Discovery day with lit agents Curtis Brown & Conville & Walsh

Featured

20160227_132234_resizedWhen I heard back from @Foyles bookshop in London that I’d got a slot at #DiscoveryDay organised by literary agents Conville & Walsh and Curtis Brown Creative I felt I’d won the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory. These agents were going to listen to me pitch my novel,  read my first page and give feedback.

The rules were simple but excruciating. We had a maximum of 30 seconds to pitch. This needed to include background on myself, my novel, genre, and of course the plot of the whole story. 30 seconds? How was that possible? Luckily I had my writers group, Bristol Novelists, and even better, the chance to compare notes with talented Bristol writer, Mel Ciavucco who co-runs Talking Tales story-telling night to compare notes with ahead of the event.

Over the next few weeks I tried out endless pitch variations but some of the best feedback came from people at work who knew nothing about my novel and not much about me so there were in a similar position to the agents.

My colleagues all commented on my delivery. I was nervous and my passion for writing wasn’t coming across. I needed to slow down but the discipline of making every single word work as hard as possible was very satisfying. What to leave out was the trickiest – what would carry the most weight. When I compared this pitch with submissions I’d sent out last year I realised how much sharper I could be.

Curious? Here is the pitch:

I’m Grace, I founded Novel Nights to inspire writers in Bristol, I’ve read stories at Bristol Festival of Literature and National Flash Fiction day and I’m leaving my job as a press office to study the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa.

My novel, THE WISH BONE’s commercial women’s fiction  about childhood leukaemia and family breakdown told from three points of view. Mum, Caroline, tames her anger and anxiety, husband Will, chooses duty over his lover and against this background 13 year old Freddie laughs in the face of cancer, determined to live in case he dies.

Although called #DiscoveryDay it was clear that they weren’t expecting to sign anyone up on the day and my expectations were that I could use the day to test out my pitch, my first page and make improvements before my next round of submissions.

20160227_111335_resizedI got there about an hour early, nervous as hell and went up to the fifth floor cafe area where we checked in and waited with coffee until I had our slot. Writers and their supporters were everywhere – a cool woman in buttoned up blouse and high waisted trousers, a natty chap with spectacles, tweed jacket and black flower. I wore a green dress, but decided against my trademark hat for once. Game on. The queue snaked up two sets of stairs. Writers of children’s books on the left of the stairs and adults IMG_20160227_120141books on the right.

At the head of the stairs I was delivered to one of the 10 tables with waiting agents. I was delighted that out of all the agents in the room I was ushered towards Anna Davis. Anna is the founder and MD of Curtis Brown Creative, the only creative writing school to be run by a literary agency. When I was thinking about my MA I was considering either the course run by CBCreative or the MA. What swung it for me in the end was the fact that I wanted hands-on tuition and face to face tuition and that wasn’t practical for me to travel to London. Whilst Curtis Brown do run an online course I’m not so keen on remote studying so the Bath Spa MA suited me better.

Aware of my 30 seconds disappearing quickly I went straight into my pitch as I shook Anna’s hand. She listened intently to me and then asked to see my first page. She laughed on the second paragraph, and nodded her head throughout.

Wonderful!

I began to relax and feel more confident. She gave some feedback on a couple of things such as language appropriate to a 13 year old boy, picking out the words ‘little Chloe’ as a description which perhaps was an adult phrase and said that the first page gave a sense of something being awry. The first page was the prologue and although right in the heart of the action I had written it as if Freddie was looking back to a particular day. She advised that at the start of a novel you need what she called ‘ forward facing action’, in other words, no flash backs, however much it was rooted in the story.

Anna asked about my market and said that because it was aimed at women’s market rather than a teen audience I needed to have the adult voice first, and no I couldn’t fudge it with a teen prologue! This confirmed my suspicions and means that I need to go and rework the first three chapters again which is not easy when you have three stories intertwined.

At the end of the session she said when I It was a real confidence boost to have the tricky decisions about my book echoed back to me by Anna. ‘Whose story is it?’ may seem trivial but as I’m writing the stories of three characters it becomes important in terms of chapter order,

Then she said if I was going to submit to her agency she suggested a couple of agents she thought would be the best contacts within the agency. Fantastic! I was so chuffed and also got an email address from her for an agent speaker for Novel Nights. Result!

We were then ushered though in groups to sit on a round table with another agent, Jonathan Lloyd and ask questions in a 5 minute session. The things I learned from him as a result of the group questions were;

  • Don’t ever address an agent as Dear Sir or Madam and proof-read your submission for typos
  • 180,000 words is too long – around 100,000 is about right
  • He’s looking for something that makes your story stand out from other similar stories
  • Qu: Are you looking for concept or great writing from an unpublished author?
  • A: Mostly concept, the writing is a given, but the concept is what will sell it. “It’s got to be something I know I can sell, so I’ve got to be excited about it. When I pick up the phone to a publisher I’ve got 30 seconds to pitch the story – I may have ten stories that day about the same subject – so what is it that makes this story stand out?”
  • The average time to wait until you ask for feedback from an agent is 4 weeks – after this time you can enquire again.
  • In his opinion multiple submissions are ok. Send out to 5 agents at once but don’t tell them you are submitting to more than one, unless of course they want to talk more or see the m/s at which point you can go back to the others and explain that to them. As he pointed out why should an author wait  4 weeks before submitting to another agent. It just holds the whole process up.
  • If the cover letter doesn’t grab him he won’t look at the synopsis.

From listening to the range of questions I realised the range of knowledge that writers had varies from not much to more in depth. Running Novel Nights has certainly given me loads of insight over the last couple of years.

AAAbbott, Grace Palmer and Maithreyi Nandakumar

Bristol Writers at #DiscoveryDay

So that was it – I returned to my long suffering friend and then bumped into AAAbbott and Maithreyi Nandakumar, other Bristol writers that I know from Novel Nights and we compared notes.

On my way out I took a few screen shots of pitching tips from the day. Might have been useful earlier to see but I wasn’t complaining.

So, now the work begins (again, again) to polish up the novel before I send off to the agents. My children can’t understand the endless delays with the book. it is a long process but I feel like I’m inching closer to publication.

My top tips for #DiscoveryDay are

  • Research the agents and agencies
  • Prepare to talk about your novel and your key questions if you have a chance
  • Relax and enjoy it

Sanctum – don’t leave us Bristol

Featured

Sanctum


20151110_180959The joy of Sanctum is never knowing what’s on – 24 hour performances of art. It’s addictive. On  a wet Tuesday we turned up and were unable to gain entry through the stone arches into the structure. We discovered the joys of the King’s Head with its original panelled snug complete with Victorian gas lamps and hard benches to sit at.

When we gained access to see a band it was the wooden structure built by the Theaster Gates team that overwhelmed us. Built from recycled windows and, large floorboards it resembled an upturned boat or a Cathedral, 20151117_183007and given that we were in the bombed out Temple Church, it seemed appropriate to see the innards of the building on show.  Galvanised bolts, and long struts thrust down into the guts of the structure. The windows leaked water. Inside this intimate space, backlit by recycled windows is a perfect showcase for art performances

It took me less than 5 minutes to decide this one wasn’t for me. But on Saturday night I took a chance and got there early. The queue was ominously long and I waited for an hour or so. I’m good at waiting.

In the queue was a man with blue glitter on his eyelids, a waistcoat the colour of a Turkish cushion. A Performer? I wasn’t disappointed – he was and he didn’t disappoint. Sanctum offers a queueing system at busy time. Once you get in you are stickered and politely asked to leave after a certain time.

20151107_205025The band, Ushti Baba were amazing. I caught a glimpse inside the honey colour wooden Sanctum space. A woman in Turkish style costume swirled shot green silk around her head. She jumped on a wooden box and belly danced. It was a sexy, sweaty, gusty performance from the wonderful Ushti Baba with fiddle, guitar, jazz and gypsy folk notes that made Ushti Babayou glad to be alive. The man with glitter on his eyes in his velvet trousers did not disappoint. Everyone danced and although I was only there for the last two songs I was glad to be alive, picking up on the riotous energy of the performers. What followed was a big brass band, the Presidents of Parp. The tuber player, balding, bearded, pork pie hat moved his 20151107_211407whole frame as he played.

It was a great night.

 

 

 

20151107_204419The following morning I got up at 7 to see the dawn rise over the church. The bombed interior of Temple Church is so poignant. During the November raids on the city in World War Two the ancient church took a direct hit and the faded picture outside with firemen standing ankle deep in ash is a reminder of the trauma. The grey light filtering through Sanctum structure and beyond through the sturdy stone pillars reminded of what was lost and forgotten. So many of my friends weren’t aware of Temple Church’s existence or location.

The music that cold wet morning was plinky plonky, and after the excitement of a 7 am start it left me cold, staring at a bearded youth cross legged on a work bench rocking back and forth and nodding to his computer as he twiddled with the buttons. Synth music isn’t much fun to watch. The music was soothing but like me many people left when the storm clouds and angst noises began to disturb the pace

We were told to come back at 10 for ‘something special’, but were surprised by tea and papers on offer with a group which described this as a meeting similar to the Quakers. I was rather apprehensive that I was in the hands of religious gathering but had to stay as I’d dragged friends and family along. We were asked to read out headlines that made us angry or moved us. A bearded young man facilitating the event read out his headline and encouraged us to speak. After very British silence someone spoke out about the John Lewis Christmas ad, kids being streamed at 8 years old, tax avoidance, refugee crisis, Calais camps and so on. Anger and sadness built in the space and were given space. Suddenly we stopped observing and became contributors.

It seemed fitting to remain quiet for the 11th November remembrance day. Our silence was interrupted by that urban ubiquitous sound of the ambulance siren, all the more poignant for its warning sound of danger.

20151108_105505 Then we had a bit of role play with the organisers pretending to be politicians. What would you say to Theresa May?  In the background some rude guitarists began practising for their next set whilst we wrote our headlines on bits of paper and handed to the organisers. Suddenly flames leapt from the archway outside as our headlines were burnt and the guitarists began strumming angrily. I’d been had. It was all part of the performance and these were not religious or social activists but actors.

I’ve started going after work and pre or post social events. I’ve heard stories – notably a wonderful piece from a woman in North Bristol Writers Group about a homeless man who died in the cold, tricked by a mysterious woman into lying still, and wonderful music. I’ve had the opportunity to listen and experience music I’d never normally come across and have the freedom to leave if I want to or stay if I can. People have told me they’ve cried.

“It’s the randomness of the programming that delights – the ability to be in an audience and listen or to leave if you want. In this way performers find their own audience and the audience find their performers.”

I write short stories and flash fiction and novels and put my name down in a big blue book to see if I could perform. No-one’s called yet, but some writing friends who know my work have given me a 5 minute slot with North Bristol Writers’ Group. I couldn’t be more delighted. It will be a highlight of my year.

Please don’t leave us, spirit of Sanctum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#amwritinganovelDay2

Day 2: The First Page

A day filled with visiting friends, cooking for family. By 5 o’clock I realised that no work was being done. Where was my inspiration of yesterday?

Back at my computer I typed up the first few hundred words from long-hand notes of yesterday. I know I can write but I need to have made some fundamental decisions on who my character is first to get the work flowing.

I love to write by writing, but I’m getting stuck as I don’t know deeply enough on who my character is or who are the people in her life, yet. So tomorrow, must be a day of planning my characters. I think I may invite her to an imaginary cafe for a cup of coffee in her home town. Once I’ve decided where she lives, of course.

 

 

Self worth, honesty and writing

Image

Too often blog posts, facebook and twitter seem to be about projecting an idealised version of oneself. Happy, successful, inspired, creative. This very website began to document a process of my creativity but ended up as a simulacrum of a creative life. Quite simply I don’t know what to say anymore.

With one eye on the possible impression that a visiting agent may get should they wish to publish my novel this blog has become a sterile beast, like a hybrid flower with no sustenance for bees.

Perhaps it’s also my job – I’ve been working in marketing for years  where one has to think about an ‘audience’, creating a message that will resonance to create a plan of communications. It’s all so worthy.

Well it’s stifling me; stopping me wanting to blog for fear of creating the wrong impression. I have of course full-blown imposter syndrome. I used to be convinced that I’d be found out at work – shown up to be the incapable one, the one they shouldn’t have employed

These days the imposter syndrome is fed by the process of being a writer. Every time I receive a rejection it becomes harder to continue. I wonder if I should give up this writing lark that causes so much pain and requires so much effort. Gardening holds none of these dilemmas.

Deep down I know that my self-worth should not be measured by publication. My writing self should be fed by love of the writing. But I don’t want my work just to sit in a draw or on my laptop any longer. Of course I could self-publish, but in my world I want the satisfaction of knowing someone else thinks it’s good enough to be traditionally published. Publication = validation.

These emotional wranglings ignore the root reason I write – because I must – because it’s all I know how to do – because when it flows there is nothing better, and I want to leave something of worth. Also I want to connect with others, as well as myself. But without an audience, what use is writing? Just some self-indulgent compulsion that isolates and takes time from my family. Not being brilliant, not doing it, editing and letting it lie fallow are all reasons for my current unhappiness.

As for blogging, without some emotional honesty, the blog is going to be a pale imitation of art.

This may be self-indulgence, but it feels like it’s important to set down a marker to of where I am in my writing life. I’m not giving up, the only way is to go deeper, and one way of that is to pick off the scab and give my writing dilemmas some air.

Cheltenham-20130311-00192

Ask an agent with Kate Johnson

What burning questions have you always wanted to ask a literary agent? Kate Johnson will cover submissions, pitching and more.

Kate Johnson is a literary agent at Wolf Literary Services, based in Bristol and New York. Prior to joining Wolf Literary Services, Kate was an agent and vice president at Georges Borchardt, Inc., for more than eight years. She previously edited and reported at StoryQuarterly, Bookslut.com, New York magazine and elsewhere, and graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

Kate is on the hunt for literary fiction, particularly character-driven stories, psychological investigations, modern-day fables, international tales, magical realism, and historical fiction. She likes moral ambiguity and vivid settings, from the Midwest to Moldova, and would love to read a good Southern gothic or Glasgow noir. Nonfiction-wise, she’ll read just about anything about food, feminism, parenting, art, travel and the environment, and she loves working with journalists.

READINGS of the first three pages of their novels by Susan Nott-Bower, Judy Darley, Steph Minns, Nick Edwards and Christie Cluett.

Tickets are £5 on the door . Venue The Lansdown. Starts 8pm

FULL DETAILS 

 

 

Digital Lives and writing

This morning the first thing I did on waking was to grab my phone to check my twitter and facebook feeds. I did not pick up a pen, my journal or the masses of books that I want to read.

On the train to work I, like others, barely register the world outside as we are sucked into the world of the screen on our phones. Outside we pass through the rounded hills around Bath, through Somerset and Wiltshire countryside and can see sunsets, deer, a bird of prey, a flush of blossom, secret lives of travellers and homeless living in shacks and shelters by the railway tracks out of view of everyone else. At first I made a game of it, I tweeted about my journey every day through the frame of the train window:

But, after two years of this journey I barely register, I am sucked into tweeting to others, telling them about the Novel Nights I organise, promoting other writers at the event I’ve organised. Nikesh Shukla’s Meatspace is all about the hold that digital has on our lives, our obsessions and paranoia with being noticed

As a writer it’s all pernicious – we should be creating, not endlessly consuming other content, unless we can use the content creatively, like  http://nationalflashfictionday.co.uk/

On the other hand I still have a sense of wonder that this medium exists where our thoughts and words can be discovered by complete strangers. I’m a child of the 60’s and grew up pre-computer when getting into print had a completely different cache.

cuckooAs always the issue is quality, but, as writers we owe it to ourselves to concentrate on our work, to write, edit, rewrite and then send things out.

Like the cuckoo in the nest we need to protect our own creativity and not mindlessly feed our cuckoo phones.

 

 

 

 

Open Mic with Novel Nights

Share your writing with us at Novel Nights

At our friendly Novel Nights events the second half of the evening is an Open Mic format.  We invite novelists to share their work with our audience of writers and readers.

What to do:

  • Length: Submit between 800 – 1,000 words – this should take a total of five minutes please
  • Send work in advance so we can give you a slot and plan the evening
  • Send us brief bio (one or two sentences ) about you and your novel including the title, so we can promote you. What is it about? Title? Genre? Who are you?
  • Send us your twitter name. Share and re-tweet to your audience. Bring a friend ! Spread the Novel Nights news via email, word of mouth or on Facebook. We tweet @wordpoppy
  • Feeling shy or have a poor speaking voice and don’t want to read in public? Use Duncan, our resident author who will read for you.  (Give us at least one weeks notice)
  • EMAIL novelnightsbristol@gmail.com
  • Novelists below: Maunagh Kelly, Eugene Lambert, Mike Manson and Paul McIntyre
 Paul reading from Blubber Bullet at Novel Nights Open Mic

Paul McIntyre reading Blubber Bullet

Writer, Eugene Lambert

Eugene Lambert, YA writer

Writer, Mike Manson at Novel Nights

Mike Manson author of Where’s my money

Resident actor Duncan Bonner with writer, Maunagh Kelly

Resident actor Duncan Bonner with novelist Maunagh Kelly

We’d love to hear from you

 

Stranger than fiction – if you read this in a novel you wouldn’t believe it.

I’m just back from my writer’s night in King Street, Bristol where the novelists meet.

Before the meeting I went into the spar shop to get some cash for the meter.

Behind me a man said. I’m not gay you know, staring at the girl behind the till.

She blinked.

‘No, I’m paranoid.’ He said, ‘I take tablets.’

He paid for his apple.

‘I’m sorry I’m paranoid,’ he said, It’s because of a girl. She broke my heart.

On paths, choice and writing

Looking through old photos taken over the last few years I’ve noticed many of them are paths.

Here’s one from my Australian collection: 

DSCF0315

I used to worry over whether I’d chosen ‘correctly’ – career path, partner, houses, computer, bed, bread or board.
The agony of choice overwhelmed me, and I’d find equally interesting choices and not know which one to take. Perhaps that’s why I find re-drafting my novel so hard. Have I thrown away a writing nugget?  For me the fun is in creation rather than shaping. As I type I’m surrounded by stacks of drafts of my novel, and centimetres of feedback from my writers group. I have many versions of my novel.
Perhaps subconsciously my photos are telling me that I’m still working out the answer to the riddle of what I should be doing, or where I should be going. Maybe I think that once I’m on the ‘right’ path I’ll be happy, or fulfilled, or content.

 Here’s a Cornish path that I’ve photographed.

Looking at these images, it seems I’m still trying to work it out. I’ve always felt a ‘little out of sorts’, taking the role of observer on the edge of things, which is a good state to be in for a writer. Writing for me is far easier than speaking, it’s the place where my thoughts live. It is the writing, or not doing the writing that has dominated so much of my life. There’s been on-going frustration – as discussed in my very first blog post about how I wasn’t putting my work there, and so wasn’t being ‘heard’.
Interestingly, at the end of my thirty day challenge to change things I wrote that I’d climbed the path. Now I’m feeling I’m still half way up – and that’s good because at the top of the path, with a clear view the only way is down. And I want to keep on climbing and exploring choice in my writing and life.
The more I write, blog and practice being creative – then the happier I feel and my inner voice  that knows what to do and is instinctive rather than intellectual, is heard.
The last word belongs to Robert Frost – a Youtube recording of Robert Frost reading of The Road Not Taken

Guy Fawkes and Alice at Montacute

A few weeks ago some friends and I visited the National Trust property, Montacute House in Somerset in a converted ambulance called Bob. 

Alice in Wonderland


The day was the first hot day of summer, and the sun was high and still. As we walked up to the imposing Elizabethan Mansion an Alice in Wonderland type girl posed for a photo-shoot. Her face was chalk white and she wore a silk peacock gown. The young photographer. behind  a very large tripod wore a white cotton dress. They were both yin and yang, presumably students, but both looked as if they’d walked out of a film. 


We walked across Montacute’s fabulously romantic grounds, with deep borders of roses and dreamy planting set against formal lawns. Pudding houses with beautiful mosque-like structures  stand at the corners of the lawn. This is where diners would retire to  eat quince perhaps ? On the other side of the lawns tall old yews are lopped into topiary, bending and twisting in a formal still life. 

The place is full of atmosphere,and on a whim I took this photo. When I looked at it at the end of the day I couldn’t make any sense of the shape our shadows made. I am a petite size 10, but look wide. What was my friend holding? What is the hook that appears on my shoulder? 
The picture seems to hold significance beyond itself. Interesting to now discover that the house was built for Sir Edward Phelips who gave the opening speech at the prosecution of the trial of Guy Fawkes. 

The exterior is imposing and gargoyles and carved statues keep watch over the house.

Pudding House


Inside are some fascinating pieces such as a marriage bed with carvings of women with enormous breasts and bulging thighs. Upstairs  the Long gallery stretches the entire length of the house and contains  portraits from the National Portrait Gallery which include the ‘eyebrow collection’  and the ‘crossed eye collection’ of princes and kings – crossed eyes to show that the monarchs aren’t to be trusted. It is a house full of echoes and however much the guides talked the place has an eerie feel to it. This is a view from one of the windows.  

Grounds 

And this is one of the staircases, where it’s easy to imagine walking down in the heavy petticoats and gowns depicted in the Long Gallery collection. Luckily trusty Bob was waiting for us at the end of the day.

Down, down
Bob