Taking Part in the Novel Slam – by Anna Caig

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.

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Anna and her friend about to compete in the slam!

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.

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The judges Bryony Doran, Berlie Doherty, Daniel Blythe and Stacey Sampson, with winners Anni Swinburn, Steven Kay, Delaina Haslam and Dave Kirby.

 

Novel Slam 2016 – Join us!

The novel slam 2016 will be at the Crucible!
The novel slam 2016 will be at the Crucible!

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.

If you want to compete in the Novel Slam, call 07815966784, or email sheffieldnovelists@gmail.com to book  your place.

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.

Prizes for 2016

Prizes for 2016 include:

A creative writing coaching session from Beverley Ward.

A creative writing coaching session from Bryony Doran.

A guaranteed read-through and feedback of three chapters of your novel from literary agent Joanna Swainson

A critique and appraisal from Daniel Blythe.

A writing workshop with Sheffield novelist Susan Elliot Wright and fellow Sheffield writer Russell Thomas.

Plus, lots of books from our award-winning judges!

The Rules

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.

Good luck!

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 The Ways We Follow

By Liora Salt

Liora Salt
Liora Salt

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….

The Writers’ X-Factor

At the Louder than Words music writing festival in Manchester, Sheffield Novel Slam organiser Anne Grange caught up with the Novel Slam’s 2015 winner Olivia Piekarski about her experience.

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It looks like we’re guarding something secret in this cupboard!

I heard about the novel slam though my writing group, Manchester Women Writers, which is an amazing mixed-ability group of writers who meet weekly at Manchester Central library. Susan Solazzi, who runs the group, found out about the slam. I thought it sounded amazing. I need to find an agent at this stage of my career, and the chance of a guaranteed read-through of my manuscript by Joanna Swainson seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. I rang up and booked a place in the Novel Slam.

My novel The Guest List is my first piece of fiction that I’m pleased with. I’m nearing the end of my first complete draft. I’ve gained confidence as a fiction writer since The Big Midweek, the music memoir I co-wrote with Steve Hanley, ex-bassist of the legendary and notorious band the Fall was released. After all, it had a guaranteed audience of at least 5,000 fanatical Fall fans. Our independant publishers Route don’t insist on working with agents, unlike the larger publishing houses, so I had by-passed that stage during The Big Midweek process.

I almost didn’t make it. The train was delayed, and I was sending frantic text messages to the organiser, Anne. Steve and I piled into a taxi at Sheffield railway station, and told the taxi driver to put his foot down. We reached Bank Street in about five minutes, but didn’t know where Bank Street Arts was and sped past it. Luckily, I caught sight of the A-board outside as we were speeding past and stopped our driver just in time. I arrived just as the first writer was doing his pitch, and we sat down at the back, massively relieved.

Reading the guidelines for the Novel Slam, I was impressed with the format. It was a clean slate that enabled all the writers to compete on an equal footing. The pitching round meant that you had to sell the book to the audience in one minute. I spent hours developing a decent synopsis that fitted into the time limit – something that would be perfect for the blurb at the back of a dust jacket. There were lots of good pitches though – I think that Iain Broome, the compere, was a bit disappointed that he didn’t have much opportunity to blow his horn at people who had run over the allotted time!

The three-minute reading from the start of the novel was the most important and most difficult part of the Novel Slam to get right. I knew I needed to hook people in from the first page – that was all I got to read, and if you were browsing books in a bookshop, that’s all you’d read too, when deciding whether to buy a book. Three minutes was just the right amount of time to keep the audience interested. I was elated when people were laughing and clapping in the right places, even though it made my hands shake with nerves! It was a good experience, but a little terrifying. Getting a positive audience reaction to your work stops you from feeling like a nutter, sitting at your laptop and laughing away to yourself.

I was blown away by the standard of everyone’s writing. All the competitors were serious writers – competing for serious prizes, such as a read-through by the Literary Consultancy, and creative coaching.The feedback from the judges’ panel was very well thought-out, and gave all the writers something to work on to improve their work.

In the break, people came up to me to say that they loved the opening of my novel, which was great. Being an author is very isolating. It’s not like being in a band, where you get immediate feedback from your colleagues and from the audience. The Novel Slam is a beautiful way of testing authors’ writing.

When I found out I’d got into the final, the feeling was amazing, and when I won, I was completely overwhelmed. Then I ran back off to catch the last train, feeling like I’d got away with a total hit and run, Manchester style.

Writing a book is a massive undertaking, and the chances of actually making money from it are very slim. Truly dedicated writers have no choice. They have to go on. It’s an all-consuming passion, even though it’s important to live a “real” life at the same time. Writing is a condition, and only becomes a viable job for very few. The entire profession should be stamped with a mental health warning but if you really can’t help yourself perseverance and patience are key.

I’m now working hard on finishing the first full draft of The Guest List, but I’m buoyed up by the experience of the Novel Slam.

Thank you, Sheffield!

Note from Anne: I was waiting for a tram home after the Novel Slam when I found lots of panicky text messages from Olivia on my phone about her train being delayed. While she was texting, I was busy taking the ticket money for the event, and was too busy to check my phone. I was so glad she’d made it! It was a great opportunity to congratulate Olivia. Her novel is set in the mid-nineties, against the backdrop of Oasis’ rise to fame. My writing is also closely intertwined with music, and we started chatting. This led to an invitation to me working on Across the Tracks, the book of the Louder than Words festival for Route Online publishing, and I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. I had a fantastic time, met lovely people, including some music legends, and now my work will be in print too. As a writer, chat, network, ask questions; be cheeky. It might just get you somewhere!

 

Novel Slam 2015

The annual Off the Shelf Novel Slam has become something of a Sheffield tradition over the last few years, with fiction writers getting brave and pitching and reading out their work in front of a live audience. The aim of the event is to give new fiction writers an audience, and a chance to showcase their work, just like poets would do in a poetry slam. Writing novels can be a lonely business!

Scary-Book

The novel slam takes place on Tuesday 27th October at 7.30pm at Bank Street Arts, in Sheffield city centre. Tickets cost £5 /£3 concessions on the door, and refreshments are available. If you don’t want to compete, just turn up, enjoy it, and vote for the best books.

If you want to take part in the Novel Slam, call 07815966784, or email sheffieldnovelists@gmail.com

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 of published writers will give feedback to the contestants and there will be a break while the audience vote again, and the judges pick the four winning novelists.

The winners will each read a slightly longer extract from their novels, and the judges will give more detailed feedback.

The prizes will include reading of your novel and feedback from literary agent Joanna Swainson, a free read of your manuscript by The Literary Consultancy and free creative coaching.

Although the competitive format of the Novel Slam may seem a little daunting, it’s just for fun really, and a great chance to meet other writers.

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.

Welcome to our new blog!

Hi!

This is the blog for the Sheffield Novelists Writing Group. We are a friendly group of people writing novels – at various stages and levels, and everyone who is writing a novel is very welcome to join us!

We meet monthly at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield City Centre, usually on the last Monday of the month at 7.30pm, but during the summer months and December, dates may change, so please contact us at: sheffieldnovelists@gmail.com for more information.

This blog is a work in progress, so please bear with us, but it will evolve and develop over the next few months.

Many thanks,

Anne

Writing is like Flying in Dreams!
Writing is like Flying in Dreams!