Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Luxury of Language

View from (well, near) the corpse road at Mardale
I have a new addiction, one I recommend for any writer. It’s Robert Macfarlane’s Twitter feed.

You may not have heard of Robert Macfarlane, and I’m not quite sure how to describe him — and when you’ve finished this blog, you’ll understand how important choosing the right words is. Put most simply, he’s a writer and an academic whose subject is related to the landscape. (I’m sure there’s a word for that, and one far more specific than the obvious ‘geography’). I’m halfway through his book The Old Ways and am enjoying it, though i have to confess I’ve ground to a halt. There’s only so much word-richness a girl can digest at once.

On holiday in the Lakes recently, I popped into Wordsworth’s birthplace, where the National Trust had an excellent exhibition curated by Dr Macfarlane. It was on the theme of what he (I presume) calls ‘word-hoarding’ — gathering descriptive words for the landscape and for the weather and so on. Each word was accompanied by some sumptuous photos. It’s right up my street — words and the landscape, two things I love.

A 'moon road'
I’d have loved to have a book about the exhibition, but there wasn’t one, so I headed for Twitter. And here we go. Each day Dr Macfarlane posts a word or phrase and a picture to go with it. 

Some of the words I know and use — fluting, for example, or corpse road or Helm wind. Others I know but don’t use — the simmer dim (for the midsummer dusk/dawn in the Northern Isles) or siege for the place from which a heron launches itself on unsuspecting fish. Others are completely new to me — summer geese, which he describes as “steam that shimmers up from the land when hot sun follows brief rain”, or today’s offering, stubble-stag — a folk name for a hare.

Best of all, his many followers join in, with their own experiences, their local or remembered dialect words, their photographs. Long threads of word-magic spring onto my computer screen, punctuated by pictures of woods, or summer evenings, of silver lakes and cloud-shadowed mountains. 

Twitter can be a grim place, pitted with elephant traps for the unwary, but the daily threads I find here are as wholesome as home-made apple pie. Go and follow @RobGMacfarlane. I promise you won’t regret it. 

Jennifer Young

Saturday, 17 June 2017

WANT TO PITCH TO A PUBLISHING PANEL?

As a debut novelist, I’ve quickly learned that one of the key skills required, as well as writing a darned good read, is the ability to pitch a novel, both in writing and, perhaps more dauntingly, in person.

I’ve read self-help books, blog posts, writing magazine articles, all designed to teach writers how best to develop a pitch. But although there’s loads of help out there, it still feels tricky to do!

THE OPPORTUNITY



So imagine my apprehension when my writing friends from the Aberdeen Writers’ Studio, suggested that I pitch to a panel of publishers and agents at XPO North.

I already had experience of pitching work on a one-to-one basis (at a Romantic Novelists’ Association conference – but that’s another blog post!), which was, to say the least, butterfly inducing. But would I have the confidence required to pitch to a panel of industry experts?

I’d never know, it I didn’t try. So I followed the guidelines, forwarding a synopsis and first five chapters of my debut novel, Food Bank Baby, and anxiously waited for a reply.

Emily Utter (front left) and me (front right) with our
Aberdeen Writers' Studio friends on the bus to Inverness
Within days I’d been invited to pitch at XPO North!

 XPO NORTH


XPO North, held on Wednesday 7th and Thursday 8th June this year, is billed as Scotland’s leading creative industries festival; a two-day event in the picturesque highland city of Inverness, in northern Scotland, on the banks of the River Ness, where it’s fun to keep a look out for the famous Loch Ness Monster.

Held at the Eden Court Theatre and Arts' centre, entry to the event is free – always attractive to Scots!

As well as the opportunity to pitch to publishers and agents, XPO North also offered such varied workshops as:
The BBC Writers Room: Starting Your Television Writing Career 
The Birth of a Book: Dream, Plan, Do - How To Crowdfund Your Novel with Patricia van den Akker 
Discover How To Make The Most of Instagram... and more…

But my attention at XPO North was firmly focused on the literary pitching sessions.


THE PANEL


Chaired by world-renowned literary agent Jenny Brownof Jenny Brown Associates - one of the leading literary agencies in the UK - the panel was extremely supportive and encouraging of all the writers pitching. Jenny explained that after receiving a whooping 120 submissions, the shortlist was then narrowed to 18, in the panel’s hunt for best new fiction and non-fiction.

The highly experienced publishing panel members included:

Francine Toon - literary fiction editor at Sceptre Books, also representing Hodder & Stoughton

Vikki Reilly – literary fiction editor at independent publisher, Birlinn Books, also representing Polygon Books.

Andrea Johnstone – literary fiction editor at independent publisher, Canongate Books

Moira Forsyth  - author of The Treacle Well and editorial Director of Sandstone Press


THE SESSIONS


Pitching was broken up into three sessions – non-fiction, literary fiction and commercial fiction (including crime).

I write commercial women’s fiction but attended all three pitching sessions, which were both hugely interesting (remember I LOVE books!) but also extremely helpful, in terms of learning from the suggestions offered and advice given by panel members.

FEEDBACK


Not only was I thrilled to have bagged a much-sought after place on the pitching short-list, but was
Moral support from Aberdeen Writers' Studio friends
equally delighted that my good friends Rachelle Atalla and Emily Utter from the Aberdeen Writers’ Studio each received highly encouraging praise for their wonderful literary fiction writing.

Rachelle’s debut novel, Shedding Skin, offers ‘an unsettling glimpse into a father-daughter bond as they embark on a curious trip across the Southern Hemisphere’.

Whilst, Emily’s debut, Wedgewood, explores the question ‘is the biggest lie a family can tell itself is that it is perfect?’

And so it came to my turn.

Me - mid pitch!
Although nervous, I was also buoyed by the excellent quality of pitches delivered by Emily and Rachelle, and felt determined not to let them down.

‘Two hungry little girls. One violent father.
How far would you go to save a stranger’s family from danger?’

And so began my pitch for Food Bank Baby
I gave it my best shot and was overjoyed with the feedback received from both the publishers and Jenny Brown.

Will my pitch to lead to anything further? – Only time will tell.

Was I glad I quashed my fears and accepted the opportunity to pitch? – you bet!

YOUR PITCHING STORIES


Pitching at XPO North was a fantastic experience and one I’d strongly recommend, particularly for debut writers. So, if you’ve yet to pitch to a panel and would like feedback on your work, then why not enter next year?

And if you already have experience of pitching to a panel, or simply have a fab pitching tale to share, then I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.

Rae

P.S. - and I promise to let you know if my pitching to a panel story has a happy ending!

Saturday, 10 June 2017

WELLIES AND SHAUN THE SHEEP by Victoria Cornwall


This photo is not what it seems. Yes, it is Shaun the Sheep, but what may not be so clear is that it is made of vegetables. The bricks of his house are potatoes, his wool is cauliflower and the path to his front door is made from rows of onions. To give an idea of the scale, Shaun is the same height as a man. The display was at the entrance of the Royal Cornwall Show's flower tent and provided a bright and joyful way to greet visitors as they came in out of the rain. 


The display gathered a lot of attention, which was just as good at the back as it was in the front.

As a writer, it is easy to get stuck in the creative bubble of fiction, so I was glad to slip away from my edits, put on my welllies and make my annual pilgrimage to the Royal Cornwall Show this week. I have attended the show since the day I could walk (minus the odd year here and there). Although the format rarely changes, there is always something new and interesting to see and experience. This was their 223rd year and if you have never experienced an agricultural show before then I recommend you give it a try as they are a hive of creative talent which is wide ranging, entertaining and, at times, pretty amazing.

The Royal Cornwall Show is the largest annual event in Cornwall, but it originated from humble beginnings. The first event, staged in September 1793 (yes, the Poldark era), consisted of a ploughing match near the Red Lion Inn in Truro. The following year prizes for livestock were added to the awards on offer.

Over the years the show has grown. Local radio and television stations broadcast live from the event every year, while musical entertainment, dancing and the sounds of a thriving fair fill the air. Members of the royal family are regular attenders and can usually be found sampling the local produce in the Food and Farming Pavilion. From show jumping and dog and falcon displays, to parachute jumps and army displays, there is something for everyone. At its heart is the creative talents of the human race, so I took my camera along with me to take some photos, because despite the difficult times we live in, there is still beauty and wondrous things in this world to find pleasure in.


There was a vast array of flower displays and competitions.


Local artists demonstrated their skills and displayed their products. Wood carving and whittling changed natural wood into beautiful designs.


Local traders displayed their handmade crafts.


Individuals and groups worked hard to create eye-catching displays and decorations.


Besides the competitions, demonstrations and trade stalls, there were also a lot of fun displays, music and dancing. 

There are similar events all over the country, so if you have never been to one, why not give it a try? Here are just a few events:-


So until next year, thank you organisers, volunteers, traders and  everyone else who took part in the Royal Cornwall Show this year. I had a great time - despite the rain.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL by Gill Stewart



Some people write a book, submit it, and get published. That is very, very rare! Other people write a book, submit it a few times, get rejected – and give up. The real writers (in my opinion!) are the ones who are in it for the long haul.

They are the ones who write, submit, write, submit, get a small publishing contract, write, submit, indie-publish … and keep going because they have enough reinforcement from critique partners, agents, readers, etc, to believe it’s worth carrying on. And that is really all you can do as a writer – carry on. You are as good as your latest book, so you need to keep writing and make sure your work is as good as it can be.

A colleague recently said: what do you do when your book is out on submission and has been rejected three times? Another colleague replied: go and write the sequel so that when it is accepted you have more to offer. Note the when, not if! I know it takes guts to do that. Sometimes our self-belief is a little low and we wonder if it’s worthwhile. My advice is to plough on through those self-doubts and keep going. If you are a true writer you need to be in this for the long haul. There will be small triumphs, major set-backs, larger triumphs, and then more setbacks. It’s no use pretending that writing is an easy business. It’s not. Writing a good book is hard. Getting it published is harder still. And getting lots of sales is the most difficult of all. But the only failure is when you give up.

My own publishing history stretches back to 2009, although I have been writing for far longer than that. It’s hard to believe I’ve now been published for 8 years; I still feel like a newbie. My first success was to have a romantic novella, Rachel’s Coming Home, accepted by D C Thomson. How exciting that was! Since then I have had 3 further novellas published, and they have all gone on to be republished in Large Print and then e-published. In 2015, I had 2 full-length women’s contemporary fiction novels published by the lovely Accent Press. And I have self-published 3 Young Adult novels, the complete George-and-Finn trilogy having come out in 2017.

And along the way there have still been times of thinking, am I a real writer? We all have our doubts, but there are also the occasional lovely things that happen to give that little bit of reassurance and send us back to the keyboard reinvigorated. My latest bit of good news was that a German publisher has taken my novel Sunshine Through The Rain and it will be coming out in German later this year!
Sunshine Through The Rain - the British cover
Writing isn’t easy, but I love it. I would encourage anyone else who loves writing – or creating in any sphere – to gird their loins and keep going. If you don’t write the book, it won’t exist. If you don’t send it out on submission, it won’t get accepted. The only way to get your books out there is to write the damn books. I know it sounds obvious but sometimes it needs saying!

Monday, 29 May 2017

Small but perfectly formed ...... Linda Mitchelmore

No, that's not me small but perfectly formed but the writing group I belong to, Brixham Writers. There are just a dozen of us and as the room we use at Brixham Library is very small it suits us perfectly. We meet once a week from September until the end of May and then in June, July, and August we meet in whoever wants to host the meeting in their home. Cake is obligatory. We have 'homework' set every week but can bring 'work-in-progress' to read out if we prefer. Not all of us attend every meeting. So .... the twelve members. We are all published in some way - short stories, journalism, novels, letters-to-editors (often the hardest thing to get published!), poetry, radio plays, memoirs. The group has been going for thirty years or so and Anne Goring is a founder member. Anne is the lynch-pin who holds us all together but we diplomatically take it in turns to be in the chair each week. Anne has had many historical novels published, radio plays, and she also writes short stories. Anne's books are borrowed from libraries. Here's one of them.
Our newest member is Margaret Mason, who has two novels on the go under her pen-name, Rosina Farley. Margaret is a published poet and brings a dash of academia to the meetings. John Rossiter is also a long-time member. John is unusual in that he has been in all the armed forces - army, navy, and airforce. His memoirs are often very amusing and very non-PC these days but in context of the times they are just right. John also treads the boards and has an Equity card and has appeared as an extra in films. Hannelore Mackenzie is German and is the absolute 'homework' star as she always does it. Hannelore's sister-in-law, Brenda Mackenxie, has written many travel articles for many different publications. Brenda also had her first novel published round about the same time she called cards with an 8 and 0 on them. How good is that!
Now then, you could be forgiven for thinking we are all of a certain age. But we're not. We have Ian Carr who is a mere boy in his early forties and whose first novel, Sons of Natal, was published last year. Ian has a second novel almost finished. Ian is on the town council so he attends meetings when he can.
But it is Catherine Billing who is the baby of our group. Catherine is in her early twenties and a very loyal, almost every meeting, attendee. Catherine has seen her work published in Writing Magazine. Her first book, Into Eden, written under her pen-name of Cate Frances, is a memoir about her travels in the Grand Canyon. Champagne is on ice as Catherine's book is due out very soon, and being published by Breakwater Press. Art students at our local college have done the cover art work for this book.
Sandra Woolfenden is a name readers of Take-A-Break, My Weekly, and various other women's magazines might recognize as she's had hundreds of short stories published, many of them back in the day when magazines like True Romances were very popular. Michelle Heatley is our techie expert. We all need one. Well, I need one! Michelle's wonderful book, Fish Soup, was well received and she has another couple - if not three - novels on the go. As I write, Michelle is putting an anthology of the groups' short stories together. The cover is being worked on (by Catherine's college friends again).
And now our very high-profile and best-selling member, Kate Furnivall. It's a truism that if you want something done ask a busy person. Kate is never too busy to help group members with advice, or contacts, or to cast her eye over something a member has written and would like an opinion on, even though she often has the tightest of deadlines. Kate's books have been translated into umpteen languages, and we love to hear about her lunches in London with agents and editors and publishers and all the swish parties at writing at that high end of the market involves. Something to which to aspire indeed. Kate has also had contemporary novels published under her married name of Kate Sharam. Kate's latest historical novel is The Liberation.
Carole Llewellyn - even though she now lives in Spain and is sorely missed for her vivacity, her immaculate and glamorous dress-sense, and her musical Welsh voice - pops in from time to time when she is back in Blighty. Carole is a short story writer and has also had historical romances published. Oh to be sitting by a pool in the sunshine as Carole does to do my writing.
And then there's me ...... enough about me! I can't imagine life without my Brixham Writer pals now .... they crack the whip to keep my pen on the paper!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

IGNITING OUR PASSION by Victoria Cornwall


This week has been a busy time for me. At the beginning of the week I took part in the St.Ives Literary Festival and at the end of the week I was in London attending the Romantic Novelists' Association's Summer Party as I (and my debut novel The Thief's Daughter) was a contender for the RNA's Joan Hessayon Award. I enjoyed the events immensely as they both involve my passion for fiction.

Books have always played a major role in my life. My mother read to me as a child until I graduated to being able to read to myself. Like most British children, I learnt to read through the use of the Ladybird's Key Words Reading Scheme which was used by British primary schools throughout the 60s and 70s. Specially designed for children, the 36 small hard-backed, illustrated books used a reduced vocabulary to help children learn to read and, for some, built the foundation of a love for books that would last for the rest of their lives. However, there was one book in particular which turned on a light-bulb in my head and made me aware that reading a book could be quite magical. In other words, it ignited my passion for reading.

Charlotte's Web, by E.B.White was the first book I borrowed from the junior section of my primary school's library, which was quite a memorable occasion in itself. It was also my first novel, again another first. I proudly took it home and devoured every page.  For the first time I felt quite grown-up as I read the story to myself ... no more reading out loud to practice my reading skills for me!

I loved Charlotte's Web. I identified with the setting (I also lived on a farm) and the little heroine called Fern, however this farm was very different to my own. In Charlotte's Web, the animals could speak, had personalities and faced great hurdles. I experienced a range of emotions as I followed Wilbur and Charlotte's story and I still have a vivid memory of holding it in my hand, when I was about to return it to the library shelf, and thinking how amazing a good book could be. It was truly magical and, on that day, my love of books began in earnest.

I asked my fellow contributors on the Novel Points of View blog to share their light-bulb moment and here are the books they shared with me.

Gill Stewart

I’ve chosen Enid Blyton’s ‘Those Dreadful Children’ as my light-bulb book. We had a tattered old hardback edition which I loved and read over and over again. I think what was special about it was that it made me realise that different people saw the same things in different ways. That was a real wow! moment – and a very useful one for a future writer.

In this book, a harum-scarum family move in next door to a prim and proper family. Both sets of children think the others are ‘those dreadful children’. And, as a reader, you can see exactly why they irritate each other so much. But gradually they become friendly and have to work out ways to accommodate each other’s differences. It might be a children’s book, but it probably has a lot to teach adults, too, especially in the current climate!

Linda Mitchelmore

I don’t remember having a light-bulb moment from reading as a child – I used to read so much and my mother took me to the library every Saturday. Woe betide me if I hadn’t read the books I’d selected the week before. Sometimes, I would have to get an extension on the loan and take it out a second time, getting the little card stamped with the date. What I do remember is loving the non-fiction section as much, if not more, than the children’s fiction section which wasn’t very big in those days. There were some books in there where the paper was tissue-paper thin, and crackled when you turned the pages. Leather bound. Of course, as they were in the adult section I couldn’t take them out with my Junior Library card. But I used to linger. I think, on reflection, it was the feel and smell of books that got me hooked. I still use Paignton Library although its moved from its first floor venue in the old Liberal Party headquarters to a swanky new site near the railway station. Cafe on site – what’s not to like!

Rae Cowie

The first books I remember receiving and treating with great reverence were Twinkle annuals, which, to my delight, magically appeared in my stocking on Christmas morning. I adored all their covers, but the one that sticks in my memory showed Twinkle twirling as a ballerina. Long before I could read, I would row up my teddies, who made for a particularly appreciative audience, prop a Twinkle annual in my lap, and compose stories, which vaguely fitted the pictures.


But the two series that really fired my passion for reading, were both written by Enid Blyton – The Secret Seven and The Famous Five. I loved the adventures of The Secret Seven but longed to belong to the Famous Five. Living along the coast of north-east Scotland, our village had both sandy and rocky beaches, a natural stone stairway known as the Giant Steps, a hermit’s cave to explore, a disused railway station, walks in the grounds of an abandoned stately home, woods surrounding a loch and more... If only Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog would visit Cullen – there were so many places for them to discover! Since joining the Famous Five wasn’t an option, I cajoled my best friend to join me on picnics, long cycle rides, hikes to a temple monument which sat atop a local hill – always on the lookout for a Famous Five mystery-style adventure. So perhaps it was no surprise that when I began reading adult fiction, I devoured Agatha Christie's cosy crime. But my heart was still on Kirrin Island, solving mysteries with the Famous Five.

Jennifer Bohnet

Books that gave one the reading bug! I’m afraid I’m going out on a limb here! I can’t remember a time when I didn’t read and neither can I remember the first books I read. The ones I remember are from when I was about ten when the reading bug was already deeply ingrained in me. But I do remember the books that really got my son reading - and also I think influenced him in one of his career choices! It was the ‘Biggles’ series of books by Capt. W.E.Johns. He positively devoured them and the Gimlet stories afterwards. The picture is of half a dozen out of his childhood collection currently sitting in my attic.

Jennifer Young

I used to worry that my favourite ever children’s book was out of print. Maybe it is: you don’t see it in the bookshops any more, which is why I cling so tightly to the tattered old copy (possibly now without its cover) that was mine when I was a child.

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively came out in 1973 and I must have read it when it was new. It’s about James, who moves to the country with his parents and finds himself being plagued by (and taking the blame for the actions of) a ghost disturbed during the renovation of the family’s cottage) and for some reason, it caught my attention.

Penelope Lively wrote other children’s books but they weren’t as good. She wrote acclaimed literary fiction for adults, too, and I’m afraid I didn’t think that was as good, either. It’s so long since I read it that I can’t remember what was so wonderful about it; but I do know that it’s clung in the back of my mind for decades and now, when I think of it, I remember the line drawings, the characters, the snippets of descriptions.

It’s as if by disturbing that memory, the book has come back to haunt me — almost, you might say, like the ghost of Thomas Kempe himself.
***
After a wonderful time at the RNA party (where I also had a chance to meet up with fellow Novel Points of View contributor, Gill Stewart), I am now home ... tired, happy and thoughtful. I have come to the conclusion that although life is a journey, the direction it takes is often decided by, what appears, inconsequential events. In the mid 70's, mine took a direction towards a love for fiction. Oddly, it was a fictional spider, called Charlotte, and a pig, called Wilbur, who pointed the way.



By
Victoria Cornwall