Friday, 12 May 2017

IGISIRI books for April 2017 - what were your reads?

Here I am with my latest IGISIRI update: remember, IGISIRI means 'I've Got It, So I'll Read It!' and it's a simple project where you read two books each month, books already on your bookshelves. You choose them quickly and without too much consideration. And you read them. That's all there is to it!

For the past two months I managed four books off my TBR pile each month, not two, and last week I was enjoying the first break I've had this year down in Cornwall, so I was armed with several paperbacks and my trusty Kindle. The irony is, I didn't read as much as I expected in April. First, I was up to the wire finishing a client's edit and report before I left. Secondly, Cornwall is just so lovely (as you'll see from the photo here!) I spent far more time gazing at the sea and going out for great meals than reading...

Anyway, here's the latest IGISIRIs for me - and as usual, I'd be delighted to hear about your latest reads. You can comment here on the blog or on my Facebook pages, LornaFergussonAuthor and Fictionfire.

Remember, I list my latest reads briefly here - I'm not writing lengthy reviews.

Two thrillers, this month, then:

J J Marsh, Raw Material - this is one of the Beatrice Stubbs series of novels. I'd read one before (Tread Softly) and certainly intend to read the whole series. Pacy, witty, quirky, yet dealing with dark topics - human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Great use of location. You won't meet anyone else quite like Beatrice in other detective stories! I read it in two sittings - I love J J Marsh's writing.

Tess Gerritsen: Playing with Fire - longterm readers of Literascribe will know she's one of my favourite thriller writers and a lovely person too (I met her several years ago). This is one of her standalone novels, rather than one in the Rizzoli and Isles series. Here she starts with what looks like a kind of Exorcist situation, with an innocent-seeming child and a strangely powerful piece of music. What unfolds is a historical tragedy with a powerful moral message. Extremely moving.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

IGISIRI books for March 2017 - what were your reads?

A reminder that I'll be teaching at
Winchester Writers' Festival in June.
 Bookings are now open
 so visit the website for details.
In February I told you about my IGISIRI campaign and I hope you were interested enough to start your own! If you remember, IGISIRI stands for 'I've Got It So I'll Read It' and the simple concept is that you read two books a month, two books you already own and are selected quickly and without too much thought or dithering from the many many I know are sitting on your bookshelves. If they're anything like mine, they reproach you silently every time you scan those shelves. 'Read me, read me!' they plaintively call ...

So here, slightly late, are my ISIGIRIs for March (it's not my intention to write full reviews here - just record them and draw your attention to them in case they might interest you):

Jessica Bell: The Book - a novella written in several different voices, at the heart of which is a troubled child. Compelling in its satire of relationships and the lies we tell ourselves, with a very moving ending.

Clare Flynn: A Greater World - a damn good historical read, mainly set in Australia after World War 1. A classic search for self and love against a very well realised backdrop.

Kathleen Winter: Boundless - a poetic account of being writer in residence on board a ship travelling through the North West Passage. Fascinating blend of history, travelogue and introspection.

Marcus Ferrar: The Fight for Freedom - a lucid summary of how various kinds of freedom have been worth struggling for over more than two thousand years of civilisation.

As you'll see, instead of two books, I give you four! That's the remarkable thing - in saying I only read two I seem to facilitate the ability to read more than that.

I hope you'll join me and share your recent IGISIRIs
- you can do so by commenting on this post or by visiting my Facebook pages, Lorna Fergusson Author and Fictionfire-Inspiration-for-Writers.

You can see my introductory post about IGISIRIs and the books I read in January here.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Twelve free books too good to miss

Time has almost run out but until midnight on 28th February you can take your pick of any or all of these twelve amazing reads, simply by visiting www.helenahalme.com/instafreebie!

I've got together with eleven other women writers in an experiment in co-promotion of our stories. It has been a revelation to work this way, where we can pool our resources and talents to improve our chances of discoverability. We're hoping to increase our lists of subscribers and develop that relationship between writers and their readers that's so important to us. After all, we write to be read!

Let me introduce you in this video.

If you visit the landing page you can download any or all of the books, in return for subscribing to the author's mailing list (and you can unsubscribe later, of course, if you want!).

Here are the twelve books, including with my own An Oxford Vengeance:













I hope you'll enjoy these reads and for those of you who are writers, I'll report back on how this sort of promotional activity has worked - or not - for me!

Remember, you can always sign up for my newsletters at www.fictionfirepress.com and www.fictionfire.co.uk and you can follow me on Facebook at LornaFergussonAuthor and at Fictionfire-inspiration-for-writers!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

What is IGISIRI? Well, it's to do with reading ...

This photo tells you something about what is known by addicted book-buyers as the TBR pile. This is just a tiny corner of mine! Shelves fill up, nooks and corners fill up, the space by the bed fills up, the floor starts to disappear ... wonderful books, all deserving of attention, all wait patiently to be read.


So today, I want to introduce you to a fun activity to help you start to tackle the TBR pile if you ever, like me, stand in front of your bookshelves and find yourself in a state of guilt and near-panic! Do you find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer number of books sitting there, beautiful, enticing, intriguing, entertaining, worthy, informative – and you haven’t read them yet? Do you worry that you never will? Do you approach the shelves determined to pick one to read – and then, because there are so many, you can’t choose?! Argh!

I’ve been in that state of mind all my adult life, it sometimes feels! So, just after Christmas, I made a decision.

I am going to tackle the To Be Read pile, I said to myself.

A small voice deep in my brain, chortled at that. Not for the first time.

Ah! But I have a cunning plan, I replied.

Oh yeah? The small voice said.

Yeah!

This is what I’m doing – and I’m inviting you to join in, if you like. This is not an ambitious, discipline and demanding reading programme. Like diets, plans like this are all very well when you start, but real life and distractions pull you away from sticking to them.

So here it is, and it's really simple. I decided to read two books from my TBR pile, per month. Couldn’t be simpler. Not one book a day or week. Two per month. But they have to be from the TBR pile – not newly-bought ones. I am playing with the notion of making one fiction, one non-fiction, but that’s not a binding rule. The whole point about this is not to feel bound at all, not to be obligated, driven or burdened. I make my decisions each month as quickly and spontaneously as possible because if I look at the shelves for too long then all those lovely books will start nagging me – Pick me! Pick me!

I walk over, grab one, start. There we are.

So far it’s working – and the paradox is that I’m actually reading more than two because there’s a kind of playful liberation going on with this process.

Want to join me? I’m going to post which TBR books I’ve read each month here on  Literascribe, and on my Facebook pages – both LornaFergussonAuthor and Fictionfire-Inspiration-for-Writers. I may say a few words about them, I may not. I am not going to write long reviews because then the playfulness will go out the window and I’ll feel like I’m tackling a task – guilt and pressure will sneak back in, before I know it.

If you’d like to join in – I’m calling it ‘I’ve Got It, So I’ll Read It!’ (IGISIRI for short) - add what you’ve been reading to my Facebook page discussion, or subscribe to Literascribe and add your comments. If you discover one of those books that has been lurking on your TBR pile is a total gem and you think everyone should read it – let us know! (Although, of course, that will mean you’re adding to our TBR piles …!)

To kick us off: my IGISIRI books this year so far are:

·       Georgette Heyer’s Snowdrift – a Christmas gift from my sister, a collection of short stories which were a nostalgic pleasure
·       Vanessa LaFaye’s Summertime – beautifully written, set in Florida after World War I and culminating in an edge-of –the-seat account of the worst hurricane ever to hit that region
·       Catherine Ryan Howard’s Distress Signals – an enjoyable thriller set on a cruise ship, with really sparky dialogue

·       Jane Alexander’s The Last Treasure Hunt – a darkly witty satire on our hunger for fame and how feeding the public’s hunger for inside stories can spiral out of control. 

Thursday, 3 November 2016

The route march to publication - author Marg Roberts guest-posts about her novel A Time for Peace

I'm delighted to welcome author Marg Roberts to Literascribe to describe her route to publication and the challenges she met and overcame along the way. I'm full of admiration for how she has kept faith with her novel during its evolution and then the lengthy submission process - perseverance has paid off!

It has taken many years to reach the stage where I can hold the novel I have written in my hands. Part of the satisfaction relates to the time it’s taken- the classes and courses I’ve attended, the pages that have been critiqued – occasionally rubbished – and the life events that have disrupted the process. So my advice on how to keep writing is personal and not prescriptive.
Writing is a process of discovery, and like a good story, comes in a series of revelations rather than the waving of a wand at the last moment. Because I didn’t have a clear narrative or plot in mind when I began, but rather an idea I needed to develop, it took some time.
I was fascinated by the story of Flora Sandes, a woman who became a soldier in the Serbian army during the First World War. My first attempt at this novel alternated between the journeys of a Serb colonel and a British medic. Stefan wanted peace when other Serbs wanted to fight, but I couldn't discover a reason, so I concentrated on Ellen. After completing a full length novel about how she overcame antagonism from men within the army, and her personal repugnance at killing another human being, I wasn't satisfied. I wasn't satisfied that the character I described could actually shoot to kill and I changed her story.

During this time, I was writing, developing my craft, researching not only Serbia during the First World War, but finding out about its history, its place in the Balkans, its religion, its way of living. I learned how its army was structured, the role of aid agencies during that war and eventually, from all this confusion and passion, emerged the beginning of a love story. Two separate ones, actually: Stefan’s and Ellen’s. I explore how their relationships, Stefan with his wife, and Ellen with her fiancé, were threatened by the experience of war.
Initially I expected to be able to earn money by writing. It became evident that I couldn’t write mainstream commercial fiction. Many writers of prose and poetry have to take other paid employment in order to do the writing they choose, but by the time I came to write, I had an occupational pension and my husband was still working, so providing ourselves with food and shelter wasn’t an issue.
This, I appreciate, is a luxury. Many squeeze writing in after work, when children are in bed, or as they travel to and from work. What we have in common is the compulsion to write. Because I’d worked regular hours, I used this structure as a template for my new career. I’d visit a café first thing in the morning so I was with ‘real’ people–that I made friends in the various cafés was a bonus. Each day begins with the practice of writing and reflection even if the rest of the day doesn’t allow for any more.
As I finished each novel (4 in all), I submitted them to competitions and eventually to agents. Doing so helped me both take myself seriously and polish each submitted piece. Was I toughened by this process? No. Each disappointment I experienced as failure, despite advice to see if I could reach 100 rejections and view each as a triumph of some sort. I met agents at conferences and publishing events and came to understand the business world they operated in. Nonetheless, the rejections hit hard.
The big chance for publication came when Jan Fortune at Cinnamon Press offered a year’s mentorship for writers with potential. Jan and her son Rowan wrote a comprehensive analysis of the novel and for the first time, a professional liked it. After a year revising and tightening the plot, Jan advised I submit to mainstream publishers because she believed the novel deserved a wider readership than Cinnamon Press might provide. For 18 months I submitted online, by post and ‘pitches’, but without success. As that process drew to an end, I entered a Cinnamon Press novel competition, A Time for Peace was shortlisted to the last five and I was offered publication in 2016. After a further year of editing scenes, by March this year, I was at the stage of proofreading.

Marg's friends listen
intently at the book launch
On 18th October 2016, A Time for Peace was launched at Waterstones, Leamington Spa, in the company of family and friends. Jan Fortune introduced the novel in her passionate, inspiring way and with the help of Nigel Hutchinson, a friend, I read a couple of extracts from the novel. A Time for Peace was ready for its readers!

You can buy A Time for Peace via the Cinnamon shop here, and on Amazon.co.uk here, and at Waterstone's here.

Marg's website is www.margroberts.co.uk

A quick reminder - if you're interested in writing for teens booking closes next Friday (11th November) for Fictionfire's day course The Next Big Thing in Teen Fiction - Could You Be the One to Write It? with acclaimed author Julie Hearn. Julie talks about why she writes for teens here. Details of the day course are here.


Thursday, 13 October 2016

Why write YA? Author Julie Hearn explains why writing for young adults matters to her


Some years ago, I came across an amazing book. It was written for a younger readership but like many books in that genre it pulled no punches when dealing with challenging, even poignant issues. At the same time it was packed with wit, energy and a kind of magical sprightliness I found immensely appealing. The book was Follow Me Down and its author was Julie Hearn.

I met Julie herself years later: we were both teaching on Oxford University's International Creative Writing Summer School. It was a joy to make friends with a writer who was as much fun and as charged with imaginative energy as the book she'd written. I'm delighted that Julie will be teaching a day course on writing teen fiction as part of my autumn programme of Fictionfire events: she's a truly inspiring teacher with so much knowledge of the craft and the industry to impart. I've asked her over to Literascribe to describe how she came to write in the YA genre and why it matters to her. Over to Julie -

“Why did you start writing Young Adult fiction?”
I get asked this a lot.
Firstly, I was tired of writing for adults. Aged thirty, I was a journalist, writing a mother and baby column for The Daily Star. Aged forty I was at Oxford University, writing about maternal power and witch-hunts in Early Modern England, for a MSt in Women’s Studies. I  felt – and still feel – a wicked sense of satisfaction over that shift but, aged forty-one, the thought of writing more stuff requiring footnotes appealed about as much as the thought of writing more dross for the tabloids.
I needed another shift.
Secondly, the story idea that hooked me so completely that it got into my dreams seemed tailor-made for  the Young Adult market (for readers aged eleven to seventeen, or thereabouts) I had found it in the Bodleian Library’s collection of  printed ephemera: an eighteenth century handbill, about a young girl being shown as a “monster” at Bartholomew Fair.

The Changeling Child

To be seen next door to the Black Raven in West Smithfield, during the time of Bartholomew Fair, a living skeleton taken from a Turkish Vessel. This is a Fairy Child supposed to be born of Hungarian parents but changed in the nursing. Aged nine years or more, not exceeding a foot and a half high, the legs, thighs and arms so very small that they scarce exceed the bigness of a man's thumb and the face no bigger than the palm of one's hand and seems so grave and solid as if it were threescore years old. You may see the whole anatomy of its body by setting it against the sun. It never speaks. It has no teeth but is the most hungry creature in the world, eating more victuals than the stoutest man in England. Gives great satisfaction to all that ever did, or shall, behold it.

I wanted to give this Changeling Child the happy ending she surely did not have in real life. I wanted to address issues of abuse, and difference, and love and loyalty without cynicism or the rueful wisdom of an adult author addressing adult readers.
I camped out in the Bodleian, researching Bartholomew Fair and eighteenth- century London. I read about the surgeons at  St Bartholomew’s  Hospital who dissected corpses as often, and as cheerfully, as they might have cut up a chop for supper. I read about the grave robbers who supplied those corpses, charging extra for anything “unusual”. My young protagonist, I decided, was going to be a time traveller who would meet the Changeling Child and uncover a plot that could see her dead before her time, and under the knife of my hard-hearted dissectionist, Dr Flint.
Writing Follow Me Down was like sliding down a rainbow – a giddy, exhilarating swoop towards – what? I didn’t know. I didn’t wonder, much, about the publication process. It was enough, back then, to be making things up, with no worries about libel actions or plagiarism!
Follow Me Down went to auction. It was translated into French, Italian, German, Spanish and Japanese. It was shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award and nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal. It paid for my kitchen extension and a holiday in Antigua.
Julie Hearn
Best of all it sent me on a writing journey that has been challenging, rewarding and never, ever dull. I care about this kind of  writing. I care about my readers and, while mindful of what author Madeleine L’Engle said - “…the best children’s books ask questions, and make the reader ask questions. And every new question is going to disturb someone’s universe.” – I am careful about the way I frame a question for impressionable young minds.
I care about my characters.
“How old is the protagonist in Follow Me Down?” I was asked, a while ago, during a radio interview.
“Tom’s fifteen,” I replied. And then I realised: “No … sorry… he’s twelve. In the book, I mean. He’s fifteen  now.”
The interviewer gave me a look that said “Are you mad?”
When I tell that story to other YA writers they smile, and nod. They absolutely get it. They, too, have worked so hard to create characters “real” teenagers will recognise, and bond with, that should those characters knock at the door one day they would not turn a hair.
They, too have slid down a few rainbows in their time.

It is great, great fun.  


The Next Big Thing in Teen Fiction - Could You Be the One to Write It? 
Day course in Oxford, 19th November 2016

Are you keen to write or develop your fiction for teens or young adults? Julie Hearn, who has published seven acclaimed novels including Follow Me Down, The Merrybegot and Rowan the Strange, will help you develop your storytelling techniques, including crucial aspects such as openings, character and voice, plot and pace. You'll learn about the young adult genre and what's hot in the current market, maximising your chances of success with your submission. With discussion and writing exercises during the course, you'll leave with increased confidence, enhanced skills and the courage to make your pitch.
.
The course runs from 9.45-5.00 and includes all refreshments and a delicious lunch.

For full details and how to book, visit www.fictionfire.co.uk/course-dates-&-details 
Other Fictionfire workshops are listed here and the next Simply Write Retreat is here.
Contact info@fictionfire.co.uk if you have any questions.







Friday, 16 September 2016

Historical Novel Society Conference Oxford 2016 Part 4: Rights, Responsibilities and Relationships

One of the Emperors outside the Sheldonian Theatre
is surprised to receive a visitor!
After the packed conference Saturday, we could be forgiven for feeling a little punch drunk on Sunday but more panel discussions, chat, bookstall foraging and friendship-making awaited!.

I attended a panel on Foreign Rights and Translation, with agent Carole Blake chairing, in discussion with Louise Rogers Lalaurie, a translator, and Laura Morelli, a novelist who has made her own successful foreign rights deals.

This is the sharp end of the industry: ‘This is business’, as Carole says. It’s the sort of area we writers might feel wary of and it’s certainly an area where I for one would prefer to have an agent to do the horse-trading rather than do it myself, though Laura has demonstrated that it’s perfectly possible.

Louise Rogers Lalaurie, Laura Morellis and Carole Blake
What are the key lessons to be learned? First of all, research. If you’re doing it yourself you need to research the markets in foreign countries and if someone makes an offer to publish or to translate your work, you need to do your homework. As Carole said, ‘Don’t be so grateful that you don’t ask around and do your research.’ Laura had been contacted by a Hungarian publisher and had the good sense to check them out.

Secondly, be aware of territories. Know which territories you can sell to and whether some rights have been reserved after your initial publishing deal. Has your agent sold UK rights first, followed by US/North America? Contracts will have a schedule of countries where rights are still available. Brexit – which had become a dark undertone to the conference – will make things like this more complicated in the future. In addition, Louise said that EU funding for translations of works will now decline – it’s already happening. Boo.

Thirdly, the contract. Carole said, ‘Think of every eventuality that might produce an argument’. Think of the relationship you have with your agent – you want someone with whom you can build a longterm partnership, not someone creaming off the profit from success you’ve already created for yourself, doing one deal and deserting you. She recommended that you have multiple income streams derived from separate sales of rights into different languages.

I learned that ‘In some markets it’s a legal requirement to pay a royalty to the translator’, which I hadn’t known before. Louise advocated encouraging the translator to become part of the whole selling process rather than being a temporary gun for hire. You can do this by offering a small royalty – the translator can end up being ‘your best advocate’. She said that some translators work with self-publishing authors. They may also have relationships with publishers that enable them to suggest to publishers that they should buy the rights to your work or commission a translation.

Favourite quote: ‘Agents hate the word “gave”.’ Carole Blake
Interesting book recommended: Tregiani’s Ground by Anne Cuneo

I ended up being very late for Tracy Chevalier’s Keynote Address (and as a result couldn't get a good photo of her). Luckily I’d seen her at the Oxford Literary Festival in the spring and since then I’ve read At the Edge of the Orchard which she was talking about then and very much enjoyed it.

Blackwell's bookstall was busy all weekend
Once again she proved to be a warm and witty speaker, discussing how she came to write HF: ‘It allows me to step outside myself – and no one will ask if it’s autobiographical’. She expressed wariness, though, when it comes to the HF label, saying that if she were to sum up each of her novels in a tagline, it would come across as a contemporary story. She added ‘Being interested in the past makes us better people’, clearly feeling that the modern age is a solipsistic one. Her latest work is a take on Shakespeare’s Othello, transferred to an American school in 1974. (Hogarth Press has been commissioning authors to re-envision Shakespeare – I’ll be attending Margaret Atwood’s talk here in Oxford in November. Her novel, Hag-seed, is an interpretation of The Tempest. I’m not sure, actually, how I feel about all this, but we’ll see.)

Writing this book led her to wonder whether 1974 could be said to be historical – so we were coming full circle to the discussion started by Fay Weldon and Jo Baker on Friday. This also led, as with Melvyn Bragg, to a consideration of the times we’re living in (or through), in this truly insane year of politics, of Brexit, of what Tracy called ‘terrible news’.  ‘Sometimes you feel you’re living history,’ she said and we all agreed. And to be honest, it doesn’t feel good. Maybe, I thought, that is one of the reasons we love HF – it’s the past and it’s safely in the past. Nothing feels all that safe right now.

Lovely slide design by Alison Morton
After the coffee-break I took part in a panel discussion myself, along with Alison Morton, Helen Hollick and Antoine Vanner. Our topic was Going Indie: Questions and Answers. We discussed the benefits of going indie: Control! Freedom! Transparent royalties and income! Choosing your own cover! Taking pride in producing your work as professionally as possible!

We were also honest about the pitfalls. As a literary consultant myself I stressed the importance of proper editing. We talked about the burden of responsibility that never ends: the constant marketing and promotion which can feel like a treadmill sometimes.

However, dear reader, bear this in mind: whether you are trade-published or indie, the ultimate responsibility for your book is yours. And you will always have to market it, no matter what.

Tracy Chevalier, Harry Sidebottom and CC Humphreys
After a lively Q & A session I made it to the final event, the hilarious HistFictionist Challenge, a quiz that pitted the panel – Tracy Chevalier, CC Humphreys, Harry Sidebottom - against the audience. We learned the many names under which Jean Plaidy wrote, the relative number of words in Ben Hur versus the population of London at a certain era and much much more …

Then, in a rush of final speeches, lunch, buying books and getting them signed, hugs and farewells, it was all over.

Carol McGrath and Jenny Barden
are thanked by HNS chairman Richard Lee
The committee breathed a collective, contented but utterly exhausted sigh of relief – Oxford 2016 had been everything we’d wanted it to be, under the guiding hands of Carol McGrath and Jenny Barden. Memories have been made, friendships forged – and Oxford itself was a star player, though it could have done slightly better on the weather front!

Shout-outs to the Committee:

Richard Lee (HNS Chairman), Carol McGrath, Jenny Barden, Liz Harris, Deborah Swift, Anita Chapman, Alison Morton, Nikki Fine, Clare Flynn, Antoine Vanner, Mary Fisk, Ouida Taafe, Charlotte Betts, Helen Hollick, Charlie Farrow.

I’d like to thank the staff at St Anne’s College who were incredibly helpful during many months when I was fielding accommodation inquiries!

Shout-outs to old friends and new acquaintances:

Essie Fox, Emma Darwin, Karen Maitland, Douglas Jackson, Alison Morton, Anna Belfrage and many others, plus the friends I knew were present – yet we didn’t even have time to say hello!
Farewell to the beautiful venue, the Andrew Wiles Building

Home again - and lucky me, home means Oxford!
A selection of my lovely conference swag!

Details of the new season of my Fictionfire workshops, a day course and a retreat can be found here, and you can sign up for my Fictionfire newsletter - articles, recommended reads and resources, competitions and more.

An Oxford Vengeance, my collection of short stories including 'Salt', which won the Conference London 2014 Award, is available to buy on Amazon here and here.

Part 1 of these posts on the 2016 HNS conference is here, Part 2 is here and Part 3 is here. My posts on the conferences of 2014 and 2012 go here.