Writing Weekend – Part 1

Kingston University

This weekend was busy, busy, busy. But great!

Saturday saw an early start with a drive down the (always delightful) M1 to Kingston University for a writers’ conference. The course was led by Alison Baverstock, former publisher, author and now acting course leader of Kingston Uni’s Publishing MA.

The keynote opening speech was given by Richard Charkin, Chief Exec of Bloomsbury, on the current state of the publishing industry. Richard has been in publishing for nearly 40 years, so has a wealth of knowledge and experience about the industry. His talk covered everything from book pricing to E-books to Google books.

This was followed by a talk by Carole Blake, MD of the Blake Friedmann Agency. Carole is a real character – very entertaining and gave a useful insight into what agents are (and aren’t) looking for. And yes, I think everyone got the message that she DOESN’T do children’s!

Jo Herbert, Editor of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, gave a useful talk on synopsis writing. I was recommended by another participant to read her blog, so it is duly bookmarked.

The afternoon saw a couple of workshops. Commercial Fiction by Emma Burstall turned out to be Commercial Women’s Fiction. Oh well, never mind. It was quite interesting, and the short stories on my website show that I’m in touch with my feminine side!

Writing for Children was facilitated by Linda Strachan. Linda hails from north of the border, and is really enthusiastic about her subject. And with more than 50 children’s books to her name, she really knows her subject. A really useful workshop that could have easily filled two hours instead of the one allotted.

And then it was on to Reading, for the Reading Festival of Crime Writing. More on that to follow…


About djpaterson

Reader, Writer, Arithmeticer. Not always in that order.
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4 Responses to Writing Weekend – Part 1

  1. Shane balmer says:

    Hi DJ have something I want to discuss with you.

  2. djpaterson says:

    Coming from anyone, that could sound ominous – but when it comes from one of the most experienced black belts in the country, it takes on a whole new dimension!

  3. Charles May says:

    Kingston Writers Conference – 1st day

    I attended the first day of the conference, the preceding Friday. Having just read DJ excellent summing up of the 2nd day I thought I’d try and do the same for the 1st, since it was also a very enjoyable and informative day.

    It started with a keynote speech by bestselling ‘Financial thriller’ writer Michael Ridpath who spoke about his road to publishing. It was a great talk, Michael came across as a very humble guy and his trials and tribulations of getting the first novel out (it took him four years) and the eventual auction and bidding frenzy amongst five publishing houses was great. One thing that surprised me was how many friends he persuaded to read and give feedback on his first novel – I’ve only had the courage to ask (should I say force) my son.

    It was interesting to hear someone who is a self confessed analytical person explain how he applies that to a creative process, how he plans his books so carefully – including creating the synopsis before writing the book (complete opposite to me). But having said that his first story grew out of a real event he simply exaggerated and wrote as the first chapter.

    He described his first book as amateurish and had flat characters, a bad plot and a poor ending! But he’s learning and improving all the time. One great story from him; he was interviewed about this same book by the Observer, this being the book that went to a bidding war. To his disappointment when the paper came out he searched in vain for the article – without finding it he just decided they must have thought better about it. The next day at work everyone knew that he had secretly been writing a novel – it turned out the article was one the front page of the paper!

    A few of gems from Mr Ridpath;

    – Get the 1st chapter, the 1st paragraph and the 1st sentence right!
    – Once you’ve done the book, consider; What’s good? What’s bad? What’s slow?
    – And when he gets writer’s block he spends Friday working out questions that the story needs answering and then on Sunday (not Saturday mind), he tries to answer them.
    – Once finished with a book, put it away for 6 months and re-read afterwards.

    Book recommendation: Orson Scott Card ‘Elements of Writing Fiction’


    Alison Baverstock (Conference lead) then gave a talk on ‘Making time and space for writing’: most of this is in the excellent books included in the conference price; ‘Is there a book in you?’ and its sequel ‘Marketing your book’.

    Two editors then gave talks; Lisa Garden of A&C Black on the requirements for non-fiction proposals and Stephanie Glencross from Jane Gregory’s Literary Agency for fiction writers.

    Alison Baverstock in her Marketing book describes publishing as traditionally attracting ‘lots of well brought-up young ladies who [are] thus respectably occupied until marriage’. Stephanie fitted the bill precisely and explained with excellent diction what a publisher wants:

    – An excellent covering letter (sometimes this is all publishers read) that is enticing and informative and that covers:
    who you are, your history, ambitions, the genre of the book, other writers in the genre you align with, any endorsements and a brief pitch of the book.
    – A one page synopsis (emphasis on the one page!) – to tease and tempt
    like a back jacket blurb – to the point and enthusiastic, main characters, and little plot detail.
    – The first three chapters
    usual double spaced (unlike synopsis and letter), 12 point, Arial is fine, one side of paper, all pages loose, indent first paragraph,

    Lots of phases were thrown around such as moving characters, confident narrative but most of all – the potential to make money for the publisher!

    After lunch we had another excellent and concise talk from Alison called ‘But is it any good?’ on how to keep going and the importance of a support circle when writing. She broke down supporters into three distinct groups:

    – The Booster : who tries to encourage and raise morale:
    ‘How is your writing going? I so admire you for sticking to it’
    – The Sapper: who are resolutely negative:
    ‘Why are you bothering to write when it’s so hard to get published?’
    – The Feeder: More insidious, they lower your confidence whilst boosting their own:
    ‘Lucky you to have the time to write’

    Following Alison was Suzi Williamson from A&C Black (you can tell who Alison publishes with …) gave a talk called ‘How promotable are you?’ on the importance of ‘selling’ yourself as much as the book. How to self-publicise – basically the publishers want you to do as much as you can for the book, as possible … understandable really …

    The day finished with a surprisingly lively talk from Mary Lawson, author of ‘Crow Lake’ – she told of her (very) long road to publication – she didn’t get published until in her fifties. If I heard correctly her first story took five years and then she decided, following feedback, that it wasn’t good enough – she hadn’t written from the heart – instead she decided to write of characters that came from her own farming background and eventually came up with a great book (one that again went to a bidding war again).

    Note, she (and I think Michael Ridpath) both believed in sending multiple submissions. Mary Lawson initially sent to one agent at a time but having waited nine months for a particular agent (who then stated it had never arrived despite managing to send back the SAE to Mary) she decided on multiple submissions. While on her hols visiting a sister her husband called her to say that three agents were trying to get in contact with her! To her great satisfaction the week her first book was published she got a rejection letter from another agent saying the book was unpublishable!

    Something to take heart in …

  4. djpaterson says:

    Thank-you Charles, for your comprehensive summing-up of the first day of the conference (I didn’t attend).

    I agree with much of the advice you have reproduced here, particularly:

    – Get the 1st chapter, the 1st paragraph and the 1st sentence right!

    – Once finished with a book, put it away for 6 months and re-read afterwards (Stephen King recommends 3 months, but, I think 6 is even better).



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