Archive for category Events
At the end of April I was in York for the ASC’s 2018 Conference and National Competition Finals.
I’ve never attended before and was only there this year because, to my surprise and shock, I won my way through the Club, Area and District rounds of the speech competition. When I entered the Club competition last November, I didn’t anticipate that five months later I’d be representing the Midlands in competition against seven other contestants from all parts of the UK. My anxiety levels were sky high and further increased by having to use a clip-on microphone for the first time and face my biggest ever audience.
But what has this got to do with writing?
I needed a subject for my speech. It had to be something I could talk about enthusiastically, something most people would have an interest in and something I could structure logically into a speech.
So I ‘taught’ the audience how to write a romantic novel (how many people have you heard say – ‘I could/would like to write a novel?’).
I only had eight minutes to speak so it was a quick and dirty ‘lesson’ based on the following points:
- Choosing a genre
- Choosing a setting
- Naming characters
- Obstacle to the love affair
- Event that brings the couple back together
To drive each point home I concocted a romantic ‘novel’ about Tony and Janet falling in love and having a date at the hotel where the conference was being held. I concluded by revealing the absolute peanuts that most authors get as financial reward and asked the audience the question, ‘Is it worth it?’
I didn’t win and wasn’t placed in the top three. I was up against some fantastic speakers. The winner was a sixteen-year-old girl who was extremely confident and gave an excellent performance, talking about the scourge of selfie-taking complete with props of a mobile phone and selfie stick. However, we all received a lovely paperweight as a souvenir of the occasion.
Later at the event, I was talking to a lady and she told me how members of her party had been having fun in the bar dreaming up their own spoof romance based on my speech. I was delighted to hear this – it meant people had listened to me and had absorbed and remembered what I’d said. And isn’t that what public speaking is all about?
It fascinates me how our past affects our present and future lives. The past might be our upbringing and parental influences, it might be something we did that makes us ashamed and secretive, it might be the impact of external events on our everyday lives.
Recently I went to see Chicken Soup in the Studio Theatre at the Crucible in Sheffield. Written by Ray Castleton and Kieran Knowles, the play focuses on three miners’ wives and shows the effect the 1984/85 miners’ strike had on the rest of their lives, their family relationships and on their enduring friendship. There are three acts, each one in a different year: a 1984 soup kitchen/foodbank during the strike, a 2002 Queen’s Golden Jubilee party and a foodbank on the day of the 2016 EU Referendum. To add to the atmosphere the audience are given vouchers to claim a free serving of soup in the interval – forced to form a queue at a makeshift ‘soup kitchen’.
By 2002 and 2016 the lives of the three women have taken different paths. Following the strike one has become more politically active and is now a councillor. One has bettered herself by taking accountancy exams and ends up a high-flying career woman. The third seems stuck in the past, still carrying a hatred for her brother who crossed picket lines during the strike. Each has been affected in a different way by the past.
This made me think about my own characterisation when I’m writing fiction. Do I think sufficiently about how each character has come to be where they are? Am I dropping the important parts of their past into the story subtley or am I shoehorning in great hunks of backstory? Are the characters acting realistically, given what they’ve been through in the past? Why are different characters affected in different ways by the same past event?
What about you – do you think about how the past is motivating your characters’ actions in the present? How do you tell the reader about that past life? Do you know their past before you start writing their present?
Those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while will know that a few years ago I joined Sutton Coldfield Speakers’ Club in order to gain the public speaking confidence necessary to promote myself and my books at author events. Last week I was part of a panel of three judges for a speech competition at a neighbouring club. The speeches were 6 to 8 minutes long and had a completely open theme.
All the speakers were confident in front of an audience and all chose subjects with wide appeal. They all did well. After we’d decided on the winner and runner-up, we judges discussed the points the head judge should make in her summing up of the competition. The aim of the summing up was to give general advice for the contestants and members of the audience to take away. Listed below are some of these points plus other tips I picked up from my observation of the speakers. They maybe useful to those of you devising an author talk:
- Beware of meaningless gestures i.e. continually moving your arms as you speak
- Beware of keeping your arms rigidly still throughout – include a few meaningful gestures e.g. expanding your arms to describe the size of something or stamping a foot to jolt/surprise the audience
- Project your voice from the very first word you utter. Grab the audience’s attention!
- Don’t continually sway from side to side or move your weight from one foot to another. It’s disconcerting to watch a human pendulum!
- Inject a little humour. Not in the form of a joke but perhaps a throwaway observation on something the audience is familiar with.
- Make eye contact with all parts of the audience – this means shifting your eye gaze around the room as you speak.
- Speak with minimal reference to notes – this will free you up to make appropriate gestures and make lots of eye contact with your audience. Don’t read your talk!
From my own experience, I would add – don’t be put off if someone in the audience falls asleep. This has happened to me twice when speaking to groups of older ladies. The first time I put it down to the fact that we’d all just enjoyed a nice, big lunch. The second time, the organiser warned me in advance that one particular lady always went to sleep when they had a speaker and sure enough, I saw her head nod and her eyes close quite soon after I’d started.
However many times you do it, speaking in public is nerve-wracking – if you’d like to practise in front of a sympathetic audience, find a Speakers’ Club near you.
Back in May I went on a day course in London run by the very successful Joanna Penn and Orna Ross entitled How to Make a Living (and a Life) from Writing.
We covered lots of topics to do with writing, publishing, money, income streams etc and I came away inspired. Needless to say, these things take time and I’m not yet (!) making a living from writing. However, I wanted to tell you about one very simple but motivating exercise that we did.
At the end of the day each course participant was given a sheet of paper and asked to note down their writing goals for the next three months. We were also given a stamped envelope, asked to address it to ourselves and put our sheet of writing goals inside. Joanna and Orna collected the envelopes, stored them for three months and then posted them.
My list of goals arrived through the letterbox a couple of weeks ago. I couldn’t remember exactly what targets I’d set myself (they’d been written at the end of a long day when I was full of enthusiasm for everything I’d just learned) so I was prepared to see a list of over-ambitious stuff I hadn’t done. But there was a nice surprise – all three goals had been achieved:
- Started the publishing process for my second grip-lit novel, The Promise. At the time I wrote this goal the novel was under consideration by The Book Guild and I’d decided that if they turned it down I would embark on the self-publishing route rather than join the masses knocking at every agent’s door. Happily, The Book Guild felt The Promise had commercial potential and I’ve now seen the cover (it will be revealed it in a later post), had a lovely endorsement by crime writer Judith Cutler and had the typeset proofs. Publication day is 28th January 2018!
- Create a boxed set of my three short story collections in e-book and paperback format. Done and blogged about. The proof (should you need it) is on Amazon and Kobo in the form of A Coffee Break Story Collection : 36 Short Stories
- Update Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners to reflect the lessons learned as I created the paperback version of the boxed set and also to include other changes in KDP since I’d last updated the book. A tick for that one as well! The updated book is now available.
Last weekend I exchanged my next set of goals with my writing buddy, Helen Yendall (we managed to talk writing for 4 hours – can you believe that?!) and we’ll meet again in November to see how we did.
Do you make goals? How do you make yourself accountable?
Five years ago, in 2012, I wrote about Enid Blyton’s Famous Five turning 70. It was one of my most popular posts.
In May of this year, that gang of four children and a dog will turn 75. The anniversary of the first publication of Five on a Treasure Island is being celebrated as part of Visit England’s Year of Literary Heroes 2017.
To mark the occasion the Royal Horticultural Society is creating four ‘Five Go on a Garden Adventure’ trails, one in each of their gardens: Harlow Carr, Hyde Hall, Wisley and Rosemoor. All four gardens will also hold a picnic party on 11th August to celebrate Enid Blyton’s 120th birthday.
A series of new paperback books will be released in May to coincide with the anniversary. These have new covers, an example of one of these can be seen on the Bookseller’s website. Have a look and tell me what you think. I’m not keen but I guess today’s children wouldn’t be impressed by the ‘old-fashioned’ original covers. I much prefer the one I’ve used to illustrate this post.
However, I do fancy that picnic – especially if there’s lashings of ginger beer plus plenty of ice cream (didn’t Julian always buy an ice cream for Timmy the dog?) and then we can relax on a bed of springy heather and keep watch for the smugglers on Kirrin Island …
We collected signatures for the petition, marched through the town centre shouting ‘Save Our Library’, were interviewed by ITV for Central News (but unfortunately that got left on the cutting room floor), listened to speeches by the rally organisers and our MP Andrew Mitchell, Birmingham City Councillor Rob Pocock, Sutton Coldfield Town Councillor Ewan Mackey and eventually we stood up and said a few words ourselves in support of the library.
In between all this excitement we managed a bit of writing chat. Heide told us about the Birmingham Reader’s Map that she curates via her website. It shows the locations of novels set in and around Birmingham and Heide has kindly added Bedsit Three (set in a fictional part of north Birmingham) to the map.
If you’d like to see what other literary gems are set in the West Midlands, use the ‘+’ sign to enlarge the map below and have a hunt around. If you know of any other book that should be on the map, contact Heide and let her know.
Satan’s Shorts, a collection of short stories co-written by Heide and her writing partner, Iain Grant is FREE on Amazon. The book description is intriguing, “Curious about the day that Saint Christopher found out he’d been declared non-existent by the pope? What exactly is a cat in Hell’s chance? How would an annual Christmas present exchange between Heaven and Hell work out? Find out the answers to these and other pressing questions in this collection of short stories from the world of Clovenhoof.”