Monday, 23 September 2013

Winchester Writers' Conference 2013, Oxford Summer Schools and being published - quite a summer! Part 1

The Stripe and St Alphege buildings
University of Winchester

Summer 2013 has been anything but relaxing - but it's certainly never been boring! it started with the University of Winchester's Writers' Conference where I taught a masters' course on heroes and villains and gave a talk on self-editing which was very well attended. I've been going to Winchester for many years now and I've seen huge changes to the site along the way. This year was no different: new buildings continue to spring up impressively on what is after all a congested hillside. I taught in the new St Alphege Building and stayed in one of the new halls of residence - so new, in fact, that the approach steps hadn't been built! My first en suite year at Winchester, actually, which was great - it's many years since I was a student myself and shared facilities down the corridor were a tolerable option!

The conference, as I've said before, is as much about networking as it is about teaching and being taught. I met up with old friends - Sally Spedding, Adrienne Dines, Sophie King, Denise Watson - and met new ones like Della Galton. Not only did I teach, but I had the opportunity to sell The Chase: I'd just got it out in paperback in time. David Simpson of PG Wells was kind enough to sell it at the conference Book Fair. The rise of self-publishing as a valid means of reaching a readership continues: Amazon had a stand, writers were welcome to show their books and chat about their publishing experience on the 'red sofa', or at the Writer's Shed stand. There was a great atmosphere of curiosity and mutual support and interest - a real buzz.

As the pace was relentless throughout the weekend, I only attended the plenary talk, which took the form of a Q and A session with Julian Fellowes and his wife Emma, called 'We Do Not Know Anything More than You Do'. Julian's answers were full and exuberant, and didn't leave much room for all that many questions, given the very limited time available. His main message was the same as William Goldman's famous aphorism: 'Nobody knows anything'. He reviewed his own passage to mega-success with Downton Abbey - his career a demonstration of the central alchemy of success: a mix of hard work, perseverance, self-belief and good fortune.

His advice to writers was to hold on to your vision. He warned that writing gurus like Robert McKee will end up making you write like everyone else. He remembered an agent telling him to put his script for Snobs in the bin - it sold in 47 countries. He learned that 'the more you try to make the show that everyone will like, the more you make the show that nobody will like', so you should 'make the thing that you will like.'

He is self-disciplined: long ago he made a rule for himself that he would never let 24 hours go by without doing something to advance his cause. He told us 'tenacity is the key factor' and that 'the person for whom your career is super-important is you'. He revealed that writing a screenplay is 'a war of attrition' so you seek an ally, a director or producer 'who wants to make the same film as you do'. He demonstrated the luck-factor, telling us how his Oscar-winning screenplay for Gosford Park came about because Robert Altman couldn't find a writer for the film, then somebody happened to mention his name ...

He quoted actor Albert Finney as saying 'if you've got it, they'll find you', which is enormously reassuring, something for writers to cling to, even if it is perhaps an illusory comfort!

Julian's was a bravura performance, to which his wife made acerbic and witty contributions - especially when describing how she reads his work. Time ran out - plenary speeches at Winchester are always time-challenged! Over the years I've listened to some great writers/entertainers on that platform - Terry Pratchett, Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo among them - people with a charismatic combination of industry-knowledge, wit and passionate love of their profession. They come with love of story welded into their DNA. They pronounce from on high, but have experienced the lows. They entertain and inform, sending their audiences away both humbled and elevated.

Barbara Large giving her farewell speech
 at the closing dinner
There was a bittersweet tone to this conference too, because this was the last year to be presided over by Barbara Large, its founder and director for 33 years. Barbara has never lost her enthusiasm for helping what she calls her 'family' of writers. I first met her when, as an unpublished writer seeking the support of a community of writers, I attended the conference back in the 90s. In 2000 she invited me to give a lecture, followed by mini-courses in the years to follow. The closing dinner of the conference was a time for celebration of all she has done, for gratitude and appreciation, for tearfulness - we all wish her happiness in the future and we all know that, whatever else she does, it will involve writing and writers!

I returned to Winchester on the Tuesday after the conference, to run an intensive day workshop called Plot, Polish, Pitch and Promote - the title says it all! (Scroll down for more photos of the conference)

In part 2 of this post, I'll describe the summer schools I taught and how I made it into print three times this season.


The autumn/winter schedule of Fictionfire Workshops is on the website here: titles are Get Inspired, Stay Inspired; Let's Get Spooky; Plotting - What's at Stake?; Share and Support; Spiritual Journeys. In addition, Dr Pauline Kiernan will be guest-tutoring an exciting day course, Screenwriting Techniques for Novelists, on October 19th. I'll also be running my very first Simply Write Retreat on November 9th. The first workshop is on October 5th and booking for that closes on October 2nd. Full details of all of these and how to make your booking are at

The view from the new hall of residence - steps still under construction!

About to teach my Masters' Course in the St Alphege building

Adrienne Dines saying thank you to Barbara on behalf of us all

With Denise Watson, Sally Spedding and Nik Charrett at the closing dinner

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Magical Books at the Bodleian Library Oxford

Mr Tumnus and friend, perhaps,
in front of the Bodleian and the Radcliffe Camera, Oxford
In Oxford, the Bodleian Library's free exhibition until 27th October features modern children's fantasy writers and the books and manuscripts which inspired and influenced them. This post is the article I wrote for the newsletter of Writers in Oxford - we were allowed a preview of some of the exhibits back in March. I urge you to visit if you're in Oxford this summer, especially if you're a fan of Tolkien, Lewis or Philip Pullman! (I wish I had some more images but I haven't been able to track down the shots I took that day and exhibition images on the Bodleian's website are protected by copyright!)


Spring 2013. Freezing. The White Witch rules. On Twitter, someone pleads ‘People of Oxford, stop eating the Turkish Delight!’ Twelve Writers in Oxford members gather in Narnian temperatures at the Radcliffe Science Library. Adjusting to the tropical conditions inside, we’re conducted down to a small room, lit harshly, where we’re privileged to view a choice selection of Magical Manuscripts, which will form part of an exhibition at the Bodleian from May 23rd.

On display are original works by fantasy writers J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Alan Garner alongside texts which inspired them. ‘Marvels of the East’, from the 12th century, illustrates fabulous beasts and a perky-looking man with his face looking out from in his chest. Then there’s a 15th century necromantic manuscript, full of spells, conjurations and ‘experimental true experiences of angels’; an early 17th century miscellany with instructions on ‘how to see by thy self in a cristall stone’, with circular charms to help you avoid death by sword and poison, sealed with ‘Abracalabra’; and a gorgeous picture of jousting knights in ‘The Romance of Gyron le Courtois’ from the late 15th century.

It’s fascinating how the modern writers drew on this sort of material. We see a notebook where C.S. Lewis wrote about Digory Kirke’s boyhood: how neat his writing was, how uncorrected. The three pages of Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, by contrast, are exuberant, with spikily graceful writing and many scorings-out, yet precisely dated to the 20th March 1965. Garner, we’re told, drew on Arthurian myth and consulted the Rawlinson necromantic manuscript mentioned above.

Finally, Tolkien. I was lucky enough, many years ago, to read the manuscript of The Lord of the Rings at Marquette University in America, so I was familiar with his process of composition, feeling his way from ‘Hobbit Mark II’ to a richer epic tale, and his habit of drawing pictures to bring his imagined world into focus. The exhibition includes Tolkien’s mock-ups of pages from The Book of Mazarbul, carefully distressed with pipe-smoke, their edges burnt like the manuscript of Beowulf. A sketch of Shelob’s lair sits beside the script in pencil overlaid with ink, describing that episode.

Everyone is struck by Tolkien’s watercolours, executed in poster paint in the 1930s, some of them familiar from published editions, but here more vibrant, a blend of the na├»ve and the intricately precise. Bilbo bowing before the red-gold dragon on his hoard of treasure, Rivendell in spring green with tiers of flowing water and blossomy branches, rather like a Japanese painting, and best of all, an eagle among the mountain peaks, looking out over cloud, snow and ice-blue sky. A picture like a breath of the North Wind blowing – the very wind that is still blowing when we leave the library. The White Witch hasn’t given up her rule yet.

And here's the link to my blogpost about an earlier exhibition, Shelley's Ghost:

In other news: well, there's no news, as yet, about the Macmillan Write Now Prize - I'm on the shortlist of four and I think the announcement of the winner is due at the end of the month, but can't guarantee it. On tenterhooks!

I've just taught a summer school held by the university at Exeter College - the college both Tolkien and Pullman attended. I was teaching in the Morris Room - so really, there's no getting away from literary connections in this city!

My novel The Chase is available on Kindle, Kobo, and as a paperback. I'm currently working on an anthology of short stories and a historical novel, set in the 19th century. 

In the next few days I'll be announcing Fictionfire workshops and an exciting day course for the autumn/winter season!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

My novel Hinterland is shortlisted for Pan Macmillan's Write Now Prize!

I'm delighted to announce that my unpublished children's novel Hinterland has now reached the shortlist of four for Macmillan's Write Now Prize! I couldn't be more pleased, especially since the shortlisting has come from the votes of independent booksellers, who each chose their top two from the longlist of eight.  To have the validation of those who work in the trade and who know what children's reading tastes are makes the shortlisting all the more special. Now, of course, we shortlistees have to wait for the winner to be picked, chosen by Macmillan's publishing panel. So good luck to my fellow shortlisted writers Daniel Whelan, Martin Stewart and Clare Sandling!

Here's the opening of Hinterland, along with
another Cornish location-shot.

Chapter 1

The old man stands outside a house on a busy street. It's an ordinary terraced house on an ordinary street, where people are revving up for the business of the day. Shortly there will be the surge of traffic as the school-run reaches its peak.

The old man gazes at the house: one of the upstairs windows is slightly open and he can hear raised voices drifting out.

The boy.

The girl.

The time is nearly right.

He turns away, smiling.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Triskele Books Launch Party

One of the things I love best about social media is that you make wonderful connections with people you'd never have met in the normal course of affairs. Connections lead to friendship, advice, support and information - all of which may lead to further connections, friendship, advice ... you get the picture.

Some time ago, having decided to republish my novel myself, I set about looking for a cover designer. I wanted my book to look good. Professional. Eye-catching. Effective at thumbnail size. Distinctive. In no way amateur-looking. So, I started clicking onto book covers I liked, then finding out who was thanked by the writer for having designed the cover. I discovered Jane Dixon-Smith - and discovering her led me to Triskele Books, a writers' co-operative: Jane designed their logo and their book covers.

Liking what I saw, I started communicating with Jane and commissioned not only my book cover but logos for my consultancy and imprint. She turned out to be an absolute joy to work with: friendly, responsive, professional. I'm delighted with all she has done and fully intend to go to her again when I need future book covers designed.

With Catriona Troth
At the London Book Fair, I met another Triskele member, Catriona Troth - and saw the range of books published by Triskele on display. They struck me as being both beautiful and professional. As the rise of self-publishing continues, we all need to pay attention to the standard of book as artifact that we produce:  the Triskele writers are setting an excellent example here.

On Saturday, I went up to London to meet the other Triskele writers at their joint book-launch at Foyle's. It was a lovely event: the books were lined up, the buffet table awaited, the champagne was flowing, the atmosphere was lively and immensely friendly. It was great to meet Jane in person at last - and the other writers. Jill Marsh writes detective fiction, her latest, Tread Softly, is set in Vitoria in northern Spain. Gillian Hamer writes crime with a supernatural edge: she was launching Complicit, set in Wales. Catriona Troth draws on her Canadian background for her novella Gift of the Raven. Liza Perrat's novels are set in France, where she lives: Spirit of Lost Angels takes place against the backdrop of the French Revolution. Finally Jane Dixon-Smith has somehow found time, amidst all this cover and logo creation, to write her own novel about legendary lovers Tristan and Iseult.

What they all have in common, apart from a very beautiful and distinctive look to each, is a strong sense of place, linked frequently with the resonances of the past. Time and Place is the tagline for Triskele - and I'm very much in favour of both (which anyone who's read The Chase will know!)

During the evening, after the launch of the anthology of winners of the Words with Jam competition - oh yes, didn't I mention Jane produces that literary magazine too? - Liza interviewed each of the other writers briefly about their work. Toasts were drunk, short speeches made, books were bought ....

On the train home, I browsed happily through my purchases. All power to the Triskele writers! Here are some more photos of the night -
Jane, Gillian and Catriona at the book-signing table

Jane introduces the Words with Jam anthology

Liza Perrat interviews Jill Marsh

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Pan Macmillan's Write Now Prize: my novel Hinterland is longlisted

I'm immensely proud and delighted that my unpublished children's novel Hinterland has made it to the eight-strong longlist for Macmillan's Write Now Prize. This process began when I submitted the synopsis and first three chapters back in December. In January, the full novel was called in, and a few weeks later I was notified that I'd made the longlist. I couldn't make this public for quite a while (argh!) but now the competition is heading into its next stage. Independent bookshops and their customers will get the chance to view the longlisted books via extracts and summaries - and they're the ones who'll vote for shortlist of four, whereupon a panel will choose the winner. The winner's book will be published in hardback and available exclusively to independent bookshops initially. I think this is a brilliant idea and hope that as many indie bookshops as possible will sign up - and that you, the customers, will join in with the process!

The other stories in the longlist are briefly summarised on the competition website: they sound dauntingly witty, adventurous and intriguing! I think it'll be a challenge to make the shortlist, but it goes without saying that I'd be ecstatic if it happened!

Here's a brief synopsis of Hinterland, along with a photo of a very significant location far to the west ... Hope you enjoy it!

'I hope you die!' yells Kick Delaney at his sister Olivia. Minutes later she's knocked down by a car. From then on, she's his 'zombie sister'. When the family moves to Cornwall, he discovers Olivia's zombie state is a defence against the Soulbroker, who's seized part of her soul and wants the rest to sell to the Anhungert, voracious entities of the Hinterland, the realm behind our own.

Kick fights to save Olivia, with the help of Argentail, the moon-dragon avatar of a long-dead Cornish mage. Ultimately, Kick must pursue the Soulbroker into the Hinterland itself. And it's there that a shattering choice awaits him.

Finally,  a reminder that my next Fictionfire courses are on the 18th and 19th of May (less than two weeks to go!). If you want to learn how to plot and pace your story, or how to craft a submission, go to my website to find out more and make your booking. Bookings must be made by midnight on 16th May. Also, if you've tried to ring or text me, my phone hasn't been receiving messages for a couple of weeks. I've changed phone and network so contact me again from the 8th, when the new network should kick in.

Friday, 19 April 2013

The Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair 2013: United We Stand

I visited the London Book Fair on Monday and Wednesday of this week, a year on from my first visit for Orna Ross's launch of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), which I blogged about here. ALLi is a wonderful organisation and is going from strength to strength: if you're considering self-publishing I can't recommend too strongly that you should join (there's a link button in the sidebar of this blog if you want to find out more).

Last year, ALLi launched in an upstairs seminar room far away from the hustle and bustle of the main Fair. This year we were down and dirty, on the shop-floor itself (though still somewhat ghettoised away from the Big Guys and the Big Publishing Stands). The Author Lounge was the focus of indie activity, sponsored by KDP, Kobo and Matador, curated by marketing specialists Authoright. A year ago, this would all have seemed ambitious. This year it became clear that maybe it wasn't ambitious enough - the lounge was heaving with people and it was obvious that authors are so keen to join the publishing party a space three times the size could easily have been filled!

The purpose of the Author Lounge was to give writers the chance to listen to talks and presentations - and even to pitch directly to agents. This is unheard of - agents inhabit the International Rights Centre upstairs: an elevator rises like a stairway to heaven from the midst of Earl's Court 1, but no humble scribbler should attempt to mount it. However, in these days of publishing flux and uncertainty (about which I'm writing a separate article), agents are descending from on high, publishing services are touting their wares to authors as well as publishers. Last year we had a toe in the door - this year we've crossed the threshold.

As well as attending talks and seminars,  networking proved to be a crucial aspect of attending the Fair. We all networked like crazy - and it's a process which is not only necessary but can be nerve-wracking. Orna, though, was the perfect hostess and match-maker, ensuring useful contacts could be made in an atmosphere of fun and friendship. I was able to present my newly-republished novel, The Chase, and information about my literary consultancy, Fictionfire, both to published ALLi members and to aspiring writers who're considering self-publishing.

On Monday, ALLi launched its new book, Choosing a Self-publishing Service - the title explains all! It gives advice about self-publishing and service-providers and will be updated regularly. Orna is very concerned to flag up warnings about providers who are out to scam newbie self-publishers and highlight those who provide an honest and trustworthy service. Guest-speaker C.J. Lyons, who's sold 1.3 million 'thrillers with heart' bellowed to the audience 'you're all CEO of your global publishing empire' with the same yee-haw verve that Joni Rodgers had when she told us at last year's launch that 'we're all riding the sand-worm, baby!' (And if you've never read Frank Herbert's Dune you'll have no idea what that meant!)

The crowded Author Lounge
The book-launch came on the heels of talks by representatives of Kobo, Goodreads, Troubador and KDP. I'd arrived fairly late and then couldn't get near enough to the talks to hear - as I mentioned, the place was overcrowded and I think nobody really expected the Author Lounge to be quite as spectacularly successful as it was.

Joanna Penn and Orna Ross at the party
The launch was followed by a party for ALLi members, sponsored by Amazon (!) at the nearby Pembroke Pub - more networking in an atmosphere of excitement and nervous energy.

I didn't attend LBF on Tuesday but on Wednesday I turned up, carrying the new Kobo Mini ereader I'd bought after talking to Shayna Krishnasamy at the Kobo stand on Monday about my plans to publish to Kobo now that I've already published on Kindle. I attended a truly dynamic presentation by Joanna Penn on Advanced Online Marketing. Typically, her talk was full of honest personal experience, solid facts, statistics and up-to-date ideas. She focussed particularly on the importance of keywords and keyword research, talking also about the crucial need for us to have mailing lists and an established social platform. She discussed the 'marketing funnel' leading from attention, through interest and desire, to action. And she stressed the need to build relationships - this, I think, is a central theme of the Fair and of all our self-publishing activities. You can't do it if you lock yourself away. You need to put yourself out there. When I look back at the past five years of my career, everything I've done, every blog I've commented on, every writing event I've attended - everything has led to consequences and connections I couldn't have even imagined at the start. I'm busier and more tired than I can possibly say - but I'm also happier, in the sense that there's adventure and potential in it all and the fulfilment that only comes from being in charge of your own destiny.
Joanna Penn presenting 

Finally, there was a drinks party back at the Author Lounge (though the drinks, even the water, ran out too quickly!). I want to mention all the lovely people I met, old and new friends - and thank everybody who liked the cover of The Chase! First and foremost, there's Orna herself, who is the onlie begetter of the Alliance. I can't wait to see where she takes it in the coming year! Then Joanna Penn, of The Creative Penn (go there for oodles of publishing and marketing advice), the adventurous Dan Holloway, children's writer Karen Inglis, who gave me lots of practical advice. Roz Morris - I was sorry to miss her author presentation at the Kobo stand because I was at Joanna's talk - sorry! Writers Jerome Griffin and Rohan Quine; Stephanie Zia at Blackbird Books, who'll be bringing out my friend Jacqui Lofthouse's next novel; David Gaughrean; Mark Lefebvre of Kobo; Ben Galley and finally the lovely Catriona Troth of Triskele Books - my cover was designed by Jane Dixon-Smith who also designs the Triskele covers. Scroll down for lots more pictures!

Great people, a great Fair - and here's to a great future for us all!

NOTE: there's only four weeks to go until my next Fictionfire day courses! Book now for How to Plot and Pace your Story on May 18th and Perfect Pitch: How to Craft your Submission on May 19th. For full details and to make your booking go to the Fictionfire website. To find out more about The Chase, visit Amazon or the Fictionfire Press website. The novel is now out on Kindle and other ereader formats and a paperback edition will follow.

The moon over Earl's Court at the end of Day 1

Looking out over Earl's Court 2

The unique Dan Holloway

Catriona Troth of Triskele Books

One of the big guys ...

Crowds at the AuthorLounge

Joanna Penn, Brian Felsen of Book Baby and Orna Ross

Author Roz Morris, looking pensive!

With Joanna Penn: she's holding the cover of The Chase and I'm holding my Kobo Mini with her third novel, Exodus, on it

Friday, 12 April 2013

Two exciting book announcements!

This is a very big day for me. Regular readers may have noticed this blog has been quiet for a while. This is because I've been working incredibly hard, not only in my Fictionfire role, but to edit and publish my novel, The Chase. And today's the day! The novel was originally published by Bloomsbury and the rights reverted to me some time ago. I've commissioned a new - and very gorgeous - cover and published it on Kindle, but intend also to publish it in other e-reader formats and as a paperback. I'm going to blog more about the process and about what The Chase means to me and how I came to write it in the first place, but in the meantime I wanted to announce that it's available! Please do take a look and if you read it and like it, I'd be incredibly grateful if you would review it on Facebook, your blog or Goodreads, or mention it on Twitter.

Here's what novelist and historian Alison Weir has to say about The Chase:

'This is a haunting book, skilfully written and tantalisingly unravelled. Lorna Fergusson weaves a vivid but dark tale set in the beautiful Dordogne, where past and present fuse in a page-turning mystery. I could go back to this again and again.'

Now, you know what they say about buses coming along all at once? Well, I have another announcement to make today, which I've been longing to make public for a while. My unpublished children's book, Hinterland, has reached the longlist of eight for Macmillan publishing's Write Now Prize! This is a competition run in conjunction with independent bookshops - so do visit your local bookshop and if there's a chance to do so please vote for me! I'd love to make it to the shortlist of four! I'll be blogging more about this too in the coming weeks but now feel the need to lie down in a darkened room with a bottle of smelling salts to hand - so much excitement!

Next week I'll be attending the London Book Fair, so will be blogging about that. I also have a backlog of posts to write about the Oxford Literary Festival. I'll be interviewing lovely writers Lynn Shepherd, author of A Treacherous Likeness, Tom-All-Alone's and Murder at Mansfield Park, plus Teri Terry whose novel Fractured comes out next week and is the sequel to Slated, her YA dystopian thriller, which I loved.

Now that my spring series of workshops are over, next up are my day courses at Trinity College Oxford: on May 18th How to Plot and Pace your Novel, and on May 19th Perfect Pitch: How to Craft your Submission. Cross to the Fictionfire site for more information and how to book.

Tonight the man and I will be cracking open a bottle of bubbly!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Learn how to plot and pace your novel, then how to pitch it: upcoming Fictionfire day courses

Trinity College, where I hold my Day Courses
The current series of Fictionfire Focus Workshops is well underway, with Point of View, Dialogue and Style as upcoming subjects. In addition I've posted details on my website of the next two day courses I'll be running at Trinity College, Oxford - here they are:

How to Plot and Pace your Story (May 18th)

So, you've hooked your reader with a blindingly good opening to your novel. That was the easy part: the challenge lies in keeping that reader intrigued enough to read the rest of it! This day course is designed to help you structure your plot so that it hangs together well. We'll look at the typical elements of a satisfying storyline and discuss whether you should plan in detail or risk a more instinctive, less rigid mode of composition. We'll brainstorm ideas and try out methods of visualising the overall shape of the novel. We'll explore how to pace the narrative and how to troubleshoot it when the momentum falters. We'll consider genre-expectations and pitfalls to avoid. With exercises, discussion and analysis of examples throughout, we'll discover how to create a storyline that draws your reader in and makes them say 'I couldn't put it down!'

Thank you so much for a really informative day! Not a second was wasted and I learned heaps about plotting which let me see the shape of my own work more clearly. Also, I appreciated the relaxed atmosphere in the class - there really was no pressure. (E.G., writing about an earlier Fictionfire course on plotting)

A view of Trinity's beautiful lawns
Perfect Pitch: How to Craft your Submission and Land an Agent (May 19th)

You've completed your writing project - congratulations! Now you want to get it out there to readers. This day course is designed to help you meet the challenge of making your pitch in a focused, professional way. Practical exercises will guide you through crucial self-editing techniques so that you can hone your opening chapters. We'll look at the components of the pitch-package: those polished opening pages or chapters, the query or covering letter and - what everyone dreads! - the synopsis. Using exercises and examples, we'll discover how to make an agent - or editor - want to see more. You'll learn how the publishing industry works and how agents want to be approached, along with what puts them off. Even if you're not aiming to publish by the traditional route, the skills of creating a powerful opening and a compelling summary of your novel will help you to bring your work to your readers' attention. The marketplace is crowded: here's how to make yourself stand out!

Once I was ready to submit the novel to literary agents, I approached Lorna to help with my synopsis and covering letter. Again, the feedback I received was invaluable and I learnt a lot. Lorna's friendly professionalism meant that I felt comfortable throughout. and it obviously worked: I secured an agent and a publishing deal! (Katherine Clements, who now has a three book publishing deal with Headline)

In the beautiful Sutro Room where I hold the courses
To find out more about the course venue and how to book, visit the Fictionfire website There is an early bird booking discount available until 28th February.

Meanwhile, currently only one place is left on the first of my Point of View workshops on February 23rd - for Focus workshop details, go to

Monday, 21 January 2013

In Memoriam

The best of people, the worst of times.

George Johnston Fergusson
Elizabeth Hay Findlay


Sunday, 6 January 2013

New Year Writing Inspiration: Upcoming Focus Workshops

The new year - time for those fresh starts: TV adverts urge us to start new diets, leaflets come through the door advertising gym memberships. How many resolutions have you made - and perhaps already broken? For writers, a new year marks a fresh chance to get going on a planned project or complete one which has stalled. I wish you every success if you're starting out - or even if you're feeling bogged down and want to know how to rev up your self-belief and productivity.

Writing successfully means being open to ideas, being experimental, trusting yourself - but also learning from experience, whether it's your own personal experience or that of a writing buddy or teacher. My Fictionfire Focus Workshops have been running for some time now and what I love about them is how warm and relaxed yet how productive and inspiring they have proved to be, creating a small friendly community of regular attenders who are keen to share ideas and provide mutual support. I hope that sometime during 2013 you'll be able to join us!

Here are the titles of the two upcoming blocks of workshops, starting later this month:


WALK-ON PARTS (January 26th)
It's important that even minor characters are convincing - we'll explore how to bring secondary characters to life and what functions they can perform in your story.

LOVE IS IN THE AIR (February 2nd)
With Valentine's Day approaching, we'll look at how to portray love and romance in your fiction - whether that passion is unrequited or fulfilled, brief or everlasting, innocent or corrupt ...!

In the first of two workshops about point of view, we'll look at the advantages of the close perspective: using first or second person in your story.


We'll explore degrees of distance when it comes to perspective: how to use third person, multiple points of view and omniscience.

This is a re-run of a popular workshop from last year. Writing convincing dialogue is an important skill to learn: it will make your characters spring to life and inject your plot with energy - but you need to do it right!

In this workshop you'll be invited to bring samples of your own work as well as engage in exercises designed to make you look closely at how you express yourself. The ability to look dispassionately at your writing and refine it until it says precisely what you want it to say, is of crucial importance if you want to self-edit your work.

Each three hour workshop costs £25 and there are discounts for booking more than one within a particular block. You can find out more and make your booking by going to the Focus Workshops page on my Fictionfire website.

Later in the spring, I'll be running two day courses at Trinity College, Oxford. How to Plot and Pace your Story is on 18th May and Perfect Pitch - How to Craft your Submission and Land an Agent is on 19th May. Details are on the course dates and details page of the Fictionfire website.

Booking is open for all of these - I hope you can join us! In the meantime, a very happy and creative New Year to you all!