Archive for category Events

A Few Interesting Nuggets

I’ve had a day of writing events.

First up was a writers’ networking meeting organised by Writing West Midlands:
The chief executive, Jonathan Davidson, explained how the selection process for the writer development program Room 204 works – each year there are around 150 people for 15 places, but a worthwhile scheme for ’emerging writers’ if you can make the grade.
The Arts Council England is now open again for applications for Developing Your Creative Practice – grants from £2000 to £10000 are available, but be quick because they close on 5th November.
And a reminder about the free courses offered by Futurelearn and be edX.

Then it was off to Bristol Literature Festival and Build Your Social Media Presence with Tom Mason. He told us that social media posts that include images get 150% more engagement than those without. He recommended using Lumen5 to create mini promotional videos to use with social media and Canva for graphics.

Next up in Bristol was a panel discussion between Phoebe Morgan, editorial director at Harper Collins, literary agent Kate Hordern and book blogger, Anne Cater. Phoebe explained the importance of the hook – it is the selling point to an agent, on to a publisher and then on to supermarkets and book shops. It’s also essential that the book fits a recognised genre, otherwise even the best written book is likely to fall by the wayside. Kate Hodern echoed the importance of hook and genre and mentioned the usefulness of being able to draw comparisons between your book and others already out there. She added that younger agents are often more hungry to take on new writers than older, more established agents who already have a large stable of writers. Anne Cater gave an explanation about the blog tours that she runs for both mainstream publishers and indie authors. She and Phoebe both agreed that, hot on the heel’s of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, cosy crime is likely to be the next big thing. There was a general consensus that psychological thrillers are still hugely popular but to be successful, they need to be better than the books being published five years ago and need to offer the reader something different to what has gone before.

Please take the above nuggets and use them as you see fit!

Finally, a couple of months ago I recommended Readly for accessing a multitude of magazines digitally. I now have a link offering you a two month trial subscription if you fancy trying it out: Readly 2 Month Trial. The link is valid until 31/10/2020.

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Tips for Remote Conferencing

It feels like everything has been cancelled or indefinitely postponed this year.

But every cloud has a silver lining. Many of the literary festivals, writing workshops and bookish events have been re-engineered to take place online, either via Zoom or some other remote conferencing facility. This means that events which were previously too distant geographically to attend are now within reach. Plus, many are also being made available for free!tips for remote conferencing

There’s an interesting article in the November 2020 issue of the US writing magazine The Writer by Melissa Hart giving tips for how to make the most of these remote events. If you can access the magazine (I use Readly) it’s worth a read. If you can’t, here are the salient points for conference participants:

  • Put yourself on mute if you’ve got children/pets/background noise.
  • When taking a break from the conference action, turn your camera off as well as muting (you don’t want others to see you wandering around in a smart top and pyjama bottoms).
  • Have a tidy, neutral background.
  • If the time of day allows it, use natural light otherwise try a white bulb about a foot in front of the screen (not behind you or you’ll appear like a silhouette).
  • Put the laptop on a pile of books so the camera is slightly above eye level.

The original article also contains useful information for conference staff and instructors.

To get you started in the online writing world: Arvon are running a number of courses and readings ,My Virtual Literary Fest is connecting readers with authors (and there is a free e-book to download every month for members) and Harper Collins at Home is hosting a number of author events.

For some people another advantage of online events is that it can be less daunting to speak and give your opinion from behind a screen rather than in front of an audience. But if you’d like to start readying yourself for a return to ‘normal’ and the opportunity to speak in front of a group, Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners has lots of tips for addressing in audience in many different scenarios. It is available on Kindle, Kobo and in paperback.

 

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#MarketYourMarketing Workshops

How to Market a Book

My Very Basic Marketing!

I want to give a shout out to the very generous Ellie Pilcher. She is running a series of free Zoom workshops entitled #MarketYourMarketing. The workshops are principally aimed at those taking their first steps in a career in book marketing. However, anyone can signup and it’s useful for an author to be aware of what goes on behind the scenes when a book is published or to apply some of Ellie’s advice to the marketing strategy for a self-published book.

So, in order to broaden my own horizons, I signed up to Ellie’s first two workshops: How to Write a Marketing Plan and How to Utilise Social Media to Promote a Book, the latter will also feature Claire Fenby from One More Chapter.

How to Write a Marketing Plan took place last week and is now available to watch on YouTube. There were over a hundred people in the meeting (all muted!) to watch Ellie’s presentation. The main purpose was to show how to create a book marketing plan during the interview process for a job in publishing. However, as an author, I found it interesting and picked up on the following points:

  • The importance of pinpointing the audience for the book, for example: gender, age, beach read, Christmas gift etc. This enables the marketing to be correctly targeted.
  • Publishers generally allocate large marketing budgets to writers who are already big names and often there is no budget at all for some books. No budget means creative thinking is needed plus more input from the author.
  • It’s important to get a buzz going pre-publication around the cover reveal and the launch of pre-orders. At this point assets for social media are effective (gifs etc.) along with trying out different straplines for the book and using fun photos.
  • Post-publication the emphasis shifts slightly to sharing reviews and a blog tour plus more social media.
  • A person has to see a book mentioned three times before they might be tempted to buy. So it’s important to keep putting the cover image out there.

How to Utilise Social Media to Promote a Book takes place on Tuesday 15th September at 18:00. This is followed on Tuesday 29th September by How to Ace a Publishing Job Interview. Both of these are free and can be booked via Eventbrite.

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A Zoom Writing Retreat

Although lockdown is gradually easing, there are still lots of things we can’t do. Groups meeting together indoors is one of them. This has led to the rise and rise of Zoom, video conferencing software that most of us had never heard of at the beginning of March but now use regularly. I take part in Speakers’ Club and Shared Reading on Zoom. We have family catch-ups and quizzes and there’s been guided alcohol tasting too!

On Saturday I tried something new – an all-day Writers’ Retreat on Zoom.

It was organised by Sophy Dale of Fully Booked and ran from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm. There were around twenty of us online and Sophy stopped any chaotic, cross conversation by keeping us all on mute. Instead of speaking we typed in the chat box a few sentences about what we intended working on. This included novels, short stories, blog posts, a translation and a guided meditation, among other things. For those who didn’t have a project in mind, Sophy provided writing prompts and also offered guidance to anyone who was struggling or had questions.

Introductions and explanations over, Sophy set a timer for 45 minutes, we all minimised the Zoom window and started writing.

Zoom Writing Retreat

Timed 45 Minute Writing Sprints

It’s amazing how a defined time limit and the knowledge that others are beavering away too helps creativity! I focused on the chapter I was writing and the words came quickly.
After 45 minutes we were all called back together to add more comments to the chat window and then take a five minute comfort break before the next writing sprint. At lunchtime Sophy gave us an hour away from the screen and encouraged us to get some fresh air (I mowed the lawn, which went some way to cancelling out the ‘guilt’ I felt for spending a whole day on writing).

Through the course of the day we had five writing sprints. I switched from churning out words to reviewing the structure of the story and ironing out parts of the plot that didn’t work.

At the end of the afternoon there was time for comments on the day and everyone deemed it thoroughly beneficial. Sophy is planning on doing it all again sometime later in the year.

It struck me that a retreat like this would be easily organised by a group of writing friends – but it would require someone to have the paid-for version of Zoom. I fear the continuity of the retreat would be lost if participants had to keep logging into a new meeting every 40 minutes!

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Park Run First Timer

I took part in my first Park Run this morning – 5 km (3 miles) over varied, undulating terrain in Sutton Park. Sutton Coldfield Park Run

Park Runs are held all over the country at 9 am on Saturday mornings. They are free and anyone can take part. All standards of fitness are welcome and at Sutton Park there was a sign ‘Walking Group Meet Here’ – so there was no need to even run. The events are organised and marshalled by volunteers and there is a friendly atmosphere geared towards encouraging everyone to get outside and move more. The only preparation needed before joining a run is online registration. This is a one-off process which generates a unique barcode for each runner. This barcode must be printed, taken to the event and scanned once you’ve crossed the finish line in order to get a time for your run.

At Sutton Park there was a briefing just before the start for first-time runners. The course was described and I had second thoughts when ‘Hill of Doom’, ‘trip hazards’ and a ‘single file wooden bridge with a slat missing’ were mentioned. My aim became to get to the end without falling over.

With my eyes on the ground I successfully negotiated the hazards. The ‘Hill of Doom’ was short and very steep, so I have to admit to walking here. Everything became easier once the course hit tarmac and I became a lot more confident. It was downhill to the finish and to that lovely feeling of having accomplished something.

Park Run results hit the website later the same day. My time was 34:45 and my results emails says, “You finished in 272nd place and were the 78th female out of a field of 398 parkrunners and you came 5th in your age category”. I don’t know how many were in my age category but 5th will do me!

The similarity between writing and running has been pointed out many times before and my Park Run brought it home to me again. Writing and running are both hard work and we don’t always enjoy the actual process – but the ‘high’ produced by having run or having written can’t be beaten!

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Storytelling for Writers

I’ve just attended a Storytelling for Writers workshop organised by Writing West Midlands and run by the excellent Maria Whatton.

Maria is a professional storyteller and excellent at drawing the audience into her imaginary world. She does this through the use of her voice, body language and, of course, her choice of words. Maria knows her imaginary world and the characters who inhabit it so well that the listener is soon a believer in that world too. And this was the point that Maria wanted to get across to us during the workshop:

It is essential to spend time thoroughly imagining the setting/world of your story AND the background/motivation of the characters who live in this world.

Map of the Green World

Maria got us practising this technique in a variety of ways. She began by telling us a captivating story from the Middle Ages about two green children from a green world who accidentally find themselves on Earth and the subsequent problems they have as outsiders who look different. We then:

  • Did some role play. One pretending to be the green girl and the others asking her questions about how she felt.
  • Did a piece of writing from the point of view of the green girl reflecting on becoming a mother on alien Earth.
  • Worked together to create a huge map of the green world and then wrote about the landscape.
  • Attempted to write a piece from the point of view of the cave which was the portal between Earth and the green world.

By the end of the day I felt fully immersed in the green world and the character of the green girl. The benefit of doing this for the novel I’m working on would be huge – so that’s my next challenge!

An unexpected bonus from the day was coming face to face with fellow writer and blogger Julia Thorley for the very first time. Julia and I have followed each other’s blogs for several years but never met before. So it was a strange sensation when we looked at each other across the workshop table, each thought the other looked familiar and as soon as we said our names, realisation dawned! It was lovely to get the chance to work together during the workshop – and have our photo taken to mark the occasion! Julia has also written about the day.

Sally Jenkins & Julia Thorley

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Writing Stories of the Self and Others or ‘Life Writing’

I had never heard of the specific skill of  ‘Life Writing’ until I applied for a place on a day workshop run by Testimony in Practice at the Library of Birmingham and held last weekend. I came away much wiser and full of advice from Emilie Pine and Carmen-Francesca Banciu.

Emilie is the author of the award-winning collection of personal essays, ‘Notes to Self‘. She used writing exercises based on our own life experiences, relationships and memories to school us in the practice of adding emotion and detail to our writing. She had us switching tenses and view points to test their impact. She told us to delete our fist paragraphs and to take our opening line from somewhere in the middle in order drop the reader straight into the scene.

Carmen is a writer who has chosen to share her life experiences through memoiristic novels. She explained that writing directly about yourself and trauma can be too painful and it can be awkward for the friends and family you include in your work. Turning it into fiction can make it possible to record experiences more honestly. Carmen encouraged us to use our imagination about an object hidden in an envelope and, once revealed, to place that object in a fictional setting. She made us try writing with our left hand in order kick start other areas of the brain and see how that affected our writing.

Both women emphasised several common points, some of which we already know but sometimes fail to implement:

  • Put writing at the top of your ‘to do’ list
  • Free yourself from the necessity to be good in a first draft. Make it good through editing later.
  • Write quickly in whatever pocket of time you have
  • Fiction can be a form of testimony and gives the writer the necessary distance to tell a difficult story
  • Authenticity in memoir is not always about absolute accuracy but about honesty of intent i.e. the essence of experience.
  • A first draft may come up with contradictions, such as ‘I love him’ and ‘I hate him’. It is at the hinge of such contradictions that the real story starts.
  • Passages of high emotion can be made manageable for writer and reader by including a less intense interlude of description.
  • Slowing the pace and inserting detail can vastly improve a manuscript.

Now I’m raring to get back to my WIP and have the intention of adding increased emotion and fine detail to my work!

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Speaking Without Notes

This week I went to a preview performance of ‘The National Trust Fan Club’ by comedy performer Helen Wood prior to the show’s Edinburgh Festival run. Public Speaking without Notes

The show is an energetic, light-hearted romp around one hundred National Trust venues. There is also much talk about gift shops, tea shops and cream teas. There’s lots of humour and anyone who’s ever visited NT properties will identify with the content.

But what impressed me most about Helen’s performance was the way she remembered all the words! She talked non-stop for an hour and a quarter without the obvious use of any prompt or notes. When I speak to groups I talk for around 45 minutes, 90% of that time without looking at notes. However, I do have four index cards which contain quotes that I read to get the wording correct. I also have the comfort blanket of an A4 sheet containing a list of bullet points which I can glance at, should my mind go blank and I forget which section comes next (rarely happens – touch wood!). Helen had none of this but she did reel off dates, names and statistics.

So, what’s the best way of minimising the use of notes during a talk?

  • Do NOT learn the whole speech off-by-heart. Doing this can mean your delivery will lack emotion and if you lose your place, it can be difficult to pick up the thread again.
  • Use a list of bullet points to provide a pathway through the speech. If you will be using a lectern, these can be typed onto a sheet of A4. If the notes will be held in your hand, use index cards because they are less obvious than waving a piece of A4 around.
  • Memorise the gist (not the exact wording) of what you will say to expand each bullet point. The actual words you use may vary each time you deliver the speech. This gives you the ability to more easily tailor the speech if time requirements change. Plus you are less likely to panic if you forget a sentence or two.
  • Practise! It’s time-consuming but always leads to a better performance.

Public Speaking for Absolute BeginnersThere are more tips on all areas of public speaking in Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners.

 

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Sutton Coldfield BookFest

Sutton Coldfield BookFest took place yesterday, billed as, ‘a new festival for children who love stories’. I was involved as a volunteer and found it a great learning experience.

Winnie the Witch

Korky Paul’s Prize Winning Golden Raffle Tickets

My role was to check people’s tickets as they entered one of the library areas set aside for the performances of the authors and illustrators. This meant, once everyone was inside, I was able to stand at the back and watch fantastic sessions by author/illustrator Steve Smallman, Winnie the Witch illustrator Korky Paul and animal storyteller BB Taylor. They were all a great hit with the children and I took away the following points:

  • It’s harder to face an audience of children than an audience of adults. Even when bored, adults will sit still and quiet and look at you. Children have a habit of interrupting with questions, walking around, touching things and fidgeting.
  • In front of an audience of children a speaker has to exude energy, drama and enthusiasm. Speaking half-heartedly or without animation loses audience attention.
  • Visual aids and fancy dress are a must in front of youngsters. Between them the three performers had a viking helmet with chicken accessories, a wizard’s hat and a purple wig. BB Taylor brought along live animals: an armadillo, tortoise, millipede and a parrot.
  • Audience participation should be encouraged. Ask questions of the audience, get children up to the front and have prizes – children like to take things home!

So how does this help those of us who write for adults? It made me think about what I like to see in a speaker and it’s the unusual which ignites my immediate interest. And it’s the energy and enthusiasm of a performance that maintains that interest beyond the initial few minutes. So, thanks to three great children’s entertainers, those are the points I’ll be working on in my own author talk. Thanks guys and gal!

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Running a Creative Writing Workshop

A few years ago I did the PTLLS qualification (Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector) and this week I finally got around to putting it into practice by running my first creative writing workshop. It was organised by FOLIO Sutton Coldfield, held at my local library and free to participants. Planning a creative writing workshop

On the agenda was creating haiku and writing letters to magazines. I chose these two topics to give a mix of writing for pleasure and for profit plus the pieces were short enough to complete in the two and a half hours allocated to the class. And I already had a basic lesson plan for the haiku section from the ‘micro teach’ I did as part of PTLLS.

The participants were a lovely group of people. The workshop had been billed as ‘An Introduction to Creative Writing’ and most had done either none or very little writing before but they were all enthusiastic. Because we only had a couple of hours together, I chose to do a very quick, basic ice-breaker to start the session. I produced my large, bright orange (imaginary) energy ball and we each said our name as we pretended to pass it around the room and take a burst of energy from from it.

During the workshop I deliberately set most of the writing exercises to be done in pairs so that no one felt put on the spot or awkward if they were struggling to get going. We worked up to writing a haiku by looking at examples, having a pictorial prompt and jotting down ad hoc words and phrases before trying to craft them into the syllable count of a haiku. Similarly, we looked at how to analyse a magazine letters’ page including things like word count, subject matter and tone of the letters printed, before trying to craft a letter ourselves.

There were a few learning points that I took away from the workshop:

  1. Running a creative writing workshop is like an iceberg – i.e. 9/10 of the work is the invisible preparation done beforehand in creating the exercises, handouts etc.
  2. It’s very hard to construct a lesson plan with accurate timings about how long each part will take. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a cue from the class – are they still busy writing or are they staring bored into space? During the coffee break the class started asking questions about how I tackle my own writing, this meant the break ran over slightly but I decided that was OK because we were talking about the different ways authors tackle novel writing, which had some benefit to the class participants.
  3. It’s worth asking participants to complete a feedback form at the end of the session in order to find out how it went (phew! all positive comments!) and what subjects might be popular in future workshops.

After running only one workshop, I don’t profess to be an expert on teaching creative writing – however, I know someone who is! If you’re looking for further information or advice on running creative writing classes, I suggest you take a look at Start a Creative Writing Class: How to Set Up, Run and Teach a Successful Class by my writing buddy Helen Yendall.

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