Not your usual start to a blog post, right?
Well this is no ordinary blog post. This is the first in a series of three special posts in which I have the privilege of publishing the collective works of the merry band of writers, of which I was one, who attended a workshop by Leonora Rustamova at Wentworth in May. The Wentworth weekend is organised by The National Association of Writers' Groups and you can read my post on the entire weekend HERE.
The workshop took place on the Sunday morning of the retreat. There were around 15 of us in attendance and we engaged in two writing exercises. We each read out our pieces and there was some great work there. It’s amazing how words can just tumble onto a page one minute and then dry up the next. On this particular day, the words were tumbling, cascading and even pirouetting from our pens and onto the paper. As these little gems were being read out and we were laughing and clapping each other along, it struck me that so many such pieces are produced in workshops and then stuffed into a notebook or file, never to be seen again. When Leonora voiced what I was thinking, I knew what I had to do - I had to publish these literary saplings, together, as a consolidated piece of work by the Wentworth Writers. There are, though, too many words for one single post so I’m splitting it into three.
This is the first.
Leonora gave us a letter. A fat, buttery letter!
Actually it was a copy of a letter penned by Hollywood screenwriter, Robert Pirosh, in 1934. He ditched his job as a copywriter in New York and moved to Hollywood. But he needed to get his foot in the door in a city full of people all trying to get their extremities into the same aperture. So what did he do? He sent out his c.v. attached to one of the most effective cover letters ever written. I would dearly love to reproduce it here but I am uncertain of its copyright status, although it can be read on the Guardian’s website by clicking HERE.
If you have a spare few minutes and have any interest in writing, or indeed job application letters (!), I urge you to take a look. It will also make sense of the pieces which follow. The letter is unconventional and breaks many rules of etiquette but perfectly demonstrates the writer’s suitability for the screenwriting job in question.
Our task was to write an application letter in the same vein, although we sought only to emulate the style of writing; clearly we could not achieve the same thing as Pirosh given that none of us were seeking to use the medium of a letter to inherently demonstrate our suitability for a job involving words...
This is what we produced. Bear in mind that these pieces were written in 15 minutes and have not been reworked.
First up is Anne. Please take a deep breath, relax your shoulders and absorb her beautiful words.
I like art. I like to see through the eyes of others.
I like rough, elemental sketches, lush huge canvases of people and places, and every art form in between.
I like to be taken aback by a scene reduced to sparse lines and a view suggested by mere smears of colours juxtaposed to take me to a place I have seen, or one I would love to see.
I like the intricate building of a landscape or cityscape in such exquisite detail that makes it impossible to take in the the view in one viewing.
I like to be outraged by a picture that represents a person or a place in a way foreign to me, I like the conversation evoked.
I like to be taken aback by superb skills and to be blown over by the deceptively child-like simplicity of some work.
I like to return and return to a picture to learn more and yet more.
I love Hockney and Rembrandt and Van Gogh and Andy Goldsworthy and Dan Viola, and am unreasonably excited by a very small child’s first recognisable drawing.
I need to read so that I can live more lives than mine. I need to visit art works for the very same reason.
Please let me work in your wonderful gallery.
I called my collection of poetry and photographs ‘Casting for Words’ as that is what I seem to spend so much time doing. Finding the best word I can. Reading is an essential part of my life and a wonderful source of ideas and...words.
Photographs help capture the moment and can sometimes illustrate a poem.
My book should soon be available.
Holmfirth Writers’ Group and The National Association of Writers’ Groups are a wonderful support and I value both as great friendship groups.
At Wentworth Castle in May, I enjoyed the company of writers and inspiring workshops.
I doodle as I listen. It really does concentrate my mind.
Just whatever I have in my hand.
I once drew a jazz group on a Sunday paper. In biro. It drew me into the music.
Leonora shared some brilliant letters and asked us to write letters of application.
Above is my plea for a dream job.
I really want it now...
I like photographs.
I like grainy, vivid, high definition, monochrome photographs that are splashed across newspapers to show the dramas of the world.
I like glossy, ten-by-eight fashion photos. All soft filters and luxurious colours draping across magazines.
I like surreal abstractions of fantasy worlds - of fish driving cars and twenty-foot dragonflies - constructed lovingly in photographic enlargers and appearing in a dish full of developer, waiting to be fixed and hung out to dry.
Man Ray was the way to go, and we all followed. Today Photoshop will create his images in seconds, with the same impact but without the heart and soul.
I like pixel heavy super-images, filling walls of galleries, skin pores standing out in twenty-foot masterpieces. Photo realism as never before.
But I am a traditionalist. I like the tug of 35mm film as you wind it on to the next frame, huddling in darkened cupboards struggling to find the top of a developing tank, sitting in the soothing glow of a safety light 100% absorbed in the physicality of processing film.
Which probably means I don’t want your job and would rather lock myself away in the peace and quiet of a darkroom.
When I left school I got a job in a textile mill. I saved my wages so I could buy a Zenith SLR camera, an enlarger, developing tank and processing trays. Using blackout material to cover the windows (donated by the mill I worked at) I then spent many hours taking over the bathroom and developing black and white photographs. This became an obsessive hobby for many years, and I loved watching the images slowly appear in the developer - almost like magic.
Time moves on, teaching took up much of my time, and today I have a digital camera, downloading the images into a computer - but nothing matches the excitement of being shut away in a darkroom, sitting under a red safety lamp and being totally absorbed in the creative process.
I like travelling. I like travelling Europe. I like travelling the world. I like travelling to challenging countries.
I really like Arizona cacti. I like their round, plump, spiny, succulent parts, their delicate flowers that turn into edible fruits is some cases giving us cactus jelly and bonbons. I like the dear little elegant cactus wren who builds her home in a cactus void. I like the fact that the Saguaro blooms after midnight and closes mid-afternoon.
I like Africa and Africans especially the strong African women. I am fascinated by the dusty, curry smelling unkempt streets; loud African music bellowing out from doorways, street parties and buxom women clad and swathed in intoxicatingly vivid fabrics. I like the colour, shape, smells and textures of Africa. I like the fresh fruit and veg markets and constant chatter and battering.
I like United Arab Emirates for its indescribable heat, gold sculptured sand dunes and dune buggies, camel trains and Bedouin camps. I like the tailors, beauty parlours and the outrageous fun of visiting the grog shop. I like the smell of a shisha bar, pungent coffee houses and real hummus.
I like my travels to Europe for the rich fabric of culture. I like the beaches salty air, seaweed, beach combing and the sound ofebbing and waning of these beaches of paradise. I like watching the glorious sunsets and magnificent sunrises; clifftop walks and the flora and fauna. I like the city sights as well as remote country escapes.
I like all these destinations for their culture, diversity, life, people, food and of course a good glass of wine or a delicious cocktail.
I like travel writing and travel photography much better than social work.
Is there an amazing and exotic destination your delightful magazine would like me to visit and review?
My passport is current and ready to go.
Leonora Rustamova teaches Creative Writing at Swarthmore College, University of Huddersfield and is an editor at Blue Moose books. In fact, she edited a rather special book, The Gallows Pole, by Benjamin Myers, which has just won the prestigious Walter Scott prize for historical fiction, although she is so modest I have had to add this into her bio myself. Her workshop was so much fun - if you are looking for someone to run a writing workshop for any ability, then you can’t go far wrong with Leonora. The only problem is that you have to track her down first...
The Gang - this is us doing the exercise...
If you've read this far, thank you. I also want to thank those who have allowed me to publish their work. It takes courage to share your writing and we should applaud everyone who takes that step.
I've loved putting this post together and, happily for me, there's more to come. Watch this space (or, even better, sign up for email updates). This blog is small but these words deserve to be read so please help by sharing with your friends.
Susan Elliot Wright is a successful novelist and a creative writing tutor (she offers critiques and mentoring). Her books have hundreds of excellent reviews on Amazon and her website (www.susanelliotwright.co.uk) is packed full of testimonials from writers who have benefited from her patience and expertise. Russell is a writer based in Sheffield and a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing run by Sheffield Hallam University. He used to work as a bookseller but is now busy writing his own magnum opus. He blogs at www.thevoiceofruss.com.
I can't remember where I first heard about the courses they run but I know that a number of things caught my eye: (1) the day courses are run on a Saturday which meant that I could attend (woo hoo!), (2) the subject of the training was 'the novel', (3) the price (£40 for the day) was affordable and (4) it was in Sheffield so I could actually get there. On paper, it ticked all the boxes, although I did not recognise the names of the tutors.
I have now attended three of the courses: Structuring and also Redrafting (1) and (2) and I can say that they really are excellent. The groups tend to be fairly small (8-12) which means that the atmosphere is friendly and intimate and that there is time for everyone to ask questions and be given personal feedback without boring the other attendees. In fact listening to the work of other people and hearing and contributing to the feedback came to be one of my favourite parts of each day. I'm not generally a fan of groups as I have so little time available for writing that I like to get on with my own work every second I can but these courses have shown me that, if they are run correctly and the feedback time is controlled (not always an easy thing to do), that it can be a valuable part of my learning and development.
Each of the courses has been cleverly put together so that the 'teaching' isn't just Susan and Russ talking at you. They stimulate discussion and provide writing exercises which directly relate to your own work in progress which means that you are actually advancing your own work during the course. The exercises are adaptable so that they fit into whatever stage you are at with your writing and it is also made clear that you do not have to do an exercise if you do not feel it will help in light of where you are up to with your novel. There are so many ideas discussed that you will always find something to work on during these times. Although I didn't take mine, laptops are welcome and used by many.
Areas covered have included: plot arcs and pace, character development, point of view, dialogue, rearranging your story and the ins and outs of editing (appropriate use of cliche there I thought). Having two tutors and a lively group of attendees meant that I was fully engaged throughout and I came away each time buzzing with so many ideas that my main problem is finding the time to fit it all in. Susan and Russ are good, very good, but I don't think even they can help with that...
Susan and Russ run a number of workshops, on Saturdays and some evening classes. A list can be found HERE.
Susan's books (as e-books) are currently available on Amazon for 99p and £1.99 respectively during June. Click HERE and HERE.
TODAY ON THE BLOG I welcome Jennifer Joyce and her luscious new book The Mince Pie Mix-Up. I am delighted to have her here and hopefully her tale of success will motivate and inspire other writers (as well as me). So, here goes...
Hi Jennifer, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed on my blog! It’s great to have you here.
Hello and thank you for having me!
We first ‘met’ on Twitter last year and I have been delighted to follow your progression from self-published author to your recent deal with Carina (Congratulations, by the way!). I was going to do a piece on you as a ‘spotlight on a self-published author’ but as you are now a fully-fledged traditionally published writer, I will have to change the title! As someone who has been involved with both publishing routes, your experiences will be of interest to many of us writers. Shall we start from the beginning and work our way to The Mince Pie Mix-Up?
Thank you! And yes, that sounds like a good plan to me.
Can you tell me when you started writing?
I’ve always made up stories, scribbling them down on bits of paper and filling up notebooks when I was younger. When I was around ten, a teacher took us to our local library where a children’s author was doing a talk and I remember sitting there thinking this is what I want to do when I’m older. It hadn’t occurred to me before that I could write actual books.
You have self-published two novels, A Beginner’s Guide To Salad and Everything Changes But You.Tell me a little about the experience with those two books. Did you seek a traditional publisher or did you fancy going it alone from the beginning?
I’ve always wanted to go down the traditionally published route and I’d never planned to self-publish. But when I wrote and submitted A Beginner’s Guide To Salad to agents and received rejections (some were lovely, encouraging rejections but rejections all the same), I knew I couldn’t give up on it. I loved writing the book and I adore my main character, Ruth. I couldn’t shelve her so that’s when I decided to look into self-publishing. Ruth was going out into the world one way or another! As I’d already self-published my first novel, I did the same with Everything Changes But You.
I know you designed your own covers, how have you found doing everything yourself? What lessons have you learned and what have you enjoyed most about it?
I’ve had to learn everything from scratch as I had no idea how to design a cover. There was quite a bit of head-scratching when I first opened the program as it looks so complicated. Even the ‘helpful’ guide had me baffled! So I decided to jump in feet first and learn as I go. It seems that every time I open the program (I use Gimp, a free program that’s a lot like Photoshop) I learn something new! Although it can be frustrating at times when I can’t figure out how to get what’s in my head on the screen, I loved making the covers and even make them for the short stories I write for fun on my blog. I love playing around with images, colours and fonts until I find the one that fits.
Do you have any other books in your top drawer awaiting rescue or were these your first two book babies?
I’m not sure I want to even think about the monstrosities I wrote (and submitted) before A Beginner’s Guide To Salad. They were awful and won’t be seeing the light of day as they are far beyond rescue!
I see you have some short stories on your website, did these come before the books or were they something that you did later?
I wrote my first short story for my blog for Christmas 2011, when I was still writing and submitting to agents. It was just for fun but pressing submit on that first one was nerve-wracking! I like to put short stories on my blog at Halloween and Christmas as I love these times of year so it’s great to write about them.
Can you give me 5 bullet point tips for self-published writers?
How did the deal with Carina come about? You must be absolutely delighted!
I am stupidly delighted! I started writing The Mince Pie Mix-Up last November and was planning to self-publish it as I had with A Beginner’s Guide To Salad and Everything Changes But You but decided to take a chance and submit it to Carina as you don’t need to have an agent. I was stunned when I was offered a two-book deal with them.
Can you tell us a little about the book, without any spoilers of course!
The Mince Pie Mix-Up is a bit like a festive Freaky Friday. Judy and Calvin both think their other half has an easier life. Calvin works full-time for a mean-spirited boss who is constantly breathing down his neck while Judy ‘only’ works part-time at the local village tearoom. Judy bears the brunt of the childcare and wishes Calvin would help out more around the house. One night, they’re given the opportunity to swap lives over the festive period and they take it!
So, what’s next??
Carina will be publishing another romantic comedy early(ish) next year. The story revolves around Delilah James as she tries to find a date to take her oldest friend’s wedding.
Thanks Jennifer. The best of luck with all your books and I am looking forward to seeing what happens next!
Thank you so much for having me on your blog!
Jennifer has a lovely website over at www.jenniferjoycewrites.co.uk where you will find details of all her books and her Facebook and other sites. I follow her on Twitter via @Writer_Jenn.
Lucy Hounsom and Genevieve Cogman are debut authors published by Tor (an imprint of Pan Macmillan which specialises in science fiction, fantasy and horror). Lucy's novel, Starborn, was released on 23rd April, and comprises Book 1 in the Worldmaker Trilogy. Genevieve's novel, The Invisible Library, was released on 15th January. It is also the first of three novels. Both describe themselves as writing in the fantasy genre.
The story of Starborn begins with Kyndra, a girl who accidentally disrupts her coming of age ceremony by destroying an ancient relic, forcing her to flee her village in the company of two powerful strangers. In the hidden citadel of Naris, Kyndra seeks to unlock her magic and explore the disturbing visions she has of the past. Brutally tested, can Kyndra survive and use her powers to right an ancient wrong?
The Invisible Library follows the adventures of Irene, a professional spy for a mysterious library which harvests books from different dimensions. In an alternative London she becomes embroiled in a dangerous hunt for a stolen book which pits her against supernatural creatures, unpredictable magic and secret societies.
I should mention that I haven't read either novel, although I am very much looking forward to them both. I knew that the event was coming up and decided that I would purchase the books there and have them signed. Reviews will follow on the blog in due course.
The format for the evening involved each author reading an extract from their work before answering questions raised by the host who then invited additional questions from the audience. Both authors read well and responded to the queries put to them at length and with enthusiasm. I suspect that the majority of those in attendance were unpublished writers and the topics discussed were particularly suited to this type of audience.
Both Lucy and Genevieve have day jobs around which they have to manage their writing but the discussion revealed how each has taken a different path to publication. Lucy, for example, has a B.A. in English and Creative Writing and an M.A. in Creative Writing. Genevieve has an M.SC. in Statistics with Medical Applications and cited her experience writing for roleplaying games as helpful when it came to coherent world building. Lucy spoke about approaching many agents and how she dealt with those early rejections whereas Genevieve was taken on by the first agent she approached. Both, however, admitted to having at least one unpublished novel at home, agreeing that they needed to get those first books written as part of their learning curve for the works which were subsequently taken on by agents and then published.
It was no surprise to learn that both are avid readers. When asked about their influences, Lucy referenced the works of David Eddings and The Wheel of Time series penned by Robert Jordan while Genevieve lit up as she remembered discovering Sherlock Holmes for the first time. The swamp adder/bell rope in Conan Doyle's 'The Adventure of the Speckled Band' was recalled with particular affection. Genevieve explained that when writing The Invisible Library she took all her favourite elements of literature and pulled them together into one fantastical adventure.
Each was generous when it came to answering the many questions which came from the floor. How long are your chapters? (No rules. Make them as long as you need. Average is probably between 3,000 and 6,000 words for them.) With your novels featuring fairly young protagonists, what makes your books 'adult' rather than 'young adult'? (Complexity, less emphasis on romantic attachments.) Do you do much research? (Not research intensive but world building does require some knowledge across a wide and often unanticipated spectrum, such as how far can a horse travel in a day? What equipment would be needed?) Did you ever go back to the same literary agent following a rejection? (No.) Did you get much input into your cover? (Lucy-yes, GC-didn't need it. Their proposal was gorgeous!)
I love most types of fiction - crime, mystery, fantasy. Oh, and historical fiction of course and middle-grade books and, well, you get the picture.
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