Yesterday I was privileged to attend the Writing on the Wall (WoW) literary festival in Liverpool. It was held in Liverpool’s wonderful new (it opened to the public just over a year ago) central library, which has been expertly refurbished so that it combines the best of the old, classically-built library exterior with a stunning, light-filled new building, the atrium of which is awe-inspiring in its use of space and light.
Yesterday’s event was superlatively well organised by Abi Inglis, a recent graduate of Liverpool John Moores University, who runs her own online magazine (Heroine) for women and has been helping with or running literary events in the city for several years. Madeline Heneghan was the overall festival director and Mike Morris the operations director.
I was doubly grateful to Abi, because, as well as inviting me to talk at the festival about how to get published, she also gave me a short slot to read the opening chapter of my next DI Yates novel, Sausage Hall, which will be published on 17th November. This was Sausage Hall’s first public outing, and marks the start of a series of events that Salt and I are planning both in the lead-up to the publication date and immediately afterwards.
Even better, Abi devoted a large part of yesterday afternoon to Salt and Salt authors. Mike Morris, himself a published playwright, interviewed Jon Gale, a young Liverpudlian author whom he obviously admires greatly and whose novella Albion was recently published by Salt as part of the Modern Dreams series.
Mike then chaired a panel session of four Modern Dreams authors: Jon Gale, Denny Brown, Michelle Flatley and Jones Jones. This was one of the best panel sessions I’ve ever seen conducted at a literary festival. Mike elicited comments from each of the authors with great skill, giving them each an equal opportunity to talk, and they were all courteous, articulate and extremely interested in each other’s work. It was a proud day for Salt!
Knowing that I was going to meet them, I read each of these authors’ novellas before the event, and was hugely impressed by them (Denny Brown’s is called Devil on your Back,
Michelle Flatley’s Precious Metal,
and Jones Jones’ Marg).
They all had an interesting story to tell about their journeys towards being published by Salt: Denny Brown, a mother of five, was the victim of an abusive marriage; Michelle Flatley is an artist who teaches refugees; Jones Jones is a journalist who has recently felt the compelling need to write fiction; Jon Gale has struggled for several years to find a publisher since leaving university. I recommend all their novellas: they’re ideal for commutes or train journeys, or simply for rainy evenings at home – I’m certain you’ll find that the time spent reading them will be more entertaining than watching TV. All are available as e-books from a variety of channel providers, including Amazon, which has just launched a promotion for the whole Modern Dreams series.
I was sponsored to talk about ‘How to get Published’ by PrintonDemandWorldWide, whose new venture, The Great British Bookshop, provides authors with an alternative to Amazon if they want to self-publish but need help with sales channels.
PODWW gave me some notebooks, pens and guidelines for authors to distribute at the festival, which proved to be extremely popular.
I can’t conclude this post without mentioning what a wonderful public audience the city of Liverpool produced for this event.
It was one of the most diverse audiences I’ve met at a literary festival: families brought their children; there were many teenagers and young adults; quite a few senior citizens and some people with disabilities took advantage of the easy access to the library to join in the festival fun. All listened keenly, welcomed the authors enthusiastically and asked great questions. The main festival arena was packed at all times and the ante-rooms, where authors’ surgeries and DVD presentations about apps took place, were also always full. An inflatable ‘pod’, another of Abi’s brainwaves, which offered a range of activities for children, was also very popular – and frequented by children of all ages!
Well done, the festival team and the city of Liverpool, for an absolutely stunning event.
Footnote: If you’re organising a literary event this autumn and would like me to give a reading from Sausage Hall and explain how I came to write it, please let me know. Salt is also offering a limited number of reading copies and there will be a competition later in the autumn to help to promote it. More details will appear here and on the Salt website.
I was extremely privileged last Wednesday to have been invited to join the first literary festival to be launched at the Priory LSST Academy in Lincoln. It was actually a festival within a festival, arranged by Mrs. Sarah Oliver, the energetic and enthusiastic writer-in-residence at the Academy, with the help of the very talented Sara Bullimore, who is one of the organisers of Lincoln Inspired, the city’s arts and literature festival. My contribution was to offer creative writing students feedback on the work they had submitted for a crime-writing competition, organise and take part in two writing workshops for younger students
and deliver the festival keynote talk later in the afternoon. Members of the public were admitted to the latter.
Before I go on to describe the day in more detail, I’d just like to pause to say what an amazing place the Priory Academy is. One of the first academies to have been set up after the government announced its support for them, it is situated on a sprawling site with several buildings and many beautifully laid-out gardens, distinguished particularly by their modern sculptures and water features. Students move from one building to another via a series of covered walkways. The academy also has a planetarium, an Olympic-standard running track, an incredibly well-equipped gym and a swimming pool. Although it is a state school, it takes sixth-form boarders (they are usually either students from overseas or from armed services families). Those who attend it are greatly privileged and keenly aware of this. All of the students I met were impeccably polite; several of them told me how passionate they were about the Academy itself.
The sixth-form creative writing course was set up by Sarah Oliver at the beginning of the current academic year; it is voluntary and after school. Many more students wished to take the course than she could accommodate. Eventually fourteen were selected, of whom twelve entered the creative writing competition. They were asked to write the opening chapter of a crime novel (with a 500-word limit) and a synopsis of the whole novel (with a 300-word limit). This in itself was a pretty tall order, but they succeeded admirably. It is no exaggeration to say that I believe that every one of those students could go on to be a successful writer. The prize was for the student who wrote the winning entry to have his or her chapter published in the Lincolnshire Echo and the two runners-up to have theirs published in the online version of the same newspaper.
Choosing the winner was a daunting task. I asked my husband, who also acts as my copy-editor, to help. We decided to evaluate each entry on the following seven attributes: the opening sentence; consistency (did the chapter match the synopsis?); how compelling we found the writing; the quality of the plot; characterisation; the accuracy of the writing; the quality of the writing. It’s of course impossible for me to describe all of the entries in detail here, but to give my readers some idea of the quality of the entries, I’ve listed below a few of the opening sentences from the students’ submissions:
Bryant’s breath condensed in the plastic of his gas mask before fading away, only to be replaced every time he exhaled. It was stifling.
It’s the screech of the tyres that haunts, and the sickening crunch of metal splintering on bone.
Peer pressure. It was always peer pressure to blame when we got caught.
A myriad of birds shot out of the trees as loud sirens blazed past and a blur of blue lights blinded the night sky.
Sally heard the breathing in the darkness. The short gasps of air slowly faded into the inky night as she crouched, frozen, behind a wild hedge.
My job as judge was made more difficult because the opening chapter and synopses that we both considered to be the best ones were not written by the same person. Furthermore, there was a third entrant who, while she wrote neither the best chapter nor the best synopsis, had the best stab at both put together.
The rules of the competition organised by Sarah Oliver in conjunction with the Lincolnshire Echo were clear-cut. The best chapter was undoubtedly written by James, so we awarded the prize to him. Fatmira and Katie therefore became the runners-up.
The constraints of the competition were, however, considerable, and I knew that I wanted to see more of these students’ work. By great good fortune, Jean Roberts, Business Development Director at PrintOnDemandWorldWide, had very generously said that, if the winner wanted to complete his or her novel within a year of entering the competition, she would print ten copies of it free of charge and also put it into legal deposit, PODWW’s distributor channels and its own new online bookselling venture, The Great British Bookshop. I decided that James, Fatmira and Katie all deserved to be eligible for this new prize, so I have now set up a further contest for the three of them. If they can get their completed novels to me by the end of this year, I’ll choose the best of them and send it on to Jean. PrintOnDemandWorldWide also very generously gave all the students a Great British Bookshop notebook, pen and box of Union Jack sweets. Both the students and all those who attended the afternoon keynote also received PODWW’s pamphlet giving advice and writing tips to would-be authors.
I shall write more on this blog at intervals about James, Fatmira and Katie and the progress that they are making. I hope that you will join me in following their journey, perhaps also offering your own support and encouragement along the way. In the meantime, I’d like to celebrate the achievement of all the student writers at the Priory Academy. I’m certain that we shall be hearing more of at least some of them in years to come.