2017 – A Year In Review

As we come close to the end of 2017, I thought I would share some of my writing-related highlights in what has been a busy and eventful year. I hope your year has been a good one too, and I love reading about what everyone is up to.

In February I was lucky enough to visit Ruth Bennett at Stripes Publishing and have a tour of the offices, finished off by a chat about my upper Middle Grade book, Sunk!, which I was editing at the time. She was lovely and encouraging, and I was in my element surrounded by all those books and the whole publishing process.

This was followed in March by the annual Scottish Association of Writers’ Conference at the Westerwood Hotel in Cumbernauld, which I attend with a contingent of Angus Writers’ Circle friends, and which is always a high point of my writing year. Thankfully I kept up my record of being placed in their competitions this year too.

Each month I also attended my SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) YA critique group in Edinburgh, as well as a number of  fab SCBWI workshops and seminars throughout the year. A major highlight however, had to be getting asked to become the joint co-ordinator for the South East Scotland network with the wonderful Sarah Broadley ( @sarahpbroadley ) and we’re really excited about all the plans we have lined up for the coming year.

August of course brings the Edinburgh International Book Festival and all the amazingness that entails, and I was lucky enough to manage to get through for quite a few different events this year.

Then September was a notable month for two fantastic reasons. The first of these was the official launch of our Chasing Time Writing Retreats with our inaugural retreat taking place over the last weekend of the month, which saw all of our plans and hopes come to fruition. It’s fantastic working with two such lovely fellow writers and hopefully in 2018 we’ll go from strength to strength. Our next retreat in February is already down to only one remaining space, which is so encouraging. Watch this space for further writers’  services and offerings coming soon…

It’s also gratifying that we’re starting to have our work recognised, especially Sandra‘s shortlisting for the Saltire Society Literary Awards First Book of the Year with #BeneathTheSkin and Dawn’s many journalistic achievements, as well as her signing up with a literary agent for her YA novel, which is currently out on submission. For myself, I am beyond thrilled that my own YA manuscript has been longlisted in The Bath Children’s Novel Award, and I have less than a week now to find out if it’s made the shortlist – eek!!

The other brilliant thing that happened in September was a Bronte field trip with three of my fellow ‘Novellers’ (we meet most months and exchange chapters and feedback for our current works in progress) to Haworth, where we were each lucky enough to write a line of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights as part of artist Clare Twomey’s ( @CTwomeyStudio ) project to re-create the long lost manuscript.

Rounding off the year was a visit to Aberdeen for the launch of Granite Noir with a poisoned cocktail party – never trust writers!

Who knows what 2018 will bring, but I’m off to make some writing goals/resolutions (including blogging more regularly and updating my Goodreads page more often, as well as tackling a whole new manuscript, which is only at the very faint general idea stage in my mind at present). I hope you all have a happy, healthy and successful year and wish you all the best with your own writing goals.

 

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Inaugural Retreat Success

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

AN INSPIRED CONCEPT, THE CRAFT OF WRITING & A SCBWI AGENT KEYNOTE ADDRESS

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As promised, here’s another post borne out of the fantastic SCBWI conference held in Winchester at the end of last year. This time it is to share words of wisdom, hints, tips and an agent’s insider perspective in to the world of trying to be published in children’s fiction. The keynote speaker was Sarah Davies of The Greenhouse Literary Agency and her talk was both enlightening and inspirational for those of us plugging away with our writing for children and young adults. I hope you similarly find some of the following to be of interest…

In 2007 Sarah had been working in UK publishing for many years but was engaged to an American and felt it was time to move on.  She saw this as an opportunity to create a transatlantic literary agency and so The Greenhouse Literary Agency was born.  They have around 70 clients, are also very active in the film and TV world and love to nurture talent.  Their mantra is ‘we represent authors and not just books’.

She views them as talent spotters, but also as developers of talent. Writing comes out of who you are, “you could give me half a page of writing by any of my clients and I think I could tell who wrote it.”

Voice is the first thing they look at and they use this to base their decision as to whether or not to go on and take on a client. “Train yourself to pick up colour and cadence of voice as if you were Mozart. Everyone can improve their voice and listening is the best way to do it.”

So what does it take to succeed in today’s marketplace?

They receive between 10,000 to 15,000 submissions per year so potential authors need to produce something that is seriously attention grabbing.  Ask yourself, ‘how do I find my edge?’  The most common rejection is, ‘I didn’t love it enough’.  Therefore, how can you write something that can get under the skin of the publisher?

If you aren’t writing because you love it and really can’t not write, then the business can really sap your spirit – it’s as much about passion as it is anything else.

Two words dominate every day of her life (and also where she chooses to invest her time, as time is the most difficult thing to manage as an agent):

CONCEPT & CRAFT

These come before everything.

So, what is an inspired concept – how do you know if you have one, and are there any ways to help you find one? Is there something that makes you sit up?  It’s simple and easy to describe.  ‘Almost viral’.

One key could be a useful little phrase – ‘what if’. (Perhaps it can be based on something that hasn’t happened but could have). This can help writers think in less predictable ways.

Any concept, as with the writing itself, needs to have big emotional and intellectual scope.

Look at the tip of the story iceberg and know that underneath the water everything else is waiting to be discovered and explored.

Does the concept give you enough to work with or is it too thin?

A great concept is a ‘hook’ – when you pitch your book you are going fishing to catch agents and they need that hook to catch editors.

The good news is that agents are desperate to be hooked and are looking all the time.  Notice people’s body language and you will soon pick up who is hooked by your concept.

What should we be thinking of before we even begin to write? At this point I think one of Sarah’s presentation slides summarises it perfectly:

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Plant seeds of writing – things to think about before you even begin to write:

Conflict and character – need to try and know your character at a deep level and certainly before you write page 1.  For writers this starts way before the actual writing – characters are real, they exist.

Also consider the sense of place as this can give a wonderful sense of reality.

Build a story on great foundations.  Maximise how efficiently you work – writing to find your story is very time consuming although it may work for some people, but best to have an idea of your story before you start.  A rudimentary outline can help you home in on what you’re trying to do.  Try to write with focussed intention so you know what you’re trying to achieve.  Experiment with structure, point of view, tense.  Write three chapters then stop and look again. Who is story for?  Age group and core reader?

Your goal as a writer is to sprinkle fairly dust over your topic, not tell everything you know.  You are looking for a reaction.  What are you trying to say?  What are you going to leave the reader with after the final page?  (But not in a didactic way).

One of the key things that will be embedded in a great concept is HIGH STAKES. What you give us has to matter, you have to make it matter.  A great story will make a reader ask, ‘what if I was in that position, what would I do?’  From her many years as an agent she knows that we have a driving need to have others go there for us. Many submissions they see don’t have high enough stakes.

There are elements of the thriller in every story and it is the writer’s job to make us turn the page.

Try to spin an idea differently to how anyone else has spun it before.  E.g. Jay Asher’s ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ stands apart because the girl in question is almost entirely off stage and it’s all about the aftermath. It also has a compressed time frame so it reads like a thriller rather than an issues led story.

Another example is Lauren Oliver’s ‘Before I fall’, where the protagonist comes back to live her final day six times over, and each time comes closer to understanding herself/being compassionate/learning to love, until she’s ready to let go.

Both stories reveal in a deep sense what it feels like to be human.

Writers need a great idea, but it needs to feed through to something else, so needs to have a deeply felt theme – people have to relate to the story and its underlying characters.

One of Sarah’s favourite quotes is, ‘In an extraordinary story, in the very best stories, we don’t just discover more about the characters, we discover more about ourselves.’

Other notable quotes come from Picasso, who said, ‘Art is the lie that enables us to discover the truth’, and L P Hartley, ‘It’s better to write about things you feel than about what you know.’

Writing great fiction isn’t about, or from, your intellect, it’s about your emotional response.

“Write something without any expectation of someone reading it and write from the white hot centre of your subconscious.” However you write your story it has to come from a place of passion inside.

Your story needs to give you a USP – without this it will struggle to stand out and editors would struggle to put it across to booksellers.  The aim is to deeply get the chaos of being human and everything it comprises and then be able to create a unique story framework to create order from the chaos.

Consider finding new ways to see things.  ‘Significant detail’ is important – pick out the specific to create the emotional impact. This puts me in mind of the famous quote by Anton Chekhov, “Don’t tell me the moon is shiningshow me the glint of light on broken glass.”  (One of my own favourites).

Stay current – read and read but don’t be derivative.  (It’s also useful to keep abreast of what is happening – subscribe to the Bookseller?)

Summary : 

  • Wow factor
  • What if?
  • Big questions
  • High stakes
  • Spinning ideas differently
  • A deeply felt theme

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“Write it, put it away and forget about it, then when you get it out again ask yourself these revision questions”.

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Sarah often says to clients when they’re out on submission to not write for two weeks as she feels they also need ‘thinking time’.

I’ll leave you with this thought…

“Go to your desk as if it’s the last day of your life, and then write as if you have all the time in the world”.

hello again!

waving frog

Hi everyone, I hope all is well with you and that you have been very productive in your writing endeavours.  I realise it’s been a little while since I posted on here and apologies for the absence.  Sometimes I guess life just takes over and then, before you know it, the summer has gone and you’re sitting inside whilst it’s already pitch black outside and the rain has been falling all day!

I would love to catch up and hear any news from my fellow online writers.  For my part the summer has been a good one and I have been lucky enough to participate in a number of writing events, the highlight being a week’s Novel Writing course at Moniack Mohr near Inverness with Jess Richards and Rachel Seiffert as tutors.  What a luxury just to have the time and space to write, and what a fantastic venue and setting.  (I’m already planning a return visit next year!)

It’s here that I was able to spend more time on Sunk!, which is an upper MG novel that I started in the Spring, and which I am quite excited by.  It has taken me on a fantastic journey so far and, even though I think I know what’s coming next, I fully expect to hit a few surprises along the way.  I’m afraid that this has also been the main reason for my absence on the blog as, when I get a spare second to write, it seems to demand my attention.  I do plan to try and check in a little more often though and share/discuss all matters writing with people who I know similarly love the whole process.

I have now become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and am looking forward to finding out more about the world of children’s books and meeting fellow children’s writers.  One such opportunity was a Book Bound Seminar run by Karen Ball, Sara Grant, Sara O’Connor and Jasmine Richards which a number of the SCBWIs attended and which was a really useful and fun day.

The next big push however is to write some entries for the Scottish Association of Writers annual conference in March, so I don’t see things slowing down any time soon.  But then, where would the fun be in that? 😉

So that’s me.  Hello again and hopefully it won’t be so long till the next time!

Update

creative writing

Well there’s good news and then there’s not so good news I suppose.

On the plus side I have a number of creative writing projects on the go and a very busy writing month ahead. At the end of this month there is the annual Scottish Association of Writers Conference and this will be my third time attending. I come away with a huge buzz and buckets of inspiration, and it’s just fantastic to be in a room full of people that share the same interest. I have entered a couple of the competitions again so fingers crossed that I can repeat last year’s success……

Then the following week I have booked a place up at Moniack Mohr near Inverness for ‘Writing Practice: with the team from the University of Dundee’. I can’t wait! A whole week to devote to writing without any distractions – a bit of an indulgence I know, but I think I deserve it! 🙂  This is billed as an ‘intensive package of practical workshops, discussion, seminars and one on one tutorials’. Think I may need a lie down with a cold cloth when I get back! I am lucky enough to have met Eddie Small and Lindsay Macgregor when they have adjudicated at our writing group in the past, so I already know that it’s going to be very worthwhile.

Speaking of adjudications, my own adjudication of the flash fiction went well last week and it was definitely a valuable exercise on my part. The feedback was positive and, after hours of deliberation, I am pretty confident that I got the placings right in the end.

On the not so plus side however, this is the first month since starting the blog where there have been no entries for the mini writing competition. As such I feel it is time to take stock and re-evaluate this side of the blog as, sadly, things do seem to have stalled a little recently. I will therefore be taking a break from the official monthly writing prompts, although I would still be happy to post on behalf of other writers and to share work from all the lovely contacts I have made through this process, as I still strongly believe in the spirit of co-operation and mutual support between the online writing community. I will also continue to post any useful writing tips I come across and any other valuable advice.

In the meantime I would like to say a big thank you to all those contributors to my monthly writing prompts over the past (almost) two years and I look forward to continuing our on-going online relationships through other avenues for the time being. Wishing you all the very best in your own writing/creative exploits and I will enjoy reading your blogs as usual.

New Writing Prompt For February….

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With apologies for the slightly late post, but I can now reveal that the writing prompt for February is ‘Carnival’, courtesy of last month’s winner,  lassfromlancashire.  She suggested that,  as Shrove Tuesday is this month and that is when there are pre-Lenten carnivals in some countries, the subject of  “Carnival” would be appropriate, however people wanted to interpret it.

I think that conjures up a host of possibilities and hope it sparks the creative process in those who may want to take part.

As such I welcome you to submit a piece of flash fiction (under 500 words) or poetry on ‘Carnival’ and I look forward to hopefully reading some lively entries.

The closing date for submissions will be the 24th of the month as usual, and you will be able to vote for your favourite between then and the end of the month, with the winner setting the writing prompt for March.

As always, good luck to all who enter :).

And January’s winner is………………

wiinners cup

I am pleased to say that January’s winner, with her very authentic take on the writing prompt inspired by Christina Rossetti’s ‘In the bleak midwinter’, is lassfromlancashire.  A well deserved win and, once I have liaised with her, I will get back to you with the writing prompt for February.  (Scary that we are into February already – where did January go??)

Voting for January is now open!

vote now

Voting for the first mini competition of 2015 is now open so please vote and ensure that your favourite wins.  (With only 3 entries, I can’t promise the excitement of the Greek elections, but I’ll do my best! 😉 )

As usual, voting will remain open until the end of the month and the winner will then get to set the next writing prompt.

Who will you vote for?

‘Hasten Spring’

Here’s my own cheeky little entry, which I thought I would squeeze in before tomorrow evening’s deadline.  Keats it certainly isn’t! 🙂   Still, it’s just a bit of fun, so hope it at least provides a temporary distraction from all the bad weather… (and I love the picture!)

spring bud

HASTEN SPRING

Halloween is in October,
Thanksgiving’s the next month,
then it’s Christmas in December,
families and turkey lunch.

But January has nothing
bar cold wind, ice and snow.
Amid bleak winter, hasten Spring,
help us and nature grow.

‘Mid-winter’ by Jan Strickland

I am very happy to welcome back Jan with her take on the writing prompt of ‘in the bleak mid-winter’.  It is perhaps a less literal take on the theme, but one that works equally as well and has a glimmer of hope at the end.  Thank you Jan for taking part once again.

barn

Clutching her little, well-loved Teddy bear that she had been given for her 3rd birthday, 7 year old Tracy hid beneath the sacking in the barn.

It was cold, mid-winter, but at least she was out of the biting wind and lashing rain.

“We will be fine here Toby until the morning, then we can creep out of the village;they won’t know where we are until later. After all, the party will go on late and they will be too smashed to notice I’ve gone. Sorry Toby, they won’t notice WE have gone.”

Toby seemed to nod sagely, his glass eyes staring blankly at her.

“Why do you think they don’t love me Toby? I love them, even when they yell at each other. Is it something I’ve done do you think?”

She snuggled down and tried to sleep, clutching her beloved bear. The rain beat down on the corrugated roof, the sound eventually helped her to drift off to sleep.

Tracy woke up to the sound of sirens, and people calling out her name.

“Oh, thank the Lord, Bob, she’s in here. Tracy why did you run away? We were frantic with worry.”

Tracy looked up solemnly at her mother and a large solitary tear escaped and trickled down her cheek. “Mummy, you and Daddy are always fighting and yelling at each other, and it’s all my fault.”

“No, oh no it’s not your fault darling. Daddy and l have been having a few problems, but we are trying to work things out and it’s nothing to do with you, I promise. Please pet, don’t worry us by running away again, we both love you so much.”

At that she swept her Daughter up in her arms and carried her to the waiting car.

 

 

(c) Jan Strickland