We’re delighted to welcome Gilly at Novel Nights on September 18th to talk about writing a page-turner.
Gilly Macmillan is the New York Times bestselling author of What She Knew (previously published as Burnt Paper Sky) and The Perfect Girl. Her third novel, Odd Child Out, will be published in October 2017.
Gilly is Edgar Award nominated and an International Thriller Writers Award finalist. Gilly’s books are published in over twenty languages and have appeared on the New York Times, Globe & Mail and Der Spiegel bestseller lists.
Gilly lives in Bristol, UK with her husband, three children and two dogs and writes full time. She’s currently working on her fourth novel.
Dan’s memoir, Me, Myself and Eye has five star reviews on Amazon. Not bad for someone who says he never wants to write another book. The main thing you need to know is that it is very very funny.
Novel Nights has invited Dan to talk about his creative journey, working with Bristol publisher, Tangent Books, crowdfunding the funds for his book, how to produce an audio book and how he uses social media to keep readers buying and reviewing his book on Amazon.
Accompanied by an engaging slideshow and with useful tips and insights, Dan’s talk and Q and A promises to be an entertaining and informative journey. So, if you’ve ever considered assisted publishing, self-publishing or wondered about how to make good use of social media as a writer come along.
The event is on Monday July 24th and it starts earlier than usual, at 19.30pm.
Writers who are reading their work at Novel Nights. Jonathan Pinnock, Claire Snook and Mark Lewis.
Jonathan Pinnock is the author of the novel MRS DARCY VERSUS THE ALIENS (Proxima, 2011), the Scott Prize-winning short story collection DOT DASH (Salt, 2012), the bio-historico-musicological-memoir thing TAKE IT COOL (Two Ravens Press, 2014), the poetry collection LOVE AND LOSS AND OTHER IMPORTANT STUFF (Silhouette Press, 2017) and the forthcoming short story collection DIP FLASH (Cultured Llama, 2018). He also writes poetry from time to time. He blogs at www.jonathanpinnock.com and tweets as @jonpinnock.
Mark Lewis has had short stories and flash fiction widely published in the independent press, including in the British Fantasy Society Journal, Theaker’s Quarterly and Wordland as well as a number of themed anthologies. He has also had poetry published and mini pantomimes performed. He used to write more dystopian fiction but has grown disillusioned with dystopias as they become increasingly like kitchen sink realism. He has three novels on the go, including this one, Disintegration.
Claire Snook: I’m embarking on a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester from September 2017, and I’m so excited. I’m going to be able to study the things I love: people, language, dancing, stories and all the things in between.
It seems that Novel Nights couldn’t have chosen a better time to have a dedicated session on short fiction, right before National Writing Day (21st June), Flash Fiction Day (24th June), and the first-ever Flash Fiction Festival in Bath (24th-25th June).
Bristol is renowned for its short fiction writers, and the readers at the Novel Nights Short Fiction evening certainly highlighted this.
The first to read was Nicola Keller from Bristol, who mostly writes for children and young adults, but is currently writing a historical novel. She presented a short extract of the work, which is set in the early 16th century Reformation Europe.
Scarlet Sangster is 22 years old and studying for a masters in creative writing at Bath Spa University. She read a piece from her novel in progress, Among the Fields of Daisies, told from the perspective of an 11-year-old child in the process of developing anorexia. The writing is in second person and shows a very strong child’s voice. Scarlet’s aim, as she poignantly pointed out, is to break the stigma that eating disorders are a choice.
Beth Mann, a graduate with an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University, read an opening of a short story exploring the effects of PTSD on German soldiers in World War One. It’s a very particular subject for which she’s done lots of research into German folklore.
The last reader for the evening was Jude Higgins, who has been widely published in various magazines and anthologies, and runs short story events to cure her “addiction to shorts”, as she puts it. Jude had her debut flash fiction pamphlet The Chemist’s House recently, from which she read a story. All of the stories in the collection are set in Wales in the middle of the last century.
The second part of the evening was reserved for the guest speaker, the award-winning writer, journalist and editor of A3 Review, KM Elkes. He started off the discussion on short fiction with a guitar tuning analogy, pointing out that to create something harmonious, many elements need to come together.
His key lessons were delightfully succinct:
Openings point to the need to grab people and get the mood going from the start, but with a soft touch that is appropriate to the story.
Another element to keep in mind when writing short fiction is pace: speeding up through language, when characters need it, and/or sometimes dwelling to bring home a different aspect.
All textbooks say that physical description doesn’t make a character, but what does? Here Ken talked about characters getting developed through dialogue and the way they interact with other characters.
Writing good dialogue is half the battle of writing well in general. Ken advised that what really matters is what’s not said in the words, rather than what is; the lesson being that dialogue is more than an exchange of information – it’s an indicator of mood.
To illustrate the points, Ken followed each up with a story – examples that were vastly enjoyed by the audience.
In the Q&A, many interesting questions were raised. A member of the audience asked for tips on developing your writing voice and building confidence in your writing. Ken keenly explained his experience of writing various characters, which can help with figuring out your own themes and that style and tone need practice and can be influenced by what we read. He pointed out that confidence comes from making mistakes.
To the question of how to know when a story isn’t working, Ken’s advice was to write hot and edit cold. He said that practice is most important and that craft has a muscle memory. For those situations of despair and not knowing, Ken recommended trying to rewrite from a different perspective, moving away from the story for a while and perhaps letting someone else read it, but not to give up on it.
The end conveniently ended with a talk about endings, and how to end a story well. Ken’s advice to fellow writers was to go back to the beginning of the story and see what has changed. He admitted that it is one of the most difficult elements to writing a story, with no secret formula to it, and he recommended ending on a particular image and figuring out what resonates.
His general advice to the audience was to aim beyond competence in order to write well.
As always, it was a delightful and relaxed evening full of tangible tips on all things flash fiction.
The next session is planned on 24th July to discuss DIY Making a Book with Dan Jeffries. For tickets, please visit: www.novelnights.co.uk.
National Flash Fiction Day is on 24th June 2017. Calum Kerr, writer, editor and lecturer, created a day for flash fiction back in 2012 and like a lightning bolt it has transformed the fiction landscape, celebrating very short stories.
The South West is a hotspot for flash activities with Bristol hosting the launch of the National Flash Fiction anthology for the last couple of years. This year the anthology is being launched at the Bath Flash Fiction Festival, the UK’s first festival devoted to the form.
Entries are open for Flash Flood journal between 15th June – 22nd 2017. This competition is organised by National Flash Fiction Day. They want your best flash fictions of less than 500 words. Prize – your story published on the flash fiction blog
Litro Magazine has a rolling submission programme. Free entry
National Flash Fiction Day – competition with prize of publication in annual anthology, 100 word – it also lists magazines and online outlets where you can submit
Ambit – up to 1,000 words, submission fee £6. “We’re very enthusiastic about flash and very short fiction too which is under 1000 words that have not been published elsewhere including blogs and internet. Our portal opens twice a year on 1st of February and 1st of September”
Flash MagazineThe International Short-Short Story Magazine,– accepts stories up to 360 words
As guest speaker for Novel Nights on June 19th, Ken will discuss short fiction and give advice about getting a collection together.
KM Elkes is an award-winning writer and journalist. His work has won or been placed in a number of international writing competitions including the Fish flash fiction award, the Bridport Prize, Aesthetica, Labello Press, Bath Short Story Award and the Prolitzer Prize.
His stories appear on school curriculums in the US, Hong Kong and Canada and have been published in nearly 20 anthologies. He is currently Editor of the A3 Review Magazine. The A3 Review is a unique bi-annual arts magazine that unfolds like a map and contains short fiction, poetry and artwork. Content is provided by winners of a monthly themed contest.
Beth Mann graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University in 2015. She enjoys writing fiction that explores history, myth, and the spaces in between. Several of her short stories have been published online and in print, and she is currently working on a novel set in 19th-century Germany.
Jude Higgins has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. Her flash fiction is published in National Flash Fiction Day Anthologies, Great Jones Street, The Nottingham Review, Flash Frontier, Halo and Severine magazines among other places. In recent years she has won or been placed in several flash fiction contests. Her debut flash fiction pamphlet, ‘The Chemist’s House’ is published by V. Press. She runs the Bath Flash Fiction Award and is Director of the Flash Fiction Festival, taking place in Bath 24/25 June.
Scarlett Sangster is 22 years old, currently living in her hometown in Somerset, and studying for a masters in creative writing at Bath Spa University.
My current writing is in children’s and young adult fiction, giving a voice to those battling with those learning difficulties and mental health issues which I feel qualified to address. I write in the hope that both my children’s books and my novel will reach widely enough to affect some positive changes in attitude toward these issues.It is an extract from my novel-in-progress Among the Fields of Daisies.
Nicola Keller is from Bristol. Mostly she writes for children and Young Adults, but is currently writing a historical novel, told through the voices of many characters, in short stories and flash fiction. This is one of them and comes early in the collection.
A review of May’s Novel Nights by Karla Neblett. Karla is writing a novel about families on the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa.
Novel Nights is an inspiring event to attend for any writer, beginner or seasoned. Held in The Square Club at The Berkeley Hotel just off Park Street, Bristol, the venue is everything you would expect with its pom-pom ball lightshades, dickie bowed barmen and feature wall projecting nature videos of the countryside; pure sophistofunk!
The evening started with three readers. The quirky and comical, Canadian Gillian Best read from her recently published novel, The Last Wave, in which she has created a world of texture and senses through unusually captured details. She described her work as a “Love story with the sea”. Sally Hare, elegant and engaging, read from her novel in progress, Functional, where she masterfully revealed nuances in conversation and coincidental mannerisms. Sophie Holland was laid back in stance, but infectious in passion about her subject, puberphonia, which she is exploring in Stephen, her soon to be completed novel.
Listening to three writers, so different in style, was a great way of picking up ideas for my own writing and so I had already decided to attend the next Novel Nights by the end of the first half.
In the second half, the evening’s guests, Martine McDonagh and Stephen May, described themselves as Simon and Garfunkel. Their books are released the same week and so they decided to tour together. Both authors read with confidence and clarity, a lesson to be heeded by the shy writers amongst us.
Martine read from two novels. After Phoenix explores the death of a teenage boy from his mother’s point of view. She bought the motorbike he crashed on and it’s set in Bristol in the heatwave of 1976. Her latest novel, Narcissism for Beginners is about twenty-one year old, Sonny, a “fuck up” from LA who is searching for his mother after escaping his father, the guru of a cult, who had kidnapped him as a child, but has now died. The sardonic, confident tone of Sonny is, uncannily, authentic. Later, Martine explained how she arrived at her protagonist’s voice, she had lived in LA briefly where she spent time listening to how young people spoke, due to the novel’s dark themes she knew it was important for Sonny to have a sense of humour and so she listened to David Sedaris. Martine explained that she could hear Sonny’s voice before she started writing.
Stephen read from Stronger Than Skin. The gripping story of a middle-aged man who committed a crime as a teenager and got away with it. One evening as the protagonist cycles home from work he sees the police on his doorstep talking to his wife and cycles straight past knowing he has to keep a step ahead of their enquiries to evade imprisonment. This is a novel with a gritty tone, fast paced energy and unique observations.
The audience was invited to ask questions. After a timid start the questions flowed as much as the wine (for those wondering, the tasty house red was about a fiver).
The authors were asked about their use of first person. Martine explained how she enjoyed the narrow viewpoint and the power of restricting what the reader knows, especially in the case of a mentally ill character. However, she admitted playing with point of view until one felt right. Stephen said he felt like a “punk rock guitarist, limited by a range of chords which he must deploy with finesse”, he said voice was important and although he has third person elements in his novels he’s been happiest in first person so far.
Asked about the theme of family being a loaded gun, Martine advised writers to tread carefully when writing about personal family circumstances. Stephen advised being ruthless, but kind. He pointed out that “every family has enough intrigue to write a story” and to remove yourself from your own family in order to write, and added that you have a duty to push yourself to write as well as possible. Martine extended the thought, adding “real life doesn’t present well in a novel, you have to mould it into a piece of art”.
On offending family, Stephen advised not to worry, family members might not read your work and if they do, often won’t recognise themselves. Martine felt a true narcissist would not recognise him or her self, but you have to be careful.
When discussing voice, Stephen highlighted there being no “perfect voice” for any type of person, if a writer can imagine a voice or event, it’s likely happened and to write what you know. Martine advised voice can be easier to find if a character is distant from the writer.
In order to get characters talking, Martine advised choosing a piece of text and rewriting it, romping the voice up to eleven and then tone it back down to its appropriate level. Stephen advised finding a text and repeating its structure, but changing the slang. Slang is the one thing that dates a piece quickly. Once they have the voice, a writer can go where they want.
In terms of planning, Stephen said he has things he wants to write about, he then searches for a story and comes up with an ending quickly so it’s a matter of getting to the end. Martine always writes a long hand first draft before working on plot and character.
Asked how to identify whether a character is working, Stephen said writers should trust intuition, not to get attached to characters and to lose characters that aren’t working. Martine questioned the point of a character, each should affect the plot, if there is no character development they should be removed.
Fittingly, the final question raised the topic of editors. Stephen explained the benefits of a good editor, but reminded the audience that the writer is the expert of their work. Martine differentiated the advantages of agents and copy editors and how writers can learn from both by developing objectivity when assessing their own work.
Martine and Stephen ended the questions by agreeing that a writer learns with each novel written which is why “writing is brilliant”.
Director, Grace Palmer, closed the evening informing that the next Novel Nights event will take place on June 19th at The Square Club with a focus on short fiction and how to compose short story anthologies. Guest speaker is short story writer and editor, KM Elkes
Novelists and creative writing tutors, Martine McDonagh and Stephen May, will discuss their latest novels and how they approach writing about family relationships at Novel Nights. With seven novels between them and years of experience of helping other writers with their work this event promises to be insightful and interesting.
Martine McDonagh‘s third novel, Narcissism for Beginners, was published in March 2017. Martine worked for 30 years as an artist manager in the music business (so knows a thing or two about narcissism) and devised and runs the MA Creative Writing & Publishing at West Dean College in Sussex. She has also worked as an editor, proofreader and script consultant. Martine grew up in Bristol and her second novel, After Phoenix, is set there.
Stephen May was born in 1964 and didn’t begin writing seriously until his 40s. His first novel TAG was longlisted for Wales Book of The Year and won the Media Wales Reader’s Prize. His second, Life! Death! Prizes! was shortlisted for the 2012 Costa Novel Award and The Guardian Not The Booker Prize. His third novel Wake Up Happy Every Day was published in 2014 and his latest Stronger Than Skin is published by Sandstone Press in March 2017. Stephen has worked as a storyliner for television soap opera, written two textbooks on creative writing and collaborates on performance pieces with theatre-makers, artists, film-makers, musicians and dancers.
The first part of the evening will consist of readings of novel extracts where writers are exploring family themes.
Readers: Gillian Best, Sally Hare and Sophie Holland
Gillian Best is a writer, swimmer, and seaside enthusiast. She has won the Bronwen Wallace Award for Short Fiction, took second place in Unbound Press’s Best Novel competition, was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize International Creative Writing Competition, longlisted for the WriteIdea Short Story Prize (2014), and shortlisted for Wasafiri’s New Writing Prize. Originally from Waterloo, Canada, she now lives in Bristol.She will read from her novel, The Last Wave, published by Freight Books earlier this year.
Sally Hare completed the MA in Creative Writing with distinction at Bath Spa ten years ago. She mainly writes extended fiction but also enjoys penning short stories. She has had extracts and pieces published in several anthologies including Spring, Unchained and Turning the Tide, and has read her work at both Bath and Bristol Literature Festivals as well as anywhere else that will have her. Sally is a freelance writer, editor and proofreader working as the Wordshoveller, and also facilitates a creative writing group for adults with Asperger Syndrome. Sally will read from her novel in progress – Functional.
Sophie Holland has had her short plays performed at the Rondo Theatre in Bath and Neath Little Theatre. She has won awards for her flash fiction (Quick Fictions, Oxford 2016), short stories (Arkbound runner-up 2016) and short plays (Sandalle 2015). She recently graduated from Oxford Brookes with an MA in Creative Writing with distinction.
She works in Bristol as a Speech and Language Therapist specialising in adults with voice disorders, and has treated a number of people with the unusual diagnosis of puberphonia, where the male voice does not break in puberty.
This is the case for her protagonist Stephen, and the novel asks questions about what we say and what we don’t say, and the various powers of language and of silence. ‘Stephen’ (working title) is her first novel and is almost finished.
Editor of the arts review blog, Bristol Eye, Ivana Galapceva, blogged about April’s Novel Nights this month. Her reviews on art, theatre and culture can be found on Bristol Eye
Here is her review in full:
Novel Nights with Bristol-based publishers Tangent Books
Novel Nights is a series of monthly literary events at The Square Club. Each month features readings by budding local writers and chairs industry speakers. This month attendees had the pleasure of getting acquainted with three writers: Kevin Henney, Suzanne McConaghy, and Gavin Watkins.
Suzanne McConaghy has had many educational resources published and won the publisher’s Diamond award for French and Spanish fiction in 2015 and their Outstanding Author Award 2016. She has a middle-grade novel in English out to agents, is revising an adult thriller set in Colombia and has begun a dystopian story, working title ‘Takeover’. This is a young adult novel set in a dystopian world only a few years from now, and for Novel Nights she read from her chapter 1.
Kevin Henney writes shorts and flashes and drabbles of fiction, which have appeared online. His stories have been published in literary magazines and anthologies. He organises the BristolFlash events for National Flash Fiction Day and is involved in the organisation of the Bristol Festival of Literature. He presented his short story The Jar over the Edge.
Gavin Watkins is a Bristol-based writer, inventor, poet, engineer, artist, baker, runner and brewer of exotic wines. He is a member of the Bristol Writers Group, and a committee member of the Bristol Festival of Literature. He has had short stories published in local anthologies, and his own zines. His debut novel The Ultimate Career Move – a pop music conspiracy novel – is available from Tangent Books and Amazon. He read an excerpt from his book for Novel Nights.
The second part of the evening featured Richard Jones as a guest speaker, who is the brains behind the Bristol-based publishers Tangent Books. Tangent publishes titles as diverse as the Bristol Short Story Prize anthologies, Banksy’s Bristol, as well as short story collections. Their list is divided thematically into Art, Bristol and Books and their list includes memoir, fiction and poetry.
In his words, Tangent Books publishes radical literature, celebrating Bristol’s counterculture by giving voice to unknown authors.
Richard is a regular at the London Book Fair and this year took notes especially for the Novel Nights audience.
He talked about the evolution of independent publishing from vanity publishing to self-publishing to ultimately getting the status of independent publishing.
Raising the question over to the audience of why one needs a publisher, a discussion opened up around the need of endorsement by a mainstream publisher, the validation, and the quality control process – all very legitimate and valid reasons for one to aspire getting an agent and a publisher.
Leaning on empirical evidence that shows there is a different route for writers, Richard talked about self-publishing or more specifically the Kindle Direct Publishing by Amazon, and the fantastic benefits that authors get when they pursue this path. He gave specific examples of authors’ successes (Adam Croft) and emphasized that unlike traditional publishers Amazon reacts really quickly to what is doing well.
Authors who choose to publish this way regard themselves as the CEOs of their own company and work on their writing with an entrepreneurial spirit and flare.
Richard emphasised the distinction between independent publishers and independent publishing. Amazon is not only a shop, but also a publisher with a massive distribution network so that anyone in the world can access your book. Authors who self-publish are asked to adhere to the highest professional standards; employing copy editors, development editors, a team of proof readers. Richard stressed the notion of writers investing in their work, just as photographers would invest in their kit.
There was also a mention of the opportunities for audio books describing it as a massive market that is largely untouched.
It was interesting to hear the opinions of the audience and to discuss Amazon as both an opportunity for authors and a threat to publishers – quite a powerful dichotomy.
Richard Jones provided invaluable insights into publishing trends and initiated an open discussion about publishing. It was an interesting evening giving authors lots of food for thought.
There was also a mention of the opportunities for audio books describing it as a massive market that is largely untouched.
The next Novel Nights is on May 31st with the theme of ‘Writing on Family’. Already confirmed speakers include Stephen May and Martine McDonagh, both MA lecturers and novelists.
Ever since I’ve been writing novels I’ve been searching for help with this mammoth task, wanting to steep myself in craft and learn all I can from other writers. I’ve gained a lot from listening to guests at Novel Nights over the last three years and my writing group, but I’m still hopeful surely, there must be a secret that, once cracked, could lead to publishing nirvana.
Now I’m studying on my Creative Writing MA at Bath Spa University our tutors tell us, ‘there are no rules.’ Except for the ones we break, obviously.
Here’s a short round up of my favourite how-to books on technique taken from the many on my shelves.
Monkeys with Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas
This is a dense text that needs to be read slowly, like an essay, with highlighting tabs to hand. Thomas teaches creative writing at the University of Kent and the text is full of helpful advice for writers. The first part of the book is called theory and will help you understand the difference between narration, plot and story-telling, how events need to be shaped to be compelling and gives examples of how to subvert basic plots.
Thomas references a huge amount of literature to back up her points and questions hypotheses which make Monkeys with Typewriters an intellectually honest read. She provides a very useful story matrix that she uses with her students to generate ideas for their novels.
The second part of the book deals with practice. There’s a whole chapter devoted to, ‘Writing a good sentence,’ which goes beyond the usual advice of deleting adverbs or weasel words. She discusses the differences between minimalist and ‘expansive writing’ and thoughtfully challenges assumptions on minimalism. I found some of the book’s exercises particularly useful including finding a ‘seed word’ for your novel to energise it.
This book is the sort of thing you can keep at your bedside. It’s thoughtful encouraging style and will help you dive deeper into your writing, and provides gentle encouragement.Solutions for writers by Sol Stein.
2.Solutions for Writers by Sol Stein.
This writer’s handbook gives examples of how you can improve your writing, and starts with questioning your responsibility to your readers. Chapters worth reading include ‘The Secrets of Good Dialogue’, What is unique about the book is that Stein gives an example of poor writing and then an example of an improved version. Stein has edited authors such as Dylan Thomas, James Baldwin and W.H Auden. The only downside of the book is the tiny font.
3. Write Great Fiction: Revision & Self-Editing & Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell
If you’re looking for something more didactic with easy to follow headings, bullet points, well laid out text and lots of short exercises then try James Scott Bell. He writes Write Great Fiction series of books; useful to have next to your laptop. Whilst most of his examples come from the commercial end of the publishing market there are many basic principles which will be helpful to all writers.
Tangent publish an eclectic mix of books on topics such as street art, Bristol, politics, poetry and fiction. Tangent also publishes short story anthologies including the Bristol Short Story Prize anthologies.
Kevlin Henney, Suzanne McConaghy and Gavin Watkins
Kevlin Henney writes shorts and flashes and drabbles of fiction, which have appeared online, on tree and on air. His stories have been published in places usual for fiction (such as Litro and Every Day Fiction) and less usual (such as Physics World and New Scientist), and have snuck into a number of anthologies, including We Can Improve You, Landmarks, North by Southwest and The Salt Anthology of New Writing. He (dis)organises the BristolFlash events for National Flash Fiction Day and is involved in the organisation of the Bristol Festival of Literature. Twitter @kevlinhenney
Suzanne McConaghy has had many educational resources published and won the publisher’s Diamond award for French and Spanish fiction in 2015 and their Outstanding Author Award 2016. She has now turned to fiction full-time. She has a middle-grade novel in English out to agents, is revising an adult thriller set in Colombia and has begun a dystopian story, working title ‘Takeover,’ from which tonight’s reading comes.
Gavin Watkins is a Bristol based writer, inventor, poet, engineer, artist, baker, runner and brewer of exotic wines. He is a member of the Bristol Writers Group, and a committee member of the Bristol Festival of Literature. He has had short stories published in local anthologies, and his own zines. His debut novel The Ultimate Career Move – a pop music conspiracy novel – is available from Tangent Books and Amazon. Twitter @g_watkinsauthor