Network News: South West, Bristol meet-up

By Jak Harrison

Banging on the door of The Hole in the Wall pub in Bristol before opening time not only made me feel desperate, I probably looked it too. Fellow desperado Fran Price had apparently arrived even earlier than me and had quickly scuttled off to a far more respectable coffee establishment before being spotted. It felt like a scene from ‘The Unexpected Party’ (The Hobbit) with a little clutch of writers keen to get indoors!

This was just my second meeting, so I was a little nervous to say the least. Who would be there? Would everyone know each other, leaving me as the newbie sitting on the sidelines biting my nails? After the initial embarrassment of not gaining entry to the HITW, I couldn’t have wished for a more welcoming group. Thank you Jo Thomas, Nicky Keller, Glyn Scott, Mike Pringle, Fran Price and Claire Fayers for making me feel so welcome.

Before the meeting, Jo had asked if someone would write a blog for Words & Pictures – so I thought it would make me feel safer with a ‘screen’ separating me from the unknown if I offered :) I certainly felt more official – a reason for being there, so to speak…

The meeting started with a quick intro which set the tone for the discussion that followed. Some of the topics covered included:
·         How to keep motivated
·         Ideas we’re working on – love Mike’s ‘Auto-pets’ idea
·         Energy – remember it’s a resource, not infinite, so spend it wisely
·         Plotter or panster? Most said they liked the story to unfold – too much plotting made them feel like the story was already written – leaving little room to breath
·         Gender – boys/girls books (argh)
·         What kids actually like to read (Glyn worked as a headmaster and now delivers creative writing based workshops in schools – so shared his insider info on this).

After a quick coffee refill, we settled back down to hear Clare Fayers generously share her tale of discovery with us and lead us in a discussion about our own work.

I was particularly interested to hear about Clare’s journey, because her opening sentence resonated with me – “A few years ago, I almost gave up!” No? I’m sure we’ve all felt like that on occasions, especially when money is tight and Christmas is fast approaching. Then Clare discovered she was one of the finalists in the Undiscovered Voices competition (SCWBI/Working Partners) and since then life has been a whirlwind of writerly based activities.

Prior to UV, Clare’s book (now called The Accidental Pirates Book 1: Voyage to the Magical North) had been rejected by the two agents who’d asked to see it. Clare decided enough was enough and wrote another book – a steampunk novel – which she sent out but which was also rejected. Clare felt disillusioned about ever finding an agent or getting published. She said, “It was only a small step from being rejected to thinking I was rubbish.” But her mind kept returning to her pirate story, so she looked at it again. After the break from it, she was more able to take on board what the rejection emails had said and she worked hard on rectifying ‘the problem’. And, hey presto! The rest is history (as they say). After UV, Clare was taken on by her agent and her book sold to Macmillan in a three book deal. It will be published in the UK and the US in July 2016

US cover

Clare admitted that if it hadn’t been for her husband’s encouragement and belief in her, she may have given up the dream. And actually, that made me think about the people that support me – and those that support fellow writers (published and unpublished). The unsung heroes/heroines who support us in many different ways – maybe financially, domestically, emotionally, verbally, on social media and so on. Friends and family who are proud of what we do and are keen to brag to their friends and colleagues about their parent, sibling, daughter, son, aunty, uncle – who constantly live in the dream world of their imagination – because that’s what it’s like being a writer! Not dreaming of fame & fortune JK style, but the dream world that swirls around in our heads, when walking the dog, cooking dinner, doing housework, shopping, working, going to the gym and sleeping. The world that never seems to run out of ideas…

Our little group talked about our own stories. Stories still in the idea stage, or research, writing, editing, polishing stage. Stories that will hopefully be in the hands of keen young readers one day. That’s the writer’s goal after all, and for me, it’s not about how children read stories – either in ebook form or as a traditional paperback – it’s about just getting the story in their hands.

To finish, here’s something Claire shared with us. Her ‘Day in the Mind of a Writer’. Something we can all identify with I’m sure…

9am Today, I will work hard. I'll start off by working on characters for my new book. My main character doesn't have a name yet so I'll start there.
9.20am I didn't realise how many lists of boys' names you could find online.
9.30am There really are a lot of them.
10am What about Nathaniel? No, that's no good. Jonathan Stroud already bagged that one for the Amulet of Samarkand. I think he did. I'll just check.
11am The Amulet of Samarkand is rather good, isn't it?
11.30am I ought to stop reading The Amulet of Samarkand now.
12 noon Enough. I am putting this book down. I have read it before. It does not count as research. I fancy a biscuit. I think I might make some biscuits. It'll help me focus on character names.
12.05pm It appears that my other half has used all the eggs. I could make shortbread, I suppose. Or just defrost a muffin in the microwave.
12.07pm That was a tasty muffin.
1pm Right, I am going back to work and nothing will distract me. It's time to work through my character creation chart.
2pm Favourite colour: blue. Favourite food: herrings. Greatest fear: snakes. What the worst thing that could happen to the character?  Hmm. Getting eaten alive by radioactive scorpions: that would be nasty. Or his parents both die and his evil guardian tries to murder him for his fortune. No, I think Lemony Snickett has done that already. I like his books.
2.30pm What kind of a person is my main character? What does he like doing? Let's see if I can find a photo of him online.
3pm Ooh, I've just had a great idea for this character. It'll mean rewriting everything I've done so far, but that's fine, it was all rubbish anyway.
5.30pm How is that the time already? My husband will be home soon and it’s my turn to cook and I’ve only just finished rewriting these chapters. Tomorrow there will be no messing about. I will be on my chair at 9am and I will write!


1 comment:

  1. Great post, Jak. Sounds like an amazing meeting, too. Happy Christmas!


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