Monday, September 10, 2012

York links

Well, I've been utter rubbish at keeping to my promise to blog the festival, haven't I ...  I do still intend to post my take on the weekend - apart from the alcohol-sodden posts that precede this one.  In the meantime, either as an act of sharing or as a cheapskate way to make up for my own omissions, I thought you might like to see links to the many other posts I've found via the Twitter hashtag #FoW12 and elsewhere.

This one with the ultimate linkiness to the fab resources on her blog is from Emma Darwin.

A non-alcoholic post from the gorgeous Talli Roland.

This post from Consummate Chaos, one of the shortlisted entrants for Friday Night Live, really gives a flavour of the weekend.

Wonderful Julie Cohen gives 4 pieces of essential advice here.

Philip Coulbourn gives his response to the feedback he received from the 1-1s.

Imran Siddiq aka Flickimp has blogged here as a Festie veteran.

Virginia Moffat has written a final blog here but check her previous posts too.

I'm sure there are many more so I'll update this post as I find them.


Great post from Elizabeth Monaghan about the journey from terror to bliss.

The spirit of York really comes over in Isabel Costello's post which also includes some blush-inducing words about yours truly.

Phil Rogers has a somewhat unusual to-do list.

A WordCloud post about Julie Cohen's character workshop.

Fifty Shades of York on WordCloud.

Talli Roland (again) on self-publishing being represented at York.

Consummate Chaos (again) on the benefits of a critique.

Rob Darke pulls out the important messages from keynote addresses.

Wendy Loveday posts about why she loves the festival.

Mrs T has written a publishing acrostic.

Amanda Saint gets emotional.

Kristin Celms compares her work self and her writing self.

J.C. Martin kicks off a week of York posts here.

Tenacityflux has written a wonderful post on WordCloud.

Andrew Wille has included some incredibly useful links in his post.

Philip Colbourn gets to grips with Psychic Distance.

Julian at WordWatchers finds that his second album anxiety was misplaced.

Anthony Madigan talks about Andrew Wille's four elements.

Jon Spira on screen writing, dreams, reality and expectations.

Rob Darke (again) on age.

J.C. Martin compares pros and cons of trade, self and indie publishing.

This Cloud post captures the raw emotions that abound at York.

Another one on  the Cloud - the trucker's tale.

Wise words from Kristin Celms (again).

The lines between fact and fiction blur in this beautiful Cloud post.

An erudite post by Michael Clarke.

Vanessa Wester has created a blog diary of the festival.

A Cloud post about being bewildered.

Skylark ascending on the Cloud.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

York - the morning after the night before

Groveling apologies to anyone who might have been expecting a post yesterday.  What can I say in my defense?  Anyone who has been to York will know about the legendary gala dinner on Sat nights.  Nuff said.

I've snatched a brief few minutes to post while I'm waiting for my next 1-1s to arrive.  So all I have time to say now about yesterday is that Jojo Moyes rocks - brilliant speaker, lovely person - and that I was deafened by the sound of pennies dropping in my Psychic Distance workshop and by the applause coming from the other workshops.  I also had 3 hrs of back-to-back 1-1s and met some wonderful writers, some of whose books I fully expect to see published in the next couple of years.

As for the gala ... I think the less said the better at this point.  Needless to say, there was far too much alcohol consumed for this particular lightweight.  There will be photos.  At some point.  Maybe. 

Friday, September 07, 2012

York Talk 1

What a day!  It hasn't been without challenges ... Rushing to catch my train at Kings Cross, I wondered why my foot was wet.  Had I stepped in a puddle?  In which case, why was my leg also wet?  Ah yes, that would be down to the bottle of water in my bag ... the OPEN bottle of water in my bag ... So now it looks like I've had an ... embarrassing incident.  I am so cool  ...

Once I was at the Festival, I hit the ground running though.  And I didn't even trip over.  The buzz was a-buzzing as delegates arrived and demonstrated the art of instant bonding.  So many people I'd met before in Real Life, so many authors whose novels I'd edited but had never met, others whose names I knew from blogs, Twitter, WordCloud ... The sun shone on us all, both literally and metaphorically.  Just a shame that my sunglasses seem to have only one lens.  More ultimate coolness.

On to the self-edit mini course. Challenge number 2 for me was when I dug out various bits from my bag at the beginning of the course and discovered more leaking fluids in there.  This time, it was a broken pen and when I pulled my hand out it was smothered with blue ink.  Told you I was cool. On the plus side, I couldn't have asked for a more enthusiastic and engaged group of people.  It can't be easy to have me stand in front of you for 4 hours solid, talking at you.  Yet no one threw rotten fruit and I hope they all picked up some new ways of looking at their novels and improving on them.  As usual, there was a general vibe of people wishing they could grab back their submissions to agents, since they'd just learnt how much better they could make them.  But that's OK - it's all part of the journey.

Then ... well, it's hard to be clear about the details.  I know that I met with Nicola Morgan (Crabbit Old Bat), Jane Smith (How Publishing Really Works) and Emma Darwin (This Itch of Writing) and there was a bottle of pink fizz involved.  That was swiftly followed by a meal (of which I have no recollection) and a great deal of hugging with friends old and new.  And some more wine.

I do remember the Friday Night Live in which 6 brave pre-selected authors read 5 min extracts from their novels.  These were critiqued, X Factor style, by Shelley Harris (author of Jubilee and winner of the same event in 2010) and 2 agents.  The real judges were the audience who were asked to raise hands to select a winner.  Blimey, it was close.  There had to be a re-count between 4 of them but the eventual winner blew our socks off.  I first met Anand Nair when she attended a full day course I ran a few years ago together with Emma D.  Since then, we've stayed in close touch as she lives not far from me and so became a valued member of East Dulwich Writers' Group.  For Anand to (deservedly) win made my night.  Kind soul that she is, she shared her bottle of wine.

Then there was some more wine.  And then I lost my cigarettes (but I had a spare pack. Ha!) and my lighter (but Jeremy Sheldon had a spare so ha! again).  And now, instead of crashing out in preparation for a full on day tomorrow, I'm in my room blogging.  Well, I did promise.  Sorry that there are no links in the post.  I have my limits, y'know.


Thursday, September 06, 2012

Watch this space

By this time tomorrow, I should have arrived in York for the Festival of Writing.

In previous years, I've live blogged the Festie.  See archives here for 2010 and here for 2011.  You might need to do a bit of scrolling and clicking to see all the posts.

This year, I have a particularly packed schedule (self-edit mini course, 2 workshops and 4 hours of Book Doctor sessions).  I'll also be posting on Facebook, Twitter and WordCloud.  In the name of mass coverage (and being aware of potential shattered nerves) I'm going to attempt some brief blog posts too so that those who aren't there can share the vibe.

Wish me luck ... and if you're going to be there, mine's a G&T. ;-)

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Brand new me!

I just received an email from someone who read my previous post about my website being in need of an extreme makeover.  She clicked the link and found  what she describes as a 'lovely' site. 

And it is!  My cunning plan for a skills exchange worked.  I am mentoring a lovely author who I know via WordCloud.  I hope one day to be posting about the amazing publishing deal she's been offered.  Meanwhile, her wonderful husband has been beavering away, doing all the techy stuff that would have been waaay beyond me.  What do you think?  You like? 

While I'm here, I'd just like to explain why I'm not seen in these here blogging parts as much as I'd like.  I'm hosting another 6 week online self-edit course with Emma Darwin.  This is the 4th time we've run this course and we're lucky enough to have yet another talented and proactive group.  Bookings are already coming in for the next one in September.  

I also have a stack of MSs for editing.  Most of these come through Writers' Workshop though I also have people straight coming to me.  Details of how that works are here. 

Then there's the build up to the Festival of Writing in York early in September.  I'm running a self-edit mini course, a couple of workshops (psychic distance and prose microscope) and several Book Doctor sessions.  (I think the latter are fully booked but there are plenty of slots available with other people.)  The full festival programme is here.

There are some other things going on but I'm going to have to be a bit mysterious and not tell you yet.  They're exciting though!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Skill swapping

For some time now, I've been worried about my website.  It's looking very old and tired. (No jokes, please, though I admit I don't look my best at the moment.)  The problem is that I've lost touch with the dear friend who set it up for me and I have no idea how to update the content. I have neither the time nor the resources to try to work out how to resolve this.

Basically, what I need is a creative and techy person who can convert the whole thing into something I can easily access and update (Wordpress?).  I can't afford to pay someone, but a thought has occurred to me.  (It happens, occasionally.)  What if you have those skills and you're also a writer?  Maybe you would like a critique, but can't afford one.  Or perhaps you've just never got round to organising this kind of feedback.  Would you be interested in doing the necessary on my website in exchange for me editing your MS?  You can see a bit about my editing services here.

I have no idea what response to expect to this idea.  I don't suppose I'll be inundated with people jumping up and down and saying 'Pick me!' but there might be more than one person who's interested.  If this exchange of skills appeals to you, email me - info at debialper dot co dot uk - giving a bit of info about what you can do for me and what you would like in return. 

This might be quite exciting for us both, or it might come to nothing.

Friday, March 09, 2012

I'm free!

Apologies ... bad blogger ... very busy ... blah blah ...

Just popping in here to sweep the cobwebs from the corners of my blog and tell people about a free event coming up on Monday 19th March when members of East Dulwich Writers' Group are once again taking part in the fab Telegraph Hill Festival.  We have a slot from 6.30-8.45 at the Hill Station.  This time, we'll be doing a mixture of workshop and readings.  Yours truly will be running a masterclass that should appeal to writers of short stories, novels, poems, memoir ... In other words, anyone who uses ... um ... written words.

EDWGers will also be reading extracts from our anthologies, Hoovering the Roof 1 & 2, as well as introducing new writing. In case anyone needs reminding, HtR 2 won the NAWG award last year.  It promises to be a great event and, if you need any further persuasion ... it's free!

It is fitting that this year's event will be dedicated to the lovely Emily Wiffen, who was an active and enthusiastic member of the group.  She will always be missed.

Friday, January 13, 2012

One Jubilee I'm happy to celebrate. Interview with Shelley Harris

Last night I was delighted to attend the launch party for Shelley Harris's debut novel, Jubilee.  Shelley is living, breathing proof that debut novelists are still being published if they have talent, commitment and dedication.  Shelley has bucketloads of all three and thoroughly deserves her success.  

Unfortunately, the venue was too dark for me to take photos that can be used here.  You'll just have to use your imagination ... Think red, white and blue balloons, union jack bunting, mini fish and chips, tiny cup cakes with edible covers of the book on top (!) and lovely Shelley reading in the same engaging and entertaining manner that first attracted attention when she read at York.

As promised here, I'm now even more delighted to welcome Shelley to my blog to ask her the questions I'm sure many of you will want to know the answers to. 

Hi and welcome, Shelley.  The first time I heard you read from Jubilee, I knew I was hearing something special.  What made you decide to write this particular book?

The idea first started with a family photograph, a picture of my dad at a V.E. Day street party when he was a kid. What I found fascinating was the intersection of the public and the private. You can look at that picture and think you know everything about it – V.E. Day was a national celebration; we all ‘own’ it, in a sense. But of course behind the public face lie all sorts of more private things: the family relationships, what was really going on between the members of that community. We tend to think that, if you can see everything, you know everything, but that’s just not true at all. I’d recently done a photography course and learned about the split-second in which the image is taken, and I become fascinated with the idea of everything which might be leading up to that brief moment, and all that might happen afterwards, and we’re left with a vestige: that two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second.

At first I thought I’d explore this idea through a novel set in 1945, but actually had a much stronger urge to look at my own generation’s iconic street party: the Silver Jubilee of 1977. That was such a year of change in Britain – a cusp year, really, in terms of our relationship with the monarchy, in terms of the way we saw ourselves. Right in the middle of a conservative Buckinghamshire village in this time of great change, I put Satish, one of those remarkable Britons who made their home here after being exiled from Uganda by Idi Amin. So the novel itself is also about the public and private: personal things, like secrets and lies; bigger things, like what it means to be British.

In Jubilee, I was really impressed at the way you seemed to be equally comfortable writing with the narrative voice of a child or an adult, male or female, white British or Asian.  This is a rare and special skill.  I wondered if all the voices came to you, fully rounded as they appear on the page, or if you struggled more with the ones that are not from your own direct experience.

Well, thank you for the kind words. It was actually surprisingly easy to write from a child’s viewpoint – I just opened my memory and dived in. But you’re right: it was much harder to write as a male, and quite intimidating to write as a British Asian.

In terms of gender-switching, I was surprised how much I had to learn about a male viewpoint, and how different it can be from that of a woman. I got my husband to talk me through what it is to be a boy, what the mechanisms of that culture are, which filters boys use to view the world. It seems to be a relentlessly competitive environment, and one in which power and status is constantly being asserted and re-assessed. At one point, I wrote a scene where boys were playing footie in the street. When the game was over, I had the biggest lads leaving the ball and walking off. He said to me: no, that’s not what they’d do. They’d chip it out of reach so the others would have to scramble for it. Girls have their own hierarchies, of course, but boy-world is more alien than I had imagined.

I was intimidated by writing as a British Asian because I wanted to be accurate and respectful, but also wanted to avoid liberal squeamishness, which is itself a kind of stereotyping. I researched by interviewing British Asians who had grown up here in the seventies, particularly those who (like Satish) came here from Uganda or, also like him, grew up in a very white community. They were remarkably generous with their stories, some of which I’ve used in the novel. They described a wide range of experiences; there was the woman who (along with Kelly Holmes!) was one of only two ethnic-minority children in her village, and was still hurt by how her family had been treated (hissed injunctions to ‘Go Home!’ at a dance in the village hall). And there was the Birmingham Sikh who’d had a high old time growing up alongside his white mates, and recalled begging to be allowed to spectate at a National Front march! Then an Asian friend shared her memories of family gatherings, helping me with those tiny details which, I hope, put the reader right in the heart of the family.

So: yes, it was very challenging to take on a new age, gender and ethnicity to tell this story. I’m relieved to hear that it’s worked!

It certainly did!  On the subject of research, Satish is a cardiologist and the hospital scenes feel really authentic.  Can you tell us how you made sure the medical details in the novel were accurate?

Well, I spent some time in a well-known London children’s hospital, getting a sense of what it felt like and how things worked.  I can’t tell you how much I came to admire the staff there, and I can honestly say that they are heroes to me. I have a close friend who is a paediatrician herself, and I also made contact with a cardiac nurse at Alder Hey hospital; both of them shared their expertise with great generosity. Satish is a fractured human being, deeply fallible, but for the most part he is an excellent doctor. It was important to me that we get to see him being brilliant at least some of the time.

I’d like to go back to when we first met.  You won the Authonomy Live event at York Festival of Writing and were swamped by agents as soon as you stepped from the stage.  There's a perception that this was a sort of magical 'right place, right time' occurrence, but I know that your authorial journey up to that point had been longer and more arduous than that might suggest.  Can you tell us a bit about that?

Yes, it’s an interesting bit of marketing, I suppose, the idea that in some way I had instant success, but it wasn’t like that at all. What took time was getting my manuscript to the stage where agents were very interested. So, I wrote (VERY part-time, because my children were tiny) for a year, and then sent what I had to a literary consultancy, and their feedback was extremely positive, but also involved a root-and-branch restructuring. Which means, of course, starting from scratch – literally, going back to page one, word one. 

I re-wrote and went on an Arvon course about the second draft, during which the tutors – an established novelist and an editor – suggested some more structural changes. I made those, and then a friend gave the manuscript to an agent friend of hers, and she took me out to lunch and I thought ‘Whoopee – I’m in!’ And she liked it. But again, she felt it needed another rewrite. By the time I’d done that, her list was full. Then I booked my ticket to York Festival...

So, that’s the situation I was in when I won Authonomy Live: six years of hard work, three major rewrites as well as countless small revisions. That’s your overnight success!

Even after all that hard work though, you were still only at the beginning of your road to publication.  For people who haven't had that experience, can you tell us how your journey continued after York?

When I left the Festival, a few agents had said they were interested in the novel. There was a breathless week or so when they were all reading it, and another fortnight when I met some of them for longer chats about Jubilee and the next novel, which I’d already started planning. A few offered representation, and I chose Jo Unwin of Conville and Walsh, who is seriously, seriously good, and great fun to work with. And then (this will not surprise you, of course) there were more revisions to get it ready to send out to editors. Every agent is different, but Jo is someone who really enjoys the editorial aspect of it; she has a keen eye, and there’s no doubt it was a better book after those rewrites. She sent it out in June.  This bit was abominably thrilling; some of the editors sent notes to Jo as they progressed through the book, and there was a keen sense of ‘nearly there...nearly there...’

In the first week of July we went to meetings at four publishing houses. They were very welcoming – there was tea, cake and me trying really, really hard not to look as excited as I felt. I met roomfuls of people, and often they’d done something Jubilee-themed; there was a sparkly Union Jack cake at one, a table set out for a street party at another and at Weidenfeld & Nicolson there was homemade bunting up in the office. The editors started bidding straight after the meetings; Jo rang me after she’d received the first offer and said: ‘You will now definitely be published’; that counts as one of the best moments of my life (along with getting married, having my babies and Thatcher resigning).

The novel went to Weidenfeld and Nicolson’s Kirsty Dunseath, who is fantastic to work with (she also edits Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Paul Torday and Francesca Kay, among others). No sooner had we celebrated together when we embarked on – you’ll never guess what! – more revisions. We started medium (this subplot isn’t entirely convincing) and ended up small (you’ve used this word twice on the same page). As with all my previous rewrites, this just made the book better and better. Then they designed a cracking cover and we were off.

So now Jubilee has been released into the world, what plans are afoot for events?  Are these going to tie in with the Diamond Jubilee? 

I’m sure we’ll be doing some specifically Diamond Jubilee-themed events in June, just after the paperback comes out. Right now, I’m visiting bookshops and libraries, as well making some virtual visits – like this one – to blogs and websites. I have a website (, where I’m keeping an up-to-date list of events.

You mentioned you'd already started cooking your next book.  Can you tell us something about that?

Yes – but not much. I’m quite squeamish about discussing it, because I’m still at the first draft stage, and things are still developing. So, I hope it doesn’t sound too mealy-mouthed to give you the briefest of brief pitches (an elevator pitch, if the elevator was going up one floor, for a very lazy passenger): the next novel is about a very ordinary woman who has a midlife crisis, and does something absolutely extraordinary in response to it. Will that do you?

That will do me really nicely, Shelley.  I know that need to keep schtum until you know what kind of baby you’re carrying.  I wish you loads of luck with this book and the next and the next and the … 

I’ve a feeling you’re not going to need luck though, because you have bags of talent, dedication and enthusiasm and I’m sure they will bring you the success and recognition you deserve. 

Thanks for sharing and good luck with the next stages of your journey! 

Shelley's website is here 
Read about Jubilee and buy the book here.
Find out about the next Festival of Writing in York here.
Shelley has blogged about fairy dust here
Shelley on her agent's website.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Jubilee - not that one - this one, by Shelley Harris

Cast your mind back. Bit further ... bit further ... That's it! Stop right there and scroll down a bit. That's when I first mentioned the wonderful Shelley Harris when she won the Authonomy Live event at York in 2010. I predicted then that life would change for Shelley and I was right. (I often am; just ask my kids.)

Now move forward a bit to here. This is where I talked about Shelley's success with signing with an agent who negotiated a fab deal for her with Weidenfeld & Nicolson following a bidding war. (What a wonderful phrase that is; one which every author yearns to hear.)

Right, so now we're up to speed, let me update you.  Jubilee was published at the end of December and I was lucky enough to receive a proof copy.  And ... it's brilliant!  The book has parallel timelines, each of which is equally compelling, one set in 1977, the year of the Silver Jubilee, and one in the present day.  The main characters were subjects in an iconic photograph at a Jubilee street party and there's a plan to recreate the setting decades later, now that they are all adults.  With themes revolving round what it means to be British, the impact of racial hatred, buried memories, corrosive hidden secrets and unhealed wounds, Shelley has created a highly impressive debut novel.  Anyone who can remember back to the 70s will recognise the political and emotional landscape she draws with such skill and her flawed characters are conveyed with humanity and insight. As an ex-professional photographer, I particularly love the way she explores what is happening around the frozen micro second of a shutter click; what is seen and what is hidden. 

Next week, I will be attending Shelley's launch and, to continue celebrating with her, I will be posting an interview here on this blog.  Find out what motivated Shelley to write this book; how she nailed the voices and experiences of her diverse cast of characters; the ups and downs of her writing journey prior to that life-changing perfomance at York and much more.

Meanwhile, go and buy her book. It really is very good, y'know.