WRITERS IN RESIDENCE

WRITERS IN RESIDENCE

Could I sit in a public place for three hours and write a thousand word short story? I’d no idea – never tried it before. I’d written a couple of short stories years ago and sold them, but this was beginners’ luck. Somehow I had not managed to rise again to that level of success. I didn’t have the knack. Other writers seemed to be able to turn out beautifully crafted stories with ease; hot, exciting, precise little oeuvres, like Nadia’s bakes. Something had to be done to shake me out of this creative lassitude (idleness?). And here was a challenge. Frome Writers’ Collective were looking for writers to participate in the annual “Writers In Residence” event, part of Frome Festival.

Having been a member of the Collective for several years, latterly as a trustee, regularly attending meetings, socials and readings I felt that it was time to participate in something that involved actual writing. So I volunteered.

Each writer is issued with a prompt, a table and chair and a space in a shop in Frome town centre, and left to get on with it in full view of Saturday morning shoppers.

As a seasoned clog dancer I am not unduly fazed by Saturday morning shoppers. After all someone who is prepared to put on a strange costume and prance around to folk tunes in the market places of various British tourist traps must have acquired some immunity to shame. It couldn’t be more difficult than Ivy Sands’ Exhibition Steps, could it?

It could be. Turned out it was a competition, with prizes for the winners given out at a Festival event in Frome Library, and, later, we’d all be asked to read out our offerings at a FWC social. Two days before the event we received our prompt, a quotation from Mary Shelley: “Every thing must have a beginning”. Gothic is not my thing, but it was too late to back out with any semblance of dignity.

Running across the footbridge over the river on the fateful Saturday morning I passed a beggar. I was in too much of a hurry to open my purse and ran on, ignoring him, feeling very guilty. I glanced back at him over my shoulder and I had an idea.

They put me in a rather smart dress shop on Cheap Street; surrounded by beautiful clothes. The clientèle were quiet and respectful (probably more interested in fashion than literary endeavour) and the proprietor, tactfully, left me alone.

I thought of the beggar, dipped a ladle into my literary stockpot (where I keep offcuts from old plots permanently on the boil), interviewed some characters from the “Bestiary” (my own personal “Book of Beasts”) and I was away. Fighting off the occasional impulse to browse through the dresses, I finished my story.

It didn’t win, but it did respectably, receiving some positive feedback after the FWC social, and some very useful advice. The standard, as it always is at FWC readings, was scarily high, which made me feel proud of my also-ran story. I’d actually managed to write something acceptable in a very short time, and to specification – more or less.

So the moral of this tale is “have a go!” You don’t know what you can do until you try. Though the event is nominally a competition, the atmosphere is kind and supportive. You are among friends.

I am extremely grateful to all those members of FWC who organised the event and read all the stories to pick the winners… And returning to my car after a recent Trustees’ meeting, I met a beggar on the bridge and dropped a pound coin into his hat.

Sian Williams 12/09/2018

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Writing a Press Release

Writing a Press Release

The humble press release – a basic but essential publicity tool, which, if it’s to do its job successfully, if it’s to stand out as a ‘must use’ from the pile of other releases on the editor’s desk, needs to be put together properly. Here are a few thoughts on how to achieve that from FWC member Peter Corbett who has had many years’ experience, both as a writer of press releases and as an editor of them.
To start with, can I stress that while I’ve taken the drafting of a release about the launch of a book by a local author as the basis for these notes, the advice applies whatever the topic and the target readership.
Right, the important thing is to get your message across as quickly and easily as you can in your release. The first paragraph, the ‘intro’, is crucial.

DON’T start by saying ‘XYZ is delighted to announce’ or anything like that. Dive straight in. For example if your release is aimed at the Standard or Frome Times, ‘A Frome estate agent is to have his/her first novel published by a major book brand’.

If you’re targeting the national press, you’ll need to change the emphasis to something like, ‘A debut novel by an estate agent is to be published in the autumn by one of the country’s leading book brands.’

Follow that with the author’s name and wee bit about him/her eg ‘Jinty McLean, a founder member of Frome Writers’ Collective, spent three years writing ‘Off the Record’ and had received four rejections before he/she was contacted by Portcullis Books who said they liked it and wanted to publish.’

Then a quote or two. “Even though it had been turned down so many times I still felt it had something to offer and had decided to re-write it,” said Jinty. “So I was flabbergasted when Portcullis’s new author manager rang me to arrange a meeting. She said they wanted to take the book on, to discuss what changes I needed to make to it, how they would promote it and so on. I can still hardly believe it.”
Portcullis’s Martha Pearson said she and her colleagues had been very impressed by Jinty’s manuscript and could see straight away that it would be a success.

“We’re delighted Jinty sent us ‘Off the Record’ and are looking forward to seeing it in bookshops in September,” she said.

Something about the book. ‘Off the Record’ is a crime story set in Frome, featuring the owner of a record shop who discovers evidence of a major fraud. As that evidence is based on hearsay and not yet strong enough to take to the appropriate authorities, he decides to investigate it himself. The book follows him his adventures as he explores some of the darker areas of the music business before risking his life to reveal the truth.

If you want, add a few more details about Jinty – married? children? lives where? and anything which adds more colour to his/her story.

The final paragraph should contain details about where to buy the book and other relevant information. For instance, ‘Jinty will be signing copies of ‘Off the Record’ at the Hunting Raven bookshop in Cheap Street, Frome, on September 21 st , the day the book is published nationally. It will be available for £8.99 as a paperback from book shops and via the internet. Visit jintymcleanauthor.co.uk and portcullisbooks.com.

OK, notice anything about that format? The heart of the story is in the first two paragraphs and while each of the other paragraphs adds something to it they can all be deleted from the bottom up without the point of the story getting lost. That’s important if the sub editor doing the page layout wants to include the story but hasn’t got space for all of it – or the time to tweak and twiddle it.
So don’t keep anything back to the end, no stings in the tail, no Columbo-esque ‘One last thing’, no cleverly contrived punch line.

Now, style. Use the KISS principle, Keep It Simple, Stupid. Don’t use ‘posh’ words when something simple is available. Don’t include details which don’t add significantly to the story. Keep your sentences short. Don’t be too tekkie – use the everyday language you’d use when talking to your friends and family. DON’T put bracketed initials after a title, e.g. United Nation (UN) – they are completely unnecessary and annoying (that’s a personal request by the way – I know some people and publications favour their use but I hate it).

Next, you’ll need to identify your target readership. It’s no good sending a release about, for example, something specific to Frome to a newspaper covering Barnstaple (OK so that’s an exaggeration but you see what I mean). Nor is it any use sending a release about a novel for men, by a male author, to Mslexia or a handbook about breeding dachshunds to Horse and Rider.
If you can, check out copies of the publications you want to target. They’ll give you a clear picture of the sort of news items they carry. And in most cases they’ll also give you the contact details of the member of the editorial team you should send news items to. You can usually get that information from the net as well.
Timing is also crucial. Weekly newspapers like the Frome Standard have a pretty short deadline, assume it’s Monday lunchtime for publication that week. Don’t depend on it, however – they often hold stuff over for a week (a fortnight in the case of a release I sent them about the FWC poetry anthology) so if your release is time sensitive get it in early!

The same goes for local and regional radio and TV stations and regional newspapers. They have a longer but still reasonable run-in period but national publications are a different kettle of fish. I’m writing this towards the end of February. I’ve already had the March issue of Writing Magazine for some time and I think it would be safe to assume that the April issue will be popping through my letterbox any time soon.

This means, of course, that the April issue is already in preparation and that its preparation is pretty well advanced too. It may even be on the point of going to print. I sent them a release at the beginning of this month and would not be surprised if the story doesn’t pop up until the May or even June issue (assuming it will pop up at all).

That sounds complicated but I’m afraid it’s something we have to live with. I would suggest that if you hope to have a story published in, say, the June issue of a national publication, which could hit the streets in early May if not sooner, you should get it to them by the end of March. It’s probably safest, however, not to target national publications with any press releases that are time sensitive.
As to the overall format of the release, it used to be normal to place a logo or something similar at the top of the page but that has almost died out now with email taking the place of good old snail mail. A simple Word doc or something similar is fine, but not, repeat not, a pdf. Date it, give it a headline and pop the word ‘ends’ at the foot of the body of the release.
If you’re sending a picture with your text, you’ll need to add a caption, but make sure that you include reference detail with each picture so the editor is clear which picture the caption’s about – even more important if you’re sending more than one image with the release.

Then end the whole thing with your name and contact details in case of any query.
One last thing. I mentioned at the beginning of these notes that editors often have a pile of press releases on their desk/in their inbox and more often than not there’s insufficient space to use all of them. You may be lucky. You may not. If your release is different from the others, you have a better chance than if it’s on the same lines (‘only the names have been changed’ sort of thing) but even then there is no guarantee that it will be used.

Count it as bonus if it is, rather than a disappointment or a criticism if it isn’t. It’s not a paid for advert, and the editor’s decision, as they say, is final. Good luck!

PS – the April issue of Writing Magazine arrived on February 23 rd , the ditto issue of my other subscription mag, Kitchen Garden the next day. See what I mean!

(Written in February 2018) By Peter Corbett

What makes a writer?

What makes a writer? Is it the talent to have hundreds of books published like James Patterson, or the ability to write a top class comedy programme that runs for many years like Roy Clarke’s Last of the Summer Wine? Maybe it’s the ability to write great poetry and be nominated as the next Poet Laureate?

Writer

Or… maybe it’s something to do with the pleasure of writing for its own sake?
I started writing when I was quite young. While still at school, I would get ideas and scribble them anywhere. Once I got a comment from a form master who said:

‘I quite enjoyed your story but in future please do not write on the back of your exam papers’.

Early on, I realised that, as a writer, my main fault is that I have a butterfly mind. Although short story writing is my favourite field, I can be jotting down one idea, then get an idea for another which completely distracts me. This is why I now have several portfolios at home with at least 320 short stories of all genres in them!

Working in writing groups has been very helpful over the years, though I have learnt that sometimes people’s views are very different from within the same groups. In one group, a member told me I should cut out the first two paragraphs of my story, while another thought the paragraphs were essential.

Occasionally, courses have given me very useful insights. It was attending one course, several years ago, that set me on the short story trail. During this session, it was suggested that we write a short story from the opposite gender’s point of view. I found I liked writing this way so much that I now have female characters as my lead nearly all the time.

Stories mount up. I find that I have now written several plays, both short and full length, a number of poems and three novels. My first two books were handwritten and the second was destroyed by accident, but my first one is still here. Unfortunately, this was typed out by a friend of a friend – a good typist, but someone, it turned out, who couldn’t read my handwriting, so there’s a little more work to do here!

With the help of a fellow writer, I have recently had booklets of my work printed independently and this has been very satisfying. My slim volume, ‘Seven Sides of Life,’ has so far sold about 45 copies, and I have a second volume called ‘What you Want,’ which is waiting to be printed. Recently, too, I finished a compendium of short stories – sixteen tales in all. A number of people have said they like my stories – though often I haven’t believed them – and my new novel which has been read and reviewed by around eight people. One of these days I will take the plunge and send it off. Submitting anything makes me nervous, though. A writer’s fear of rejection slips perhaps?

But it’s not all about getting books on shelves. I enjoy writing and will keep on writing because the simple fact is that I like doing it, like seeing where the stories and characters lead me.

Maybe it’s this that makes a writer?

Alan Somerville.

 

Writer image courtesy of blogspot.com

Wooooooooo

Wooooooooo

The lights were dimmed to black and the pumpkin glow set to red. The photographer adjusted his light settings and the roomful of writers uttered a collective sigh. The first ghost story of the session was about to start…

Caroline’s spook was unpleasantly smelly, with ‘an odour most wretched’. It put one or two people off the slices of cake in front of them – portions from the celebration cake, baked in honour of Eddie Martin, local musician and writer and the hundredth member to join Frome Writers’ Collective.

cake1 (Medium)

Alan’s ghost, Georgina, was next. She liked walking along in sewers at night and didn’t seem cut out for a long-term relationship with her non-ghost fiancé, unlike the next phantom, who was clearly an expert in keeping secrets for years.

Liz’s story had a mysterious vessel gleaming in the Kefalonian pre-dawn light, while Alison’s murderously-intentioned wife got things horribly wrong – as she discovered, in the undertaker’s office – and rather too late.

Amazing apparitions and ghoulish ghouls of all kinds whirled around the upstairs room of The Three Swans. As one of the oldest and most interesting pubs in Frome, the venue was well-furnished for the task.

Writers leant forward in their eighteenth century chairs to hear the tale of Annie McBride in her tartan cape – and leant back quickly as the bloody dagger advanced.  The air stirred to the arrival of mysterious carvings and chilled to tale of an army riding the land forever, never to dismount. Poor Frederick, the hapless office ghost, with his wilting flowers, drew mutters of sympathy and the LED nightlights flickered at nearly all the right moments.

In the first-ever FWC evening of ghost stories, Caroline, Alan, Andy, Nikki, Liz, Alison, Colin, Sheila, Lisa and Barbara shared their scary tales with a very appreciative audience.

More creepy yarns anticipated in 2018!

What Makes a Writer?

What Makes a Writer?

What makes a writer? Is it the talent to have hundreds of books published
like James Patterson, the ability to write a top class comedy programme that
would run for many years – like Roy Clarke and Last of the Summer Wine.
Maybe it’s the desire to be a great poet and be in the running for the next
Poet Laureate?

I started writing when I was quite young. At school I would get ideas and
scribble them anywhere. Once I got a comment from a form master who said
‘I enjoyed your story but in future please do not write on the back of your exam papers’.

I have been with Frome Writers’ Collective for about two years or so and have enjoyed every moment. My main fault is that I have a butterfly mind! Although the short story is my favourite field, I can be writing one story and then get an idea for another. This is why I have several portfolios at home with stories of all genres – at least 280 of them.

I have written several plays, both short and full length, as well as poems and three novels. The first two novels were written by hand and, unfortunately, the second one has got destroyed along the way. My first one is still here but was typed by a friend and now has numerous errors – not because the friend was a bad typist, but because she couldn’t read my handwriting!

I now have two finished books. One which I am currently editing and the other one (a short story compendium) where I am having difficulty deciding which stories to include and have changed three of them in the last week.

I enjoy writing and through the help of one of members of my Friday morning writing group, have had a slim volume put out containing seven stories and called ‘Seven Sides of Life’. But I must now think about what to do with my other work. Submitting to short story competitions is about the only way that I have attempted to publish a story. Maybe I am afraid of rejection slips?

It was attending a course several years ago that set me on my journey on the short story trail. During one lesson, it was suggested that we write from the opposite gender. I found I liked this, so mostly have female characters as my lead.

I will keep on writing because I like it and like doing it. Although a number of people have said they like my stories I often do not believe them. It is just me! My novel has now been seen by at least eight people too. One of these days I will take the plunge and submit it for an editorial critique. I will then incorporate suggestions and, from there, see where my writing leads me.

Alan Somerville

In Pursuit of Fame – Part 2

Unfortunately, writing fame like snow leopards has become an endangered species, and far easier to achieve in, say, the last years of the nineteenth century than in these early years of the twenty-first. Maybe there were fewer aspiring novelists vying for the prize. For the vast majority, the idea of putting pen to paper was as bizarre as journeying to Mars is for me, especially for those for whom attendance at school happened only to others. Besides which, the word ‘leisure or spare time’, a basic requirement for any aspiring writer, had not yet formed part of their existence.

As for leisure pursuits … nope! And what the hell are those?

People were either sleeping or working … no time for fancy embroidery or petite pointe unless it was an occupation to put bread on the table, in which case it was likely to occupy every waking hour. Candidates for writing fame grew from families who had a bob or two to spare, and who were able to educate their children and keep them at home without the family starving to death.

Although it is fair to say starving in a garret in Montmartre did become the in-thing for artists around this time. Never the most dependable of men, a good dose of cold and hunger went a long way in their search for fame and fortune, which brings up the point: how did they manage to live in squalor and never pay rent and yet spend all night in a bar drinking copious amount of brandy or wine? Be that as it may, once fame and fortune struck it was for many artists already too late to jettison the attic in favour of something warmer and more comfortable. Sadly, all too often the cold and damp, not to mention cheap liquor, resulted in TB which took them off at a very young age. (Look at La Bohême and La Traviata).

Surprisingly, this garret business did not apply because writers needed a smattering of education which had to be paid for. In this regard the Bronte sisters might well be considered cool. Their father’s income was, or would have been, sufficient to keep them all handsomely had not their brother run up huge debts. However, having been fortunate enough to belong to the gentry who actually believed in girls being educated, and living in a picturesque part of Yorkshire, they were able to decide on a writing career as a way of providing for themselves, even if they did have to pass themselves off as men.

(What a long way we women have come!)

Indeed, it is likely there are more writers currently starving in garrets or basement flats than there were in the 19th century.

Barbara Spencer

In Pursuit of Fame – part 1

In Pursuit of Fame – part 1

Why does an otherwise normal person decide to commit their life to writing a book?

The answer to that question would form a vast mound of paper because we all have different reasons for setting pen to paper. For Daphne du Maurier, a foremost writer of the last century, it was to escape the unhappiness of a loveless marriage. For me, it was being forced to replace a sparkling career with the more mundane aspects of domesticity – cooking, cleaning and ironing. Maybe it was the tedium of housework that led me to writing for children, for whom the joys of domesticity, housework to you and me, remain undiscovered, somewhat like the river Nile, until they are at least 21.

Nevertheless, regardless of what we give as the reason for days spent peering into a notebook, typewriter or pc, the pursuit of ‘fame’ although strenuously denied is the most obvious goal, even if the words ‘and fortune’ do not accompany it. If someone says to me, I write only for myself, my retort is likely to be: ‘I confess the lady/gentleman  protests too much,’ something Shakespeare used about Hamlet’s mum in Hamlet. I mean, if they genuinely do only write for themselves, the book can live on a shelf or in a drawer – like Fagin’s ‘guilty secret’. (Dickens) It does not need the Internet.

I concede that the word ‘fame’ maybe too strong. Maybe recognition is more apt; the recognition of your peers who think it pretty damn good. That, for any would-be writer is the Everest of accolades.

However, if in doubt as to your motives, apply the litmus test: why should someone buy my book? And does it matter if they don’t?

Broken_AZ_Medal_101916.jpg

If your answer is: Like hell it does. Then, like the rest of us, I strongly suspect that you are seeking at the very least recognition as a writer, plus a wish and desire for fame.

Barbara Spencer