I haven’t made a big song and dance about it…yet, but my second novel, Distortion, is now out as an e-book and a paperback. It’s been a long process, but my writing and editing skills have been sharpened by working with the inspiring clients I have worked with since 2013, when I set up my freelance editing business, Wild Rosemary Writing Services.
Now I have helped other people’s dreams of publication to come true, I felt that I knew the editing process well, I had great feedback from my friends who wee the “beta readers” of the book before it was published, and I had a wonderful cover designed by Susie Morley, which really makes the book eye-catching.
I started writing Distortion in 2010, shortly after finishing my writing MA, and it was wonderfully freeing to write something brand new, without any baggage or restrictions. Having new ideas and developing…
Fresh from an inspiring session with bubbly author Sarah Mussi and her publisher Shrine Bell, this posts captures some snippets of what I’ve learned so far on my novice novel writing adventure. I welcome your own tips and tricks to help us all make our writing shine, so please add your comments.
The most important thing I’ve learned so far is that we need to have a secret box of tricks. This is our very own box that we can open when we’re not quite sure where our story is going. The tricks can include:
A happy scene right before a really sad one or a dramatic change in location between chapters makes an exciting, emotionally charged read. Imagine you’re on a speedboat in Lake Garda, zipping through the crisp waves with a cold prosecco in your hand admiring a toffee sundae sunset. A moment later you’re in a…
It was so exciting to see my book come out, especially in paperback. It all seemed worthwhile. Those hours staring at a blank screen or at least they felt like hours. Deleting chapters and starting again.
Refused by several agents, I decided to self- publish, though not without trepidation. It contains some sexually explicate scenes – what would my adult children think? Could I even tell my elderly relatives?
I didn’t set out to write a racy novel, though the idea for the book came from a friend who I knew was having an affair. She told me that her lover was now suffering from dementia and the novel was conceived, if not yet born. Originally, the mistress was the main character but the wife, Paula, developed organically and became the primary focus.
My research included joining a web site for women wanting to date younger men. I joined toyboy flirt.com. as if I were Paula, a sixty -year old woman looking for some fun. I much prefer the name of my fictional website. mrsrobinson.com, but the replies were great and some went into the novel, though others were too sexual even for Demented Love and many of the photographs were gross. I had plenty to choose from, as within a week, I had over 500 replies!
I also attended a day centre for dementia sufferers and sought advice from friends whose parents suffer from Alzheimer’s. I did a lot of soul searching about the voice of Jack, who has Alzheimer’s. The book is full of dark humour but I did not want the reader to feel I was mocking Jack but rather laughing with him.
I wrote each chapter from the point of view of a variety of characters, so I set myself the hard task of finding voices for characters as diverse as an eighty- year old dementia sufferer, his gay son, a toy -boy and a young surrogate mother.
I started Demented Love several years ago, when attending a creative writing evening class run by Susan Elliot Wright. I had constructive feedback from other students and from the Sheffield Novelist’s group. I pitched it at the Novel Slam in Off the Shelf and came second. This gave me the confidence to apply for the MA Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam, where I completed the novel as my final piece.
My blurb describes it as S&M for the M&S brigade and most people find it very funny. I hope though behind the humour it begins to reverse the asexual way older people are generally portrayed and to explore the dynamics of elder abuse in a very different way.
If you want to buy it is on Amazon to download or in paperback
The novel slam was a big success again this year. The decision to change to a larger, more accessible venue, the Adelphi Room at Sheffield’s legendary Crucible Theatre, really paid off, and once again, it was a delight to meet so many writers.
The novel slam can be a nerve-wracking experience for entrants, although that’s not the intention! The idea behind the novel slam is to get used to promoting your work in public (in case you meet a literary agent in a lift, or just to enthuse your friends about the book you’re working so hard on), meet other writers and to get feedback from our expert judges.
One of the entrants, Anna Caig, who also writes for the Sheffield Telegraph, wrote a blog post about her experience in the novel slam, which can also be found on the official Off the Shelf blog: Off the Shelf Official Blog.
Off The Shelf 2016 has been an embarrassment of riches for the literature lovers of Sheffield. I have enjoyed every moment, from Withnail and I director Bruce Robinson talking about his new book on Jack The Ripper, to searching for the truth behind the ‘green man’ with Nina Lyons, to hearing Melissa Benn’s views on women in public life and education.
I must have been carried away by the atmosphere of the festival when I agreed to take part in the Off The Shelf fringe ‘Novel Slam’ event. Essentially, this is the X-Factor for people writing books.
The first round consists of a one minute ‘elevator pitch’ from each entrant to an audience, describing their novel. Then there is an audience vote and half the contestants are eliminated. The remaining ten people read a three minute extract from their novel. Followed by another audience vote whittling ten down to four finalists. These four then read for a further five minutes. And the eventual winner is chosen by a panel of judges.
So, all in all a kind of torture.
I spent a long Saturday afternoon the weekend before the slam up in my bedroom with an egg timer shunning my family, and perfecting (or at least deciding on) a one-minute description of my novel.
This is the book I have been writing on and off for nearly five years: a dark, gruesome tale of murder, myth and the supernatural, the research for which has probably seen me added to several watch lists. How to use naturally occurring plant-based drugs for mind control, anyone? But it has been much more off than on. It is in no way finished or well-edited, and the thought of reading aloud from this far from polished work was nothing short of terrifying.
I am turning forty next year, and I wonder if this could be my mid-life crisis in action. Turns out that putting myself out there to be judged by a room full of strangers is quite the adrenaline rush. Some people buy a Ferrari; some people sleep with their secretary; some people go bungee jumping. I prove to myself that I’m still alive and kicking by taking part in a novel slam.
On the day of the slam, my butterflies began well before breakfast. By mid-afternoon I was feeling sick.
I met my friend, who was also competing, for a gin and tonic beforehand in the vain hope that this would give me courage. By this point I could no longer feel my hands. The only other time in my life I remember feeling that anxious was on my wedding day.
The slam was held in the Adelphi Room, which is part of Sheffield’s beautiful Crucible Theatre. This is a glass fronted room below the huge Crucible sign whose contents is visible across the whole of Tudor Square below. We could not have been more exposed. As I stood up to read my synopsis, I was so flustered I nearly stumbled backwards through the glass window.
My recollections of the experience itself are something of a blur. There was some fabulous writing from my fellow-competitors that I could in no way fully appreciate due to my anxiety. When I was voted through to the second round I accidentally gave myself a whoop I was so pleased.
I’m sad to confess that I didn’t make the final four. But was reassured by the fact that these writers were stunning. It was only at this point that I could really relax and appreciate the quality of the writing showcased at the event.
The feedback I received from the judges was all spot on, and genuinely helpful for me to take away and use to improve the book. And I met some great fellow Sheffield-based aspiring, as well as actual real-life, novelists. More than anything, it felt wonderful to be immersed in that world where we’re all in the same boat; where everyone in the room gets that writing is the best thing ever, and there is no better way to spend your time.
So, while I didn’t come out of the experience covered in glory, neither was I humiliated. It was a fantastic evening, and despite the lack of feeling in my limbs I loved every (perfectly-timed) minute.
I hope that all the entrants have now recovered from their trauma and are now working on their novels. Many thanks to everyone who attended the event and made it a success.
Congratulations to the winners. I hope you enjoy your prizes!
The Sheffield Novelists writing group is open to all writers who are serious about writing a novel. Contact us for details.
I can’t believe that this will be the fifth annual Off the Shelf Novel Slam! This years’s event takes place on Tuesday 25th October at 7.30pm at the Adelphi Rooms at Sheffield’s internationally renowned Crucible Theatre.
It would be amazing if you could shine your shoes and head for the Crucible for this amazing event.
The novel slam is a showcase for writers of fiction. Poets have poetry slams to find their audience, and novelists need novel slams (although you don’t get to read out your whole novel – that would take too long!) In the novel slam, fiction writers get the chance to give an audience a taste of their work and leave them wanting more.
The aim is to bring writers together to share their work, to get used to pitching their ideas and reading out their work in front of a live audience. To enter the novel slam takes a bit of bravery, some good preparation, a little resilience (it’s a friendly but competitive event) and an open mind.
Audience members are also very welcome indeed. Come and meet some of Sheffield’s most talented and prestigious writers, and help to discover new talent.
Tickets cost £5 /£3 concessions on the door, and there will be a bar at the venue. If you don’t want to compete, please come along to enjoy the evening and vote for the best books.
In true X-Factor style, we have a panel of judges who will give feedback and tips, and advice on kick-starting a successful writing career.
Meet the Panel
Stacey Sampson:Writer, actor and drama practitioner, best known for her work in This Is England. Her first novel won the Arvon Award at the 2013 Northern Writers’ Awards. Stacey was the first winner of the Novel Slam in 2012!
Daniel Blythe: The author of many novels, including The Cut, Losing Faith and This is the Day. He wrote the bestselling Doctor Who adventure Autonomy for BBC books, and Shadow Runners and Emerald Greene and the Witch Stones for younger readers.
Bryony Doran: Novelist, poet, short story and script writer. Bryony won the Hookline novel award in 2009 for her debut novel The China Bird. Her short story collection The Sand Eggs has also won critical acclaim. She also works as a creative writing coach, helping other writers’ creativity to flourish.
Berlie Doherty: A legendary Sheffield writer, a double Carnegie medal winner for her novels Granny Was a Buffer Girl and Dear Nobody, who has written many novels for children and adults. She has also written short stories, plays and poetry, some of which can be found on public works of art in Sheffield in the Botanical Gardens and on the Moor!
Once again, our compere for the evening will be Iain Broome, author of novel A is for Angelica. He will be poised ready with his horn, to embarrass any writers who go over their time limit. This didn’t happen at all last year, and he was very disappointed.
Plus, lots of books from our award-winning judges!
Please don’t be daunted by the novel slam. Egos can sometimes be a little bruised, but the event is intended as a light-hearted way to bring writers together and discover new talent. It doesn’t matter how much experience you’ve got or whether you have finished a novel. Everyone is welcome to enter, and you will find yourself in a supportive environment.
The first round is a 1 minute pitch of your novel. You will be timed! You have exactly one minute to convince the audience that your novel is a must-read. You don’t need to explain your entire plot, you just need to prepare the blurb that will make readers pick your book off the shelves and take it straight to the till in the bookshop.
The audience will vote for their favourites, and after a short break, the ten people through to the next round will have 3 minutes to read a compelling extract from their novel. Most people pick the start of the first chapter, but some writers have had success with extracts from the middle of their books. The panel will give constructive feedback to each writer.
The audience and the judges will vote for their four favourite novel extracts.
In the final round, the four finalists will read for a further 5 minutes each and will each receive more in-depth feedback from the panel of judges. The overall winner will get the first choice of prizes.
Tip: practise makes perfect, so carefully craft your pitch, test it out in front of your family and friends, use a timer when you’re rehearsing, and edit your extracts to read so they’re engaging, attention-grabbing and intriguing.
Writing a novel is a lonely business…Especially if English is not your first language.
My friends ask me very often: “Why do you want to write in English?” “Why do you try to make a hard job even harder?” “Where did this idea come from?”
I tell you what – I never know where all my creative ideas come from, but I do know that the idea for my first novel written in English -“The Ways We Follow”- came into my head in English.
It was spring 2014…
The beginning of the year was full of political changes and social disturbances in Russia and neighbouring Ukraine. As a person who had lived in both countries for quite a long time, I couldn’t stay indifferent. I had friends and relatives on both sides, although the truth laid somewhere in the middle. The “carcass” of the novel appeared in my head and one by one the characters started to “talk” to me. To talk in English…
I had been living in the UK for about one year by that time. So as you can imagine, these “voices” had strong Russian accents and very little understanding of English stylistic and other fine points of the language. But they were determined enough to persuade me not to leave the process.
I found Sheffield Novelist group accidentally by looking on the internet for opportunities to improve my writing and get feedback. First, I was a bit concerned about sharing my ideas with strangers as I had never done it before. I wasn’t even sure that my writing was readable at all or interesting to anybody.
But I’ve done it – for the first time in my life, I’ve opened my ideas to the public and never regretted it at all.
The members of the group, with their constructive feedback and patience about my mistakes has empowered me to continue.
Every chapter has been re-written, God knows how many times (and I’m sure they are still not perfect), but the support and inspiration I have received from the Sheffield Novelists group keeps me going.
People ask me if I write in Russian and then translate into English. I can tell you straight – no way! In fact, trying to translate it is the worst thing to do with a manuscript (unless you’re a professional translator and you do it for a living). My advice to any non-English-speaking writer is: never try to translate your ideas from your language into English. It simply doesn’t work. Translation will never show the depth of the original ideas.
My novel was born in English, for an English-speaking audience, but the ideas and problems which have been described, the questions which have been asked, the values that have been reflected are absolutely universal for every city, every country, every language and as a result, for everybody.
The plot is set in the near future, and reflects all the issues and weak points of modern Russian society. The big city of St. Petersburg seduces the reader with its cold and elegant beauty and then, like a giant creature, swallows dreams, hopes and sometimes even the lives of the main characters, drawing them into its rivers and canals.
Despite the many challenges I have faced with the English language, it has become a better tool for “the needs” of my novel. However bizarre that sounds…
It has cost me lots of hours of my free time, as well as a lot of nerve, to make my writing readable and more understandable for an English-speaking reader.
I hope the result will be worth it and, who knows, maybe one day the English-speaking world will find my novel on the shelves of book shops. Maybe the readers will discover another Russia – not always cold and dull, like the way the mass media likes to describe it. Another Russia they have never seen before….
Researching and Writing ‘White Water’ – A Historical Novel
by Sarah Peacock
While my sister, author Mandy Lee was visiting the ballroom of the The Savoy Hotel and exploring personal shopping in Harrods as research for her erotic romance novel sequel ‘True Colours’, I was researching pilchard fishing and asylums in the nineteenth century. I did find myself wondering at this point why historical fiction was my genre of choice.
‘White Water’, my second novel, is set in a Cornish fishing village in 1873. It is set against a background of social metamorphosis. The population is moving from country to town and women are beginning to campaign for the right to vote. Nell and Francesca – two women from very different backgrounds, both with secret passions, are thrown together following a shipwreck in the tiny fishing village where they reside.
This is my first foray into the historical novel genre. I have to admit, it did scare me a bit. I was worried that I wouldn’t get all the facts right and that ‘the experts’ would pick up on my naivety. However, reading what others had to say about writing in the historical genre put my mind at rest. I realised that, as always, the story comes first and filling the novel full of fascinating but irrelavant-to-the-story facts is more of a mistake, than say, getting the exact type of tea-pot in a guest house in 1873 correct (and believe me, that’s something I have considered!).
I find social history fascinating and have always been more interested in how people lived their day to day lives, how they thought and felt, rather than the great political events of the times. For this novel, set in 1873, I found Ruth Goodman’s book ‘How to be a Victorian’ absolutely invaluable. It covers everything from underwear and leisure time to working practises and schooling. When I wrote about my character’s clothes or talked about using a bathing hut in 1873, I was fairly confident I wasn’t too off the mark.
Finding out about the fishing industry has been a bit more difficult. I started by reading another brilliant book, ‘The Wreckers’ by Bella Bathhurst. It explores wrecking across the British Isles through the ages and goes some way to separate fact from fiction. The history of the fishing industry, however, is not an area that is greatly written about but I found a few really useful websites which I have listed below.
The important thing for me was knowing the details and how it felt. So finding out that the women wore oilskin aprons and layered their skirts, tucking them in while collecting the catches from the boats, was important, as was finding out they sometimes bound their hands with fabric while working because the salt could really hurt.
I’ve only just started reading about the Victorian Asylum and finding out about the changes in mental health practise in the nineteenth century such as the introduction of ‘Moral Treatment’. This has been really interesting and I intend to carry out further research in this area, in particular, into how women were diagnosed and treated for ‘hysteria’.
Some writers like to use a lot of the local dialect and some don’t, just as some readers love it and others hate it. I prefer not to and instead I have chose to drop a few relevant words into ‘White Water’ such as ‘huer’ and ‘lugger’. I was more interested in exploring the voices of my characters. One of the central tenets of ‘White Water’ is how differently Nell and Francesca experience the constraints of their lives and how they voice this. I found reading the prose and poetry of women around the time useful for this, as was reading diaries and letters.
All in all, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing ‘White Water’ and here are a few, hopefully useful tips I’ve learnt along the way:
1) The story comes first. Do your research but understanding what your story wants to say, where it is going and your character’s motivations are more important than minute details.
2) Try, if possible, to read some literature of the time. Diaries, essays and poetry are useful in understanding how people thought and felt.
3) Check the important facts. Look up what happened politically and socially at the time. It might provide useful back story and setting, helping to amp up the tension.
4) Be wary. Don’t get caught out. For example, I wrote a whole scene entailing having a bath in great detail before I found out Victorians didn’t actually take baths!
5) Enjoy the research. You never know you might find little pearls of interest to jot in your journal which might become the basis for your next novel. I’ve found some fascinating stories reading about Victorian Asylums in ‘Bedlam’ by Catharine Arnold and have jotted down a few ideas for further short stories.
The Wreckers – Bella Bathhurst
How to be a Victorian – Ruth Goodman
Bedlam – London And Its Mad – Catharine Arnold
The Cornish Fishing Industry – A Brief History – Dave Smart
And if you fancy reading about shopping in Harrods and dancing at The Savoy Hotel rather than pilchard fishing then be sure to check out Mandy Lee’s blog http://www.mandy-lee.com
Sarah Peacock is a writer from Sheffield. She’s had one short story published in Wolf Girls – Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogony (Hic Dragones, 2014) When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, walking in the woods and surfing.