This post might be a bit of a mish-mash, so hold on to your hats as I attempt to give you a brief run-down on what I’ve been up to. So much has happened in the last few months and at the same time so little. There have been many near bites for my latest novel, Lady Beth Goldsworthy and I feel so close to getting somewhere, yet so far. Lady Beth centres around a sixteen year old girl who falls through time and into the world of Jane Austen. The novel is a romantic comedy, that’s fast-paced and full of adventure. It had been waiting in the wings to be written for at least three years but last August, Lady Beth decided not to wait any longer and despite my plans to write something completely different, out she came.
In February, I attended the London Author Fair, a sophisticated and very rewarding event run by Authorright. The event was held in Convent Garden, at the very shiny and über-modern Hospital Club. I was attracted to it because there was an opportunity to pitch Lady Beth to a literary agent. We hear so often how important it is to gel with your chosen agent and pitching face-to-face gives you a chance to do just that.
The pitch went as well as I could have hoped, with the agent requesting the full manuscript and so all my digits were crossed for the following weeks. Alas, in the days after my pitch, the interested party was offered a job doing bigger and better things and would no longer be dealing with young adult or childrens’ literature. She did leave a very hopeful, please contact me with your next adult novel, so all is not lost.
Luckily, I have had lots to distract me from getting too down-hearted. In March, I was invited to run a creative writing workshop at the esteemed College du Leman in Geneva, Switzerland. I had never run a workshop of this sort before but felt confident that I had learned enough from my MA in Creative Writing and from the grind of writing and editing two novels, to impart some knowledge to the students who wanted to attend.
Nerves do not begin to describe how I was feeling the night before the workshop but strangely in the morning, calmness descended and within moments of beginning I felt completely in my element. The school had outdone themselves with the facilities made available to me and had laid out wonderful refreshments throughout the day. The day as a whole went very well but as anyone who has run workshops before knows, success depends on the participants. I was fortunate, as the students were amazingly open and generous with their participation. The subjects covered on the day revolved mainly around characterisation and narrative voice, possibly two of the most important writing skills, in my humble opinion. When listening/reading through the students’ work, what struck me most was how fresh all their voices were and how they achieved that tone or attitude in their work without breaking a sweat.
Voice is something that writers strive to perfect or discover and it made me think about that age-old argument: can creative writing be taught? It would be interesting to read/listen to these students’ prose in five or ten years time when they have been through all their education. Would their voices stand out quite as much? I would suggest that their training to conform to whatever chosen occupation they take up will have ironed out that flair. So my deductions are, that it is not so much an argument about whether creative writing can be taught but whether we unlearn it through over-teaching? But maybe this is a debate for another day.
Since finishing Lady Beth’s novel, I have had a few projects calling for my attention. So in May I decided to indulge and go on a writers’ retreat with other SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) members, in West Sussex. The plan was to start on an idea for a middle grade (9-12 year olds) novel that had been brewing in the cramped corners of my mind for some years. I’d not been on a retreat before but will endeavour to return next year, as it was certainly a productive, if not fun, weekend. Author of Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein ran two great workshops that got our creative juices flowing and lovely literary agent Bryony Woods was at hand to answer any of our questions on the industry.
Bryony had some nice things to say about my novel and it has made me more confident that Lady Beth will find her readers, even if I’m the one to find them through self-publishing. All in all, the retreat was a cracking weekend that helped me delve into another novel and solve some plot concerns that I had been trying to untangle for a number of months. I’m sorry I have no photos of the beautiful regency house we stayed in but I was too busy writing and eating cake and chatting and drinking wine and meeting new friends to think of getting my camera out.
And that leaves me only to say that my new middle grade novel features a young girl called Holly Stone, someone you definitely want by your side if you ever find yourself in trouble.