A Tribute to Barbara Large

Festival attendee Geoff Pridmore writes a fitting tribute to Barbara Large MBE, creator of the Winchester Writers’ Festival, who died on 4th March 2019.

 


 

Conference Director Barbara Large MBE of the University of Winchester with author Colin Dexter OBE at the Winchester Writers’ Conference 2008 (Photo credit: John Gilbey)

I can’t remember the first year that I attended the Writers’ Conference, in those days held at Southampton University but it must have been sometime in the ‘80s. I hadn’t been published at that point, but was a hopeful novice. The Conference was very big, with workshops in every imaginable discipline from poetry to Sci-Fi, writing for magazines, TV, radio, and much else besides. The big players were in attendance, with BBC Radio 4 and ITV giving workshops in script writing, and scriptwriters such as Vincent McInnerny, among many others, helped to encourage new, emerging talent. Writing for newspapers and magazines were popular workshops and, in my opinion, very important for any writer wanting to get published for the first time.

In the evening, the grand opening gala dinner saw the Mayor of Southampton arriving in full regalia, along with other great movers and shakers from the worlds of publishing, printing, TV, Radio, et al. It was a glamorous, Hollywood-style affair and across the tables people made friendships and connections. Dare I say, not everyone went home to their allocated billet when the festivities were over!

And at the centre of all these movers and shakers was a slightly built, dark-haired, softly-spoken Canadian lady who was the ‘engine’ behind the whole festival. She was the originator, the innovator, who’d brought all these incredible people together from across Southampton, from across Hampshire, from across the South of England, from across the UK and the world. Yes, this was a truly international event.

But she was far more than my ‘description’, in terms of what she achieved each year. She had that very rare ability to make each novice writer feel as if they were the most important person at the conference. How did she do it? I can’t truly answer that. Her eyes, her demeanour, would simply welcome each and every one of us. She took notice of who attended. Some people can do this quite naturally, others can’t, however well-meaning, however much they want and try to. You could never say of Barbara, ‘I don’t think she knew I was there’: she knew. She knew all of us.

I attended the Conference for many, many years. It was inevitable that, come the digital age, the festival format would be adopted by other institutions across the land and that’s been a great development for writers of all ages and stages. There will never be another ‘Southampton’, in respect of the scale and depth the conference was able to achieve in a pre-digital, analogue age, but both Sara Gangai and Judith Heneghan have kept Barbara’s flame alight and for that there are thousands and thousands of writers who will be eternally grateful. We may not always need to attend every year, but there is always something new to learn.

In salute to the inspirational Barbara Large! Thanks, Barbara! And thank you, too, Sara and Judith. Keep up the good work.

If you have a memory of Barbara that you would like to share, please email Sara Gangai (sara.gangai@winchester.ac.uk). Sara will be collecting all tributes to pass on to Barbara’s family. 

Mini-workshop: the character and poetry of ‘place’ in life-writing

Gail Anderson won first prize in both the memoir and poetry competitions at the 2018 Winchester Writers’ Festival. Her life-writing, poetry and short fiction have been widely published in anthologies and journals. She is Head of Communications at Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education, and spends most of her free time on her boat.

 

Hitchhiking to Paris. Teaching school in rural Africa. Witnessing the protest at Tiananmen Square. Memoir springs from experience – you were there, and you have a story to tell. So far so good.

But memoir needs to extend beyond the personal. You need to lend the reader your eyes and ears. Let them feel the experience alongside you.

For me, one of the best ways to do this is to make your memoir’s setting – its ‘place’ – into a full-blooded character in your piece. Develop the personality and poetry of your place – and you open doors to your readers.

First, profile your place

Every experience has a place, and every place has a personality. Teaching in rural Africa will be vastly different from teaching in suburban Minneapolis. Quite literally, place grounds experience.

Our very identities are linked with place. Saying I’m a Brummie, a Beijinger, a New Yorker is a form of shorthand for a host of characteristics and allegiances. Giving your memoir a strong sense of place taps into this human tendency for connection.

Start with one of the boatload of character profile templates online. Hair and eyes aside – what physical qualities and quirks does your place have? What is its age? Its colour? What are its political leanings? What sorts of people hang out with it? How is it ‘dressed’?

Places might be sleek, smug and athletic (The Balboa Yacht Club), or sad and careworn (Flint, Michigan). Your place might be missing limbs, through war or economic circumstance. It might have put on weight through suburban sprawl. What is it proud of, your place – and what is it trying to hide?

Bring on the senses

What does Tonga smell like? How does Paris sound? What does mid-afternoon along the Ganges feel like?

The senses are powerful engines to drive memoir.

Sensory detail in life-writing works double-time. It pulls your reader deeper into your scene, yes; but equally, the gathering of sensory detail in the prewriting phase can enrich your own memories as a writer. Recalling the smell of eucalyptus, for instance, might make me remember the dusty soil of that schoolyard in rural Africa, the hot handle of the water tap, the coolness of the shade under the schoolhouse eaves.

We’re lucky to live in a golden age for casual research. What was the name of that pink flower that grew along the Annapurna Trail in Nepal? What music was playing on the radio in Los Angeles in 1988? Not only is the answer online, chances are someone has photographed it, recorded it, described it in loving detail.

I’ve begun many memoirs with YouTube or Spotify playlists. Listening to music that connects me to place puts me in its ‘groove’. Venture beyond music – to old radio and TV broadcasts, spoken word, environmental sound.

Build your glossary of ‘place’

Using your character profile and each of the five senses – taste, smell, see, touch, hear – spend some time collecting words and phrases about your place. List both nouns and verbs – and be on the lookout for words that have colour, rhythm or evoke strong imagery.

Taste your place, its foods and spices, its sweets, savories and bitters. Cardamom. Sumac. Your atmosphere may have a taste as well. Dust. Smog. Sea spray. Smell botanical, personal, household and industrial scents alike. Purple sky-pilot. Hot tar. Bleach. Because of the way our brains are wired, scent is the most powerful sense for connecting us to memory and emotion. See colours and patterns that make up the canvas of your place. …the cars mostly 1970s Toyota Corollas… the high-tidemark garlanded with pink scallop shells… stone foundations of river-worn granite…

Think about touch being both tactile (the weight of the brick in your hand) and atmospheric. The first time my mother took me to Hawaii, she told me the air would be ‘soft’ – and she was right. Later, living in Minnesota in the winter, I knew ‘hard’ air – air so cold that the moisture inside my nose turned to crystals the moment I stepped outdoors. Let touch include intangibles. Tension. Joy. Sorrow. Anything that pervades might be considered as touch. And to hear your place, take your laptop or paper to a quiet space, close your eyes and ‘listen’ to your memory. Sleet. Car horns. Ships’ rigging. Cowbell. Ice cream truck. Free-write everything as it occurs, without stopping, for five minutes or for as long as it takes.

Add a dash of poetry

The power of poetry might be its ability to say two different things at once, with richness and economy.

By now you’ve jotted a glossary of words and phrases – and they’re pointing you towards some useful poetic devices, like personification, metaphor, and symbolism. Note the rhythm and sound of your words. Are the vowels short or long? Which words are plosive, which alliterative, which smoothly sibilant?

Your Tiananmen Square memoir wants short words with plosive consonants that mirror the sound of weaponry, the panic. Taut, rather than nervous. Bolted, instead of ran.

For a hippie setting, consider how your colour word ‘paisley’ might describe a convoluted street pattern, or a repetitive daily routine. If your location is a rapidly expanding city, its glossary might include words of motion and transition. Steeples rising, parks unfurling, freeway arteries pumping traffic in and out…

Experiment with lineation. Play around with word order and rhythm before putting it all back into paragraph form.

Place as partner

Close development of place invites narrative parallels. A granite city might reflect the unbending character of the woman who lives in it. The seasonal ebb and flow of a river may mirror the episodic memory you wish to relate. Let a compelling sense of place elevate your story beyond limited ‘me-moir’ and into the realm of meaningful memoir.

Or to paraphrase Henry Miller – let your place be our new way of seeing. 

Find Gail on twitter – @smallgreenberd

A Novelist’s Journey to Publication

Janet Hancock is a regular attendee at the Winchester Writers’ Festival where her work has been shortlisted in several competitions for both short and long fiction. She won the First Three Pages of a Novel competition at the Festival in 2011.

‘I’m going to be a writer one day,’ I used to think through my 20s and early 30s. I devoured the novels of Catherine Gaskin, Ann Bridge, Catherine Gavin, featuring ordinary late 19th/early 20th century people in different parts of the world on the cusp of history: war, revolution, social change, the big canvas; and Taylor Caldwell’s novels in 19th century America: captains of industry establishing dynasties. ‘I’m going to do that,’ I would tell myself. But life got in the way.

A winter of unemployment following redundancy drove me to put pen to paper. I enrolled with the London School of Journalism for a correspondence course on short stories. I learned about characterisation, dialogue, viewpoint, useful lessons for a writer of long as well as short fiction. By the end of the course I had started going out to work again full time. Writing became fitted into the occasional weekend, nothing disciplined. The short romances I’d written as part of the course and sent to women’s magazines all came back.

I wrote a Mills and Boon romance, not that I’d read any, not my sort of book, but I had a story I wanted to tell, semi-autobiographical, set in the Austrian Tyrol; surely a Mills and Boon would be easy for they were thin little books. Wrong. My writing was becoming more disciplined, though. My husband played golf on Mondays and Fridays and those became my writing times. The rest of the week was writing in my head, jotting things down: I always had a bit of paper with me. I joined the Romantic Novelists Association.

I read about a young Englishwoman caught in the 1917 revolution in Baku, then in Russia. She wouldn’t let me go. Who was she? How had she come to be there? I wanted to write about her. I had found my big canvas. I loved the research, characters forming, reaching out to me. When I started to write, in longhand, I felt like a fledgling soaring. I typed up the first draft, 800 pages, several storylines, multi-viewpoint, with little understanding of editing. The book was as long as it took to tell the story. The RNA New Writers’ Scheme taught me otherwise. I joined the Historical Novel Society and started reviewing for the Historical Novels Review, a good lesson in editing and concise writing.

I joined a writers’ group, and a postal group for critiquing each other’s work. I wrote a dozen short stories. My writing was becoming more literary. I left the RNA, realising I was not a romantic novelist in the genre sense, although is not all fiction romantic in the wider sense?

I went to the Annual Writers’ Conference in its Southampton days and when it moved to Winchester, loving the atmosphere, meeting other writers, absorbing all I could. I learned to write a synopsis, a query letter. Carolyn Caughy, Barbara Murphy, Lorna Fergusson, Madeleine Milburn are some of many memorable tutors. Barbara Large was a constant presence, competition entries and adjudications returned with her hand-written note of encouragement. A couple of months after my husband died, Barbara spent time with me and we kick-started another draft of the Russian book.

June Hampson, a Winchester tutor, said to me, ‘You ought to enter competitions.’ I’d already entered some at Winchester, so started scouring websites and columns of magazines like Mslexia. All but three of the short stories have been placed or shortlisted, one winning first prize, some published in anthologies or online. A draft of the Russian book won the First Three Pages of a Novel Competition at Winchester, was on the Mslexia novel longlist and the Yeovil Prize shortlist. These encouragements drove me on, determined to pursue publication.

The Russian book went through six drafts, three changes of title, 800 pages reduced to 330. There were gaps – sometimes years – between drafts, while I worked on short fiction, and researched and drafted two further novels. Every time I returned to the book with fresh eyes and insight, cutting away the dead wood although nothing is ever wasted and some is coming to life in another book. I joined a group which meets for a working weekend every January to concentrate on a chapter, and have received invaluable feedback on paragraph structure, characterisation, dialogue.

The final title of the Russian book is Beyond the Samovar, to be published by independent publishers The Conrad Press on 1st March. I have returned to work on another novel. It’s like meeting old friends.

Janet Hancock’s debut novel, Beyond the Samovar, is published on 1st March by independent publisher The Conrad Press.

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.

www.floriannehumphreywrites.wordpress.com

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.

www.lindsayliteraryagency.co.uk

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 squarespace.com as it offers a free trial for a month (see http://www.mgleonard.com). Top tip: choose your domain name carefully.

Twitter

  • 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

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.

YouTube/video

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

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.

E-newsletter

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 Mailchimp.com 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

 

WINCHESTER WRITERS’ FESTIVAL

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:  www.franbenson.co.uk

 

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?

JH