Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Pen Factor Q&A Part 3:

Guinevere Glasfurd-Brown and Deborah Arnander, both Words And Women members, Guin from Cambridge and Deborah from Norwich, had success recently with The Literary Consultancy’s  Pen Factor competition which was awarded at this year’s Digital Age Conference. Both were shortlisted and Guin went on to win first prize!

Over this week on the blog we’ve  been posting our Q&A with Guin and Deborah about the competition. Here is the final part. You can read parts 1 & 2 by scrolling down. Many thanks to Guin and Deborah for their informative and open responses!

Part 3:

What did you learn from the TLC Digital Age Conference in general?

Guin reading at Words And Women's Cambridge event
Guin: The conference turned my head inside out. I loved it! It really made me think about independent publishing as a hybrid model, something that can augment being 'traditionally' published, as a means to grow a readership. It has made me hugely ambitious for my work, and I know that I am a key part of making that happen.

Deborah: The conference was brilliant and although the ticket price is high I would recommend it to anyone interested in writing and the new possibilities for writers.  It was fascinating to see the difference between the traditional agents and publishers, who were predominantly male, interested in stats, and pretty much all doom and gloom (the market is narrowing, kids don’t read, what will happen if the supermarkets decide to stop stocking books, with literary fiction you have to kiss a lot of frogs (!) etc.) and the ‘independent’ or self-published writers (an all-female panel) who were full of enthusiasm about the new possibilities for reaching readers, were achieving good sales, could sell their books cheaply and therefore reach people all over the world, and were emboldened by their autonomy to write the kind of books they wanted to, rather than being forced by traditional publishers into a pre-established pigeonhole.  The man from Nielsen on the previous day had shown that there was a big hike in sales of self-published books last year.  The caveat: you have to become an expert in marketing and publicity to successfully self-publish.  But as one of the panel pointed out, you will have to do that with a traditional publishing house anyway if you want your books to be read.  I recommend anyone interested in self-publishing checks out the Alliance of independent authors website.  Also Kobo writing life, and Unbound, among others.

From the conference I learned that the market for writers is changing enormously at the moment, and we really need to keep ourselves informed about it.  Knowing not to tick the box that gives Amazon or whoever your Digital Rights Management for life, for example.  I don’t feel nearly as depressed as I did about the demise of publishing. I have reversed my position on self-publishing too.  I’m now seriously considering it. There was a woman among the shortlisted writers who was older than the rest of us and had an abiding interest in psychoanalysis; she’d written a book that sounded fascinating to me about a woman's inner journey with a cast of archetypal characters. Her pitch was received with blank faces by the agents, but I bet it’s great.  She self-published it.  She’s done something she’s proud of that may not fit on the shelves of Waterstones.  I think it’s good to ask yourself what success means for you and what you want from your writing career.  Is it money? Readers? The satisfaction of having made something good?  How much external affirmation do you require?

Would you recommend the competition to other writers?

Guin: Yes, absolutely. I had enormous fun pitching, and listening to the other pitches too. I came away from the event having made many new friends and with a slew of new ideas.

Deborah: I would wholeheartedly recommend it.  Not only did I learn a lot, but I made some friends. It was a room packed with interesting people.  The atmosphere among the delegates was one of encouragement and mutual support - the chair Rebecca Swift had a lot to do with that.  And she got together an extraordinary panel of speakers - I haven’t had time to talk about most of them here but they really were impressive.  So I’d recommend it even to people who feel reluctant to expose themselves to a world that’s potentially quite daunting.  Plus the East of England needs to hold on to its crown, so all you brilliant writers out there need to submit next year.

Finally Guin – Congratulations! - You won the competition – What does this mean for you and your work?

Guin: Thanks, it means a great deal to me. My novel has taken up the last two years of my life. At times this has been extraordinarily stressful, and more than once I thought, I can't do this, I can't write it. So it was fantastic to have the work validated in this way; to have complete strangers come up to me and tell me they loved it. I feel I have created something worthwhile, and that's great.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Pen Factor Q&A Part 2:

Guinevere Glasfurd-Brown and Deborah Arnander, both Words And Women members, Guin from Cambridge and Deborah from Norwich, had success recently with The Literary Consultancy’s  Pen Factor competition. Both were shortlisted and Guin went on to win first prize!

Over this week on the blog we’re posting our Q&A with Guin and Deborah. Their generous responses to our questions reveal how they prepared for the competition, and what the competition has shown them about their writing and about the business of getting an agent and publishing.

Part 1 of the Q&A was posted on this blog on Sunday 22nd June. Here is Part 2 about the pitching process. Part 3 will appear on Thursday 26th June.

The pitch:

Shortlisted entrants were invited to pitch their work to a panel of agents at the TLC Digital Age Conference. How did you prepare for this?

Guin: The pitch was strictly timed – three minutes each and no more. It was interesting to see how the pitches varied. Some of the fifteen shortlistees focused on reading a prose extract, and others on talking about the themes of the novel. I had never pitched to a live audience before. I split the pitch 50/50 between talking about the book, and reading a prose extract. The prose extract was the opening of the novel, and had a clear end point. Then I practiced, practiced, practiced, cutting the words back until the time came out at 2.50. I needed a few seconds at the end. Silence to return to.

Deborah reading at It's Your Festival, Norwich
Deborah: We had to give a three-minute pitch, which we were warned would be strictly timed (in the event, several people got cut off mid sentence).  In it we had to introduce ourselves, sum up our novels, and read from the opening of our books.  I chose a short and lively scene, with lots of dialogue and an interesting setting (in a derelict air base) which I hoped would set up intriguing expectations about the rest of the novel and show what my writing style is like. I kept the biography and synopsis very short- just a few sentences.  Beforehand, I read into a dictaphone and timed myself until I was sure I would have at least five seconds to spare in case I stumbled. At the conference we also  had a pre-pitch session with Katy Darby from the Liars’ League who gave us some good advice:  Look up from your page, be confident, project, don’t apologise for yourself, relax(!), do different voices for the characters (couldn’t quite bring myself to do that one), use the ‘Wimbledon effect’ for dialogue (turning head to one side then the other) etc.  On the day itself I hid in the toilets and did some deep breathing for ten minutes before it was time for my slot!

What did you learn from the pitching session?

Guin: Not to be too afraid of being scared. I have been struck time and time again through my (short) writing career about issues of self confidence. I think it affects all writers, but women especially. The times I have thought, oh, I'll not do that; I'm not good enough. I'm getting better at banishing that voice. You must try – who else will be ambitious for your work, if not you? It's not the end of the world if the work is not placed. But you have to learn from it, and become a better writer as a result. Each of these experiences is learning. All of us were nervous – that was to be expected. We each had feedback from the panel. We all lived to tell the tale.

Deborah: The pitching session was fascinating.  There were 6 people on the panel; one representative from TLC (chair Rebecca Swift to begin with, but she had laryngitis and had to give up to her deputy), and five literary agents.  The mature woman agent on the panel, I noticed, always tried to say something positive to each pitcher - while still being pretty incisive with her subsequent remarks.  I have a problem with the structure of my book, which I have been trying to resolve for ages; one of the (young male) agents asked me a question about just that, and my difficulty in responding made me realise I need to do some more work on it.  The mature woman suggested to my horror that since I was writing a family saga it might have something in common with Downton Abbey, which is not the case at all, and I said so a bit snippily, which I regretted; if I’d shut up I could have heard more from them (they had four minutes in which to respond).  It was fascinating to listen to their reactions to other pitchers.  Comedy is almost impossible to pull off, we were told, so don’t say you’re writing a comic novel.  They all responded with excitement to anything that sounded ‘high-concept’ - second prize-winner Lucy Yates’ pitch (for the novel she’s writing now) about a feral child who knows about the world only through a copy of Raymond Chandler, for example, raised lots of interest.  I have to say the winners, particularly Guinevere and Lucy, really did stand out: both had honed their extracts very carefully so that the rhythms flowed beautifully and we were immediately engaged with a clearly expressed, high-stakes emotional predicament.  Guin in particular showed excellent knowledge of the contemporary fiction market and had thought carefully about where her book fits in.  The whole panel was impressed with that.  So what I think I learned is: firstly, have a thick skin.  You may get some affirmation but only if you have done what you need to do to deserve it.  These people are expecting to be underwhelmed.  The experience of their indifference can be pretty bruising.  Secondly: write and rewrite and rewrite again.  Any hint of laziness - repetition of a word for example, will be spotted and you will get no further consideration.  Thirdly: they expect you to have considered your audience and the contemporary marketplace in detail and to be able to explain why your book is uniquely exciting.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Guinevere Glasfurd-Brown and Deborah Arnander talk about The Pen Factor competition

Guin and Deborah, both Words And Women members, Guin from Cambridge and Deborah from Norwich, had success recently with TLC’s Pen Factor competition. Both were shortlisted and Guin went on to win first prize!

Over this week on the blog we will be posting our Q&A with Guin and Deborah. Their generous responses to our questions reveal how they prepared for the competition, and what the competition has shown them about their writing and about the business of getting an agent and publishing.

Before we start a little bit of background info on Guin and Deborah, TLC and Pen Factor:

Guinevere Glasfurd-Brown lives on the edge of the Fens, near Cambridge. In 2012, she was one of ten writers mentored by the Escalator Programme for new writers at Writers' Centre Norwich, and  was awarded a grant from Arts Council England to write her first novel, x y z, which is set against the backdrop of the Scientific Revolution in Holland, and tells of the hidden love between Helena Jans van der Strom, a maid, and French philosopher, René Descartes. The novel was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award 2014. Guin can  be followed on twitter at @guingb

Deborah Arnander was born in Northumberland and spent her childhood in Thailand.  She has a PhD in French literature, and after leaving university she lived in Paris, San Francisco and Seville, and worked as a translator, researcher, speechwriter, house doctor, market trader, bingo-hall caller and bartender.  She was lured to Norwich by the siren on the ziggurat – she spent four years doing various courses in UEA’s continuing education creative writing programme – and her two young daughters were born here.  In 2009 she won an Escalator New Writing Award, and is currently working on her first novel, about a G.I. baby, set in wartime Norwich and 90s California.

TLC stands for The Literary Consultancy which is based in London and is a leading editorial assessment service. More info about TLC can be found by clicking here.

TLC held a conference on the 13th-15th June this year in London called Writing In A Digital Age. The Pen Factor competition was held during this conference. The shortlisted entrants had to pitch their work to a panel of agents from Greene & Heaton, DHH Literary Agency and Blake Friedmann. The panel was hosted by TLC Director Rebecca Swift. Each pitch received feedback, and the overall winner – Guin! – received a year’s access to TLC literary and publishing events at Free Word Centre, London, and editorial and advisory support. Kobo Writing Life also presented Guin and two runners-up with Kobo e-readers, and a professional photo shoot session.
Now let’s begin our Q&A:

Why did you decide to enter the TLC Pen Factor competition?
Guin: For the experience of being scared witless!
I wanted to see if my work was good enough to be placed. I knew that the judging panel included top editors at The Literary Consultancy as well as agents, and to put my work before them represented an amazing opportunity. I wasn't expecting to win, but I was interested to know how well the work would do.
Deborah: TLC had a small number of bursaries available to enable writers to attend the conference. I applied, and was thrilled to be accepted. I would have found it difficult to attend otherwise. Conference attendees were eligible to submit to the competition, so having just completed my novel I thought I’d send a chapter in. I was delighted to make the shortlist of fifteen, which included writers from around the world.

What did you submit?

Guin: We each had to submit the opening of the novel – the first 2000 words – a covering letter, pitched to an agent, a synopsis, and a short biography.

Deborah: I submitted 2000 words from the first chapter of my novel.  The bit I submitted was a scene set in 1944 in the old Samson and Hercules dance hall; boy meets girl.  I also submitted a one-page cover letter and a synopsis of the rest of my novel.

More questions and answers on our blog  tomorrow, when Deborah and Guin will talk about the pitching session...

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Anthea Morrison writes about organizing the Cambridge launch of our anthology

Several months ago Words And Women put out a call for volunteers to organize an event in Cambridge to celebrate the launch of their anthology Words And Women: One. Being a strong supporter of the W&W principles of giving women writers a voice, and always on the lookout for opportunities to meet other writers, I put my name forward. Lynne Bryan put me in touch with Leigh Chambers, another Cambridge W&W volunteer, and together we set the wheels in motion. 

The event, held on 3rd June, was surprisingly easy to organise. Leigh and I are both big fans of Hot Numbers Café here in Cambridge, and with its laid-back vibe and enthusiastic support for the arts, it seemed the ideal venue to hold a reading.

We contacted contributors to the anthology who live in the Cambridge area, and they were very keen to come and read. Some of them had not read in public before, so I sent them a link to some excellent advice I found on the Thresholds Short Story Forum website - here is the link if you’re interested:

Once we had our readers lined up, the next step was to publicise the event. Leigh has many contacts in the writing world in Cambridge; she studied for her MA in Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin University, and she presents Bookmark, a fortnightly radio show on Cambridge 105 featuring Cambridge-based writers. I created a flyer and we emailed it to everyone we could think of. We put posters up around town, and spread the word on Twitter and the W&W website.

I had last-minute jitters worrying that either no one would turn up or that we would be turning people away. We had absolutely no idea how many to expect, but on the night we had around fifty people, just the right amount for the venue. It really was a wonderful evening. It was immensely satisfying to bring people together who have a shared passion for writing and literature, and to see the audience having such a good time. Of course the stars of the show were the readers Sue Dean, Anni Domingo, Melissa Fu, Pia Ghosh Roy, Guinevere Glasfurd-Brown, Caroline Jackson and Dani Redd, and they all told us they enjoyed performing their work, in spite of some inevitable nerves. 

Having a live musician to play in between readings provided a perfect contrast. Polly Paulusma is an extremely talented local folk singer, and had everyone entranced during her songs. The Independent described her as ‘the most literate songwriter of her generation’ and we were really lucky that she wanted to come and support our event. I urge you to go to one of her gigs if you ever get the chance. 

Volunteering to help organise the event turned out to be a fortuitous step for me in other ways too. When I told Leigh that I had only recently moved to Cambridge and was looking for a writing group, she invited me to join hers.  Angles is exactly the kind of group I have been looking for, and has already helped me progress with my writing.

So, thank you Words And Women for the opportunity to get involved. And to any W&W members thinking of organising a similar event, I would say go for it, it’s such a worthwhile and enjoyable thing to do. I will leave you with my top tips for organising a reading:

  •                   Include some live music; it makes the event
  •                  Choose your venue carefully, avoiding harsh lights and echoing spaces
  •                  Create an intimate atmosphere with candles and low lighting
  •          Make sure your readers know how to prepare for reading aloud
  •          Make sure the venue has a PA system or take your own – don’t rely on readers having loud enough voices
  •                   Keep readings short, five minutes per reader – any longer and you risk losing the audience
  •                 Ask readers to provide a biog in advance and introduce each one personally

Anthea Morrison has lived in London, Cambridge and New York, where she took creative writing classes at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. She now lives in Cambridge, where she attends the Angles writing group. Anthea’s short stories have been published online, and her story 'You Have What You Want' is one of the highly commended entries from our prose competition, published in Words And Women: Two.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Eve, Grace and Mollie interview Meg Rosoff

On May 21st Meg Rosoff gave two workshops on voice to 50 girls at The Hewett School, Norwich, as part of our young women’s writing project which is supported by the Co-op Community Fund. Meg kindly agreed to be interviewed by Eve, Grace and Mollie in her lunch-break between workshops. Eve, Grace and Mollie then wrote the interview up for us to post on our blog.  Many thanks to Meg and  the girls for the lovely piece. 

Our Interview with Meg Rosoff 

Meg Rosoff, photo by Geoff Pugh
We enter the Hewett School Library to find Meg sitting at the table, laid with lots of food. When she saw us she quickly swallowed what she was eating and ushered us to come and sit with her. Earlier she informed us that she is 57, she has cropped hair that is chestnut brown, she wears stylish black glasses and dresses in an informal, relaxed, laid-back sort of way, very much like her personality, later on, though, she told us that appearances don’t matter.  She kindly offered us all a cake and we obliged happily, and started our interview.
We asked her if she knew Stephen King, as she had a quote from him in one of her books (There is No Dog), she laughed and replied,
“No I haven’t, though my sister is neighbours with him, and sees him daily in the shop, that’s the closest I am to knowing him!”
 Although she has been in England since she was around 20, she has still maintained an American accent. We thank her for her answer and proceed.
“So, if you had a chance to go back in time and change something, what would you change?”
“Well,” Rosoff begins, “Of course I would go back and stop everything that Hitler did,”
We looked at her inquisitively, then she exclaimed
“Oh, do you mean, in my own life?”
We nod.
“Well, I would...” she stops, sighs and continues, “I would stop my sister from dying”
We look at her with sympathy, but let her carry on.
“I did well in school, so people told me to go to Harvard, and I did, but I hated it,”
She looked at us, to make sure that we were paying attention, pleased she went on.
“But if I didn’t go to Harvard then I wouldn’t have ended up here in England writing books and publishing them, because I left, and came here.”
We then asked some more questions, the next was,
“What advice would you give any young child who wishes to be an author?”
“Hmmm” she thinks devouring the question like a sweet.
“There are three things” She announced proudly, “Number One: Every writer starts of as a reader; you need to read loads, whether it be books, milk bottles or even the back of a cereal box, just read loads. Number Two: Write all the time. You’ll need practise, you don’t have to write whole stories, and just jotting down notes is good enough. Number Three: don’t rush, I call it the Lindsey Lohan Look, she started acting when she was just 14, and look how she has ended up! Just take your time, and you’ll get there.”
We then asked her what gave her inspiration and she replied,
“I take my dog(s) walking on Hampstead Heath I usually find inspiration there, I even wrote a whole book, entirely based on a dog I’d seen there!”
We then ask her where she does all her writing, she ponders on the question and then says:
“I do have a writing desk, though I usually end up in my bed, its more comfortable!”
We ask if there are any people that inspire her, she doesn’t need much time on this one, straightaway she answers:
“Sally Gardner.” (Author of the costa children’s book award 2012’s Maggot Moon.) “Sally Gardner is my saviour.”   She announces matter-of-factly.
“Whenever I need help with a book, I go straight to her, she is especially good plots, she is the queen of plots!”
Unfortunately then the bell rang and we thanked Meg for all her time and help and left. Overall we think that Meg Rosoff is an amazing person as well as a hardworking author and it was a privilege to meet her!
By Eve, Grace and Mollie.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Our first Cambridge reading

We had a lovely time last night at the Hot Numbers Cafe, Cambridge, listening to readings from fantastic women writers, some of whom feature in our first anthology Words And Women: One, and also music by the amazing Polly Paulusma. With many thanks to Words & Women members Anthea Morrison and Leigh Chambers for organising the event. Here are a few photos:

Guinevere Glasfurd-Brown reading from her novel x y z

Pia Ghosh Roy
Dani Redd
Caroline Jackson

Polly Paulusma