Saturday 31 December 2016

Greenacre Writers Round-up of 2016

Greenacre Writers has had another busy year, kicking off a 6-session ‘Life Writing/memoir’ course, led by Anna Meryt. The course covered planning the framework, characterisation, time frame, description and getting published.

March saw Josie Pearse, of Pearse & Black, running Taking it Further. A one-off taster workshop for writers who are working, or thinking of working, on a longer project.
In June the Finchley Literary Festival took place over a long weekend starting with a Memoir Writing Workshop again led by Anna, where we were treated to some interesting exercises and the differences between writing fiction and life writing.

There were fund-raising activities beforehand, a short story competition launched in February and we were delighted when Joanna Cambell agreed to be our judge. One of the winning authors, James Woolf was able to attend the festival to receive his prize. Carol Sampson and Mr Greenacres encouraged local business people to either donate or sponsor the festival including Squires Estates and the Redwood Café.

Finchley libraries supported the festival again. We held various events including talks by Harry Parker discussing his debut novel based on his army experiences. A.L. Bird, read from and talked about her fourth novel a psychological thriller. Allen Ashley, launched his latest book.  

Saturday morning saw Yvette Edwards, Irenoson Okojie, and Catriona Ward, who spoke about their writing process and held a lively panel discussion with questions from the audience.

The ever popular Dragon's Pen with Gillian Stern, Cari Rosen and Antonia Honeywell gave local writers the opportunity to showcase their writing though we discovered one not so local writer had travelled all the way from Solihull.

Saturday afternoon our Literary Delights included Joanna Campbell, judge of the FLF and Greenacre Writers short story competition, who announced the winners. Joanna then read from her latest collection of short stories and gave an amazing talk about the short story form and her first novel. Antonia Honeywell, author of the highly regarded novel, The Ship, and Rosie Canning discussed the literary representations of orphans in fiction with readings from classic and contemporary texts. Sunny Singh, author of three novels was interviewed by Lindsay Bamfield, talking about her extensive writing career and her influences. Vaseem Khan was our final speaker of Saturday and he spoke about his love affair with India and read from his bestselling debut novel.

On Sunday, Katharine Norbury spoke about her memoir incorporating travelogue, mythology and nature writing. After hearing of Katharine’s exploits we were ready for our Guided Walk. Led by Mr Greenacres and Rosie Canning there were readings from books that mentioned Finchley with a lunch stop at Redwood Café (one of our sponsors) in Swan Lane Open Space, and a tea stop at Finchley Golf Club.

Our final event was the Music and Poetry Palooza, organised by Anna Meryt, an evening of lively performance poetry and music supported as ever by Cafe Buzz.

We were delighted that the BIG GREEN BOOKSHOP were the festival's book sellers.

Our members have been busy with their writing and we are always pleased when they achieve success.

FLF Coordinator Lindsay Bamfield had a flash fiction piece Bird Music published in The Great British Write Off Timeless Echoes anthology. It's been shortlisted in the GBWO competition too. Lindsay also  edited Finchley Remembered II which was published  in September.

One of our newer Greenacre Writers, Marcelle Mateki Akita, recently released her debut collection of short stories entitled 'Lizard & Other Stories'. The collection focuses on girls and women of Ghanaian and mixed heritage. 

Allen Ashley has been very busy launching The Planet Suite and Slow Motion Wars – a short story collection co-written with Andrew Hook. Alan guest-edited a journal “Wordland 7: Mountebanks”. He was also named as “Barnet Eye Blog – Barnet Teacher of the Year 2016” and we offer him our hearty congratulations. Plus the Start that Novel course, and his new “Distance Group” that started November 2016.

In April, June, October and November, Rosie Canning and Mr Greenacres led walks where they discovered woodland, a secret orchard, a viaduct, footpaths, green fields, brooks and literature! After all that walking, writing and poetry, there were of course lunch stops and afternoon tea at a variety of amazing cafes.

Rosie Canning led a spring and autumn writing retreat at St Katharine's, Parmoor. 

Our regular groups continue to meet regularly, and there is also the the new Novel Focus Group starting in January 2017 and run by Allen Ashley - Subjects covered will include:  Novel planning, Structure, First pages and chapters, Characterisation, Location, Dialogue, Pacing, Style and Editing techniques. If you are serious about settling into writing your novel, this is the course for you. 

February 2017, Josie Pearse will be working with a small group of writers, mostly novelists, serious about finishing a longer piece of work, who get together weekly in Central London (Tottenham Court Road). Josie hopes to move to Barnet in the New Year, and we look forward to hearing about more workshops and courses.

Finally we had some wonderful conversations with writers including Alex Wheatle, the new  Guardian children’s fiction prize winner, Rebecca Mascall, Yvette Edwards, Tasha Kavanagh, Kit de Waal, Harry Parker, Katharine Norbury, Louise Beech, Vaseem Khan, Joanna Campbell, some of whom went on to appear in the Finchley Literary Festival during June.

We look forward to more achievements next year -

Wishing all our followers a peaceful and joyous 2017

Stop Press:

We are thrilled that Finchley Literary Festival has been awarded 'Best event of the in Barnet' by the Barnet Eye Community awards for the second year running. For all the other categories and winners see The Barnet Eye Community Awards.

Wednesday 14 December 2016

A Conversation With by Michael J Malone

Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country, just a stone’s throw from the great man’s cottage in Ayr. Well, a stone thrown by a catapult. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. His career as a poet has also included a (very) brief stint as the Poet-In-Residence for an adult gift shop. Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize (judge: Alex Gray) from the Scottish Association of Writers.

Other published work includes: Carnegie’s Call (a non-fiction work about successful modern-day Scots); A Taste for Malice; The Guillotine Choice; and Beyond the Rage. His poetry includes: In The Raw, Running Threadsand Lip Synch. Michael is a regular reviewer for the hugely popular crime fiction website A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller. A Suitable Lie was recently published by Orenda Books in September 2016.

Andy Boyd thinks he is the luckiest man alive. Widowed with a young child, after his wife dies in childbirth, he is certain that he will never again experience true love. Then he meets Anna. Feisty, fun and beautiful, she's his perfect match ...and she loves his son like he is her own. When Andy ends up in the hospital on his wedding night, he receives his first clue that Anna is not all that she seems. Desperate for that happy-ever-after, he ignores it. A dangerous mistake that could cost him everything. A brave, deeply moving, page-turning psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie marks a stunning departure for one of Scotland's finest crime writers, exploring the lengths people will go to hide their deepest secrets, even if it kills them...

A brave, deeply moving psychological thriller which marks a stunning departure for one of Scotland's top crime writers. We'd like to thank Michael for A Conversation with... and wish him huge success in the future.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I remember holding a book as a small child and dreaming of the moment when I would hold one with my name on the cover. That dream was put on hold as life got in the way, but re-surfaced in my early thirties. I found myself saying over and over again – when I retire I’m going to write a book. And when I noticed what I was saying, I thought – why am I waiting? So, I began to practise and learn everything I could about the craft of writing. The full story of my road to publication would take way too long, so I’ll give you the abridged version.

I joined my local writers club, had a go at various disciplines and found I had a facility for poetry. Over the next few years I had over 200 poems published in literary magazines, but the drive to see my name on a published novel didn’t subside. I started my first attempt at a novel in 1996 and eventually found a publisher in 2010. That novel, Blood Tears was released in 2012. It was a long and emotionally charged road, but well worth the sweat and tears in the final analysis.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I’m a storyteller. My job is to entertain, primarily - to remove someone from their everyday into a world where their wants and needs are temporarily on hold while they are engaged in my fictive dream. If, while they are being entertained, they are gaining insight into other peoples’ lives, then that’s a bonus.

What I like most about it are the days/ hours/ moments when I lose myself in that dream – wake up and find I’ve created something with just a few lines on a page.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

I think writing is an exercise in empathy and although I write crime fiction and there are a few “bad” people in there, I like to think there’s enough humanity in them to reach the human in me.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

I’ve written a series of novels about a tough Glasgow policeman and his criminal sidekick. Because it is such a masculine world I’ve been careful to ensure that my female characters are every bit as capable, perhaps more so, than the men around them.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I’m a bit of a Francophile, so somewhere in France. I’m not fussy where to be honest. A location where I could ski in the winter and hang about a beach in the summer would suit me just fine.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

The answer to this one will change on an hourly basis. I’ve just cast my eyes over my bookcase, and I’ll go with The Power of One by Bryce Courteney. A brave little boy is brought up in an institution, he’s badly bullied, but never loses sight of his dream to be a world champion boxer. It’s a real Boy’s Own story and an inspirational tale.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?
Just do it. I meet lots of people who say they’d love to write a novel - if only they had the time. If they really wanted to write one, they’d find the time. One writer I know had four kids and a demanding full-time job. He had forty five minutes for his lunch break and that was the only free time he had to himself throughout the week. Over the years he wrote 5 novels in those lunch breaks. That was a lesson to me when I met him and convinced me to somehow carve out the time, set up a work pattern and just do it.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I’m currently putting the finishing touches to a couple of unrelated novels. One is a part of the series I mentioned earlier. It’s called Dog Fight and concerns my characters getting caught up in an underground fight club. The other is a gothic mystery about a lonely young man who inherits a sprawling mansion from a side of the family he had no idea even existed.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

I wanted to be Sparrowhawk – or Ged – the young wizard from A Wizard from Earthsea. I was such an ordinary wee boy, with nothing remarkable about him that I couldn’t fail to be drawn into a world where one such as I was harbouring such extraordinary gifts.

Thank you to Orenda Books for the review copy.
You can follow Michael on Twitter: @michaelJmalone1

Monday 12 December 2016

How To Be Brave by Louise Beech

Book review from Carol Sampson

It is just a normal day. Not quite like every other because Natalie and her nine year old daughter Rose are dressed in Halloween costumes ready for Trick or Treating, but normal in every other sense. Natalie is grumpy after spending hours carving the pumpkin and Rose is misbehaving. As they are verbally sparring in the kitchen Natalie is thrown into turmoil as Rose collapses.

“When I turned, the world had changed. It was quiet, slow. There were no whispers, no bad words or swearwords, only Rose falling, her mouth moving, as if she were reading in our book nook. I couldn’t hear the swirl of syllables, yet something in their rhythm gave me deja-vu. I tried to read her lips; What are you telling me? I wanted to scream.”

While waiting at the hospital a man in a brow suit, bearing military medals, chats to Natalie. She assumes he is dressed in authentic wartime clothing for Halloween. He is a stranger to Natalie but talking with him brings her comfort. When the nurse appears to speak with Natalie the man has disappeared.

Rose is diagnosed with a serious condition requiring medication for the rest of her life. Rose rebels at this new way of life and Natalie must find ways to ensure Rose complies with her treatment. With her husband, Jake, away on tour in Afghanistan this presents Natalie with an exhausting challenge.

In the coming days Natalie begins to dream of the sea and a man who feels familiar. It is only when Rose disappears and is found in the shed, explaining that the man in her dreams told her to go there,  that Natalie realises Rose has seen him too.

“He comes to see me in the dark…he smells kind of…you know, like the fish and chips at Hornsea? He said last night that he’d meet me in here, near the boxes.’

As the pain and inflexibility of daily treatment becomes a reality for Rose, she shuts Natalie out, refusing to accept this new way of life and Natalie becomes creative to meet the challenges her daughter sets. Through the telling of a story both Natalie and Rose become engrossed in the life of an ancestor, stranded at sea.

The narrative switches between the challenges faced by their relative on the lifeboat and that of the daily struggle with Rose’s condition. The story stretches across the years as the man in the boat and Rose help each other to be strong. A bridge between the generations allow them to provide comfort to each other.

Louise Beech has written a very powerful account of the suffering experienced by the seaman and his shipmates, adrift in the ocean, rationing out food and trying to stay alive against all odds. Meanwhile Rose and Natalie are learning how to cope with their new routine. All are learning ‘How to be Brave’.

The story is skilfully written, capturing the essence of human nature. It shows that it is not a weakness to accept the help of others and that we all need each other to survive. Life is not about facing challenges alone but that by allowing others to help, the suffering is eased.

Natalie frequently suffers bouts of guilt. Firstly in not recognising Rose’s condition and then for losing her temper when tired and frustrated. Similarly, the man on the boat lost his temper, struck a young man when exhausted and weak, and regretted it until the day he died. Rose exonerates them both with her wise words.

“when you feel that tired you always act mean to the ones you like most. I just wish he didn’t feel so bad afterwards. Cos he really wasn’t.”

This captivating and moving story is well written, engaging and a delight to read. Inspiration for the story came from Louise Beech’s own experiences and makes compelling reading.

Thank you to Orenda Books for the review copy.
You can follow Louise on Twitter: @LouiseWriter

You can also follow Carol on Twitter: @carol_sampson55

Wednesday 7 December 2016

A Conversation with Denny Brown

Denise Brown was originally an Essex girl and is now settled in Dumfries & Galloway. Denise pursued her dreams of being a writer after a friend recommended she read JK Rowling’s Harvard commencement speech on the ‘Benefits of Failure’. She studied Advanced Creative Writing with the OU, balancing writing with a full-time job and being mum to five beautiful children. In 2014, Devil on Your Back, her gritty YA novella set in inner-city Britain, was published in ebook format by Salt Publishing. She has since had short stories published in Rattle Tales Anthology 4 and various online magazines, and was long-listed for the Mslexia novel competition with the first draft of an unpublished novel.

Denise writes about things that disturb her. She once lived on a dismal estate similar to that featured in the forthcoming I am Winter, and made bearable only by the surreal effect of being surrounded by woods. It was the lack of hope in the faces of the local teenagers that were the inspiration for her novel.

One day she wants to live in either a book shop or Hogwarts, with a Rottweiler and the complete works of Thomas Hardy. 

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I think it all began with my dad. We used to go to the library together every three weeks when I was a teenager. I loved books. I always wanted to write but never considered it as a possible career so I left school, worked in a bank, got married and had lots of babies. It wasn’t until my youngest daughters were growing up that I decided to take the plunge and study (Advanced) Creative Writing with the OU. I was instantly addicted and started entering short story competitions – I won the first competition I entered which was a tremendous ego boost – and worked my way up to writing my first novella which was based on a short story submitted for one of my course assignments. When I saw Salt’s call for submissions for their Modern Dreams series I sent them my novella Devil on Your Back and three weeks later signed a contract with them. Seeing my photo on Salt’s website as one of their authors was so exciting! Since then I have continued working on several novels, been long-listed for the Mslexia novel competition and recently signed a contract with Cranachan Publishing so it is a very exciting time for me.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I see myself as a crazy woman with lots of people living inside my head. No seriously, what I love most about writing is having a character that might begin as simply a face with a few freckles across the nose, and watching them develop into someone with history and passion, with likes and dislikes and family and friends, and a story to tell.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

Yes all the time! I think we all have the potential for good and evil; it is life that moulds us into the people we ultimately become, and it is the situations that people find themselves in and the way that they deal with them,that I tend to write about. Things that sadden or disturb me.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

We all know or have encountered a plethora of diverse characters in real life; it would feel unnatural to not carry this knowledge across into my writing.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

At home – I am exactly where I want to be because home is where my family is.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

The Secret History by Donna Tartt – thanks to my son Dan who gave me a copy for my birthday. It gets under your skin, slowly, subtly, unnoticeably at first, and then you feel as though you’ve become embroiled in a world so sinister and disturbing it cannot fail to go horribly wrong. Immaculate writing and utterly un-put-down-able.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

Read, write, persevere, don’t give up. My first novel was attempted during Nanowrimo. I say ‘attempted’ because even though I completed the novel in the month, it wasn’t until I read it back that I realised how mind-numbingly awful it was. And still is. It’s unsalvageable but it proved to me that I could write a novel.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I am Winter will be published late 2017 by Cranachan Publishing. It is a contemporary coming-of-age novel about Summer, a teenager whose mother’s tempestuous relationships leave her feeling unloved and abandoned until she discovers a bear-dog living in the local woods. I feel incredibly lucky to be working with Cranchan’s Helen and Anne to tell Summer’s story, as they share the same passions as myself about the novel.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

I’m not sure I have a favourite character from childhood. When I was fifteen I read Forever Amber and Amber St Clare remains to this day the character from a novel I would most like to be.

I am Winter is published by Cranachan Publishing

Follow Denise on Twitter @DeniseBrownUK

Friday 2 December 2016

Helen Macdonald - H is for Hawk

Award-winning author Helen Macdonald headlines Writers in Conversation

The highly popular Writers in Conversation series returns to the University of Southampton with Costa Book of the Year winner Helen Macdonald headlining the autumn programme.

The author of the bestselling H is for Hawk comes to the main stage of the Nuffield Theatre on Monday, 5 December. The book, a touching memoir of the year Helen spent training a goshawk named Mabel in the wake of her father’s death, won both the Costa award and The Samuel Johnson Prize in 2014. Helen is a writer, poet, illustrator, historian, naturalist and professional falconer. Throughout her career, Helen has worked as a Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge and assisted with the management of raptor research and conservation projects across Eurasia and bred hunting falcons for Arab royalty.

“Helen’s book is an astonishing mix of science and memoir, fact and emotion, told with a poet’s ear for language, and a storyteller’s sense of drama,” says Carole Burns, Associate Professor and Head of Creative Writing at the University of Southampton, who hosts the series. “H Is for Hawk has become a modern classic, and I can’t wait to hear her read and talk about how this book came to be.”

Writers in Conversation features some of today’s best fiction writers, poets, non-fiction writers and playwrights reading from their work and talking about their writing lifestyle. The talks are hosted by Carole Burns, a former journalist who still writes for The Washington Post. She is also a fiction writer, whose collection, The Missing Woman and Other Stories, won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award last year from Ploughshares.

“Reading stories is a part of our education that we most often bring with us into our adult lives – whether by reading the latest Costa Prize winner, or taking a thriller to the beach,” says Carole. “I hope this series gives people a chance to deepen that interest, by hearing writers read their own work, and asking them questions about their art. “Nuffield provides a wonderful setting for this event, lending the readings a salon-like feel,” she continued. “They’re casual and engaging, and writers seem to love Writers in Conversation as well.”

All Writers in Conversation events in the autumn series start at 19:30. Tickets for Helen Macdonald priced at £12.00 each.

Follow Helen on Twitter: @HelenJMacdonald
Follow Carole on Twitter: @Carole_Burns

Friday 25 November 2016

A Conversation with Elle Wild

Elle Wild grew up in a dark, rambling farmhouse in the wilds of Canada where there was nothing to do but read Edgar Allan Poe and watch PBS mysteries. She is an award-winning short filmmaker and the former writer/host of the radio program Wide Awake on CBC Radio One. Her short fiction has been published in Ellery Queen Magazine and her articles have appeared in The Toronto Star, Georgia Straight, and Westender. Wild’s debut novel, Strange Things Done, won the Arthur Ellis Award 2015 for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel, and was shortlisted in multiple contests internationally. Recently returned from the U.K., Wild currently resides on an island in the Salish Sea named after the bones of dead whales.

As winter closes in and the roads snow over in Dawson City, Yukon, newly arrived journalist Jo Silver investigates the dubious suicide of a local politician and quickly discovers that not everything in the sleepy tourist town is what it seems. Before long, law enforcement begins treating the death as a possible murder and Jo is the prime suspect.

What a wonderful dark, quirky, and complex debut novel this is. Canada’s north was never more sinister. Jo Silver is a character who needs more than one book.”
                                – Ian Hamilton, author of the internationally bestselling Ava Lee series

The deeper that Jo is drawn into the investigation, the more she finds that everyone is hiding something. Ultimately, Jo must piece together fragments of her own memory about the night in question, culminating in a startling revelation. 

Strange Things Done is a top-notch thriller — a tense and stylish crime novel that explores the double themes of trust and betrayal against a snow-swept backdrop of the Canadian north. We would like to thank Elle for taking part in A Conversation... and wish her luck with her writing for the future.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

My journey to publishing has been rather circuitous. I spent years as a short filmmaker, then worked in advertising, wrote and hosted a CBC radio show in Canada, and then finally began my novel during an Artist in Residency stint in Dawson City, in the Yukon. I continued working on the story when I moved to the U.K., and finally entered the manuscript in some contests there. It was shortlisted in the “Criminal Lines” contest by London literary agency A.M. Heath and in the Harvill Secker/Telegraph Crime Competition, among others, and finally won the Arthur Ellis Award in Canada for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel, which is when it was picked up for publication. Strange Things Done launched in North America on September 24th and is coming soon to the U.K.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

My favourite thing about being a writer is doing a lot of daydreaming. When Strange published this fall, it felt like I’d downloaded a long daydream in book form that someone else could then upload to their brain and enjoy. It’s a funny feeling – but a pretty wonderful one. I kept sneaking into Chapters Indigo in Vancouver to see my book on the “W” shelf next to Irvine Welsh. It still feels very surreal.

I see the role of writer as being primarily to entertain an audience and provide a passport into another world.  That said, I think there’s also an opportunity whenever someone spends time in another person’s head to experience empathy, another perspective, another culture, and to increase our understanding of the human condition.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

I empathise with all of the characters in my novel and short stories, even the ones I wouldn’t spend time with if they existed in real life. I’m fascinated by the grey area that exists in all human beings. To me, the most interesting characters in literature are the ones who operate in that moral grey area; they’re the characters who are most in conflict, and conflict creates drama and forces difficult but interesting choices. As a reader, I love it when an author gets me to understand a character’s choice and empathise with them, even if it is the wrong choice from a moral perspective. In Strange Things Done, I tried to create a world where everyone is keeping secrets and making dubious choices, but hopefully the reader will nonetheless empathise with the characters.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

One of the main characters in my debut novel is Canadian First Nations, from the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in band in Dawson City, Yukon. The Klondike Institute of Art and Culture (KIAC) helped pair me with a representative of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in while I was in Dawson researching the story, so that I might be able to ask questions about who I thought the character might be, and to better establish what might drive my character, what kind of issues he would face, and what his own personal conflicts might be. All of the details were called into question, things like where the character might live, or whether or not he would still be single if he were older, (unlikely, I was told, as people marry much younger in the North). I had to change the age of my character, and many of the little details about him and what made him tick. I was extremely fortunate to have that kind of research assistance.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

Oh, that’s a challenging question, as I am a person who is torn equally between two places, the U.K. and Canada. Here in Canada, I live on an island off the rugged coast of BC. I’m spoiled with lush fern and forest views from the window of my home office, and I’m a five-minute drive to the beach. Often, though, I miss my old loft office in the Victorian house we owned in the U.K., and the views of rolling farmland just outside the charming village of Box, near Bath. Given the choice, I’d flit back and forth between the two worlds at random. At the moment, I settle for importing my old Box neighbours in from the U.K. for summer and winter holidays. I try to get back whenever I can to visit, and to research my next novel, which is set in Victorian London and Dorset.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

I wish I’d written Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. It’s a wonderful story, speaking of empathy and characters who operate in the moral grey area.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

I think you have to be prepared to set your first ten drafts on fire, and just keep the story evolving. Have trusted readers provide critiques of each draft. Then put it away for a while and come back to it with a fresh perspective. Try not to absorb the negative remarks yet also try to learn from them. (It’s a difficult balance to find, but I think it becomes easier with time.) Ignore anyone who tells you that getting published is difficult or impossible. Persevere. Believe.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

Ooh, I’m so excited to start working properly on the next novel. This story is a historical mystery set in Victorian London and Dorset, called The Secret Bones. Can’t say more than that at the moment, but I will keep you posted.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Probably Alice in Wonderland, because I always admired her great (if troublesome) curiosity and willingness to plunge herself into strange new worlds.

Strange Things Done is published by Dundurn Press

You can follow Elle on Twitter: @ElleWild_Writer

Thursday 17 November 2016

Writing Friendships

Writing Friendships took place at City University, last night and was introduced by Novel Studio tutors Emily Midorikawa and Emma Sweeney. As long-time friends who have supported each other's careers from the beginning, authors Emily and Emma know just how important building strong links with other writers can be.

They were joined by novelist Susan Barker, novelist and non-fiction writer Ann Morgan, and poet Denise Saul.

From LtoR: Emily Midorikawa, Emma Sweeney, Susan Baker, Denise Saul and
Ann Morgan  

The evening started with Ann Morgan who spoke about the ideas behind writing A Year of Reading the World. This started when Ann decided to read a book from every country in the world within a year and recorded this journey on the blog. The problems were many and and when she got to Burundi, the chances of finding a book that had been translated into to English were looking remotely slim. She turned to the refugee community and sent out some emails. She had an email from Edouard. He told of his old classmate from Burundi who had published two novels in English. Her name was Marie-Thérèse Toyi. She had lived through the Burundi genocide and relayed this through her fictional characters in Weep Not, Refugee. Ann also told us about the novelist Hamid Ismailov, Uzbek journalist, who was put on a watch hit list and whose books were burnt in the street. He and his family fled Uzbekistan to Switzerland. He explained after he fled he was removed from his audience. He had no one to write for and had to deal with the pain of being exiled from his language. Marie-Thérèse and Hamid were two of the big writing relationships from the book and Ann is still in touch with them today. She also said that whatever challenges we have, we all have barriers - confronting those barriers is very important and at the moment we still have freedom of speech and that we must fight to preserve that.

Next up was Susan Barker who told us about her non-writer writing friendship with Liang Junhong, in Shanghai. Susan had gone there to do research for a novel. She met Arts Officer, Liang at the British Council in 2007. She helped Susan find somewhere to live and also with the everyday things like joining a library, or speaking to electricians - though she couldn't help with the smog, Susan had gone to Shanghai to immerse herself in the culture and history but more often than not found herself locked in her room searching Shanghai on the Internet. Liang dragged her out and she learnt a lot through her. Susan found the transition from the UK to China difficult, the language in particular and without Liang's support she wondered if she would have coped. The research eventually became her third novel The Incarnations (Doubleday, July 2014) about a taxi driver in contemporary Beijing and interwoven with tales from the Tang Dynasty, the invasion of Genghis Khan, the Ming Dynasty, the Opium War, and the Cultural Revolution.

Poet Denise Saul spoke about her writing relationship with the charity Connect and how through her personal experience of aphasia, her late mother had a stroke, she created the videopoem: The Aphasic Mind. She went on to found the project Silent Room: A Journey of Language. This was a collaboration between Denise and film-maker, Helmie Stil. Aphasia is a communication disability which occurs when the language centres of the brain are damaged. The video poem focuses on language from the perspective of ‘the outsider’ or those who engage with an aphasic individual. Denise wanted to break down barriers in her writing and enter into new spaces, the carer's narrative and the disabled black body to bridge the gap and settle in those spaces. Denise said that everyone should be able to communicate and that it is important to explore other spaces as well as other disciplines. She added that she didn't really know what friendship was, it was slippery to her. She spoke more about the friendship of pleasure, of utility and virtue and that for her it was often about utility. Her top five tips for friendship included: creating and occupying new spaces; networking; accountability - she liked it when friends asked if she had finished a poem or collection, it kept her on her toes; collaboration - don't be afraid to cross boundaries; and sharing space.

Finally Emily Midorikawa  spoke about how she and Emily Sweeney had met in 2001 in a remote part of Japan. It was quite sometime after they met that they finally admitted they were both writing. They then began to post each other letters of writing and anxiously wait for feedback. Emily spoke of how literary friendships are important for writers. They began to discuss other writing relationships and realised the well-known writers were often about men Shelley and Byron, Wordsworth and Coleridge for example. They wondered if Charlotte Bronte had a writer friend apart from family members or Virginia Woolf in the male dominated Bloomsbury Set. They discovered there were female friendships but they hadn't been mythologised in the same way as the men. Emma and Emily went from friends who had something in common to actively working together both as tutors, and collaborators on a project. They created the blog Something Rhymed. This celebration of female literary friendship includes past authors as well as contemporary writers. From the blog came their forthcoming book: A Secret Sisterhood, which will look at the literary bonds between Jane Austen and amateur playwright, Anne Sharp; Charlotte Brontë and feminist author, Mary Taylor; George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe; and Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield.

A Secret Sisterhood will be published, by Aurum Press in the UK and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the USA, in late 2017. The year coincides with the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death.

The panel shared their own experiences of literary friendship and offering practical advice for new and experienced writers on ways in which they can forge and develop meaningful writing relationships of their own.

As the event came to a close and myself and Lindsay, my writing friend made our way home, I reflected on our literary friendship...