The Tamar Valley Writers Festival

This is the follow up post from my post a month ago about Schools Day at the Tamar Valley Writers Festival.

I have so much to write about this weekend, I almost don’t know where to start!

I attended seven sessions:

  • Learning to Fly: Emerging Authors
  • Garments of Time: the many Guises of History
  • Numbers Never Lie! Writing a Bestseller
  • Matters Fantastical: Speculative Fiction
  • Moment of Launch: Emerging Writers
  • Honourable Mentions: do Literary Awards help or hinder?
  • Blessed Disguises: Dressing up fact as fiction

There was some common advice shared in many of the discussions:

Write from your heart. I don’t know how many times I heard this during the festival, but I’ve written it at least 4 times in my notebook. The general consensus was that the joy you have from writing what you love flows out onto the page, and makes the reading much more enjoyable, and therefore it’s more likely to be picked up.  Also – the books publishers are publishing now were usually picked up several years ago, there is no point writing to a current trend – publishers will have already moved onto the next one (which could be your book).

Enter everything. Awards, grants, competitions – even if you don’t win, the feedback can be invaluable. This was the focus of the ‘Honourable Mentions’ panel, where the general answer to the question ‘Do Awards help or hinder’ was two-fold: winning is a great affirmation that you’re on the right track, and can also be good advertising.

Develop a thick skin. Rejection is the norm. You could be rejected for any number of reasons, none of which have anything to do with you, or your writing.

Be persistent! This follows on from the above – rejection is the norm, don’t give up, keep writing, keep submitting! (But always remember to be professional).

 

I tried distilling my weekends worth of notes down to something brief and easy to read, but I found with my favourite two sessions, I just couldn’t – so here’s an overview…

 

‘The Garments of Time: the many guises of history’ with Rebe Taylor, James Dryburgh, Margaretta Pos, Louise Evans and Stephanie Parkyn.

 

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#TVWF Session: The Garments of Time: the many guises of history – Rebe Taylor, James Dryburgh, Margaretta Pos, Louise Evans and Stephanise Parkyn

 

I love history, so this was probably my favourite session of the entire festival.

There was so much to take from this session!

Rebe Taylor pointed out that we can never step into the past – it’s never clear, and that to write history we must be as present minded as possible. She quoted Graeme Denning  who said that to study/write history we must be ‘anthropologists of ourselves’.

James Dryburgh notes that History changes clothes (going with the theme of the panel title – ‘Garments of Time’) depending on who tells it, and how they gather their information. But history is not seperate from the present, threads from the past join with the present.

His book ‘The Balfour Correspondent’ contains actual letters written by a 13 year old girl living in Balfour, in North-West Tasmania, to the Weekly Courier (a Launceston newspaper), about her life in Balfour. As James pointed out, we rarely look at history through the eyes of a child, what we have instead is a very narrow view of history. There have always been dissenting voices.

Someone asked a question about how the authors decide on the historical ‘truth’ when there are so many stories. The authors seemed to be all in agreeance – there is no single, universal truth, if you ask a group of witnesses of the same event what they saw, everyone will have a different account, because we all view the world through our own understanding, which has been formed through our own experiences.

 

Matters Fantastical: Speculative Fiction chaired by Lyndon Riggall, with Amie Kaufman, Jodi McAlister, and Paul Collins

 

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Matters Fantastical: Speculative Fiction chaired by Lyndon Riggall, with Amie Kaufman, Jodi McAlister, and Paul Collins

 

What a fantastic panel this was! I have three pages of notes for this one – a sure sign it was loaded with information! This post is already quite long though, so I’ll try and be concise…

Someone recommended watching V E Scwab’s ‘Tolkein’ lecture, which I did and loved, so now I’m recommending you should watch it, too!

Amie spoke about writing a series: in book one the obstacles/crisis feels immediate and terrible, but by book 3 those problems need to seem minor in comparison with what’s going in the book 3.

Lyndon commented that carrying a narrative in your head gets exhausting – living in another world for half the time. So that’s why I’m so tired all the time!!

Amie said it was really important to take time out from writing – you have to ‘put stuff in’ in order to ‘get stuff out’, and Jodie was of the importance of compartmentalising life: work/writing/life.

Jodi writes ‘Intrusive Fantasy’, where the fantastical intrudes on reality, which is a term I’d never heard of before, and really describes my writing.

Amie pointed out that fantasy allows us to examine our world from a distance, and that sci-fi/fantasy is where we get to rehearse the future.

For writers the advice was that you should always know more about your world/story than you share, that you need to make sure the story starts in the right place, and – for fantasy writers – always make the map first!

And finally

There were so many other wonderful little snippets of wisdom, but I’ll try to note just a few:

Adam Thompson (whose brilliant short story ‘Honey’ was recently published in the Kill Your Darlings Tasmania Showcase) spoke about the use of stories in educating people, how when reading fiction people tend to have their guard down, they’re more willing and able to see another’s point of view. He spoke about how readers want a unique voice, they aren’t after another Stephen King, for example.

Louise Allan spoke of the process she went through with her book ‘The Sisters Song’, which had at least 30 full redrafts (that made me feel better – I’m only at about redraft 24 with my novel), and the struggles she’s having finding the same authenticity with her second novel (Second novel syndrome is real, people!).

Cheryl Akle said the magic of fiction is that every person in the room could be given the same idea, and yet every story would be different.

With regard to writing a bestseller, the general consensus of this panel of writers was that you can’t actually sit down and write a bestseller. There are things that will help; like writing from the heart (see above!), and making sure you know the craft (spelling/grammar/structure etc). Having a publisher with good distribution channels is crucial – a book needs to be available online as well as in your local bookstore and the big chain stores. But really, so much of the process is down to luck, you just have to cross your fingers and hope for the best.

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A Novel’s Writing

 

how to write a novel

 

This is the third in the series my novel-writing journey. You can read the first two posts here: On Inspiration and here: On Research.

As I writer, I am also a reader, and among the many many books I read, of course, are the books on writing, and of course there are many different methods of writing a novel, and the writing of a novel can change from one book to the next, even for the same author. Here’s my writing process, for this novel.

Working title: ‘On Demon’s Shores’, a play on words of the location ‘Van Dieman’s Land’, started 3 and a half years ago on a bushwalk with my now-husband. That was December 2012. A woman – Elspeth – standing over the grave of her infant son. I knew straight away it was a historical fiction, and, having a Masters in History, I thought I knew what areas I was familiar with, and what areas would need a bit more research. I planned to write my novel during Nanowrimo* the following year and spent the following eleven months reading in the areas I knew I needed to brush up on; like Scottish folk magic, and colonial history – especially the interactions (good and bad) between the Aborigines and the settlers.

By November 2013 I had a folder thick with notes, as well as the odd scene that came to me through the year: One from the point of view of Elspeth’s daughter, another from her dead husband. Scenes of Elspeth’s childhood had filled several pages, and it was from these scenes I started to write: born with a caul – a sign of one with the Sight – Elspeth followed her grandmother’s footsteps and became cunning-woman of her village. How she got to Van Dieman’s Land was easy – as a convict – but why? What did she do? And why did she do it if life was following a path it should?

That draft brought up many more questions than before, and really revealed how little I knew of the tiny details that would bring my story to life. 2014 was back into the research again, writing the odd scene here or there all the while researching those odd little points that would make my story ‘real’: like what period the colonial government offered land grants to former convicts, and when the Queen’s Orphanage first opened, and what happened to the children of convicts who were brought out with their parents.

Big changes were happening in life that year too – the birth of my third child, and the closure of my older children’s most wonderful little school.

When Nanowrimo 2014 began I was a Nano-rebel for the first time in my 5 years of taking part, almost completely re-writing that first draft, keeping only the few scenes I liked.

2015 was more a mixture. More research, several redrafts, and always reading – both fiction and non-fiction, anything to help me connect with my characters, experience life as they may have known it: Elemental by Amanda Curtain, Journey to the Stone Country by Alex Miller, Roving Party by Rohan Wilson, That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott.

Another re-draft over the 30 odd days of Nanowrimo, squashed into the gaps between homeschooling and caring for a now walking toddler (and achievable only with a supportive husband). But Nanowrimo that  year I had a different aim. By now I’d been over the story so many times, and removed the dull, unimportant bits, and clarified the story, and really felt I knew where it was going. Now I needed to polish it to the best of my ability, ready for the outside input. Late January 2016 I sent the story off to beta-readers, mid-March I received 3 different readers comments, and reworked the story yet again. Next step was to send it to a Manuscript Assessor [The Tasmanian Writer’s Centre offers affordable manuscript assessment]. The Manuscript Assessment was everything I needed. I reworked the story, changing some sections completely (sections which, incidentally, I knew weren’t right, but I thought I didn’t know how to fix, and so I was taking the lazy way out. But as I worked through the minor changes the way to fix the larger problem came clear. A re-read confirmed what I suspected at the end of that process – the story is as good as I can make it at this point in time. And so I sent it off.

So now I wait. But the waiting is not with twiddling fingers, no. Since I submitted my manuscript the idea for my next novel burst, fresh and exciting, onto the page, and now I’m pondering where this journey will lead me.

 

 

 

National Novel Writing Month, for those unfamiliar with the term. And if you are a writer – check it out, it really is an amazing resource for writers, and a great way to get a good start on a novel.

 

 

Interview – Historical Fiction Author – Barbara Gaskell Denvil

I’m a little bit excited, because this week on the blog I’m interviewing a fellow historical author – Barbara Gaskell Denvil! Barbara’s latest book ‘Fair Weather’ has just been released and she’s come over to have a chat about the book and her writing process.

Welcome Barbara!

  • To begin with, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Thanks so much, Heather. I’ve been an author of sorts for most of my life, starting in
my teens publishing articles and short stories while working for publishers and television companies as a tutor, script writer and editor. However, I took a large break for domesticity and bringing up three daughters, two of whom are identical twins. Once my children were grown with lives of their own, I spent some years sailing the Mediterranean and living in several European countries while indulging my sense of adventure and learning, first hand, what romance is all about. Now I live in Australia, and write of medieval England while gazing out of my window at kangaroos, parrots and kookaburras. A considerable contrast – but my imagination soars from one to the other with no problems. It all adds to the joys of inspiration.

  •  Briefly, can you tell us what Fair Weather is about?

FW CoverMystery – history – dark magic – romance – and adventure! Fair Weather is set a little earlier than many of my other novels, going back to the reign of King John. It is a time-slip story with a large dose of the paranormal so the heroine, at first against her wishes but increasingly eager, is pulled from her modern comforts into the dangers of the past.  The storyline delves deeper and deeper into the threats and the mysteries, but as the plot develops the mysteries begin to unfold, and the principal male character shows himself as multi-faceted and far from average hero. This very unusual hero is one of my favourites but neither of my two heroines find him an easy companion. This book and its plot are multi-layered, and carries many twists…

  • What inspired you to write Fair Weather?

Vespasian Fairweather came marching into my head one dark and chilly evening, and introduced himself without permission. I found him immediately intriguing, challenging and compelling. This is actually a novel I first wrote back in 2004 when time-slip plots were rare! But I have polished since then – and I believe the book has grown a little. But for all that time, Vespasian has been with me. He’s not always the easiest companion, but I love having him around. He is charismatic and never predictable. So he has been my inspiration right from the start. Where he came from – well – I’m not sure!

  • I see you’ve written quite a bit of historical fiction. What drew you to this genre?

I suppose originally because it’s a genre I love to read, and I grew up with an adoration for Dorothy Dunnett, Shakespeare and Mary Renault. I became interested in researching the dark cramped and brutal life of the ordinary people during those long-past years. I also love fantasy – and I think both fantasy and historical fiction draw the reader into new worlds. Escapism of the deepest and most compelling kind. I adore wandering other dark roads in my mind and exploring what made people think and believe as they did. I am greatly interested in many important figures from the past (Richard III, Shakespeare, Rochester, Wellington and many more) but it is the huge heaving population of the poor that absorbs me, and how they coped with such difficulties. We are now what the past has made us, and I find that an absorbing puzzle to study.

  • Fair Weather is not strictly historical. Is this your first time-slip novel?

Yes, it is, and I have loved writing it. I believe the time-slip plot draws the reader into the past along with the characters, and that is always my aim in all my books, even when time-travel is not at all included. When I actually wrote Fair Weather back in 2004, time-slip was quite a rarity in books and I cannot remember a single book I had then read based on time travel, although now it is quite fashionable. My mother had recently died, and I think my mood was generally dark – and from there I slipped into the past myself.

  • I’ve had a peek at your website, and I’m intrigued by your story line. You mentioned that one of your main characters ‘Vespasian’ arrived fully formed and proceeded to dictate the story (I’ve experienced this myself!). Was there much research involved?

Yes, isn’t it a wonderful experience when a compelling character seems to come alive!

I have always loved researching the past and started with massive academic research on the Viking era when I was just 12 years old. So yes indeed, I researched the time period for Fair Weather with much passion, even though the plot of my novel is not based on historical events. Certainly the presentation of old London and the way of life at that time are all very accurate. Vespasian certainly strode through my head and wrote my book for me, but I still had to check that the facts were right. Now I have trouble with fading sight, and research is a problem. However, I will never write a historical fact without ensuring its accuracy.

  • I’ve found research can be a bit of a black-hole – there is so much information out there. How did you know when you’d done enough?

Yes, it can be hard, but that black hole has never swallowed me up. I enjoy research and never stop, and it is endlessly valuable. You need a feel for the period, and an understanding of what life was like then. I have researched many periods of history without the slightest intention of setting a book in that time. The past has fascinated me most of my life and I am passionate about understanding the way we have grown from previous mistakes. I have a passionate sympathy for the terrible experiences the ordinary people suffered before we learned tolerance, before medical science understood disease and hygiene, and before a regard for equality was accepted. Battle was the most brutal business and yet people accepted the inevitability. Many fought willingly, but the suffering continued unabated through every reign. I will not turn away from the misery those poor souls faced in bygone eras, and I write of their lives with the utmost care. Now humanity is maturing beyond those past horrors, but we still have a lot to learn. That is what research means to me. I have never entered into any research purely as a short term exercise for one book alone.  I dream of these times, and feel as though I live there as I write my books.

  • What inspires you to write?

The whole world and everyone in it becomes my inspiration. The sunset over the hills, the dawn rising in soft pastels over the ocean, forests in the spring and open moors bleak in the barren winter. Every person I meet and every word they say inspires me. I get sudden ideas from dreams too. My dreams are vivid and compelling, and they remain with me long after I have woken. Some films have inspired me too, and books of course, for reading the work of others is perhaps the biggest inspiration of all. I also have my own memories, and after leading a very varied and interesting life, there is plenty to remember and plenty to inspire within those memories.

  • What is your next book about?

I am now writing a Tudor adventure. As usual it contains romance, adventure, crime and mystery, as well as a good deal of historical context. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn are important characters within the book, but I follow my normal practice by bringing my own fictional characters into the foreground as the principal protagonists.  But the book is only about half way finished, and it will be some time before I choose to publish it. I insist on rewriting and polishing my work several times, and therefore finally publish my very best attempt at perfection. Well – nothing is ever perfect of course – but I can try.

  • What is your writing process? Do you have a daily routine? Do you plot your stories – or do you let them come to you as you write?

More or less a routine, and I try to write for many hours each day, depending on other duties such as marketing and keeping up with articles, and fascinating interviews such as this one. I love writing. I have no problem with writing for hours. I always start off with my basic plot and characters very firmly in my mind, but then as the book begins to develop, it takes on a life of its own and runs away with me. In the end I always feel as though it has written itself. Sometimes it feels so real that I think it has written me!

My leading characters leap into my head fully formed and demand that I give them the freedom to do whatever they wish. And that’s exactly what I do. I have written a crime mystery before, where I have changed the culprit half way through simply because the original character I had chosen as the guilty one, turned around and told me in no uncertain manner that he was innocent. Who can argue with a character stamping his feet inside your head?

  • Why did you decide to self-publish?

My traditional publishers (Simon & Schuster) treated me very well. My books sold well and I intended continuing in the traditional manner. But then I began to dream of taking back some of the control I had inevitably had to surrender to my publisher. I had no complaints, but most matters were no longer my choice and even the basic direction of my books was sometimes altered by them. Only one book a year is published traditionally of course, they chose covers, and with a small budget allotted (large budgets are kept strictly for the famous names and huge best-sellers) there was very little possibility for publicity or marketing. Eventually I decided that self-publishing would bring me vastly more pleasure, and renew all my freedoms., So that is what I chose.

Sadly there is still some stigma hanging over those who self-publish, as though they have all initially failed. This is most unjust. It may sometimes be true, of course, but usually it is not. I was offered the traditional path – accepted with pleasure – and then backed out. Self-publishing has become a great joy, although challenging – but it is the way I now wish to travel.

 

  • What advice would you give to people just starting to write, or considering self-publishing?

I don’t think I am in a position to advise anyone really, as I am still learning what I want to do myself. I suppose I would advise any prospective author to take the idea seriously – never to give up – and to re-write, re-write, and re-write again. Many new authors finish a book quickly and assume that is good enough. In the following years they inevitably regret having rushed the process. I think a measure of perfection should be attempted through endless polishing before going out to face the public. Beta readers can be extremely helpful in this.

  • Do you have any website/social media links you’d like to share?

My Amazon author’s page,

www.amazon.com/Barbara-Gaskell-Denvil/e/B005M8E3ZS/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

My website – and please do subscribe –

http://barbaragaskelldenvil.com/index.html

and my F/B author’s Page –

https://www.facebook.com/B.GaskellDenvil/?fref=ts

I should dearly like to meet you all on any or all of these sites.

 

– Fairweather is available now from Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Fair-Weather-Barbara-Gaskell-Denvil-ebook/dp/B01GBV40CU

and Amazon UK

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fair-Weather-Barbara-Gaskell-Denvil-ebook/dp/B01GBV40CU

 

– Thank you so much for having a chat with me today Barbara – I’m really looking forward to reading Fair Weather, and learning a bit more about Vespasian Fairweather and the heroines who accompany him in this story.

 

Barbara’s bio:

barbara 3Born in England, I grew up amongst artists and authors and started writing at a young age. I published numerous short stories and articles, and worked as an editor, book critic and reader for publishers and television companies. I broke off my literary career to spend many hot and colourful years sailing the Mediterranean and living in various different countries throughout the region.

When my partner died I needed a place of solace and came to live in rural Australia where I still live amongst the parrots and wallabies, writing constantly, for my solace has now become my passion.

With a delight in medieval history dating back to my youth, I now principally set my fiction in 15th century England. I also write fantasy, tending towards the dark and adult. Within these two genres, I now write full time.

http://barbaragaskelldenvil.com/index.html

November = National Novel Writing Month!

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The year draws to an end, and once again it’s time for the biggest event on the writer’s calendar (well, mine at least). This is the eighth year I’ve participated in Nanowrimo, though for the second time I’m rebelling, and working on my current historical novel. At 80,000 words, my aim it to have it edited ready to send out to beta readers by the end of the month  though the rate I’m going it will be lucky if it’s done before the end of the year! Editing has always been  a slower process for me, as I imagine it is for every writer (well – those who don’t edit as they go – I guess), and this time has been no different.

The month started out well. Despite the fact my opening scene was written only two months ago it seems to fit the story well, and needed little editing. The next few scenes were the same, and even when I found a few scenes that needed a little more work I still completed each one with the feeling of satisfaction – that maybe, just maybe, the words were finally forming the story they are meant to tell.

And then I hit Week 2. The scenes feel a little forced – I feel there is some important underlying thing that I’m missing, and no matter how much I edit and write and think and edit some more it’s not coming to me – this missing thing, this thing that will let the story flow, and not force it along…

So I’m tidying up those scenes – just a little – and moving on to the next scene, and the next. And hopefully by the end I will discover what it is those scenes need. And if I can’t find it – perhaps my beta readers will unlock the missing thing…

So I come to this mid-way point, having lost that feeling of satisfaction and achievement I felt at the beginning of the month, but plodding on none-the-less… always thinking about the story, about what it needs and where it’s going…