A little while ago, I was stopped in the street by an ex-creative writing student. I hadn't seen her for years.
'I want to thank you for running that flash competition,' she said.
That surprised me, because I didn't remember her story getting through the first round. I began to say I was sorry she hadn't done well, when she put her hand on my arm.
'No, you don't understand. Just entering was giant leap for me.'
She went on to tell me about her long listing in another competition and what a boost it was to both her writing and more importantly, her self-esteem. Not only that, she'd now got her own email address, her own Paypal account and she was joining a writing group. There was no stopping her, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see her name pop up on competition listings in the future.
I was reminded me of my own, now rather distant, past experience as a novice writer. Strangely, I don't remember writing the story all that clearly, but I do remember printing it out, filling in the entry form (I could hardly hold the pen, I felt so sure I'd make a mistake), then taking it to the postbox at the end of my road, and wishing it good luck. A great deal has happened since I received a call - on my land line - to say I was a finalist. I didn't win outright, but it was a win all the same. It gave me the confidence to keep trying.
There are competitions out there for every kind of story, and fortunately they don't all have the same closing date. Deadlines may come all too soon, but they are marvellous for focusing for the mind. It's very easy to let the days slip by if there's nothing to work towards.
Competitions are a great way of learning how to deal with rejection. Okay, I didn't win that one, but I might win the next. All writers need to learn that lesson and very quickly, especially if they have a novel they'd like published.
Not winning doesn't necessarily mean your story is bad. We don't stipulate a theme for our competitions, but if you enter a competition that does, don't ignore it. If you leave your name on the copy, exceed the word count, or send in late - all these will result in disqualification. That's a shame.
The first competition I organised was at the end of a term of creative writing. The class was quite small - eight, I think - but there were the usual rules, anonymous reading and then we had a blind vote for the winner. It was fun. Everyone enjoyed the challenge and the main thing that I discovered, to my surprise, was that everyone had seriously raised their game.
Margaret, Sophie and I have all had considerable judging experience, not only of our own competitions, but as guest judges for other organisations. It's always a privilege, and we have a keen eye for winners these days, but that doesn't mean we always agree. As anyone in a book group will know, opinions vary and can be surprising.
Can you surprise us? Check out the Exeter Story Prize and Trisha Ashley Award page HERE
So much for not blogging! Now, not only do I have news, I am in the news! A little while ago I was asked to write an article for the magazine supplement of the Western Morning News. Oh yes, I thought, what a fantastic opportunity! But what happened next was way beyond my expectations.
I was to meet with Kilian Hall aka The Smart Photographer, here in Exeter for a two hour photo shoot. First stop the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, then into Cathedral Yard and the Devon and Exeter Institution, which is where I wrote Secret of the Song. Anyone who has read my novel will know that there are many scenes that take place in the museum, and the pink foyer is an iconic feature of the Victorian building.
Kilian was charming and took many fab photos that weren't used in the magazine, so I'm including some here. I'd really recommend him to all my author friends locally, and anyone else who wants a good photograph taken for that matter.
It's an odd business being a writer, as everyone reading this probably already knows. You spend a lot of time with imaginary friends, often at the expense of seeing real ones. Then once a book is written, there's the worry whether anyone will read it. Having such an affirmation as a this newspaper feature is thrilling but the editorial gave me a lump in my throat. A big thank you to Becky, the editor.
In celebration, Secret of the Song is at special offer price of 99p for the next few days.
Here's a pdf of the article.
I am joining the ranks of Hopeless Bloggers. Clearly, once every three or four months is woeful. I had in my mind to delete the entire blog from the top menu bar, but who knows? One day, when life isn't quite so busy, I might resume writing here more often.
I know there are writers who are amazing and write two books a year
a, with large families
b, with whizzy fingers that type 5k words a day
c, by getting up with lark (that could be my problem - no actual larks nearby)
d, by not running exciting litererary competitions
e, by having no other life
but I am not one of those, although I sometimes wish I was.
This year will see the completion of my next novel. New Year's Resolutions aren't my thing as a rule but there, I've said it. So if this blog slips even futher down the Hopeless Blogger rankings, that'll be why.
I'll keep you posted.
Happy Birthday, Secret of the Song! I can hardly believe it! I know that time speeds up the older you get but I am still shocked that it's a whole year. I've posted the front cover often enough so here are the other two images that Amazon kindly generates for its page. I like the headless ghost demonstrating that the book is the size of a book. The back cover is legible if you click on it and bring up the lightbox.
It's been an amazing year. A lovely launch with Sophie, a fantastic response from readers who posted over fifty reviews so far, being chosen as one of Anne Williams books of the year and of course, the affirmation of being promoted by Amazon in June. Reaching No 35 in the UK Kindle Store and No 1 in Historical Mystery was a huge thrill.
It's also been brilliant to get out from behind the screen at last and meet actual readers. Hello, hello! There's more of that to come and is one of the reasons why my next book will be a while. But I am writing it!
Secret of the Song is now the special birthday price of £1.99 on Kindle.
I've sometimes heard authors describing the process of writing and publishing a book as being like having a baby. There's a long period of gestation, then the big day. After that, however much you read and listen to other's, nothing quite prepares you for what happens next.
Fortunately books don't cry in the night or need changing (let's hope not), but there is a great deal of energy required to give your book the best possible start.
Every author has to promote their book. It doesn't matter if you're with a major publisher or your go down the indie route like I did. A lot of effort is put into social media, which means hours in front of the screen again, but there are also the events and trips out. I've been fortunate enough to be invited to several really enjoyable events.
Devon Book Club is run by the indefatigable Ian Hobbs. It's aim is to bring together readers online, and he is also very keen to connect readers with authors. Lucky for us! Here I am talking about Secret of the Song at the fantastic picnic he organised at the National Trust's Killerton House. It wasn't a blue day, but it was warm, beautiful and the Eton Mess was very yummy indeed.
There are many stopping points for writers on their journey to publication: cups of tea, coffee, glasses of wine, cake to eat, and social media demands happy tweets, five star reviews and lots of likes, hugs and grinning emojis.
But of course, there are also mountains to climb and crevasses to avoid. My friend and fellow member of Exeter Writers, Elizabeth Ducie, writes here about the fear that isn't so often talked about:
Fighting the Fear
They say that even the best actors, with the longest experience, suffer from stage fright. I think it’s the same for authors. We spend months, or even years, writing, editing, and polishing our work. We know it’s the best we can make it (or at least we should) and then, when it’s time to get it ‘out there’ for the readers to enjoy, we start panicking, as our confidence drains away. Or is that only me?
My new novel, Counterfeit! took me only eighteen months from start to finish; a relative sprint by previous standards. Yet once I finalised the manuscript, it took me nearly a month to press the button to launch it on Create Space. At a recent literary festival, just before the official launch date, two people asked if they could buy advance copies and my response was “are you sure?” At the launch party, a couple of ebook fans had already finished it and were full of praise. I tried hard to keep the note of surprise out of my voice, but am not sure I succeeded.
Maybe it’s because we spend too much time with our work before we let it go. We write, read, edit, reread, re-edit and so on, until we become bored and can no longer see any value in it. I guess that’s why we are advised to put it away from some weeks between stages, so we can come to it with fresh eyes.
I published my first fiction back in the summer of 2011, a collection of short stories written with a friend, Sharon Cook. We launched it during the first Chudleigh Literary Festival; as the organisers, we were able to highjack the proceedings somewhat. We spent the following months selling copies to friends and family. But it was not until the following spring that we were confident enough to approach local craft shops, asking if they would stock our book. And when they said yes, we were not only delighted, but amazed!
I started writing my first novel, Gorgito’s Ice Rink in 2007. I finally published it in October 2014. As a novice to fiction, it’s not surprising that the writing and editing took years, but if I look back at the calendar, there are great patches of time where I simply did nothing because I had lost confidence in myself.
Counterfeit! is the first in a series of three thrillers. I had scheduled books 2 and 3 for 2017 and 2018. But I’ve decided to push myself, and bring them both out during 2017. It will take some hard work and good time management; I have already written the project plan. But I’ve not scheduled any time in there for lack of confidence. This time, I’m going to face the fear head-on!
Find out more about Elizabeth on her website HERE
Her Facebook author page is HERE
She is on Twitter as @ElizabethDucie HERE
Years ago, I remember thinking that if only a story of mine could be listed in a competition, either short or long listed, then I would be happy. What a paucity of ambition I had!
Luckily, my friends and teachers saw something in my writing that excited them and they encouraged me. My first writing teacher was novelist, Elizabeth North, sadly no longer with us, but back in 2004, she tutored with the Open College of Arts. She was very good on detail and the first person to point out the perils too many adjectives. A useful tip.
As for the encouragement, I will never forget one remark she made on an assignment - 'I don't have a single picky carp'. It made me laugh then, and it does now. Isn't the picky carp one of the fish in Finding Nemo?
She was the perfect tutor for that stage on my journey. I learned a lot, wrote like mad thing every single day and Hey Presto! I did get a story listed in a competition. Then a few more. Maybe I could write a novel? Or two. Or three.
What I needed then, was to meet other writers further along the writing road. What do I do with all these words?Cue my application to Exeter Writers, whose website made it clear that only writing of a publishable standard was acceptable. The previous year, I hadn't got the confidence to apply, but being shortlisted gave me a boost. N.B. You won't win if you don't enter. Send your stories out.
At Exeter Writers I met my champion, my mentor, my co-author of The Creative Writing Student's Handbook, and now dear friend, Margaret James, who helped me shape my latest novel, Secret of the Song. She would ask me apparently simple questions like what's that scene for? How does that move the plot forward? What's that character's role? Now I often hear her voice in my ear, and I can safely say she has saved me from writing my way down dead end streets.
Most writers have writing friends who encourage but can also warn when things aren't going in a good direction. I have a precious relationship with someone I trust. In fact, I have several close friends who are writers and I value them enormously.
Lucky me! Oh, and that's the other really important factor. Luck. I have no idea how you get that, but don't give up on it. Luck comes in a whole raft of disguises. Luck can be being born with a talent, luck can be being able to work hard enough to write 100k words, luck can be being able to learn from others, luck can be in finding the right cover designer, luck is nestling in the palm of Amazon's mighty hands.
Why Amazon promotes one book and not another, I have no idea. All I can say is, thank you!
Secret of the Song is a Kindle Daily Deal on Thursday 30th June. Click HERE!
There's bloggers and then again, there's book bloggers. They're a special breed of wonderful people who are committed to reading and reviewing books on a very regular basis. They have their own blogs which are read by readers wishing for more insight and/or more than one line on Amazon. Some bloggers also leave their reviews on Amazon and if you look, you'll see under their name Top 50, 500 (or some such), reviewer.
When Secret of the Song came out last October, it was reviewed by one of these super-bloggers, Anne Williams on her blog BeingAnneReading. It was so lovely I cried real tears. Her review is HERE. I didn't know Anne and had never met her.
Until last week that is!
I went to the Orenda Books Road Show to see our Exeter Novel Prize winner, Su Bristow, talking about her forthcoming book at Waterstones in Piccadilly. I was queuing up at the desk to pick up my ticket, when I heard a woman some way ahead say her name was Anne Williams. Being short, I had to lean round the people in front of me, but yes, I recognised her face from the pictures I'd seen. Hooray! That's what I almost yelled, but remembering a smidgeon of decorum, I actually approached her. We had a lovely chat and I was delighted to thank her in person. A photo was definitely in order and here it is.
Thank you, Anne!
Read Margaret's Blog