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!
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!
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.
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.
As 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: 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.
We 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
It’s a little bit like falling in love, writing. Previously I’ve been pretty promiscuous; I love the instant gratification of short stories and think of your own metaphor for Flash Fiction. There’s that initial wow; that frenzied excitement, the high of the idea.
But now I want a proper relationship, a novel, something long-term. This requires investment and commitment, so I’ve decided on 1000 words a day. Depending on my mood, this has been beautifully flowy or an angry argument.
Then earlier in the week I came to the ‘I’m not sure if this is working’ stage. ‘Do I even like you?’ I asked my draft. I was enjoying the parts set in the present with a first-person voice, they’re immediate and easy to connect with but the third-person 90s sections felt like a soap opera; too mundane, too real.
Last night I decided to end it; it was over. If I was finding elements of my work tedious how could I possibly impose it on a reader? I started considering other half-written novels I could dust off, get back in touch with. Interestingly my other ‘big’ projects all also stopped around the 10,000 words mark.
Then this morning I had a revelation. Blam! If what I was enjoying about my story is the present first-person voice then why didn’t I write it mainly that way, just include more viewpoints. I immediately started hearing voices for the two other central characters. I got all fluttery about William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Now that is a book full of fascinating people. And back to our MA’s reoccurring fairy-tale style; the past is a fairy tale so I could tell it like that, taking a steer from The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye by A. S. Byatt.
I was giddy. It was back on, oh yes!
Then this evening, when I was wasting time on Twitter, I saw Claire Fuller’s current post about dual and multiple narratives: http://clairefuller.co.uk/2015/05/28/writing-dual-narratives/ . Very useful advice!
Finally, I need to learn to shut my mouth. Pitching and talking about my idea has slightly damaged it. It’s a dream growing in my head, a bit special, and needs to be nurtured, not dissected over coffee, like a latest conquest.
We’re not in love yet, but we’re back to holding hands. When we’re not screaming at each other in the supermarket.
MA Creative & Critical Writing
Also posted on http://kathwhiting.blogspot.co.uk/
The Litmus 2015 launch party was on Tuesday night. Today is Sunday and we have yet to tell you anything about it. Please accept our apologies. It’s not that we didn’t want to share, we’ve just been a bit busy. We’ve been feeding the hungry Twitter bird, sending thank you emails and continuing with the business of obtaining our masters degrees. OK, most of the time we’ve been sat rocking in a corner, gently stroking the shiny cover of our very own copies of Litmus 2015; turning the pages to make sure our names are still in the table of contents, our stories in the body of the book and our bios on the back pages.
Sorry, we’re still not telling you anything about the launch, and we should. It was a wonderful evening. The room was full of students (aka, Litmus 2015 authors), literary agents, editors, lecturers, journalists, bloggers, family, friends and a delightful little dog.
The night began with opening remarks from college lecturers Judith Heneghan and Julian Stannard, followed by a presentation of flowers to Vanessa Harbour. Then came the most nerve wracking part of the evening – a series of short readings from thirteen of the Litmus authors. What a variety of writing was presented: from memoir to fantasy, realism to science fiction, stories for grown ups and stories for children. Each piece had been carefully crafted by the reader, but half the audience felt they had a stake in the finished piece. We had critiqued each other’s work; encouraged, comforted and cajoled each other through the writing process. Some of us had edited the finished pieces before assembling them into the finished book. We had all played our part and loudly applauded those who stood to read on our behalf.
Once the formal part of the evening was over, we could relax a little. We had drinks and canapés, exchanged hugs and autographs (our first author signing event!) and introduced the friends and family members who had come to support us. We introduced ourselves to the representatives of literary agencies, publishing houses, journals and blogs and tried out our ‘elevator pitches’ .
One of the highlights of the evening was a beautiful cake, made and donated by Carol Thompson of Cakes Beyond Belief. You might have spotted the picture at the top of the page. If you are looking for a celebration cake, please give Carol a call. The fabulous (and truly delicious) Litmus cake was organised and collected from Hove by Marie Armstrong, so it seemed appropriate that she should have the honour of cutting it.
We had a wonderful evening and are still dealing with the after effects. We need to thank all the lecturers who have helped us to develop our writing skills, our fellow students for their constructive criticism and our families for their encouragement and support. Thank you to Carol for the cake, to the industry professionals who took the time to join us for the celebration or requested a copy of Litmus 2015 be sent to them, and to the faculty for funding the print run. Last, but not least, a big thank you to Alex Carter for taking the fabulous photographs – well, all except this one.