Monday, 26 August 2013

Challenging Ourselves

What is it with writers and challenges? So many of us attempt different ones each year - and although I don't have any data on the drop-out rate, if my own experience is anything to go by, I suspect it's quite high.

Every November, hundreds of thousands of us take part in NaNoWriMo, a challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. The emphasis is on quantity, rather than quality - editing and polishing comes later - and in 2012, a combined total of more than 3 billion words was registered on the site. Many people then go on to complete and publish the novels they started this way. I have taken part twice so far: the first time, back in 2006, I managed around 6,000 words before real life got in the way.  Last year, I had another go and reached almost 20,000 words.

For the past two years, writer and columnist Sally Quilford has run the 100K challenge: write one thousand words per day for 100 days from 1st January. Her Facebook group contains 350+ members and there is a handy spreadsheet to allow you to monitor your progress (and compare it with other participants). I had a go both times: last year I lost count around 15,000; this year I more than doubled that, but still didn't manage to finish.

The prolific writer Morgen Bailey posts daily short story exercises on one of her websites and the piece of new prose I'm posting today grew out of one of those exercises. I've recently downloaded Morgen's handy ebook The 365-Day Writer's Block Workbook   and will be dipping in to that whenever I am finding it difficult to get started.

Reading a recent posting by my Swanwick buddy, Vikki Thompson, I was introduced to yet another challenge: Chrys Fey's 30 Day Writing Challenge contains a whole month of prompts to get our creative juices flowing.

I'd love to think that composers have the same sort of traditions: write a piece in C minor, starting with three quavers on G and a minim on E.

Or maybe somewhere, there's an painter working to the following prompt: using only shades of brown, cream and grey, illustrate the phrase 'is that a smile?'.

Maybe it's because writing is such a solitary exercise and we like to think of lots of other people attempting the same task as us, at the same time. Maybe it's nothing to do with being a writer; maybe it's just that all humans, whatever their occupation,  need a goal to strive towards.

Whatever the reason, we keep challenging ourselves and, even when we fail, the word-count keeps going up.  So, this November, I will be having another go at NaNoWriMo and in January, I'll be aiming for 100K again. And in the meantime, there's this idea I've had for a writing challenge...
As I mentioned above, this piece grew out of a prompt from Morgen Bailey. Random: Fill in a word association word web, starting with the word ‘free’ then pick 5 of the words you created and write a piece including those words. This is the result:
Lynard Skynard was playing on the radio; Freebird, my favourite track of that year. I was playing along, practising my air guitar, when I looked up and saw him stroll into the cafĂ©. His dark curly hair fell across his eyes; eyes so deep, they seemed almost black. His sun-darkened skin was the result of an outdoor job rather than lying around on the beach, I guessed. His blindingly white vest and frayed cut-off jeans framed him perfectly. I wanted him; I didn’t care whether he was alone or not; I was free to be wrong if I wanted to be — and this type of wrong felt so right. I didn’t consider his viewpoint; I forgot he had free will. I just wanted him and that was all there was to it.
Just then, Josie came out of the loo and stopped dead, staring at him too.
“Yes please,” she said - or words to that effect.
“What do you think this is - a free market?” I asked. “I saw him first, so back off.” Well, that was it — there was a real free-for-all.  She tried to push past me, I grabbed her arm. She took a swing at me, I pulled her hair. It took Big Dave and two of his mates to separate us. 
By the time we’d calmed down and stopped glowering at each other, we realised he’d gone! I never did see him again — but I think of him every time I hear that song.
Question: What challenges do you set yourself - and why?

Monday, 19 August 2013

Making it Bigger and Better

"Don't be in too much of a rush to send your work out there. Make sure it's ready first." Like every debut novelist, I've heard that advice many times.

Well, I've been writing Gorgito's Ice-Rink for seven years now. That's hardly a rush, is it? I completed the first draft last autumn and finished redrafting/editing in January. Surely that was enough; it had to be ready, didn't it?

So I started sending it out to agents. I've had a handful of rejections accompanied by polite, encouraging notes - one of which was even hand-written - and a few submissions that were met with total silence.
I'll take that as a 'no', shall I?
In June, I attended the Winchester Writers' Conference, which gave me the opportunity for six one-to-one meetings with agents and authors. These were all pleasant experiences (despite some of the horror stories I'd heard from previous attendees) with some very useful feedback, which can be summed up in the words of one agent: my novel is competent but not outstanding! And to be noticed in today's crowded marketplace, outstanding is the new OK.
As some of you may have noticed from the barrage of postings last week, I've just returned from the Swanwick Writers' Summer School. It was another great week, my seventh and their 65th. One of the sessions was Edit Your Manuscript by Literary Agent Meg Davis. She talked about the first draft and the second draft. Right, I thought, now we'll hear about the submissions process. But not at all. Meg went on the talk about drafts three and four - by which time the work should be in a good enough shape to go to beta-readers or agents - and then further drafts after that.
Meg gave us questions to ask ourselves: how can I make this bigger and better? does every scene drive the plot forward? is every character needed? does the plot work?
So, the conclusion from all this advice and my reflection on it: I'm going back to the drawing board (or should that be the keyboard) to get rewriting. It's got to be bigger and better before it can be outstanding!
In last Thursday's posting, I mentioned starting a piece of prose based on sailing vessels, locations and senses. It grew from a memory of visiting the lovely little island of Kea, just off the Greek coast near Athens. Here' s the piece in its finished form:
Leaving Kea
Everything is grey as we leave the harbour, seen on our way by two taxi drivers, one taverna owner who couldn't sleep - and a lame cat. The cemetery chapel on the hillside is drained of life and the flowers are monochrome. Even on the top deck, we are enveloped in diesel fumes and we lean out over the rails, longing to smell the sea.
It's the clouds we notice first, just a tinge of pink. Then, on the horizon, a golden slit appears; the clouds turn deep rose against a slowly blueing sky.
The slit becomes a crescent, then a globe, that stings our eyes until we blink away the tears. The light embraces the island, flooding it with colour. The flowers in the graveyard turn orange, mauve and scarlet; the chapel sparkles snow-like against the sun.
And on the breeze, we catch a hint of thyme.  

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Swanwick65: Sixth Sense

Not content with giving us yesterday proverbs and moods to write from, Karin led Life Up Your Pens this morning with lists of sailing vessels (and we won't go into whether a pedalo is a ship or not); locations and feelings. Once again, my memory was awakened; this time for early morning departures from Greek islands by ferry.  This is probably the piece I'm happiest with from this week's exercises. It still needs polishing, but I will post it on next week's blog (we're back to weekly posts from next Monday).
Day six is when the specialist courses come to an end. My four sessions on the Literary Novel have been most productive, although not necessarily in the way Alexa envisaged. I have the characters, setting and beginning of a plot for what will probably be a short story, rather than a novel. I have some great tools to add to the toolbox. And I have a list of novels I can add to my To Be Read list. It was only today I realised I could have used one of my own plot ideas rather than the one triggered on day 1. Never mind, there's always next year. 
Today is also the day when the administration gets done. Takings are counted up in the Book Room and authors learn how many books they've sold. (I wonder if I'm the only one who spends the week eyeing the pile of books with my name on the cover, trying to count them from across the other side of the room without being too obvious?).
It's also the day of the AGM. We have a new Committee, although three of the four officers are unchanged (Diana, Lesley and Margaret). Michael O'Byrne has taken over as Vice Chairman from Fiona, so look out for some criminal humour during the VP's announcements next year. A huge thank you to everyone who stood down and hello and good luck to the newcomers.
After the official business was concluded, there was an auction of the cartoons produced by Curtis Jobling during his talk last night. There was some fierce bidding on all the items (and at one point a certain married couple appeared to be bidding against each other), but especially for the one in which Bob the Builder morphed into a Werewolf. Afterwards, the new owners were happy to display their prizes for the cameras.
And suddenly, before we knew what had happened, it was over! Six days of plotting, characterising, dramatising, teaching, learning - and above all, writing, all gone. But while the summer school is finished, the ideas generated, the prose and poetry drafted and the enthusiasm rekindled, will continue in the weeks  and months to come. 
We met on the lawn before dinner for the traditional Dregs Party. There were posh frocks and the occasional DJ, cameras clicking all over the place, and promises to keep in touch. And Stella wore glitter! 

Our final guest speaker was the witty and charming Deborah Moggach. She took us through the journeys of three of her books: Tulip Fever; The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (which she told us was very different from the  film); and Heartbreak Hotel. She summed up what, for many of us, was one of the best things about Swanwick: "to be together with people who know what you're talking about is great." and said she wished she'd been there for the whole week.
Deborah told us that she really gets to know her characters before she starts writing their stories. She believes that while plot is important, it's the people that matter and once you know them, they will lead the writer into the story.
Her closing words of advice resonated with many of the writers in the room and make a good way to close: there are no rules; they are all there to be broken.
To all my Swanwick buddies: happy rule breaking, happy writing - and see you all next year!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Swanwick65: Cruising in Fifth Gear

This is the point in the week where we are still motoring, but thinking of slowing down. There's been a lot of writing to do today (which can't be bad for a writers' summer school). We started by Lifting Up Our Pens with Ben and his eclectic collection of postcards., which for me brought back memories of graffiti in Kazakhstan. 

Then it was on to Zoe Lambert's course on Literary Short Stories. Zoe's workshop style was relaxed but well-paced. We searched our bags for suitable items to define a character (and I wondered briefly if she'd pinched my idea - see day 2 - then remembered it's a well-known technique for triggering characters) before settling down to write from the middle of a scene. Later, we listed all the bits we should remove during editing (adjectives, adverbs, repetition etc). It made me wonder how we ever manage to keep any words on the page. We learnt that not all adverbs are bad, only weak ones, and had a go at creating unusual pairings of verbs and adverbs.
In amongst all the short courses, it was day 3 of the specialist courses, so we were back with Alexa working on the Literary Novel ideas we've been developing since Sunday. Today we focused on setting, using mind maps to learn more about place (mind maps! I wondered briefly if Alexa had also been pinching my ideas - see day 2 - until she showed us the reference to this use of the tool - on the Mslexia site).
Finally, it was on to Karin's Write Around exercise combining mood diagrams and English proverbs. With less than thirty minutes to write, it's difficult to finish anything - but several members of the group did just that. Which just goes to show that while fine words butter no parsnips and a rolling stone gathers no moss, it might just be possible to make a silk, perhaps I'd better stop that sentence right there!
So out of today, I have three possible pieces of flash fiction, one short story outline and the start of a novel, which will probably migrate into another short story. Not bad going.
The social side of Swanwick is always a feature of the week and this year is no exception. So, looking back, we had the quiz on Monday evening. The wonderful Jean Sutton with Elvis the Cockney was unable to be here this year, although she had written a letter to greet all the quizzers. Her place as quiz mistress was taken by the indomitable Joyce Ward - and the questions were much harder this year than previously. Who knew that Wendy Darling had three first names (Wendy Moira Angela)?
Last night saw the return of Write, Camera, Action, organised as usual by Katy White. Six short plays, chosen from the large number submitted in advance of the School, were workshopped during the afternoon and performed in the evening. All six  were great fun - and I'm sorry that I laughed in the wrong places during the Improvisation piece (but I wasn't the only one!). For me, the best was Rachel Conti's 'Procrastination' - a topic close to most writers' hearts.
Tonight we've had a new addition to the programme: Swanwick's Family Fortunes. I think it's best we draw a veil over that one! Let's just say it was a chance for all the usual suspects to get up on stage and be silly to the delight (and some bemusement) of the audience.
Tonight's speaker was the animator, illustrator and author Curtis Jobling - and what can I say? I didn't write a single note from the minute he bounced onto stage and started treating us like an audience of appreciative school kids to when he finished answering questions an hour later. It was like being hit by a steam train; and not just any old steam train but one driven by Bob the Builder, with Raa Raa the Noisy Lion stoking the engine and Frankenstein's Cat controlling the whistle, all pulling carriage-loads of werewolves, werelions and other inhabitants of Wereworld. The man was so impressive; he didn't use notes, he produced cartoons on the flip-chart at the same speed as he talked, and when he read from the first in his fantasy series, his eyes barely touched the page. I also forgot to take any pictures; so I've embedded a link to Curious Cow instead:  there are plenty of pictures there and they certainly kept us amused!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Swanwick65: The Inner Child Sails 'Fourth'

Tuesday is traditionally the quiet, easy day at Swanwick. Half-way through the Summer School, it's time to take a breath and look around; maybe go on a half-day visit to a local place of interest (Chatsworth House, Bletchley Park etc); or spend the afternoon dozing (sorry, I mean writing) on the lawn or in our rooms.

For many members, today was still like that - but not for the hardy souls signed up for Alexa's Procrastination-Free Day. From 10am to 4pm today, we switched off our mobiles and our internet connections (well most of us did) and wrote in 15 - 30 minute blocks, with breathing spaces in between. We set our goals at the start of the day (some quantitative; some qualitative) and kept score as we went along. Everyone declared the day a success and several of us exceeded our targets. Alexa was a brilliant facilitator (even if I did think at one point that she was threatening to lock us in the room during lunchtime).

And the inner child? Well she was delighted to get one star for reaching her day's word total by lunchtime and a second one for passing all her milestones by the end of the day. And she's going to wear them with pride until the end of the week! This was probably the best day I've ever spent at Swanwick, bar none. Can we do it again next year please?
Back on Saturday, I said I would take a stroll around the (to me) newly-discovered Lake at some point. Well so far, I've not put my nose outside the door, except to hurry from the main buildings to the accommodation blocks and back again. But this afternoon, after such a productive workshop, I finally made it. The sun was shining, there was no breeze and the reflections in the water were stunning.
For the larks among us, there are a number of activities running each morning before breakfast. There's 'Lift Up Your Hearts' in the Chapel; Meditation down by the lake; or my choice for this year, 'Lift Up Your Pens'. At yesterday's session, Julia gave us Cadbury's chocolate to eat (all in the cause of writing, of course). Today there were no physical treats,  but Tarja's exercise to examine our unwritten and largely self-imposed 'writing rules' and then to give ourselves permission to ditch, amend or rewrite them in a more helpful way was a gift to this scientist who spends much of her life working 'by the book'. One rule I discovered was "Only write in the morning; do not ever attempt to write in the afternoon". Well, I've proved that one can go, haven't I?
Tonight's guest speaker was Zoe Lambert, author of The War Tour,  an anthology of transcultural short stories centring, as the title suggests, on wars. She made some interesting points about the ethics of writing 'other people's stories' and feels that on balance it is better to write, well and sensitively, rather than not write at all, since in the ensuing silence, some important stories might never be told. She also talked about the difference between writing from a victim's point of view versus trying to get inside the mind of the oppressor. She finished with a great quote from Chekhov: let the jury judge them; it's my job simply to show what sort of people they are. 

Monday, 12 August 2013

Swanwick65: The Third Degree

There's been a lot of questions, not to say interrogations, one way and another today - more of which later.
But first, let's pop back into Day 2 for a moment, to acknowledge what is rapidly becoming yet another Swanwick tradition: Buskers' Night. Too late to make it into yesterday's instalment, the third annual BN was only for night owls, starting as it did after 11pm and not finishing until half past midnight. (OK, I know that's an early night for some hardened Swanwickers, but if you're a lark pretending to be an owl, it's really late!).

The audience was treated to a great mix of music, from Connie Francis to The Stranglers, by way of a lament by the wife of a trumpet-playing folk singer and a beautiful guitar duet from a 1950s French film. But for me, the star turns of the show were John and Zana, Swanwick's answer to The Proclaimers, with the appropriately-named '500 Words', followed by John's solo performance of 'Patricia the Stripper'. Many thanks to Mark and the Gang for putting it all together.

This afternoon  saw the first ever Swanwick Tweet-Up, followed by Twitter101 which, as I predicted yesterday, attracted a large crowd. There were quite a few novices, who took the opportunity to grill the more experienced Tweeps on everything from how to sign up; what exactly is a hash tag; and how to block an unwanted follower. The session became quite interactive, with occasional side-meetings to deal with immediate issues (usually with phones) and although it's probably fair to say that not everyone's questions were answered, there are now more Swanwickers on Twitter than there were at the start of the week. Whether they all know why - or what to do next, is another question.
And if anyone hears a rumour that I've been blocked from Twitter for spamming, it's just the accidental consequence of a demonstration that went slightly astray.
Another full house today heard Meg Davis give an agent's view of 'Editing Your Manuscript'.  I'm sure I wasn't the only person in the room to realise that maybe I'm not quite as far down the road as I thought I was - but certainly left with lots of hints on the next step in the journey. Meg also showed that she has a great (if slightly child-centred) taste in movies.
Tonight's speaker was a Swanwick regular, Michael O'Byrne, a former Chief Constable whose anecdotes on 'thirty odd years of policing' had us roaring with laughter, while the crime writers among us heard some home truths. We learnt that writers deal with bodies very badly in general; policemen do not throw up at the sight of a dead body, whatever its state; and that the best way to recreate the smell of a corpse (should one wish to do so in the interest of research and authenticity) involves fish, plastic bags and sunshine. Frankly, I'm glad I'm not a crime writer.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Swanwick65: Seconds Out...

Well, we've not got to the stage of fisticuffs yet, but we've virtually had a real fight in the world of Swanwick (do you see what I've done there?). I've been coming here since 2007 and even in that relatively short period of time (in Swanwick terms) things have changed a lot.

In my first year, everyone used paper and pens to take copious notes of all the speakers' pearls of wisdom. Today, we had almost as many keyboards in use as writing implements - and in fact many of us are taking fewer notes as everything will be available online after the week is over.
But it's not so much the issue of paper versus electronic notebooks that is causing (sometimes heated) debate, so much as the question of social media: Facebook, Twitter - even blogs. It is a topic which seems to polarise opinions. There are many who believe absolutely that having an online presence (or a 'platform' in the marketing jargon) is essential, especially for those of us who are 'independently published'. On the other hand, there are still a lot of people who refuse categorically to 'get involved in any of that stuff'. And although there are obviously some generational influences on this, it's not completely youngsters versus oldies (as I hope I am demonstrating right here). I believe it's more a case of fear of the unknown versus willingness to have a go.
In today's session on 'Promoting Your Work', our workshop leader, the wonderful Marion Hough, told us she didn't 'do social media' and had no interest in it. By the end of the session, after talking about some of the benefits that can be gained, I think we may have persuaded her to change her mind or at least consider it. It will be interesting to see how many people turn up for Fiona's Twitter 101 tomorrow afternoon. I suspect it might be a full house!
Today was a full working day for me. The two sessions on the Business Skills Toolbox seemed to go well (although I suppose I would say that. wouldn't I?). I had a small, select group (but then I was up against three other excellent courses, including one by last night's speaker James Moran). However, what my group lacked in numbers, they more than made up for in enthusiasm. We stuck to the time schedule (well, we were covering time management, so we had to) but also managed to deal with a wide range of questions around the subjects of increasing productivity and setting up appropriate financial records.

But my favourite session of the day has to be the Write Around with which we finished the afternoon. Around a dozen White Badgers (where was everyone else?) examined the assorted items I provided as a trigger for 'Write a Life'. As you can see, it was a real cocktail - and the eight brave souls who read their pieces out for us showed great skill in concocting finished pieces of flash fiction; the beginnings of short stories; and one wonderful poem.  As always happens with this sort of exercise, there were as many interpretations and ideas as there were writers in the room. A huge thanks to all of you for making this session such fun. I hope to see you all again tomorrow evening, when someone else will be providing the trigger and I shall be on the same side of the table as the rest of you.
Tonight's speaker was Syd Moore, author of The Drowning Pool and Witch Hunt. I have to admit to being what my sister calls 'a real scaredy cat' when it comes to anything touching on the supernatural and so two novels written as ghost stories are never going to make it on to my To Be Read list (sorry Syd!) However, she was a brilliant speaker and particularly moving when talking of her research into the dreadful stories of how so-called witches were treated in the seventeenth century. 
Syd is also a great reader and the passages from her books had us all on the edge of our seats. I'm not sure whether Ian's defibrillator was needed at the end of the session, but the effect of a flicked switch on two hundred plus writers was electrifying. And I have to admit I'm typing this in my room with the curtains tightly closed and every single lamp lit. If anyone has bad dreams tonight, we'll know who to blame in the morning, won't we?

Swanwick65: A Day Of Firsts

It's been a real day of firsts. Obviously, it's the first day of Swanwick, with all that entails: the hugs on greeting old friends; the satisfaction of delivering books to Lois in the book room; the effort of collecting keys and carrying bags all the way through Lakeside before settling into my home for the next week; the regret at absent friends (and you know who you are); and the sorrow at friends lost for ever.

But for me, there were a few other firsts:

It's the first time I've ever seen the lake. And yes, I know this is my fifth visit to Swanwick and I should be ashamed of myself - but what can I say? I've always been on the wrong side of the building; or in a different building; or it's been raining (actually, it's usually been raining)! But now, I know where the lake is and I may even take a stroll around its perimeter after lunch some of the days.

It's the first time I've been on the team of key stewards - and it was a great way to throw myself straight into the week. I'm normally quite shy when I get here and find it difficult to talk to people, but there's nothing like 'being on duty' for breaking the ice. I now know where all the rooms are in the Main House, how many steps there are in each staircase - and how to tell the difference between the keys for rooms 6 and 9.
It's the first time I've attended the White Badger reception as  Workshop Leader and actually behaved appropriately, as opposed to hiding in the corner. I talked to complete strangers, aware that they might be far more nervous than I was; answered questions about my workshops (tomorrow, 9:30am and 2:15pm for anyone who wants to Sharpen Their Business Tools); and gave the usual warning to the 'Swanwick Virgins' about not trying to do everything on the programme. Of course, they won't take any notice of that last piece of advice, but why should they - we didn't in our first year either.
It's the first time I've refused second helpings at lunch; chosen fruit instead of chocolate dessert; ignored the cake and doughnuts at teatime; and only had a half slice of cheesecake at supper time. Yes, this year, I WILL pace myself; I WILL go home the same weight as I arrived; I will NOT overeat!
So much as I really appreciate the surprise presented to me at the Chairman's Welcome (for working on the newsletter), that's one box of chocolates that's going to remain closed until I get home and can share them. And really will be a first!

Our first guest speaker of the week was James Moran, TV and film screenwriter whose credits include episodes of Doctor Who, Torchwood, Spooks and Primeval (and what's not to like about a man who brings David Tennant to the Hayes Conference Centre on a Saturday evening, even if only virtually?).
In what Diana Wimbs described as: "a Master Class for all types of writing" James took us on a journey from the primary school classroom where, as a four year old, he used to draw pictures of houses on fire and first wrote a story exceeding 4 words; via the filming of his first screenplay, where the reality of what was happening sent him "to hide in the toilet and cry for ten minutes"; to the experienced professional of today, who still thinks he's "going to be found out one of these days".
The key messages from his presentation were:
  • There are no excuses! If you don't have the time to write, don't write - let someone else do it instead;
  • You're not a writer if you've not finished your first script;
  • Don't go online and complain that something is rubbish and you could do better - you probably couldn't;
  • Rejections do not go away; in fact the better known you become, the more you pitch for and hence the more rejections you are likely to get;
  • Rewriting is a fact of life;
  • You will meet some wonderful people, a joy to work with - and you will meet some who are the complete opposite, many of whom will look about 12;
  • Confidence is important; a good phrase to remember is: "what we need to do is..."
  • Seeing your name on screen for the first time is a wonderful moment.
In summary, James' advice was to be nice to everyone you meet; read lots; write (and rewrite) lots - and kill people violently on screen.
And if that doesn't sound like a comfortable life, as he reminded us, we could be digging holes for a living instead.

Monday, 5 August 2013

A New Blog for a New (Writing) Year

July is finished; my writing break is over. I had great fun during my month off, as you can probably tell from the last piece I posted, but by the beginning of August my batteries were recharged, I was raring to go (and, as you can see, my clichĂ© meter was running on full — must work on that!) So here we go with the new style blog for a new writing year.

For lots of writers in the UK, and a handful of overseas visitors, August means one thing: Swanwick, the Writers’ Summer School. Starting on Saturday evening and running through to the following Friday morning, it’s the chance for around 300 writers to meet, talk, learn, teach, celebrate successes, commiserate with disappointments, mourn missing friends, act, dance and laugh together. Oh yes, and to write as well. This year, Swanwick celebrates its 65th anniversary. There won’t be anyone there who’s been to all the previous sixty four events, but there will be writers who’ve been going for thirty years or more.
And there will also be the newbies, the ‘White Badgers’, attending for the first time, some of whom may be feeling very nervous and wondering how they’ll get on. Well, they have no need to worry. I have never attended such a welcoming, caring, inclusive gathering as Swanwick. From the opening session where we will be welcomed by the current Chair, Diana Wimbs, to the traditional waving off of the coach on the last morning, every person they meet will be interested in what they are writing, will ask what their plans are, and will be willing to share their experiences and offer support.

We’re going to have a great time, guys. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again — and once again, I will be attempting to blog about each day as we go along, for those of you who aren’t going to be able to make it this year.
But for me, the beginning of August has another meaning: it’s the launch of the Chudleigh Phoenix Annual Short Story competition. Once again, I’m joined on the judging panel by journalist/author Sharon Cook and writer/writing tutor Katherine Bolton-Parris who runs The Write Retreat in Brittany. We really look forward to reading all the entries after the closing date (31st January 2014). You can read the previous winners here and find out how to enter this year’s competition here.

One of the best courses I attended at last year’s Swanwick was on e-Publishing by the irrepressible Peter Jones who self-published and marketed his straight-talking, jargon-free book How to do Everything and be Happy so successfully that it has recently been republished by Harper Collins. Peter generously shared with us his seventeen point toolbox for successful marketing. One thing he said made a great impression on me: be careful not to fall into the trap of marketing to people who only want to market to you — you want to reach readers, not other authors. Now before all my writing buddies stop reading in disgust, let me say that I would add one word to Peter’s advice: you want to reach readers, not just other authors. I’ve learnt in the past few years that writers are very generous with their time and their support. There are some wonderful networking groups out there, whether on social media platforms or gathered around tables in pubs, Town Halls or people’s houses. And authors are avid readers too. But there is no denying the truth behind Peter’s advice: there are a huge number of readers out there who are not writers.

For the past year, I’ve been blogging about the business side of being a writer. That’s a topic of interest to writers (and even then, to some more than others) but with little to attract non-writing readers (apart from the occasional accountant or tax expert maybe). That series of articles is now finished and I’m replacing it with this new-style posting which will be a mixture of general, writing-related news such as the piece about Swanwick; marketing information such as the launch of the short story competition; and a short piece of new fiction. The latter is aimed at readers and potential readers of my work. I hope you enjoy my words — and that they will keep you coming back for more.