Monday, April 26, 2010

Dog Days

G didn't do the marathon this year.
Regular visitors here will know that this is a break with tradition going back over a decade.

To be 100% honest, I was relieved not to have to go through that hideous  buildup in tension to marathon day this year.

Instead, we were all looking forward to a nice relaxing Sunday.  I was out with the boys and G went for his usual 10+ mile run.

All was going according to plan until G rang me to say he'd been bitten by a dog.  He'd been minding his own business, running round the park, when a yapping terrier shot towards him like a bullet and sank its sharp, bacteria-ridden teeth into his leg.

It was only a small wound inflicted by a small dog but he had to go to A&E for a tetanus jab.  When he heard G's diabetic, the doctor insisted he take anti-biotics as any infection could have serious consequences.

(That was me, not the dog.)

I'm not sure it was better than a marathon build-up ...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Keys to a happy life

Mmm.  Lovely sunny day, I thought to myself this morning.  How shall I spend it?

With lots of work related items jiggling for my attention, I went for the self-indulgent option.

I dug the folding lounger out from the basement shed and carried it into the grounds of the estate, just below the balcony.  The only other things I took with me were my WIP, a bottle of water and a pencil.

Luxury.  Time passed as the sun moved across the sky throwing my chair into shadow.
No matter. I was too busy to move, lost in the craft.

First Born and his friend passed saying they were hungry.  I chucked them my keys and told them to help themselves.
Little Guy kissed me goodbye as he headed off for a friend's party.
The sun moved behind the block, throwing me into deeper shadow.

Scribble, edit, polish ...

What time is it?  Already?  Missed lunch.  I really ought to eat something.  Could do with a pee too.  Suppose I should go in ...

And that's the point I realised that FB hadn't returned my keys.
But that he was outside.
And the keys were inside.
And Little Guy had locked the balcony door.
And hadn't taken his own keys with him to the party.
And G was out for the day.
And no one has any spare keys.

A combination of helpful neighbours, a step ladder and a small child not too scared to be fed through a tiny window means that I'm now able to tell you about this several hours later. 

From now on, no one gets my keys.  No one.  If they haven't got their own, tough.  They're hungry?  Tough.  Need the toilet?  Tough.  Next time, maybe they'll think more carefully.  Harumph!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

York Wrapped Up

The previous posts have the feel of a headlong dash through last weekend in York at the Festival of Writing.  No links, no photos and - let's not mince words here - not a lot of style.  It's tempting to go back and edit the posts but that would be cheating.  As an experiment in live blogging, they're the product of the weekend and a valid reflection of it.

Now that I have the benefit of hindsight, I've decided to go back and fill in some of the gaps.  Actually, who am I kidding?  It's also because I'm finding it hard to move on.  I still have people I need to get back to with feedback but that doesn't excuse my new found tendency to squat on WordCloud checking for new posts every few minutes.  It's like when you've been at some iconic rock concert or a life-changing political event.  Years later, you still exchange conspiratorial glances with those who shared the experience, knowing that from such events lives are changed.

'York 2010.  We were there ...'

So - back to filling in those gaps.

Entering the zone

I was in the zone before I even left the train.  A woman sitting across the aisle from me leaned over and asked if I was Debi Alper.  Whisks recognised me from my avatar on WordCloud.  As hers is a cupcake (though a particularly attractive cupcake) she would have been a lot harder to pick out in a crowd.  For both of us, it felt like a positive and sociable start to the weekend.

Red dots

Everyone was issued with a small badge with their name on.  Those of us who had a specific role as authors, agents, editors, publishers or organisers, had little red dots on our badges.  As someone pointed out to me, it was like the stickers placed on artworks sold at an exhibition.
'I'm Debi.  Buy me.'

Queens of the red dots, Adele Geras and Emma Darwin

Self-editing mini course

Emma Darwin and I had to cram our usual 7 hour workshop into 4 hours (including a tea break).  With such a large group, it was impossible to give individual feedback on participants' own writing, but a combination of exercises and lots of Q&A meant that the course was still interactive.

Authonomy Live

I am filled with admiration for those brave writers who took part in this event on Friday evening.  It would be enough of a challenge to read aloud to a panel of experts and an assembled throng of approx 400.  How much more so when the words you are reading are your own?  The judges felt unable to agree on a shortlist of 3, so 4 people were put to the public vote which was overwhelmingly in favour of Shelley Harris's beautiful reading.  (Shelley got my vote for her gentle and touching excerpt set during the Silver Jubilee in 1977.)

There was an instant buzz around Shelley - a spontaneous indication that this is her time.  While she was still trying to take in her award, agents approached her from every angle, asking to see the rest of her book.  At the last count, I  believe 7 had expressed an interest.  From such stuff, dreams are made.  Will Shelley be the first to be signed up by an agent as a direct result of the Festival? Though I'm willing to bet she won't be the only one ...

Shelley Harris, winner of Authonomy Live
Those one-to-ones

It's inevitable that some people were happier with the feedback they got in their ten minute slot with agents than others.  The feeling I got was that most people were realistic about the book trade and the chances of their book being published.  They were equally realistic about the financial reality and if they weren't, there was an inexhaustible supply of authors telling them how it was virtually impossible to make a living out of writing, even for those considered highly successful.

For every person who was disappointed by the agent's response, there were several more who found the feedback very useful.  Many of the agents made useful suggestions about the sort of thing a particular writer would seem to be best suited to, providing plenty of food for thought.

Although each of the 10 minute slots flashed past, I felt in my Book Doctor sessions that I was able to make fundamental and (hopefully) useful suggestions for everyone.  Many of the authors sought me out afterwards so that we could continue our discussions.  I was really impressed with the overall standard of writing and it was very gratifying to know that I was able to give practical advice that would take their work to another level.

There were times when I felt more like a therapist than an editor.  There was a clear trend for people to be self-deprecating and over humble (usually the most talented writers!).  I suspect this reticence was a way of pre-empting rejection and possible failure.  Yet, I saw some seriously good writing and intriguing concepts as well as a clear urge to tell stories.  It's almost as though people need permission to write by being told they're not wasting their time.  As if creating worlds of our own and peopling them with a cast formed from our own imaginations could ever be a waste ...

 Literary Death Match

My chance to be Cheryl Cole (or possibly Louis Walsh) came on Saturday night when I was part of the judging panel for the brave participants of the Death Match. Some threw themselves into the performance, using props and costumes, while others preferred to let their words do the talking.  With an equal split between published and unpublished authors, the panel decided to even out the obvious advantage in order to encourage those who are (as yet) unpublished.

Who'da thunk it could be so hard?  Consensus was hard to reach.  The ones that engendered the strongest feelings split us down the middle.  Not a bad thing for the authors concerned - better to be either loved or hated than to evoke a unanimous mild response. Do you hear me, Mr Marmite?

In the best X Factor tradition, the audience ruled supreme and demanded Adele Geras should be added to our shortlist.  Adele's piece was so overwhelmingly fabulous we had felt it would be obvious to everyone there that she was in a class of her own and, as she needs the validation less than the aspiring authors, we hadn't included her.  Nevertheless, she won the audience vote and in a warm and generous gesture, presented her bottle of champagne to Mary Flood, for her moving and powerful story of an eviction based on real events.

 Mary Flood, winner of the Literary Death Match

Workshops and keynote addresses

In advance, I had pictured myself gatecrashing some of the workshops and thought my biggest problem was going to be choosing which to attend.  In the event, I was so busy giving feedback on people's writing that I never had the chance to go to any of them.   Luckily, in the spirit of generosity that underpinned the whole Festival, the organisers have made much of the workshop material (and the keynote addresses) available on the website.  See here

Busy authors at the POV workshop
A Literary Bubble

With no tv, radio or newspapers and every conversation seemingly lit-related, we were cocooned from the outside world with no idea what was happening 'out there'.  Who knew that the entire Polish ruling elite had been wiped out in an air crash?  We were all too busy, totally immersed in Word World.  The only real criticism I've heard so far about the whole weekend is that there was simply too much to fit in.

And there's the rub.  I think that for many people, the opportunity to have direct face-to-face feedback from an agent was the initial hook.  But no one in their right mind would pay that kind of money for a 10 minute session.  So useful though that feedback was for most people, it was only a small part of an entire weekend devoted to the craft of writing and the business side of publishing.

The range of workshops ensured every angle was covered.
The keynote addresses were inspiring and entertaining.
The evening events were fun and informal.
But I think for most people the best part of all was simply being there and mixing with other writers at all different stages of their writing careers.  There was no hierarchy or obvious cliques.  Though some people knew each other in advance (stand up, WordClouders) at any stage you could find a mix of professionals and aspiring authors chatting, laughing and exchanging words.

So what did everyone have in common, given the diversity of backgrounds represented?
Well, obviously everyone there could afford the fee, but apart from that we all share a passion for words and the amazing things we can do with them, a love of storytelling and an endless fascination with other people.

An event like this changes lives, some in a more subtle way than others, but all positive.
Almost everyone will have received some useful and specific advice relating to their writing.
Most will come away inspired to write and uplifted.
Many have caught the eye of an agent and been asked to submit more of their work.
Some may end up signing a contract with an agent.
And some may even achieve their dream of seeing their words in print.

Will it happen again?  What do you think?

The incredible energetic and creative team behind this year's festival are already looking ahead.  You can register interest for 2011 now here.  The full website has been left up here.  Huge thanks to the awesome Harry Bingham and Tommy Kristofferson from the Writers' Workshop, Kate Allan (who somehow managed to juggle incredible professional organisational skills with the needs of a new baby) and Jeremy Guy.

 The indomitable Harry Bingham

Meanwhile, the next best thing to actually being there is to join the community on WordCloud.  It's free to register and there's a whole world of useful info, chat and supportive exchanges.  Check out the host of different groups - or start a new one yourself.  Write on walls, join conversations, look up specific info, browse the blog and (my favourite part) the forums.

I Get the Last Word

Thanks to Avis Hickman-Gibb, I now have a new designation.  I was explaining why I thought Emma and I are such a good team.  Emma is mega qualified to MA level and scatters her talk with learned literary references, whereas my writing evolved from a more organic approach.  It was only later that I was able to analyse and deconstruct what I had created from instinct.

'Ah,' said Avis, 'You're a street writer.'
Yep.  That's me.  A street writing woman.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

York - All Talked Out

I'm home after a ghastly journey.  I arrived about an hour ago and this is the first time I've sat down.

'Tired' doesn't come close, though my brain is still zapping.

I have much more to share - including photos - but I'm sorry that there will be a delay before I can get round to it.

I'm going away tomorrow for a few days with the family and I have to confess I'm really looking forward to tuning out.  I know there will be people coming here wanting to hear more about the most stimulating weekend I can recall and I do apologise as I won't have access to the internet for a few days.

Back soon!

York Talk 4

OK.  It's official.  I've lost the plot.  I think it might be something to do with having drained the reserve adrenalin tank and running on pure will alone.

I can't even remember what happened on which day any more.  I'll return to what happened yesterday tomorrow.  Argh.  See?  No idea what day it is any more.

1.30 this morning I was still reading through submissions in my room.  Stumbled into breakfast at 8.00 and along with my coffee and cereal, by the time I got to sit down I had another 4 pieces to read.   In theory, I only had one hour of 1-1s booked today.  In practice, I haven't had a moment to pee.

I ran to my room just now after lunch, realising I was late for the author signings.  As I grabbed some books I saw a caretakery guy who asked which room I was in.
'Ah,' he said, 'you're the last.'
'Last what?'
'Last to hand your key in.'
'Oh!  What time should that have been?'
'9.00 this morning ...'

Gasp.  Bless him, he said it was fine and not to rush.  As if ...
So off I ran - arriving too late for the signings. 
Damn and damn again.  Apart from anything else it would have been nice to have fewer books to carry home.
Ah well, them's the breaks.

I need to pack now and get ready for the final round up.  There's so much more to tell you but it's going to need to unfold over the next few days/weeks.

I hope I've given enough to convey the atmosphere over the weekend.

Eeek- I haven't even told you about last night's Literary Death Match yet ...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

York Talk 3

I got through breakfast without dribbling coffee down my chin or growling.  Result in itself.

Then it was off to hear Katie Fforde's keynote address.   She gave 10 pieces of advice that were not only sensible and practical, but also very entertaining.

Show, not tell - so here are some examples of the wisdom of Katie:

Finding your voice is a bit like having an orgasm.  Before you have one, you don't really know what it is.  Once you do, you have no problem identiifying it - and enjoying it.

You have to want it enough.  I want to be size 10 - but I obviously don't want that enough.

I am a bit bored by my voice.  I'm also a bit bored by my face.  But I can't change either.

Follow that, eh?  But I had to cos then it was straight into my POV workshop. Initially I'd wondered how to fill an hour on that one subject.  In the event, I could have continued for far longer given the chance. 

And I got another round of applause at the end so I must have got something right I guess.

Then zoom - off to my first session of 1-1s.  6 authors and their work - 10 minutes each for feedback.  This was immensely gratifying.  Having read and absorbed all the submissions in advance, I felt I had useful things to say.  Writers are so vulnerable and of course all of those of us who are authors as well as editors know that from the inside.  Being in a position to encourage and point out strengths (cos everyone has them) as well as weaknesses and practical suggestions for dealing with them felt really constructive. 

I feel privileged to be in that position, especially when you can clearly see how something can be improved (eg you're starting in the wrong place ... or you're over relying on dialogue to impart info ... or can you justify this timeline  distortion?) and you see the person's face as they see how much better their work could be with some tweaks ... wonderful stuff.

And one submission I immediately pitched to the organisers and they have hooked him up with an agent.  I've no doubt whatsoever  that his book will be on the shelves at some point.  How amazing to have been a prt of that process.

I crossed over the lake (did I mention the lake?  the omnipresent swans, geese, ducks? the lovely setting?) in the company of Katie Fforde, Adele Geras (longtime hero of mine) and Emma Darwin, thinking - ooh look at me ...

I've had lunch (during which I read and discussed 2 new people's writing) and have  decided to miss the next session so I can blog.  While I've been sitting here, a woman drifted past in a dreamlike state saying she's had a very positive reaction from her agent pitches and it looks like she's on her way to being represented.

I need to rush now, so once again don't have time to add the photos.  Patience, peeps.  I'll get there eventually.

York Talk 2

OMG.  I can't believe I'm sitting here blogging at this time of the morning.
The York air is positively crackling with creative energy.

Back to last night.  Shelley Harris won the Authonomy Live session with her beautiful and evocative story set during the Silver Jubilee.  I have a photo of Shelley with her bottle of champers - haven't got round to uploading the pix yet.  Patience, my dear blogmates.

It took real guts to those who took  part in this session.  Can't be easy to stand up and read to an assembled throng of hundreds as well as a panel of experts.  Kudos to all.

I went to bed midnightish to read some late submissions.  And I don't suppose you'll be surprised to hear sleep was elusive.  So many brain cells jostling for space and bouncing off the walls of my skull.

I'm so not a morning person, yet there I was at breakfast at some ungodly hour, desperate for a cloak of invisibility until I get some caffeine.  No cloak.  Must remember to pack that next time. 

I keep meeting people.  Ah there's G - she came on one of my London courses.  And there's R - I've been editing his books for years and now have the face to fit to the name.  Oh look.  There's H from my writers' group.  And F, who I met at a London book launch ... 

I've sneaked out to write this post and there are all these people coming up to chat.  How is it possible to have approx 400 people all in one place and for them all to be so fab?  What are the odds against that?  I haven't met a single person who's been negative in any way.

Right.  Off now for Katie Fforde's keynote address.  Then my POV workshop.  Then ...

Well, catch up later.

Friday, April 09, 2010

York Talk 1

Yeesh - what a ride.  What a buzz. 

Teething problems for some at check in sorted and straight into the mini course: Debi and Emma double act.  In spite of large numbers, it turned out to be quite interactive.  Intense?  You bet.  A huge amount to get through in 4 hrs. 

Hard to interpret those expressions. 

Were those frowns of concentration/discontent/confusion/boredom?

Feedback was good.  We got applause!  That has to be good, eh?

Whoosh.  Straight into the literary speed dating aka organised chaos but a good way to meet a large number of people fast.

And what an amazing bunch of people.  All those writers, all that creativity and enthusiasm.  All in one place.

Hardly enough time to appreciate the food.  It was good though.  As far as I can tell because I wanted to talk and to listen, not eat.

Barely enough time to digest the grub and certainly not enough time to digest all the wonderful words coming at you from every angle.

Because - whoosh again.  Authonomy Live.  Brave writers reading their work to the assembled throng and the panel, Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole and ...

... oh hang on.  Wrong bunch. 

I'm sitting here, listening to the writers' words and the panel's feedback and thinking how lucky I am to be here.  And blogging for all of you who can't be here.

Apologies for the lack of links. I've taken some pix but haven't got round to uploading them yet.  Will try again tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Debi's deafisms

Part 3 in an occasional series giving an insight into my muffled world.

FB:  Is it true that Hong Kong is a country?
Me:  Well, I don't think you could really say that.  Hogwarts is a school, not a country as such.  Though metaphysically speaking ...

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Closerer and closerer to York


Mini course and workshop: prepped
Submissions for Book Doctor slots: received and ready
Hair: Cut and dyed
Teeth: tobacco and coffee stains scrubbed off by dentist
Minor surgery to remove cyst on spine: gulp ...

... tomorrow morning

Oooer ...

Monday, April 05, 2010

Me, him and some books (and a rogue Sainsbury's carrier bag)

Just rec'd this pic from the Magnificent Meloney, featuring yours truly, the legendary Dan Maitland and some of them there book things.

Hoovering the Roof - the East Dulwich Writers' Group anthology published in November -has gone into its 2nd print.  Yippee!

More events planned.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Oh my aching sides ...

We're all familiar with the spam emails offering to make us rich quick involving  movements of vast quantities of dubious currency around the globe for which they *ahem* need your bank account details.

Does anyone ever get caught by these emails?
Presumably some people must be sufficiently gullible, otherwise what's the point of sending them in the first place?

Sometimes though, I do wonder if the spammers are losing heart and just going through the motions.

Otherwise, what possible justification could they have for sending this email I received today?

Hello  I am Mrs.Yengeni from south African a Parliamentarian Wife i contacted you to be my project partner and stand as my Husband foreign partner for transfer of US$15 million into your account for investment  You maybe familiar with the news about my husband legal position. endeavor to read the website :   Mrs.Lumka

Could this be the most lacklustre attempt at fraud yet?

Friday, April 02, 2010

Literary balls

I'm referring to the number of lit-related balls I'm juggling at the moment.

I've just finished reading and critiquing one book and have another MS waiting.

A week from today I will be in York for the Festival of Writing.

By this time next Friday, I'll be part of the way through the mini-course I'm running with Emma Darwin - Self Edit Your Work for Market.
With over 60 participants booked, we won't be able to give individual feedback but are working hard to ensure the course will give aspiring authors the tools they need to edit their own writing and learn the requirements of the market.

The following morning, my workshop on POV has been shifted to a giant amphitheatre as a result of 90+ bookings.

My one-to-one Book Doctor slots on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning are also booked out.

In between, there's a veritable feast of stuff going on and there had better be plenty of coffee available to keep me going when the adrenalin runs out.

I'm grabbing a few days after that to go away with the family.  (Remember me, guys?  I'm your mother.)

At some point, I really hope to be able to make my own WIP a priority.  I've typed up the revisions and now just need to go through the 2nd draft for the final polish.

I've completed my short story set in Croydon for 33 and it's been accepted by Glasshouse Books.
The launch is scheduled for 6th July and there are plans afoot for lots of events.

Blimey, but there are a lot of people writing their hearts out in this world ...
I've just received an email from The Brit Awards.  (I'm one of their 'high profile' sic judges.)
The response to the competition has been overwhelming and they've had to postpone the process.
The Awards ceremony will now be happening on 15th July.
Meanwhile, the first layer of judging is taking place with over 21,000 submissions being sifted through by the first layer judges.

I could go on.  I have more workshops booked in central London coming up soon, for example ...

And on and ...
There's plenty more where that came from but I really should be getting on and doing it rather than talking about it.

I'm considering live blogging the Festival, so I shouldn't be gone too long.

Meanwhile, I need another coffee.