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.

BHWA A5 Flyer FrontBHWA A5 Flyer Back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Guest author: Debz Hobbs-Wyatt

Never Give up the Dream

Debz and RosieFirst of all I would like to thank Laura for having me over here on her blog! I’m Debz and I not only work as a full-time writer, having abandoned the regular day job, but I also work as an editor, professional critiquer and a small publisher. I also edit for the e-zine CaféLit and I am a partner in the small press, Bridge House Publishing, which is how I met the lovely Laura when her debut novel BloodMining won the first and only Bridge House Debut Novel Competition.

No dream worth pursuing is not without its hard work and sometimes that all too painful rejection. But, finally, 2013 is the year I got to see my debut novel in print. It was a long time coming.

Like so many writers I know, I have always written in one form or another but the obsession (and I think you need it!) finally got me close to ten years ago when I started work on the first novel (ignoring the one I wrote aged nine!) and I guess you could say have never looked back.

While No One Was Watching, published by Parthian Books this October, was actually the fourth novel I’ve written. And as I’m sure Laura will agree – we have to read, we have to write and we have to learn the craft. There’s no short cut.

I suppose as aspiring writers what we seek the most, or certainly what I seek, is validation. So when my first short story was published five years ago that marked the real beginning. I completed my MA in Creative Writing from Bangor University in 2010, read everything on writing, attended as many courses on writing as I could and I guess became like a sponge – because I wasn’t good enough and I wanted to be.

When the obsession became too strong I gave up the day job to live the dream – that was four years ago – to an uncertain future, but I just knew I had to. And since that first success I have had close to twenty short stories in collections and this year saw me short-listed in the Commonwealth Short Story Prize with only one other UK writer and I WON the Bath Short Story Award. Now that certainly validates giving up the day job!

But, and while I continue to write short stories, it was always about the novel and in fact it was my fourth that finally made it. Richard at Parthian Books phoned to say they loved my novel, While No One Was Watching and so put the icing on the proverbial cake for 2013. What a year! And I have to say that I believe writing short stories really honed the craft, and working in editing and especially critiquing made a huge difference – you have to know it, to teach it. But learning is a continual process and I have another three novels in various stages of rest, one almost ready to submit.

WhileNoOneWasWatching_CoverWhile No One Was Watching started life as a short story, an experiment in first-person narratives; it came from a vision – a woman leans forward in a chair, thick black fingers wrapped around a child’s silver locket and says to the young reporter, “It belonged to a little girl. She disappeared the day the President was shot. She was never found.”

This whole premise of taking an iconic moment in history; the assassination of John F Kennedy, but looking at something that happened just off-set, fascinated me and seemed like a great premise for a novel. Eleanor Boone is standing on a grassy knoll, she drops her mother’s hand. Gunshots. Panic. When the mother turns around her little girl is gone. She is still missing fifty years on – so what happened?

I knew it begged to be more than a short story and so I developed it, at the time three years or more until the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination.

I had to do a huge amount of research as you can imagine, not only about Kennedy but using American narrators, the African-American certainly needed a lot of work, it had to be authentic. I have travelled extensively in the states and have a lot of friends on the west coast, so I had the background to hopefully do it justice. The publisher claims he was quite convinced I was American when he read it. Phew. I hope when it’s released in the US next spring American readers will feel the same. We will have to see.

Gary is a small time reporter for a local paper, divorcee, Sunday father, and Lydia is a larger than life African-American retired police psychic. I loved the idea of letting fact and fiction to brush up alongside one another; our reporter reviewing real evidence from that day, but this time not looking for a man in a crowd with a gun – but a little girl. Gone while no one was watching. Or maybe someone was?

I do err on the literary side in my writing, so while it’s a plot-driven mystery, I love to explore my characters. My publisher asked me, if out of all the characters I’d written –which would I most be friends with? Without hesitation I said Lydia Collins. And it seems most people love her as much as I do! Phew. It’s a strange thing sending your work out there, hoping people will look after your characters but so far, so good – the reviews have been amazing.

It felt as if the pressure was on, when you work with developing writers as I do, you kind of need to put your money where your mouth is – prove you do know what you’re talking about. Hopefully this is validated.

I am just thrilled it’s out there and it was out in time for the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination this November.

Find out more about me and my work here: MY WEBSITE

Find out more about the book on the publisher’s website here: PARTHIAN

Watch the book trailer I made here: (I even had song written and composed for the book!) YOUTUBE

And buy it here (note that the Kindle version is on special offer for 99p until the end of December 2013.) AMAZON

So I really hope you enjoy it!

And Laura – thanks for having me over here. So pleased to see how well your own writing career has developed since that first novel.

And, my usual sign-off, applicable to all, but especially to aspiring writers – remember – anything is always possible so never give up.

I wonder what 2014 will bring?

Thanks so much, Debz. What an inspiring story behind your novel and there are so many truisms here that I couldn’t possibly name only one now. Sounds like a fantastic read, and it’s still on special offer for Kindle so get downloading a copy before the price goes up. Me? I’ll be buying a paperback, because there are some books I just have to hold and this is one of them.

The Healing Properties of Writing by Claire Hutton

One of the early skills we learn is how to write, and writing can be used as a means of self-expression. Writing can release emotion, allow us to explore it in a variety of situations, creating distance, freedom and clarity. People find that by tapping into their inner creativity through writing, whether it be completely escapism based, or working through events from their past, it can help with self-development. All over the world, there are movements that champion this method of self-exploration, groups that facilitate creative writing. Projects such as My Heroines (of which Laura is a founding member and workshop leader) which provides an outlet for self-development for women in which they can explore their creativity through storytelling, creative writing and drama.

Art and Literature as means of Therapy

Many of us have heard of Art Therapy – where patients use art, drawings and sculpting to express themselves and heal. This contemporary form of recovery has been recognised as a form of alternative and holistic therapy. People have long kept diaries and journals and found that writing things down does alleviate pain and suffering in some way. Now, there is exploration into the prospects of writing as a form of therapy too. In the 1960s a psychologist from New York called Dr. Ira Progoff offered workshops integrating the use of journals to record thoughts and feelings, and found this helped patients to better understand themselves.

Writing in Order To Heal

A recent review from Psychology Today agreed that writing could also be used as an excellent therapeutic tool. The article by Adrian Furnham, Ph.D discussed how memoirs have been written and shared as a way of healing a traumatic past and entertaining people in the process. And memoirs can inspire others. Through literature, a healing experience for others is passed on. Writing can help people struggling with all kinds of issues. People with addiction issues who attend twelve-step programs find that writing is a huge part of the healing experience throughout. Drugabuse.com details how “Twelve-step programs have been around the longest and have demonstrated a great deal of success”. Here writing is used is as a way of working through the steps and seeing in black and white the issues that have contributed to abusive behaviours.

The Importance of Writing for Learning

Some of the best literature has stemmed from diary writing, autobiography and memoirs. The Diary of Anne Frank is a striking account and a prominent and crucial piece of historical literature. There have been other famous memoirs, such as Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and Augusten Burroughs’ Running With Scissors, which have shaped many people’s lives and provided catharsis for the authors.

An article earlier this year from the Huffington Post detailed how writing a memoir could actually make you happier. The article went on to suggest that although the author didn’t like to admit it, she did find writing therapeutic. Memoir writing, she discussed, became a process that allowed her to connect with her authentic, true self and get in touch with her own vulnerability.

The fantastic thing about writing is that anyone can do it. Most people have had very interesting lives and when recounting experiences, it becomes evident how these experiences have shaped them into the person they are. It does not matter f this material is only destined for the author’s eyes only.

Therefore, it seems that both writing and reading literature demonstrates healing properties.  It is helpful to acknowledge what a great source of help memoir can be in overcoming trauma, aiding self-development and providing information and enjoyment for people from all walks of life.

 

 

Agent Hunter: a sharp spear for authors seeking representation

Not a spear. Ginger1's karate sai

Not a spear. Ginger1’s sai

Harry Bingham, best-selling author and creator of The Writers Workshop has launched a new project aimed at helping unrepresented authors find agents. Harry believes that  Agent Hunter is a website that will revolutionise the search for literary agents, and I think he could be right. In many ways, I’m surprised that this hasn’t been done earlier, though given the contacts, cost and technical know-how required to build such an interface, perhaps not…

I’ve had the good fortune to cross paths with Harry a number of times over several years and I’ve had a thorough root around the site, and it does what it says on the tin. Here’s the blurb:

‘In the past, agent search has been a largely random process: pick a name, investigate slowly, add to list or discard – then repeat, and repeat, and repeat.

We thought that was silly. People should be able to search for agents by asking rational questions:

  • What new agents like sci-fi?
  • Which agents at larger agencies are seeking to add to their client lists?
  • Who represents fabulous Author X?

You should also be able to see instantly biogs of the agents you’re interested in. Also pictures, Twitter feeds, key links from around the web, likes and dislikes, submissions info – everything you’re interested in.’

Registering is straightforward and access to the entire database costs £12 a year; that’s a little cheaper than The Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book. Having spent time on the site I’d say that there are occasions when you’ll still need to go check out the site of the agency, or agent, you’re interested in.  But you’re a professional, right; you’d do that anyway? Also, this is a new project and, as such, still growing. There are agents not yet on board. However, the beauty of an online resource, like this, is that it can be updated regularly and information will be current. Paper references are researched long before publication and information is then static for twelve months, and as we all know lots can change during this time. I’ll be using the site, for sure.

In a world where aspiring writers can spend the equivalent of a small advance on authors’ services – MS assessment, workshops, festivals, networking sites and organisations, and so on and so forth – £12 seems like a small and worthwhile investment to me. And if you think I’m bias; I am. A little. I’m a fan of Harry’s work, and he’s a bit Welsh, like me.

Writing sheds, learning and inspiring

Brighton Beach Huts by author Sarah Rayner

Brighton Beach Huts by author Sarah Rayner

As some of you will know, alongside my writing and editing I work part-time with KS2 children, supporting literacy across a broad range of abilities. I also run workshops with young adults and lifelong learners. Last week I was introduced to a resource which I think is so wonderful that I wanted to share it.

The Literacy Shed has been developed by a former primary school teacher and has been used to great effect where I work. The site has a menu of sheds to choose from, including the Fairy Tale Shed, the History Shed and the Poetry Shed, each with exercises, ideas and resources. Children love the visual elements: the film clips, adverts and book pages, and I’ve seen some  fabulous stories develop from the exercises.

But it is just for children? For any of you who run workshops or projects with adults and young people it might be worth a look.

The photograph of beach huts (or sheds?) on the Brighton seafront was taken by Sarah Rayner. Sarah’s real job is an author – you can out check out her novels here – though as you can see she takes a mean pic too.

One to watch

First off, grovelling apologies (mostly to myself, I am not so deluded as to think that anyone else actually gives a monkey’s) for not posting for so long. As usual – and it’s a pathetic excuse – I’ve been busy with writing, teaching, editing, and now, pre-publication promoting. Anyway, this post is not about me. Sharp intake of breath. I’m kidding, right? No.

Over a two year period I ran a couple of creative writing projects at the school I work at part-time – St Nicolas CofE VA Junior School. During these projects I facilitated and nurtured a number of extremely talented children and produced two books containing the best of the writing produced. Here they are. Lovely, huh? One of these young people demonstrated a gift so rare that I knew a literary star of the future was in our midst. Well, it seems that I’m not the only one to think so and I am so pleased.

On Wednesday I received an email from this young woman. She is in the final of the Brit Writers’ Award 2011 Under 16 category for her short story, Nobody’s Child. What fantastic news! It made my day. Well done, Imy, aka Imogen Cook. Remember the name, folks. I’ll be keeping everything crossed for Imogen on 7 October.