Category Archives: Guest Posts
My fourth guest-post by Nicola J Vincent; an amazing wordsmith and member of Wrekin Writers. We first met at the LOROS bash at the Guildhall and I was really impressed by her writing. Historic, atmospheric, alive. Here she reports back from a poetry festival attended by a gaggle of laureates past and present. A better place for poets is hard to imagine.
In Close-Up: The Wenlock Poetry Festival
Call me shallow but it was shoes, rather than more literary interests, that lured me to the Wenlock Poetry Festival one weekend in April. A workshop entitled ‘In Close-up: Shoes’, led by the poet Gill McEvoy, intrigued me from the moment I noticed it in the programme of events. After all, if shopping for shoes figures among my preferred pastimes, then surely writing about them must come a close second?
I wasn’t disappointed. Gill was knowledgeable (about poetry and shoes, revealing a personal passion – perhaps that should read obsession? – for red boots), enthusiastic and, importantly, encouraging. By the end of the two-hour session, I had produced a couple of half-decent poems and learnt rather a lot about the history of shoes.
The workshop was the highlight for me in a weekend that delivered what it promised: a celebration of the brightest and best of today’s poetry scene, to paraphrase the words of the festival founder, Anna Dreda, the owner of the award-winning Wenlock Books. With Carol Ann Duffy as patron, it was clear that the first Wenlock Poetry Festival would be something special.
The programme featured a range of workshops and events (for young and old), including readings by Roger McGough, Daljit Nagra and Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales. Clearly, much as I would have liked to, I couldn’t attend every event. I decided to focus largely on the poets with whose work I am personally less familiar.
So, on the morning of Saturday 10th April, I found myself at The Edge Arts Centre in Much Wenlock for a reading by Imtiaz Dharker. Inspiring, uplifting and thought-provoking, the event set the standard for the rest of the festival. Next on my schedule was Daljit Nagra who read from his acclaimed Look We Have Coming to Dover! I was fascinated to learn that, despite his success and growing reputation, he still works part-time as a teacher.
The following morning, in the perhaps unlikely (but actually rather perfect) setting of the Methodist Hall, I had the pleasure of listening to a mix of poetry and music by the Welsh poet, Paul Henry. This was followed by a reading by Philip Gross, winner of the 2009 T S Eliot Prize. His work I Spy Pinhole Eye, a collaboration with the photographer Simon Denison, has changed forever the way I will look at electricity pylons!
The festival ended with a powerful dramatisation of Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife by Linda Marlow. When Anna Dreda took to the stage afterwards to announce exciting plans for the future of the Wenlock Poetry Festival, I already knew that, for me, it will be an unmissable date on next year’s calendar.
My third guest post and a good one! Maria Smith is a prize-winning writer, chief barista at the First Draft Cafe and organizer of some cracking writing trips. Here she gives some great advice on writing buddies.
The Write Sort of Friend
Buddy, mate, partner, in fact whatever you feel most comfortable calling your writing pal. Now you may ask yourself, why would I want a writing pal? Well, this person is someone who has a good knowledge of writing – they will critique your work, tell you if your plot holds together and generally offer you support and general criticism about your writing. They are there to offer you moral support and encouragement in your life as a writer.
The benefits are enormous if you can find the right person and are able to make the relationship work successfully for both of you. Above all else, it must be someone you trust.
My pal and I are in contact throughout the week; via email we exchange each other’s work. We share any competition or market news, offer each other advice on submitting, celebrate any successes and lament over rejections.
He will focus on my work, give me useful information, whilst pointing out any weakness in my manuscript and generally makes him self available for second, third and even fourth rewrites! He is consistent with his comments, reading or listening objectively to my work. I offer him the same in return.
Only another writer can fully understand the struggles associated with the writing life. They can sympathise, empathise and generally and genuinely help you to get through.
So where do you find such a person? Where is this editor, critic, this friend, and your own personal fan to be found? I hear you cry.
I assure you that they can be found, but sometimes it takes a bit of work on your part. It may take you a few weeks or even months to unearth the right person. If you are a member of a writing circle or an online forum then you have lots of potential writing pals. You may meet up at a writer’s conference or maybe at a creative writing class in your local area, then again your pal maybe someone on the other side of the globe that you’ve found through a writers newsgroup. Take your time and choose wisely.
Do try and find out if you have a few things in common, apart from writing that is…as your new pal must be someone you feel comfortable with, as you will be showing him your most precious work. Try to look for someone who you feel at ease with, they don’t necessarily have to write prose of the same genre as you but it may help if you have a common interest like short stories, poetry, travel writing or humour.
I like to meet up with my pal every few weeks for a coffee, we don’t live too far away from each other and this works for us and our situation and it’s our chance to catch up, exchange goals and swap ideas. Everyone is different though and what works for one pair may not work for another.
I’ve written and submitted far more than ever before since the arrival of my writing pal. I’ve seen big improvements in my own writing since we’ve paired up together and he has in his work too! We’ve both benefited greatly from the companionship and support that has been there for us 24/7.
Just knowing that someone is going through the same things as you are and that they are available to help you through the tough times is inspiring in it self. There are some things that only another writer will understand.
We regularly discuss and set our writing goals, finding they are similar. We talk about the problems awaiting us as writers and try to formulate a plan to face them together.
It does take a bit of work to get a friendship like this up and running, but it will be worth it, as your pal will motivate you in all sorts of ways. When you are working with someone else you tend to get more done. Your pal understands you in ways your family and friends will not.So what are you waiting for? Get out there and find yourself a writing buddy.
Officially, this is now a series of guest posts (two months in a row, what more do you want, eh?). The irrepressible Keith Large sends us a recent interview (the interviewer’s name escapes me) which details a number of events that have put him on the map in the past few months. In fact the ADC theatre are reading another of his plays (see my review of Carrot Nappers on this very blog). And yes, he has roped me into playing a werewolf. For LOROS. Bloody hell! All yours, Keith:
MEET THE EVENTS MAN
If I asked you what Britain’s first female fast jet pilot, Princess Diana’s brother and the fastest man in the world all had in common…apart from they’ve written books… answer they’ve all been speakers at events organised by Leicestershire writer Keith Large.
You might have thought for a man who’s enjoyed two sell out plays of his own in the last 3 months he might have retired from promoting his famous friends.
‘Not a chance,’ he tells me. ‘ I love promoting other people. Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing people I really believe in do well.’
‘So what forthcoming events have you lined up?’
‘Two I’m really excited about. As much as any event that’s gone before. The first is
on Saturday 30th January at the Leicester Guildhall at 6.30p.m. It’s to raise money for LOROS, The Leicestershire and Rutland Hospice. I first became involved in the marvellous work they do when I introduced Earl Spencer to representatives of LOROS at a writers evening I organised with him at Althorp. The following year he was guest speaker at their annual LOROS Ladies Luncheon which raised £9,000 for the hospice. I also got some more of my writing friends to help with raising money for them in other ways including the very successful book tour with Northants authors Judith Allnatt and Sue Moorcroft. The event at The Guildhall is the biggest yet in terms of how many writers are involved. It’s primarily an evening of writers performing their work but we’ve a couple of very special guest actresses involved.’
Knowing Keith maybe someone from the recent Golden Globe awards.
‘Better,’ he replies. We’ve film and stage actress Genevieve Cleghorn who appeared in Keith’s highly rated comedy ‘Carrot Nappers’ and Marisa Spiteri from LOROS making her acting debut as part of her ‘Challenge Marisa series’ for LOROS.
‘What about the writers?’
‘Some you will have heard of and some you’ll be hearing a lot more about in the future.’
‘Shall we start with the big names?’
‘Every writer is a big name to me. I love writers and anybody who’s got the courage to produce work and get it out there for the world to judge has got my respect.’
‘So you’re not going to give us any clues who’s appearing?’
‘I know Dan you’re trying to get me to name drop. Stephen King is he a big name?’
‘You’ve never got him to come?’
‘No, but there’ll be an author there on the night who’s won The World Fantasy Award as many times as him. There’ll also be a lady there who’s books last year were the most borrowed in Northamptonshire libraries and a man who won The Daphne Du Maurier short story competition when it was the biggest short story competition in the world.’
‘And you’re not saying who they are?’
‘No, you’ll have to come along to find out.’
‘It sounds like a great night full of talent.’
‘And fun, It’s not about egos and people taking themselves seriously. It’s for a vital charity and we want to put a smile on people’s faces. Especially Dan when you have a go at acting.’
‘I know somehow I’ve landed a part of playing a Werewolf on the night.’
‘There’s also a chance for some audience participation on the night. as well as some pre-event participation.’
‘What does the pre-event involve?’
‘We want people to send a spooky/horror poem along with a £2 donation by cheque payable to ‘LOROS’ and the best three chosen will be read out on the night by Graham Joyce and will receive a prize as well.
Entries to Marisa Spiteri,
‘Also we’ll be launching a post event short story competition for LOROS. Can’t you tell we love writing competitions. Top Leicestershire writer Keith Morley has kindly agreed to donate a first prize of £100 to the competition winner with cash prizes also for second and third. More details on the night.
‘So how do people get tickets for this night?’
‘Tickets are £10 including wine and nibbles and are available by contacting LOROS fund raising on 0116 231 8431 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
‘And finally Keith your own writing is going great at the moment. A new play called ‘Every Vote Counts’ starring American actor Steve Kantor who I believe has been e-mailing some of his famous friends including Billy Zane to promote your play and you’ve recently won a national short story competition with ‘The Tisbech Terror’.
But do you think it will always be ‘Carrot Nappers’ that people will remember you for?’
‘Whatever happens in the future, ‘Carrot Nappers’ will always be special. I remember listening to an author who had one really famous book moaning that all people wanted to talk to him about was that one book and none of his other work. I’ll never tire of ‘Carrot Nappers’ because on stage a great cast made it the very thing it was to write…FUN!
‘Talking of fun, you’ve an author visiting Loughborough College on Wednesday 24th March 2010 for an evening guaranteed to be full of laughs.’
‘That’s another night I can’t wait for. We’ve the brilliant Jane Wenham-Jones travelling up from Kent for an after dinner speaker evening. We’ve already sold tickets to writers from as far as Peterborough and South Shropshire for this event.
We’ve ladies staying overnight in hotels for this night, but that might be because they’ve found out who the compere is.’
‘Have you read many of her books?’
‘ Yes, my fave is One Glass Is Never Enough, closely followed by Perfect Alibis. She’s my kind of writer. Like ‘The Carrot Nappers’… she’s full of FUN!
‘A night not to be missed.’
‘Only the sober and boring won’t be there. Check out the what’s new link on her website it has details of how to book.’
So here it is! My first ever guest-posting. It’s a good one too. Judith Allnatt is a superb writer who seems destined for a big breakthrough in the literary/commercial area of fiction. In this post she has some good advice for any writer: its about the imagination, dammit! [my cursing, not hers]
Her next novel, The Poet’s Wife (Out February 18th on Doubleday) , will –with any luck– provide that breakthrough. Set in 1841, it tells the story of Patty, the wife of the poet John Clare as he descends into madness. A must-read for next year.
Write what you don’t know.
Fledgling fiction writers are often advised to ‘write what you know’. This advice is no doubt intended to persuade them to draw on their own experiences, in the interest of producing something unique, rather than falling into the trap of producing a re-worked version of their favourite read. But is there a danger in this approach? If we stick too closely to what we know, where is the excitement of the explorer, the curiosity that makes us want to imagine in the first place?
I recently worked as a visiting writer in a primary school. The children’s task was to write about a person, or creature, that lived in a rubbish dump. First we imagined objects, the soggy pizza boxes, old hoovers, vegetable peelings and broken bikes: the children were drawing on what they knew and it helped us to set the scene and think about the sights and sounds (and smells). Then I left them to come up with a description of the inhabitant of the tip on their own. There were monsters and aliens, a little girl who had lost her ballet shoe and a rubbish-eating robot. I asked a boy who wasn’t writing if he was stuck. He said that he was ‘trying to think of something that would feel right.’ I asked him to close his eyes and see what picture came. After a few moments he said, ‘There are miles and miles of black bin bags and there’s a unicorn standing chained up, with his head down. He wants to be clean again.’ This stark black and white image of dirt and cleanliness, corruption and purity was vivid and compelling and opened up a whole range of questions. Why was the unicorn there? What had it done? How would it escape? My point is that it was when the kids moved from what they knew to what they didn’t that the results became interesting – became creative. And for that one lad it was the point at which he made an intuitive leap and got that holy grail of writing – a good idea.
A famous writer, whose name eludes me, once said ‘I write what I want to find out’, the exact opposite of ‘writing what you know.’ And how much more interesting it sounds: like a journey that will lead to some enlightenment, a person feeling their way with open hands for the shape of a story that will satisfy, make sense, and feel emotionally true. Wanting to find out, through writing, is exactly how it feels to me. In ‘A Mile of River’ I wondered what would happen if the pull of family ties were at odds with a young girl’s emerging identity. In ‘The Poet’s Wife,’ I wanted to find out how far love might stretch when a loved one changes beyond all recognition and about the blurred boundaries between love and madness. Questions are good prompts to the imagination and trying to answer them provides the underpinning of the story.
Of course we inevitably draw on what we know: to provide details of setting, characters’ voices, the way it feels to be scared or lonely or in love, but a good helping of what you don’t know will power your work. It will at the very least encourage research and at best will result in you finding and exploring themes that interest you. Maybe that’s what inspiration is – the moment when you stumble across something that you want to find out and that can only be found out by the creative act of imagining and writing.
[Many Thanks to Judith for her posting. My next guest (January): Keith Large]