Litmus Launch and why Writers are like Hummingbirds

Book Cover
As well as promoting our book, the Litmus launch is a celebration of the end of the taught component of our MAs in Creative & Critical Writing and Writing for Children at the University of Winchester. It is the end of a very intense creative experience. A time for goodbyes and good lucks and thank yous. Of course, there will be graduation but that won’t be until next October, or even 2017 for some part-time students, so the 12 May will be our last communal hurrah.

I’m really looking forward to reading Litmus 2015; it promises to be an eclectic mix from a talented group of writers. People have worked really hard on this project; promoting, editing, organising and galvanising.

The hummingbird cover is beautiful and appropriate. Hummingbirds are relentless, tireless and always seeking nectar. We’ve learnt on our final module, in order to be successful, to find agents or to self-publish, writers have to be tireless and resilient. And of course, we are always hunting for ideas; our own creative nectar.

As well as students and their significant others; tutors, expert speakers, guest bloggers and agents will be attending. Many of us will read excerpts, which is not at all terrifying  with an audience like that! There will be refreshments and merriment, and I’ve heard there may even be cake.

So, 10 days to go and we will be going with a bang!

Kath Whiting
MA Creative & 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


Writing and Breathing – Guest Post from Robin Mukherjee

Robin MukherjeeThe sweetness of adversity is noticeable, sometimes, only in retrospect. I was in my early twenties, a law career abandoned, my prospects vague, employment meagre and resources negligible. Old associates from university were landing gainful positions in legal practices, finance companies, even seats in parliament. I was taking time out to think, working in an old people’s home because I felt I’d never actually done anything useful; in those days I liked to see things in primary colours.

As a younger child I had suffered terrible asthma. This meant long nights contemplating the meaning of existence and the elusive nature of breath. In those dark, insomniac interludes I discovered writing, not as an activity, but as a way of being. In imagination I could jump and laugh and play while the other form, the physical lump, hunched over the desk inert and incapable. I never went anywhere without my inhaler. And, after a while, I never went anywhere without a pen and paper. The asthma passed, thankfully. The urge to write has not.

So that’s the impulse, carved into my soul as hungry as the need to breathe. What amuses me, looking back, is that I never quite made the equation between writing and earning. I wrote and wrote; all kinds of things, scraps, notes, short stories, poetry, the beginnings of novels, one of which I rewrote as a television script. One day my brother came to visit. I was out, but my girlfriend (now wife) was in. They dug up that script and sent it to the BBC. A few weeks later I was astonished to get a letter. Why the hell would the BBC be writing to me? They said they weren’t sure about the script, but were interested in the passion behind it. I went to see them, was assigned a mentor (who remains a great friend), received guidance, was encouraged to write for theatre, was mercilessly criticised and generously praised. Eventually one of my stage plays led to a radio commission, to an agent, to my first television gig.

I have been busy ever since. I am busy now. I even teach a little, while writing, and am constantly amazed to see that same passion, purpose and crazy leap of faith reflected back at me from a roomful of young faces. The routes into professional writing are clearer these days, with myriad courses across the country at every level of education, but faith, passion and craziness are still the price of admission. The most accomplished writer remains threaded to his younger self: the long nights, urgent needs, quiet thoughts and private dreams that shape the mind and heart.

That I wrote for love over reward might seem quaintly noble but it was merely realistic at the time. Perhaps you can’t tell a story you haven’t lived, nor understand your story until you’ve told it. Still, I do exhort my students not to be shy about getting their work out there (lights under bushels and all that). And I wonder sometimes – not without a little chill – what would have happened if I’d been in, that day, when my brother called.

The Art of ScreenplaysRobin Mukherjee has written extensively for television, radio, film and theatre. His most recent television feature was nominated for a BAFTA. His film ‘Lore’ won numerous international awards and was Australia’s official entry to the oscars. He has recently been appointed as a lecturer in scriptwriting at Bath Spa University and is currently completing the MA Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester. Present projects include a feature film adaptation of Paul Scott’s Booker Prize winning novel ‘Staying On’, and contributions to Series 2 of ‘Hetty Feather’ for CBBC.

Robin’s book, The Art of Screenplays: A Writers Guide was published last year. This is a working handbook for writers with stories to tell. Addressing the key issues of creativity and craft, its aim is to connect with our natural understanding of story, to demystify the screenwriter’s art, and to enable fresh, original and authentic writing.


The Hardest Part – Guest Post from Marni Bates

Marni BatesMy road to publication is rather unusual. I was hired to write my autobiography my freshman year of college and by my nineteenth birthday it was on the New York Public Library’s Stuff for the Teen Age 2010 list. I wrote a YA book over the summer, pitched to literary agents, and had representation before I returned to school. That book sold in a three book deal to KensingtonTeen, which was expanded into a five book deal. It sounds like it all came together so easily for me, which is accurate in some ways and incredibly misleading in others.

The hardest part of the publishing process isn’t finding a literary agent. It isn’t getting an offer from a publishing house. It isn’t desperately trying to promote your work without selling your soul.

The hardest part attacks you at 2am when you wonder what the hell you are doing. When you tell yourself that you’re crazy. Who will really give a shit about what you have to say? Who the hell do you think you are? What makes you such a sparkly little unicorn?

When you have an inbox full of rejections and you feel like crap and anything seems better than handing over your heart for other people to examine, critique and reject.

That is the hardest part.

This job demands faith, not in some nebulous benevolent force in the universe, but in yourself. In your vision. In your story. It requires you to ignore the pile of we liked it, we just didn’t love it rejections and confront the blank page once again. To say, maybe not this book, but some book. Maybe not this story, but the next one. 

To write through the numbness and the pain, to ignore the spectre of smug faces who insist that they always knew it was a pipe dream. That you should have become an accountant instead. That you don’t have what it takes.

That’s when you need to text a friend. Take a walk. Drink some coffee. Look at a piece of art. Listen to a song that belongs on your No Shits Are Given playlist.

That’s when you remind yourself of the Wayne Gretzky quote, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” and get back in the fight. You send out your query letter to another agent. You write another sentence. You edit another page.

You take another shot.

Awkwardly Ever AfterMarni Bates began her writing career at the age of 19 with her autobiography, Marni, for HCI’s Louder Than Words series. Marni was also selected for the New York Public Library Stuff for the Teen Age 2010 List. Her debut fiction novel, Awkward, has been translated into French, Portuguese, Spanish and Hungarian and has also been optioned by Disney Channel as a made-for-TV movie. She has four other novels with KensingtonTeen; Decked with Holly, Invisible, Notable, and Awkwardly Ever After. For more information, please visit or the Marni Bates Author Facebook page. You can also follow @MarniBates on Twitter for the latest news.​

The Brown Paper Parcel – Guest Post from Paul Bryers

Paul BryersStella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin had her first book published in 1901.   It was called ‘My Brilliant Career’ and in 1979 it was made into a movie with Judy Davis in the role of the writer.

The last shot in the movie is of Ms Franklin posting her novel, wrapped in a brown paper parcel, from a post box in the Australian outback to a publisher in Edinburgh.   A caption tells you it was subsequently published and that Miles Franklin, as she called herself, went on to become a major Australian novelist of the 20th century.


This is the story we’d all like to happen.   It’s a myth. The real story is that she gave the novel to a friend, who was a famous writer and poet, and that he recommended it to his publisher and then it was published. Continue reading