Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Tribute to Emily 7 Dec 1981 - 13 Dec 2011

Sometimes it's hard to find the words.  Over the last few days, I've found myself using the phrase 'beyond words' many times.  But the thing is, we're writers.  We have to find the words.  This is my attempt to find the right words to pay tribute to a very special person.

Emily Wiffen joined the East Dulwich Writers' Group in September 2009.  Very early on, she demonstrated her commitment to the group and to her own writing.  The first time I met her was when she came to help sell the group's first anthology at our occasional stall in Northcross Road.  It was hard enough to persuade people who had their work in the book to come and shiver in the cold.  I didn't know it at the time, but it was typical of Emily that she should volunteer for this far from glamourous task.

Emily soon became one of the most regular attendees at meetings, reading from her work in progress, a novel titled Our Street.  Most authors will agree that they have much in common with their main characters.  It seems to me that this was certainly true for Emily.  Her narrator, Isla, was a special eleven year old girl who was aware of the social sickness that afflicted the other people living in her street; only she noticed the battered child, the neglected pensioner ...  The refusal of other adults to see what she saw frustrated Isla and she decided that, if no one else was taking any notice of what went on in their street, she would make it her responsibility.  She would watch and record all the 'wrong' things she saw and confront the adults with her findings, forcing them to act.  Isla's determination, her sensitivity, her sense of social justice, her desire to change the world for the better ... these were all qualities that were clearly innate in Emily's own character.

 Emily on the left at the stall selling the second anthology

When she applied to be included in our second anthology no one was in any doubt that she would be an asset.  The ethos of the group, and in particular of the anthologies, is that everyone has to take an active part in every stage of the process.  I remember the first time Emily read the chapter of Our Street at a public event.  She kept her head lowered throughout and her voice was tiny.  One of the things that was remarkable to us all over the next months was the amazing nature of her journey from that shy beginning.  At event after event, the one thing you could depend on was that Emily would be there, volunteering to read and supporting others.  Each time, her confidence increased until, the last time she read, it was with a strong voice and with eye contact maintained with the audience as she introduced them to her fictional world.  She also took responsibility for organising events and, in this aspect too, she went from tentative beginnings to triumphant confidence, always challenging herself and pushing the boundaries beyond her natural comfort zone.

 Reading at Carnegie Library in June 2011

When Hoovering the Roof 2 won the National Association of Writers' Groups Anthology Award, we had a celebratory party in September this year, with everyone bringing something to share: wine, nibbles, fruit ... Emily brought a packet of jelly tots.  It was with her usual good humour that she handled our gentle teasing about her bringing down the average age in the group.

Emily in her rightful place: front centre, holding the NAWG certificate
The last time I saw Emily was at an EDWG meeting in late September where, and how ironic this seems now, she told us she had worked out her book ended.  At a street party, Isla, the child protagonist of Our Street, climbs up on a table and demands silence while she speaks.  Once she has everyone's attention, she announces all she has seen during her investigations.  Emily described a beautiful, redemptive scene in which people would first be shocked, then shamed and ultimately healed.  Although she will never write this scene now, in her mind the book was complete and I am able to share the resolution she planned here.  At times like this, there is a strange pattern to the universe.

It was Emily who was handling the organisation of our most recent event as part of the Kirkdale Pop Up.  On 26th November, six days after Emily had emailed with the latest information, I received an email from her father saying that Emily had been taken ill and was in intensive care.  In spite of the appalling anxiety he and his family were dealing with, he was kind enough to stay in touch with regular updates.  We allowed ourselves to be cautiously optimistic when he told us she had regained consciousness and was making slow but encouraging progress.

On 7th December, Emily's thirtieth birthday, her family read out her cards to her and I said we would wish to visit her as soon as she was strong enough.  It was not to be.  Last Saturday, her condition deteriorated and later in the week, we received the devastating news that on Tuesday morning, Emily died. 

Under such circumstances, all words feel like platitudes and cliches and I haven't come close here to paying tribute to a talented woman who was warm, funny, compassionate, determined, supportive and sensitive; one of those rare people about whom no one has a bad word to say.  It's so hard to express our shock and deep sadness and our hearts go out to Emily's parents and brother.

Rest in peace, Emily.

Emily reading at Telegraph Hill Festival in March 2011 

Friday, December 02, 2011

The image from Hell

Are you writing like a person who wants to write but has lost their pen in a snowstorm that came from a sky filled with clouds that were like cotton wool that had been dipped in ink and that would explain where your pen had gone? 

That chair you're sitting on: is it hard like a nail but that can't be right because nails are pointy and it's best not to sit on them if you can avoid it so maybe it's hard like a celebrity's heart but who'd want to feel that squishing round under their buttocks?  Or perhaps it's soft instead.  Soft like ...

It's OK, I haven't gone (completely) insane.  I'm talking about deciding when you need a simile and choosing the best image.  The above was inspired by this wonderful collection. 


Thursday, December 01, 2011

Pop in to our Pop up

This writing life is full of challenges, so I'm rolling up my sleeves and preparing for a new one. 

As you may well know, I've been an active member of East Dulwich Writers' Group for over a decade. Without them, I would probably never have completed a novel, let alone have two published and be able to earn my living as a freelance editor and creative writing tutor.

So when EDWG were invited to participate in the Kirkdale Pop Up, I offered to run a workshop on the group's behalf.  I wanted to design a session that would appeal to all writers: fiction and non-fiction, novelists, short story writers, poets.  I also wanted to aim it at as broad an audience as possible, to attract people at any stage in their writing career, from absolute beginners to more experienced writers looking for some company and to stretch their authorial muscles.

And this is the result. A 45 minute 'creative writing master class'. 
In a South London pub. 
On a Saturday lunchtime. 
Two weeks before Xmas. 
And did I mention that the session is free?

What could possibly go wrong? 

It would be great to pack the event with eager writers looking for inspiration and socialising.  If the worst comes to the worst, at least there will be an unending supply of alcohol.


For the full list of imaginative and entertaining Pop Up events, see here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Brit Writers' Awards - the unfolding story

There.  See that title?  That's me taking the splinters out of my butt and coming off the fence.

I recently blogged about Brit Writers' Awards but, at that point, I didn't name them because of the threats of legal action that had been taken against anyone who blogged about them.  I have, however, commented on most of the posts that I've linked to below.

I don't propose to go into a lot of detail here, as just about everything has been covered in those other blogs and the comments.  For now, I just want to make my own position clear.

Back in 2010, I was proud to be associated with Brit Writers as one of their 'high profile' (their words) judges.  I blogged about the gala awards night here.  I had no problems supporting their stated ethos of encouraging a love of writing and finding new and innovative ways to bring books by talented debut authors into print.

Though alarm bells were ringing, I ignored the concerns I had about the judging process.  Brit Writers' Awards were new.  They were establishing a mould-breaking model.  Teething problems were inevitable. They had been overwhelmed by the response. The problems, I told myself, were organisational.

Then we got to the point when BWA launched their Publishing Programme - an initiative that felt wrong to me on many levels. I could no longer ignore the anxieties I'd had about the judging of the 2010 awards.  I was alarmed to see other judges speaking out in blog comments.  Knowledge is power and the internet enabled full discussions to take place and information to be pooled.  At this point, I decided I no longer wished to be associated with Brit Writers and felt unable to recommend them to new writers.

But that was far from the end of the story.  BWA recently launched a new initiative from their 'Agents' Division' and blogs and forums started buzzing.  All the posts and comments were asking questions.  Not making accusations, you understand, just asking questions.  Fair enough?  Surely, BWA would respond and explain the thinking behind their new initiatives.  They would want to announce who their partners were, which publishers and agents they were working with, how their schemes worked etc, wouldn't they? Not to do so would be counter-intuitive.  Why on earth would they have a problem with this?

But they did have a problem.  Instead of giving answers and allaying legitimate concerns, they lawyered up and began sending out solicitor's letters.  First to receive one was Harry Bingham, swiftly followed by Claire King and Jane Smith.  There may be others - I don't know.  Private messages and emails started to flood in to my inbox from people who been involved with BWA.  Award winners, people who had been shortlisted, participants on the Publishing Programme, recipients of that email who had received confusing offers of paid help for their synopsis and pitch ...

But - and here's the thing - these people didn't want to speak out and be named because they had all signed confidentiality agreements with BWA. Whaaat????

The internet won't be silenced though.  Telling writers they can't write is always going to be a bad move.  Telling internet savvy people that they can't raise questions and share info runs counter to the ethos of the net itself.  Telling communicators that they can't communicate?  It's never going to work.

So I've finally raised my head above the parapet.  There's so much info available, in spite of the legal attempts being made to stifle the debate, that I thought I could be useful here and pull it all together in one place.  If I've missed anything, please do let me know and I'll add the links in updates.  I'm keen to present every angle, so if you know of any positive posts then I'd like to know about them too.  Please also note, there are further links within all the posts.

How Publishing Really Works - 2010 post re the Publishing Programme
Writer Beware - re the awards
Claire King - re the Publishing Programme
Claire King - re the Agents' Division
WordCloud - message re deleted posts after legal threats
How Publishing Really Works - re Agents' Division
Claire King - re questions she asked BWA by email and their response
Writers' Workshop - Harry Bingham's response to Brit Writers' Awards
Harry Bingham's list of questions to Brit Writers
Discussion on Absolute Write - includes response re schools' programme

Sally Quilford - re removing BWA from competition listings
Caveat Scriptor - Max Dunbar's view
Writer Beware - re the legal threats 
Writers Online - includes a response from BWA - discussion is here
Vanessa Gebbie - adds her voice

The BWA site is here. Many of the pages are still under construction. The old site had much more information.

I'm sure we're far from the end of this story. One thing it does demonstrate is that people should always do thorough research before getting involved with companies and organisations - and certainly before parting with any money.

BWA have removed the threat of legal action and have sent a response to Harry Bingham which you can see here.

New post by Sally Quilford
Also, see the latest comments on the How Publishing Really Works post here
Harry Bingham's final post re Brit Writers (he hopes) dated today
Claire King's response - also today

If you checked the above link to Harry Bingham's post about Brit Writers yesterday, you might like to check again as he has changed the final paragraph.
It now reads as follows:
This article was originally written and posted on 17th Nov and relied in part on a number of written statements made by the BWA, who knew their statements would be scrutinised. Unfortunately, I now have incontrovertible evidence that the company lies, even in circumstances where its claims are likely to be closely examined. Nothing this company says can be taken on trust. Its financial promises are unreliable. The same is true of its literary promises. Writers should avoid having anything at all to do with this company. The whole thing is incredibly sad.
This paragraph replaces a previous, somewhat more upbeat, conclusion to this post.

Just found this post by Martha Williams who is trying to make sense of this whole situation.

Pah! A ridiculous challenge to me personally on Harry's blog to reveal my email correspondence with Brit Writers. If I did, it would be extremely embarrassing to them - and reveal nothing about me that you couldn't find out on this blog.

There's an article in the money section of The Times tomorrow (Sat).  It's at this link but you have to pay to view online. The title is: The guide: Eager for recognition and acceptance, beginners with a manuscript are dazzled by a promise of publication

Martha Williams has posted an interview with BWA's CEO.

Feedback is coming in from some of the people who were on the publishing programme. See the Writers' Workshop blog here and here.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

More on crumbling cookies ...




Update to this update: in the interests of allowing both sides to be heard, please see this link - a response from BWA to some of the questions that have been raised.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Way the Cookie Crumbles

Gasp. I apologise for being so scarce here. Mad, mad busy with a teetering pile of edits and running a 6 week self-edit online course with Emma Darwin.

Just popping in to alert people to something else that's been taking up a lot of my time recently.  I'm going to have to highlight this via links I'm afraid; partly because of time constraints and partly because ... well, check the links and you'll see why I need to be very careful what I say here.  There are links to further info within the posts.

Start here with this discussion on Claire King's blog.
Then go here to a further discussion on Jane Smith's blog, How Publishing Really Works.
And then here, to Harry Bingham's news that there's more to come.

If you comment here, please be careful not to say anything that may be deemed to be defamatory or libellous.



Sunday, October 09, 2011


Is this going to work? My blog seems to have been deleted.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Debi does Quantum (again)

Well, hasn't this been a week for mind bending science?  Time bending too, is seems.  Though my teeny tiny mind is struggling with the concepts and it seems I'm not alone.  

(Struggling already?  Don't know what a neutrino is?  Think 'atom' and then think MUCH smaller - then divide that a few more zillion times and you're beginning to see just how small these little beasties are. Only whatever you come up with, neutrinos are smaller.  They really are very, very small indeed.)

Anyway, as I understand it (ie not at all) what scientists at Cern think (because 'proof' is apparently a long way off) is that neutrinos might be able to move faster than light and ain't nothing in the universe that's supposed to be able to do that.  (Though my sons move pretty fast when I tell them to tidy their room.)  

Thing is, this is Really Important because, if true, it undermines the whole way we understand (or in my case, fail to understand) ... well, everything really.  Because that 'everything' is based on Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity. (He had other theories but they weren't so special.  I have one about Ordinary Relativity which explains why we all have some family members who are rather boring.)

So - all this Matters (think there might be a science-y joke there) because it opens up questions about the possibility of time travel.  Taken to its logical conclusion, it means something could arrive before it leaves.  Geddit?

Oh, look, you might have guessed by now that I'm several billion billion neutrinos short of being an expert so I'm going to try to relate all this to the craft of writing fiction.

Some time back, I dabbled (in the most amateurish possible way) with quantum theory, when I focused on whether it's possible for fictional plotlines to exist in parallel universes.  Now I'm going to gird my loins and switch attention to how the same theory might relate to the way we create fictional characters.

Now, this is going to take a bit of explaining, even on the basic kindergarten level I'm operating on here with my aforementioned teeny tiny brain, so make yourself comfortable and prepare to make the ... er ... quantum leap into Debiworld (or one of them).

For starters, you need to accept the initial concept of an infinite number of parallel universes.  In other words,  each time any of us comes to a fork in one of life's many roads, a new world is created in which we take the other path.  If you also accept that we are the sum of our experiences, as we make hundreds of these sorts of decisions every day, it stands to reason that each of these worlds contains a different version of us, sometimes varying by the merest tweak, at other times resulting in us becoming completely different people.

Got that? 

In still more other words, if you accept that we are the sum of our experiences, it's logical to believe that there are an infinite number of ways we turn out. In some worlds, we probably die young; in others we may live to 100.  At its most extreme, in one world you might be a dictator and in another, a victim, yet both would be versions of the same 'you'. 

Right.  You still with me?  Do pay attention please.  We're about to get to how this connects with writing fiction.

(In another universe, I will have got to the point earlier.  If the new stuff turns out to be right, I got there before my fingers hit the keyboard.  In yet another, I'll ramble on for ever and never get there.  In that one, a version of you might hunt me down and slap me, thereby creating yet another universe.  In that one, I will have a black eye.  One 'me' will then sue you for assault.  Another will fight back, giving you two black eyes.  etc etc etc ...)

So ... ah, yes, the point. 

Whenever I create a new fictional character, I'm aware that she is a version of ... me.  She's based on a particular aspect of my character but it takes her in a direction that the Debi who is writing this post would never go.  As a result of that, things happen to her that would not happen to 'this' me.  And as a result of those experiences, she changes still more, becoming someone who bears no resemblance at all to me.  But, maybe, she's a 'me' who does exist in one of those other infinite universes.

OK, so now we get to the point where the 'you' who is reading this tells the 'me' who's writing it if I'm talking unadulterated rubbish or if I'm on to something here.  Or both.  Or ...

In one universe, there's a Debi who wins the Nobel Prize for the above.  
In another, I already have.
In this one, I'll be dismissed as a rambling incontinent.  Them's the breaks.
There.  I hope you understand it all now.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Winning Formula

Once again, I'm in the position of having some wonderful news to share.

I first met Dania el Kadi when she came on one of the Writers' Workshop courses I ran with Emma Darwin.  From the beginning it was clear that Dania had something special.  Her writing was fresh and original and it was immediately obvious her concept (chick lit story set against a back drop of the war in Lebanon) had serious potential.

Following the course, Dania had more than one edit with me, finishing up with a close line edit to ensure the MS was polished to perfection. It took time, hard work and commitment to bring her wonderful story to life, but it has certainly paid off.

Earlier this week, I received an email from Dania to tell me that her book, Summer Blast, is a number 1 bestseller in Lebanon!  This is the link to the good news breaking on WordCloud. I'm looking forward to seeing Dania at the Getting Published event in October.

Summer Blast is available on Amazon.

Don't go away! I'm not done yet and have more to share. 

Last night I went to a very special book launch

Why 'special'? I hear you ask.  Well, for starters it was in a gorgeous bookshop, Woolfson and Tay in Bermondsey.  The format of an interview with the author was also different and made for a really interesting evening.

But without a doubt, the most special aspect of the event was the author, Michael Richmond, and the book he had written.  Drawing on personal (and very painful) experiences, Sisyphusa is an allegory of the mental health system.  Michael's writing is influenced by Kafka and Orwell and, as you can guess from the title, also owes much to classical Greek mythology.

This is an important book.  It was important for Michael to write it and it's equally important for people to read it and try to understand how it feels to grapple with mental health issues, both as a sufferer and as a 'service user' (a term that is used in the book but one that Michael dislikes).  As Michael pointed out, one in four people will fall into this category.

Most importantly, it's clear from the discussions and readings that the book is a stonking good read, written with wit, wisdom, humour and astonishing insight.

Sisyphusa is available on Amazon here

So, getting back to that winning formula. (Ha!  You thought I'd forgotten, didn't you ...)

Here it is:

fresh and original concept + writing talent + a willingness to learn and improve + objective feedback + hard work + perseverance 

Monday, September 12, 2011

In Praise of Writers' Groups

All authors need objective feedback, whether it be from trusted readers, paid editorial services, online forums or Real Life writers' groups.

Regular visitors here will know the personal debt I owe to the East Dulwich Writers' Group.  This is from my biog:

I joined the East Dulwich Writers' Group although I had no previous experience of writing fiction apart from an abortive attempt to crack the women’s magazine short story market several years earlier. (Each story would start sweet enough but then gradually turned dark and twisted! Clearly my inner voice calling out ...) I wrote Nirvana Bites in the evenings in long hand lying on the settee and then typed it up in chunks using borrowed laptops. Eighteen months later, I had my first book deal!

You will also be aware that EDWG has produced two anthologies, Hoovering the Roof 1 and 2.  The books are an eclectic mix of short stories, poems and novel extracts, complete with original illustrations.

Last year, we won the runners up prize in the National Association of Writers' Groups anthology awards.

This year ... we've only gone and won!

And here's the proof.

There's nothing quite like a good writers' group for providing constructive feedback and encouragement.  The best groups (and EDWG is certainly one of them) form a local community of supportive writers, sharing skills and stories, celebrating successes and commiserating when the going is hard.

There isn't one in your area?  Set one up yourself.  Post on your local community forum or stick up notices in the library or local bookshop.  That's how we started.  A decade later, we have over 200 people on the email list, consisting of authors at every stage of their writing career, from those of us who have been published to absolute beginners.  We keep to a maximum of 8 people at each meeting and have retained an informal and intimate ethos, in spite of our numbers.  The email list is also used to share details of events and other items of  lit interest.

Some of our members are also winners of prestigious competitions.  And now the group itself has won recognition with the NAWG award.  Did I mention that already?  Did you know?

We won!  We bloody well won!

For further details of the group, check out our website.  You can also follow us on Facebook.  And if you buy the books directly from us, you can do that here with a discount.

Oh, and in case you hadn't noticed ... WE WON!  Perhaps I mentioned that already ...

Friday, August 26, 2011

Is there an editor in the house?

Um ... yes, that will be me then. 

Regular visitors here will know that I have been editing and critiquing manuscripts for several years now.  (First mentioned here.)  During that time, I have worked on an average of 2-3 novels a month.

Most of the manuscripts come to me via Writers' Workshop but some authors come directly to me.  On Twitter today I was asked what I charge and what I offer and realised that info isn't readily available online without a lot of digging.  (I also realised how hideously out-of-date my website is, but I can't imagine having time to sort that out any time soon.)

Anyway, the point of this post is to tell anyone who's interested what my editing services consist of and how much they cost. 

The service
I like to be flexible and tailor my feedback to the author's needs, so the content of my report varies accordingly, though it will always be a minimum of 3000 words for a full length MS.  This will usually cover the following:
  • the commercial potential of your concept and where your book fits in the market
  • analysis, comments and suggestions re structure, plot, pace, characterisation, prose style
  • if appropriate, feedback on your synopsis and covering letter
As an author myself, I'm very aware that I hold someone's beating heart in my hand when I work on their lovingly crafted book.  I'm always careful to point out where an MS's strengths lie, as well as those areas that need attention.

As I said, different authors have different needs.  Some people are hoping to be signed with an agent and achieve a traditional publishing deal, others may intend to self-publish, and some people might just love writing and want to make their novel as good as it can be.  My feedback is designed to provide each person with what they need to have the best chance of fulfilling their particular ambitions.

Needless to say, it takes time to read a full MS and prepare a detailed report.  I also offer further conversations after I send the report, to discuss any issues that arise or clarify anything where necessary.  None of this comes cheap, but, at the risk of sounding like a certain advert, I think I'm worth it. 
*tosses hair and gurns at camera*

Anyway, where was I?  Ah, yes, the £££.

The charges
I charge £4.50 per 1000 words for a full length MS.
£75 for feedback on synopsis, covering letter and first 5000 words.
Other charges, eg longer extracts, proof reading etc, are available on request.

I have experience of working in all genres.  Recently, I've had the enormous pleasure of seeing 3 authors I've worked with go on to be signed up with agents.  Roger Hardy has written a fast paced international thriller. Sean Walsh has created a magical children's story and Katherine Hetzel is the author of a fantasy adventure story for young adults.  See here for my blog post re Sean and Katherine and here for my post about Roger.

Please feel free to email me - info at debialper dot co dot uk - if you think I can help you. 
Or leave a comment here. 
Or message me on Facebook. 
Or contact me on Twitter @DebiAlper. 

I do sometimes wonder how any of us find time for writing.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Never say never

In lieu of a 'proper' blog post, I give you this link about the rejections received by 30 authors who went on to achieve great success.

Read, ponder, giggle a bit and then get back to the writing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Two special women, two special offers

Blog posts are sparse these days, but I've popped in to share some special info with you all.

Lisa Donaldson is a regular poster on WordCloud, where she is known as Autumn.  I met her at York, where she showed me an excerpt from the book she has written, recording her journey from cancer diagnosis, through treatment and to the point where she declares that 'she had cancer but cancer no longer has me'.

I could see at a glance that Lisa's book was compelling and well-written.  The first agent she pitched it to said that it was gripping and asked for the full MS.  But, knowing the way the industry operates, I had some concerns.  I remember Dina Rabinovitch (a well-known and highly respected journalist, who sadly died in 2007) being told by one publisher that they 'already had their cancer book for that year'.  I knew that Lisa's book would speak to many people and had the potential to attract a wide readership.  But was she ready for the bruising encounters that are implicit in seeking a traditional publishing deal?

In our conversation, Lisa took me back to her reasons for writing the book:

  • She wanted to record her experiences.
  • She wanted to share them with people in similar positions and their families and friends.
  • She wanted to make money for charity.
  • She wanted to write a complete book.

It was clear to me that she'd achieved all those aims except the one where her book was available to others to read.  Actually, she'd achieved an additional and very special one.  Writing, she said, had helped her to find her voice.  Following an online course, she has decided to turn her hand to writing commercial fiction.

In order to ensure her first book was 'out there', Lisa has made it available to read on her website.  All she asks is that people make a donation via JustGiving, where all the money will go towards Breast Cancer Care.  You can do that here.

So, go on, what are you waiting for?  Read the book.  Think about what this project means to Lisa and how little she's asking of you.  Tell others about it.  And then go and donate.   It's not much to ask, is it?

And now for something completely different ...

I recently spent a glorious weekend with a bunch of Wonderful Women Writers.  Yes, WWW is appropriate as I  would never have met any of them in real life if it wasn't for t'internet.

One of them was Helen Hunt, who blogs here.  Helen has virtually cornered the market for short stories.  (She's also very, very lovely.)  It seems like hardly a week goes past without hearing she has had another story accepted by a woman's magazine.

She has decided to share her expertise, and believe me, no one is more qualified to show people what the market requires and how to craft stories for magazines.  Keeping the costs ridiculously low IMO, she will be running one day workshops.  For £30 (!!!) you will have access to one of the most successful WOMAG short story writers around, plus lunch and a critique of a story submitted in advance.

Get in quick!  The course takes place in Northampton on 30th July. If it's successful, Helen hopes to repeat the course in Sept.  Details here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Roger hath a blog!

Further to the last post about newly-agented author, Roger Hardy, in which I bemoaned his lack of an online presence, I'm delighted to point you in this direction. 

Roger appears to think I have supernatural powers.  I'm not about to tell him otherwise.  He also thinks that I'm the kind of person he'd like to get drunk with.  I ain't sayin' nothin' on the score either.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Oh, thank you, universe!

Almost exactly a year ago, I published this post.  In it, I said:


Today, I'm delighted to say that Roger has just made a giant leap forward in his journey towards publication.  He emailed to say that he has been signed up for his sixth book by Peter Buckman from the Ampersand agency.  The two met at the York Festival of Writing in 2010 and I'm sure they'll make a wonderful team.  I'm now sprinkling fairy dust on Peter's efforts to secure a mega deal for Roger.

There's still no link for Roger, though I'm sure that's going to change at some point.  But there is a link to a lovely post on the WordCloud that has me blushing so much you could make toast on my cheeks.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Being a Lazy Blogger

Actually, that's not strictly true.  I'm not being lazy, just veryveryvery busy.  And, before you ask, that doesn't mean I've abandoned the blogosphere for Facebook and Twitter. 

(Though if you twist my arm, I'd have to confess that I am there quite a bit.  That's the difference between a post that takes seconds and one that needs more thought and time.  You bloggy people are s-o-o-o demanding.)

Anyway, I'm just popping in to let you know that you can have a sneaky peek into my glamorous lifestyle, thanks to Michelle Teasdale at Winning Words.  And, yes, I 'met' Michelle through Facebook, so there.

Also, East Dulwich Writers' Group have a couple of gigs coming up, the first being this Sunday as part of Bromley Literary Festival.  Further details of EDWG events are on the group website.

There's lots of other stuff I'd love to share but I'm afraid it's going to have to wait ... Mainly, because I need to dash off and do said 'other stuff'. 

If you haven't already done so, please track me down on Facebook and Twitter. 
I look forward to seeing you there ... and there ... and sometimes here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I've joined the Twitterati!

Can't believe I've done it!  I'm on a writing retreat and an unexpected side effect is that my lovely host has persuaded me to join Twitter.

So now, as well as this neglected blog, a hideously out-of-date website, a very busy Facebook page and various forums, I have a new distraction.

I blame the gin.

If this means anything to you, check me out at @DebiAlper

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The People Collector

Authors are often asked where we get our ideas and characters from.  Friends and relatives have even been known to be nervous that fictional characters might be based on them.  I was shocked and saddened when my sister-in-law asked if the sister-in-law in my Nirvana series was supposed to be her.

The fictional version is shallow and snobbish.  Surely, my real sister-in-law didn't think I see her in this way.  (I really don't.)  And, even if I did, did she believe I would abuse our relationship by sharing my negative perceptions of her with the world?

The truth is, I do collect characters, but no one who knows me would ever be able to recognise themselves in my books.  Most of my inspiration comes from people I encounter but know nothing about.  My favourite people-spotting opportunities come from bus journeys.

I always sit on the top deck by the window.  I look down on shoppers, workers, wanderers, seeing them from a different angle to the norm.  Where is she going?  What does his home look like?  Where does she work?  What's their story?  I peep into uncurtained first floor windows to get a fleeting glimpse of people's internal landscapes; odd ornaments on the window sill, a torn sheet instead of a curtain, piles of old newspapers, a row of polished trophies ...

I can give full rein to my imagination.  The stories I weave most likely bear no resemblance to the truth.  Or do they?   They might be eerily accurate.  But it doesn't matter one way or another, because the person I've observed will never know they've inspired a story.

A little closer to the bounds of propriety, I like to eavesdrop on conversations.  Take last week, for example.  In the seat behind me, a teenage girl was talking about the tradition in her private school of playing pranks when pupils leave at the end of Year 11.  Her personal favourite, she told her unseen companion, was when a group of pupils got hold of a cow.  (At great expense, she added.)  Cows, she went on to say, can go up stairs, but not down.  Somehow, they managed to smuggle the animal into the school and up the stairs, where they abandoned it.  With no alternative, the school was forced to arrange for the poor (and, no doubt, distressed) beast to be rescued by helicopter.  Presumably, at further great expense.

The girl moved on to talking about her plans for the summer: a week at the family villa in France followed by a journey south for an extended stay in St Tropez.

I resisted the urge to turn round, so I never saw what she looked like.  But she was speaking loud enough for me to hear (which is saying something) and appeared to have no concept of the extent of her privilege, or that most of her fellow travellers might inhabit a very different universe. 

That girl might appear as a cameo in a story some time.  The challenge for me would be to lift her beyond stereotype.  I was so engrossed that it took me a while to realise I was on the wrong bus.

The next bus (the right one this time) provided contrasting, but equally fertile, ground for harvesting characters.  Two middle-aged Jamaican men were discussing the iniquitous cost of a TV licence, which both agreed was a struggle for poor people to afford.  From there, they moved on to talk about international politics and the subtle differences in the way racism is manifested in the US and the historical reasons for those differences.  Then it was current affairs: whether the authorities in Pakistan had been aware of Bin Laden's whereabouts.  By the time I left the bus, they'd become involved in a complex discourse on the nature of fear.

Rich pickings for a novelist: these men and their (possible) personal stories; any of the subjects they touched on; the rhythms and patterns of their speech; the timbre of their voices ...  In many ways, the sheer depth of the insights these men gave means that they would be far easier for me to bring to life in a fictional setting than the girl would be, lifting them beyond the risk of cliche and stereotype.

So, whether you're sitting on the top of a bus, shopping in the supermarket, walking on the streets, wandering in the park, queueing at the post office ... keep your eyes and ears open. 

And if you're not a novelist, be aware that the person in the next seat might be watching you and listening to your words, storing them away for future use.

So, do you reckon this is OK?  Or is it a form of identity theft?  And does it matter one way or the other?

Friday, April 22, 2011


I'm cheating here because this isn't a post as such, just a series of links.  And some of them are links to posts that consist mostly of ... links to posts.  Allow me to justify why this qualifies as the most Boring but Useful post on my blog.

I'm one week into the online self-editing course I'm running together with Emma Darwin on behalf of the Writers' Workshop.

It's going really well.  Writers of all ages and in all genres, living in different continents and environments, all working together with the same aim: to produce the best possible writing.  Love it, love it, love it.

In my feedback, I kept finding myself wanting to link to a blog post.  If you're reading this, you'll know that, unlike Emma's blog, this isn't a lit blog as such. It's a hotchpotch mishmash soupy stew of rants mixed with tips and info, seasoned with a dash of laughter and with some spicy personal details sprinkled over the top.

In amongst this seemingly random jumble, there are some posts about the writing process but each time I want to link to them, I have to spend ages sieving through the other stuff to track them down.

So here are the links to the last couple of years' lit posts, all served up on one platter. 

Success Stories
Sean Walsh
Catherine Cooper
The Thickest Skin  (Jason Wallace - a prizewinner after 100 (!) rejections)
A Tale of Two Authors (Shelly Harris and Roger Hardy)

Why write?
Reasons for writing

Dear ... Me ....

Festival of Writing posts
York 2011
York 2010 - check posts in April 2010

The Rule Breaker
The Rule Hater

The writing process
The writing gardener
The writing addict
Anyone Else Feel a Draft in Here?
Debi Does Quantum
Naming characters

Writer or Thief?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Of course ...

I've just realised it's April.  How did that happen?

Just a quick post to let people know about some courses on offer this month (Quick because I have to dash off to do the prep for them!)

On 30th April, I'm running a 1 day workshop in Waterloo on behalf of Writers' Workshop.  It's a How to Write Your Novel course, aimed at people who want to learn the basics and costs £99 (includes lunch, refreshments and a discount voucher for WW services).

If you're looking for something more advanced and want to work online and at your own pace as well as receive feedback on your own writing, Emma Darwin and I are co-leading a 6 week course beginning 16th April: Self-Editing Your Own Novel.

For details of both go here and click on the date of the course you're interested in or follow the links above.

If you can't afford any of the above but are looking for help with techniques, feedback from fellow writers, or just general chat with a warm and supportive community, I strongly recommend you get yourself over to WordCloud which is free and you can't say fairer than that!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Post York Posts - success stories!

Some wonderful news to share!

I met Sean Walsh at York 2010 in a Book Doctor session and was blown away by his children's fantasy book, Peripherealm, and his mind-blowing illustrations.  I worked with him during the year, in the course of which we cut 50,000 words.  (It was a very long book!)  Then he started pitching.  As the rejections started coming in, I don't know how many times I had to convince him not to give up.

He came to York again this year and ... well, let's just say I wasn't going to let the opportunity pass to ensure Sean's book got the attention I was convinced he deserves.

And ... to cut a long story square, as my dad would say ... Sean has now been signed up, just a day after the Festival, by David Headley!
See full story, including Sean's own response, here.

That's not all my good news.  I have another example of how persistance  will pay off, if your book is good enough and you are committed to doing whatever it takes to make it the best it can possibly be.  Another children's author with whom I've worked has also been signed up with an agent.  Katherine Hetzel had a Writers' Workshop edit with Michelle Lovric and then 2 further edits and extended conversations with me before she began pitching.  I'm too modest *cough* to repeat here what she said about the part I played in enabling her book to reach its potential, but I will say what an absolute joy it is to be a part of these journeys and to know that I've had a role to play.  WordCloud link to this news is here.

One last story.  It doesn't end with an agent signing an agreement, like Sean and Katherine's, though who knows what's around the corner?  Do you remember me telling you about DW?  The man who was determined to prove me wrong when I suggested he may not be ideally suited to writing fiction?

DW tracked me down at York and with great glee told me that 2 agents had asked to see more of the MS he pitched to them that we have been working on together.  I've never been so pleased to be proved wrong.

So - whoever you are and wherever you are - don't ever give up.  The right words, in the right time and the right place, and you too can experience this magic.

PS: feedback from York is now up on the Festival site.

Monday, March 28, 2011

York Talk 2011 - the thanks bit

Mega thanks go to:

  • Emma Darwin - for proving once again to be the perfect co-tutor for the mini course.  What a team!
  • all the agents, publishers and specialists who, in spite of everything, continue to demonstrate their passion for fabulous writing
  • the lovely peeps on the Blackwell's stall for selling our books
  • the other authors with whom I wish I could have spent more time
  • all the participants for trusting us with your babies and for all the words, words, words
  • the Word Clouders - what a wonderful, warm, funny and supportive community you (we) are
  • Laura, Deborah and Nikki from Writers' Workshop for the hard unglamorous slog wth none of the glory
  • Kate Allan for a mammoth organisational feat
  • Jeremy Guy - likewise and for the toothpaste
  • the staff at York for their friendly, helpful and efficient hosting
  • Susan Franklin, Lesley Eames and Sandra Norval for looking after the Book Doctors and agents and for the iron fists you wield from inside your velvet gloves
  • all of you for coming along for the ride, either in body or blog

York Talk 2011 - in pictures

David Nobbs signing a copy of one of his many books

Some of the grand old ducks of York

Cicely Havely, winner of Authonomy Live

Emma Darwin and Jenny Beattie at the gala dinner

Harry and Laura from Writers' Workshop sifting through the competition shortlist
Kerry Fisher, winner of the Festival competition

Sunday, March 27, 2011

York Talk 2011 - ooh, goody goody.

Goody bags
This year, several publishers supplied free copies of their books, many  of them hardbacks and others advance proof copies, for distribution to all at the Festival.

I was delighted to have sold several copies of my own books and thought that would mean I would go back with lighter luggage.  Instead, my books were replaced by these freebies, but believe me, I ain't grumbling.

The grand finale

Kate Williams, historian and novelist, was the final speaker and she shared her personal experiences in the last key note address of the weekend.  Not many people can have a week that consists of chatting to Jeremy Paxman about economic contraction on Newsnight on one evening, and then a day or so later talking about the origins of Battenberg cake.

The final, final say though, has to go to Harry Bingham, who said that he had spoken to the agents and publishers over the weekend and they had all said they were blown away by the quality of much of the writing they saw. 

'Numerous agents were interested in numerous writers,' he told us.

Let's hope that several people will sign up with agents in the near future, having been asked to send their full MSes.  And that those agents will succeed in getting deals for those authors.  How wonderful it would be in the future for people to say their successful careers as authors began at York, as Shelley Harris was able to say last year.

Harry left us with these thoughts:
  • No one who had been there could be in any doubt whatsoever that the entire industry runs on passion.
  • It's vital to be a perfectionist - what the Festival does is to provide people with the tools to polish and perfect their writing.
  • Another P word, an equally essential component in the writers' toolkit, is persistence.
  • Writing is hard - so you'd better love doing it!
That's it, folks.  I'll publish one last post tomorrow and that will be to share the photos I took over the weekend.

I'm home now, still dealing with that strange mixture of Knackered but Wired.  The one thing that has hit me is that 300+ people in one vast room, don't seem to make nearly as much noise as 3 people (all male, 2 teenagers) in one small room.

York Talk 2011 - The Book Doctor is (was) in

I had 18 Book Doctor sessions over the 2 days.  Obviously, and as one would expect, there was a range of genres and also of potential in those submissions.  But everyone felt they learned something really useful and specific to their own writing, including the effectiveness of their concept and pitch.

I was seriously impressed with some of them.  Although I was only seeing first chapters and synopses, there were some who semeed they only needed to do a  bit of tightening and polishing for their books to be ready to pitch to agents.  If they didn't get any bites, they might consider getting an edit, but those special few were at the stage where I suggested they should try pitching them first, on the chance that everything was already in place and they could save themselves the expense of paying for a critique. 

I hope people will stay in touch as I'd love nothing better than to see them succeed and know I had a small part to play in their journey.

Which reminds me ...

I was talking to someone who has spent their former career in the highly competitive corporate world.  She couldn't believe the way everyone seemed to be so generously spirited, genuinely happy to hear about and celebrate other people's success.  I hadn't really thought about how unusual and extraordinary that was.  I've always taken it for granted that our collective passion and enthusiasm was for all writing, not just our own.   Makes me feel even more happy and lucky - privileged even - to be part of the community of writers.

On which note ...

I had to forget something crucial when I was packing, didn't I?  Toothpaste, that's what.  On Saturday morning, I told someone in passing that I'd forgotten mine and had had to use soup (bleurgh).  An hour or so later, Jeremy Guy, one of the extraordinary team of organisers, came up to me and said he'd heard I'd forgotten my toothpaste and I really should have told him.

Eh?  I think I might have goggled at him.  And then 10 mins later he found me and handed over a tube that he had dispatched someone specially to buy.  I know this sounds wet, but I was so touched, and felt so cared for and looked after, I felt quite teary.  *sniff*

York Talk 2011 - oh but I also forgot ... the gala dinner

A chance to dress up in our glad rags and celebrate in style.  The poshest of nosh and the bestest of company.  What's not to love? 

The winners of the Festival competition were announced during the meal and once again it was clear just how much talent and potential there was in that room. With only my teensy evening bag, I found myself in the almost unique position of realising I didn't have pen and notebook to hand, so I didn't manage to record the shortlist.  (Though I couldn't possibly forget the well-deserved inclusion of the lovely John Taylor of Word Cloud renown).

Fortunately, the winner, Kelly Fisher, was sitting at my table.  Kelly won on the basis of having the most wonderful opening line to her novel and I asked her to jot it down on the back of a business card so that I could share it with you here:

I was wearing the wrong bra for sitting in a police cell.

Good, huh???

Sadly, the rest of the evening was a teensy bit of a blur.  Absolutely no connection whatsoever with gin and anyone suggesting otherwise will be facing a libel suit.

York Talk 2011 - oh but I forgot ... that workshop

That last post refers to this morning (Sunday) but somehow I forgot some of the most crucial things that happened yesterday.

For starters, there was my Breaking the Rules workshop.  I was a bit anxious about how much there was to get through and also that there were no gimmicks; all they were going to get was me talking at them non-stop for an hour.  In the event, it seemed to go down better than any other single workshop or course I've run.  I guess people just love breaking rules ... and the anarchist in me loves them for it.

I selected the rules that people had told me in advance were the ones they most found problematic:  POV, show not tell, linear chronological structure, prologues, adverbs and adjectives and (briefly) speech tags, dreams, mixing tenses, mixing 1st and 3rd person ... You can see what I mean about how much there was to get through.

With each one, I defined the rule and explained why it mattered and  what the consequences of breaking it are.  I emphasised the need to check if breaking it really is the best way to tell the story, because you do need to have a compelling reason.  And then I gave examples of the ways in which it can broken effectively.

The advantage of doing it in this way was that the workshop provided a good grounding on what the 'rules' are in the first place for those who are unsure, as well as providing techniques for those who feel that their book justifies a different approach. 

Anyway, it must have been useful as I've never received such a positive response (the applause seemed to go on for an embarassingly long time).  One participant even said he had learned more about creative writing in that one hour than he had in the previous 3 years. 

I am going to post my notes on the Festival website at some point in the coming week.

York Talk 2011 - the morning after

Lost an hour of sleep and I think we all felt that loss keenly.  Especially those who spent much of last night with 10 other people, stuffed into one of the tiny bedrooms, accompanied by a bottle of whisky and another of vodka.  (I wasn't one of those people BTW but they could be identified this morning by the green hue of their gills and the capacious bags under their eyes.)

Today kicked off with another Festival panel of agents and publishers, this time including Beverley Birch (commissioning editor for Hodder Children's), Jonathan Telfer (editor of Writers'  News), Hannah Westland (agent) and our very own Harry Bingham.

Let's get the bad news from this session out of the way.  Many of you will already know that an agent is likely to take on 1 in a 1000 of the MSes submitted to them.  It's sobering to then hear that most publishers will take approx 1 in 4-500 MSes submitted to them - by agents.  Blimey, you're probably thinking, those odds are so long they're out of the stratosphere.  But people DO get published, so it's vital not to lose heart.

There has to be some  good news to keep us all going.  The panel were asked what was exciting at the moment.  Wouldn't you know, but the answer was the advent of the Kindle and e books, which they all saw as part threat and part opportunity.  In the US, any publishers not already on board with the technology are apparently being left behind.

Social media and networks are providing lots of ways for people to self publish and also for those with traditional deals to promote in a way that has  never existed before.  With the traditional publishing model, the publicity machine kicks in 3 months before publication.  Now that authors have a major part to play in publicising their own books, they can begin the process with blogs, websites, Facebook etc 12-18 months before their book hits the shelves, giving them the chance to build up an advance readership.

In a way, it's both good news and bad news that the author now has such a large part to play in the process.  Bad because promotion takes very different skills to writing and also because it takes time and energy away from the actual process of writing; good because it does enable writers to have some control over the content and methods by which they are publicised.  I remember when my books were first published, I was warned not to do anything at all, but to leave all the publicity to the 'experts'. But the truth is that no one is going to give your books - and indeed your career - the same amount of focus and attention that you can bring yourself.
There is still considerable tension between authors and agents regarding royalty rates for e books.  Part of the problem is the ease with which people can use the digital format for self-publishing.  They can then offer their books for sale for tiny sums - as little as 70p or even free, thereby pushing them up the Amazon charts.  Although there is no quality control for those books, traditional publishers are being forced to compete with them and deal with the public expectation that books should be that cheap.  So how much would that leave as a royalty rate for the published author?  About as much as it costs to buy a cobweb.
Finally, the panel was asked what single piece of advice they would give to aspiring authors.  The answer was one I've often advocated myself: read!

To this Harry added by pointing out the value of critiques and editing.  He also said that anyone who comes to the Festival will inevitably leave a better writer.  Wise man, that Harry Bingham.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

York Talk 2011 - post 3

Excuse me - I've got that slightly zappy, sicky, headachey, hyper, caffeinated, jet lag thing going on, so may be a little less coherent than we all would wish.

After lunch (have I said how scrummy the food is here?) it was time for the next key note address: Carole Blake and Patrick Jansen-Smith, both of whom have worked for several decades on both sides of the publishing equation ie as both agents and publishers.  As such, they were able to provide unique insights into the roles of each and the relationships between them.

What is clear is that the level of an author's involvement in promoting their own book is far higher than it has ever been.  There is less paid advertising and a bigger emphasis on what can be done online, using social networking like Twitter, Facebook and ... er ... blogging.   In fact, though this may send a shiver down the spines of the more retiring types, there is a huge requirement for authors to become perfomance artists, even though this demands very different skills from those needed for writing.  Both speakers were clear that it's essential for there to be a collaboration between author, agent and publisher.  After all, they all have the same aim: to sell lots of books.

After all the years of working in the industry, it was heartening to hear Carole say that she has never lost her passion and enthusiasm for good writing.  The session was then thrown open to contributions and questions from the floor.

Foreign Rights

Ideally, there should always be a dialogue between author and translator.  Some books that seem quintessentially English have done surprisingly well in other countries.  It's impossible to second guess the market, however, so people shouldn't write a book with the foreign rights specifically in mind eg by having part of the action take place in another country (unless that's intrinsic to the story, of course).  Good characters = universal emotions, so apply across the globe.

The US is a particularly hard market to break into; it's bigger in every way and also less forgiving ie if you don't take off mega with your first book you are less likely to receive backing for subsequent novels.  (Some *ahem* might say that's also true for the UK.)

E Books and Digital Rights

They're confused.  Everyone's confused.  It's impossible to keep up with new developments and the constantly changing environment.  Publishers are anxious to hang onto digital rights and are looking at old contracts which didn't have the clauses that are now relevant.  The trade dubbed last Xmas as Kindle Xmas as so many people received blank Kindles as presents and there was then a rush immediately after Xmas to download e books.  In the US, 15% of some titles have been sold as e books.  The whole industry will be looking forward to the next 2 batches of royalty statements, which will reflect the impact in the UK. 

Piracy is a major concern and they still don't know how to deal with it.  Publishers are spending a fortune on research and development.  Meanwhile, Carole said that she's notified of a new pirated version of a book every day.  These can be tackled one by one, but it's impossible to keep track.  Pah. 


The problem with large advances (yes, there really is a problem) is that it's very hard for sales to match, and if they don't, the author has the stigma of having failed to sell out their advance by a large margin.  It's very common for subsequent advances to be much lower - or, worst case scenario, for the author to struggle to get a subsequent deal at all.  (*Ahem again* - nasty cough I've got there.)

The final word

After all that, I want to end on an up note, so I'll leave you with Carole's answer to a question re whether authors needing to 'perform' meant they only had a chance if they are young and beautiful.
'No,' said Carole.  'They just have to be interesting.'

York Talk 2011 - David Nobbs

What better person to give the keynote address than David Nobbs, who says he has spent 48 years (years, people, not hours) writing about things that never happened and being paid for it?

David initially wrote 9 stage plays that were never performed.  What was the missing ingredient?  Turns out to be a subject close to my heart: he hadn't found his voice.  So how did he solve that?  By writing, of course, and simply by carrying on doing it. 

David began his working life as a journalist but in 1963 he sold an idea to the BBC, which eventually became That Was the Week That Was.  He then wrote material for comedians such as Tommy Cooper and Ken Dodd.  But he was still struggling to write a successful book and the problem was that his words were good, but he hadn't yet come up with a compelling story.

He was refreshingly frank about his failures. 
'Rejection,' he said, 'is depressing, but it's not a personal insult.' 
Reggie Perrin was originally written as a half hour drama.  No one was more surprised than David when the book morphed into 4 novels  and 6 TV series.  Now 76, he is still working full time and clearly loving it. 

So where do his ideas come from? 

'People,' he said.  'Listen to them.  They're wonderful and the source of so much inspiration.'

Some more nuggets of Nobbsian wisdom:
  •  If you are writing a lot, some of it will be good and some of it will be very bad.  And that's ok.
  • Be persistent and don't take rejection personally.  Fawlty Towers was originally rejected as being rubbish, having no potential and (can you believe?) not funny!
  • Put your work aside for a month or so and then come back to it with a fresh eye.
  • If inspiration is proving elusive, take a day off and do something completely different.
  • But don't do that for 2 days running!  Writers have to write!
  • When you write, make sure you enjoy it.  At least that way, you will have made one person happy.

Friday, March 25, 2011

York Talk 2011

Never say I don't love you.  Here I am at 11.15 at night.  Others are still in the bar, drinking.  Many have already staggered off to bed.  And me?  Here I am, sitting in my room at my laptop, because I promised you a live Festival blog and a Debi never breaks her promises.

Soooo - the trip up wasn't as much fun as last year when I met Whisks on the train, but that one was hard to beat.  It was enough that I arrived safely.  There's little time for taking stock while at York (or breathing, but I do try to do that whenever I remember).  So it was straight into the Developing Your Voice mini course with Emma Darwin.

Once again, I was reminded why the Emma/Debi partnership works so well.  Emma comes from a far more literary perspective and is qualified at MA level, whereas I, as was pointed out to me last year, am a 'street writer', a monicker I'm happy to accept.  The course went well, unless the participants were being very kind and generous and didn't like to hurt us; they certainly all said it had been very useful.  Voice is such a slippery thing to nail down and very hard to teach, but I hope people were telling the truth when they said the course had enabled them to see where their own narrative voices were slipping and had given them the tools for repairing any slippages.

The less said about the literary speed dating the better.  You try sitting at a table for 10 and trying to engage with everyone in a meaningful way before your 5 mins are up and they're all replaced by new people, all looking equally shell-shocked.  Now try doing it while wearing hearing aids and finding ambient noise is as loud as the voice of the person sitting next to you.

After a classy meal (yum - and best thing was I hadn't cooked it) we sat back and prepared to admire the brave souls who had entered Authonomy LIve.  Last year, you may remember the outright winner was Shelley Harris, who went on to not only get an agent, but also a two book deal with Weidenfeld & Nicolson following a bidding war.

Once again, there was little doubt about the winner, although there was a fabulous and very strong field.  Cicely Haverly won with a sparkling and very funny excerpt of her book, chronicling the sexual awakening on a young girl, set in 1953.  I have photos, but you'll have to wait.  I'm tired and working out how to get them from mobile to laptop is too much for my brain right now.
So sue me.

Right - that's all you get for tonight.  Night night, all.  See you tomorrow.

(Note to self: do NOT sleep through alarm.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Back-to-Back Festivals

York!  This weekend!

There's an amazing line up of talks, events and workshops and I honestly can't wait.  On the personal side, Emma Darwin and I will be running the Developing Your Voice mini course on Friday.  I'm hosting a Breaking the Rules workshop on Saturday afternoon and I'm also doing a total of 5 hours of Book Doctor slots over both days.  That's when we meet the aspiring authors who have submitted a first chapter, synopsis and covering letter in advance for 10 intense minutes of critique and feedback.

Nicola Morgan has published a wonderful post, linking to another by Emma D, which describes exactly what we will be looking for in those submissions.  So if you can't make it to York, you can use their checklists to examine your own MS.  (And I owe a huge debt to them both for these posts which mean I don't have to write one myself, since they've said it all, and said it so well.)

I'm hoping to live blog the weekend again, as I did last year, so watch this space.

I'll be arriving back in London late on Sunday evening and then, before you know it, I'll be dashing over to the Telegraph Hill Festival with the East Dulwich Writers' Group on Monday evening, where we'll be reading from our second anthology, Hoovering the Roof 2.

At least that one won't take me several hours to get to.  Still, you can't have too many Festivals, eh?  And the last gig was a knockout, as you can see from this photo.