Why You Should Flash Your Fiction

Claire Fuller is the author of three novels: Our Endless Numbered Days, Swimming Lessons, and Bitter Orange, as well as a lot of flash fiction. She will be running a flash fiction workshop at the Winchester Writers’ Festival on Saturday 15th June from 10.30 to 11.30

You can find her online at www.clairefuller.co.uk
on Instagram: @writerclairefuller
and Twitter: @ClaireFuller2

So, you don’t think flash fiction is for you? You’re working on a novel, a (long) short story, or a memoir. For you, writing is about expansion, exploration, length. You might like to think again.

There are so many ways that flash fiction can be useful even if your word count is usually in the thousands. Here are a few:

Flash fiction to limber up

Would you go in for a marathon without having run some shorter distances first? Would you do a dance class without having done some stretching? Flash fiction is a brilliant warm up exercise. If you ever find when you sit down to work on a longer piece, the first 500 words you write are poor, then writing some flash before you start work can help get rid of those clunky first paragraphs and make you ready to jump in afresh.

Flash fiction for inspiration

Perhaps you’ve been staring at the blank page for a long time. You want to start something but you’re not sure about any of the ideas you have floating around, and putting any one of them down feels like you’re committing yourself. Or maybe your well is dry – there are no ideas. Write some flash fiction for inspiration which can easily turn into something longer, wider, bigger.

Flash fiction for writer’s block

You’re in the middle of your novel – that saggy bit where you don’t know what happens next. But you know your characters, you know what they want. Open a new document, lift a couple of characters out from your work-in-progress and stick them in a new place or give them a new difficulty. They’re on a plane with turbulence – how do they react? They find a wedding ring on the road outside their house – what do they do with it? Writing a piece of flash fiction can help you move forward – even if you don’t put the scene in your novel.

Flash fiction for knowing your characters

Following on from the idea above – what if you know the location and roughly what happens in your novel, but you don’t know your character well enough. Open a new document lift her or him out and write a piece of flash about the day they started their first job, the first funeral they went to, their first kiss – whether these are in the past or the future. Get to know her or him a little better.

Flash fiction for freedom

A novel can sometimes feel very limiting. For years you’re tied into this forward progression (especially if your work is not experimental and is relatively linear and traditional in structure). Writing a piece of flash fiction can help you break out of that straight-jacket for an hour or two. You are allowed to be crazy, experimental, weird. Write your flash backwards, without any e’s, in dialect, in a stream of consciousness. No one will know.

Flash fiction for achievement I

Writing a novel can take years. It takes stamina and tenacity. It might be a long time before you get the satisfaction of writing ‘the end’. Writing pieces of flash fiction in between will help you feel that you have completed a whole project, and perhaps give you enough of a cold, quick shower, to soak in the bath for another three years.

Flash fiction for achievement II

Writing a novel can take years. Years before you can get any proper feedback on your work. Write and finish and polish a few pieces of flash fiction until they shine and send them off to some competitions. You might win; you might not, but the hope, the some-of-my-writing-is-out-there feeling is great. And if you do get listed or win, it’s a great motivator to keep going.

Flash fiction for editing

For me this is probably the most important reason to write flash fiction. Unlike in a novel, in flash every word carries some weight. Every single one must be selected for being the right one in the right order. The musicality and rhythm of the sentences will help you be sure you have the right words, and this comes from editing. Reading and revising, and switching and swapping, and editing and reading aloud and rereading until you are sure that every word is the right word. This is editing. This is a skill you can learn and then apply to your novel.

Gaining Access to the Publishing Industry

Novelist Richard T Kelly has also worked in senior  publishing roles, both as an editor of books and as a literary agent.  Here he offers a few tips from his experience for first-time writers looking to navigate the submission process and get into print.

The Citadel…

From outside, the publishing industry can resemble a closely guarded citadel; and the aspiring writer who seeks a home for their debut manuscript can be a bit like the countryman in Kafka’s famous parable who seeks admission to the Law. The gatekeeper he runs into presents him with umpteen obstacles, but the very first of these is that most maddening of rejections: ‘It is possible, but not at the moment.’

In the publishing business as I first came to know it, twenty years ago, unknown writers might still put a manuscript hopefully into an A4 envelope and post it to a publisher knowing it would sit in a ‘slush-pile’ of unsolicited submissions, which a keen editorial assistant might, at some idle moment, glean for treasure. (Legendarily, that’s how William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was discovered.)

Even then, though, literary agents were the key intermediaries for impressing a new writer unto a publisher. And soon the slush-pile ceased to be: assistants were too busy, and most big publishers decided to log only agented submissions. Thus the chief talent-spotting action now moved to agencies, and to a new type of slush-pile: the email inboxes of the agents, monitored closely by their assistants, who could perhaps be enticed to click and print a promising Word attachment.

So, these days if you’re trying your luck as a new writer you’ll be submitting to agents, hoping to persuade them you have a talent that could interest an acquiring editor. Much hard thinking, then, has to go into the question of what agents, as gatekeepers, look for in a submission.

 

Using your writer’s voice

I suspect most of them would say that, above all, it’s about ‘the voice’: a term so pervasive yet hard to define that it can sound like voodoo. ‘Voice’, for sure, is something distinctive in a writer’s style which you can hear as you read; a fluency that comes from assurance, underwritten by the writer not making any obvious mistakes.

Before the agent hears your voice, though, you must persuade them to listen – to read your pages. The standard etiquette is to write a careful covering email to attachments of a synopsis and sample chapters, asking if the agent might, on this evidence, be so kind as to look at the complete work? (It’s not impossible to interest an agent in a work-in-progress; but the evidence will have to be something very special.)

The covering email might feel like a formulaic chore; but it’s vital in making a good impression. Above all, be polite, making clear why you’ve asked this particular agent to read your work – so get their name right, and show that you know and admire the fine published authors they already represent. (Don’t cut-and-paste the same paragraphs you drafted along these lines for the other agents on your shopping list.)

Then, you need to say very succinctly why anyone should care about your book. This is because no-one asks us to write our first novels; but we have to believe somebody will want to read them. For that same reason, the first paragraphs and pages of your writing sample have to be as strong and engaging, as technically right and tight, as you can make them.

 

This could be your lucky day…

An agent likes to see – because it chimes with their own special way of thinking – some evidence that a writer understands whereabouts their work might sit in the shop-window of book publishing. You don’t have to be some massive showboat: some of the best writers I know are fairly retiring individuals. But no would-be debut novelist today gets to be Marcel Proust confined to his cork-lined room.

The other big lesson, wistful but vital, is this: put on your tin hat and get used to rejections pinging back at you. A lot of talented people come to the citadel and seek admission from the gatekeeper. As good as you are, you will need some luck: it could come down to the mood an agent is in at whatever time of day your manuscript lands before them. It might be that your book is exactly what they’ll want next year – only not this week. But you truly won’t know until you finish your manuscript and buy your ticket to the game. As a wise writer I know likes to say: ‘Every day, try your luck. You could be having a lucky day and you don’t know it.’

Photo credit Caroline O’Dwyer

Why YOU should go to the Winchester Writers’ Festival with Dai Henley

Dai self-published his first book B Positive! in 2010 which received excellent reviews. His passion for regularly visiting the Old Bailey visitors’ Gallery resulted in him self-publishing his first crime novel, Blazing Obsession, in 2014, which won several awards and received rave reviews. His equally acclaimed second book in the DCI Flood series, Reckless Obsession, was published in 2018 and he is currently working on the final novel in the trilogy which he hopes to launch in 2021. Dai is a great supporter of the Winchester Writers’ Festival having attended for the past thirteen years.

Beginnings…

Whether you’re an accomplished writer or, as I was in 2006, a complete rookie, the annual Winchester Writers’ Festival is an A to Z guide to publishing. From honing your writing skills to learning how to steer your precious words to success. I’ve attended every Festival since starting out as a writer and discovered so much. From learning the difference between third person point of view and an omniscient narrator, to writing stunning synopses, composing compelling covering letters to agents and how to avoid the slush pile. All this and more from first-class tutors at the top of their game. Other seminars taught me how to write killer first paragraphs, create memorable characters and how to enhance emotional conflict. There was even a course on handling rejection, something everyone’s experienced, I’m sure.

But the Festival is so much more that attending seminars. Where else can you meet editors and publishers on a one-to-one basis to discuss your work? And who knows, maybe get a publishing deal. Despite the fact that critiques can occasionally seem brutal, constructive feedback from professionals is a vital link to enhancing your writing. I know a number of authors who have been signed up on the strength of their  submissions. At past Festivals, the organisers, ever mindful of the effects of a difficult review, have offered the opportunity to discuss the feedback with a counsellor.  A splendid idea!’

Benefits…

Another aspect of the Writers’ Festival is the competitions. Not only is it another chance to receive that all-important feedback but is also another potential launch pad. Winning one of these prestigious competitions has opened the door to publication for many entrants. The award has become a badge of honour and carries significant weight when included in covering letters to agents and publishers. There are no competitions in 2019 but I hope they will be re- introduced next year.

I don’t know anywhere else locally where you can rub shoulders with icons of the literary world. The speakers are top drawer. People like Carol Duffy, the Poet  Laureate, Terry Pratchett, Julian Fellows and Robert Goddard. I’m always inspired by them, not just from their keynote speech but, as a humble delegate, having the good fortune to meet many of them. Each one I’ve met has been generous in their support and encouragement.

The late, much-missed, Barbara Large, who initiated the festival over thirty years ago, once asked me to get a cup of tea for Carole Duffy as she was busy introducing her to other guests. When I returned with the cup, (milk and one sugar), Ms Duffy took time out to ask about my writing. I’m not a big fan of poetry but in that short time, I learnt that the creative input is much the same.

One year, I took a stand at the Festival to promote my first self-published crime novel, Blazing Obsession. Next to me, Terry Pratchett had a stand where people queuing to have their books signed stretched around the block. In between signings, he chatted to me about his experiences as an author and urged me to keep writing. I asked him how many books he’d sold. He said, ‘Oh, I think it’s up to around sixty-three million at the last count.’ I didn’t like to tell him that at this early stage of my writing career, I was pleased to have just topped five hundred!

Tips and Tricks from those in the know…

As a crime writer, I love Robert Goddard’s thrillers. I had a one-to-one session with him at one of the Festivals and became fascinated with his approach. He is the consummate planner. He told me that his outlines ran to 20-30,000 words. He knew, before commencing his first draft, precisely the content of the final page. He also told me that he’d tried to retire. It lasted three months. He said he could never relax – his head kept coming up with new ideas. I empathised with him completely.

Where else could I have received such a priceless education? It has given me a unique insight to realising the achievements of these literary five-star giants.

When I buy my diary at the beginning of each year, my first job is to ink in the third week in June, ‘Winchester Writers Festival.’ I consider myself fortunate to have such a superb resource on my doorstep.

Feeding the Beast with Nigel Da Silva

Nigel ‘LJ’ Da Silva, is a freelance scribbler for fun and profit. He grew up in Mooloolabah, Australia where eccentric pursuits like reading and writing were viewed with deep suspicion. As a Captain in the Australian army, he worked in Military Intelligence and would write a book about his experiences (if he thought anyone would believe them). He continues writing commercially as he lacks the skills or talents to get what many would consider a ‘real job’. 

Sated for a while, the beast lies, not asleep … for it never sleeps. Quiescent perhaps?

But not for long … it will soon awaken, its gaping maw hungering for more, always it wants more. Words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs … even entire chapters.

Back in the day, writers were stalked by an ancient terror, the typewriter. Yet it was ponderous and slow, digesting single sheets of cellulose ripped from the living tissue of trees.

But it evolved into something swifter and all but insatiable, this time consuming pixels and the writer’s very life force at a formidable pace. It became the computer.

Feeding the beast can be all consuming, so writing needs to become a habit.

When you’re trying to pen your first great novel or short story during those rare, in-between moments of your busy life, you need to develop a consistent writing habit.

I was once fortunate enough to meet one of my all time favourite authors, Terry Pratchett. Ever the gentleman, he took the time to talk to me about writing, but then he said something really annoying.

“I find writing really easy,” said Sir Terry. “I wrote my first novel, sent it to an agent and then it was published. Then I sat down and wrote my next book and the one after that.”

But for we mere mortals, writing can sometimes be an uphill battle. Those words that flowed like the effects of a bad dose of ‘Deli Belly’ suddenly become cramped in mental constipation.

Or, worse, you can’t be bothered to write. It seems too much effort. You’ll do some writing tomorrow maybe, or after the weekend.

Sometimes I pretend I have ‘writers block’ because it sounds much cooler than admitting I’m lazy and I’m finding writing really hard work.

Re-programme your brain

So can’t you just make writing an essential daily habit the same as any other in your life, like eating, showering, or exercising?

Yes, you can.

You can reprogram your brain just like a computer and install new habits.

Habits lurk in a part of the brain called the basal ganglia (I may have made that up), and they consist of three parts: a trigger; a routine; and a reward.

The trigger is the event that initiates the habit, like the alarm waking you up at the same time each morning, or finishing dinner.

The routine is the ‘core’ of the habit and describes what you do when you wake up: like make a cup of coffee or check your emails (that manuscript acceptance is bound to arrive today).

And the reward is the “what you get out of it” part. I find finishing a chapter deeply rewarding.

But how do you do that when there are so many competing priorities, so many distractions that are constantly vying for your attention and keeping you away from your writing space?

First make a list of your biggest distractions.

Do you like to binge watch TV series on Netflix? Is social media eating up your time? Is there a cat presently sitting on your keyboard? (Why do they do that?)

I find that enjoying a pint at my local under the highly suspect motive of ‘gathering some local colour’ a common distraction.

How to break bad habits and install good ones.

Write for ten minutes when you wake up.

Set your alarm fifteen minutes earlier than normal then write for ten minutes. Repeat this every day and, if you like the process, increase the time you write. Other times of day are acceptable too, as long as you stick with it.

You’re sitting at your desk. The beast gazing balefully at you with it’s single accusing eye. You’re trying to find the motivation to write for an hour or two.

So don’t write for an hour.

Write just twenty words instead.

If you can write twenty words, you can write fifty. If you write fifty, you can write a hundred. If you write … well, you get the idea.

If you tell yourself you’ll be at your desk in an hour, you’re briefing your subconscious to start preparing material.

Writing badly can be good (goodly?)

If writers block is staring you in the face, then describe its shape, colour and texture. I think writers block is when my imaginary friends are sulking and won’t talk to me.

So write something anyway.

Sometimes writing badly can eventually lead to something better; not writing leads to nothing at all.

I call writing badly ‘working out a framework’ or ‘alternative literature’; it’s a little lie I tell myself so I can feel good about my bad writing.

Remember, a professional writer is just an amateur writer who didn’t give up.

 

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