Up late this morning and late writing my blog about the Romantic Novelists' Association Conference last weekend. Trying to shape so many thoughts is a challenge. There was so much to see and hear, lot of old friends to meet and lectures to attend. My hand ached as a result of all that note-taking. I haven't written longhand intensively since...oh, since last conference!
Harper Adams University is an agricultural centre and across the car park from our reception, cows queued for the milking parlour. Sheep wandered up the road and associated aromas and flies followed. I didn't see any pigs but was a little piggy myself when it came to the fab food and generously donated wine (by Amazon KDP - they certainly know how to charm). It was gloriously hot again but unlike last year the air-con did work.
As for conference content - wow! The main problem is not being able to do everything. At any one time, there are three sessions to choose from. Aaargh! It's so difficult. One aim I had this year was to find out how the mainstream and self-publishing industries were faring in these changing times. I also wanted to learn more about historical fiction, as I so enjoyed writing the Renaissance thread in my last book. Then there was the one-to-one appointments - I'll jump ahead to those and tell you that I received huge encouragement and praise for my writing as well as some excellent advice about how to tweak it for commercial success. Wheee!
Also good is that I've come home with plenty of new ideas about how to dip into the historical sea without drowning. Carol McGrath gave us wonderful insight into the life of Medieval women and although not my period, her approach gave me so many ideas. I look forward to revisiting the Renaissance which featured in my timeslip novel, Madrigal. At the gala dinner, I was fortunate enough to sit next to Richard Lee - founder and Chairman of The Historical Novel Society and we chatted about all things historical.
Regarding the future of the Industry and Romantic fiction. It's booming! And so is self- publishing. I went to a wonderful session led by Dr Alison Baverstock during which she confirmed that self-publishing has become not merely acceptable but often the most sensible way to go. She has done considerable research into the who, what and why of self-publishing and her results were not merely encouraging, they blew away any notion that self- publishing was only for no-hopers. Apart from those statistics, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests mainstream publishing houses are looking to self-published books as the new slush pile to sift. If that's the case, then it's vital to prepare a professional standard of manuscript before loading.
I will go into more detail in another blog but it certainly confirmed what I suspected. When Margaret and I published The Creative Writing Student's Handbook we didn't know what to expect but our experience has been so positive, we are now beavering away at the companion Workbook.
Back to writing it now. Hooray!
Here's the CWMatters team before the ceremony on Saturday. We are in St Stephen's church that's right in the middle of Exeter High Street. A fabulous venue, newly restored and the perfect place for our inaugural prize-giving.
Ben Bradshaw is quite tall! It isn't that the three of us are spectacularly short but I did feel it as we were having this photo taken.
Do we look too pleased with ourselves? Probably, but there was also considerable anxiety. Would anyone come? Could those on the short list find it? Would I say the wrong thing, drop the trophy, fall up the two steps onto the staging?
All of that, but I needn't have worried. Even though I forgot all about the trophy in my excitement when Broo announced that Su's novel, Sealskin had won, it was a very happy occasion.
Exeter Writers have been absolutely brilliant. Not only did they sponsor the award by forking out the first prize money, they also worked very hard on Saturday behind the scenes. It was fantastic that we were able to launch the latest Exeter Writers anthology after the ceremony.
The Coastal Zoo contains all the winning stories from the past five years of the short story competition as well as contributions from members of the group. It's available via the Exeter Writers website. Go HERE
I'm back from the conference and my bag was bulging with goodies: great books, chocs, soap, pens for England and all manner of bookmarks, postcards and badges to let me know about amazing books by members of the Romantic Novelists' Association.
Of course, a bag wasn't all I came back with. The conference brings the author and the publishing industry together. How we are dealing with the fast moving changes brought about by ebooks, Amazon and all the social media platforms was at the heart of this year's programme. I learnt a fantastic amount and feel very encouraged. Yes, the scales are tipping in favour of ebooks, but there is still a huge market for print books as well. The excellent news is that people are reading more than ever and that's what really matters.
For me personally, and for others in my position, trying to break into the industry, it's somewhat dispiriting to hear that a mainstream publisher may only publish two or three debut novels a year. What is encouraging is that they are throwing their weight behind digital imprints, using their expertise to maintain the quality expected of a traditionally published print book.
Apart from the lectures, workshops and delicious social side of a conference, it is also possible to make appointments with the editors and/or agents in order to pitch your book. I will be sending in my book as a result of mine. Who knows what might come of it? Maybe nothing, but the echo of the words 'you're really talented' is still here in my ear. I thought I should write it down, in case I forget.
Margaret, Sophie et moi.
Do we look rather pleased with ourselves? I think so. We were at Thursday evening's launch of The Exeter Novel Prize and very successful it was too. Lots of people came, turning out in nasty weather more like October's than June. Thank you!
It's quite a while since I posted my first competition entry. I sent my story to the Woman and Home competition in 2005. My mother had given me the magazine. 'You do a bit of writing,' she said. The theme of the competition was Presents. I read the magazine and thought about all the presents I'd ever been given. The lamp in this photo is probably the oddest. It also inspired the story and I shall never part with it.
'I saw it and thought of you,' she said.
The story reached the finals and my name and a little postage stamp picture was published in the magazine. I was so happy I cried. Since then, I've had a lot of success. Competitions abound for the short story writer.
But for the novelist, opportunities are few. Most novel competitions have restrictions of one sort or another. A particular genre perhaps, unpublished writers only, age and/or sex of the entrant are some.
Margaret, Sophie and I want The Exeter Novel Prize to be an opportunity for as many novelists as possible, whether it be a first step on the ladder or a step back on the ladder having fallen off in the past. The thrill of being placed, that recognition of worth after those hours spent tapping away is better than any shot in the arm.
The very best of luck to all who enter.
Party girls - Margaret, Sophie and Cathie
The team has been out partying again. Meeting up with old friends and yes, we did have a glass or two and quite a few canapés. The main focus of the evening was to applaud those shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year and Joan Hessayon Award and to congratulate the winners Jenny Colgan and Leisel Schwarz. It was a very happy occasion. More information about the evening can be found HERE. There are more photos HERE.
Of course, the RNA summer party was also a great place for us to spread the word about The Exeter Novel Prize and everyone we spoke to was very enthusiastic. Our esteemed judge, Broo Doherty was also there and she is as keen as we are to discover new talent. The local launch of the prize is at the Writing Competitions: How to be a Winner event at Exeter Central Library on June 27th at 7pm. We're hoping for a big audience (to eat the cakes).
An RNA party has to have some mention of shoes but instead of the usual photos of stilettos, platforms and sparkly bone-crushers, here's what happens a little later in the evening.
Phew! I can still hear the collective sigh of relief.
Writing groups are brilliant. Exeter Writers has generously supported writers for over 60 years and this year they are sponsoring The Exeter Novel Prize. The group has successfully run a short story competition for the last five years, encouraging all those who were listed to further their careers. Later this year Exeter Writers will be publishing an anthology that will include the winners.
Competition placing is a great way to build a CV and something to say when it comes to writing those important letters to agents and commissioning editors. They take notice.
There are many competitions for short story writers and for those who take brevity to the limit in flash fiction writing but for the novelist there are few, and those there are, often have restrictions.
The Exeter Novel Prize is for both unpublished and published writers for a novel not currently under contract with a commercial publisher. Any genre is acceptable except children’s (under 12).
I wish I could enter!
The way to Narnia?
One of the things I like about writing, is how useful information haps along just when you need it. I know this sound flaky but I'm a bit of a believer in 'what you focus on expands'. I don't know who said this, but it seems to work for me.
I'm probably half way through my latest and the world of that novel is real to me now. Actually, it's two worlds because it's a time slip novel, so I'm back in Renaissance Naples quite a lot. It's very hot and rather smelly.
I'm always on the lookout for authentic detail and this morning I came across something really pertinent. But only because I'd decided to pursue something that on initial glance didn't look that interesting. A novel is a massive investment and I don't 'write into the dark' anymore because it feels too time wasteful. Sometimes, however, doors appear along the way and I can't resist opening them to see what's behind. Having the novel outline written is a bit like making sure the door is left open so that you can get out again. Otherwise there's a good chance of ending up in Narnia.
Sophie (right) and the big cheque.
If you've just clicked through from the Home page, then you may have seen our announcement of the forthcoming Exeter Novel Prize. We are very excited about this opportunity to champion an unpublished novel and are thrilled that London literary agent Broo Doherty has agreed to be our judge and that Exeter Writers are sponsoring the prize. We will be having a launch event in June and hope to see lots of people there.
I'm very keen on writing competitions as my students well know. A listing of any sort should be added to the CV because it demonstrates a high level of competence. Don't forget that if your story doesn't win one competition, it might well win another. I know this to be true! Placing depends on the judges preference, you don't have to cross the line first or keep a ball in court to win. What you have to do, is write it and send it, then perhaps go and sacrifice a metaphorical goat if it makes you feel better.
The photo's rather blurry but when Sophie won the Luke Bitmead Award for her novel The Generation Game, she said the whole evening was a blur. She has since had two novels published to acclaim.
Our flashy cover
Hooray! It's here! Well, nearly. Please come back on February 1st for a look at the interior. But for now, here's the first glimpse of a book I have been working on with the estimable Margaret James.
I met Margaret some years ago, when I joined Exeter Writers and we soon discovered our shared enjoyment of teaching creative writing.
We both have had the huge pleasure of seeing our students achieve publication, win or be shortlisted for prizes. They have become confident, articulate writers who have learned to use their own special talents to their maximum potential.
And we have learnt from them. This book is not yet set. It is our intention to post chapter instalments each month with a view to getting good feedback. In time we hope to produce the most useful creative writing handbook there is.
It will have a special page of its own HERE (password protected until Feb 1st).
Thank you lovely students. We couldn't have done this without you!
Click to enlarge
I'm wondering if the collective noun for writers could be a 'lunch'. I'm sure there have been other suggestions and maybe there is even an official term. I'd love to know what it was.
Here is the South West Chapter of the Romantic Novelists' Association about to tuck into a very good lunch at the City Gate in Exeter. Writing is for the most part an extremely solitary occupation but once writers leave their caves, much jolly socialising takes place. In fact, it's fair to say, they make up for lost time.
I (third nearest, left) went to see The Hobbit afterwards with Su Bristow (nearest left) and Margaret James (next to Su). A formative book of my childhood, when thinking about it, I am straight back in the classroom sitting cross-legged on the floor during story time. I wondered how on earth they would make three films out of a shorter and slighter book than Lord of the Rings, but I can see it will be fine. I was thrilled to be back in Middle-Earth. New Zealand, Howard Shore's score, the casting - all fab. The battles are too long but hey, they'll please the majority of the audience.
I've been woefully bad at writing Christmas cards, so if anyone reading this feels aggrieved that I haven't sent them one, I do apologise!
Read Margaret's Blog