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.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Spring is definitely here, so I worked for 5 hours today on my allotment (aka Emma Darwin's garden).  I spend most of my time glued to a laptop, either writing or editing, so it was good to get out into the fresh air and use my hands (and back, oh my aching back) to do something just as creative, but completely different.

Anyway, while I was digging, pruning and planting, my brain was still in authorial mode, creating an extended metaphor of gardening as writing.  We often use the phrase, 'cutting out the dead wood', but it seems to me we can take the analogy a lot further than that.


As Spring approaches, gardeners think about the growing season ahead.  We decide what we're going to plant, get the seeds in, perhaps research a bit about the best ways to produce healthy plants from those seeds.

Some authors do more planning in advance than others, but the minimum at this stage is to have an idea about the identity of the book you're going to write and start to think about your characters and the situations you're going to put them in.  If there are areas you're not sure about, this is the point when you need to start thinking about where to go to fill in any gaps in your knowledge.  It may be a matter of net surfing; perhaps there are non-fiction books you'll want to get hold of; or museums you need to visit; or people to speak to.

Planting the seeds

The gardener's seeds are the author's words.  You need to choose the strongest, healthiest seeds and plant them in the most appropriate place.  Different seeds/words have different attributes and where you put them is as important as how strong they are.  Once you've decided on the best spot (sun or shade, soil type, drainage etc) some people might place them in neat, regimented rows; others might choose wavy lines or zigzags.  Either way, you want them to be clear and easy to identify.


Once the little darlings are beginning to sprout, you're going to need to be ruthless in dealing with those other darlings: weeds.  This might be hard.  Perhaps that weed is really pretty and you're reluctant to tear it up by the roots and bung it on the compost heap.  But if it's taking the attention of the sun's rays and the soil's nutriments away from your plants, then it has to go.  You could always pull it up and transplant it elsewhere if you can't bear to throw it away.  You might even have a separate space for replanting those weeds you're really attached to.  For a writer, this could mean creating a file for those superfluous scenes and threads that don't belong in your story.

Cutting out the dead wood

This is different from weeding.  That dead wood had a function.  It was once a living part of the bush or shrub.  Without it, there would be no future growth.  But its time has passed.  It's tangled and unsightly.  It distracts the eye from the beauty of the new shoots.  At worst, it can strangle those fragile new buds and prevent them flourishing.

For a writer, this kind of redundant content consists of writing that you, as the author, needed in order to envisage the world you have created and the people within it so that you could convey them to your reader.  But does the reader actually need it?  If you've done your job well enough, they might well not.  Maybe it's a chunk of back story or a character summary.  Or a paragraph of telling that undermines suspense and interrupts the pace.  Identifying this dead wood and being ruthless in cutting it out will make your story flow better.  It had its function but now you need to prune it out.

Water liberally

In this analogy, the watering applies to the gardener, not the garden.  Be good to yourself.  Don't allow yourself to get dehydrated.  Celebrate your successes and hard work by rewarding yourself with regular glugs of fresh water. Or gin.

Reap the harvest

Eating the fruits of your labours - there's no feeling like it.  You grew that.  You made it happen.  It's the same for you when you finish your book.  It's an amazing achievement and one which you should savour and feel proud of.

So there we go.  Gardening as a literary endeavour.  I've flogged the metaphor to death but it makes a change from my usual one of giving birth.

Here's hoping that some of the seeds we plant bear fruit and maybe even win prizes, whether they're for the largest marrow or the sweetest spinach.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

For your URGENT attention

I'm waaaay behind.  I should have posted days ago about the gig tonight at New Gallery, Peckham, where members of East Dulwich Writers' Group will be reading from Hoovering the Roof 2, our second anthology. 

I was also too late to donate to this brilliant appeal from Keris Stainton.  Bidding has already started.  You can bid for all kinds of things: from a critique to signed copies of books.  You can even bid to have a fictional character named after you.  No one needs to be reminded of the horror that is continuing to unfold in Japan.  Please support this appeal.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

International Women's Day 2011

Today (yesterday by the time this post is published) is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day - a chance to reflect on how far we've come in the last century ... and how far we still have to go.

Through a miracle of co-operation and co-ordination, in over 70 countries around the world, at over 400 events, women gathered today on bridges in support of women's rights.  The organisers, Women for Women International, have stated their mission:

To change the world, one woman at a time.  

The idea for Join Me on the Bridge came from the Country Directors of Women for Women's programmes in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo - two countries which have seen some of the most devastating impacts of war in recent years and where atrocities such as rape, torture and violence against women are commonplace. Women from both countries had decided to come together on a bridge which borders their countries, in the heart of the conflict; to stand up for peace and an end to violence against women.  Their courage inspired women across the globe to emulate their example every International Women's Day, beginning last year.

I was at today's London event.  We met at Borough market and I stood and watched as women of every age and culture gathered to make banners and mingle.  

 With Annie Lennox and Bianca Jagger at the head of the march, we set off across the Millennium Bridge.  At St Paul's the cloudless skies were studded with the hundreds of white balloons which we released.  With songs, chants and good humour, we moved along Embankment in the Spring sunshine and then crossed back over the river to the South Bank to listen to empassioned speeches by women from as far away as Congo (the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman) and Afghanistan, as well as speakers from closer to home, among them Annie, Bianca, Cherie Lunghi and Helen Pankhurst, great granddaughter of Emmeline and granddaughter of Sylvia, and an ambassador for Care International.  (See this article by Helen re today's event.)

I recorded our progress, step by step, on my Facebook wall.  For me, it was like completing a new link in a chain that began half my lifetime ago.  I was taken back several decades to marches that were in some ways similar, but the progress we have made was clear.  Back then, the main criticism of the fledgling women's movement (criticism which I believe to be valid) was that it catered mainly for the needs of middle class white women in the developed world.

In 2011, that's categorically not the case.  With the advent of global communications, the world has shrunk.  No woman in the UK or US has an excuse not to know about the plight of women in other parts of the world; women who struggle simply to survive - because of their gender.  The most uplifting aspect of today's event was the way it was enacted all over the world, with women (and their male supporters - another big difference from the early years) reaching out with a common purpose: for peace and equal rights for all women.

That shouldn't be too much to ask should it?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Sue G's excellent adventure

Regular visitors here may remember my enthusiastic review of Sue Guiney's novel, A Clash of Innocents.  (If you need to refresh your memory, the post, which includes an extract from the book, is here.)

The novel is set in a children's home in present day Cambodia.  As soon as they begin turning the pages, readers will have no doubt that Sue knows whereof she speaks in her book.  It's abundantly clear that she has met those children, seen those sights, heard those sounds, smelled those smells and tasted those tastes - and not as a tourist whipping in and out again, but as someone who has given of their time and energy to support these people in their struggle with their past history and their present poverty.

Many authors believe they should 'give back' in some way to those who inspire their writing.  For some people, writing the book and conveying those lives to the rest of the world would be enough.  But Sue is not some people.  Sue is special.

Over the coming month, Sue will be embarking on a tour of SE Asia, visiting Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Singapore.  She will be giving talks, sharing her expertise and experience and yes, selling books.  Lots of them hopefully.  Will this make her rich?  Unlikely, given that most of the income from sales will be going to the numerous charities she is involved with there.

The main event will be a week-long series of workshops with teenagers at the Siem Reap shelter, Anjali House, aimed at enabling these children to access their experiences and emotions through language and equipping them with the literacy skills that should hopefully help them to find work.  She has roped in other authors (yes, of course I'm one of them.  Need you ask?) to give feedback on the children's writing via a wiki forum.  There are already 15 students involved in the programme.  Sue says she hopes that this unique scheme will 'enhance their self-esteem and ability to move out of extreme poverty into productive adult lives'.

Photo credit:  Anjali House

This is 'giving back' on a grand scale.  Sue has arranged the whole tour herself - you can get an idea of the logistics involved in this post.   And you can see a video of Sue explaining her motivation in her own words here.

She will keep us all updated on her progress.  If I'm this excited, I can only imagine how Sue must be feeling as she embarks on this amazing journey.  I send my love and deepest respect and look forward to following developments through cyberspace as she blogs her progress.