Wednesday 27 June 2012

Weekend in Winchester

I knew it was going to be a good day at the Winchester Writers' Conference on Saturday, when I looked out of the window, very early, and saw a perfect rainbow over Winchester Cathedral.

I'd already been up to the University campus on Friday evening, where I met a few friends, found my books prominently displayed on the bookstall - I still have not got over the excitement of that - and attended the evening panel, when a range of conferences experts answered questions on all aspects of writing and publishing, and the audience pitched in with their own contributions.

I was back there early on Saturday, ready to give conference organiser Barbara Large a copy of Never Coming Home, to display on the platform during the first Plenary session. I found myself a seat at the front for the welcome speeches, including a few words from Michael Coleman, who might be described as a Winchester veteran. He found his niche writing children's fiction at the conference, following numerous rejections. His 79th book is now on its way to print.

Alan Titchmarsh was the keynote speaker this year, talking about 'How to Grow a Writer' (Plenty of compost in the wellies and a good place in a well lit green house.) We heard about the rejection letter for his first manuscript, writing in the evenings after finishing the day job, his nomination for the Bad Sex Award and his first experience of his characters running away with him. All familiar elements of a writer's life - except possibly for the Bad Sex. He's also able to be in two places at once. Listeners to Classic FM radio will understand that one. The last section of the Plenary was devoted to Winchester 'graduates' who have made it to publication during the year. Editor Beverley Birch introduced Hodder's Winchester discovery, Helen Dennis, whose Secret Breakers children's series, decoding fictional mysteries in real manuscripts, is set to run to seven books. Barbara Mutch's self published book was taken up by Headline as a result of her attendance at the Conference and will be going round the world, in numerous translations, as The House Maid's Daughter.  Maria Faulkner's conference appointment with Working Partners got her a contract to write children's fiction. And then there was me. Barbara did me proud, holding up Never Coming Home, as promised, and I was able to thank her and her team for the part Winchester played in bringing the book to publication - including the validation of being a competition finalist and gaining valuable feedback from the judges.

Then it was off to the first of the hourly talks and seminars. Up and down an awful lot of steps and in and out of the main building to get from one end of campus to the other, as the terrace route was under scaffolding. Pity the staff who are having to clean the corridor carpets. At least it wasn't raining! I didn't hear all of Simon Hall's presentation on mixing crime reporting and crime writing, as I had a one-to-one, but I plan to hunt up his series featuring a TV detective.

One of the big features of Winchester are the one-to-ones - fifteen minute slots that offer the opportunity to pitch to editors and agents or talk to experienced authors. My appointment was with Sandra Cain from Wordshaker, to talk about marketing. Waiting for my appointment I compared notes with Robin Bell, who has published Finding Work After 40  and is now hoping to find a publisher for his crime thriller. The session with Sandra covered a lot in fifteen minutes. I am definitely going to have a go at a book trailer. (Now- who do I know who would do a voice over for me?) but I don't think I'm brave enough to attempt guerrilla marketing. Then it was coffee time, when I met two of the conference team who had spent the morning blowing up red, white and blue balloons. My session before lunch was with crime writer Lesley Horton, who writes police procedurals and who is a generous fund of information on writing crime - if you want to write procedurals I'd  recommend one of the classes/courses she teaches. I'd studied with her before, at the Writers' Holiday weekends in Fishguard. We talked about post-mortems, crime scenes, being locked in the cells - all the fun stuff. Leslie is very big on authenticity - she's meticulous about the nuts and bolts, even if only a fraction of the information makes it into the books.
Lunch was next - and I'm saving the afternoon sessions for next week's blog.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Scary ... in a good way.

There's sometimes a fine line between excited anticipation and fear. 
Think about it - accelerated heart beat, nervous swallowing, shortage of breath ...
A couple of things this week are disturbing my peace - but for good, or bad?
First, I got the email from the lovely Lyn, from Choc-lit, with suggestions for the cover of the next book, Out of Sight, Out of Mind. Waiting for the four sets of artwork to download takes forever - is a minute really that long? Will I like them? Will I hate them? Will I like the one everyone else hates? Will they look anything like my mental picture of the book? What is my mental picture of the book? How on earth do you illustrate a romantic thriller about mind reading anyway? I needn't have worried. Illustrator extraordinaire Berni has produced four designs to fall in love with, each one illustrating something elemental about the book. At the moment, I want them all. Whichever one ends up as the cover, I shall be happy. But having the cover reminds me that the really scary stuff will be coming next. Editing. 

One of the other sort-of-scary things that comes with being an author is talking to people. Lots of people. In groups. Public speaking. I'm off to the Winchester Writers' Festival at the weekend, and as well as listening to other people talk, in a series of lectures and workshops, I'll also be amongst the Winchester 'graduates' who will be mentioned in the Plenary session that kicks off Saturday morning at the conference. I know this, because it's there in black and white in the newsletter that accompanies the programme. My name! I still haven't got used to that yet. There should even be copies of Never Coming Home for sale at the bookstall. I hope I'll have the chance to say a few words at the Plenary. Two of them will be thank you. Winchester is famous for its one-to-one sessions, where quite a number of writers have found agents or publishers. I didn't get my break that way, but success in the many competitions that are part of the conference did huge amounts for my confidence as a writer.

That's another sort-of-scary thing - there will be many people attending that festival who will be scanning the lists of competition finalists when they go up in the foyer of The Stripe at lunch time on Saturday. The feeling, when you see your pen name there, is amazing. Walking-on-air-all-the-afternoon amazing. And then there is the awards ceremony, waiting for the winners to be called - accelerated heart beat, nervous swallowing, shortage of breath ... 

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Better late than never ...

Here at last, and the fridge is now full. ;)

Today I have finally got round to a Lucky 7 post that was sent to me a while ago by one of my fellow Joan Hessayan finalists, Rhoda Baxter. You can find her at  Her debut book is Patently in Love. Do take a look, but don't forget to come back.

You may be familiar with the Lucky 7 concept - you look at your WIP, find page 77, move 7 lines down and then publish the next seven lines on your blog. You are supposed to tag 7 more authors to pass it on to. I've done the first part, but I've not yet decided where I'm going to pass the favour on.

When I first read the instructions I thought it was the current published book. As page 77 of Never Coming Home is right in the middle of the first love scene,  I shut the book at that point. No way was I putting that bit up on the blog, out of context! Luckily it is not current, but future work. Heave a sigh of relief.

The WIP is a novella, which I hope might be published by the end of the year. It is my favourite crime/romance mix, but a little lighter than the novels - no dead bodies, although the heroine does feel a distinct inclination to strangle the hero on occasions - hey, this is romance - it's all about the conflict. :)
It's called Watching the Detective and it's a crime caper in the sun - think Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief or the various versions of the Thomas Crown Affair. Cassie and Jake are running around causing mayhem in some of my favourite bits of the Riviera - Nice, Menton and San Remo. They're trying to find a man who may not exist and a load of stolen cash, while getting mixed up in some kidnapping and the activities of a film crew. And, of course, the most dangerous activity of all, falling in love. They have history - they were teenage sweethearts. (He still calls her Slick, a nickname she professes to hate.) Cassie thinks Jake dumped her, all those years ago. Jake can't understand what all the fuss is about. (See, strangling, above.) Jake has a second agenda too, all centred around winning a bet ...

To set the scene - Cassie and Jake are hosting a cocktail party at the luxury villa Jake has hired. (Did I mention that Jake is loaded? And Cassie isn't. Conflict again) They are hoping to spot their mystery man amongst the guests. Cassie's idea of a party is to get plenty of wine and beer in, turn up the music and hand round crisps and sausage rolls, with pizza ordered for later ...

   Cassie leaned over the balcony rail. Below her on the terrace the caterers were setting up the bar. Ice and glasses chinked invitingly. A string quartet - a string quartet ! - was tuning up beside the pool.
   'Come on down, Juliet.' Jake appeared below, like the demon king, stage left. 'Our guests are arriving.' 

   'Looking good, Slick.' He eyed her approvingly as she stepped through the French doors. Obligingly she twirled. The soft silk of her dress whispered around her, a pale green cloud. You're going to be paying for it until Doomsday,so you might as well enjoy it. 
   'Not so bad yourself.' Cassie took in the cream linen suit and the dark blue shirt. Did his secretary order that, to match the exact colour of his eyes? 
   She wrenched her own eyes away, to stare beyond him. At the other end of the terrace waiters were opening champagne, and arranging tiny portions of food on silver trays. 

That's it. It's a little longer than seven lines on the blog. Now I just have to edit the rest of the manuscript.

Running Late

I know it's Wednesday and there really ought to be something new up here by now, but I am recovering from a hideous stomach bug and now I am taking an interest in food again, I really have to go shopping !!!

Thank you for your patience and please check back later - I'm going to talk about the WIP, prompted by fellow Hessayan finalist Rhoda Baxter.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

When you live by the Sea ...

Apparently, Cardiff has the largest population of seagulls in the world.  Yes, I know what you're thinking, the same as me.  How do they know?  They are certainly a feature of life, if you live on the coast.  They’ve even earned honourable mention on my website, as the soundtrack to walks on the beach.  The sight of the birds gliding in the air currents and the haunting cry when they are flying is high on the list of favourite evocative sights and sounds.  When you live with them though, you learn about their other habits, and I'm not just talking about mess on the washing.  Those fierce bills make short work of black rubbish sacks, and their persistent cawing when they are displeased or defending their nests is a long way from the call when they are flying.  Unfortunately, that is the noise you hear the most if you have them inhabiting your chimney pots.  It’s a work of art too, to watch one unpack a whole litter bin, to get to the half eaten sandwich at the bottom.  They must have a really acute sense of smell.  
Then there are the babies.  I never realized that they have juvenile plumage that is completely different from the adult bird -- speckled brown and white, and a thin piping cry that lets you know when you have a new arrival on the roof.  They are very funny to watch when they are learning to fly, running along flapping their wings and jumping like a lot of small boys holding their arms out and pretending to be aeroplanes.  I remember a few summers ago, when one of the babies ran a little too far, while experimenting, and  fell off the roof. Or it may be that pushing the adolescent out into the world is part of the growing up process?  Maybe mum was just fed up with having a stroppy teenager around, eating her out of nest and chimney pot.  Baby wandered about in the street for a couple of days, anxiously watched over by the occupants of at least 20 houses, until he got the idea of what his wings were for.  Mum and Dad patrolled diligently to see off any threats. (Yes -- male seagulls seem to be wings-on parents).  Then one day he got the hang of it, and was off.  I think that similar experiences may be the origins of alarming stories of people being attacked by gulls in their gardens.  Luckily we’ve never experienced that. The noise they make is enough to keep me away from any errant offspring.  
But when the sky is blue, and cloudless, sitting watching the gulls floating on air currents, that’s one of life's simple pleasures.