readers have requested, will make a come-back.

The well-crafted elusive villain has immense power to capture the reader’s imagination. Here is someone who secretly carries out his or her nefarious pursuits, sometimes covering large geographical distances with almost supernatural speed.   Unlike most real-life criminals, s/he’s often a person of financial substance, good-looking, well-educated, an appreciator of the arts: in other words, s/he is glamorous.  Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter is such a character, as are Conan Doyle’s Moriarty and John Le Carré’s Karla.  (It has been observed that, in a sense, Moriarty and Karla represent the evil alter egos of Sherlock Holmes and George Smiley respectively; and Clarice Starling increasingly falls under Hannibal Lecter’s spell, even though she doesn’t condone his crimes.)  In very different ways, each of these authors has succeeded brilliantly in grabbing and holding the reader’s attention by juxtaposing good and evil and quite often demonstrating that they are not, ironically, so very different from each other.

The challenge for the author who has created such an evil character is how to preserve enough of the villain’s mystique to keep on intriguing the reader, while allocating a considerable chunk of the narrative to the ‘good’ protagonist whose role is, compellingly against the odds, to figure out what the criminal is up to. A popular device used in contemporary crime fiction is to intersperse the main chapters of the novel with short pieces addressed by the villain directly to the reader.  It can work well and has the bonus of providing the reader with insights denied to the protagonist, but there are pitfalls: if such pieces occur too frequently, are too prolix, introduce too much repetition or simply depict a narrow and vicious anti-social cypher instead of a fully-rounded bad person, they lose their power.  Similarly, if the reader finds out so much about the villain that s/he ceases to be interesting, the spell woven by the author will have been broken.

There is more than one way of restoring harmony at the end of a crime novel: as I’ve indicated, resolution may be imperfect, allowing the escape of the villain while ensuring that the immediate threat that s/he poses has passed. It’s generally accepted that, while readers enjoy the vicarious thrill of engaging with a really wicked character, ultimately they want to be reassured that some kind of justice has prevailed.  A recent approach, developed mainly in America, is for the concluding chapter to describe a folksy event – say, a barbecue provided by a grateful potential victim who has been delivered from evil by the protagonist – at which, amid laughter and rejoicing, all those present discuss the villain’s crimes and how they’ve now been solved.  Whilst I understand that such an ending could appeal to a nervous reader, I find it jarringly artificial: worse, it seems to me to destroy that fundamental tension between good and evil that I’ve suggested is the goal of crime writing.

As Milton knew, resolution does not mean recapturing the more innocent world that existed before the perpetrator’s crimes took place. Everyone touched by the villain’s acts of malice is changed:

               Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon ….
               They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow
               Through Eden took their solitary way.



Wasting time online – is it worth the effort?

At this year’s Winchester Writer’s Festival, best-selling children’s author M G Leonard gave a valuable talk on how authors can reach out and find new readers on social media. She has kindly agreed to provide this summary of her presentation.


Online is a crowded marketplace, and there all kinds of digital platforms and products for writers to use. Blogs, videos and social media provide a shop window, a creative playground and a community hub. However, it takes work, which is both time consuming and unpaid.

Why be online? 

There are plenty of reasons:  to control your professional identity, develop professional relationships, sell a product, promote your work, do research or develop a creative project.  So, the work that you put in can pay off if you have the right strategy and persist.

First, you need to ask yourself some questions:

  1. What online presence should I have?
  2. Who, why and how will people engage with my online content?
  3. What do I want from them?

It’s important to know what’s available and how it might work for you.

You need a website

Your website should represent you and your work. It must be the central hub for news, social media links, links to buy your books, press cuttings etc. Maya recommends using as it offers a free trial for a month (see Top tip: choose your domain name carefully.


  • Used mainly by an English speaking adult audience
  • Used by the publishing industry
  • Good for making connections, finding communities, reaching your (adult) readers

On Twitter you can be an advocate for fiction. You can be personal, but be careful in the way you express yourself as anyone can view your tweets. Top tip: choose your name, ‘handle’ and blurb carefully, and get to know which hashtags connect you to likeminded ideas, groups and communities: eg #askagent, #amwriting or #ukyachat.


Facebook is international and used by adult audiences only. You must have a personal Facebook account to set up an Author Page, which is a great way for readers to contact you.  Facebook will sell you advertising, called ‘Boost’ and will also want you to use their video share, rather than YouTube.


Authors ignore video at their peril! Anyone can make a video with a smartphone, and YouTube videos can be embedded on every platform except Facebook.  Top tip: make sure you script your video. Keep it short and interesting.


Instagram is the most powerful advertising platform right now. It is owned by Facebook. It has strong privacy settings and is therefore used by children as well as adults. You can post video, stories, photo posts and use it for messaging, and your Instagram posts can be shared instantly on Facebook, tumblr and Twitter. Top tip: get good at tagging #authorlife #books #authorsofinstagram and #selfie.

Soundcloud and podcasts

You can make a podcast with a smartphone.  There is a free simple audio editing software called AUDACITY. Top tip: listen to other podcasts before you make your own.


An email list of readers is your most powerful tool. M G Leonard sends a bi-monthly newsetter, along with the occasional special announcement.  Use as it is free, simple, and comes with video tutorials. It will give you a code to copy and paste into your website to allow people to subscribe to your newsletter.

To conclude

All of these options are worth investigating, but you don’t need to use them all! Work out what presence you need to generate work. Figure out your strengths and how often you can commit to updates.  Consider your criteria for success, track analytics where you can and review your online presence regularly.  Is the time spent worth the return?

M G Leonard is the author of the best-selling and award-winning Beetle Boy, its sequel Beetle Queen and the forthcoming Battle of the Beetles. She spent her early career in the music industry before training as an actor, then working as a digital media producer at the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House and Shakespeare’s Globe.

If you’d like to see how M G Leonard uses different platforms, take a look here:
Instagram:  mglnrd
Twitter:  @MGLnrd
Facebook:  MGLnrd
Tumblr:  MGLnrd
Soundcloud:  MGLnrd
YouTube:  Maya G. Leonard
Pinterest:  MGLnrd



Fran Benson is a freelance journalist and copywriter based on the borders of Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire. She writes legal, business and women’s interest pieces for a variety of publications and organisations, as well as short stories for the women’s magazine market and is writing her first novel – a mid-grade fantasy.

Fran was longlisted for the Penguin Random House mentoring programme in 2016 for her novel and is currently redrafting and editing it prior to submission.


I’ve just recovered from a weekend at the University of Winchester attending their annual writer’s festival. And what a weekend that was. it’s not often – read that as never – that I get to spend that much time focused on my fiction and it lived up to my every expectation.

Lemn Sissay was the keynote speaker – powerful, vibrant, funny and profound. He talked about how although we write individually, tucked away in our oneness, that writing is a team sport. And that’s the feeling I came away with from this weekend. Everybody supported each other. The speakers wanted us to do well – particular thanks to Adrienne Dines and Helen Dennis for brilliant workshops. I met up with friends and made new ones. And we cheered for those who had requests from agents for full manuscripts.

I think it was Helen Fields in her after dinner speech who said that Winchester Festival changes you. It sounded like one of those throw away comments which sounds good at the time washed down with a glass of pinot grigio. But you know, when the swirling blizzard of thoughts and ideas finally settled some time over the 48 hours since coming home, then I can say now that actually yes it does.

I have a new found confidence and I’m brimming with ideas and enthusiasm to take to my writing. I’ve already made some decisions that were just not in my consciousness prior to the weekend. My agent meetings went well – and they play a large part in the confidence I’m beginning to feel in myself – thank you to Felicity Trew and Ella Kahn for cheeriness and professionalism at the end of a very hot Saturday. But it was also the enthusiasm of all the speakers and delegates rolled into one that grows into something bigger than the sum of its individual parts.

I’m already looking forward to whatever package of speakers and events the organisers will be pulling together for next year and eagerly awaiting the email so that I can book it all over again.

You can read more of Fran’s blogs on her website:


Stopping (and starting)

I went on a writing retreat at the end of April – three days alone in a cottage in Devon. No children, no students, no phone signal. What I did have was a novel I wanted to edit.

Or rather, I’d edited it already, over and over, but I wasn’t finished yet.

One more read-through. Then I’d be done.

The cottage was gorgeous, tiny and tucked away and I set to work immediately. I cut down several paragraphs. I found a typo. I changed someone’s name, then changed it back again. Some excellent advice echoed in my head: don’t stop until it’s ready. Don’t stop until you’re sure. I wasn’t sure.

On my third day I went for a walk to think about my novel. I made for the cliffs, climbing as high as I could. The sun shone. The wind blew.  It felt good.

I ignored this.

I marvelled at this.

And discussed all possible permutations with these (pics of lambs are obligatory in Devon in April).

By the time I’d walked down here

I’d stopped thinking about my novel and started thinking about something less familiar. A new character sitting down at my kitchen table, making himself at home. Where do they come from, these people? They walk in, unannounced…

So I put on my swimming costume and went for a swim. It was freezing (it was April), exhilarating and a little bit terrifying on an empty stretch of beach beneath the cliffs.

As I walked back to the cottage I knew I was done with my novel. It was time to begin something new.

It felt like this.

It also felt like this.

Who knew?


Launch day

Excitement has been building in the Festival office this week…

After months of planning, the new Festival Programme for 2017 launches on Monday 20 February. I hope you’ll take a look and like what you see – we’ve dozens of new speakers, opportunities, treats and surprises, as well as firm Festival favourites and the return of many good friends.

If you’ve not attended before (or even if you have…) you may find the following tips and pointers helpful.


  • Some one-to-one slots book up quickly. However, while we don’t want you to miss out on your first choices, do take your time to read the programme in full and consider all the options.
  • Speakers’ bios give quite a bit of information, but it’s useful to research their websites too.
  • If a speaker says they are ‘not looking for…’ they mean it!
  • If you are ready to pitch in a one-to-one, then make this clear in your cover letter.
  • If you are simply looking for feedback and advice on any aspect of your work-in-progress or the current market, then this is fine too. Editors and agents will be happy to talk to writers who don’t have finished projects, but it is helpful to let them know that this is what you are seeking.
  • When we receive your booking, we will email you with confirmation of your appointments.
  • You don’t need to send the work for review straight away, but we do need to receive it by post by 24 May. We will send you instructions on how to send the work.

All-day courses and workshops

  • These are carefully designed to include a variety of stimulating learning activities, focused writing exercises and opportunities to share your writing with the tutor/others in the group. You will have an hour’s break for a two-course buffet lunch, and there are coffee and tea breaks, too.
  • Friday courses have a maximum 25 participants. Sunday workshops have a maximum of 15 participants.
  • Tutors know that you may have to pop out of your course on Friday afternoon for one-to-one appointments. This is expected.

So sit back with a coffee and enjoy browsing. If you have any questions or queries, don’t hesitate to contact myself or Sara Gangai, events manager, by phone or email.

Finally, please spread the word to all your writing friends!


Christmas stories

I am always looking for story prompts to use with students and for my own writing. An odd doorway, an interesting pair of shoes, a singular expression… all go into the writer’s store cupboard, to be hoarded until I find a use for it.

At Christmas, those prompts are easy to come by, perhaps because the season is a time of nostalgia for some, joy for many and, maybe, regret or loneliness for others. Objects take on meaning with consummate ease. Story is everywhere.

Here are three visual prompts from my Christmas tree.


A bright, shiny robin.


A smiling angel, speeding through the heavens like Superwoman or Buzz Lightyear.

And this one.

unknown decoration

I don’t know what it is. Our tree is loaded with the decorations the children made at school years ago – salt dough snowmen, felt stockings, sparkly cardboard candy canes. They all deny making this one, though. ‘Not mine!’ they declare, year after year.

But I can’t throw it away. This one, of all the decorations, holds a secret, a lost beginning. I think of it as the stranger at the table, whose presence I won’t deny. What is its story?

And then there’s this…


I’ve been passing it as I walk up St James’ Lane past the cemetery to work all week. First, you have to guess what it is. Then, how did it get there? If your imagination, like mine, is sparked by these questions, try writing a piece of flash fiction about it – no more than 500 words. A flash fiction is a story which does much more than its size would suggest. It shows a glimpse which implies a larger story, and every word works its hardest to bring meaning, plot, character and theme alive.

Then you might decide to enter your story in our Flash Fiction competition when our ten writing competitions open in mid-January.

Merry Christmas!


Trying to get published? Expect the unexpected

Helen FieldsHelen Fields met her agent, Caroline Hardman, through The Winchester Writers’ Festival. Perfect Remains, her first novel in a new crime series, will be published by Avon (HarperCollins) in January 2017.

Getting published is the same as everything in life. There’s no set path. Here’s how I thought it had happened for me… and then didn’t… and then actually did.

I spent thirteen years working as a criminal and family law barrister, but the birth of our third child made continuing too much of a sacrifice.  Since then I’d filled in as a producer in my husband’s media company but I’d always known I wanted to write, so I took some time out (courtesy of my very understanding husband) and gave it a go.

A few months later I self-published my first cross-over fantasy book.  I didn’t bother advertising it or sending it to agents. At that stage I was still testing myself.  Another six months passed and I’d written a sequel. That was when I attended the Winchester Writers’ Festival for the first time.  I met some wonderful people, learned a lot, and realised I was more serious about writing than I’d admitted to myself. Invited to read out a sample of my writing, I was advised (to my relief and delight) to find an agent.

At that point I decided to challenge myself by changing genres.  The result was historical fiction, although very dark and crime oriented, with a female protagonist who also happened to be a serial killer.  I wrote, edited, rewrote, then squashed my fear of rejection and sent it out to agents.  The response was good.  I had several agents asking for the full manuscript very quickly.  I was due to meet with Caroline Hardman from Hardman & Swainson at the next Winchester Writers’ Festival so she read it in advance, we met, and I signed with her immediately. It’s the dream, right? Write manuscript, get agent, open champagne etc etc.  Keep reading…

Soon my precious manuscript was winging its way to the inboxes of commissioning editors.  I received incredibly positive comments about my writing, the Edwardian London setting, the characters – you name it.  But I was a debut author and I’d done something problematic. I’d crossed genres, creating something like historical grip lit. I hadn’t put myself on an easy-to-market shelf. My lead female character was complex, edgy and I’d thrown together the suffragettes, gambling halls and a woman addicted to killing. This book is still sitting on my desktop.  All the positive feedback I could have wanted and still no publishing deal.

By then, I was already outlining another story set in a World War II hospital in Malta, but I needed research time.  Writing, though, had become an essential part of my day, so whilst researching that, I began writing a modern day detective series set in Scotland, drawing on my experience of criminals and the police, forensics and a country I adore.  And suddenly there it was, the elusive book deal.  The Avon imprint of HarperCollins asked for three books and I’m in the process of writing the third. The first, Perfect Remains, comes out on January 26, 2017.   I loved getting into the head of a psychopath who, I very much hope, gets deeply under readers’ skin (not to mention the amateur dentistry)…Helen Fields covers

The dream, finally, became a reality.  I work with a talented, funny, supportive publishing team and I’m loving it. The dramatisation rights have already been sold.  The second book in the series, Perfect Prey, is in the process of cover design and line edit.  I’m plotting where my Scottish detective characters go from here and mulling over a screenplay idea.

My advice to you, is to write with a nod to what is commercial if you want to give yourself the best chance of getting published.  Be easy to work with.  Bend.  Accept advice.  Be grateful when people offer words of wisdom, even if they’re not the ones you wanted to hear. Be prepared to edit until you can’t stand to look at your manuscript any longer. And as I said, don’t expect it to happen the way you expected it to happen. The ride will be all the more exciting for the surprises.