I wrote an article for The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Words and Pictures Magazine about the evolution of SCBWI’s relationship with The Edinburgh International Book Festival, which you can read here:
So it’s April tomorrow already! Where did the first part of this year go?
I’ve been busy with various writing-related activities in my Chasing Time, SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and Scottish Association of Writers guises, and there’s lots to report. Including a couple of exciting developments on the writing front and meeting a literary hero of mine…
But first up SCBWI.
In January we ran a Synopsis Teach-In in Edinburgh with the help of lovely SCBWI member and 2019 recipient of a New Writers Award from Scottish Book Trust, Sheila Averbuch. It was a packed event, with lively discussion on how to conquer the dreaded synopses.
Next up on the busy Scottish SCBWI calendar was a Scribble and Scrawl Crawl at the stunning new V&A in Dundee, where we were ably assisted on the illustration front by the very talented Jill Calder. This was a brilliant way to spend a morning and we couldn’t help but be inspired by the building and its exhibits.
Then earlier this month we ran an event for our growing published and agented network members with special guest Dawn Geddes, freelance journalist, Book Correspondent for The Scots Magazine and YA author, who spoke about the business of being an author and how to find your brand, build your platform and market yourself. Phew – it’s been busy in the world of SCBWI!
In between this, Sandra, Dawn and I ran a Tick Tock – Writing Detox Chasing Time Retreat in February covering editing, structure and prioritising your writing time. We had a great group of writers join us and it was a fantastic weekend.
The last two months have been particularly exciting personally as, first of all, I found out I had been longlisted in the Mslexia Children’s Novel Award. Aargh!
Then at the annual Scottish Association of Writers Conference last weekend I picked up the T.C. Farries Trophy for the Children’s Novel Category with my current YA WIP, ‘The Eyelash Dandelion’, as well as third place with a previous novel, and second in the Under 7s category too, so that was exciting! My writing group, Angus Writers’ Circle, did amazingly overall, with us taking home 17 placed entries, including 5 trophies between us.
All topped off nicely with a little welcome home message from the kids…
And as to that literary hero I mentioned? A major highlight of the year to date was attending an early Edinburgh International Book Festival event with the one and only Angie Thomas, which was chaired perfectly by Nadine Aisha Jassat. Angie is such an inspirational speaker and it was hard not to cheer after everything she said!
So, that’s my 2019 news to date – I hope you have all had a great start to the year too.
There are lots more exciting book/writing related things coming up over the next few months as well, but April looks surprisingly quiet, so think I’ll go and have a quick lie down to recover in the meantime. 😉
Thank you to Rae Cowie for this great review. Rae attended our February writing retreat and we loved having her with us. We look forward to catching up with her at the Scottish Association of Writers conference this weekend.
Our next retreat focuses on settings and characters, drawing inspiration from some gothic writing of the past. Here’s a little teaser from Sandra to whet your appetites…
Here’s our latest Chasing Time blog post following our first retreat last weekend, which went even better than we could have hoped for. We’ve already had three 5* reviews (which are included at the end of the post), and are looking forward to doing it all again in a few weeks time!
Source: Inaugural Retreat Success
Well, August came and went pretty quickly, huh? But what a month it was. Between managing to get lots of writing done on my own YA novel, Sixteen Again, whilst on holiday, to coming home and launching straight into the fabulous Edinburgh Book Festival, then formalising lots of arrangements for our first Chasing Time Writing Retreat in Angus at the end of the month, it’s been all go.
The Edinburgh Book Festival has quickly become a highlight of my literary year, and this year I was lucky enough to include an overnight stay in Edinburgh and to attend lots of author events, as well as two SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) crit groups in the Spiegeltent. Special mention has also to be made of the Unbound evening on the 18th, where singer/songwriter Genevieve Dawson ( @gdawsonmusic ) and novelist Sarah Perry ( @_sarah_perry ) in particular were amazing. (Watch out for Sarah’s book coming out – the writing is beautiful and I was seriously holding back tears by the end).
It was also the first time that I had heard Matt Haig speak, and he had us all spellbound, even as it was touch and go at one point as to whether the Bosco Theatre venue would be blown away by the fierce winds outside. And of course, there was the sold out SCBWI event, The Great Gender Debate, with authors Jonathan Stroud, David Leviathan and Kathryn Evans, ably chaired by the South East Scotland SCBWI Coordinators, Sarah Broadley and Anita Gallo.
I even managed to squeeze in a visit to Blackwell’s Writers at the Fringe to support my lovely author friend, Sandra Ireland, who was one of five authors reading from their books. (Check out ‘Beneath the Skin’ by Sandra if you love a slice of gothic noir and fantastically well-written novels).
So that brings me smoothly on to the writing retreats that Sandra, Dawn Geddes and I are launching, with the first one being at the end of this month. It’s come round fast and we’re really looking forward to welcoming all our guests soon. The venue is superbly atmospheric and bound to inspire, and I might even be able to squeeze some more of my own writing in over the weekend too!
The Chasing Time team
For more information go to http://www.chasingtimescotland.wordpress.com/retreats
Hope your own writing/reading is going well too – bye for now.
As per Sandra’s post on her own website, which I shared here earlier this month, I have more exciting news about the launch of our tutored residential writing retreats. Two writing friends and I have set up Chasing Time Writing Retreats in a beautiful and quirky Scottish country house, and are excited to share our passion for writing with others. The programme is now up and running and we have taken our first bookings.
Having been lucky enough to go on various writing retreats myself, I know how valuable it can be to escape the everyday routines and commitments you may have at home, and be able to concentrate solely on developing your writing. In Rosely Country House Hotel, Arbroath, we have found the perfect place to host our retreats, with its uniquely atmospheric setting sure to provide writing motivation around every corner.
If this is the sort of thing that appeals, why not click on the link below and check out the rest of our website? We’d love to see you there. 🙂
I’m just back from this year’s Scottish Association of Writers Conference at The Westerwood Hotel (@TheWesterwoodQ) in Cumbernauld. And what another fantastic weekend it has been! The SAW Council work hard to put on such a great event and this year we had the biggest turn out from our writing group, @AWCAngus since I started attending a few years ago. It’s so good to be able to spend more time with friends and get to know each other better, as well as just generally soak up the buzz of being in the company of like-minded people. The icing on the cake is that we again came away with some prizes and placings in the various competitions that are adjudicated over the weekend, including top prizes of The Dorothy Dunbar Rose Bowl for poetry for our Club Secretary, Sandra Ireland (author of ‘Beneath The Skin’), and The Constable Silver Stag for a General Novel to Pam Turner.
Last year I was lucky enough to win the beautiful T.C. Farries trophy for a Children’s Novel, and it was with a certain reluctance that I found myself packing it up in order to pass the baton. However the consolation was that this year it was awarded to fellow Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCWBI) member, Sheila Adamson, so it was a bit like keeping it in the family.
Apart from the competitions and the social side, there are a number of fantastic SAW workshops to attend, and my favourite two of the weekend were run by YA authors Keith Gray and Victoria Gemmell (another fellow SCBWI). Thank you both for being so lovely and helping to turn it into such a special weekend once again. I was also able to attend an outside workshop run by editor and literary consultant, Claire Wingfield (www.clairewingfield.co.uk) and between the three of them, have left feeling inspired and keen to get back to my own work in progress.
Our keynote speaker was the very funny Helen Lederer who rounded off a brilliant conference.
If you would like to know more about Angus Writers’ Circle you can follow us on Twitter @AWCAngus, and I hope your own writing is going well.
This comes to you a little later than hoped as, like many it seems, we have been a little laid up with colds and flu over December and then we hit the madness of Christmas and the New Year. Speaking of which, Happy New Year and hope 2017 will be a happy, healthy and productive year for all of you.
Anyway, I had earlier promised to post some highlights of my recent Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference so I thought I would start with pitching, especially as this also ties in nicely with recent Twitter pitches that I have taken part in over the past few weeks.
At the conference I attended a pitching session with Benjamin Scott who said that ‘our goal in pitching is simply to excite another person about our story… whether an agent, editor, parent or reader’. Simple, huh? Why is it then that as soon as somebody asks what our book/story is about, many of us struggle to summarise it, or can turn into gibbering idiots? (I find the latter tends to happen to me, especially when you throw an agent into the mix!) He continued that ‘the expectation should be that sounds like an interesting idea, tell me more’ not ‘this is going to get me an agent, publisher, make me the next JK Rowling. These lower expectations immediately lessen the pressure.’
Pitching is therefore just presenting your work in the best possible light for maximum excitement, but you should bear the following in mind;
- You can choose to pitch – it’s never compulsory
- Relax – having a prepared pitch makes it easier to relax
- Versatility – a good pitch is useful for many things
- Creative aid – when constructing one it can act as a great developmental tool as it helps identify what’s at the heart of your book
- What is the peril, the conflict, and the consequences?
Conflict is the beating heart of the story and what happens is an expression of the conflict. So avoid listing what happens, e.g. ‘Steph goes to her brother, then her mother, and then the bank to borrow money. Lastly she goes to a drug dealer,’ and focus on the conflicts at the core of the story instead. Avoid using bespoke and confusing story language, distill the best bits, ignore the subplots and try to focus on the heart of the story.
A good pitch should introduce the main protagonist, give an indication of target audience and genre, lay out the core conflict and leave people wanting more, i.e. what is happening, to who, and why? What is at stake?
Also perhaps, is it similar in style to any other books on the market? Or can the writing style be likened to other authors (this can be particularly helpful if it is similar to another author you know the person likes, or perhaps already represents). One technique can be to use XXX meets XXX, something which is also apparently quite popular when pitching scripts to Hollywood.
You have probably heard of the ‘elevator pitch’ concept, where you should be able to summarise your book in the short space of time it would take to ride in a lift between floors (in the unlikely event that the agent/publisher of your dreams just happens to get in the lift with you). This is similar to a paragraph synopsis, which I’ve also seen some writing competitions ask for alongside your writing sample.
To challenge yourself even more, it seems that Twitter pitches are becoming more common as well. These are organised events with a designated hashtag where you have to tweet your pitch in around 136 characters (to leave sufficient room for the appropriate hashtag), and where agents and publishers are able to dip in and out and favourite any tweets that grab their attention. This is in effect an invitation to submit directly to them and skip the dreaded slush pile. A recent example was organised by Emergents CIC Ltd and XPO North in Scotland, with the hashtag #xpo (followed by the appropriate letter for your genre of book). Or look out for #PitchMAS, which takes place each December and was set up by two US authors. It’s a long-shot, but if you don’t put yourself out there then you never know!
Now, back to the conference. I’m not holding myself up as an expert by any means, but thought you may be interested in seeing what I came up with during the breakout session. In general it seemed to do the job, with both Benjamin and our surprise guest, Imogen Cooper of the fantastic Golden Egg, giving me decent feedback and encouragement.
The Maze Runner meets Alex Rider in a contemporary upper MG thriller featuring a sinkhole, a sinister cult and a secret bunker of trapped children. When disillusioned 15-year-old Will sees a sinkhole appear in their living room and swallow his twin brother and sister, this is no simple freak of nature. Sunk! is a story of siblings, where one is being hunted above ground and the others are trapped below the earth. Where can you turn when you’ve been betrayed by those you trust the most?
I’ll leave things here for now but will lay out some valuable words of wisdom from one of our keynote speakers, Sarah Davies of the Greenhouse Literary Agency, in my next post.
Last week, on the 19th-23rd October 2016, my home town welcomed back the Dundee Literary Festival. This year it was special for three reasons:
- It was the festival’s tenth year in operation;
- It was the first time I had managed to attend as it falls during the October school holidays and we are normally away;
- My friend, Sandra Ireland, was featured talking about her debut novel, ‘Beneath the Skin’, alongside Shelley Day and her debut, ‘The Confession of Stella Moon’.
The Literary Dundee website says the following:
Literary Dundee is a cultural organisation, part of the University of Dundee, which celebrates readers and writers, and brings the best writers in the world to Dundee.
We support the literary community in Dundee through the Dundee Literary Festival (October), publications such as New Writing Dundee, projects such as the Dundee International Book Prize, and a series of year round events, including our Literary Lock-Ins, produced in partnership with bright sparks within the University and outside it.
What’s not to like?
I feel lucky to live in a place that is so supportive of literary pursuits and am embarrassed that it has taken so long to be able to attend some of the fantastic and varied talks and events over the period of the festival, some with fellow writers and some with my young children.
As well as Sandra’s event I also managed to attend a lecture on The Fall of the Tay Bridge with David Swinfen; a Memoir and the Art of Life Writing showcase with writers from the University of Dundee’s Continuing Life Writing course and their course tutor, Josie Jules Andrews; a talk by Scotland’s Booker Prize winner James Kelman about his new novel, ‘Dirt Road’; a fascinating discussion about Shirley Jackson (of ‘The Lottery’ fame) and Josephine Tey; and two events for younger people – a ‘Rock and Roald Dahl party’ with Matthew Fitt, who has translated some of Dahl’s books into Scots, and a ‘Create a Comic workshop with Jim Glen. My two eight year olds had a blast. Here’s a picture of Georgia with a certain recognisable DC Thomson character…
I can’t sign off without mention of the Ex Libris Book Fair on the last day, which was a treasure trove for anyone with a love of the arts. As an added bonus I met a fellow SCBWI member, Elizabeth Wein, who I only previously knew through the Society’s Facebook page, and it was lovely, as always, to put a face to a name.
All in all it was a fantastic few days and a new highlight of my year. I think I have a bit of reading to do judging by my literary haul!