A round-up of our summer adventures – and it’s only July!
Heather Child: ‘Uplit’ at Edgelit
As well as an appearance at the Dark Societies dystopian book club in London, Heather was in Derby last week running a workshop and speaking on a panel at the popular sci-fi, fantasy and horror event EdgeLit 2018.
The recent boom in dystopian fiction was the topic of discuss
ion, though with political decisions made in the last couple of years starting to bed in, it seems the incoming trend is ‘uplit’, or more uplifting fiction. All events were well-attended and people enjoyed meeting their favourite genre authors and getting books signed.
Heather is also at this week’s lunch-time lecture at Bristol City Library on Thursday July 26th at 12.30 in the old library foyer. It’s free, so get there if you can!
Jean Burnett in the Dragons Den
Jean pitched her unpublished novel to the Chudleigh Dragons at the Chudleigh LitFest last weekend in Devon – and won the prize!
Her cosy crime novel wins a critique from novelist Sophie Duffy from Legend Press.
Jean is also working n a new historical novel and looking forward to a writing retreat in Greece.
Ali Bacon around and about
Having survived a book-selling trip to France, Ali set out for Suffolk where she was part of the Wickhambrook literary lunch in late June.
As well as talking about In the Blink of an Eye she had lunch with afternoon speakers Nicci Gerard and Sean French and has been name-dropping ever since.
She is now emerging from a stint on the golf course to do a book signing at Books on the Hill in Clevedon this Saturday 21st and dropping in to the Flash Fiction Festival on Sunday in Bristol.
Scottish readers should also check out her website for news of Scottish shenanigans in September and October.
And yes, our next Story Sunday will be in the early autumn, so please watch this space and keep writing!
Hello fellow writers and readers and apologies for being off the scene for a while. However we have some excellent news to report and can also give you the heads-up for our next event in October, part of the annual Bristol Litfest extravaganza.
First, the good news.
In between all that short story action last year, our members were labouring over their long-term projects, two of which have come to highly satisfying fruition.
First up for a round of applause is Heather Child‘s debut novel Smartface recently acquired by Little, Brown Book Group imprint Orbit via the Julie Crisp Literary Agency.
Heather’s book is a high-concept thriller that tells the story of a woman whose virtual assistant takes on the personality of her missing sister.
When her sister vanished, Freya’s life seemed to stop. Eight years later, she is hearing Ruby’s voice again as a ‘Smartface’, so alive and real it seems she could be out there somewhere, feeding updates into the cloud. But should Freya trust this intelligent assistant, which is programmed to give her everything she wants?
The novel examines what happens when smart becomes too smart, when people accumulate so much data online that they can be recreated as data ghosts and lives can be changed by the information they’ve left behind. The book will be out in spring 2018.
Heather, who joined us a couple of years ago, has already been published in Mslexia, Under the Radar, the Storgy 2014 Short Story Anthology, HerCircle, the Bristol Post and Notes from the Underground online. We’ve loved hearing excerpts from the book at our feedback meetings – I can’t wait to read the whole of this fabulously written novel which takes a compelling and disturbing look at what might be just around the corner.
Hard on the heels of Heather’s success comes Ali Bacon who has signed with Linen Press Books. In the Blink of an Eye is a re-imagining of the life of Victorian artist and photographer David Octavius Hill. This collection of sixteen stories in ten distinctive voices bring together history, fiction and biography. Ali says:
I was doubtful a mainstream publisher would commit to something that crosses so many of the usual boundaries. I was thrilled when Linen Press snapped it up straight away.
Five local writing groups ‘compete’ to come up with the best flash fiction (up to 200 words) on the night. Last year’s event was a riot (almost!) This year Gail, Jean and Jo with friends Louise Gethin and Gavin Watkins will represent us as Writers Unhinged. Come and support us – or any of the rest!
Saturday Oct 22nd, 3 – 4pm
Ancient Egyptian Storytelling at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
Four local authors, including our own Jean, will read original stories inspired by the myths and mysteries of Ancient Egypt. Should be atmospheric! No tickets, just turn up.
Saturday 22nd, 7 – 11 pm Talking Tales, Left Bank, 128 Cheltenham Road
A first outing at this event for Ali Bacon. Natalie Melling who read at Midsummer Madness is also reading. Come along to calm them down and cheer them on. Live music as well as prose and poetry! Presented by Stokes Croft Writers
In the second in our series of posts on the theme of Unchained, we’re welcoming award-winning historical novelist Margaret Skea. I really love how Margaret creates absolute authenticity (fuelled by meticulous research) without ever burdening the reader or losing sight of the plot, which in the case of A House Divided is a real roller-coaster encompassing family feuds, contemporary medicine and witchcraft. Here she explains how neither book might have been written at all if it hadn’t been for a moment of liberation here in the West Country.
A House Divided, set in 16th century Scotland, is a sequel to Turn of the Tide, for which I was fortunate enough to win two awards – Historical Fiction Winner in the Harper Collins / Alan Titchmarsh People’s Novelist Competition 2011 and the Beryl Bainbridge Award for Best First Time Author 2014.
Although Turn of the Tide was my first finished novel it was not my first novel, or rather it wasn’t the first version of my novel. Here’s how I became ‘unchained’ from the restrictions of writing from the pov of an historic character and discovered the freedom that a fictional main character brings.
It went like this…
I wrote short stories. I’d only ever written short stories (well apart from the poetry of my teenage angst days, but the less said about that the better). Three thousand words was my comfort zone and it was a rut that I was more than happy to remain in. Until one month I found myself bereft of children, my job axed and our recently acquired brand new house clearly in perfectly good nick. My husband said ‘Forget looking for another job, you’ve always wanted to write a novel, maybe now’s the time.’
Initially it wasn’t as difficult as I’d thought, for the main character had been in my head for many years. Ever since I researched his family as part of a dialect study. And far from struggling to get past three thousand words, about a year later I found myself with 70,000 – approximately three quarters of the way through. Then I began to flounder.
It wasn’t that his story was boring, or that he himself didn’t provide me with enough material to work on, but there was a constant battle going on in my head between truth and fiction, a battle which truth was definitely winning, severely restricting my plot options.
Problem: it was a novel I was supposed to be writing, not a history book.
Solution: An Arvon Advanced Fiction course – combined Christmas present from all my nearest and dearest and a few others besides (they aren’t cheap) ‘for those at least half-way through a novel.’
I won’t bore you with the technicalities of getting to Totleigh Barton, a beautiful thatched long house buried in the depths of Devon, but what a fabulous environment in which to write. I went with 70,000 words and high hopes that the four days there would make all the difference. And they did. Just not quite in the way I’d expected.
Day 1: My first one-to-one session with a tutor. I strolled across to my meeting with the opening of my novel which introduced the main character (as it should) and the first page of Chapter 3 in which a two-bit messenger boy who didn’t even have a name was sent to set up an ambush. I wanted to discuss the differentiation of major and incidental characters. Which I suppose in a way was what happened. The tutor read the two passages, then after a pause picked up the ‘two-bit messenger boy’ page and said, ‘I think this is your main character.’
As those who know me will testify there haven’t been many times in my life when I’ve been speechless, but that was one of them. After I’d metaphorically picked myself off the floor we talked. About fictional versus historic characters and the huge advantages of a fictional main character. It all made sense, but could I ditch 70,000 words and start again? That was a terrifying prospect. His parting shot – ‘Think about it overnight and we’ll talk again tomorrow.’
I did sleep, surprisingly, but at some stage during the night Munro rode into my head on his horse Sweet Briar, complete with a surname, and demanding the centre stage. I woke up buzzing and ready to re-hash that single page of Chapter 3 into the opening of a novel. Of course I had all sorts of ideas about re-using masses of the other 70,000 words too – with a few tweaks here and there to alter the perspective. It would be the same basic story after all. Right? Wrong.
Some of the historical events that featured in the first version did provide a framework for ‘Novel Mark 2’, but it became a completely different story. By the time I went home I had written 3000 words of the new Chapter 1, which, incidentally, made it into the published manuscript unchanged. I also had a clear image in my mind of the final scene, so a goal to aim for.
It wasn’t just the novel that benefited, the experience has impacted positively on all my writing. ‘Killing my darlings’ one sentence, a paragraph or even a whole chapter at a time is now remarkably easy; after all I ditched 70,000 words and survived. The final versions of both my novels are much better as a result.
And the original 70,000 words? They languish in a box in my attic – maybe they’ll be worth something some day…
Both Turn of the Tide and A House Divided are available in paperback, via bricks and mortar bookshops in the UK , online via Waterstones, Amazon and the Book Depository and also on Kindle.
I have been putting finishing touches to two completed manuscripts (must stop tinkering) while reading up for the next book. I write historical fiction and the researching part of the book takes several months. I won’t be putting anything much on paper or computer for a while – just filling notebooks with details. This is my second ‘serious’ novel and it’s set at the court of Charles 1 in the run up to the Civil War. There is still an Italian connection through the heroine who is a famous artist. I won’ t say any more because it’s bad luck and I am superstitious about my writing. At this stage I have no idea about a title!
2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?
It is difficult to assess this. All writers have a different take on history and we all hope that we have a recognisable ‘voice’ that makes us different. I look for quirky historical details or places, perhaps an electrifying incident that makes me think “that would make a good story.” Most often my imagination is caught by a personality who is either so fascinating, so wicked (as in the case of Gesualdo), or is trapped in an impossible situation. I like what Paul Doherty calls the wrinkles in history; the facts or myths between the lines, the what ifs of history – was Elizabeth 1 really the daughter of Henry V111? Doherty was fascinated by this but I think the Tudors have been done to death.
3.Why do I write what I do?
I suppose I find the past more interesting than the present – that is the quick answer, although if I find a fascinating subject in the present I will certainly write about it. I have written a book set in the 1980s which seems modern to me, although it’s technically historical, which I find absurd.
4. What is my writing process?
It could be summed up as haphazard, but there is method in my madness. I don’t plan things out in detail but a lot of the book is in my head before I start. I always know the beginning and the end but the middle will often take me by surprise. The characters take on a life of their own which is worrying if they are real historical people. I am constantly checking on whether they would really have said or done a certain thing. The fact is that we can never put ourselves in the mind of someone from centuries ago. We perceive them through a 21st century prism. All I can do is try to make them come alive – resurrect them. This is the fascination of the genre.
Thank you, Jean. I know you’ve also been working on the further adventures of Lydia Bennet – I hope we get to see them too one day.