Safe Cracking, or How to Write Short Stories without Workshops

Adam Ley-Lange shares the similarities between bank robbing and short story writing.

 

Creative writing workshops were planning meetings for the biggest heist job in history. They were led by someone who’d successfully pulled off a few big jobs in their time, and attended by a group of protégés who were developing some serious loot-grabbing skills of their own. Our target was stories. By pooling our talents we were hoping to walk away with a big enough share of the swag to, if not live out our days in luxury, then at least exist easily for a good long while. Preferably on our own tropical island.

Don’t get me wrong – this wasn’t always an easy alliance. There were plenty of times when we disagreed about strategy. Someone would advocate a bloodless boost, someone else would be in favour of striding in with machine guns and Swiss-cheesing everyone dumb enough to get in our way.

But whilst it was impossible to agree with everybody’s suggestions, what mattered was that each one of our Ocean’s 11, 12 or 13 had a position. If you disagreed with that position, you at least had to work out why. And engaging in such a way meant that you either changed your position, or your original idea won out by proving itself resilient enough.

Post-MA, this is what I find I’m missing the most. After living in a den of thieves for a year, I’ve now got to go it alone. And sure, it was ever thus. The writer is always a lonely thief.

Now that I’m trying to work out how best to proceed, I’ve started imagining myself in a bank vault, standing in front of a safe. It’s one of those black metal strongboxes with a rotary combination lock which you need to manipulate clockwise and anti-clockwise to get it open. Inside the safe is, of course, the story. Open the safe, and bingo, you’ve got your story.

But here’s the rub: there are many different combinations that will crack the safe, and depending on which one you use, the prize inside will change. Prizes range from worthless to priceless.

Chances are you’ll get the safe open pretty quickly, but what’s inside is going to be a disappointment. So you close the safe up again, spin the dial, and start afresh, hoping that this time you might hit on something better.

This is how writing a story seems to work for me now. I’ve got my stethoscope pressed against the metal. I’m straining to listen for the clicks that tell me I’m on my way to opening the door onto something of value. I might have started out listening for clicky paragraphs, but now I’m listening for clicky sentences. When the safe opens this time, the story inside looks a little shinier. On the next run, we’re clicking along with each individual word. The story’s weight in carats increases. The run after that, we’re listening for which syllables make that magic click.

It’s an excruciating process and it takes forever. I’m constantly looking over my shoulder, not quite understanding why the armed guards haven’t rushed into the vault, because surely somebody upstairs must have set off the silent alarm by now? But then I have to remind myself that actually there aren’t any armed guards, because the only person I’m robbing is myself. It’s my safe, something in my own head that I’m trying to crack, and time isn’t important. What’s important is inside, and hopefully, when the door swings open next time, it’ll reveal something priceless. 

PITCHING YOUR WORK: THE TWELVE STEPS TO SUCCESS

I’ve got some alarming news, I’m afraid.

You know how one of the main appeals of being a writer is sitting peacefully alone at your desk – possibly with a cat, but certainly no other humans for company? How, as a writer, you get to think through everything your characters say; turning over each question, exclamation and retaliation in your mind until it sounds just right? And (in the dream scenario) you get to keep doing this for months and months until, finally, you have single-handedly penned a full-on novel?

Well, all that solitude is about to vanish. When it’s time to start looking for an agent and ultimately a publisher, you’ll need to get other people involved. Lots of them.

Before you panic, though, this is definitely a good thing. It may seem daunting to begin with, but it’s the beginning of the next chapter – if you will – of your writing journey: sending your book out into the world.

At this point, it’s essential to be ready to pitch your work to a potential agent or publisher. This means you’ll have to talk about it in a concise, structured way, so they can quickly see the outline of your book as clearly as you can. When talking to someone you think might be interested in your novel, avoid the hard sell. Instead, your aim should be to pique their interest and have them ask to read more.

A couple of weeks ago, Lucy English guided us through the key points to remember when sharing (and, hopefully, selling) your work. Here are her top twelve tips. There is also a handy infographic at the bottom that sume ups the ideas in this post!

Ask yourself: is this the right event? Just because somebody is a literary agent or works for a publisher, it doesn’t mean that they want to hear all about your latest project. Make sure that whoever you are pitching to is ready and willing to talk. For example, a dinner party might not be the right place.Do your homework. If you are going to an event where there are plenty of agents make sure you know what kind of material they are interested in. You will waste time pitching a Romantic piece of fiction to an agent who specialises in crime writing. Try and find out who will be there and what they specialise in. Be an avid reader of the Writers’ Handbook or the Writers and Artists Yearbook. Read publishing magazines and Writers magazines to find out more information. Follow agents’ twitter feeds. Compile a list of who you want to talk to.

Do your homework. If you are going to an event where there are plenty of agents make sure you know what kind of material they are interested in. You will waste time pitching a Romantic piece of fiction to an agent who specialises in crime writing. Try and find out who will be there and what they specialise in. Be an avid reader of the Writers’ Handbook or the Writers and Artists Yearbook. Read publishing magazines and Writers magazines to find out more information. Follow agents’ twitter feeds. Compile a list of who you want to talk to.Make it short. Learn how to describe your work in a concise manner and with enough information to make the other person want more. These are the essential pieces of information; what sort of book is it? (Literary, crime,

Make it short. Learn how to describe your work in a concise manner and with enough information to make the other person want more. These are the essential pieces of information; what sort of book is it? (Literary, crime, Sci Fi, teenage etc). Where is it set? Who is the main protagonist? What is the key feature of the storyline? What is unique and different about your projectKnow how your writing ‘fits in’. Agents and publishers are running businesses. They want a book that will sell. You may write in the most beautiful way and have the most interesting storyline but if your book is not what they are looking for they may not be interested in it. What is currently selling? Does your project fall into the same category as any

Know how your writing ‘fits in’.  Agents and publishers are running businesses. They want a book that will sell. You may write in the most beautiful way and have the most interesting storyline but if your book is not what they are looking for they may not be interested in it. What is currently selling? Does your project fall into the same category as any best selling, or recently acclaimed book. Is there a writer that you admire? Does your work resemble theirs in any way?Look the part. You are lucky. There is no established dress code for writers and what you wear can reflect your personality. However, if you are going to pitch make sure you look approachable and look like the sort of person it would be good to work with. Scruffy clothes suggest

Look the part. You are lucky. There is no established dress code for writers and what you wear can reflect your personality. However, if you are going to pitch make sure you look approachable and look like the sort of person it would be good to work with. Scruffy clothes suggest disorder. Crazy dress sense suggests, um, craziness. Does your preferred choice of clothes need spicing up or down. Ask a friend.Be prepared to talk. OK, you have done all your homework and you know exactly what kind of book you have written and you look smart and clean, but if you don’t approach anybody your hard work will be wasted. It is difficult and excruciating to introduce yourself to people you don’t know. Just remember that they might feel as awkward as you. Smile. Make eye contact and look approachable. Try to start the conversation. They will be delighted if you know who are they are.

Be prepared to talk. OK, you have done all your homework and you know exactly what kind of book you have written and you look smart and clean, but if you don’t approach anybody your hard work will be wasted. It is difficult and excruciating to introduce yourself to people you don’t know. Just remember that they might feel as awkward as you. Smile. Make eye contact and look approachable. Try to start the conversation. They will be delighted if you know who are they are.

Don’t talk for too long. You want them to be interested and to want more. You are not telling them your entire life history. Give yourself about three minutes to get across the essentials of your project. If they are interested they will ask questions. If they are not interested don’t try to persuade them. Don’t feel rejected or hurt or angry. Find somebody else to talk to. This isn’t the place to air your views about the government or everything you learned when researching this book. If you find yourself doing this. Stop. Ask questions. And listen.

Be positive. We are a nation of grumblers. A pitching event isn’t the place to moan about what you didn’t like about the MA course and how your kids/partner/cat prevented you from writing. Be positive about what you have written and don’t share all your anxieties about how you think the middle section is bit weak etc. If you don’t have faith in your book why should anybody else?

Be honest. If you think you can finish the book by June/Christmas/Next spring, say so. Publishers and agents work to tight deadlines. If you give yourself a deadline you can’t achieve you will upset plenty of people. Be realistic. Talk about your next project after this one. Show that you have plenty of ideas.Take contact details and give out yours. Why not have a card printed with your contact details on it? Make sure you take the names and numbers of people who showed an interest in your work. If you haven’t heard from them in a few weeks write and ask if they are still interested. Keep track of who you have contacted and what their response was.

Take contact details and give out yours. Why not have a card printed with your contact details on it? Make sure you take the names and numbers of people who showed an interest in your work. If you haven’t heard from them in a few weeks write and ask if they are still interested. Keep track of who you have contacted and what their response was.

Pay attention to your online profile. If an agent is interested in you then they will look you up online. If your Facebook page is full of you being daft at parties perhaps you need to create another more professional one. A professional writer will eventually need a website, Facebook, Twitter pages and a blog. Investigate how other writers have managed their online presence. Start following the Twitter feeds of agents and publishers who might be interested in your work. Why not check out Jess’s blog post on Eleanor St Clair’s tips for winning on social?

Keep writing. It may be that your current project isn’t the one that gets published. It may be that your next one, or the one after that, is the one that gets published. No agent wants a ‘one book’ writer. Don’t feel rejected. Keep trying new people. Go to more events. Remember that Harry Potter was rejected initially and The Help was turned down by sixty publishers. Keep writing.

 

 

A Conversation with Camille Parke

When did you start writing?

I didn’t start writing until I was at university, though at the time I only took my academic writing seriously. I love words and have always composed stories in my head. It never occurred to me until recently that I should write them down for other people to read.  As a Social Anthropologist, I put most of my energy into academic writing. Now that I’m no longer working as an academic, I’m learning to redirect that energy into creative writing.

 

What’s your novel called?

Near Miss

 

Tough question: sum up your novel in three sentences.

This novel explores the role of chance, the choices we make, and the unintended consequences of our actions. Through their different experiences, Tiffany, a homeless former Merry Prankster, and Juan, the family gardener, help Tess to navigate a life lived at the margins of reality. There, that was only two sentences!

 

Genre?

Literary book club fiction

 

What are the themes?

Choices, chance, the nature of reality and the randomness of existence.

 

Who is your protagonist?

Tess Quinn at age 12, 22 and 32.

 

Tell us a bit about the setting.

The story is told in three parts. We first meet Tess as a lonely and isolated school girl in 1979 suburban Los Angeles. Ten years later, we rejoin Tess as she graduates from the University of California, Berkeley. The final section takes place in Washington, DC at the turn of the millennium. Each part of Tess’s story is told against an ‘end of an era’ backdrop – the death of the hippie and the economic upheaval of the 1970s; the end of the Cold War in 1989; and the last days of the 20th century.

 

What was your favourite part of the MA?

Reading my fellow students’ work and listening to their feedback on mine. I found it incredibly stimulating to be surrounded by such talented people. Being a party to their creative process fed positively into my own. It was my most productive period in recent years.

 

What are you reading right now?

I just finished reading The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. Not something I would have chosen myself, but selected by a member of my book group. After a bit of difficulty getting into it, I found I really enjoyed the story and characters, especially Eli. Didn’t like the ending, though.

 

Name some authors that have a similar style to yours.

I am a big admirer of Donna Tartt. A tutor once compared my style to hers. I was very flattered.

Why We Love to Write – and Read – the Magical Worlds in Fantasy and Sci-Fi

Danielle Wrobel shares her thoughts on why we love all things magical and out of this world. 

Follow Danielle @DanielleWrobel

 

I began to write with wizards and spaceships. More wizards than spaceships, but I managed to feature both: how else would the wizards be able to fight the aliens? They also contained far more bloodshed and tragedy than was entirely healthy for a child still in primary school to be imagining, especially in such detail. To all my doomed heroes: I’m sorry.

Astonishingly high character attrition rates aside, those early stories were full of possibilities. Perhaps overly so, in retrospect. But it is this aspect of science fiction and fantasy that has attracted me to the genre. It presents us with possibilities. Alternative worlds—whether they’re populated by grim-faced knights, super-intelligent clouds of gas, or even just humans who struggle with nosy neighbours that have five legs instead of two—ask us the same question: what if?

As writers and readers, we all have our own responses to this question. But asking the question itself is important. Science fiction and fantasy kindles our curiosity, and encourages us to look at our own world differently. We might see dragons in the contrails of planes, or super-intelligent AI in our smartphones.We might hope, in vain, for our invitation to study magic (I’m sure it was just lost in the post).

We might, too, look at our own world in comparison. I’ve read enough weird fiction to be glad that every time I eat a bowl of cereal it doesn’t dissolve into the table, or turn into a parrot that feeds off of happiness. I’ve also read enough medieval-analogue fantasy to appreciate the lack of a feudal system, and enough dystopian science fiction to hope that something similar doesn’t ever return.

Science fiction and fantasy has a long and fine tradition of discussing issues by providing a different context, from The Blazing World to The Left Hand of Darkness, Discworld to Kindred. It’s almost like a magic trick, the mundane kind. The author distracts with a showy magic system, or a detailed description of how anti-gravity works, and then, when you finish reading, you find yourself thinking differently.

This shouldn’t detract from the fact that science fiction and fantasy is also immensely fun. It is possible to twist every rule, from physiology to gravity. Sometimes these are discarded entirely, sometimes they are adhered to in inventive, unexpected ways. And with such possibilities ahead, every writer’s story is uniquely fantastical.

 

Plume Anthology MA Creative Writing 2017 Bath Spa University features a variety of extracts with a touch of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Ariel Dantona She Tore

Andrew Harris The Prince of the Great Oak Tree

Dan Archer The Book Max

Danielle Wrobel Sickle Way

 

Advice on Finding an Agent from Nicholas Herrmann

I was lucky to find an agent quite quickly after the course ended, and I’m currently embarking on their suggested edits before the book is ready to be sent out to publishers. It was all a bit of a surreal whirlwind, but I did take a few things away from the experience. None of this is a science, and a lot of it will be common sense, but maybe there’s something useful here for anyone beginning the process of finding an agent.

 

Be ready

Most agencies only want the first few chapters and a synopsis to begin with, but make sure the whole manuscript is good to go. Although the average response time is around four to six months, this is by no means a concrete rule, and it could end up being much, much quicker than that. You don’t want to be in the position where you have to spend a weekend panic editing in an anxiety fuelled frenzy because someone has got back to you and you haven’t finished editing the end of your book yet (trust me).

 

Do your research

This is kind of an obvious one, but I think part of the reason several agents requested my full manuscript was because I did my homework. Find out who represents your favourite writers. Find out who’s particularly interested in the genre you’re writing. That book that everyone mentions when you tell them about your own – who represents that author? I was also fortunate to be able to ask people in the industry, including an agent, to recommend some names to me. If this is an option, do it – there are lots of agencies out there, it can be hard to know which the good ones are. Make a strong list of around five to eight people, then go for it.

 

The pitch

Another obvious one, and by this stage I’m sure you know to keep the email short, list your relevant achievements, include a sentence about why you’re contacting this particular agent etc. etc. But one thing I think did make a difference for me, was a short paragraph about the writing I like, with four or five concrete examples of books and authors. I avoided comparing my work with anything else, but I found that it was useful to build a picture of my influences and interests, and therefore the tone and style that the person was about to read. When I eventually met with agents, all of them were excited about at least one of the books or authors I had mentioned. Remember, agents are book-lovers too – if you’ve done your initial research, this step might help someone get excited about the potential and scope of your own manuscript.

 

Keep them posted

If you’ve initially sent out to eight agents and one requests the full manuscript, email the other seven. They’ll most likely make you a priority if they learn that someone else is interested. Likewise, if someone wants to meet, tell the others, and let them know when you’ll be in town.

 

The meeting

Know your book inside out. For one thing, this avoids any awkwardness when you’re asked a particular plot point of character motivation and realise you haven’t thought it through. But you also need to be clear on what you want from an agent, and your own vision for the completed book. You need to find someone whose vision aligns with your own, who gets what you’re trying to do and will help you achieve it. Ask questions. Quiz them. Take your time to be sure, because this person will be your first proper editor. I don’t know who said it – probably someone famous and dead – but the author-agent relationship is like a marriage. It should last a long time, hopefully for the length of your career. It’s sacred. Don’t rush in. How do they see the book? Do they get it?

 

Rejoice!

You’re talking to an agent about a book that you wrote. They’re interested! That’s a huge achievement. There’s no need to be nervous – it’s kind of the agent’s job to lead the meeting and put you at your ease. If you find that you’re the only one coming up with things to say, and the conversation keeps drifting away from your book, maybe they’re not the right fit. But also remember the best meeting might not necessarily mean the best agent. Sure, you get on well, but that’s only half of it. Will this person be attentive, supportive and champion your book? Can you get a sense of what they’d be like in a negotiation? Will they push you to be a better writer?

 

Write Good

I suppose this is my first point again, but phrased differently. At the end of the day, an agent will approach you based on the strength of your writing. If your opening chapters work, everything else should eventually fall into place. So take your time to get your sentences, and all those other things, as good as they possibly can be.

A Chat with Mike Manson about Writing and the Innocent Abroad

We sat down with Mike Manson to discuss his novel and why he writes.

 

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

My first novel ‘Where’s My Money?’(Tangent Books) was selected by BBC TV as one of their Books that Made Britain.

When did you start writing?

A long time ago, just after I left university. I’ve been writing ever since. I started writing history but had trouble sticking to the facts.

Why?

I noticed a friend of mine who was a writer seemed to be very attractive to girls.

What’s your novel called?

Down in Demerara

Tough question. Sum up your novel in three sentences.

Man suffers an existential crisis. Gets lost in the rainforest and discovers himself (for a while).

Genre?

Literary fiction/bookclub

What is your cosmic statement? 

It’s an unequal world but we all want the same things.

What are the themes?

Innocent abroad; unrequited love. Globalisation and the destruction of the rainforest – and its effect on the indigenous peoples.

Who is your protagonist? 

A thirty-three-year-old labour market researcher on the verge of an early life crisis.

Tell us a bit about the setting.

Guyana – a tiny country in South America. Most people think it’s in Africa. It’s very off the beaten track. When I was doing research there I noticed Bear Grylls’s signature in the visitors’ book of one jungle lodge I stayed in. Says it all, really.

What was your favourite part of the MA?

Having the luxury of a year to concentrate on writing. My manuscript tutor was Fay Weldon. I couldn’t have asked for more.

What classes did you take?

I studied poetry, as I knew nothing about it, and had avoided it since schooldays. I feel I know even less now. Also a module on place – I’m a bit of a psychogeographer.

What are you reading right now?

There’s a whole pile of books by my bed including two by Colin Thurberon, as I’m planning to travel to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Also, the collected Bertie Wooster on my Kindle.

What famous authors have a similar style to yours?

I’d love to think Geoff Dyer, Nick Hornby, Jonathan Coe.

If you were to compare your novel to another[s], what would they be?

Adrian Mole meets Heart of Darkness.

 

Writers – How To Take Social Media By Storm

There are writers out there who are already taking social media by storm, who are tweeting about their favourite books, sharing articles on the latest Booker prize winner and Instagramming photos of their laptops and coffee mugs at their favourite writing spot. But what if everything you just read makes your head spin? What if you’ve barely, if ever, touched social media before? Or what if you’re an avid user but you don’t know how it can help your writing? If any of these sounds like you then Eleanor St Clair has some great tips for you! She shared her social media wisdom with us in a special workshop at Corsham Court recently and now I’d like to pass on that wisdom to you.

Where should I start?

The number of social media platforms out there can be overwhelming so Eleanor suggests you start by focussing on just two: Twitter and Instagram. But what about Facebook?! I hear you cry. Facebook can be a great one too but is usually more of a personal platform whereas Twitter and Instagram are aimed at the public. What this means is that if you promote your writing on Facebook it will only reach your friends and family, even if you set up a public page it will still take a while to draw in a following of people you don’t know, whereas Twitter and Instagram are automatically public and can draw in both potential agents and potential readers from across the world. This is particularly easy to do on Twitter so this platform will be the focus of this post.

Why should I start?

I’m going to start by saying: you don’t have to be on social media to be a writer. If you try it and you just can’t get on with it then it’s better to not post at all than to post half-heartedly. However, you should also know the perks. The main point of social media is to interact with other people and there are a whole host of readers, agents and publishers out there waiting to hear your voice. Eleanor used the great example of how tweeting a blog post she had written went viral and actually grabbed the interest of Kenton Allen, who just happens to be a producer and Chief Executive of Big Talk Productions. Responding to his tweet actually lead to a private conversation and further interest not just in her blog but the novel she is writing too. The moral of this story is, you never know who is out there, reading your writing and maybe taking an interest in it. Not to mention, in this day and age, likely one of the first things an agent will do when they see your name on a manuscript submission is to google it. If what they find from that search is someone who portrays themselves as an interesting, entertaining person who is up to date with the latest literary news and clearly an ardent reader then maybe, just maybe, they will put your work on the top of the pile. It is also a massive plus if they can see that you have a strong following as it shows people are already interested in what you have to say meaning there is a market for your book.

How do I Start?

I won’t go into an explanation of how Twitter works or how to set up a profile but if you want tips on how to do so there is plenty of info out there and I found  mashable.com to have a particularly straight forward and easy to follow guide. What I will tell you though is Eleanor’s tips for making social media as effective for you as possible.

To begin with, remember this one basic thing: “You have to be sociable, put yourself out there”. If you are not actively interacting with people on your social media then you are not using its full potential. Eleanor drove home the point that it is much better to have fewer followers, most of whom you interact with in some way on a regular basis than to have millions of followers who are mostly likely scrolling straight past your tweets. Once you have set up your account begin following people you have a genuine interest in. And yes, I know you might have a genuine interest in Taylor Swift but maybe leave the celebrity follows aside and focus on a more professional following – you can always make a separate personal account if you just can’t bear to not know what Swift is up to. As a writer, you want to follow other writers you admire as well as agents and publishers who have an interest in work like yours. That’s not to say you are limited to those people but when you follow someone, think about whether you would actually enjoy seeing their posts every day and how likely you are to engage with them.

What should I post?

Eleanor has a couple of great rules for this:

  1. The 80/20 Rule -This means 80% of what you post should be information, education or entertainment. This can be articles you’ve read and enjoyed, blog posts you’ve written or quotes you like for example. The other 20% is about you. This is the personal stuff, and no, don’t just post about the cup of tea you made or what your dinner looks like, this can mean promoting the book you’ve got coming out or maybe tweeting about an event you’re attending. A little personality is what will make your followers relate to you and want to talk.
  2. The Rule of Thirds – This is how you should use Twitter in general. The first third of your activity on social media should be sharing your content, for example, your latest blog post or a piece of your writing. The second third should be sharing other people’s content, so if you see someone else’s article that you enjoyed, share it. The final third is interacting with your followers. Again, social media is supposed to be social, make sure you’re setting aside enough time to do this.

If you’re still stuck on what to post then check out stumbleupon.com and feedly.com for interesting content to share with your followers. Both these sites generate articles, photos and quotes based on topics of interest you select. If you come across something you like then tweet it to your followers, after all, we can’t all be witty and charming all day every day.

Won’t This Take Up All of My Time?

If you’re not on social media already then this is probably one of the top reasons why. Fear not, Eleanor has a solution for this too. She claims all you need to do to have a successful social media profile is spend just five minutes a day on it. Of course, this is a minimum and you may find that once you’ve gained a following and started interacting with people you want to spend more than just five minutes but it is all you need to get started.

The secret to this is buffer.com.  Buffer allows you to set up tweets in the morning that it will automatically post throughout the day. It even knows the best times to post your tweets so they will be read by as many people as possible. It’s best to set this up daily as you want to make sure what you are saying is current and relevant but if you want you can set it up to tweet over several days or even the whole week. Eleanor recommends 4-5 tweets per day. All you need to do is find or write some content, set up your five daily tweets then leave Buffer to do the rest. If half-way through the day you change your mind about a tweet that hasn’t gone out yet you can always log on and delete it but note that if your tweet was set to go at 3 pm and it’s 3:05 pm then that’s five minutes during which your followers will have already read your tweet, even if you delete it through twitter. Try not to completely rely on Buffer though, you still want it to feel like there is a person behind your account so remember to post on the spot when you have a thought or find something you want to share and definitely don’t forget to log on at the end of the day to respond to any retweets, like a few posts of people you follow and answer any direct messages.

Some Final Tips

Lastly here are some quick fire tips to keep in mind as you begin building your social media:

  • You don’t get a following overnight. It takes time. It’s better to have 300-500 followers who care and have an interest in your tweets than millions who don’t.
  • Use Twitter analytics to analyse your followers and discover how you might improve your social media standing.
  • Don’t tweet if you don’t have anything to say. The point of social media is to represent your unique self and people will know if you are just tweeting for the sake of it.
  • Check out lists on Twitter or even make your own! This is a way of grouping people on Twitter. Agents might have lists of authors they like so you can see whether you could fit in with these writers. You can also keep lists of writers or agents that you like – just maybe don’t name your list ‘Agents I Desperately Want To Publish Me’.
  • Start a blog. If you feel you have more than 140 characters worth of things to say then start a free WordPress blog and get writing! If you want some inspiration, check out Eleanor’s or mine at jessjournalofjoy.com. It’s just another way to show off your skills while proving to agents and readers that you are an interesting and thought-provoking person. If you don’t want to write blog posts you can always set up a static page with a bio and, if you want, a portfolio of work so that any agents or publishers googling can find something to tell them all about you. This is especially great if social media like Twitter and Instagram isn’t really for you but you still want a space on the internet to tell people about you.
  • Don’t put your email address on your blog or social media. There are people who browse the internet and take these email addresses so they can spam and scam you. If you want to give people a way to get in contact with you then add a contact form to your blog.
  • Tweets with pictures get 313% more engagement – check out pixabay.com for free images if you don’t want to use your own.
  • Quotes are 53% more likely to be retweeted – check out goodreads.com for great quotes from your favourite books!
  • Don’t forget to use hashtags! Hashtags group tweets with the same hashtag together so if someone wants to search a particular topic they can type in the hashtag and find all the tweets using it – including yours! It’s a great way to find new followers and be followed #hashtagsaregreat!
  • BUT research your hashtags before you use them. Make sure what you use isn’t going to get mixed up with a different topic that isn’t relevant to what your saying, isn’t inappropriate in any way, that it is a popular topic and that you have something fresh and new to say about it.
  • Have individual content for each social media platform you use. Each one works differently and so draws in different people for different reasons. Instagram allows you to write captions of any length next to your picture so you can use this to tell a story. Twitter wants you to keep it short and sweet with their character limit so it’s better for sharing content and quick updates. You also want to give your followers a reason to follow you across platforms and if they are seeing the same content on each one they have no reason to do so.
  • Worried about your spelling and grammar? Grammarly.com makes sure anything you post online is grammatically correct, after all, you’re showcasing your skills as a writer so typos and spelling errors could be damaging to your reputation.
  • Instagram is currently the fastest growing network out there so if you love sharing pictures and writing little stories to go with then this is the social media for you. Check out #bookstagram if you want to see just how big the writing community on there is.
  • Retweets are one of the most powerful ways to get new followers. If you like a tweet, retweet it.
  • Enjoy it! Using social media should be fun, if it’s anything but then it’s not worth using. So, get sharing, get Instagramming and get tweeting!

 

An Interview with Kate Venables

We sat down with Kate Venables to discuss her literary book club novel and why she loves writing.

 

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself

I’m a doctor. Although that seems very normal to me, everybody on the MA seems to think it is interesting.

When did you start writing?

I’ve always written – journals and poems on paper; stories in my head. But I started writing regularly and productively when I dropped from full-time to part-time work in 2012.

Why?

I just love words. I’m a bookworm. Now I see myself as constructing little ‘boxes’ in words – crafted objects I hope people will enjoy.

What’s your novel called?

The novel I wrote at Bath Spa is provisionally called ‘Lifelines’, previously called ‘She’s Nice’. I’m currently working on a memoir based on my father’s life called ‘A First-Class Man’.

Tough question. Sum up your novel in three sentences.

Nick and Jane’s marriage ends when Nick leaves for another woman. After a long recovery, Jane finds tentative happiness again. Years later, Nick’s mother dies and things fall apart for him. He turns to Jane but she rejects him.

Genre?

Literary fiction/book club

What is your cosmic statement?

Our families of origin cast a long shadow.

What are the themes?

Family; parents-and-children; betrayals

Who is your protagonist?

Main protagonists are Nick and Jane.

Tell us a bit about the setting.

The medical and medical research world in London.

Who/what are you reading right now?

Francis Spufford! Great writer.

What famous authors have a similar style to yours?

Helen Dunmore is an inspiration.

If you were to compare your novel to another[s], what would they be?

Carol Shields Happenstance looks at a marriage from the points of view of each protagonist which is something I am trying to do in ‘Lifelines’.

An Interview with Jay Millington

We sat down with Jay Millington to discuss his novel and his experiences on the MA.

 
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself

Though I’ve been known as Jay since junior school, my first name is Jan (Cornish version of John) and my middle name is DeLank, the nearest river to my first home. It’s a tributary of the River Camel, so I count myself lucky.

When did you start writing?

In the mid-nineties I dated a librarian while sharing a house with Jonathan Taylor (now a published author and lecturer in creative writing at Leicester University) and flirtation with books became love. I knew that one day I’d be an author, but it wasn’t until 10 years later that I finally put pen to paper and wrote 30 Something, a novel about a group of mates who rob a bank for the fun of it.

What’s your novel called?

Q Equals Three to the Power of n

Tough question. Sum up your novel in three sentences.

Superstitious professor gains an author as an imaginary friend, gets into trouble with the police and stumbles into the cross-hairs of an aristocratic family, for whom murdering alphabetically is a rite of passage. When his story doesn’t end well, he demands a re-write. When the film rights are sold and Hollywood wants a musical, the author gains a superstitious professor as an imaginary friend…

Genre?

Literary / postmodern.

What is your cosmic statement?

Just because you’re not paranoid, it doesn’t mean you’re not being followed, but you can always change the ending if you’re buddies with the author.

What are the themes?

Isolation, paranoia and circumstantial evidence.

Who is the protagonist?

Professor Adrian Qualtrough, a Manx, superstitious, 42 year old known as ‘Q’

Tell us a bit about the setting?

Mostly present day Bristol, plus Sheffield and the Isle of Man.

What’s it’s Unique Selling Point?

A comic, postmodern thriller with story, character and metafiction blended to perfection.

What was your favourite part of the MA?

Gaining the confidence to go where my imagination took me.

What classes did you take?

My workshop tutors were Samantha Harvey and Gerard Woodward and my manuscript tutor was Nathan Filer. I took Modernism and Postmodernism with Gavin Cologne-Brookes, and Writing and Politics with Tim Liardet.

Who/what are you reading right now?

I’m a fan of Margaret Atwood and am reading her collection Wilderness Tips, because we’re looking at short stories in my writing group. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer is lined up next…

What famous authors have a similar style to yours?

A tutor suggested my manuscript is a ‘Kafkaesque detective story’ with ‘shades of Pynchon and others’. My influences include Ben Lerner, Paul Auster, Italo Calvino, Kurt Vonnegut, Julian Barnes and Jennifer Egan.

If you were to compare your novel to another, what would it be?

My novel has a format of short, titled scenes like Tibor Fischer’s ‘The Thought Gang’ to drive the narrative forward and hint at Q’s emotional state.

Why Do We Write – And Read – Historical Fiction?

Deirdre Huston, one of our historical fiction writers, gives us her thoughts on why we love to explore the past in books.

Follow Deirdre on Twitter and check out her website

 

When I tread my way through a landscape or explore a building, the sharp edges of time crumble. The characters of the past draw me in. Their tales cry out to be told, to be shared for the first time or seen in a fresh light.

The story of any individual cannot be recounted without considering their society and by looking to the past we give ourselves a long view and a chance to explore the intricacies, limitations and possibilities of human existence. This mirror that writers hold up to history can illuminate truths which may be blurred by the immediacy of our contemporary lives. We live in a world where technology is pervasive and virtual communication seeps into all our relationships. What better way to combat the constant itch of the modern world than step into a time that is not our own?

As with any definitions of genre, the boundaries blur and there is cross-pollination but The Historical Fiction Society states, ‘To be deemed historical (in our sense), a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).’

So what does our reader of historical fiction want?  We hope they throw down the book after its final page and wonder what the time is, dazed by the escape a gripping tale offers because, yes, ultimately it’s all about the story. Readers want to be swept away and many loyal historical fans find it their most reliable means of escape from mundanity. They relish immersing themselves in a parallel world, emerging with bleary but fresh eyes, new questions and a sense of understanding to counter the uncertainties of today’s reality.

Balancing factual accuracy and the needs of a fictional narrative takes skill and can be made much easier by how the writer approaches a subject. Chevalier describes how research can only take her so far and how when she is ‘still searching for something – that imprecise something’ she knows it is time to write a story to explore the gap (C. Brayfield).  As we begin a story and teeter on the edge of the unknown, we are drawn in by the voices of the marginalised and the underdog, the celebrated and the revered.

Gaps wait to be explored. Teeter no longer. Plume Anthology MA Creative Writing 2017 Bath Spa University features a variety of extracts from historical novels and we invite you to dive into the past.

Eighteenth-century Sussex: Deirdre Huston The Howl of the Waves.

Venetian High Renaissance: Julia Grigg The Fortieth Part

Vietnam and its legacy: Lara-Ashley Monroe Thunder Walks in Peace

Cornwall, 1942 and contemporary: Melanie Greenwood Slipstream

England, France and Canada during World War Two: Peter Deacon The Time Just Before

Norfolk, 1953 and onward: Zoë Somerville Erosion

 

By Deirdre Huston