Research, Litfests and How to Make your Book Happen

antiquitiesSeveral months have gone by, and what have I been doing? I’m not sure, time goes so fast, but I have been researching my next novel – by doing a course in art crime and the illegal trade in antiquities – and it’s fascinating, if rather sad. I haven’t got to the art crime yet, but what I have learnt is that antiquities are stolen from historic sites in places like South America and Cambodia, to feed the appetites of rich collectors, which is a tragedy and travesty in many ways.

First, the items are now ‘out of context’, so even if they are subsequently recovered and returned to their country of origin, vital knowledge of their heritage has now been lost. Secondly, much of the money made in this illicit industry is made by the people at the top of the chain, when they sell the items to wealthy collectors, whereas the people on the ground (literally!) are often subsistence diggers who work for pitifully small amounts to feed their families.

It’s a fascinating, but difficult story, and I’m looking forward to learning more. Fortunately, nowadays, more museums and galleries are becoming aware of the need to be vigilent when receiving artefacts and art treasures. This is SO important, because while there is legislation in some countries, which goes some way towards limiting such trade, there is no international legislation or policing to protect such treasures.

The course I am doing is on FutureLearn – which is an amazing resource for a whole variety of online learning opportunities – from the power of colour to England in the time of Richard III. And the courses are free. Check it out.

Eventbrite banner for York Making your Book Happen eventChanging the subject, I’m running some writing workshops over the next few months. The next one is in York, on 13 March and is called Motivation & Moving Forward: how to make your book happen. It’s for writers with a work in progress, who want to complete, and are in need of help with motivation or practical issues. The last one was great fun, and what better place to have a writing workshop, than in lovely York.

Do come along if you’re in the york_night-writing-workshop-bingarea and the workshop interests you. Full details can be found here, and there are discounts available.

Speaking of great places to go, the next workshop is in equally lovely Stratford-upon-Avon, on 25 March, and is on writing for magazines – both non-fiction & short stories. You can find out more here.

Going back to York, for a minute, the writing workshop is three days before the York Literature Festival – also worth checking out if you’re in the area. In fact, with so many litfests (one in Stratford-upon-Avon in April, and one in Hawkesbury Upton, near Bath also in April – I’m reading at that one), it’s a wonder I’ll have any time to do any writing at all…

Hawkesbury Upton LitFest web page

The Floozy in the Park: history, hats and small islands

The Floozy in the Park by Ellie StevensonAt last! My third novel (ebook version) is finally available.

You can find it on Amazon.

But what’s it about, you ask? Oh, all the usual things, mystery, history and the occasional ghost. We also have an unsolved murder.

But rather than tell you all about it, read my interview with Jane Davis (author) on her blog.

And if you have any questions, please get in touch below.

Obea (Sark)

My Counterfeit Self: an interview with Jane Davis on her latest novel

Today, I’d like to welcome Jane Davis. Jane Davis is the author of seven novels. Her debut, Half-truths and White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award and was described by Joanne Harris as ‘A story of secrets, lies, grief and, ultimately, redemption, charmingly handled by this very promising new writer.’

Six further novels have earned her a loyal fan base and widespread praise. Her 2016 novel, An Unknown Woman won Writing Magazine’s Self-Published Book of the Year Award. Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.

Her latest book, My Counterfeit Selfis launched tomorrow (£2.99/$3.99) but get it today at a special pre-order price of £99p/$99c!

Completely gripping, excellently written and so skilfully put together, I can’t recommend My Counterfeit Self highly enough. Isabel Wolff, author of Ghostwritten.

For more on the novel and links to her work, please see the end of this post.

Now, Jane answers some questions.

What’s your writing style and how do you differentiate your writing from other fellow writers?
I love this question. It gives the impression that the writing arrives fully formed, when in fact the version the reader sees is an illusion.

I have only three rules. Whatever my subject-matter, the end-product must be honest, credible and authentic. The hallmarks of my books are multiple points of view and non-linear timelines. I’m excited by cause and effect and unconventionality in all its forms. I like to write about big subjects and give my characters almost impossible moral dilemmas.

Which of your personal qualities lend themselves to writing?
I come from a large family where the rule was that it was rude to interrupt, so I guess I’ve become a listener and a keen observer. As someone who never has the right words to say at the right time and who plays conversations over and over in her mind (sometime months after they take place), it’s deeply satisfying to be able to put words into characters’ mouths.

How do you go about writing scenes which you know will be particularly challenging?
I’m sure every book or screenplay contains a scene that the author has approached with dread. I know I do! I remember reading that for Anthony McCarten, who wrote the script of The Theory of Everything, it was the one in which Stephen and Jane Hawking acknowledged that their marriage had come to an end. Since Stephen could say very little, he didn’t think it was fair to allow Jane to use words as weapons. McCarten spoke about the need to convey great emotion in very few words. That’s really my first rule of thumb: keep it simple.

Let me be totally upfront: I hate writing sex scenes. There are so many holes you can fall down. This article explains just some of them. And if a writer as experienced as Ben Okri can win the bad sex in fiction award, then what chance do I have? But An Unchoreographed Life tells the story of a ballerina who turns to prostitution when she becomes a single mother, so I do like to set myself challenges.

In the case of These Fragile Things, I chose to write about near-death experience and religious visions. My sister’s advice was that no one but Graham Greene should attempt to write about religion, but it was the book I didn’t seem to be able to avoid writing. It was part of my DNA. My grandfather’s conversion to the Catholic faith shaped my father’s childhood and my own. It was important to me to tackle everything with sensitivity and I chose to have each character representing a distinct point of view, and each believing absolutely in his or her stand-point.

Often, I have to step outside my own experience. I hope that by the time the need arises, I will know my character well enough that he or she can show me the way. In A Funeral for an Owl, I had my character Shamayal, a fourteen-year-old mixed race boy, face the gang members he’s desperately been trying to avoid. To find out how well I did writing my first fight scene, I had it analysed.

Your novels are all very different – which readers like, but publishers are rather dubious about. Have you ever been asked to write something ‘similar’ to your award-winning debut?
Readers often write to me wanting to know what happens next. They seem particularly interested in my secondary characters. With These Fragile Things, they fell in love with Miranda, my main character’s school-friend who is expelled for challenging her head mistress. With An Unchoreographed Life, readers already want to know more about Jean-Francois, one of Alison’s former dance partners. My philosophy is to ‘arrive late, get out early’. If I don’t leave the reader wanting more, I haven’t done my job.

What’s the story behind your latest release?
It’s the story of a radical poet and political activist called Lucy Forrester, who’s a cross between Edith Sitwell and Vivienne Westwood. Having been anti-establishment all of her life, she’s horrified to find that she’s been featured on the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list. To be honest, the idea of writing about the life of a poet came directly from reader reviews. Several comments that my prose was like poetry. I had no idea if I could actually write poetry but this gave me confidence that I might be able to convince readers that I could see the world as a poet does.

How do you manage time within a novel that spans sixty years?Jane Davis author
When I was writing I Stopped Time, I set up timelines for the twentieth century. I added everything from news stories to the books people were reading to the weather. Now, whenever I write a book, I grab the data from the decades it covers and slot my tailored research into place. For My Counterfeit Self, that included details from biographies of poets, literary critics, even a dress designer. Then, because I like cause and effect to show throughout the book, I tend to deconstruct the timeline. Memories don’t arrive in chronological order. They might show up like photographs or postcards, or sometimes even like unwelcome guests. This way, the reader builds a gradual picture of who the angry old lady we meet in the first chapter is, and what made her that way. The story comes together like a mosaic.

You confess to loving biographies. How much has this influenced your fiction?
The novel is such an ideal medium for ‘big subjects’ because it’s the only narrative form that transports the reader directly inside characters’ heads. By exploring an issue from the standpoint of one or two individuals, giving it context, providing motive, showing cause and effect, we humanise it. Biography also does that, but a biographer has a responsibility to his subjects in a way that a novelist doesn’t. I think it’s fair to say that you can be freer with the truth in fiction. At the same time, I want my fiction to feel real. I want readers to believe that Lucy Forrester exists!

In the book, you talk about success coming at a price, as if another kind of bargain has been struck. Is this a reflection of how you feel about your experience of winning the Daily Mail First Novel Award?
Obviously, it’s unavoidable for a writer to draw on their own experience. I received several reviews that suggested Half-truths and White Lies didn’t deserve to win, that the result was a fix, or that I must have been related to the judges. I wanted to say to those people, ‘I didn’t enter with any expectation of winning.’ You see, I entered out of sheer frustration. I had an agent but my manuscript had been sitting in her in-tray for six months.

While I was writing My Counterfeit Self, I saw the reaction to Sarah Howes’ win of the TS Eliot Award for her debut collection, Loop of Jade. Even at the awards ceremony, a journalist overheard the comment, “I wonder how long it will be before everyone begins to hate her.” As it turned out, the answer was ‘Not Long’. Private Eye questioned the judging, asking if the award was given “for extra-poetic reasons?” Was it because she was a “young woman with a dual Anglo-Chinese heritage” and could be seen as “a more presentable ambassador for poetry than the distinguished grumpy old men she saw off”.

There’s always a sense of giving with one hand and taking away with the other, ignoring the fact that at the centre of the controversy is someone vulnerable and real.

My Counterfeit Self is an intriguing title. What does it mean to you?
Lucy’s parents behave appallingly and in such a way that she is freed from any feeling of obligation to live up to their expectations. She moves out of the family home and decamps to bohemian Soho. In distancing herself from her parents she adopts a new personality that she hides behind. Although she insists that she lays herself bare in her poetry, it’s keeping secrets from those who love her most that is her undoing.

My Counterfeit Self: from the award-winning author of Half-truths and White Lies, an emotional story of hidden identities, complicated passions and tangled truths.

MORE ON MY COUNTERFEIT SELF

A compelling portrayal of the bohemian life of an activist poet, the men she loves, and the issues she fights for. Eleanor Steele

A rose garden. A woman with white hair. An embossed envelope from the palace.

Lucy Forrester, for services to literature, you are nominated for a New Year’s Honour.

Her hands shake. But it’s not excitement. It’s rage.

For five decades, she’s performed angry poems, attacked government policy on everything from Suez to Trident, chained herself to embassy railings, marched, chanted and held placards high.

Lucy knows who she is. Rebel, activist, word-wielder, thorn in the side of the establishment. Not a national bloody treasure.

Whatever this is – a parting gesture, a final act of revenge, or the cruellest of jokes – it can only be the work of one man. Dominic Marchmont, outspoken literary critic and her on/off lover of fifty years, whose funeral begins in under an hour.

Perhaps, suggests husband Ralph, the invitation isn’t the insult it seems? What if Dominic – the man they both loved – has left her an opportunity?

ABOUT JANE
Jane lives with her Formula 1 obsessed, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she is not writing, you may spot Jane disappearing up the side of a mountain with a camera in hand.

START HERE

Sign up to Jane’s newsletter for a free copy of I Stopped Time.

All on Board at the AsparaWriting Festival, Evesham

Heather Wastie, Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn & Fergus McGonigal

Heather Wastie, Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn & Fergus McGonigal

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of reading at the Aspara Writing Festival in Evesham, as part of the Open Mic event.

It was a great afternoon, with an eclectic mix of poetry and prose, with readings ranging from sad to humorous and everything in between.

Polly Robinson

Polly Robinson

Readers included J J Franklin, Debbie Young, David Penny, Alan Durham, Polly Robinson and many more. Here are a few images to give you a taste of the event and the great line up.

As well as a selection of excellent pieces we were lucky to enjoy fantastic work from Worcestershire’s poet laureates – incoming and outgoing, Heather Wastie and Fergus McGonigal.

David Penny

David Penny

Thanks to all for a wonderful time, and especially to coordinator, Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn – I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Jenny Heap

Jenny Heap

Ellie Stevenson

Ellie Stevenson

Alan Durham

Alan Durham

Debbie Young

Debbie Young

Tim Stavert

Tim Stavert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to share this post on Twitter? Here’s a suggested tweet for your timeline:

#thehauntedhistorian attends #AsparaWritingFestival, hears some great writers & meets 2 Worcestershire poet laureates


Article written by Ellie Stevenson, author.
This article is copyrighted material. A brief extract, including a link to this site can be quoted but the article must not be reproduced in full anywhere without the author’s written permission.

Books, ships and of course a SALE

Hi everyone

Just a quick message to let you know there’s currently a SALE on Ship of Haunts: the other Titanic story.

Now at 99p/$1.55 until the end of 29 May.

So don’t miss out. Get your ebook copy from Amazon and enjoy some bank holiday (or other) reading!

Warning: this is a complex, time crossing novel with various strands. Are you up to the challenge?!

To learn more about the book see Pinterest: http://bit.ly/1dqrM48

What People Have Said

‘original’, ‘hard to put down’ and ‘I recommend this book to people who love a book with a sense of history or who have a creative imagination.’ (Reenie’s Book Blog)

‘Even those who don’t really go for ghosts and the supernatural will enjoy this book because the characters are so captivating, and the historical events are well described and conform to what we know from history. A thoroughly enjoyable book!’ (V. Salvemini, Amazon Review)

About Ship of Haunts

Carrin Smith remembers a past life – on Titanic. And now she’s being stalked by a ghost from the ship.

Lily the ghost is searching for her cousin. She’s crossed time to find Lucie, but now time is running out.

One hundred years after Titanic sank, Carrin’s shipmates are gathered together to remember the ship. But who can she trust – and can she even trust herself?

For Carrin has a terrible secret, but at least Lily is on her side… Or so she thinks…

From the heat of the harsh Australian sun to the darkest depths of the ocean floor, Ship of Haunts is a novel of conflicts. Carrin is scared and Lily is desperate, both of them in a race against time. Will they manage to make it through, including surviving the vengeful Mad?

Get your Copy Here

http://amzn.to/18TtTdH (UK)

http://amzn.to/1emctJY (US)

Article written by Ellie Stevenson, author.Ellie Stevenson, author

This article is copyrighted material. Brief extracts including a link to this site can be quoted but the article must not be reproduced in full anywhere without the author’s written permission.

Start as you mean to go on: writing first lines

laptopI’ve recently started my third novel (14,000 words so far), and that got me thinking about writing first lines. About why they mattered, and what they meant, and also what makes a good first line.

Why should you care what your first line is?

You want to make an impact – a great first line will hook people in and get them interested, make them read on.

It can also help establish a voice – maybe the voice of the main character, or, if your novel is a crime novel, perhaps that of the killer or victim.

‘Five weeks after Kirsten Waller’s body was found in a clifftop cottage in Cornwall, Grace Hobden cleared away the lunch, checked to make sure her three children were playing on the climbing frame at the bottom of the garden, then went indoors to murder her husband.’ (Joanna Hines, The Murder Bird, Pocket Books, 2007)

The above tells us that Grace Hobden, despite apparently planning murder, still cared for her children and was tidy and meticulous. In that one first line we are already getting to know Grace.

Strong first lines can sometimes surprise; make the reader stop and think and wonder Why?

‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ (George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Penguin Classics, 2013).

And sometimes first lines contain the whole story – its essence, its meaning, or give a subtle hint of the ending. Or maybe not so subtle.

I’m cheating here because in the example below, technically, there is more than one line. But the lines are short so maybe that’s okay. In Ship of Haunts, my first novel, Carrin starts off saying, ‘Not every girl gets stalked by a ghost. Or haunted by a ship. The ghost was called Lily but the ship came first. It always did. The ship was Titanic. I drowned on that ship.’

Here, these lines tell us that Titanic is key to the novel, that Titanic sank (we all know that!) and that Carrin died on the ship. But how did she die if she’s telling the story?

First lines can also set the style of the novel – serious, humorous, etc. Here, for example:

bookshelves2‘I turned the Chrysler onto the Florida Turnpike with Rollo Kramer’s headless body in the trunk, and all the time I’m thinking I should have put some plastic down.’ Victor Gischler, Gun Monkeys, Dell Publishing, 2003). Obviously a grim theme, but with a touch of humour, nevertheless.

Writer Francine Prose says that the first line has two roles: to get your attention; and to transmit all the key aspects of the novel – emotion, language and theme. Being a mystery writer, she says, requires the writer to analyse every word in that first sentence and make it work, make it count and have meaning.

Quite a tall order.

Some first lines just invite us to read on.

‘Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write. (Ruth Rendell, A Judgement in Stone). A great writer and a great loss.

‘In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.’ (Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter) You want to ask why they were always together.

‘It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.’ (Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar) Grim, but memorable.

Of course, in the end, your first line, whatever it may be, has only to be right and a good fit for your work, and one you’re happy with. But, in my opinion, it should be simple, striking and lead you into the next phase of the story.

But, don’t agonise so much over your first line that you never get to your second and your third. Your job is to write; perfection comes later…

Sources

Bunting, Joe. 7 Keys To Write the Perfect First Line of a Novel.

Reading Exercise: Top 10 Opening Lines of Mystery Novels on Los Angeles Mystery: Casebook of an Asian American Detective

By the way, the Hawkesbury LitFest in April was great – lots of writers, lots of readers, lots of fun. Those who missed it can always attend the August Hawkesbury Horticultural Show, where as well as fruit, flowers and veg, there will be readings from authors. Pray for good weather!

Article written by Ellie Stevenson, author.Ellie Stevenson, author

This article is copyrighted material. Brief extracts including a link to this site can be quoted but the article must not be reproduced in full anywhere without the author’s written permission.

Want to share this post on Twitter? Here’s a suggested tweet for your timeline:

#thehauntedhistorian Beginning your #novel How to write a great first line. http://bit.ly/1RXZYnb #amwriting