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


Diary of a Literary Commitment-Phobe

MizmazeIt’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.

Kath Whiting
MA Creative & Critical Writing
Also posted on http://kathwhiting.blogspot.co.uk/

We’re Nearly Famous!

Words & Pictures logo Earlier this month the Litmus 2015 launch was written up in Words and Pictures, the online magazine for The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in the British Isles. I really must go on an internet trawl and see if any other media outlets made use of our press release. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy their article.


Where are our manners?

A copy of Litmus 2015 next to the celebration cakeThe 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.

A group shot of people at the Litmus 2015 launch partySorry, 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.

Adam Knowles reading from Litmus 2015The 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 pieceAmelia Mackenzie reads from Litmus 2015 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.

Students celebrating the launch of Litmus 2015Once 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’ .
Marie Armstrong cuts the Litmus 2015 cake
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.

Head shot of Alex Carter reading a copy of Litmus 2015We 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.

The end is nigh

Book CoverIf you have been following this blog for a while, or can see the counter on the right of this page, you will know that it is only a few short days until our publication is released to the wide world on May 12th. This has been a long time coming for all involved but, I can personally say, I’m delighted it’s finally here.

We have been planning the Litmus 2015 anthology since January, carefully selecting which piece of writing we think best represents us as writers, refining the details, editing and reading in class, and finally pressing that send button a few short weeks ago. Four months to achieve that doesn’t seem like a long time, but the planning and blogging and scheduling will all be over in a matter of days.

And then what are each of us left with? A publication which we have individually contributed to as writers, our stories and names in print, and, hopefully, smiles adorning our faces on Launch Night.

During this term I have struggled to consider myself as a writer. I have never quite been convinced that just because I write things down this makes me a writer. But Launch Night will bring this one issue home for me. I will see my name in print, and my words on the page, in an actual printed book which I will take home to put in my book collection. Madness.

It has been a long road for us bloggers, event organisers and editors but the end is nigh. The Litmus anthology Launch Night is but days away. And I can honestly say I’m quite excited.

Rebecca Travers (MA Creative and Critical Writing)

If you are an agent, editor, blogger or journalist who somehow slipped off our invitation list and would like to come to Winchester for cake, readings, and your own copy of Litmus 2015, please let us know.  You can comment below, tweet your interest on @litmus2015 or email k.howard.13@unimail.winchester.ac.uk.

Everything is awful but keep going – Guest Post from David Owen

Writer David OwenWhen my first publishing deal was confirmed I was standing in a Sainsbury’s car park that smelled of urine. It didn’t involve champagne and fireworks and slow motion jumping like I had always imagined. I accepted the news, ended the call, and went back inside to help my dad find the cheapest bacon.

Later that day I text my agent to apologise for not seeming pleased. What I really felt was profound relief. After so many months of rejections I was just happy that my preceding years of hard work had finally paid off.

Although there is undoubtedly a great deal of luck involved in getting an agent and a publishing deal, you will never be on the receiving end of that luck without having first worked ludicrously hard. My first novel took me a couple of years to write and was promptly rejected by every agent under the sun. It was rubbish, and they were right to do it. My second novel took something like four years, written alongside two jobs and an MA, went from one book to a trilogy and back again via an ill-advised jaunt into self-publishing, and at the end of it fell on the scrapheap.

But it got me an agent. Baby steps.

So when I heard the news I was relieved, but I knew it was only the beginning. This was just an oversized toe in the door. The book wouldn’t even be out for 18 months. So I went home and got straight back to work on the next book I was already writing.

Since then I’ve finished that second novel (when it comes to chronology I choose to disown my failed, rejected children) and am deep into redrafts of a third. I get up at 6am every morning to write before work, and I follow that with a few hours in the evening.

I have my first publishing deal, but it doesn’t guarantee me any future success. I must make that for myself. Writing is wonderful, but it is also work, and all you can do, wherever you are in your career, is work as hard as you can because you can’t do anything but, so that when it pays off you know you earned it.

David’s debut novel Panther is released today. For more about David: check out his Twitter feed https://twitter.com/davidowenauthor or his website: http://www.davidowenbooks.com/

Revision Tips and Tricks – Guest Post from Sara Grant

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 didn’t really know how to improve what wasn’t working. Over the course of many years, I have devised a system to dissect my story. I start with the big picture and consider plot, subplots, pacing and characters. Once I’m happy with the overall story then I review and edit my work chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene and ultimately I scrutinise every line and word.

To share my complete revision process would be more of a book than a blog. I love talking about revision and have given revision workshops. (I now offer them as part of www.bookboundretreat.com) Here are a few key tips:

  • Review the big picture first. Don’t waste time line editing when you may end up cutting an entire scene or chapter. If you’ve polished a section of your prose until it sparkles, you will be less likely to cut it when you realise it’s not serving your story.
  • Know what’s at the heart of your story. Write down a sentence or two that explains why you are writing this particular story – not the plot or theme but why this story is important to you and why you are the only person who can tell it. You may need to change plot, characters, setting, etc…but know what’s at the heart of your story and remain true to it throughout the revision process.
  • Make an inventory of your story. Create a chart and in a sentence or two write down the action (what happens) and also the importance of each chapter – why is this chapter necessary? If you removed it, would the story suffer? Look at the pace of your story. Is every chapter moving your plot and subplots forward? If you are writing a funny story, put an asterisk by funny moments. If it’s a romance, where are the romantic scenes? If the story is a mystery or action-adventure, highlight where the twists and the surprises are in your story.
  • Read the first and then the final chapter of your novel. Your first chapter promises a journey. Am I captivated? Does the final chapter deliver on the first chapter’s promise? I think the first and last chapters should have a resonance.

And two micro-revision tips:

  • Circle the verbs. Now read only the circled words. Do you have a sense of the action? Are your verbs working hard enough? Are there verbs you over use? Watch out for passive voice – there was, it is, etc. It drains the energy from your story.
  • Proofread your story once from beginning to end then proof read your chapters out of order. Often I’m fatigued by the time I’m reading the final chapters so the next time I proofread, I start with the final chapter. Sometimes I read my paragraphs on a page out of order to look for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors.

The most difficult thing about revision is knowing when to stop. I revise until I can think of no other way to improve my manuscript. Then I send it to my agent – and she always finds a few more opportunities for improvement. Then the process starts again. Sometimes it can feel unending, but I’ve already invested hundreds of hours in my story; what’s twenty or forty or even a hundred more?

Good luck with your revisions!

About Sara Grant

Book coversSara writes and edits fiction for children and teens. Dark Parties, her first young adult novel, won the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Crystal Kite Award for Europe. Her next teen novel – Half Lives – is a story told in two voices from a pre- and post-apocalyptic time.

Book covers of Sara Grant young readersShe also writes a funny magical series for young readers, titled Magic Trix. As a freelance editor of series fiction, she has worked on twelve different series and edited nearly 100 books. She has given writing workshops in the US, UK and Europe as well as guest lectured at the University of Winchester. She co-founded Undiscovered Voices – which has launched the writing careers of 26 authors, who now have written more than 120 children’s books. (www.undiscoveredvoices.com) Sara was born and raised in Washington, Indiana. She graduated from Indiana University with degrees in journalism and psychology, and earned a master’s degree in creative and life writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She lives in London.