Goodbye and Thank You

The Litmus 2015 blog team would like to thank all our contributors, followers and friends for their support during 2015.  This blog will now be closed, but please keep your eye on the internet – a new team of writers from the University of Winchester will be producing an anthology in 2016.  I’m certain they will welcome your support.

Happy New Year!


Exciting News for a Litmus 2015 Author

I am pleased to tell you all that Marie Armstrong has been shortlisted for The Greenhouse Funny Prize with her story Madge.   We will have to wait until Friday for the competition results.  In the meantime we all send Marie, a student on the MA Writing for Children course at the University of Winchester, huge congratulations.  Our fingers are crossed for you, Marie!

Revision Tips and Tricks – Guest Post from Sara Grant

Sara Grant, who wrote this fabulous article on revising your work in progress, is running a new Book Bound event in Edinburgh this September.

Details of September 2015 Book Bound evenThere is more information n this flier, or you can visit the Book Bound web site at

It should be a brilliant event. If you go, please tell us all about it.

Litmus 2015

Head shot of author, Sara GrantI’d love you to believe that this is my writing process:

  1. A fully formed idea for my next novel springs to mind while I’m sipping champagne on my private jet.
  2. I type the manuscript in a rush. The story unfolds perfectly from my brain to the page.
  3. I immediately send it to my agent. She reads it and forwards it on to my publisher and they all agree – every word and punctuation mark is pitch perfect.


Every writer has some sort of revision process. If an author suggests otherwise, he/she is either a liar or unpublished.  Revision is the key to making a good story great. But revising is much more than reading your manuscript from start to finish.

I used to hate revising my stories. I was hooked on the thrill of capturing the idea on the page. Once I’d told the story to myself, I…

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Liking Minds at the Winchester Writers’ Festival

photo by Alex Carter

Photo by Alex Carter

A perk of doing my MA at the University of Winchester is that I had the opportunity to be a student host at this year’s Winchester Writers’ Festival. My duties were to look after two session leaders and in return I got to see the keynote and sit in on my speakers’ sessions, not to mention lunch, with tangerine and coffee pudding. Well, I did mention it, I had to; it was so good!

Beforehand I was terrified. Stupidly so. I thought I ought to prepare an elevator pitch to market myself effectively, even though my novel is less than half written. I forgot that people are human beings. I also forgot that these days I am barely ever intimidated.

The start of the day was wonderful, Sebastian Faulks was everything you want from a keynote. He was very warm, had fascinating anecdotes and said exciting things, like allowing your characters to contradict themselves. Check out @JennySavill1 ‘s #sebastianfaulks tweets for a great summary of his gems.

Jenny Savill from Andrew Nurnberg was my first speaker. She was, of course, lovely and encouraging, talking about there being a potential market for my clumsily explained story (I still haven’t nailed my elevator chatter). My second speaker was Paul Bryers, who had been one of my lecturers so I knew he wouldn’t be scary and it was brilliant to catch up with him. He was in high spirits, having just finished writing a novel the day before!

I don’t want to give away my speaker’s intellectual property because that would be unethical and if you get the chance to hear either of them talk, please do!

So just tiny tasters:

Jenny’s session was ‘Think you’re Ready to Submit to an Agent’. She gave lots of excellent tips on what to do before sending your manuscript off. I’ve made a checklist from what she said. A jewel for me was about starting action as late as possible. Very resonant!

Then lunch. And. That. Pudding.

Paul’s session was ‘Making a Drama Out of a Crisis’, looking at ways in to factually-based historical fiction. It was great to hear his film maker and novelist perspectives and I love that he says the story must come first; truth is flexible.

Both speakers answered all sorts of questions from attendees, honestly and expertly.

In between, I bumped into MA friends at various stages of their dissertations, some more frantic than me and others I’m incredibly jealous of (already editing!). I also saw other friends, some that I hadn’t seen for years, some that are becoming new writing buddies. And met new people. I love new people; they’re so unexplored. All of them with that shared passion; that drive to write.

Thanks to Judith Heneghan for this fantastic opportunity. Next year I’ve promised myself a fully paid-up ticket and I’ll be touting my completed novel. Dear readers, book yourselves on and I’ll see you there!

Kath Whiting
MA Creative & Critical Writing
Also posted on

The Waiting Game

chairs against wall

On Meeting an Agent by Janey L Foster

So you know how it goes – festival folder clutched to your chest, like a shield, like a prized possession. And your lanyard flips and shines in the sun as you walk with purposeful steps to the first appointment. It’s quiet and you’re early but the space is good for the nerves. You nod to guides and helpers but you know where you’re going. Your shoes click the stairs as you throw out a knowing smile to a delegate coming back down. At the desk you announce yourself to the fluorescent pens and spreadsheets with your hope fuelled confidence that hides the butterflies under your dress.

And you wait.

And you wait with the others. The collection of faces from other towns with tales of train journeys, told to ease the minutes as they ticked.  You rearrange papers because just one more shuffle wouldn’t hurt, you swing your shoe on the tip of your toe letting the through draft cool your heel.

And you’re all there, waiting with your words, fine tuned and formatted; your stories about to lay bare.

You stop waiting.

You’re summoned in. In polite procession with brief eye contact and ‘good lucks’ you find your place, with a table in between you and the tension of a delivery room, you wait for the words from the agent’s mouth.

And you’re grateful for the handshake and the smile, the warmth of a human touch, as she does her job with enthusiasm and passion from the other side of the tracks. Her phrases tumble out and swirl around you, her thoughts and her notes and more smiles. You hear yourself go up a gear as your own words find their order and your characters sit on your shoulder, whispering into your ear. And for a number of moments there is just the connection, not minutes on a clock. And you want to hold the moment, let the world in your head burst through and dance in between you on the table, over her notes and up her sleeves. Miniature protagonists in all their time-lines and their glory, weaving and spinning golden threads around her till she’s bound and laced into the plot. And you listen, just outside yourself, to her suggestions and you talk and you laugh and you buzz.

Time breaks through and you wind up. Other sounds and people fade in and fill out the edges as your awareness seeps back into the room. The handshake again, the smile, the thanks

…and The Request: You get a second date.

You leave. You seem to move just above the carpet, You beam at the girls in yellow but can’t stop. You have to move, to almost run and the stairs turn to silk under your fast feet. You’re back out in brightness with her voice in echoed ripples in your head.

You want to grab your protagonist’s hand and dance until your feet crumble into the earth. You want to shout, you want to burst.

But you don’t. You walk with purposeful steps, you find a quiet place and you tap. You fill your Notes App with the words and her comments. You think and you plan and you beam.

Delegates come and go around you. Doors close, the chatter muffles and you find a bin for your coffee cup.

Your next appointment is due. You gather yourself back up, clutch your festival folder to your chest and head back. Lanyard fluttering in the stark sunlight up to familiar steps and the plastic seats and the wait.

It’s summer. You hold onto your protagonist’s hand – you have journeys ahead.

The dreaded D Word

I was instilled with a certain amount of fear about having to write another dissertation. The mere word brought back all the memories of last year; filling my summer with research, reading every book on my subject, juggling it alongside other essays, word count deadlines, the endless drafts, locking myself in my room for six weeks and not looking at anything other than that word document until it made sense. In summary, it took me a full nine months to cram all my research into one coherent narrative, like birthing a terrible paper child. I even had a full scale meltdown in the final few weeks which culminated in several long nights spent with pages all over my parents’ floor, fretting over which sentence I could lose to get under the maximum word limit.

I’m a little scared about repeating the whole process.

So I finished my final essay and handed it in, knowing what was waiting for me around the corner.

I met with my tutor for that all important first discussion. I had decided on my final idea after thinking about books I had read recently that I would love to put my own spin on. It came to me like a giant shiny arrow covered in light bulbs had just descended over my desk and picked up the book which I was thinking about most and made it float in front of my eyes. And then I had to manically scribble the entire thing on a post-it, because I was actually at the train station, walking somewhere, I can’t quite remember. All I know is it was one of THOSE moments. Everything clicked and, I hate to use the word because it’s annoying and bland, but it suddenly all made sense.

So I entered the first meeting with a clear plan, and I think that’s key. I had rationalised my idea to myself over and over, thought about whether I could make it work in the word limit and started making notes, began researching the novels I would deal with. It was totally doable to me. And I was consequently delighted when my tutor thought so too. I left feeling so joyous and floating home I had another giant arrow moment when my first character started talking to me. I scrambled to find my writing journal. We only work with hastily written scribbles which are barely legible here.

Over the ensuing weeks I have kept calm. My tutor asked me about deadlines and I remained vague as I don’t work well to word counts. I decided to make this year easier so to avoid last year’s meltdown madness. I made a wall calendar with crucial dates and worked out my reading list for the following eighteen or so weeks. I’ve set myself rough deadlines but I’m not fretting just yet.

And I have to say, it’s technically early days, but it’s going well. My characters are shifting constantly, but that’s okay. It’s all coming together and I feel good, capable and, crucially, in control. We have sixteen weeks of this. It’s totally doable.

Take Me to Wonderland

Claire by sign for University of ChichesterAs an avid consumer of all things classic and classical, I consider myself very lucky to have a home life split between Winchester – site of Jane Austen’s last home and the magnificent Round Table – and Chichester – home of the famous Festival Theatre and the Sussex Folklore Centre. Mid-May saw the Centre’s latest symposium, titled Wonderlands, celebrating all things fantastical, fairy tale and the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland. My MA Writing for Children dissertation is firmly built on the foundation of fairy tales, so I happily jetted off to the University of Chichester with my good friend and fellow fairy tale fan, Amy Brown.

Amy Brown by sign for University of ChichesterAmy: I have a long-standing interest in fairy tales, and recently completed part of a retelling of ‘Little Briar-Rose’ for my undergraduate dissertation. I also run a folklore and fairy tales blog, and love networking with others that share my interest. The Wonderlands Symposium seemed like a fantastic opportunity to meet new people, get some inspiration for my blog and learn a few things.

Claire R Kerry holding her copy of The Princess BrideWe did not attend every panel between us but we can give you a fair overview of the day.  First of all, I must comment on the organisation of the day. The voluntary staff were very helpful, and as well as offering some delicious pastries there was a book-swap stall where I finally got my hands on a copy of The Princess Bride. Bringing and swapping relevant books is a fantastic idea and I wish more conferences could have a stall like this.

The first event of the day was a talk by Professor Diane Purkiss on Stuart-era witch-hunts. This made me think about the way folktales evolve depending on the teller, and about the links between religion and fairy tale. Purkiss spoke a lot about the figure of the Elfin or Winter Queen present in many Celtic tales. I enquired as to a possible connection between this figure and characters such as the Arthurian Morgan le Fay or the wicked Queens and Stepmothers of Snow White and Cinderella and Purkiss agreed that there were similarities. It really got me thinking about the history of the lore from which I draw many of my characters.

Amy: In particular, I enjoyed Diane Purkiss’s talk. Witchcraft is another area of great interest to me, and I loved learning about Andro Man and the legend of Osian.

By far the most interesting panel for me was the talk on Re-Imagining the Fantastic. Though speaking in the context of picture books, Mara Alperin’s paper on fairy tale heroines raised some important points. As a fan of adaptations who was disappointed by the recent Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent and Cinderella, I enjoyed a discussion of those three films. It entertained me how often the former film was mentioned, always with an air of sadness rather than anger; a feeling that Burton had thrown away source material perfect for his dark and surreal style in favour of following the Hero’s Journey to the letter, but then again, that’s Hollywood.

Amy: Re-Imagining the Fantastic was very informative and offered unique ways of looking at fairy tales and how to adapt them for different purposes. Fairy tales aside, Panel 4: Crossing the Border offered a lot of insight into performance, storytelling and how folklore can affect a landscape. Elizabeth Bennett, Stephe Harrop and Kevan Manwaring delivered some very engaging papers. Bennett’s explored how places can be used as areas for performance, an idea that I love. Each location makes the performance of a story unique, and can bring the folklore alive. Harrop went a step further and actually performed a story as well as presenting her paper. This was a brilliant way to combine storytelling and academia, and her notion of borderlands as liminal places were stories from different countries become entwined was fascinating. Finally, Manwaring talked about the author Graham Joyce and how his works have impacted others. Whilst I had never heard of Graham Joyce, I enjoyed learning about him and gained some new potential reading material!

Altogether, the day was very informative, and I’ve been delving deeper into the history of fairy tales over the past few weeks. I encourage you to check out the Sussex Folktale Centre website and Amy’s blog on writing and fairy tales, which are linked below.

by Claire R. Kerry, with guest blogger Amy Brown