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:
Oh how I love August in Edinburgh! As soon as I walk through to Charlotte Square and breathe in the Edinburgh International Book Festival vibes it feels like I’ve come home. I was lucky enough to get through for all three weekends this year and even more privileged to be asked to chair two fantastic events in my capacity as one of the Network Organisers of the Scottish branch of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
First up was ‘Picturing Pathways To The Future’ where my co-network organiser, Justin Davies, and I chatted to SCBWI members Jill Calder and Morag Hood about how books can help children navigate their way in an often daunting world. It was lovely to be up there with three friends and brilliant to see and hear about their creative processes and where they get their inspiration from.
On the final weekend we had another panel event with David Almond and Lauren James – ‘How To Be A Writer For Life’ – and, as before, the hour flew by. David and Lauren were so generous with their advice and insights in to the writing and publishing world and we could have spoken to them all day. I also attended both their other events the following day and enjoyed being in the audience for those and hearing more about their respective writing careers.
Of course, given that it’s the perfect place for writers to meet, it would have been rude not to arrange a Scottish SCBWI Social event during the festival! 😉 We’re so lucky to have such a friendly, supportive network and it’s always great when we have a chance to catch up with each other.
There are so many fantastic events scheduled throughout the festival with a host of authors from all over the world, and some of my favourite events were ones where I was introduced to new authors that I hadn’t read before.
Of course, no stationery/book addict can leave such a place without picking up some stationery and adding more books to their TBR pile, and here are a few that I picked up over the final weekend.
So that’s it for another year… Roll on August 2020!
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. 😉
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.
This is what it says about the book on Goodreads:
Inspired by Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever, Release is one day in the life of Adam Thorn, 17. It’s a big day. Things go wrong. It’s intense, and all the while, weirdness approaches…
Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It’s a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won’t come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course.
My own thoughts…
This is the third Patrick Ness novel I’ve read (still have the Chaos Walking trilogy on my TBR pile which I must read soon) and, as usual, I loved it. I think what I most admire about Patrick is the fact that he takes risks when he writes and tries out unusual formats and/or concepts – if you haven’t read his short story in the ‘Losing It’ anthology edited by Keith Gray, you really should, it’s so clever.
Anyway, back to Release. I was so looking forward to this coming out (excuse the pun) and it didn’t disappoint. Adam is a great character, so well drawn, that you immediately empathise with him and his struggle for acceptance, and his best friend, Angela, is brilliant. A seriously kick-ass, got your back kind of best friend. I loved Linus, detested Enzo, and held my breath all the way through a pivotal scene with Adam and his father.
There is a mystical mythology type of story running alongside the main thread and I’ve seen this getting mixed reviews, but I thought it really worked, and that it was another example of Patrick doing something different in a way that only he can. The way that both threads tied up together in the end was almost poetic.
I would definitely recommend this to readers.
**** 4 Stars
I have just returned from our summer holidays where I was lucky enough to go on a cruise around Italy, France, Spain and Portugal (it was soooo hot!) I was looking forward to the break for obvious reasons, as well as perhaps one huge not so obvious one. Having cruised before, I know how much my two love going to the onboard kids’ club on days at sea and making new friends. It’s great seeing them happy and excited, but there’s an added bonus for me too. Metime. My husband is also happy to relax and do his own thing on these days, so it leaves me lots of time to write.
The ship only had its own library – #bliss
I managed to get more of my work in progress (Sixteen Again) written in those five days than I’ve achieved over the past month and a half of the school holidays, and it felt good to go old school and write longhand as well. Now I just need to type it up and see if any of it makes sense!
Hope your own writing is going well.
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.
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:
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 shining; show 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?)
- Wow factor
- What if?
- Big questions
- High stakes
- Spinning ideas differently
- A deeply felt theme
“Write it, put it away and forget about it, then when you get it out again ask yourself these revision questions”.
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”.