The determination gene. A guest post from Katherine Hetzel

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Author Katherine Hetzel

My association with Writer’s Workshop began late in 2009, when I sent them a novel called ‘The StarMark’ for a professional edit. I’d been writing stories for a few years by that point, and my first attempt at a children’s novel had been rejected so many times, I gave up on it and wrote another. (I shudder when I look back, remembering how confident I was that all the publishers and agents would love my first novel; I could have been used as a perfect example of ‘How NOT to Write or Submit a Novel’.) This time, I decided I’d do it properly, get an expert opinion on Starmark.

The expert’s opinion was less than complimentary. It identified some pretty major flaws in just about every aspect you could cover in one novel. At the time, I hadn’t developed the thick skin needed to be able to take on board honest critique or the skills to make the improvements needed, so I told myself I was a bad writer and did nothing for almost a year.

Then my determination gene kicked in. I rewrote StarMark and it was critiqued late in 2010 by the wonderful Debi Alper, who gave me hope; I could write and I had a good story. Early in 2011, as a direct result of rewriting after Debi’s feedback, I got an agent.

In the same year, I joined the Word Cloud – Writer’s Workshop on-line community of writers – as Squidge. I wanted to keep a low profile, just in case everyone there really knew what they were doing and I looked a fool by comparison. I needn’t have worried. Cloudies are a warm, welcoming bunch and I felt at home very quickly.

Over the next five years, the Cloud helped me so much. It blessed me with good friends, who encouraged, supported, commiserated and celebrated every step I took in writing, whether forwards or backwards. It built my confidence as a writer through the monthly competitions run by cloudies, for cloudies, and the feedback forum where I often asked for feedback on what I’d written. It broadened the range of genres and styles I read and helped me to better analyse what makes for ‘good’ writing. And it gave me the tools I needed to be a better writer through events like the York Festival of Writing and courses like the Self Edit Course. (I can’t recommend either of these highly enough!)

All of this in combination with the passage of time made me an author, not just a writer. Not only was the determination gene working, but the persistence gene switched on too. I began to have short stories that were accepted for anthologies or placed in competitions, self-published two books of short stories for children based on a character called Granny Rainbow, and kept working on Starmark…

StarMark_lg1Then, at the 2014 York Festival, I had a 1-2-1 with agent Clare Wallace; although somewhat disillusioned with the book by now, I showed her StarMark. She asked me ‘Is this a novel you still believe in? Do you still have the passion for reworking it?’

Turned out, I did. I went home and did the absolute best job I could, and submitted it to a publisher in the belief that they would say ‘no, thanks’ and I could self-publish it.

Fortunately for me, they liked it, and in January 2015, I was offered a contract with US indie publisher, Bedazzled Ink. Buoyed up by their belief in me, in the same year I wrote another novel, Kingstone, which has very recently been signed by them too. (Which could be the subject of a whole extra blog, thanks to Julie Cohen’s feedback in a 1-2-1 at York in 2015!)

I know that neither myself or StarMark would have come this far without WW, the Festival, or the Cloudies, and I’m eternally grateful for all that they’ve contributed to my development and success so far. But I’m still learning so I’ll be back at York in 2016, to see what it holds for me this time…

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The author and the Zeitgeist: chasing the shadow

What happens when you miss the Fashion in Fiction because you arrive too early? A guest post from author and director, Claire Seeber. (see fuller bio below. Claire’s book, The Stepmother, is available now.) Once upon a time, I started … Continue reading

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Plot, Pace and Punch: What Crime Writers Can Teach the Rest of Us

image1Anna Mazzola

(photo credit Lou Abercrombie)

‘You write well,’ Harry Bingham told me. ‘But your plot is a mess.’

This was a telephone conversation I had with Harry in 2014 after coming second in AM Heath’s Criminal Lines competition. Although it was hard to hear it, he was absolutely right. Fortunately, help was at hand. Part of my prize was a critique from the Writers’ Workshop and Harry set crime writer Eve Seymour on the case. Within a few weeks I had an in-depth and spot-on analysis of why my draft debut novel, The Unseeing, wasn’t quite working.

The Unseeing is based on the life of a real woman called Sarah Gale who in 1837 was convicted of aiding and abetting the murder of another woman. I had spent over a year researching the real case and reading about 19th century Britain, and at the time Eve was looking at the novel, I hadn’t got far enough away from the facts. She correctly identified that to move The Unseeing from a fictional recreation of the case to a gripping novel I needed to pick up the pace.

I have set out below the five key things I learnt from the report and from my subsequent revisions to the novel, in the hope that they might be helpful to other writers:

1. Sort out structure to achieve pace and tension. Pace and tension are important in all genres but they’re particularly vital in a mystery novel. In my draft manuscript, pace and tension dropped off in the middle. The remedy was to tighten up my plot structure to make sure that the reader was engaged at all times. As Eve said, ‘If you sort out plot structure, pace and tension will automatically increase.’ Since then, I’ve found reading books on screenwriting – e.g. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder – particularly helpful in understanding how to structure a novel.

2. Be careful that flashbacks don’t slow the pace. Pace occasionally flagged where my characters were remembering previous events. Eve pointed out that, ‘as a general rule, flashbacks, recollections and dreams have a pesky habit of slowing pace. The exception to the rule is when they reveal a genuine turning point, in which case they can be used to terrific effect.’ I therefore cut or reworked my characters’ recollections to ensure that they were serving the story and contributing to pace rather than hampering it.

3. Make clear what drives your characters. It’s important to know what your character’s motivation is to make that motivation evident to the reader. The Unseeing is told from the perspective of two narrators: Sarah Gale and Edmund Fleetwood, the young barrister appointed to review Sarah’s petition for mercy. Eve pointed out that Edmund needed to be more determined, and more obsessed: ‘It has to be clear what’s driving him.’ I try to remind myself of my character’s motivation in every scene as it’s by constructing obstacles to our characters’ desires that we create conflict.

4. Ensure there are turning points throughout the novel. In my draft manuscript, turning points (defining moments within the story) were thin on the ground in the middle and so the novel sagged at that point. I had to look at what new information I could insert to move the story in a new direction, vary the pace, heighten tension and keep the reader guessing.

5. Cut the description. Particularly when writing historical fiction, there’s a temptation to explain how things look and smell, how people dress, what they eat, how they speak. Eve advised me to ‘nip and tuck’ paragraphs of description to increase pace. If there is to be description, I think it has to be given through the eyes of your characters. In that way it becomes part of character definition and earns its place within the novel.

I reworked The Unseeing following Eve’s critique and gained further support at the Novel Studio at City University. Shortly after that course, I signed up with literary superagent, Juliet Mushens, who worked with me on making The Unseeing more surprising – more compelling. Juliet sold the book at auction to Tinder Press (Headline) and my sage editor, Imogen Taylor, helped me to make it tighter and twistier.
The Unseeing is now a very different creature from the rather baggy draft that Eve considered in 2014. Early reviews have referred to it being ‘gripping’ and ‘page-turning’. Let me tell you: it wasn’t two years ago, and it is partly thanks to Harry and Eve that my debut novel has ended up in print. I’m now trying to remember their tips for writing book two.

The Unseeing will be published by Tinder Press (Headline) on 14 July 2016.

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From Madonna to Publication – a writer’s journey

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A guest post from Julie-Ann Corrigan, describing her journey from the Festival of Writing to publication. More details about Julie-Ann at the bottom of this post. After years of saying (if only to myself) that I wanted to write, finally … Continue reading

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London Creative Writing Courses & Classes

Friday 24th June: Point-of-view: The Writer’s Invaluable Friend. Tickets Only £45 Point-of-view may be one of the less frequently discussed elements of the novelist and short story writer’s process, but there’s no doubt that it’s also one of the most … Continue reading

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SEVEN YEARS TO PUBLICATION, SEVEN THINGS I’VE LEARNED

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Isabel Costello’s debut novel Paris Mon Amour was released in June 2016 in digital and audiobook. She also hosts the Literary Sofa blog, where you can find her selection of recommended Summer Reads 2016.  Isabel attended the The Writers’ Workshop … Continue reading

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The Roller-Coaster Route by Jane Davis

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There’s a graphic that regularly does the rounds. It’s made up of two graphs. The first goes under the caption, ‘what you think your career will look like’ and it’s upwards all the way. The caption for the second is … Continue reading

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From Critique to Book Launch – Kate Armstrong looks back on the journey

It was 2013. Summer. I was a nervous management consultant who had once, a long time ago, been an English student. I was opening The Writers’ Workshop report on the draft of my first novel. I’d sent it off for … Continue reading

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Diversity in genre fiction

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When is a book ‘not Asian enough’? There’s been a lot of discussion about diversity in publishing lately – a lot of people lament the fact that there aren’t enough diverse characters in fiction. There is diversity in the people … Continue reading

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This Friday’s London Literary Salon: Showing and Telling and Storytelling. With Andrew Wille, Jo Unwin and Jenny Savill.

LiterarySalon16Friday 27th May: Showing and Telling and Storytelling. With Andrew Wille, Jo Unwin and Jenny Savill.

Show, don’t tell – or so we’re told. But once upon a time we told stories, didn’t we? And in practice, any successful piece of storytelling needs to balance both showing and telling. Through an interactive evening of inspiring discussion, and practical advice we’ll look at examples of both narrative modes, and find ways to blend them into our own writing.

Andrew Wille was a senior editor at Little, Brown UK, acquiring and editing critically acclaimed and award-winning works of fiction and nonfiction. He has tutored for Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and Falmouth University, and is a book doctor and freelance editor.

 Following Andrew’s workshop, we will be joined by Jo Unwin of Jo Unwin Literary Agency and Jenny Savill of Andrew Nurnberg Associates for an Agent Q&A Panel.

Jo&JennyJo Unwin started off writing for television shows such as Byker Grove, My Parents Are Aliens, Fry and Laurie, and Casualty, as well as dabbling in some acting work, but then moved to Aardman Features as a scout, where she would seek out books that could serve as the basis for new animated films. This then led to Jo joining Conville and Walsh Literary Agency in 2008, but shortly after she set up Jo Unwin Literary Agency.

Following an MA in Mediaeval History at St Andrews, and a stint in the theatre, Jenny Savill joined Andrew Nurnberg Associates in 2002, and is now a Senior agent. Her strong and respected list of children’s and YA authors features numerous award winners, and she met her client Deborah Install (A Robot in the Garden, 2015) at our Festival of Writing in 2013

Location: Waterstones, 203 – 206 Piccadilly, London W1J 9HD. Time: 6.30-9.00
Price £45 (including drink on arrival).


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The Festival of Writing – Good vibes and Good advice

Virginia Moffat came to the Festival of Writing in 2012 – here is her story:

In 2012, I booked myself a place on the York Festival of Writing. As a busy working parent, it can be difficult for me to get away, but I’d decided earlier that year, that the time was right for me to attend. I was half way through the third edit of my novel ‘Echo Hall’ and at a stage when I felt professional feedback would be helpful. The fact that I was a student at York (way back in 1984) was an added bonus; I was very excited to be going back.

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The minute I got on the train to York I was filled with good vibes. Not only did I manage to increase my word count by resisting the internet and writing for three solid hours, but  as soon as I stepped onto the platform and gazed up at the familiar iron arches on the ceilings I was right back at home. The evening only got better from there. After a lovely nostalgia-filled run around the campus I enjoyed dinner in a relaxed setting where it was easy  to meet writers and publishing professionals. After dinner, we were entertained wih readings from the six winners of Literary Live, and the chance to vote on the one we liked the most. Although my favourite didn’t win, the standard was very high and the whole evening was very enjoyable.

I was up early on Saturday for a stroll around some of my favourite haunts, before wandering down to Central Hall for the keynote speech from Jo-Jo Moyes. Last time I was in the building I’d been sitting my finals exams, so it was much more pleasant to be sitting back and listening to her describe her journey into writing. It was a great speech – witty, warm, honest. So much of what she said resonated with me: write the best book you can, write what you have to write, stay with your novel. Much of her experience was laced with failure and disappointment, and yet she could so clearly demonstrate what she had learnt in such a self-deprecating manner, it was terribly heartening. It was totally and utterly inspiring and well worth the entire conference fee just to be there.

The rest of the day was equally brilliant. I met some fabulous authors and then had my first one to one with an agent. Waiting for my slot was a bit stressful as it reminded me of some of the less helpful tutorials on my writing course. But I needn’t have worried. My chosen agent was encouraging, supportive, interested, picked up on some weaknesses I hadn’t seen and gave me some useful pointers. The fact that she liked the premise, she liked the title, and appreciated some of the bits that worked well was more than enough, and I could immediately see a way to improving the material.

Saturday night concluded with an excellent Gala Dinner, more fascinating conversations with a bunch of talented writers whose novels all sounded great and the presentation of the winners of the Opening Chapter Competition and the Greenhouse Literary Agency Funny Awards.

The following day, I had two more 1:1s (which included an extra one for booking early) both of which were as helpful as the first. I left for home invigorated and full of determination to complete my novel. I may not have won any prizes or found myself an agent, but those 1:1s had built my confidence no end. Not one, but three industry professionals liked my work, felt I was a good writer and that the novel had potential. It was enough for me to press on till completion.

Four years on from my trip to York, and ‘Echo Hall’ is well on its way to publication. The book tells the story of three generations of women experiencing love, loss and conflict during times of war. Set against the backdrop of the 1991 Gulf War, World War 2 and World War 1, it asks whether such conflict is inevitable or can we find another way? I began it in 2004 in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, and twelve years on, with conflict continuing in Iraq, Syria and Libya, I’m convinced it is more relevant than ever.

Thanks to the feedback from York and a couple more years of editing, in 2015 ‘Echo Hall’ was longlisted for two competitions (The Bridport Prize and the Retreat West Opening Chapter Competition). Even better this year, I was signed by Unbound, the innovative crowdfunding publisher. Unbound is an unusual publisher, in that it is prepared to work with un-agented writers, and offers a 50% royalty share. The only slight drawback is that in order to get to publication, I have to raise the costs. This is not for the fainthearted as it requires a colossal amount of ego, social media interaction and networking to make it happen. I am a debut writer with a small audience, and am finding progress slow.

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Go to Virginia’s Unbound page to watch her video and find out more about the project.

 

So if you are thinking of going to York this year, please do take the plunge, it really is worth the trip. But also, be realistic! We would all love to have the dream experience of winning a competition and landing an agent and a book deal. It does happen – in recent years Shelley Harris and Joanna Cannon were both discovered at the Festival – but it won’t for most of us. The real value of going is to have the chance for constructive feedback from industry professionals who know what they are doing. It is an opportunity to learn from writers, publishers and agents about how to improve your craft. Above all, it’s a real joy to meet writers, agents and publishers and talk about what we love about writing and reading. I made many friends at the festival who I am still in contact. Had I stayed at home I would have never met them.

York happened to me at a stage when I needed some encouragement to keep going with a novel that had been possessing me for a long time. It was critical to my development as a writer and to finding a publisher. I can’t recommend it highly enough and hope the same happens for you.

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A Guest Post: Breaking the Glass Slipper: Women in science fiction, fantasy, and horror

Hosted by Megan Leigh, Charlotte Bond, and Lucy Hounsom, Breaking the Glass Slipper is a bi-monthly podcast (publishing every other Thursday) available on SoundCloud and many other podcasting platforms.

Hosted by Megan Leigh, Charlotte Bond, and Lucy Hounsom, Breaking the Glass Slipper is a bi-monthly podcast (publishing every other Thursday) available on SoundCloud and many other podcasting platforms.

Breaking the Glass Slipper: Women in science fiction, fantasy, and horror

I have long been entrenched in the SFF fandom in the UK, consuming as much content as I could get my hands on, talking to everyone who would listen about my passions, and attending as many events as possible. But the further I dug into that world, the more gender inequality issues I spotted. At conventions, women were recipients of grotesque, sexual innuendo or ripped into for not being ‘real fans’. According to some male fans, women only ever ‘pretend’ to be SFF fans in order to ‘hook’ their geeky dreamboat. Wow, I think they caught me out there!

Then came the Hugo awards of last year. Campaigners wanted women and anyone else who dared write equality and diversity-minded SFF tales to be kept out of their precious world of boys and rocket ships. We women were apparently destroying all genre fiction, turning it into another of our crusades. I’m not one to take such accusations lying down. As a woman who writes and reads SFF, I took issue with such immature and outdated views. There are some wonderful female writers out there, as well as great female characters written by both men and women.

Gradually, I have seen more and more people discuss the gender issues in the SFF community – from prejudice against female writers to having female characters as little more than love interests in a novel. But the conversation needs to be brought more into the open. More people need to be talking about it. It was high time we had a podcast discussing women in science fiction, fantasy, and horror – which is where Breaking the Glass Slipper comes in!

If people are starting to talk about gender inequality issues in SFF writing, why do you feel the need to make a podcast about it?
ML: I follow a lot of female genre writers on social media, so I feel that the conversation amongst them is covering these issues more than might be felt in the wider community. My hope in creating Breaking the Glass Slipper was that we might be able to bring the discussion further into the open and embed it in the public consciousness. With groups like the Sad Puppies still managing to get a lot of traction, we need to ensure we give a voice to women in these areas as much as possible.
CB: Personally I found that the issues of female genre writers was generally brought up as a part of a reactionary discussion, such as in response to the Sad Puppies debacle. After that had blown over, it would then be sidelined again until the next crisis. I wanted to be part of something that kept it ticking over; I wanted discussion that would be sensible and thoughtful, rather than the heated comments that are often involved in the aftermath of a controversy.
LH: It’s all about getting people talking and keeping the conversation alive. Like Megan, I spend much of my time preaching to the converted on Twitter, and feel as if I’m not targeting the wider readership where these issues most need to be highlighted and addressed. There’s an informality to podcasts; that element of lively debate can be so much more accessible than blog posts or essays.

What are some of the biggest issues you see facing women writers in genre writing?
ML: I find discoverability is a huge issue. The books I see talked about the most are almost always by men – is this coming from publishers not publicizing their female writers? Or are fans changing the messaging once books are released? Whatever it is, we need to make sure that books by women are as talked about as their male counterparts.
CB: I think genre can be a bit of a “boys” club – not that most of the boys in the club aren’t very welcoming to girls, of course! A lot of genre fans are very welcoming, even chivalrous. It’s just that it’s naturally a boy’s club simply because there’s more men involved in the genre than women. I don’t know whether the bottleneck is in the ratio of books published, the number of manuscripts submitted by men versus women, or whether there’s a marketing bias, but whatever reason, like Megan I think women writers need to be more discoverable.
LH: Discoverability, old prejudices, gender stereotyping by both publishers and readers. No genre book should be aimed exclusively at a certain demographic; that’s continually reinforcing the idea that there should be ‘books for girls’ and ‘books for boys’. Amazingly, there are still men who refuse to read a book authored by a woman – a decision often based on one bad experience, or merely inherited bias.

What problematic characterization tropes do you see recurring when it comes to female characters?
ML: Women as romantic objects. Hate this. Too often a novel will only introduce a female character to add a love interest for a male hero. Give me a barf bucket! I’m not interested. Women are worth so much more than how they are defined by a man in their lives – fictional women should be given the same courtesy that real life women have (or should).
CB: In contrast to Megan, I like a bit of romance! But I don’t think male or female characters should have that as their only purpose, unless it’s a proper romance novel. Personally I take issue with the “chosen one” trope: why can’t women (or men for that matter) just be great as they are? Why do they have to have some secret, hidden power to make them fabulous? I think a lot of female characters, especially YA ones, are characterised in that way. It’s one of the reasons I like George RR Martin’s writing – generally everyone gets by without magical powers and is portrayed as kick-ass just as they are.
LH: Now I like a bit of chosen one heroism, but you don’t often see women in the starring role. I grew up on a diet of epic fantasy and some books had great supporting female characters. Very few, however, took the lead. Another trope that’s grown up more recently is the need to give a female hero the attributes of a male. As in, they use traditionally masculine abilities like physical strength to best their foes. I would like to see more women using their minds and their natural intuition to solve problems in addition to their fists.

What great female writers do you wish everyone had read?
KindredOButlerML: I finally discovered Octavia Butler last year after the bookstore had put a hand-written recommendation card below a copy of Kindred and I now recommend her to absolutely everyone I meet. I’ve become quite intense about it. Though another reason I wanted to champion reading women in genre fiction was because I realized that I have read so few! So as much as I’m out to recommend great books by women, I’m also on the lookout for great recommendations!
CB: Sarah Pinborough is receiving a lot of praise for her recent novels “13 Minutes” and “The Death House”, but I really think her Victorian crime/horror novels “Murder” and “Mayhem” deserve more recognition. They were fabulous. Also Naomi Novik’s “Uprooted” was just astounding, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she produces next. Jen
RebeccaLeveneWilliams is a new favourite of mine too, thanks to Lucy Hounsom!
LH: Rebecca Levene is a brilliant writer who does epic fantasy in less than four hundred pages. The Hollow Gods series displays superb characterisation and originality in a genre that sometimes feels as if it’s been milked dry. And the first book only has one notable female character (remedied by book two) – so male readers will have plenty of company!

Hosted by Megan Leigh, Charlotte Bond, and Lucy Hounsom, Breaking the Glass Slipper is a bi-monthly podcast (publishing every other Thursday) available on SoundCloud and many other podcasting platforms.

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Amanda Saint: The Reality of the Dream

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Amanda’s debut novel, As If I Were A River, is available on Amazon, Waterstones, and the Urbane website.

When I went to my very first Get Published event with the Writer’s Workshop, way back in 2012, my publishing dream seemed to be just that – a dream that I’d had for a long time that had very little chance of coming true. The publishing sector was running scared from the new e-book ‘threat’, the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomena had just started sweeping the world, and it seemed that nobody would want to publish, or read, the kind of book I was writing.

But jump forward four years and I’ve worked really hard to get that book as good as I could. I’ve been to every Festival of Writing in York since that first day event at the Wellcome Trust, I’ve done the Self-Editing Your Novel Course with Debi Alper and Emma Darwin, and I am now very lucky in that my publishing dream has become a reality. I have a two book deal with a really exciting new indie press, Urbane Publications, and my debut novel, As If I Were A River, came out on 11th April 2016. The novel I’m writing now is scheduled for publication in Autumn/Winter 2017.

Apart from the trepidation that comes hand in hand with putting yourself out there and wondering how the book will be received, it’s been a really exciting and joyful experience. There’s been a lot of happy kitchen dancing going on!

One of the best moments so far was when the author Alison Moore read an advance review copy to provide me with a ‘puff’ (I had no idea they were called that until it was time to gather some!) and I realised that my first book would have a recommendation from someone whose work I really admire. Her Man Booker Prize-shortlisted debut novel, The Lighthouse, inspired me to stick to my guns about telling a quiet story and not having a neat, happy ending.

But definitely at the top of the list, apart from that initial acceptance email, is when the finished paperback arrived and I finally held the book that had been living on my laptop for six years in my hands. It was a surreal, emotional and completely thrilling moment. There were so many times along the way that I nearly gave up with this book but, luckily, I have got some good writing friends, and a very supportive and patient husband, who wouldn’t let me. I’m so glad they made me stick at it.

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‘A compelling, intricate, psychological exploration of the lies we tell ourselves and the truths we run from. Beautiful.’ – Angela Clarke, author of Follow Me

Especially as I was completely blown away when As If I Were A River was picked as one of the Top 10 Books of May 2016 on NetGalley, which is a website where professional book reviewers can get their hands on advance review copies from all of the publishing houses. It’s also had some great reviews from book bloggers, as well as a few not so great ones on Goodreads! I’d been really worried in the run-up to the launch about how I would feel about bad reviews, and I’m happy to say that the anticipation was a lot worse than the reality. As a reader there are books that I don’t enjoy and I know that there will be lots of readers out there who do enjoy mine, but also lots that don’t.

The whole process of working with Urbane has been inclusive and collaborative so that I’ve had a huge say in how the book looks and how it’s promoted. I’d imagined that being with a new indie press would mean that the whole thing would feel quite low-key, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The week the book came out it went straight into a WHSmith travel offer and is now on the promotional stands at shops in Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Paddington, Kings Cross, and many more.

The London launch party on 14th April was made even more exciting when one of my friends turned up with a picture of As If I Were A River sitting at number 57 in the WHSmith paperback charts next to The Danish Girl. Next up in the launch events is a book signing at Waterstones Lancaster, with my very own window display, and there just generally feels like there has been a real buzz around the book as the publication date approached, and still now the week after the launch. So, yes, the reality for me is definitely living up to the publishing dream and I’m hoping I don’t wake up for a good while yet.

Amanda’s debut novel, As If I Were A River, is available on Amazon, Waterstones, and the Urbane website.
‘A compelling, intricate, psychological exploration of the lies we tell ourselves and the truths we run from. Beautiful.’ – Angela Clarke, author of Follow Me

‘Amanda Saint’s intricately plotted debut novel is a juicy Pandora’s box of mysteries and revelations.’ – Alison Moore, author of The Lighthouse

You can find out more about Amanda on her website, go on a writing retreat with her through Retreat West, and connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

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A Guest Post from Novelist Allie Spencer. Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?

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Where Do You Get Your Ideas From? Alongside ‘are your characters based on real people?’, ‘don’t all writers earn shed-loads of money?’ and if, like me, you are in the rom com market: ‘would you like to write a proper … Continue reading

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Tracy Rees: Festival of Writing, Delegate to Speaker by way of a Richard & Judy Bestseller

TracyReesMy Experience of the Festival of Writing.

In 2013 I attended the Festival of Writing in York. That was the year I realised that nothing could protect me from the siren call of scribbling stories for a living so I’d decided to work part-time as a waitress and really focus on my writing. Sometimes a cliché can prove surprisingly useful.

I had written a novel, a fairytale for adults, and when I saw the festival advertised, I jumped at the chance to discuss it with industry professionals. I entered my fairytale for Friday Night Live and the first chapter competition and submitted it for critique in one of the workshops. It wasn’t selected for anything.

But the really big deal for me was the agent session. I approached it with a thundering heart. I loved my book and I wanted the agent to love it too – and, preferably, offer me representation right there and then!

He had two key messages for me. One was that the fairytale, as it was, was unmarketable; I hadn’t aimed it at a particular genre. The other was this: keep writing. He took some pains to ensure I took this to heart. Your writing is wonderful, you must carry on, don’t stop here.

Inevitably, as I left the hall, it was his first message which haunted me. I felt I’d let my beloved characters down. As for continuing to write, I knew I would. I’d come too far and given up too much by then to do anything else. But over the following days, his other words sank in, and I realised how important they were. Writers are tender creatures, even the most hardened/desperate of us, and encouragement along the way is invaluable. I think he knew this.

AmySnowAt that time I was sending work out to everyone – poetry, short stories, novels… This included what I then considered to be a completely pie-in-the-sky endeavour – I entered Richard and Judy’s wonderful Search for a Bestseller competition. In October 2014 I heard that I had won. Amy Snow was published by Quercus in April 2015 and my second novel, Florence Grace, will be published in June this year.

My route to publication, in the end, did not come via the Festival of Writing. The book I took there wasn’t the book that got me published. So looking back now, what part did it play in my journey?

First of all, it was a gesture of faith that my writing dream would prove worth the investment of time and money. These bold gestures, I believe, are always well rewarded.

Secondly it was an opportunity for me to steep myself for two whole days in the writing industry. I talked to other aspiring writers, published authors and professionals, and reminded myself in a completely concrete way of what it was I was trying to do. I had a session with a book doctor who provided me with useful observations on the work I’d submitted. I met another book doctor at dinner who was supportive and helpful. I left with leads and contacts I could never have found otherwise and with strong encouragement from the agent ringing in my ears.

We need these things. We all know it’s a tough industry to crack. But experiences like these help counteract that, so that we carry on.

To my delight, I’ll be returning to the Festival of Writing this year as one of the industry speakers.
Twitter: @AuthorTracyRees

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