Austin Macauley: some questions

If the Writers’ Workshop has a defining philosophy, then it’s this: We are always on the side of the book. We are always on the side of the writer. With books, we want them to be as good as they … Continue reading

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The Whole World – in a Box

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We at the Writers’ Workshop want lots of things. We want to have some fun, to organise superfabulous events, to see people get agented and published – but most of all, the thing we love best in the world is … Continue reading

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The Rule of Law: an open letter to Liz Truss

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***Looking for a post about writing and getting published? Sorry! This post is on a different subject altogether. Normal service will be resumed soon. *** Dear Lord Chancellor, I’m Harry Bingham, a crime novelist and the eldest son of the … Continue reading

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How to design an ebook (or: a letter to a ghost)

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We were recently haunted by a ghost that smelled of copy-ink and tweed and pipe-smoke. We noticed that the poor dear felt a bit forlorn because it wasn’t too sure how to lay out its ebooks, so we thought we … Continue reading

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Defending the value of the book (aka: Don’t piss on Shakespeare)

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Just back from a glorious, glorious Festival of Writing. Still in recovery today, so here’s a short post summarising one particular theme of the event. When publishers deliberately injure authors A lot of traditionally published authors I spoke to at … Continue reading

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THE GOAT BURSARY launched on 1st August 2016: a bursary for an unpublished writer in need of financial support to attend the Festival of Writing. An overwhelming 250 writers applied. Joanna Cannon, along with her agent Sue Armstrong, judged the … Continue reading

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FoWMainPgHaving published in science fiction, I wanted to write a thriller with a scuba diving context, as it’s my other passion. As usual, I took my manuscript to the Writers Workshop Festival o f Writing at York in September 2015. It had already been favourably reviewed by both WW and Cornerstones, so I was really hoping for a breakthrough.
Didn’t happen.
I had three 9 minute one-to-ones with two agents and an editor all, on the same day. One was brutal, told me to go read more thrillers and start again. The second said the first chapter really didn’t do it for her, not enough engagement with the heroine, and why was it set in Penzance and not somewhere more exotic like London or Tokyo? The third also said chapter one wasn’t working: not exciting enough for a thriller, needs to be higher-octane.
That evening I had rather a lot to drink, and my York writing buddies (Craig, Jeremy, Helen and others) consoled me. The next day I skipped the lectures and sat down to forge a rescue plan. On the way home to France, I rewrote chapter one and set it in London, added a helicopter ditching in the Thames and a cyber-attack. Okay for higher octane, but not for heroine engagement. So I took a scene, a flashback from chapter 15 that everyone had said was hard-hitting, and made it into a prologue.

BK head shot (2)
Back in Paris my writers group said chapter one was now too Jason Bourne-ish. I reminded them it was a thriller. They liked the new prologue. I worked for another few months, and then started sending it to agents in November. By April I’d sent it to twenty agents and five publishers. Half responded within a week, a quarter within a month, the rest never. The feedback was generally pretty good, but no takers. Then a publisher asked for the whole MS, liked it, but said they had decided to stop doing thrillers. I found myself logging onto CreateSpace, staring at the options, and seriously wondering about finding a new way to spend hundreds of hours.
Then I got an offer from a medium-sized American publisher, a 3 Ebook deal with an option to go to paperback if it sold well. I pondered. Shortly afterwards, I got a letter from Carina UK, aka HarperCollins, again for a 3 Ebook deal. I signed with Carina. It was still Ebook (maybe paperback later), but it was HarperCollins!
Since then, things have moved pretty fast. I met my editor at HarperCollins at their offices in London next to the Shard. During my tour of one of the Big 5 publishers, I felt like Harry Potter arriving at Hogwarts. I met the woman who picked my submission pack out of the slush pile (she said she loved it right off), and I met the cover designer, too (her cover design blew me away!). My editor had a lot of comments, but over the next few months and intensive editing rounds, she helped me raise my game by asking tough questions about the plot, the characters, pacing, setting, and the protagonist’s emotions during a couple of particularly harrowing scenes. We didn’t agree on everything, but the book has really improved. It’s under a slight pseudonym (JF Kirwan) as Carina wanted to keep some distance between my Scifi books and the thriller series, as they are different genres. 66 Metres launches on August 25, available on Amazon and elsewhere. I’m now writing the sequel.

I want to say a big thank you to The York FESTIVAL OF WRITING  (The Writers’ Workshop) and the agents/editor who gave me hard-to-hear feedback. My advice to others trying to get published is to use these venues, and listen to what the professionals say, and try out their suggestions. If you don’t like the result, go back to what you had before. But like me, in trying to prove them wrong, you just might prove them right.


Barry’s book will be on sale from August 25th  on Amazon
Visit Barry’s Facebook page

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WRITING WHEN NO ONE IS LOOKING – A guest post from Jon Appleton, ex Editorial Director of Hodder and now author

As a writer, you know that readers are out there. You know what keeps the pages turning, because you’re a reader yourself, so the success that others enjoy should be within reach. But sometimes, when publication feels elusive, readers can … Continue reading

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Patience, Perseverance & Passion: A guest post from Tor Udall


Photo by Jonathan Ring for Bloomsbury Publishing. Please do not reproduce without permission

As this year’s Festival of Writing draws near, I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be judging the Best Opening Chapter competition with my fabulous agent, Jenny Savill. I wonder who will be in the shortlist and what they are doing right now. Perhaps they’re commuting to work, or hanging out the washing, pouring a second glass of wine, or changing a nappy (or perhaps doing both at the same time). In this very moment as they glance up at the sky, or put on the kettle, they don’t know that, in a few weeks, their life will be transformed.

The festival had that impact on me. So, after signing with my agent, what happened next? More drafts. Another four to be exact.  A Thousand Paper Birds is a many layered thing. Based in Kew Gardens, with five characters, two love triangles and a mysterious death, it’s told from multiple perspectives and two time-frames. Add in a speculative thread and the folds of origami, and you can imagine why it took a while to pin this particular girl down. I learnt a lot in those two years – not just about my characters and craft, but also about perseverance and passion. There were days when it felt like I was entering a boxing ring, wrestling the pages, and leaving the desk with my jaw bloodied. In one particular draft, I tried so damn hard to please that I took on every suggested edit and ended up with a Frankenstein manuscript, the stitches so coarse you could see the seams. It had no blood in it. No heartbeat. I had to go back and lovingly unpick it, gently resuscitating it back to life and asking it to forgive me – and thankfully it did. It’s a delicate balance – taking in other people’s advice, but also staying true to the world you’ve created and to the book’s anima, or spirit.

In September 2015, the manuscript was ready and we sent it out on submission. What a terrifying process! But within 24 hours, an editor in Italy had read it overnight, fallen head over heels and wanted to make a pre-emptive offer. I thought this is it, we’re on a roll … then nothing happened … for days. Slowly other offers came in – Portugal, Netherlands, Russia – but nothing from the UK. The rapturous declines were wonderful, but frustrating (it made me laugh to discover that while agents send ‘rejections’, publishers send ‘declines’ … it’s all so much more civilised!). Finally, we got a bite from one editor (followed by a great meeting), then a few more showed interest, and suddenly editors were taking A Thousand Paper Birds to acquisitions. This is not an easy hurdle – the entire team has to love it and in the run-up to Frankfurt Book Fair, there’s a lot of books vying for attention.

KeyGardensTrying to keep positive, I took myself off to Kew Gardens (the book’s location) to hear the Director’s Talk. As I left the event, my phone rang and THE MOMENT happened. Bloomsbury had put in an offer. I was standing outside the famous Palm House, in the perfect spot. A couple of times I had to ask Jenny to repeat herself – partly out of disbelief, partly because the ducks were quacking, but there I stood by the glasshouse, my dream solidifying in the trees, the lake, the sky, my body.

This elation continued in Frankfurt when Random House in Germany offered me a 2-book deal (without even seeing a synopsis for the 2nd). Signing for a second book felt like the start of a career; a validation.

So guess what happened next? Yup. More drafts. Two more. It’s pot-luck on who you get as an editor, but thankfully Alexa von Hirschberg is one helluva talented & insightful lady. Sensitive, funny, wise, stylish (we even share the same taste in musicians), she was a joy to work with. The copyedit too was a wonderful experience. The copyeditor’s attention to detail was love-filled. It’s the fine work of the scalpel … ‘do you really want ‘in’ twice in a sentence?’ (see, I’ve just done it again), ‘should it be ‘garden’ or ‘Gardens’? Did you realise that you swap between imperial and metric?’ After all the large scale edits, it was a pleasure to focus on the miniscule.

Ten drafts in all. So many different versions, characters cut or changed, whole passages gone, and for a while I worried that I would grieve for all the different ‘Paper Birds’ that had vanished. But when I read through the final edit it was the book it was always supposed to be. Everything had come into focus.

During this period, there was a lot of other stuff happening too. While I was writing the draft(s) of my life I also had to set myself up as a business, dealing with foreign tax forms, complicated contracts, asking the Foreign Office to certify certificates of residence. An illustrator was working on a map of Kew Gardens to go at the front, copy for the blurb and catalogue were needed, copyright permissions required for quotes and lyrics, author photos taken, the jacket design approved (oh my, it’s so flutteringly gorgeous!). Then there was also a pregnancy that involved me injecting myself in the stomach for 9 months daily, a premature baby and the usual sleeplessness and chaos that comes with a new-born – but that’s a whole other story…! And now I have a year to write Book 2 (the first one took 7 years so you can understand why my eye is twitching … *nervous giggle*).

There’s a host of unknown and wonderful things ahead. And I’m frightened. Of people reading it. Of people not reading it. The author events, the promotion – all challenges for a publishing virgin. But in the end, away from the noise of twitter, book sales, reviews, I know my main job is the work itself: to write the next book better, using everything I’ve learnt. The landscape of language, the puzzles of plot and pace, the intimacies of character – this is where I’m happiest, and how privileged I am to be able to spend my day at the typeface, conjuring up things to believe in. This passion (obsession? endless curiosity?) is both anchor and fuel.

So, yes, since York, life has changed. After years of writing alone, it’s amazing to be part of a collaboration with some of the most talented, brilliant people in the world.

Good luck to all of you coming to the Festival, and if you aren’t shortlisted for any of the competitions don’t be disheartened. I didn’t and I still came away with interest from 8 agents. So much can happen in the 1-on-1s, in the coffee queue, at the bar … the quickening of fate can happen in the most unlikely places.

As for the six chosen for the Best Opening Chapter, I’m so looking forward to reading your work. And for one of you (or more), hold on tight, the roller coaster is coming to get you…

A Thousand Paper Birds will be published by Bloomsbury in June 2017. You can follow its flight on twitter @TorUdall)


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Author marketing tips: 10 simple things that you can do

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You’ve written a book. You’ve got it all the way through production, either with the help of a traditional publisher or on your own, via self-pub. And all that seemed like plenty of effort, did it not? You’d think that … Continue reading

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The Life-Changing Festival of Writing a Guest Blog from Roz Watkins

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Roz attended the 2015 Festival of Writing. Whilst walking our dog in the Peak District, I found myself wondering what it would be like to discover a corpse. This, together with a long-suppressed desire to kill off some of my … Continue reading

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Exciting Festival of Writing News: Announcing THE GOAT BURSARY AWARD

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FoW16: THE GOAT BURSARY In the (many) interviews I’ve done since THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP was published, one question seems to come up again and again: Our readers would love to know: are you a sheep or a … Continue reading

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The determination gene. A guest post from Katherine Hetzel

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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 … Continue reading

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The author and the Zeitgeist: chasing the shadow

What happens when you miss trends in fiction because your book arrived too early? A guest post from author Claire Seeber. (Claire’s book, The Stepmother, is available now.) Once upon a time, I started doing something in fiction that wasn’t … Continue reading

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

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‘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, … Continue reading

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