Grace organises Novel Nights and she reflects on the first event of the year.
We had a fantastic event at Novel Nights. The audience loved Mimi Thebo’s talk on voice. As the first event of 2016 and the first at our new venue I couldn’t have been more delighted with the event. There was a great atmosphere and enthusiasm. But over, to you, the audience, for your thoughts and words about the evening.
What you said about Novel Nights with guest author, Mimi Thebo
“sheer magic” and “‘I’m rushing home to my screen right now.”
“I’m scared to show my writing to anyone. After tonight I’m going to share and send out my stories.”
I was delighted to receive not one but three blog posts from our audience.
Blog Posts Reviews of Novel Nights Live Literature Event with Mimi Thebo:
I asked Author and Business Coach, Amy Morse, to blog for the event and she has done a tremendous job of capturing the details and colour of the event. I am so grateful – to have a record of the nuances of Mimi’s talk.
Your Voice: Bears, trees and stealing strawberries
A new year and a new home for Novel Nights. Novel Nights has moved to The Strawberry Thief; their selection of Belgian beers is to die for and it’s a great central location.
The theme for the first novel night’s live literature event for 2016 was ‘voice’.
The first half of the evening was spoken word, where local writers have the opportunity to share their work, and the second half was a guest speaker.
Writers can submit their work to read at a future Novel Nights event by following the submission guidelines . Voice actors can also be arranged – which appeals to me because, despite being an experienced public speaker, I hate reading out my work. I don’t sound like the ‘voice’ of the characters in the ‘Sheridan and Blake Adventure Series’ and it’s really off putting.
This month the readings were by Paul McIntyre, Catherine Bell, Alison Powell and Judy Darley .
Paul opened the event by reading an extract from his third novel, The Wages of Thin which is being sent to agents at the moment.
Paul’s take on the subject of voice was: it’s rather like a handkerchief, you always have it, but once you use it no one else wants it.
Your voice is distinct from style, you need to write a lot to find your voice and then it won’t sound counterfeit.
The scene Paul read from his book was a heart-warming and seemingly innocuous visit to McDonalds… at the risk of throwing out a spoiler, one line that really stood out for me was ‘the shot came like a crack in the world’. A powerful and moving extract.
In the piece, Catherine paints vivid images of nature, creating a sense of the passing of time through the age and wisdom of the mighty tree that ‘pre-dates the park’ where it stands.
A few lines I enjoyed were: ‘how many whispered secrets has it overheard’ and ‘silent Witness to a never ending stream of stories’ and ‘the wind is a talented choreographer of nature’.
Alison Powell was the third reader. Bridport prize 2015 runner-up and writer of short stories and novels, Alison’s take on voice was: it’s where it all starts. Trust the voice and follow its energy.
Alison read from her current work in progress, ‘When the mountain swallowed the morning,’ the coming of age story of a young female seamstress, Aeron, growing up in Wales, set in Aberfan, a mining village devastated by a mining accident in the 1960s.
In this touching scene, Aeron is tending to her grandmother’s grave with her ‘grancha’ (grandfather).
I especially enjoyed the descriptions of Aeron snatching and scrounging fabric and bits and bobs for her art project. She stitches in milk teeth, sheep’s wool collected from barbed wire and chunks of velvet cut from the back of the sofa – putting so much of herself into the quilted scene of the landscape. A couple of lines that really stood out for me were: ‘the cloud sat low like a sickness’ and the touching moment between granddaughter and grancha in ‘thick coats squashing together’. Alison’s Welsh inflection when speaking the dialogue added to the sense of place too.
The last reader before the break was prolific short story writer, Judy Darley. She wrote a piece especially for the event entitled ‘Strawberry Thief’. A short story across the length of a relationship. The story of a couple, at the twilight of their lives, and how they first met at a ‘pick your own fruit’ farm as youngsters. It was a delightful, warming, funny, and cheeky in parts, story.
A few lines that stood out for me in some of Judy’s lyrical descriptions: ‘the sunlight she saw in his mud brown eyes’, ‘whispering secrets to the wind’ and ‘when I go I hope I get to fly’ which set up the ending nicely.
After a short break to top up our beers, guest speaker, Mimi Thebo, took the stage.
Mimi lectures in creative writing at Bath university and has published seven books in ten years. She spoke about her take on the theme of voice, with some tips and insights for other writers and then read from her latest book,
Mimi is a self-confessed addict of word play.
In her view: story is central to humans. First we find food, then shelter, we make fire and then we make stories. We consume narrative, it’s one of the defining qualities that makes us human.
Her top tip is: it’s important to keep reading and keep writing. It feeds the soul. She couldn’t remember going a full day without reading.
Consuming good fiction increases empathy, making writers nicer people than most!
The habit of writing is crucial to our own health and wellbeing too. Writing improves how quickly we recover, it combats anxiety and depression and improves the way we process difficulties.
Her message to writers is that writing is not a selfish act. Being nicer, resilient and healthy is not a selfish thing. When you write, you are not just doing it for you, so keep going.
What matters is the practice of writing. Get into the Habit of writing a bit every day. She recommends 20 mins daily and a maximum of two hours in a stint.
She acknowledged the problem we all have of fitting it into our daily lives.
She managed to write and publish her books while working 12 hour days. She can’t tell us how to fit writing into our lives but she makes time by having a routine.
Every morning she goes out to her shed with her laptop. Her family have strict instructions not to interrupt her. They know: if there’s a fire, they need to get to a safe place and if there is an incident that involves a visit to hospital, leave her a note.
On the subject of a strong narrative voice, she read out 3 lines by well-known writers and asked the audience to guess who they were. Lots of correct answers came from the audience, demonstrating that some authors in particular have an instantly recognisable voice. However, she gave the examples of Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie – whose voices have changed over the course of their careers.
You don’t have to have found your voice to start writing seriously; narrative voice is a response to the technical questions a manuscript asks. There is nothing wrong with writing the same type of manuscript over and over again.
When you have a technical problem in the manuscript, there is no right or wrong way to solve it. It depends on your own questions and on how you see the world – that’s all you’ve got to sell. Every twist you can think of has already been done, you just haven’t read enough and in the end it comes down to the way you choose to express it.
She reassured us all that you don’t have to discover one voice for all your projects, so take that off your shoulder and throw it away.
Always think of your readers when writing. You might be writing for people like you or not, if not, you’ll be more conscious of narrative voice. This is especially true when writing for under 16 audiences. You must put yourself in their perspective.
You don’t have to pursue your natural voice, the important thing is to write.
Before reading an extract, Mimi talked about her own background and journey.
She grew up in the only Democrat town in a Republican state, was in the US for 24 years but has lived in England much longer. She embraces the fact that everything about her life is a bit weird. The inspiration for this book came from the gap decade she took, seven years of which she spent living in Yellowstone Park.
Darcy’s natural habitat is the mall and with no TV, no wifi, no phone signal she must find other distractions, while trying to get well again.
In this extract, she is out on her snowshoes and goes up a hill despite ‘lungs are still crinkly and wet I’m not making enough oxygen’ and realises part way up that she must keep going ‘letting my anger carry me up, I have to keep moving.’ Darcy finds herself ‘fighting off weird thoughts like, maybe I could roll back down’.
Darcy seeks shelter in a cave with a bear, ‘I snatch my hat and push it to my heart as if it will protect me.’
Mimi drew on her personal experience of living at Yellowstone Park and told us the story of how she met a bear when she was out stealing wild strawberries. The bear she met, bear 134, was big, fast and unpredictable. She found it exhilarating not to be on the top of the food chain for once but, thankfully, it was a nice bear. Mimi sees it as a great privilege to have interacted with bear 134 on several occasions while at Yellowstone and to have the opportunity to include her in the book.
Mimi finds inspiration everywhere for her stories. She spoke of how she used to ride the buses in Yorkshire to hear people talking and once got off at the wrong stop to follow two ladies and listen the rest of the story they’d started on the bus journey.
She gave us permission to be as curious and as weird as we like, for her it’s the best thing about writing.
We all have our own unconscious lexicon, experiment with that voice.
She purposely doesn’t use words tied to a nationality in order to sell her books in the US and UK but it’s up to you how much control you want from language.
Her irreverent, approachable style compelled the audience to listen.
A natural story teller with a great sense of humour, Mimi’s insightful talk beautifully rounded off a busy and buzzing event.
Amy Morse: Bio: She writes fiction as Amy C Fitzjohn and has published 3 novels; The Bronze Box (http://bit.ly/Bronze_eBook), Solomon’s Secrets (http://bit.ly/Solomons_eBook) and Gabriel’s Game (http://bit.ly/Gabriels_eBook).
Amy is also a freelance business trainer who run business skills workshops and writes business content. She is an avid blogger, engaging public speaker and is passionate about supporting entrepreneurs to follow their dreams.
Read Amy’s ‘Adventures in Writing and Entrepreneurship’ blog on her website: www.AmyMorse.co.uk And connect with her on Social Media: @TomCatDesigns