Writing and Publishing Distortion – Advice for writers

I haven’t made a big song and dance about it…yet, but my second novel, Distortion, is now out as an e-book and a paperback. It’s been a long process, but my writing and editing skills have been sharpened by working with the inspiring clients I have worked with since 2013, when I set up my freelance editing business, Wild Rosemary Writing Services.

Now I have helped other people’s dreams of publication to come true, I felt that I knew the editing process well, I had great feedback from my friends who wee the “beta readers” of the book before it was published, and I had a wonderful cover designed by Susie Morley, which really makes the book eye-catching.

I started writing Distortion in 2010, shortly after finishing my writing MA, and it was wonderfully freeing to write something brand new, without any baggage or restrictions. Having new ideas and developing new characters was really exciting, and the second time around, I felt much more sure-footed when it came to plotting the novel.

Now I’ve written and self-published two novels, I can pass on some advice for aspiring novelists – I’d love to know what you think.

  1. Don’t work alone. Being part of a writing group is really useful. Find one that suits you, and if you can’t find one, form one yourself. I was one of the founding members of the Sheffield Novelists group, and now it’s been going since 2009, helping people through the creative process and bringing writers together. There are also many online writers’ groups, such as Scribophile. The ideal writers’ group will keep you going – e.g. help you to commit to writing a chapter per month, encourage you, but also discuss aspects of your work that could be improved.
  2. Keep going ! If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a million and one things in your life as well as writing a novel. Just keep going. Even if you can only commit half an hour in a day, or a few hours at weekends to your writing, keep up that commitment to yourself. This is something that you may keep needing to evaluate if you let yourself down, but that’s how I finished, and edited Distortion.
  3. Don’t hurry! In my opinion, a novel needs space and time to breathe and develop. You may find yourself being as influenced by your novel as much as you are creating it. For example, I thought that my music-obsessed teenage main character, Jason, might be really into the band Manic Street Preachers, so I started buying their albums, despite not being a big fan to start with. It had also been years since I had picked up a guitar. Along the way, I now have a “libraries gave us power” Manic Street Preachers tattoo (featured below), I’ve learned how to play the bass, and I’m now playing the guitar in a band. Your novel is part of you, so live and breathe it while you are writing. Obviously this would be a little worrying if you were writing a murder mystery though.
  4. Keep learning: go to writing workshops and spoken word nights whenever you can, read about and research the craft of writing, and meet fellow writers. Pop into your local library (hopefully you have one!), or search online for writing events near you. Often, there are events that are free or affordable, and there’s advice online. Go Teen Writers is one of my favourite blogs for advice on the nuts and bolts of writing, although it does tend to have a U.S. bias. This will also help you to build up a network of other writers and get great advice from published authors as well as people who are starting out.
  5. Edit as much as you can. Once you’ve finished the first complete draft, put it away for a few weeks at least and enjoy the freedom. Once your writing fingers start itching again, edit until your book is the best you can make it. There’s some good advice here about editing your book in layers.
  6. Once you’ve edited your book, you still need an external editor. This isn’t just a plug for my own editorial services! Whether this is someone that you pay, or a friend or relative you can trust to be eagle-eyed and even ruthless at times, you need someone to spot those silly mistakes (no matter how carefully you think you’ve checked your manuscript) or daft ideas that just didn’t work. Then go through the book again yourself, just in case anything stands out.
  7. Self publishing is difficult, but worth it. It’s great to get my words out in print and to know that people around the world can read them. The problem is publicity and marketing. I love my books, but I don’t want to feel like I’m blowing my own trumpet all the time and boring friends on social media and in real life to death by constantly reminding them to buy my book – and then to review it on Amazon. You’ve got to get the balance right. It’s a good idea to help out other authors too, particularly self-published ones. Give other writers good reviews and hopefully, they’ll do the same for you!

Please take a look at Distortion. If you fancy reading an exciting novel about secrets, lies and loud guitars, you’ll definitely enjoy it. It’s out as an e-book and also as a rather handsome paperback.

Here’s the blurb:

When teenager Jason Knight picks up a battered acoustic guitar in a charity shop, he just wants to form a band with his best friend Ben and stop being bullied by his nemesis, Bradley Smeed.

Jason’s guitar playing stirs up memories for his mum Kaz. She’s been keeping her true identity secret: fourteen years ago, she ran away from cult stardom in the band Mission Control, traumatised by the death of her lover, troubled guitar genius Daz Lightning.

Will Jason Discover the truth and become a rock god?

Read a sample or buy the book below!

 

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Be a Writer, See a Writer, Hear a Writer at Walkley Carnegie Library

For the past three years, I’ve played a major part in organising an event for Off the Shelf, Sheffield’s literary festival, which runs for three weeks in Sheffield throughout the city. Two years ago, I ran my own memoir writing course, and last year, I led a storytelling walk for families in the beautiful Rivelin Valley on a beautiful autumnal day.

Over the past year, I’ve become involved as a volunteer for Walkley Carnegie Library, my local library. Due to council cuts, many libraries in Sheffield now rely on volunteers to keep running. Ironically, because the volunteers are so passionate about the library, the range of events and services available is wider than ever, from pre-school storytelling, to knitting clubs and book sales. In March, I helped out at the launch of local bestselling author Gavin Extence’s new novel, The Mirror World of Melody Black. That gave me an idea. What about an event that showcased the talents of Walkley’s writers?

Walkley is an underrated suburb of Sheffield, in my opinion. The houses are mostly small terraces, sliding downhill towards the Rivelin valley on one side and the tram tracks running towards Hillsborough on the other, but there are some much larger older houses with huge gardens. All sorts of people live here – those who’ve lived in Walkley for generations, young professionals, families and students who appreciate a quieter life than they’d get down the hill in Crookesmoor. Yet, in May, the doors of many Walkley houses, big and small, open at the beginning of May for the annual Open Up event. Lots of artists live here, working hard in attic bedrooms and studios. There are lots of writers too, which I’ve realised by gradually meeting and chatting to people. Walkley is a hotbed of quiet creativity. We need to connect with each other, and encourage the new writers of the future.

Working with volunteer events co-ordinator Annie Bore, we planned an Off the Shelf event with something to appeal to writers and readers of all ages, and put in our funding bid to Off the Shelf, to start us on our way. We called the event “Be a Writer, See a Writer, Hear a Writer”, as people would get the chance to do all three during the course of the day!

Our funding bid was successful, so I contacted local writers and started planning the publicity. I’ve spent the last few weeks madly pinning up posters, tweeting, posting the event on Facebook and emailing everyone I know who is interested in creative writing. Back at the library, ticket sales looked slow. Late last week, I was panicking slightly. What if no one came? Would the writers I’d involved in the event be upset if no one turned up? Would the other library volunteers think I hadn’t planned the event well? In the end, the only thing to do was to keep spreading the word about the event, through word of mouth, emails, posters, and social media.

I woke up on Saturday morning feeling very nervous. I’d dropped the Usborne books for the book stall off the day before, along with my typewriter and decorations for the library, which made things easier, but as soon as we’d set up, the rain started pouring down outside. Throughout the course of the morning, only a few families visited the library. However, I did use my typewriter to write some lovely stories with children: one about a little girl helping some butterflies to fly home safely in the rain under her umbrella; and the other about an evil Spiderman battling Captain America and the Hulk. We also played giant scrabble and painted sparkly letters to be hung on a washing line around the children’s library. Young Adult author Sarah Dalton also joined us for the morning, and donated some books to the library.

The writing workshops went well, although I had been a bit worried about numbers. This gave me an excuse to join in with them, which was no problem for me! We had some amazing young writers from local schools, and a special mention must be made to a friend from Oxfam stewarding, who joined us all the way from Worcester for the day. Daniel Blythe gave us a masterclass in developing stories by using settings, and inventing characters using photographs and a “character map” to help us to plan. Creative writing is something that everyone should be able to do – not necessarily for a living! But it’s great to flex your imagination and develop new ideas. Daniel works regularly in schools to prove just that. In a world where some children think that the most important thing a story needs to start with is a capital letter, imagination can be a rare commodity.

Poet Rob Hindle inspired us to bring historical characters and events alive in poetry. We started off by imagining historical characters who didn’t quite make it, such as Shakespeare’s frustrated actor brother, who ended up as an “extra” in William’s plays, and the wife of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who didn’t like tall hats. We read a selection of poems by Martin Espada and Eevan Boland that dealt with historical themes and characters before starting some of our own.

We each picked a photograph or painting from a historical scene, and Rob asked us a series of questions about the picture. We had to write descriptions of what was happening, details we didn’t notice at first; what sounds could be heard. Then we used our answers to construct a poem. It was a great idea, and we all came out with an interesting, dramatic first draft of a poem.

There was time for a quick trip home to eat, before heading out again for the evening event. The other library volunteers had organised everything really well – refreshments and room arrangements were all in place, and the only thing I needed to do was to help carry a few more chairs, as people kept arriving, and shortly after 7pm, the library looked like a real literary soiree!

The open mic slot was fully booked, and we were treated to short excerpts of everything from humorous haiku, novel extracts, short stories, to poems about the black hole under the cooker where everything disappeared. Next, Fay Musselwhite, Chris Jones and other poets from Longbarrow Press enthralled us with poems about families, landscape and long journeys.

Folk musician Patrick Rose had the audience absolutely captivated with his songs – drawing on the folk traditions of the Childe ballads, and his own compositions, particularly ‘Paradise Square’, about a forgotten piece of Sheffield history. Patrick sang on his own and accompanied by his beautiful guitar playing, and we were spell-bound.

Finally, novelist Gavin Extence gave us an exciting exclusive extract from his third novel – the first time he’s shared any of it in public. We really enjoyed it, and when it’s a bestselling novel, like his previous books, The Universe Versus Alex Woods and the Mirror World of Melody Black, we’ll be able to say that we heard it first!

At the end of the evening, I was pleased and relieved that I’d pulled it off – I had organised a miniature literary festival! People really enjoyed it, and it gave a wide variety of writers a chance to perform their work. The experience of putting on an event is always nerve-wracking, but it’s also addictive. We’re already starting to think about other literary events that Walkley Carnegie Library could host, so watch this space!

 

Rivelin Story Walk- Saturday 18th October – part of Off the Shelf

Come to the Rivelin Story Walk and explore a magical valley!

Come to the Rivelin Story Walk and explore a magical valley!

As part of Sheffield’s Off the Shelf festival of words, I’m excited to be leading an event – a story walk through the magical Rivelin Valley for children and adults.

Explore the Rivelin Valley and follow a trail of fairy hide-outs, goblin thrones, troll bridges and fast-flowing water.

Use your imagination and write amazing stories about your adventures afterwards in the cafe. 

Meet at 11am at the Rivelin Park cafe in the Rivelin Park, S6 5GE. Free parking is available nearby. We will return to the cafe after the walk for a drink and a snack.

To book a place, call me on 07815966784.

The walk is suitable for children aged 6-12. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Cost: £3 adults / £2 children, including a drink and a cake. Hot and cold food is available at the cafe.

Please come dressed for the great outdoors and bring notebooks, cameras, and bags for collecting treasure on the way.

I’ve been on the radio!

This August, I’ve had two visits to BBC Radio Sheffield.

A couple of weeks ago, I accompanied Dave Cherry when he was interviewed on the Rony Robinson show about his life and times, and about his novel, The Woodhead Diaries, which I helped to edit and publish.

To my surprise, Rony’s producer asked if I would also like to be interviewed. My hard work seems to be paying off – I’ve now helped several people to be published, and I’ve even produced a poetry anthology of the work I’ve done so far with patients at Newholme Hospital in Bakewell, Dales Tales.

This week, suffering from the effects of a late summer cold, I talked about my life and my experiences that led me to start writing and set up my own business. Here it is. I hope you enjoy it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUS7Cn3JCEw&feature=youtu.be

And many thanks to Dave Cherry for recording the interview for posterity and making it into a short film.

Have you got a story you want to tell to the world? I can help…

What’s Your Story? A new memoir writing course, starting on 28th April 2014

What’s your story? An introduction to memoir writing.

Memoir Writing Course at Gladys Buxton Dronfield

 I’m excited to be running a new memoir writing course – this time, it’s in my guise as a Derbyshire Adult Education tutor.

The course will run on Monday evenings for 5 weeks, from 6.30-8.30pm at the beautiful Gladys Buxton Centre in Dronfield, S18 2EJ (it’s just over the border in Derbyshire, but very close to Sheffield.) The course runs for five weeks, with a break on the Bank Holiday Monday 26th May, to give you more opportunity to do some writing!

If you’ve always fancied writing a memoir, but aren’t sure how to get started, this course is for you. I’ll take you through from exploring memories using creative techniques, structuring and planning your memoir, bringing memories alive through dialogue and description, exploring alternative formats such as blogging or poetry, and looking at successful memoirs and autobiographies such as Jennifer Worth’s ‘Call the Midwife’. What makes them so vivid and compelling?

The course will also be a great opportunity to share experiences and the mutual support of other writers. The course is suitable for anyone from any background, young or old! You just need to want to tell your story.

Contact me for more information about the course via email or on 07815966784, or call the Gladys Buxton Centre on 01246 413631 to book a place.

You are not alone! A weekend of writing and exploring!

I spent last weekend in Coventry, catching up with friends and exploring the city.

But the reason I was there in the first place was to attend a workshop for writers, organised by the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE). I joined NAWE as soon as I became a freelance writer, and I enjoy reading the association’s magazine, which inspires me to try new things in my workshops and teaching. This was the first time I had actually met other writers doing the same sort of thing I’m doing, and I was a little nervous, but definitely excited!

Rockin' in Whitefriars

Rockin’ in Whitefriars

I’d spent the Friday evening in the Whitefriars Olde Ale House, in the centre of Coventry, drinking real ale with my friends Fraser and Louise, who I first met eight years ago at Wychwood festival, the first time I volunteered at a festival alone. I wasn’t alone for very long! On Friday night, we caught up with each other in the pub, which is a half-timbered fourteenth century building, with wonky floors, low beams and an open fireplace, which we huddled near. It’s actually been a pub for about fourteen years, but obviously the building goes back much further. It’s a rare survival of such an old building in Coventry. The city is now famous for the Blitz, on the night of 14th November 1940 (tying in with my last post!), when thousands of incendiary bombs rained down on the medieval city centre. The cathedral was destroyed, but became a memorial of international reconciliation and peace, with the  beautiful modern cathedral, which was finished in 1962, by its side. Back to the Whitefriars, one of Fraser’s favourite pubs! It’s also a rock pub, so our real ale heaven was accompanied by the Mission, the Cure, Hawkwind and Motorhead. If I could design my ideal pub….

Fraser’s parents were very kindly putting Louise and I up for the weekend and we walked home in the rain, chatting and trying not to get blown away!

The day of the “Working as a Writer in Community Settings” workshop started sunny and deceptively spring-like, but I should have known not to wear a short black dress that flared out, creating a Marilyn Monroe – type effect whenever the wind blew! I walked into the centre of Coventry. Fraser pointed me in the right direction and challenged me to find anything interesting on the long, straight road into town. Everything looked good in the bright sunlight, so I challenged myself to write a poem in my head as I was walking along. I can remember:

The van of a heating engineer called Warmington.

People queuing up to wash their dirty cars.

A broken advertising hoarding.

Fairy tale tangles of briars and bramble.

A train flashing past.

A section of fence painted like an England flag.

A large dog barking in a back garden.

I was soon in the city centre, and found the university building, the George Elliot building with ease. The university is in the city centre, and the mixture of modern and medieval buildings contrasted against the joyfully blue sky. The name of the building reminded me that I have never managed to get through the whole of Elliot’s novel ‘Middlemarch’. I cheated last year, and listened to it on CD. More exciting nineteenth century novels are available! George Elliot (her real name was Mary Anne Evans, but she wrote under a male name in order to be taken seriously) lived in Coventry for much of her early life. When it comes to nineteenth century literature, I’m more of a Thomas Hardy and Bronte sisters fan. Much more drama and passion!

Anyway, the NAWE conference was well signposted, and tutors from the creative writing degree at Coventry University were waiting on the ground floor to escort me, and another participant, to the room where the workshop would take place. I felt very warmly welcomed. I was fairly early, and as the other participants arrived, I realised that people had travelled from far and wide, including Scotland, to attend the workshop. As we introduced each other, it dawned on me that these are my colleagues. That the path I’ve chosen, as a freelance editor, writer and tutor, is actually a career, and not just some weird thing I’ve made up! Other poets, novelists, essayists and journalists are making their living teaching creative writing, being writers in residence and using their writing skills to help other people to tell their stories and make their voices heard. It was so exciting, that I was probably a bit too chatty – but I felt that I was in my element!

I was really keen to meet workshop leader River Wolton again. A former Derbyshire Poet Laureate, she lives in Grindleford in the Peak District and has worked with many communities in Sheffield. She remembered meeting me before, in my old job in the diverse area of Burngreave in Sheffield, when I helped her to design a poetry booklet! River talked us through two really inspiring community projects she’s been involved with: “Allowed Out“, a project discovering stories of LGBT activism and the history of the gay community in Sheffield; and a project with refugees and asylum seekers who have finally found a safe home in Sheffield, and who are now writing about their experiences and the precious things in their life. We discussed setting up our own projects, our excitement about the possibilities of working in the community and our worries and concerns. Led by River Wolton and Anne Caldwell  from NAWE, we discussed the practicalities and inspiration for running projects in different community settings. The diverse case studies included older people in a library, primary school children, asylum seekers and refugee communities. The definition of community settings is wide-ranging, and could even include an internet-based community of people with a shared interest. Writing projects can be multi-media, including visual art and music.

We went for lunch in the nearby Herbert Gallery (where my friend Fraser works!) and I enjoyed talking to the other participants, finding out about Here Comes Everyone Magazine, the brainchild of Adam Steiner, a poet attending the course. The magazine is a social enterprise, open to everyone to contribute. Why don’t you have a go yourself?

After lunch, we worked in pairs to set short and long-term goals for ourselves! I realised that I need to commit more time to my own writing. I’m working towards the end of the first draft of my second novel, and I need to keep going, and set myself targets. I love balancing a hectic workload of editing and teaching, but I mustn’t devalue my own writing! My first novel Outside Inside is available on the Amazon Kindle – one of the things I must do is to bring out a paperback issue – there, I said it, and I must do it. It’s so easy to put things off!

Our confidence boosted, we discussed funding options with Anne Caldwell and Jonathan Davidson from Writing West Midlands, and I was excited to find out that the creative writing project I’m working on with patients at Newholme Hospital in Bakewell could be eligible for Arts Council funding. The next step is to put a proposal together and put a bid in. Exciting times! I just need to put the work in now.

The NAWE workshop left me buzzing, and with lots of new ideas and a new group of like-minded contacts. All that remains is for me to get on with it and do the work. That’s the only way anything gets done. It’s no good just dreaming. You’ve got to take action too! Well, it’s worked so far….

After the workshop, I drafted a new section of my novel in Coventry’s other great institution, Browns, a pub/cafe, a modern building with lots of wooden furniture and a distinctive curved roof. Then Fraser and Louise rejoined me after an exciting trip to Birmingham and Wolverhampton, where they had bought me some charity shop birthday presents. We met more friends, some of them from the world of festival stewarding, and so many Coventry friends of Fraser’s, it felt like I was in the middle of a social whirl. It was lovely to talk to so many people, and I had a lovely vegan moussaka for only £6, as well as a few pints of Thatcher’s Gold cider. Finally, we were spilled out into another windy, rainy night.

Sunday was mostly bright again, but freezing, and we explored Coventry City Centre before I headed back to Sheffield, refreshed and determined to put my creative plans into action.

Open Your Memory Box – thanks to everyone who took part!

On a grey, rainy day, ten people (including me), had a fantastic time at Bank Street arts, writing and exploring on my Open Your Memory Box course. I wrote about it in a guest post for Writing Yorkshire – one of the first posts on their blog on their brand-new website! It’s very exciting. Over the next few weeks, I’ll upload some of the brilliant writing that was created in my workshop.

I was very proud to be contributing towards Sheffield’s Off the Shelf Festival of Words with my own course…for the very first time!

Open Your Memory Box Participants, hard at work!

Open Your Memory Box Participants, hard at work!

It was an action-packed day. We also watched a miniature theatre performance, the Ice Book, and attended the launch of Writing Yorkshire.

To read the blog post, follow the link below – and while you’re at it, sign up to the Writing Yorkshire Newsletter, which is always packed with information. Writing Yorkshire, previously known as Signposts, helped me to launch my writing business, and they continue to support me as my experience and expertise grows.

http://writingyorkshire.org/blog/

Have fun writing!

If you need help, get in touch with me about bespoke writing and editing work.

I’m also available to run writing workshops, specialising in memoir and personal writing.