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Monday, 28 August 2017

I'll Sparkle, If It's The Last Thing I Do...

...and it nearly was!

I wrote here about the conflict of interest I suffered ahead of this year's Romantic Novelists' Association Conference in Shropshire. Two members of my local Marcher Chapter were leading sessions, but as they were both scheduled for the same time, I had to choose between them. I did think about spending half the hour in one lecture theatre then nipping across to catch the last half of the other talk, but that wouldn't have worked. I wanted to immerse myself in whole talks, not spend my time looking at my watch.

 It was impossible which session to choose, so I flipped a coin.  Joanna Maitland and Sophie Weston's  Add Sparkle to your Manuscript won. Joanna and Sophie run the popular Libertà blog, covering all things bookish.

I took my seat in the comfortable seats of the university's largest lecture room and settled down for a light-hearted canter through the English Language and how it should be used. Instead, I heard those dreaded words; "This workshop..."

Aargh! I love our Marcher Group workshops, as we work on our pieces at home, and only submit them when they're (to the eye of their creator anyway) perfect. I always avoid spontaneous workshops, where you have to whip something up on the spot for the benefit of a group of strangers. classing them with other forms of torture such as diets and editing. I didn't book this weekend away from my desk to work! This was supposed to be a holiday! Didn't Joanna and Sophie know that?

Actually, "Sparkle" wasn't like that at all. It was a fun session, encouraging us to turn a deliberately terrible made-up extract of writing into something exciting and readable.  I can't go into too many details as Joanna and Sophie use some of it on their highly successful Sparkle Days, but you can read their account of the session I attended here.  

Like all the best workshop sessions, "Sparkle" taught me as much about myself as it did about my writing. The reason I hate workshops, I discovered, is because I can't bear anyone to see my work until it's completely finished. I couldn't bear to read something out that I'd whipped up in five minutes, on command.  Completely finished, as every writer knows, is a state that no piece of writing ever achieves. However much you fiddle and fuss with it, you'll always find some new reason not to send your literary baby out into the cruel world of beta readers and reviewers.  I know I do.

Maybe if I spent less time agonising over every line, I'd get more writing done. I must force myself to attend more workshops. 

I can't believe I just wrote that last line. What's the single biggest thing that would improve your writing?



Monday, 21 August 2017

Getting Social at the RNA Conference

Getting up early on a Saturday morning has never felt better than it did during the weekend I spent at the Harper-Adams University, for the 2017 Romantic Novelists' Association Conference. . First there was the prospect of a lavish, leisurely breakfast, instead of my usual hurried snack. Better still, I didn't have to worry about preparing  it, or washing up afterwards.

If that wasn't enough of a treat, Nicola Cornick, current Chair of the RNA and Sarah Morgan, winner of the 2017 Romance Writers' of America's RITA for her long romance, Miracle on 5th Avenue, were giving a session on using social media.

Facebook has more users than any other social media platform. The finer point of it are a mystery to me. I started with a personal page, then added an author page, but I'm not sure how to get the best out of either page, if I'm honest. What are your own Facebook tips? The more you use it the better, was the message I got from this conference session.

 Twitter is the next most popular social media platform, but it only has a fraction of the followers that Facebook has. Having conversations when you're limited to 140 characters is a bit restrictive, but it can be done. Instagram is more popular with young people than Twitter, so you need to know your readership. Nicola, Sarah, and most of the audience agreed that Pinterest is nothing but a time suck. It's lovely to look at and absorbing to dip in and out of the various boards, but before you know it an hour has gone past and your word count is nil!

If you'd rather be writing than surfing the net, Nicola and Sarah's advice was to concentrate on Facebook, and maybe one other platform. Make sure you have an author Page, and use it for your writing business, in preference to your personal page.

 I came straight home after the conference, and created this Canva image to redirect people to my author page rather than my personal page. I used a picture of Alex when he was a baby, and added an invitation. It was really easy to do, and only took a few minutes. Thinking of things to add to my Facebook page every day is going to be a lot harder.

Visit my Facebook Page at http://bit.ly/FacebookAuthorPageCH, and  let me know what you'd like to see there!

Monday, 14 August 2017

A Stitch In Time

There were two sessions about using fabric as inspiration at the Romantic Novelists' Association's Conference. Carol McGrath spoke about Fabric, Embroidery and Tapestry as inspiration for historical fiction, while Elizabeth Chadwick spoke about going beyond the dressing-up box to explore daily life in times gone by. Both were very different in tone, but equally fascinating.

Elizabeth suggested immersing ourselves in the period by studying the depictions of daily life in embroideries. Fashion, musical instruments and  hunting are shown in detail, created by the people who saw all those things every day. It all helps to bring authenticity to your fiction. Then there's the potential romance contained in how the pieces were made: the lives of silk-workers, the dyers, weavers, the times in which they lived and loved, and the people for whom they worked  And that's before you've considered the object of the craftwork.

Carol McGrath recounted the story of how she had been intrigued by a figure of a woman worked into the Bayeux Tapestry. There are only three women depicted in the whole 70 metre (more than 231 feet) long embroidery showing of life before and during the Battle Of Hastings in 1066. Carol has woven a series of books around the possibility of them being Harold's intended queen, his sister, and his "handfasted wife", who is shown fleeing with Harold's son from their burning house. It was a brilliant idea for a series, and the novels make compelling reading.

I'd love to be able to create a piece of beautiful needlework, but I don't have the time, the patience, or the skill. Do you do enjoy craft work? What craft are you most proud of completing?

Monday, 7 August 2017

Agents, and How To Find Them...

Felicity Trew. Photograph by John Jackson.
The first session I went to at the Romantic Novelists' Association's Conference this year was Felicity Trew's presentation about the work of an agent and how to write the perfect submission letter. Felicity works for the Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency.

A good agent will be your supporter, cheerleader and confidante. They will create a publishing schedule for you, spacing your books out so you aren't releasing them too close together. They'll guide your career, and help you create a "brand", or rework one that isn't working

When it comes to writing your submission letter to an agent, keep it calm and professional.  Begin with the word count, and the intended audience for your book. Bring all your skill as a storyteller into play, but keep all the information you include concise and relevant. Distil your plot into about three lines, and put this at the top so your prospective agent knows what to expect. Show that you've really researched your agent, and your market. Give a brief history of your writing history, and your inspiration behind the book you're pitching. Give links to your online presence. Keep your spell checker on, and make sure your letter is as perfectly laid out as your manuscript.

Which do you find harder—writing fiction, or writing the letter that goes with it?