Category Archives: Guest Speakers

Ask an Editor with Dionne McCulloch October 25th

Dionne McCulloch

How can literary consultants help writers? In this talk and Q and A for writers, Dionne McCulloch, one of the team of editors at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, will talk about her role as editor, explain what a literary consultancy is and provide tips on self-editing. This event is part of Bristol Festival of Literature

Cornerstones provide editorial services to writers and was set up in 1998 to help writers move beyond the slush pile towards publication.

Dionne is an American author living in England, who began as a Cornerstones UK editor before managing Cornerstones launch into the US. She writes YA, MG and adult fiction, and is represented by Writers House in NYC.

She has been a long- and short-list judge for the Bath and Caledonia novel awards since their inception, and a PitchWars mentor since 2014. She previously wrote and edited scripts for TV, and copy-edited speeches for President Bill Clinton during his first term.

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The readers for the event have now been announced. They are

Alison Bown is a writer and sound designer living in Bristol and the extract is from my first completed novel (which is with agents on request at the moment). I have worked on films and game and attended the National Film School. I have also had poems published in independent anthologies and am currently undertaking a funded PhD in digital writing and computer science co-supervised across Bath Spa University and Bath University. I am making a text/sound adaptation of this book. You can find me on Twitter at @southwestrushes.
DM Tomkins writes long and short fiction, particularly about the environment and family relationships. She is the founder of Bristol Climate Writers   
She is running an event about writing on climate change during  Bristol Festival of Literature 
Kate Simants
 Kate started writing after several years as a specialist undercover TV journalist. Her novel Lock Me In was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger, and in 2016 she won a scholarship to undertake the UEA’s Crime Fiction MA.

Gilly Macmillan guest author September 18th

We’re delighted to welcome Gilly at Novel Nights on September 18th to talk about writing a page-turner.

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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 TimesGlobe & 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.

Announcing the guest readers at this event:

 Ralph Hoyte is a Bristol-based author, live-art poet and GPS-triggered literary soundscape producer. His latest novel is on machine-intelligence. He is also working with UWE on Georgian-era hangings and gibbettings.

Rachel Ward will read from her new crime novel, The Cost of Living. She is an established writer of YA thrillers, but The Cost of Living is her first book for adults, which will be published (by Sandstone Press) on 21st September. It is at the cosy end of the crime spectrum and focuses on Bea, who works on the checkouts in a supermarket, and her determination to find out who is following and attacking women in her home town.

Nancy Weatherley was born in Vancouver but calls Bath home. She’s an MA Creative Writing student surviving on wine, chocolate and hiking. Cold Blue Nights is her first psychological thriller.

Dan Jeffries DIY Making a Book

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.

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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 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.


Guest speaker June 19th KM Elkes

KM Elkes
Guest speaker June 19th
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. 
In an interview in The Short Story  Ken says, “Aim to write stories so strong they can hammer a nail into a wall with a scatter cushion.”

You can read a sample of his stories here

Ken is running a workshop on micro-fiction at the UK’s first ever Flash Fiction Festival in Bath.
Announcing our readers:  Beth Mann, Jude Higgins, Scarlett Sangster and Nicola Keller

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.

Guests on 31st May 2017 Martine McDonagh and Stephen May

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.  

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Date: Wednesday, May 31st 2017

  • 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.

Connect with Martine: @MartineM_Writer Instagram: martinemcdonaghauthor

  • 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.

Connect with Stephen: @Stephen_May1

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 SpringUnchained 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.  


26th April at Novel Nights Independent Publishing with Tangent Books

This month, Richard Jones from Bristol-based independent publisher, Tangent Books will give an overview of the Independent publishing world.

Fresh from the London Book Fair he’ll also talk about wider trends in publishing and opportunities for writers. He says, ‘there’s never been a better time for writers.’

Get your questions ready. Visit Tangent on

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.

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Announcing our readers:

 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

March 29th 2017 Ghostwriting with Tom Henry

Tom Henry is a freelance professional ghostwriter. See his site at

He says, “I help people who have great stories to tell, but don’t always have the time or the capability to tell them. I like working with ‘ordinary’ people whose lives are richer than any fiction.”

Latest books include: Orphans of Islam, The Fight for Fordhall Farm and Three and Out.

Tom has had thirteen books published in ten years. He’s helped tell the stories of a former child refugee, an evacuee and a woman speaking out on the Rotherham child abuse scandal.

At Novel Nights he’ll be talking about

  • how to discover and develop the voice
  • how to get the best from your characters
  • ghostwriting
  • co-authoring stories

As well as this author talk and Q and A there will be readings by local writers in the first half of the evening. Amanda Read, Kate Dunn and Patrick Collins.

Tickets for the event Buy tickets for Ghostwriting with Tom Henry

February 2017 Writing Romantic Fiction

This month the theme is all about love and writing romantic fiction. Guest author, Rosemary Dun ‘s debut novel  The Trouble with Love was published last year by  Sphere. Buy the book on Amazon (Currently just 99p). It’s getting 5 star reviews.

Set in Bristol, the novel’s heroine Polly has her own life set up thank you very much with her own business and house.  She meets the lovely Spike aware that he’s emigrating to Australia. She hadn’t planned on falling in love or falling pregnant… Three years later, the single mum is dating again – she’s just found someone when Spike returns with a new girlfriend by his side …

  • Rosemary will be talking about
  • how she got published (and the prat falls along the way);
  • how it’s never too late to get that publishing deal;
  • whether the romantic comedy is a genre which has had its day, or is still very much alive & kicking?
  • Rosemary will also do a short reading from her debut novel The Trouble With Love, published by Little, Brown, followed by a Q&A.

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During the first half of the evening,  we will hear readings from Kate Dun, Chloe Turner, Judy Darley and Amy Morse

Kate Dunn:  I’ve had five books published, written articles for magazines and contributed poetry to literary journals. I’ve also written travel articles for national newspapers including The Observer and The Daily Telegraph. You can find more information from my website

Chloe Turner (@turnerpen2paper) is a writer from Gloucestershire, whose stories have been published in literary magazines including Hark, Kindred (US), Halo and The Woven Tale Press. InShort Publishing (Aus) released Long-gone Mary as an individual pocketbook in 2015, and Labour of Love was a For Books’ Sake Weekend Read earlier this year. Chloe is seeking representation for her first novel, What Has Fallen From Heaven.

Judy Darley is a fiction writer, poet and journalist whose work appears in magazines, anthologies and in her collection Remember Me To The Bees. She’s read stories on BBC radio, in cafés, caves, an artist’s studio and a disused church. Judy blogs at

Author and entrepreneur,  Amy Morse, writes fiction as Amy C Fitzjohn. Harbouring dreams of being a writer since childhood, she published her first novel, The Bronze Box, in 2013. Since then she has written three further novels, and counting.

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January 2017 Writing Historical Fiction Writer biographies

Historical Fiction: Guest author at Novel Nights in 2017 is Celia Brayfield 

She will talk about writing historical fiction, and there will be a Q&A

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Writing Historical Fiction
Author, Celia Brayfield talk on Writing Historical Fiction 25th January 2017

Celia has written nine novels and four non-fiction titles.

The latest, Wild Weekend explores the tensions in a Suffolk village in homage to Oliver Goldmsith’s She Stoops to Conquer. To explore suburban living, she created the community of Westwick and explored mid-life manners in Mr Fabulous And Friends, and the environmental implications of urbanisation in Getting Home.

She has often juxtaposed historical and contemporary settings, notably eighteenth century Spain in Sunset, pre-revolutionary St Petersburg in White Ice and Malaysia in the time of World War II in Pearls. F

Her non-fiction titles include two standard works on the art of writing: Arts Reviews (Kamera Books, 2008) and Bestseller (Fourth Estate, 1996.) Her most recent is Deep France (Pan, 2004) a journal of a year she spent writing in south-west France.

She has served on the management committee of The Society of Authors and judged national literary awards including the Betty Trask Award and the Macmillan Silver PEN Prize. A former media columnist, she contributes to The Times, BBC Radio 4 and other national and international media. ”

Writers who will share short extracts of their novels at Novel Nights.


Trevor Coombs graduated from the University of Bristol with a Diploma in Creative Writing, has completed four novels and written and performed a number of monologues. He likes playing with history, where he feels safe.

Katie Munnik is a Canadian writer living in Cardiff. Her prose, poetry and creative non-fiction has appeared in several magazines and anthologies, in newspapers across Canada and on CBC radio. She has recently completed fiction mentorship through the Humber School for Writers in Toronto, and is looking for a home for her first novel, Birthwood

For several years Ali Bacon has been on a mission to tell the story of Scottish artist and photographer David Octavius Hill. Last year she distilled the many thousands of words she had written into an hour’s worth of short stories to be read at a photography festival. She is now adding to these in the hope of completing the collection – and the story – some time soon.

“Lucienne Boyce has published two historical novels: To The Fair Land (SilverWood Books, 2012) andBloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery (SilverWood Books, 2015). Bloodie Bones was winner of the Historical Novel Society Indie Award 2016, and was also a semi finalist for the M M Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction 2016. The Bristol Suffragettes (non fiction) was published in 2013. Lucienne is on the steering committee of the West of England and South Wales Women’s History Network, and is a presenter on BCfm Radio’s Silver Sound show. “

Q and A with Carrie Kania, literary agent, Conville & Walsh

Carrie Kania from Conville & Walsh Literary Agency is guest speaker at Novel Nights on October 27th 2016. We asked her some questions ahead of her talk.

What do you love about being a literary agent?

What I really love is working directly with the author and developing an idea to a full-fledged published book.   It’s a wonderful feeling when you walk into a bookstore and see a book that you have had a hand in.   Or seeing a stranger reading a book you worked on.     There’s also a wonderful joy in seeing the progress of a title as the book develops from an idea or first draft to the finished product.   Agents are there to help the writer; we’re the cheerleader, editor, helper, lawyer, bookseller, publicist, advisor for all things.    And that close relationship can also lead to develop life-long friendships.

Q: What advice do you have for unpublished authors who want to find a literary agent?

When you spend months, years, decades writing your book, you should spend some time when looking for a literary agent.  I receive too many ‘mass emails’ addressed to ‘Sir/Madam’ or ‘To Whom It May Concern’ – I even received a ‘Dead Mr. Agent’ once!   This tells me that person just emailing every-single-email they can find.   It’s best to research the agent, know what they work on, understand what they are looking for – and then if you think it’s a match, reach out using specifics.  Tell me why you think I would work best for you.    Agents receive hundreds of submissions a week – hundreds!  There is no way we can read everything that comes in and do our day-to-day jobs.   So if a manuscript comes to me and it is clear it’s a group-submission, it doesn’t go to the ‘to read’ pile.

We are all on-line and many agents participate at conferences, festivals, writing workshops etc.   Most agents have profiles and biographies – so have a look at what we do (and who we represent) before sending your book out to us.

Still stuck?   Have a look at the books that you think would sit happily next to yours.  Most authors will thank their agents in the acknowledgements – that’s a good way to find out who is representing books that are similar to yours.

If that doesn’t work – attend festivals and conferences where you know agents are scheduled to talk or be on panels.  There are some excellent festivals and conferences happening – as a writer, attend!   At the very least, you’ll meet some wonderful people.

Q: Tell me three things you look for when you see a manuscript for the first time

I look for and read for (in order!)

Voice.   Does the author’s voice on-the-page work and capture my interest.   The twist of phrase, sentence structure, looking at things in a new way.

Pace.     In any book – fiction to non-fiction – you want to read something that ‘keeps you turning the pages’.   So pace is very important to me.    I once spoke to someone who wanted to send me a script to look at and they said ‘it’s a little slow in the beginning, but really picks up around page 100.’

Story.    The story!   Try hard not to complicate things and include a huge cast of characters.  Make sure everyone is there for a reason.   If there are two characters in your book who are doing the same thing – and sound the same – then maybe those two people should be edited down to one.    Make sure the story is exactly that – tell me a story.   Keep that in mind as you write – ‘am I telling a story’ and you’ll find yourself self-editing, thereby quickening the pace and bringing your voice out even more.

Q: Is the book ‘concept’ as important as the quality of the writing when you are considering working with a writer?

For non-fiction, concept is key.    And making sure that whatever your non-fiction concept is, you are the most qualified to tell it.    For fiction, concept is certainly wonderful – but it is not the most important factor when I read.  A ‘coming of age’ novel is certainly not a unique concept, but when told in the right voice with pace and story – then it can be quite special.

Q: Tell me about publishing trends at the moment

The trend is never pay attention to trends.   Because once a trend hits, the market will be flooded with ‘like’ titles.   If you are brave enough and fast enough to get into trend publishing, and make it work, then that’s a skill.     At the end of the day, the best trend is a great book.  So publishing needs to and has to always pay attention to the quality of the title – whether that’s a full-color fashion book or a debut novel.   The trend that will never go away is quality.