Sunday, 23 April 2017

A Marathon or a Sprint? by Beth Francis

Every marathon runner who completes the course will have a medal, only a few who complete a book will get published, but for both the finish line marks a great achievement to be celebrated with friends.

I spent my birthday cheering my daughter on as she ran her first marathon. After months of training she was ready, but as she set off with the other 10,000 plus runners I felt sick with apprehension for her.

Why a marathon? Why not another half marathon, or a 10k?

For the first ten miles her times showed she was running steadily, then nearing half way she slowed, the doubts set in, she knew, in spite of all the training, she could never reach the finish.

But her friends had come to support her, the route was lined with spectators encouraging the runners on. She kept going. Her pace picked up. She began to count the miles down. Then there was the finish line, the cheering of the crowds, the medal.

Waiting at the finish line, I was thinking about the novel I was about to start writing. 

Why a novel? Why not another pocket novel or a short story?

I know I’ll start off enthusiastically; the characters are already in my head clamouring for their story to be told. Words will flow freely; until I’ve written around ten chapters and doubts will crowd in. The plot is too thin, the characters unconvincing, others have already written this sort of story better than I ever could.

This is where I need friends who understand to support me, to encourage me to plod on, keep typing through the sticky patch. Once those middle chapters are written, the pace picks up. I begin to count the chapters down. Until I can type The End.

Time for celebrations!

My daughter said, 'Never again!' I said, 'Never again!' But if you run, you go on running. If you write, you keep on writing.

Next time I watch my daughter run a marathon, I hope to be well on my way to finishing another novel.

Beth Francis writes short stories and pocket novels, and has twice been shortlisted for the Harry Bowling Award.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Northern Lights Writers' Conference 2017 by Sophie Claire

It's always difficult to report back on a conference because there's so much valuable information and advice to be gleaned from the speakers, and #NLWC2017 was no exception. The day's agenda was packed full with guest workshops and panel discussions with writers, agents and editors, as well as a keynote speech given by historical writer, Sarah Dunant.

Kicking off the day was a panel discussion on Genre Writing with Julie Crisp (agent & editor), John Jarrold (agent) and Cath Staincliffe (crime writer & scriptwriter). The discussion centred mostly around science ficiton, fantasy and crime (sadly, no romance/women's fiction), and I've listed below some of the nuggets of advice which came out of the discussion:

“Don’t write what’s current. Write what moves you.” (John Jarrold)

Be aware of the market but write what gets you in the gut.

Cath Staincliffe researched the crime genre after being told by an editor that the issues and themes in her sci-fi novel would lend themselves to crime. She read everything in the library’s crime section then put her own bent on the genre by setting her novels in her home town of Manchester, and featuring a single parent protagonist working as a private investigator (rather than the more commonly used detective or police professional).

“If it’s a good book it doesn’t matter what (genre) label is attached to it.” (Julie Crisp)

Readers are drawn to a writer’s voice.

What is the next big thing (in terms of genre)? – Nobody knows. Everyone’s hoping the Psychological Thriller will soon have run its course, but it still featured prominently at London Book Fair last week.


Later in the day Sarah Dunant gave an entertaining and thought-provoking keynote speech. Here are some of the highlights:

Sarah Dunant
Sarah considered the differences between literary fiction and all the other genres. Literary fiction’s first love is language. For Sarah, however, narrative drive is paramount. 
But this doesn’t mean she doesn’t love language too, and in her own work she uses the engine of the story to convey this as well as philosophical and political themes.

“Story is incredibly important.” It’s inbuilt in humans to tell stories. They help us make sense of life and our fears about the future.

Writing is hard, no matter how experienced or successful you are, and as a writer you need to constantly challenge yourself.
Sarah recounted how she had to pause from writing one book (60,000 words into it) and take a 5 month break because she felt it wasn’t working. However, the break gave her perspective and room to relax, and she was able to complete it later.

Sarah sometimes shows her critical voice out of the room (literally – she gets up, opens the door, ushers it out, then closes the door!) if she feels it’s not helping the writing process. Later, she allows it to re-enter, usually when she needs to analyse the shape or structure of the book.
Kate Feld with Sarah Dunant

Asked about plotting, she said; “If you plot too tightly there’s no room for the unexpected.”
Characters sometimes take over, but they can also lead you into dead ends. As a writer, you must strike a balance between the technical and imaginative, and know when to use which.

The Northern Lights Writers' Conference is held annually at the Waterside Arts Centre in Sale, Manchester and you can find more information here.


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Teashops and Time Lords by Juliet Greenwood

Last week, I travelled to London for the launch of Trisha Ashley’s latest heart-warming, life-affirming novel, The Little Teashop of Lost and Found.

Trisha Ashley
I left a chilly North Wales, with snow on the mountains and a few daffodils braving the wind, to a London bathed in spring sunshine. The blossom was out in St James’ Park, along with banks of crocuses and daffodils, and tourists speaking every language on earth (so it seemed) were out in force, as gleeful as ever as actually being in London.

I used to live in London, and I'm always surprised that it’s still the same buzz whenever I go back. This visit was made particularly special by Trisha’s launch at the wonderful Daunt Books in Marylebone. I was there as the unofficial paparazzi, clutching my new, still unfamiliar, camera, wishing my old faithful hadn’t just decided to give up the ghost. We arrived at dusk, and there in the window, we could see rows of Trisha’s books, taking pride of place, the pretty cover glowing out into the darkness. Daunt’s itself was just what a bookshop should be, opening up into Edwardian splendour, with a long galleried main room complete with an arched window and books everywhere you looked. A bookworm’s dream.

Trisha Ashley, outside Daunt Books
The launch itself was fun and relaxed. The large space soon filled with Trisha’s friends and supporters, and representatives from her publishers, Transworld. There was even a Time Lord, in the form of Peter Davison, accompanying his wife, author Elizabeth Heery.

Peter Davison, Trisha Ashley, Elizabeth Heery
Trisha signed books with style, chatted to everyone, making the many people there feel welcome, and was presented with a bag of teashop-related goodies from Transworld to celebrate. Thank goodness my camera behaved itself (apart from having to switch it off a few times when it did something far too sophisticated for me to understand), and the lighting in Daunt’s was perfect. Everyone there was so relaxed and enjoying themselves my paparazzi duties were great fun.

Margaret James, Trisha Ashley

Trisha Ashley, Poppy Stimpson

Trisha Ashley, Norma Curtis, Minna Howard

Trisha Ashley, Francesca Best
So, as you can see, it was a wonderfully enjoyable evening, and the perfect way to celebrate the launch of a new book. A new bestseller has been well and truly launched. Here’s to the launch of the next book!

Anne Bennett, Trisha Ashley, Margaret James

The Little Teashop of Lost and Found
by Trisha Ashley

Alice Rose is a foundling, discovered on the Yorkshire moors above Haworth as a baby. Adopted but then later rejected again by a horrid step-mother, Alice struggles to find a place where she belongs. Only baking – the scent of cinnamon and citrus and the feel of butter and flour between her fingers – brings a comforting sense of home.

So it seems natural that when she finally decides to return to Haworth, Alice turns to baking again, taking over a run-down little teashop and working to set up an afternoon tea emporium.

Luckily she soon makes friends, including a Grecian god-like neighbour, who help her both set up home and try to solve the mystery of who she is. There are one or two last twists in the dark fairytale of Alice’s life to come . . . but can she find her happily ever after?