Novel Slam 2021 – Reflections from past participants!

The Novel Slam returns, live, on Monday 18th October at 7pm at the Creative Lounge, which is part of Sheffield Showroom Workstation in Sheffield City Centre.

Winning Novel Slam entrants from 2019 and 2020’s online edition share their experiences of the event. It can feel daunting, but it’s a chance for you to showcase your novel in a friendly, supportive setting. To enter the Novel Slam or to book an audience ticket, click here! There is also a pitching workshop on Monday 11th October, on Zoom from 6-8pm. For more details, please click here!

Joanna Hastings – 2020

I was in two minds whether to enter for the Novel Slam or not! My novel was in very early stages and I wasn’t at all sure that it – or I – was ready. Friends encouraged me and at the last minute I did. I knew my first chapter wasn’t working, so I swapped it for a later one that felt better. Still, it was an inadequate fix and I wasn’t in the right place in the novel-writing process to redraft it, so I chose a passage from later in the book to be my submission extract. I think some judges found this annoying, so I wouldn’t recommend it necessarily, but it represented the flavour of my work better. Friends gave me feedback on my pitch–I’m terrible at pitches. Aside from that, my preparation was mostly reading aloud to make sure my passage would fit within the time limit. Oh, and digging out an old lipstick and a clean shirt! (I’m naturally scruffy and lockdown didn’t help.)

I was pretty nervous at the event. Again, my work wasn’t ready to be in front of people. But it turned out to be lovely. Some friends showed up on Zoom, a couple of them also competitors, which felt comradely. I enjoyed listening to everyone else’s readings, and felt grateful to be in the company of so many interesting authors, as well as organisers and judges who were supportive, gracious, kind, and made the whole thing fun rather than scary. The feedback I received that night and the help Dan gave me later were both motivational, things I could look back on when I felt like a talentless fraud. They helped me keep going.

I’ve just finished the first draft of the same novel that I was working on then, so I’m between drafts, stepping back for now so I can approach the second attempt with more clarity. I keep having ideas about it, so I’m trying to just scribble a note and put it away again. Perhaps after a week or so I’ll succeed in forgetting about it altogether. I’m planning to take this opportunity to do some pre-work on a new novel set here in Sheffield, that draws on the history of the Rivelin valley and the folktale of Northern England. Maybe.

Joanna Hastings

Letty Butler – 2019

In terms of my experience of Novel Slam both as a participant and audience member, I’ve found it to be incredibly inclusive and supportive, inspiring and uplifting. I’m always delighted by the eclectic array of content delivered by an equally diverse range of writers. It makes me feel less alone – knowing I’m scribbling away in good company. 

Tips wise – I think the main thing is to practice reading your pitch and extract aloud before hitting the stage, and when you’re up there, go 25% slower than you think you should. It will feel odd, but nerves automatically make you read faster. Remember that it’s the first time the audience are hearing your words – even if it’s the 700th time you’ve read them. It doesn’t hurt to do a little vocal warm up before the event either – perhaps some tongue twisters, or a bit of yoga to get the breath support going – because if people can’t hear you clearly, they’re not going to vote for you. Be loud and proud of your work!

I guess it’s important to choose a bit that’s instantly accessible so the audience can get hooked into the narrative in a relatively short space of time – so something punchy & instantly intriguing or gratifying. Something that doesn’t require prior knowledge of the characters or situation in order to be impactful. 

I know this is going to sound like a bit of a cliche, but it’s probably helpful to view it more as a networking event rather than a competition. It’s not the winning that counts etc etc . Writing can be such an isolating existence, so to find other local writers and connect with them is integral to keep momentum & motivation up when it gets tough. Non writers can be very supportive of the writers’ life, but they don’t truly know how it feels. For me, meeting and connecting with others writers, and establishing a strong support system is one of the key elements of remaining sane – the novel slam is a brilliant opportunity to do these things. 

Most of all – just try and enjoy it. It’s a great night. You’ll meet some smashing people, hear some wonderful work and it will motivate you to crack on. If you don’t get placed this year, you’ve still been bloody brave by taking one more step towards getting your work out there into the world. 

Erm what else… oh yes – my writing. So, I won in 2019 which meant I got feedback from a literary agent on the first 3000 words. She went on to request the full manuscript – which was a huge compliment & confidence boost. She decided it wasn’t for her – rightly so – it wasn’t remotely ready! I’ve just got back from a writing retreat and am halfway through my 6th & (hopefully final!) draft of the same novel. I’m now adapting it into a screenplay through Sky Writes & New Writing North, having pitched the concept earlier this year. I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to pursue this unless I’d had the validation early on regarding the strength of the idea. I’ve also just finished a non fiction book which is in the process of being formatted & sent out to publishers. So all in all, not too shabby. 

And winning encouraged me to enter other competitions, so I have since been Highly Commeded by Silver Apples Magazine, Shortlisted twice for the International Reflex Flash Fiction Prize and I won the Cranked Anvil Short Story Comp in April…

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