Thursday, 26 April 2012

Chip Lit

The day dawned, dull and drizzly, on the Chipping Norton Literary Festival last weekend. Armed with a brolly and and brand new, untouched notepad, I drove up to the beautiful Oxfordshire town to see what all the fuss was about.

I began my day with a panel discussion, chaired by Jane Wenham-Jones, on Contemporary Women's Fiction. Katie Fforde, Jill Mansell, Veronica Henry and Fiona Walker made up the table, and shared their thoughts, suggestions and tricks on how to make it as a writer in Contemporary Women's Fiction.

From there, I was 'thrust' into another world with the incomparable Julie Cohen's workshop on writing sex scenes, which (I'm very glad to tell you) actually covered writing sex scenes. You might think this is unsurprising, but after trekking down to the Bath Literature Festival while heavily pregnant only to discover that their workshop on writing sex scenes included only those authors unwilling to speak about sex (and some of whom don't even include it in their novels), I was pleasantly surprised. Julie didn't hold back, and I can definitely see why her other workshops are held in high regard. She was fab. My favourite bit was probably when she read two excerpts from her work - one from an erotica book about a woman sharing a special moment with a blue robot and the other from a women's fiction book that was slightly more intense and emotional. It's fantastic to see someone work succesfully in more than one genre.

Saturday ended with Emma Lee Potter's Freelance Writing session, which gave some good, solid advice for becoming a freelance writer. All you need is a great hook, a compelling subject, a convincing pitch, and a well-written article, preferably with photographs. Right. Good then.

On Sunday, I awoke a little reluctant to make the hour-long drive north, so I convinced my husband to drive up there and partake in a rather delicious bagel from Number 24 Cafe on the Chipping Norton High Street while I learnt about short story writing and unconventional novels.

Angela Huth- most famously the writer of Land Girls - gave a very interesting talk on writing short stories. Her career has spanned decades, hundreds of stories and dozens of publications, and she spoke persuasively about letting one's imagination go and writing about absolutely anything at all. Her key rules were to be concise, show character through behaviour, avoid adverbs, and stick to one mood. As she is someone who has been published by the New Yorker, I'm inclined to listen.

And finally, on to one of my favourite authors of all time, the one and only Jasper Fforde. His talk covered the strangeness of all his ideas leading to his wonderful books such as the Thursday Next series and the Nursery Crime Division series, and how to set yourself narrative challenges (eg, a man looks out the window in Surrey and sees a gorilla up his tree. Explain it all away). Loved it.

Chipping Norton, you've done yourself proud. For a first ever literary festival it was beautifully put together. The authors were fantastic, the volunteers helpful and the town simply lovely.

Where can I book my tickets for next year?


Wednesday, 11 April 2012

two down....

Back in January I posted a blog setting out my writing resolutions for the year, now seems like a good time to review how I'm doing.

I have entered both the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Award and the Good Housekeeping "Get Your Novel Published" competition!  For the Debut Dagger I submitted the first chapter from "Death Penalty", a novel I have been working on since last October.  The opening scene was inspired by a workshop I did at the Cheltenham Literature Festival with Laura Wilson, who passed round photos of the food people had chosen for their last meal before facing the death penalty.  It got me thinking about the circumstances in which someone might choose a tub of Ben and Jerry's Phish Food for their last meal, and suddenly in my head was Emily, one of my main characters, with her tragic backstory....

For the Good Housekeeping competition I submitted the first chapter from "Crime and Prejudice", a rewriting of Pride and Prejudice with Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy as the detectives investigating the death of Mr Wickham!  I first started writing this some time ago and entered it for the Debut Dagger Award in 2011, but with different characters.  I then rewrote it bringing back the main characters from P&P, and submitted it to a couple of agents last year, but it was rejected.  Re-reading it, I decided I had tried to be too clever and make it read like a Jane Austen novel, which meant it was rather slow-paced for modern tastes.  So for GH, I rewrote it with a much faster pace and introducing not only the death of Wickham but a "locked room" mystery, and a jewel destined to be stolen....

So - two major resolutions achieved already!  Which makes me feel better about the fact that I haven't kept to my resolution to write every day.  I still think its the best way of keeping my writing at the forefront of my life, and I feel as if I am writing more often, so there is some progress. 

One thing I didn't really think about when I set my resolutions was focussing.  I'm now juggling 3 different crime novels, all of which have the potential to become a series.  and on holiday in Tunisia recently I got very excited about the idea of a novel looking at a group of holidaymakers, and the impact being on holiday has on relationships.  But there is a real danger I'll get to the end of the year having made some progress on lots of things but not a lot of progress on any one thing!  So I think my Tunisian idea has to be left on the shelf for now.  I'm pitching "Death Penalty" to some agents at the Bristol CrimeFest in May this year so I think I need to focus on getting a reasonable draft of that completed by then....

yes, that was one of my other resolutions!  I've booked the Bristol CrimeFest including the Pitch and Agent slots.  I still need to book for the Harrogate Crime Festival, though. 

and yes - not only have I made a breakthrough in now telling people that I am a writer, I'm beginning to feel more like a "proper" writer too!

till next time

Wendy x