2015: A Writer’s Year

In a 12 month period during which I have seen no new publications of my own work, you’d be forgiven for questioning my post title. But with a new novel set for imminent release – Redemption Song on 28th January – and a new edition of my debut, Bloodmining, set for the summer, it’s been a writing year rammed with re-writing. And as we know, writing is rewriting.

Work on Redemption Song followed a traditional publishing journey with a draft submitted to my editor Greg in February, followed by substantive comments after a London Book Fair meeting in April, the copy edit in the late summer, more copy-editing in September (naughty me) and proofs in October. And a sparkly new book very soon *an excitement/fear stomach flip combo*. 2016 promises to be a year of fabulous fiction – for starters Jo Cannon’s debut The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is published on the same day as mine – and who knows if my book will be remembered in amongst so much good work? I can only keep my fingers crossed and keep on keeping on.Redemption Song Final

Alongside the work on Redemption Song I redrafted my very first novel. Me-oh-my what an interesting (ahem) experience that was. Proof positive of how much I’ve learned in the past four years. I feel extremely privileged to have had this opportunity: to put right all that was lumpy and bumpy in the first edition. It still isn’t perfect – what is? – but I am much, much happier with it. I’ll keep you posted once I have an exact publication date.

Despite the absence of a new book, 2015 was full of appearances too. So many that I had to consult my diary to recall many of them! It began in January with a talk at the University of Hertfordshire literary festival, and another at the University of Kingston. In March there was a reading with other Brighton authors at the Oxfam bookshop to celebrate International Women’s Day, and more local readings at Together the People Festival, and in the Tinker Box at the Brighton Festival in May. To top it all I was invited to two events at the Shoreham WordFest; one running a short story workshop at Ropetackle and an in-conversation with organiser Morag Charlwood and fellow author, Ed Hogan. We spoke to a packed crowd on a wet and wild Monday evening and it was such a pleasure I get a lovely warm feeling thinking about it again now – in direct contrast to the hideous weather that night.

August was spent at the glorious Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, North Wales, working on another novel with a working title of The Bad Buddhist and Me. I have blogged extensively about my time there so won’t repeat it. Suffice to say, it was a truly incredible experience. I love that place! I want to go back!

11705357_10153295090155817_6347792843615633973_nAnd then there were the talks to writers groups at libraries, and my mentoring and coaching work with emerging writers; work I enjoy enormously. It’s such a delight to journey with other writers, see their work develop. And I was lucky enough to edit some fantastic books, including Sarah Rayner’s Making Friends with the Menopause – a self-help book in the same family as her amazing bestselling Making Friends with Anxiety. I’ve read some incredible books too; you can read about my favourites here.

2015 has been a good year, for me, and right now it’s hard to believe 2016 could be better. But the great thing about the future is that we don’t know what it will bring, what plot twists, thrills and spills will be thrown our way. We can only endeavour to make the most of the ride, learn from the challenges and bad times, and appreciate the good. And remember those for whom life has not been so kind, and when possible, do something about it; extend the arm of friendship and support; money when necessary and if you can afford it. I’d love to know if 2015 has been kind or mean to you, and hear about your plans and dreams for 2016.

In the meantime: Happy New Year dear readers – journey on, loving and learning.
Laura x

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Back to school for the kids; what about you?

BHWA logo reverse outToday, my youngest, and thousands like him across the country, goes back to school. Although he says he’s not looking forward to it, I just know that once he’s there he’ll have a ball. Despite what he says he enjoys learning – most of us do.

What about you? New term, new goals? Are you looking to expand your writing skill-set, or develop new ones? If your answer is yes, then you might be as excited as me about a brand new venture launched in Brighton this week; one which I’ve the good fortune and pleasure of being involved in: The Beach Hut Writing Academy.

We’re a group of published authors, based in Brighton, who’d like to share our knowledge and experience with new and developing writers through a range of high-quality, affordable courses.

With experience across a wide range of genres in fiction – from crime to YA to short stories – non-fiction and script writing we know what it takes in the increasingly competitive world of publishing. We build confidence and writing skills, we offer support and expertise gained from professional experience. Amongst our number we boast bestselling author and all-round 5:2 guru, Kate Harrison; Richard & Judy Book Club author, Araminta Hall; acclaimed short story writers Bridget Whelan and Erinna Mettler (who is also a founding member of live lit organisation Rattle Tales) and award-winning script writers Sue Teddern and Hannah Vincent. So many talented writers at your disposal, ready to share top tips from their professional writers’ toolkits. What’s stopping you?!

Do check out our autumn programme and spread the word to writing chums in the south east and beyond.

If you live near Brighton you’ll see our leaflets all over the place and for further information please visit our Facebook page HERE. Below you’ll find images of our autumn flyer which will provide a flavour of what’s on the menu.

Our beautiful logo and the flyer were designed by children’s author and illustrator Jules Miller. Do visit her site for more examples of her fantastic work.

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Together the People Event #Brighton #Bookie Events

11873463_1141573805858130_6494183470167534546_nThis weekend, 5th and 6th Sept, myself and other Beach Hut Writers are appearing on the Soapbox at the Together the People Festival in Preston Park, Brighton.

Each evening at 6.15pm six authors will read a short extract from their work followed by a brief interview. We’re a diverse bunch, writing short stories, crime, literary fiction, women’s fiction, YA and more. Do come along to the soapbox stage if you fancy it. P.s. There are some fab bands appearing too, including Levellers, Super Furry Animals and Billy Bragg!

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Losing my RNA Cherry

Me at the party. Photo courtesy of Liz Harris

Me at the party. Photo courtesy of Liz Harris

Last Thursday I attended my first RNA summer party – my first ever RNA ‘do’ at all – and what a blast it was. To meet other writers – many of whom I’d only met online before – and celebrate a clutch of new writers for the Joan Hessayon Award was the very best kind of fun. Special big fat congratulations to the indomitable Brigid Coady who was 2015’s worthy winner. Brigid’s book – No One Wants to be Miss Havisham – sounds fantastic and she gave a blinding acceptance speech: funny, modest, touching. She even cried though she said she wouldn’t!

It was fantastic to catch up with people I work with – like Hazel Cushion, MD extraordinaire of Accent Press, and Helen Corner, the powerhouse and inspiration behind literary consultancy Cornerstones – and fellow authors like Liz Harris (whose photos I’ve filched for this blog post), Sue Moorcroft, Georgina Troy, Julie Cohen, Nicola May, Lynne Shelby, Alison Knight and many, many others. I’d bore you rigid if I listed everyone here.

Quite honestly, I wasn’t sure if the RNA was my ‘tribe’ – after all, my work isn’t straight-down-the-line romance, though love is a recurring theme, and in my forthcoming novel Redemption Song (January 2016) it is a dominant theme, along with forgiveness and, durgh, redemption. But after Thursday evening, I don’t really care if my work isn’t classic romance because RNA members are a gorgeous and wonderful bunch and I’m honoured to part of the clan. Here are a few photos.

Me & super writing buddy Norma Murray

Me & super writing buddy Norma Murray

Lovely Liz Harris

Lovely Liz Harris

Imposter syndrome

One of the more interesting responses to the Chris Bryant v James Blunt brouhaha comes from novelist Sarah Perry in the Independent. She argues, convincingly, that Blunt misunderstands the relationship between wealth and privilege and artistic success. You can read her article here.

I posted a link on Facebook and Twitter and had such interesting conversations I wanted to blog about it. You can read the dialogue here.

2015-01-21 15.30.22Like Perry, my origins are not discernible in my accent (I don’t have one, pretty much) and like her, I find publishing events ‘alarming’ and bluntly – pun intended – scary. My shadow self is terrified that I’m about to be found out – imposter in these posh circles that I am. My stepfather was a steel worker and a mechanic and my mother has held a variety of jobs, all low-paid and low-skilled, and I went to Manchester Metropolitan University, so like Perry, I’m never in danger of bumping into friends of the family in the industry I now work in.

However, I recognise how fortunate I have been. I’m tenacious – irritatingly so, some would say – I’ve worked hard, I have some talent (or so I’m told) and I have also had some luck. Without this, it unlikely that I would have ‘made it’ *hear me snorting*

Of course, the core of the debate surrounds funding for the arts and without such support there are voices that will simply go unheard. The same is true of further education. Over the past fortnight, I have spoken at events at the University of Hertfordshire and at Kingston University.  At both, the students were warm and receptive – an absolute pleasure to speak with. At Kingston, I appeared with author Sharon Zink, a fellow resident of Brighton, and it was reassuring to take to the lectern with someone I knew, because, guess what, I was very nervous. Imposter syndrome again.

During the Q & A, an audience member pointed out that neither of us had studied creative writing, that neither of us had an MA, nor a BA, in the discipline. (I’ve not got an MA in anything; Sharon has a PhD – she’s a clever clogs J) The observation wasn’t meant in a derogatory manner and it led to an interesting discussion on the value of degrees in creative writing, but it reminded me that once upon a time I had wanted to study for a creative writing MA, and guess what, I couldn’t afford it. Going to my parents for help wasn’t an option. Instead, and this is what I told our audience, I read everything I could about craft – books, articles, magazines, anything and everything. I continued to read voraciously and I wrote. A lot. And, as I’ve said, I got lucky. However, I know a couple of writers for whom an MA was invaluable, priceless, 100% necessary in building confidence as much as working on craft and without it, they doubt they would ever have had the confidence to submit work. And what a shame that would have been.

Life is unfair, no doubt. But I believe in equality of opportunity and believe that as an advanced, civilised society we must do everything within our power to at least attempt to level the playing field, in the arts, as in other areas of society. Diversity is enriching – for all.

Here endeth the rant.

What’s the story 2014?

It’s been an especially good year for great fiction with the release of cracking debuts and stunning works from more established authors. You can read my personal pick of the best here.

photo by Sarah Smith

photo by Sarah Smith

And 2014 has been a good year for me personally. So much to celebrate and enjoy, and lots of hard work too; I find the two are often connected. Where to start? In classic chronological style perhaps? *listen to the sound of me opening my Mslexia diary*

March 2014 saw the release of my ‘miners’ strike’ novel Public Battles, Private Wars (in fact, it’s about complex friendships, rivalry, love and finding the best of yourself in difficult circumstances – oh, and lots of cakes!). Publication coincided with the 30 year anniversary of the landmark strike and as a result I found myself appearing on radio, newspapers, blogs and e-zines all over the shop, including BBC Radio, the Western Mail, and the Yorkshire Post. My publicist at the super-fabulous Accent Press worked extremely hard for me – as did my wonderful editor – and I am so grateful to the entire team for their faith in me and the book. Reviews have been terrific and out-performed my expectations.

Edinburgh-Aug 2014 115This year I was fortunate enough to be offered appearances at literary festivals too, starting with a reading at Grit Lit in my home town, Brighton.  Then an all-day event at the Feminist Library in London on a baking hot June day. I spoke alongside Dr Katy Shaw of Brighton University, a leading expert on literature of the miners’ strike. Thanks to a friend, I was also a last minute speaker at The Big Book Club in the Barn event – 19 Sussex book groups (about 120 people) in a barn gathered to talk books and drink wine – my idea of heaven! Later in the summer, I appeared at GladFest – a dynamic festival in north Wales at the stunning Gladstone Library. My workshop sold out, much to my amazement.

WH Smith Show Card with author (3)After this came the Richmond Books and Boots Festival (Yorkshire, not London) where I spoke to a group of 25-odd readers at the town library about the novel. The reception was wonderful. In amongst these events, I have spoken with a number of local book groups and I did my first ever book shop signing at WH Smith Cardiff in the autumn. Lots of travelling, lots of talking, lots of fun.

2014 wasn’t all about the novel either. A short story, Deep, Dark and Dangerous, made the final ten of the inaugural Brighton Prize competition. Delivered by spoken word organisation Rattle Tales, it has a prize of £400 so worth looking out for in 2015. The winners were announced at a live event – there was champagne and roses for all the shortlisted writers too.

Resized cover imageSpring saw the launch of a special anthology of prose and poetry from Blinding Books, an independent publisher spearheaded by Richard Penny. I was thrilled when Richard approached me and asked if the collection, My Baby Shot Me Down, might include two stories of mine: The Whispering Wall and Buried. Another story, The Difference Between Us, appears in Accent Press’ summer anthology: Holiday Fling. If you’re feeling cold and dreaming of long hot days this might transport you there right now.

Holiday FlingAnd as if 2014 couldn’t get any better regarding my short fiction, I was over the moon to discover that another story had been selected to appear in an anthology of Gothic fiction published by Parthian Books. It contains work by some fine, fine writers and I am flattered (and astonished) to be included. The collection was launched at an event in October and the paperback of A Flock of Shadows will be available in good book shops in February.

OK, so this review isn’t exactly chronological but life is full of unexpected twists and turns, no? And because life can’t be wonderful all of the time – nor should we wish it to be so – we should savour the beautiful moments – little and large.

Right now, as I look back over the year and at what has been achieved, I cannot imagine 2015 being as hectic, though a part of me hopes that it is. Already, there are some special things lined up – a writing retreat at the Gladstone as part of a sponsorship for one thing – and early in 2015 there’ll be an exciting announcement (at least for me). I’ll keep you posted.

All that remains is to wave 2014 goodbye – it was good knowing you – and wish everyone a Happy, Healthy and Productive 2015.

Do you like my sheep pencil? I'm part Welsh, you know.

Do you like my sheep pencil? I’m part Welsh, you know.

Freebies, Events and an Anthology

Yet again another blog post with a three-pronged title. Next time, I promise it will be different

Resized cover imageSo, from today (22nd) until Saturday (25th) Blinding Book’s brilliant anthology My Baby Shot Me Down is FREE for Kindle. If you’ve not taken a peek at this interesting and diverse collection, now would be a good time. As you may know, I have two stories in the anthology.

This Saturday, 25th October, between 11.30 and 12.30 I will be at WH Smith in Cardiff – the Queen Street branch – talking about, and signing copies of, my novel, Public Battles, Private Wars. It would be lovely to see some of you there if you’re local. If not, perhaps you could let friends and family know. I will have chocolates – not that I bribe or anything.WH Smith Show Card with author (3)

And again for the South Wales, West Country based amongst you, I’d like to invite you to the launch of a special anthology from another fabulous Welsh publisher, Parthian. A Flock of Shadows is a collection of short stories with a Gothic flavour and I am absolutely thrilled to have a story included. The paperback will be available in the shops in February, with the e-book available sooner. Of course, if you can make it to the launch you’ll be able to snaffle a copy there.GothicAnthology_LaunchPoster_web

That’s all for now, folks.

Laura

Books and Boots and High, High Heels – and Pride

Sept 2014 011Books and Boots is the fabulous name of a walking and book festival held in Richmond, North Yorkshire. The festival is the brain-child of Anne Wicks, former owner of the Castle Hill Bookshop – a gorgeous independent shop nestled at the foot of the castle in this ancient town, which has been serving book lovers in Richmond and the surrounding Yorkshire Dales for over 30 years. The bookshop works with a community initiative and Gillian Howells creative consultancy to run the festival, and this year was its 10th anniversary.

As the name suggests the festival boasts a diverse programme of walks and talks and bookish events in and around the town. From ghost tours to mountain hikes to literary discussions there’s a lot to see and do, and in between there’s the town itself to explore (an absolute treat) and you can explore the dales independently too, of course. Now, I’m not a hiker – take a look at the shoes I bought while I was there – so I was all about the books and I was there as a guest. (OK, the heels aren’t sky scrapers, but they’re high enough for me.)

Sept 2014 007On Monday evening, I spoke with a group of book club members in the library, all of whom had read my novel, Public Battles, Private Wars. The audience were warm, attentive and had loads of brilliant questions, and two hours passed by in a flash. To my surprise they even wanted me to read from the book – not just one extract but two.

I felt privileged to part of this festival, because it really is very special and yet it’s not as well-known as many I can think of. Do check it out next year and if you’re in the area do visit the town – it’s stunning – and Castle Hill Bookshop which is a delight to browse around. It’s only small but feels much, much larger; it has a Tardis-like quality.

In other news this week, once back from the festival I had chance to hoof it down to my local cinema and catch the movie, Pride. What a treat that was too. Wonderful. Funny, touching, sad in places, it’s a great British film. The attention to period detail was brilliant – right down to the ‘angry’ theatre company van the LGSM group use to travel to the valleys of south Wales. Readers at a book group I talked with in Brighton a couple of weeks ago likened Public Battles, Private Wars to the film, and now that I’ve seen it I am truly flattered. I’ll also add that I agree with those readers – if you’ve enjoyed Pride you’ll probably get a lot out of my novel.

Shoes I bought in Richmond!

Shoes I bought in Richmond!

North Wales’ Best Kept Literary Secret?

Edinburgh-Aug 2014 115Of late, I’ve been a bad blogger, irregular and erratic with my posts. However, I’ve had some splendid guests and I hope you’ve enjoyed their wisdom. This month I’m busy with literary festivals and here I’m going to talk about a new(ish) festival in Wales in a library that more should know about.

First off, why such a slack blogger? Summer is the trickiest season for me, when the Gingers are off school. Mornings are work time and afternoons are fun time, but this puts a time squeeze on work-related activity – I even have to curb my social media addiction. Gasp, horror. I’ve been scribbling away on my latest novel – a story of love, faith, forgiveness, and bats set in a Welsh seaside town – and I’ve also done a fair whack of editing jobs – three in total. One was for Sarah Rayner. Sarah has written and published a fantastic e-book, Making Friends with Anxiety, and it is perfect for any of you who are prone to an over-whelming sense of panic, or a mild sense, to be honest. It’s beautifully written – like chatting with a mate – and is full of brilliant tips and advice. And this summer I had to prepare a workshop for a literary festival, GladFest.

Edinburgh-Aug 2014 106I travelled up to my home stomping ground – North Wales – at the weekend, with the boys in tow to take part in the festival.  2014 is only the second year GladFest has been running at the stupendously gorgeous Gladstone Library, but, boy, you’d never know it. What a brilliant festival. A dazzling array of well-respected authors at the top of the game (and me). Authors like Salley Vickers and Stephen May – his debut TAG is one of my all-time favourite books. He was there to talk about his latest, the fantastic Wake Up Happy Every Day. There was a menu of workshops to attend and the festival was very well-attended. This was also down to the wonderful organisation and publicity, and the hard work put in by all the staff at the library. Everyone was made to feel so welcome. Gladstone’s is a unique place; a residential library that connects a wide range of writers and thinkers, runs courses and events and is a haven for creative thinking and reflection.

My workshop, Spit & Polish, was all about the vital art of self-editing your MS. It was a sell-out and if I say I was taken aback by this you should imagine me lying on the floor of the library fanning myself. I was nervous but the reception was great and the feedback better than I could ever have hoped for.

Gorgeous festival bag & programme

Gorgeous festival bag & programme

Festivals are great for authors and readers alike. They connect one to the other and though a disadvantage of working at a festival is that you don’t get a chance to see and do as much as you’d like, there are many, many advantages. You meet readers and potential readers, you meet new authors and others known to you, the exchange of ideas and creative energy at a festival like GladFest is nigh on priceless. So, if you’re reader or writer and you live in the North West do find out about the range of events held at the library. Scratch that. Wherever you live check out the Gladstone Library. I’m taking some time out and working up there for a couple of weeks next year, and I cannot wait.

Next stop on the festival tour is Richmond Boots and Books. I’m talking at the library on 22nd, 7pm, about Public Battles, Private Wars. What’s not to like about a festival with a name like that!

 

I’m finishing with another photo of the library and the great man himself, simply because I can!Edinburgh-Aug 2014 116

Oh, What a Night!

Early June, in a Sussex barn – you can hum along to the old tune if you can remember it – seventeen book clubs, fun, food and wine, what a venue, what a night…

The Big Barn (photo by Sarah Rayner)

The Big Barn (photo by Sarah Rayner)

To explain. Last night, along with three other authors – including the wonderful Sarah Rayner whose latest novel Another Night, Another Day is a blinder – I had the privilege and pleasure of talking about my novel Public Battles, Private Wars to members of 17 different book groups in an enormous 400-year-old barn in rural Sussex.

Yes, 17; there were around 100 people present. Added to this was food and wine and representatives from East Sussex Library Service and a book stall selling our wares. The Big Book Club Bash in the Barn is the brainchild of and organised by Diana Carsons, a powerhouse of a woman with a serious passion for reading. Originally, she hails from Rhyl in north Wales, not far from where I grew up, so she has more than one thing to recommend her. Book club members come along with food and drink (and their own chairs) which is then laid out for all to share. After grub and chat, they listen to authors speak about their work and then representatives from each group talk briefly about their favourite reads of the year and those they found more challenging. They share ideas and tips, and as authors we get the opportunity to connect with readers, many of whom might not have been previously familiar with our work.

Diana sandwiched between me and Sarah

Diana sandwiched between me and Sarah

It was an incredible night. I spoke to many gorgeous people and sold all the copies of my novel that I’d brought. I stepped in at the last minute and had no time to get a decent stock, so admittedly this wasn’t too many. But given that I didn’t expect to sell any (I was speaking with best-selling novelists who’ve been around much longer than me) it was the icing on the cake of what was an exciting and memorable evening. Author heaven, I’d say.

Thank you to Diana and Sarah for inviting me. And to the book groups members for listening so attentively and, more importantly, for loving literature. Keep reading.