Uncategorized · workshops · Writing conferences

Things I learned from Get Writing 2017

Get Writing 2017I was delighted to attend the Get Writing Conference at the weekend as a delegate/author.  Organised by Veralum Writers, the conference has grown each year and now attracts some amazing speakers and workshop leaders.  I attended two workshops: comedy sketch writing with Mark Keegan and writing historical fiction with Emma Darwin.  Both were hugely helpful and I now feel fired up to have a go at both disciplines while their excellent advice is still ringing in my ears.  The great thing about writing children’s fiction is that you can encompass so many genres and styles.  So watch out for a historical crime comedy thriller picture book in the distant future!

Here’s some pointers I picked up during the day (which also included talks and panels) that I hope will be useful to you too.

  • Some people read a book a day, and two at the weekend (lizlovesbooks.com).
  • Psychic distance is a thing and it’s rather useful (thisitchofwriting.com).
  • Writers love cake.  Not a tip, but it helps to know you are not alone.
  • Successful comedy sketches are often about subverting the balance of power between the characters.
  • You don’t have to be a ‘plotster’ (planning) or a ‘pantser’ (not planning) – there is a middle way.  You need to choose the route that works for you.
  • The British love a bit of wordplay, ambiguity and, of course, innuendo.
  • Research before or after writing, not during (unless it’s crucial).
  • BBC Writers Room is an oft-recommended resource and for good reason.
  • Don’t blog unless you enjoy it.  But if you do, it can help open doors.
  • Use Google Scholar to search for academic articles about your chosen subject.
  • Notice what your character notices – look through their eyes, not your own.
  • Comedy can have dark undertones.
  • Don’t sweat about the synopsis.  Shock horror – half the time agents don’t even read them!  Even if they do, it can be just a quick glance to make sure you’ve got the story in hand.  Your letter and sample chapters are much more important.
  • Use escalation to take your comedy sketch from mundane to ridiculous (in a good way).
  • Watch Andrew Stanton’s Ted talk – The Clues to a Great Story.
  • Go to writing conferences.  Attend workshops.  Keep on learning.  Keep on writing.

PS – I will be randomly selecting the winner of the signed copy of The Snugglewump on Friday.  If you haven’t entered, just comment on my previous post to be in with a chance!

Competitions · Writing conferences

Things I learned at the Winchester Writers’ Conference 2013

So I’m back from the Winchester Writers’ Conference – and I have so much to tell you!  But instead of getting bogged down in notes like I normally do, I’m going to distill the essence of what I brought away with me into some handy bite-size – or write-size – tips.  So here’s what I learned.

  • Julian Fellowes is a very funny man.
  • Agents, editors and publishers are still actively looking for good writers.
  • It’s about the writer, not the book.
  • Jasper Fforde doesn’t plan his books – hurrah.
  • Barbara Large created the conference 33 years ago and this is her last year at the helm.  What a woman.
  • A very large goodbye card takes two people to carry it.
  • Humorous writing for TV has a number of elements including surprise and rudeness.
  • Fast Show clips are always worth re-watching.
  • Make your book your own, not anybody else’s (Jasper Fforde).
  • Writers love to make up bizarre pseudonyms.
  • Climb into your character’s body and see the world through their eyes and from their height (Ben Illis).
  • St Alphege and St Edburga are actually the same building.
  • You can trip over many times in one day when you’re over-excited.
  • Everyone loves a free mini muffin.
  • Concentrate on one major aspect per draft to stop yourself getting distracted (Ben Ellis).
  • Anyone can be a freelance features writer – just start (Emma Scattergood).
  • Just because you haven’t made it yet doesn’t mean you aren’t going to (Julian Fellowes).

I’m sure you’ll agree there’s some invaluable nuggets of advice in there.  But my favourite was, again, from Julian Fellowes.  When he was working hard trying to make his dream of being a writer come true, he said he never let 24 hours go by without doing something to further his cause, whether it was writing, editing, sending an email or anything that he felt was helping him achieve his dream.  And he kept this up for 10 years.  Think I’ll do the same.

PS  I won the Writing for Children Aged 12+ competition and now have some lovely book tokens to spend.  What a fabulous day.

workshops · Writing conferences

Get Writing conference 2013

Verulam Writers’ annual conference, ‘Get Writing’ is being held on Saturday 20 April at the University of Hertfordshire.  I have attended this conference a few times and it is going from strength to strength, having started originally in a small school with just a few workshops and speakers.  This year they are featuring workshops on crime writing, editing, writing for children, writing for radio and television, feature writing and even neurolinguistic programming – sounds intriguing!  There are also question and answer panels, 5 minute pitches and the chance to book 10 minute pitches for an extra fee of £10.  The cost for the day is £55, including lunch.

More details can be found on the website.  Click on the yellow button over the spinning sign which takes you to an animation you can work through.  Personally I found the animation very difficult to navigate.  Finally I found a way to download the provisional brochure which is much easier to read, plus a pdf of the workshops.  Unfortunately both the animation and the brochure seem to be half finished with lots of typos and in places what looks like draft text, but the event is usually run very professionally so I’m sure this is just an oversight!

Writing conferences

On a mission

Tomorrow I am at the Winchester Writers’ Conference and I will be on a mission on your behalf, dear follower.  I will be hunting down hints, tips, opportunities and words of wisdom as I rub shoulders with the literati, and all my discoveries and revelations will be revealed right here!

One of the talks I am attending is from Liz Chase at Working Partners, a fiction packager which puts together children’s book series in-house, with the editors generating the plots and characters and a team of writers fleshing out the narrative.  You can apply to be one of their writers through their site.  It sounds like an interesting opportunity and I will let you know more next week.

Writing conferences

Winchester Writers’ Conference 2012 is open for booking!

Perhaps I do go on about the Winchester Writers’ Conference a tad too much, but it is such a fab occasion, and even if you go just for the Saturday (like me) you get 5 workshops, 3 one-to-ones with agents, editors and authors and the chance to mix with other writers and members of the literati itself (this year spearheaded by everyone’s favourite cuddly gardener turned novelist, Alan Titchmarsh and prolific children’s author Michael Coleman).  Long known as the alternative way to bag yourself an agent, Winchester shows no signs of slowing down and with workshops on everything from structure to marketing to the e-revolution there’s always something new to learn.

And the reason I’m posting about this today?  Booking has just opened, so if you are thinking about going and you do want that 15 minutes alone with a top agent, you need to get in quick!


Drafting · Writing conferences · writing resources

Redrafting Checklist

As promised, here are my notes on Jude Evans’ seminar ‘Redrafting Your Work’, given at the Winchester Writers’ Conference on 2nd July 2011.  Although it is aimed at children’s writers, I’m sure Jude’s advice would be useful to anybody looking to improve their first draft.

I have also typed the notes up as a tickable checklist, so if you would like to print this off (and tinker with it to suit you) please download as a Word document by clicking on the link below.



(notes from Jude Evans’ seminar at Winchester Writers’ Conference 2 July 2011)

Put away your book for 2 weeks!  Now re-read.

Does the mood and atmosphere come through strongly?
Are the characters convincing?
Does the writing flow?
What are the best bits?

Read again, this time with your red editing pen!  Be objective and break down the prose to look at it from different angles.

Draw out a diagram/timeline of your plot and look at the narrative pace, the highs and the lows.
Is your plot watertight and logical?

Does it compel the reader to continue?  What is the hook?
What can the reader identify with?
What makes it special?
Is it immediate?  Will the reader feel dropped in to the scene?
Use economy – don’t weigh down with explanation.

Will it make the reader remember the book?
Does it make the reader feel the way you planned, eg inspired/shocked?
Use economy – don’t weigh down with tying up loose ends.
Does the resolution work?
Imagine a scene as a film – have you described enough to make it real?  If not consider adding movement or detail to bring it to life.

Research your market – look in Amazon, bookshops and libraries.
What are people talking about online, eg forums, mumsnet?
What is your strength?
Will your book sit well in publishers’ lists?  (If not, is it special enough to make it even though it’s different?)

Can you capture it in a few sentences?
Why would a child want to read it?
Is the message clear?

Are they memorable, individual and real?
Do they have quirks, attitude, humour?
Is their dialogue natural, eg own turns of phrase?
Do they behave true to character, not as slaves to the plot?

Imagine a scene as a film – have you described enough to make it real?
Is the reader experiencing events as vividly as possible?
Is the description a high point, or dry and flat?
Are you showing, not telling?

Is it suitable for your audience?
Is it consistent?
Does it communicate what you planned?  (NB  Don’t worry about this when you are in the flow of writing – think about style and tone afterwards.)

Have you leapt straight into the story?  Are the hooks early enough?
Is there enough action or intensity?

Do you make clear the time of day/year?
…the country or place you are in?
…the place in history?
Is the world believable and real?
Are you drip feeding or doing an information dump?

Is it suitable for the age group in its
…interest level
…reading level?
What makes it appeal?
Have you immersed yourself in their culture?

Are you reading and analysing the work of others in your field?

Cut out anything that doesn’t contribute to the plot.
Are any characters or scenes taking the reader down a cul-de-sac?

Read it aloud.
Discuss the plot with someone.  Can you describe it clearly?
Write yourself an editor’s review letter.
Write a synopsis – it acts as a mirror to your plot.
Get feedback on the synopsis from a friend – does it appeal?
Write a blurb.

Put the manuscript aside for 2 weeks.

Repeat until your book is the best it can be!

Competitions · Writing conferences

Winchester Writers’ Conference 2011

Winchester plenary address
The plenary address, with Barry Cunningham second left and Geoff Holt on right

If you are looking for inspiration (see my post Keeping your mojo), a great way to get you kick started is to attend a writing conference.

The Winchester Writers’ Conference is a huge enterprise, with workshops that last all week, a big ‘standalone’ day on Saturday, top quality speakers, inspiring seminars, and most importantly real opportunities to meet editors, publishers and agents.  Several writers have been ‘discovered’ at Winchester through their one-to-one sessions (fifteen minutes of time with your chosen professional, discussing your work) and it’s a great way to bypass the slushpile.  It’s also useful (and important) to see that people in the publishing industry are real people.  And (whisper it) they are actually quite… well, nice!  They don’t just exist to poor scorn on our pathetic work but are engaging, enthusiastic people with a thirst for discovering new work.

Apart from the opportunities offered, it’s also great to meet other like-minded people and soak up the atmosphere.  You’ll find everyone friendly and supportive, and there’s something about standing in a queue waiting for a meeting with the editor of your dreams while your knees knock with terror that invites you to confide in your neighbour, who is feeling exactly the same.

There are counsellors at Winchester, and that’s because hopes can sometimes be a little bit dashed.  You have to develop a thick skin and learn that you will get lots of advice, some of which will be contradictory.  For example, last year one agent advised me to take the humour out of my book as she thought it didn’t mix well with the horror content, while another publisher praised my combination of humour and horror!  You have to decide what is going to work for you.

On the other hand, there are lots of opportunities for celebration.  Getting a publisher interested in your work, perhaps winning or being placed in a competition, or coming away from a workshop full of ideas.  This year I was highly commended for two categories in the children’s writing competition, the 4-7 year olds and the 7-11 year olds.  Two of my friends were winners and I felt very proud as I watched them go up on to the stage.  Congratulations Shirley and Emma!

Winchester prize giving
The prizegiving ceremony. Barbara Large, the conference director, is on the far right.

I thoroughly enjoyed my workshops with Sarah Mussi, Sam Hawksmoor, Beverley Birch and Elizabeth Arnold.  But the most useful session for me was on Redrafting Your Work, led by Jude Evans of Little Tiger Press.  I will be posting notes on her talk on this site soon.  As my friend commented, it was like doing an MA in a day!

A few points just to mention that really stood out for me.

  • Barry Cunningham (Chicken House) saying it’s a really exciting time to be a writer (referring to e-publishing and all the changes it may bring).
  • Beverley Birch (Hodder) saying the material she sees through her Winchester one-to-ones are far more interesting that what she’s getting from agents at the moment.
  • A competition pen name (all entries must have pseudonyms) of ‘Professor Moriarty’s Big Toe’.
  • The judge of the Haiku competition being overjoyed to announce that this year he had received haikus that actually fulfilled all the criteria (sometimes he doesn’t award a first prize at all!).
  • Barbara Large revealing that after the midnight read the night before, all the attendees were locked in and they had to call security.
  • My friends winning two of the biggest competitions.  Hurrah!
  • Free books and writing magazines on the tables at lunch.
  • Boxes of books labelled ‘help yourself’ on the way out!
  • And did I mention free books?
  • Getting to know Winchester intimately on the way home (speak to me, sat nav!  Just say something – anything!).
  • Feeling like a real writer.  See you next year, everyone!
Writing conferences

Winchester Writers’ Conference 2011

If you live in the UK and can travel to Wincheser I highly recommend The Winchester Writers’ Conference, which is now open for bookings for July 2011.  Although you can attend workshops all week, my top tip is to attend on the Saturday, as not only do you get five workshops and lunch, but also three one-to-one sessions with a choice of top editors, agents and authors, a whole fifteen minutes to discuss work you have sent them previously.

For booking details see www.writersconference.co.uk.  The booking process is a little more confused this year as there are separate documents for the speakers, the speaker’s biographies, the workshops and the workshop times, plus you need the booking form to make sense of it all, so put aside a quiet time to sit down with a cup of tea and go through everything.

Don’t forget if you want a particular one-to-one you need to book quickly as the times get filled up fast.  A favourite this year and new to the conference, as far as I am aware, will be Barry Cunningham, of Chicken House and JK Rowling (Bloomsbury) fame.

Tips for surviving the Winchester Writers’ Conference

  • Arrive early as parking is limited.
  • Get into the main hall in good time for the plenary address – it will be packed and you could be sitting on the floor!
  • Write out your schedule in advance so you know when and where to go for your one-to-ones – you will have to leave the workshop you are in so sit near the door.
  • Be professional during your one-to-ones and don’t take criticism personally.  There is a counsellor available if you need to offload afterwards!
  • One of the pleasures of the conference is meeting like-minded writers, so don’t forget to chat to people during breaks and lunch, even if you are shy.  They will probably be just as pleased to have someone to share their experiences with.
  • Remember to check the noticeboard at lunch time to see if you are shortlisted in any of the competitions.  If you are you will need to stay on to the prize giving and your free glass of wine!
  • Pace yourself, drink plenty of water and don’t get too stressed!
interviews · Writing conferences

The big, huge, probing interview with Scott Pack

Scott PackIt is with pride that I bring to you my very first celebrity interview with the lovely Scott Pack from Harper Collins.  Not only is Scott Pack publisher of The Friday Project which sources online talent and channels it into books, but he is also responsible for leading Harper Collins into the digital age.  As we teeter on the brink of a digital revolution which could turn publishing on its head, what better person to talk to, to grill thoroughly and mine for information in an in-depth, revealing interview that lays bare the man behind the electrons?

I had exactly three minutes to do just that.*

So, in the one question I had time for, I asked this:

“Scott, is this the golden age of blogging?  And if so, is it a passing fad or the beginning of bigger and better things?”

To my surprise, Scott said he believed any ‘golden age’ of blogging was just over.  Blogging has reached its peak because we are now accessing online content in so many different ways.  Instead of sitting down at our computers and visiting a website or blog, we are using iPads and phones, and we often read parts of blogs through other people’s posts and pages as well as through Facebook and Twitter rather than actually visiting.  He believes that people are becoming less inclined to comment, too, although I’m not sure that’s true.  I think blog readers are more likely to comment as they become at ease with the idea of themselves as an online personality; in other words they are prepared to have a public face online rather than ‘lurking’.  (I’m sure the thousands of comments that appear below this post shortly will prove me right…)

And here the interview ended, but luckily I later attended Scott’s workshop (with Ian Skillicorn and Raymond Tallis) on innovation and I was able to gather some information on Scott’s views on epublishing.  A separate post to come on that, but for now I come to the end of my celebrity interview.  I hope you enjoyed my tough, probing questioning and I put to you the proposition that, in this twitter-centric world, the One Question Interview could well be the perfect size.  One is the new ten, brevity fans!

* Not because of my short attention span but because I was taking part in a three minute pitch session at Get Writing 2011.

Writing conferences

Get Writing – okay, then!

Tomorrow I will be going to the Get Writing 2011 conference at Hertfordshire University organised by Veralum Writers Circle and I can’t wait!  I love mingling with other writers, browsing the book stalls, hearing some great speakers and generally being inspired.  I also have a three minute session with Scott Pack of Harper Collins’ The Friday Project, and I shall be asking him some pertinent questions about blogging, which I will be sharing with you later.  These three minute pitch sessions are a form of speed dating, with authors pitching like mad and practically being dragged away from their ‘dates’ when their time is up, sometimes even going off for a good cry afterwards.  So this year I have opted out of pitching and will be calmly asking a few questions and generally being relaxed – wait!  That can’t be three minutes already!  How dare you manhandle me like this?  Get off!  Just one more minute!  Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease!!!