Four years ago, Grace Palmer wanted somewhere to meet other authors: a place to share and receive writerly advice, to showcase the work of local writers. Not finding what she wanted, she set up Novel Nights. The themed, monthly meetings at The Square in Clifton, Bristol, now has a loyal and enthusiastic following.
Last night, Novel Nights came to Bath. An audience of writers, publishing professionals, students and others who simply enjoy creativity in all its forms, packed the stone vaults of Burdall’s Yard in excited anticipation.
This was Novel Nights, but not as we’ve known it. Contrary to expectations, if Novel Nights Bristol is the perfumed, sophisticated elder sibling, then its Bath event is the kohl-eyed, Dr Marten’s wearing little sister.
A hush descended as Grace announced the first of three local writers.
Rosalind Minett, gave a vivid performance of an extract from her novel, The Parody. Rosalind’s work as a psychologist was evident in her approach to characterisation and the interaction between the characters populating her work. Her novels and short stories are available on Amazon.
Ali Bacon read from her forthcoming novel In the Blink of an Eye, published by Linen Press on 11 April. Ali explained how she dramatically revised her original approach to the novel, based on the life of a Victorian artist and photographer, to it becoming a novel in ten voices.
Kate McEwan’s South African accent added rich flavour to her reading of Learning to Swim. For all those out there struggling to find a writing habit, take heart. A self-confessed procrastinator, Kate started writing her novel while a Bath Spa MA Creative Writing student in 2006. To help others too busy to find the time to write, Kate has set up The Write Day (http://www.writeday.co.uk/), which meets in Frome on the second Sunday of every month.
During the interval, conversation sparkled between old friends and new acquaintances alike. Encouraged by shared interests and the atmospheric venue – a former brewery – the audience mingled in the separate bar area. People took the opportunity to buy books from an onsite outpost of Mr B’s Emporium of Bath (https://mrbsemporium.com/), that fabulous independent bookshop on John Street in central Bath. Of course, all it took were a few giddy steps from bookseller to author to (very politely) request a signing. Those who did were gratified with indigo flourishes on their title page.
Part Two: Gerard Woodward talk
Lesley Richardson, shortlisted for the Janklow & Nesbit prize 2018, took to the stage to introduce guest speaker and critically acclaimed novelist, short story writer and poet, Gerard Woodward, to discuss all three forms of writing.
Gerard opened with an extract from Legoland, his enticing short story about a man who receives a phone call suggesting he is connected with an unidentified amnesiac. The author held the audience in suspense, wanting to know more. His wit formed a gentle beat progressing the plot.
Using this story as an example, Gerard mused that when embarking on Legoland, various trajectories came to mind. But what told him it would be a short story, not a novel, was that it was complete in itself. Referencing Edgar Allen Poe, he defined a short story as something which can be read in one sitting.
Gerard stressed the importance of recognising the three forms of writing as distinct. While he finds short stories the hardest form to write, he described the novel as hungry for attention with a bottomless appetite and ‘all-occupying’. The audience groaned in recognition.
Despite the differences between poetry and prose, and short stories and novels, a writer can learn from each form. The writer must capture the essence within the moment. Gerard gave the example of contemporary poetry, and the link between the title and the opening line. This same principle can be used in prose. Raymond Carver perfected the art of containing the story within a nuanced title and opening line, or in a novel, the title and opening page.
The more succinct the poetry and prose, the more the author relies on the reader to fill in the missing information. And, presumably, the more rewarding is the reading experience.
Poetry or prose: every word must count.
Every word must count.
Gerard ended with a reading from The Paper Lovers, released 31 May by Picador.
A question and answer session led by Lesley identified that the more interesting voice is lower in the author’s psyche. To access it, s/he must discard what immediately comes to mind and dig deeper.
Grace brought the evening to a close by thanking those who made the event a reality, including all the supporters of Novel Nights.
If you want more of Novel Nights Bath, let us know via facebook, email etc
The writer’s life is solitary and often works around the margins of other commitments, such as family, work and so on. It can be – and most usually is – littered with disappointment. But last night made a difference.
Listening to stories aloud is an ancient tradition which, in the Western World, rarely survives childhood. Last night, this writer came away fizzing with energy. Support Novel Nights by engaging as an audience. Buying tickets in advance helps with planning.
Knowing what it is to read work in public, the nerves (oh yes!), but also the immediate feedback from a live audience – there is nothing like it. New readers are always welcome: submit your work to future events. See submissions for details or sign up for e-newsletter alerts for submission dates
Novel Nights Bath is supported by Bath Spa University at Burdall’s Yard and MA Creative Writing alumnae.
With thanks to Mr B’s Emporium, Lesley Richardson, Polly Roberts and especially, The Grace Palmer, this is @_ReadAmanda signing off.
The Blogger: Amanda Read is a writer and botanist. Her writing celebrates plants, nature and supernature. She was awarded a distinction from Bath Spa’s MA in Creative Writing (2017) which brought to fruition her first novel, Ya’axché: The World Tree. With her next project, a magic realism adventure, she is exploring the writer-reader relationship: how the choices made by writers influence perceptions of plants and conservation. www.amandaread.net Connect with her: @_ReadAmanda