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.
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.
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.
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!