Jenny Kane: Coffee, cupcakes, chocolate and contemporary fiction / Jennifer Ash: Medieval crime with hints of Ellis Peters and Robin Hood

Category: writing tips Page 2 of 3

Tiverton Literary Festival: 22nd-25th June

I am proud to be able to announce that the third Tiverton Literary Festival is only a few days away!

Started in 2015 by myself, Susie Griggs and Kerstin Muggeridge – I am delighted to see the festival going from strength to strength.

After two years at the helm, Kerstin and I have taken a step back to attend our families and our books (well, both actually) and the festival is now in the capable hands of Rachel Gee, Susie Griggs and Caro Bushnell.

The new team have got a fantastic line up- you will not want to miss out.

Check out the website for the full line up-

Here are a few of the events on offer…

Thursday 22nd June

7.15pm – 8.30pm.

Tiverton Library. Tickets: £5

TivLitFest Launch Event: Jane Corry in conversation with BBC journalist Simon Hall
Sunday Times bestselling psychological thriller writer Jane Corry will talk about her hit My Husband’s Wife and new book Blood Sisters with BBC South West crime correspondent Simon Hall.

Friday 23rd June

All day

Pop-up book swap @ CreaTIV Hub, Fore Street.
Pre-loved give a book, take a book event brought to you by CAG Devon Sustainable Villages.

 10am – 12 midday

Tiverton Library. Free Admission.

Author Showcase
20 authors from all over the South West all in one place, including Tiverton’s own Jenny Kane. (Ohh– me!!)  Lots of different styles and genres to suit all tastes. Come and meet some local talent and buy their books!

 

1.00 – 3.00pm

CreaTIV Hub, Fore Street. Free Admission.

Book Chat & Signing: Frank Westworth and Tyrrel Francis
Meet the authors of the Killing Sisters crime series and local combat sports drama Blood, Sweat and Tears

 

2.00 – 3.30pm.

Tiverton Library. Tickets: £15

WORKSHOP: So You Want To Be A Writer? Cathie Hartigan & Margaret James
How to give yourself the best chance of success. Have you entered competitions but got nowhere? Are those rejection letters pilling up? Read your opening paragraphs at this informal session and find out how to make your work stand out from the crowd. Come away with bags of hints and tips on how to find the best route to publication for you. Award winning writers themselves, Margaret James and Cathie Hartigan have many years of experience as creative writing teachers and competition judges. Apart from their own successful novels, they are co-authors of the #1Best Selling The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook.

4.30 – 6pm.

Elsie May’s Cafe, Phoenix Lane.

 £7.50 per child.

Elsie May’s Magical Teatime Stories: Family Event
Magical storytelling event aimed at under 10s and their families, older children welcome too. Come in your best party clothes for interactive stories, munch on high tea, make party hats, and experience magical surprises. Perhaps a tiger will come to tea!

High teas also available for adults by arrangement.
Book via facebook.com/elsiemaystiverton or call 01884 235935

7.00 – 8.00pm.

Tiverton Library. Tickets: £5

Crime Night: Rebecca Tope, L V Hay and James D Mortain
From Cosy crime in the Cotswolds, the suspense of an unsolved death in Brighton and strange goings on in North Devon our panel has something to offer all crime fiction buffs.

Saturday 24th June

All day

Brendon Books @ CreaTIV Hub, Fore Street.

New books available from the TivLitFest Book Shop, pick up titles from participating authors.

All day

Pop-up book swap @ CreaTIV Hub, Fore Street.

Pre-loved give a book, take a book event brought to you by CAG Devon Sustainable Villages.

 All day

The Oak Room Café

will be open all day for refreshments and book chat. Coffee and a cake anyone?

Meet at 10.30am.

Tiverton Library. Free: no ticket required.

Secret Story Trail: Family event
Start the trail with Amy Sparkes reading Ellie’s Magic Wellies, then visit some secret locations for more tales from Loreley Amiti and Olli Tooley. The trail ends with Exmoor Ponies writer Victoria Eveleigh at The Oak Room from 11.45am. Come in wellies or fancy dress. Free face painting from Alannah and craft session. NB. The end of the trail is not suitable for buggies. All children to be accompanied by an adult.

Start the trail with Amy Sparkes reading Ellie’s Magic Wellies, then visit some secret locations for more tales from Loreley Amiti and Olli Tooley

Loreley Amiti

11.00am-1.00pm.

Tiverton Library. Tickets: £15.

WORKSHOP: Writing for Children – Breaking Through with Amy Sparkes
A workshop with successful children’s author Amy Sparkes whose work has been published by Scholastic, Egmont and HarperCollins.

2.00-3.30pm.

Tiverton Library. Tickets: £3

Dan Metcalf – Code Breakers Workshop (age 7-11 years): Family Event
Meet author Dan Metcalf, listen to him read one of his books from the Lottie Lipton Adventures series and try your hand at code-breaking . Great fun for children aged 7-11 years.

2.00-3.00pm.

Tiverton Castle.

Tickets: £5 including refreshments

Historical Anecdotes and Research
Conversations with M J Colewood about the Chester Bentley medieval mysteries and local historian Douglas Rice about ‘The Siege of Tiverton Castle’. Sorry no wheelchair access inside the castle.

3.45pm (approx. 1 hour).

Meet at Tiverton Castle.

Free – no ticket required.

Guided History Walk – Tiverton Civic Society
Historical walking tour. Learn about Tiverton’s merchants and wool and textile heritage. The walk will end at The Oak Room where you will have the opportunity to buy refreshments.

3.30-5.00pm.

The Oak Room. Tickets: £15.

WORKSHOP: Exploring the young adult market with Alison Knight.
The market for books written for young adults (12-18 year-olds) is growing, thanks to the popularity of authors like JK Rowling, Bella Forrest and Anthony Horowitz.  As well as creating fantasy worlds that have caught the imagination of millions of teenagers and adults alike, a wide range of YA fiction also tackles life problems head on, providing emotional support and growth for young people.  Author Alison Knight will lead a workshop looking at YA stories, with writing exercises for teens and adults who are interested in writing for this market. This session is suitable for beginners and experienced writers and anyone who wants to know more about the growing YA book market.  Bring along your favourite YA book to add to the discussion! Sorry no wheelchair access at The Oak Room.

4.30 – 6.00pm.

Elsie May’s Cafe, Phoenix Lane. 

£7.50 per child

Elsie May’s Magical Teatime Stories: Family Event
Magical storytelling event aimed at under 10s and their families, older children welcome too. Come in your best party clothes for interactive stories, munch on high tea, make party hats, and experience magical surprises. Perhaps a tiger will come to tea!

High teas also available for adults by arrangement.
Book via facebook.com/elsiemaystiverton or call 01884 235935

Judi Spiers and Christopher Biggins

7.00 – 10.30pm.

The Oak Room.

Tickets £10 (includes canapes).

TivLitFest Party with Christopher Biggins, Judi Spiers & Lucy English
Showbiz legend Christopher Biggins in conversation with Judi Piers, award winning performance poet Lucy English, acoustic vibes from local music acts. Join us at this fabulous festival fundraiser and mingle with other festival supporters. Licensed bar. Over 16s only please. Sorry no wheelchair access.

Sunday 25th June

12.30 – 2.30pm.

Tiverton Town Hall. Tickets: £15

WORKSHOP: Who, what, when, where! Jenny Kane & Alison Knight
Experienced novelists Alison Knight and Jenny Kane will help you to shape four of the most vital elements for any story; be it long or short. Characters, situation, time period, and location.  For beginners and those who wish to finesse their writing technique.

2.45 – 4.00pm.

Tiverton Town Hall. Tickets: £5

Female Author Panel
Exeter Novel Prize winner Su Bristow, #1 Bestselling writer Cathie Hartigan, Jan Ellis and Alison Knight. Listen to this lively panel of women writers talk about their work and books. Refreshments available from Gin & Jam WI.

4.30 – 6.00pm.

Elsie May’s Cafe, Phoenix Lane.

£7.50 per child.

Elsie May’s Magical Teatime Stories: Family Event
Magical storytelling event aimed at under 10s and their families, older children welcome too. Come in your best party clothes for interactive stories, munch on high tea, make party hats, and experience magical surprises. Perhaps a tiger will come to tea!
High teas also available for adults by arrangement.
Book via facebook.com/elsiemaystiverton or call 01884 235935

 5.00 – 6.30pm.

Tiverton Town Hall. Tickets: £5.

Maeve Haran and Liz Fenwick in conversation with Judi Spiers
This event is sponsored by Five Cedars Health & Beauty.
International Bestseller Maeve Haran and author of sweeping Cornish sagas Liz Fenwick will be in conversation with Judi Spiers, discussing their new books An Italian Holiday and The Returning Tide. Refreshments will be available from Gin & Jam WI.

7.30-9.00pm.

Tiverton Rugby Club.

£9 in advance, £10 on the door.

Johnny Kingdom’s West Country Tales: Festival Finale
An evening with man of Exmoor Johnny Kingdom. Watch clips from his wildlife filming and listen to some West Country Tales from the very entertaining and much loved Johnny. You will also have to opportunity to buy his books, DVDs and prints and chat to the man himself! Licensed bar. Free Parking.

***

All further details are on the Tiv Lit website. www.tivertonlitfest.co.uk

You can order tickets online or you can buy tickets in person from Tiverton Library or Reapers Health Food shop on Bampton Street, Tiverton.

***

See you there!!

Jenny xx

The importance of book reviews

I have recently been blessed with some lovely reviews for my latest novel, Abi’s Neighbour.

Reviews are the only way an author can tell if he or she is ‘hitting the spot’ or not. Obviously high book sales can tell you if your book is successful – but sale figures can do no more than reflect how good your marketing is. It is feedback from your readership that tells you if your stories are actually working.

If you wrote a thriller- did it thrill?

If you wrote a romance- did it melt the heart?

If you wrote a horror- did it give your reader nightmares?

Obviously this set of questions is simplistic, but the point is- authors need to know – and way to tell them is via reviews.

Good reviews improve our standing and our professional reputations. They improve our ratings on Amazon and equivalent book selling platforms. The more good reviews an author has, the better their sales will become.

I’m not saying that you should only give good reviews. If a book has disappointed, let you down and so on, then some constructive criticism can help an author- even though it might be difficult to swallow sometimes!

What you should not do is give a poor review because…

… of poor delivery packaging (nothing to do with the author)

…the book isn’t the one you meant to purchase- (you pressed the buy button)

…you didn’t like the cover after all, so you didn’t bother reading the book etc etc

My favourite 1 star review was for Another Cup of Coffee – it was complaining about all the sex in it.

This confused me. There is a suggestion that sex might happen on two occasions within that 97,000 word book. There is no actual sex.  I dread to think what might have happened if that reviewer had accidentally purchased one of my Kay Jaybee books!!!

If you enjoy a book – PLEASE review it.

It takes up to a year to write a book for you to read in a matter of days. Any positive feedback you can give helps us! A lot.

It’s tough in the world of publishing right now. We need to help each other to keep those books coming.

Whether you leave a review on the Amazons, WHSmith, Waterstones, or the brilliant Goodreads – every single one helps.

Every single one.

And with that…I have some reviews to write for some books I’ve recently enjoyed!

Thanks you,

Happy reading,

Jenny x

 

Imagine@Hazelwood: A heavenly writing environment

The wonderful Alison Knight and myself have been very busy since we launched our creative writing business, Imagine.

This week we were welcomed to the beautiful Hazelwood Spa, in the idyllic Wiltshire village of Sutton Benger, to meet and greet clients who after a well earned pedicure or massage, might like to come along to a creative writing class.

We were made so welcome by owner and manageress Sam at the spa’s recent open evening. The friendly staff kindly let Alison take over a treatment room so we could show off our books, explain how our classes work, and eat some delicious canapes. (It’s a tough job sometimes!)

If you would like to sign up for an Imagine@Hazelwood creative writing workshop you don’t have to be a spa client- although once you’ve seen the place I defy you not to want to come back for a little something!

The classes are going to run by Alison on the second Saturday of every month. Booking is now open!

IMAGINE@HAZELWOOD WORKSHOPS

June 10           Introduction to creative writing – what are your hopes for your writing?  Looking at styles, genres, opportunities and possibilities

July 8               Who will you write about? Developing characters, writing about real people.

August 12       Where is story happening? Looking at settings – using real places in your story and creating imaginary worlds.

Sept 9             When does the action take place – past, present or future?  Looking at time – historical, contemporary, speculative (future) and time-travel.

All workshops run from 3-5pm at Hazelwood Beauty Spa, Seagry Road, Sutton Benger, SN15 4RX. Each session costs £20.  To book your place, call the spa at 01249 720964.

After September 9th new class details will be added. Just keep your eye on our web site- https://www.imaginecreativewriting.co.uk/news

You can sign up to one class, just a few, or all of them. Either way, with Alison Knight at the helm, I can guarantee you’ll learn a lot, laugh a lot, and have a fun and informative few hours in beautiful surroundings.

Happy writing,

Jenny x

 

 

 

 

Imagine: creative writing courses

Last month my lovely friend Alison Knight and myself launched our own business!

As you can imagine (pun intended!), it has taken a lot of time and organisation to get our new enterprise up and running.

It has already proved to be worth every second. With a number of classes completed and many more already timetabled to take place, we are loving get out and about across the UK.

Our next two public workshops are now open for booking-

 

If you’d like more details about what we offer- or if you’d like to book us to host a workshop at your venue, or arrange a one to one lesson, then check out our web site at www.imaginecreativewriting.co.uk or email Alison and myself via imaginecreativewriting@gmail.com

Keep your eyes open for news about a workshop at the forthcoming Tiverton Literary Festival as well!

I’m particularly looking forward to a private life writing class I have at the end of May in a local retirement home. After all, everyone has a story to tell, and it’s never too late to let your book writing dreams come true.

Happy writing everyone,

Jenny x

The Importance of Instant Impact

There are many rules in the construction of good story. One of the most important is instant impact- the art of capturing the attention of your readers/potential readers as quickly as possible.

Take your lead from the balladeers and the storytellers of history. If they didn’t impress the audience who gathered to hear their tales by the end of the second line they’d uttered, then they wouldn’t earn enough money to eat that night.

For the modern writer this lesson is a good one. There are so many books in the world that, if you don’t take a firm grip of your reader’s imagination within the first two or three paragraphs (if not sentences), then the chances of you selling your work is automatically harder. If not impossible. Editors and agents read hundreds of first paragraphs each month. If you don’t engage them straight away they won’t read more than a few pages. Consequently, every single word you have written after page four is in danger of being nothing but a waste of time.

Here are a few ways to create instant impact to grab that elusive audience- and hopefully keep them grabbed!

–          Start with some powerful first line dialogue. Something that makes you want to know what follows, and why what is being said, is being said. Such as…

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” – (Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier)

–          Add immediate tension by starting in the thick of the action. Such as…

Dr Clouston could barely keep himself on the seat. The wheels of his carriage kept cracking over humps and puddles, breaking the night’s silence as they rode frantically towards Dundee.  –  (The Strings Murder, Oscar de Muriel)

–          Build a scene on paper that draws the reader in so much, that they want to be there- or that leaves them feeling relieved that they aren’t.  Such as…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” – (A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens)

–          Start with a sentence that makes sense- but makes the reader need to keep going to find out what on earth is going on. Such as…

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – (1984, George Orwell)

–          Begin with a recollection. A situation that your novel will later explain. Such as…

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” – (One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez)

In an age of instant technology and an immediate availability of information, people are used to instant gratification- so the faster you engage your readers mind, the better!

Happy writing,

Jenny x

 

 

 

 

So you want to be a writer

So you want to be a writer.

8 questions it’s helpful to ask before you start.

Who are you writing for?

Yourself, friends, family…

What are you writing for?

Money, fun, to make a point, to leave something of yourself behind after your death, because you simply have to write?

So – you’ve decided to take the plunge, now you need to ask…

What genre are you going to write?

Crime, romance, paranormal, steampunk, fantasy, erotica, contemporary fiction, goths, thrillers….the list is huge- and expanding all the time.

Which age group/gender are you targeting?

Adults? Teenagers? Children? Men? Women? Everyone?

Let’s get practical!

Where will you write?

At home, in the local café, the library, or a hired office?

What medium will you chose?

Paper, computer, tablet, phone, dictation?

Will you approach an agent, a publisher, or self publish?

And- most boringly practical of all- can you manage your own marketing?

Don’t forget if you don’t market your writing, then all your hard work will have been wasted. No one will know your book exists if you don’t wave your flag! So, love it r hate, you will need to get to grips with social media.

***

Happy questioning!

Jenny xx

 

 

Bring it On…

There’s no need for me to say things like “2016 was just so awful….” Hardly anyone would argue that it wasn’t a pretty big disaster all round the world stage. So, enough said.

2017 now lays ahead of us like a pristine blank notebook, just waiting for the world’s storytellers to fill it up.

OK- so they’ll be more political chaos etc- but here in my own small corner of book land, there is much to look forward to.

For a start I have 2 brand new novels coming out during 2017 – one as Jenny Kane, and one as Jennifer Ash.

My Jenny Kane novel comes out in June, and will be entitled Abi’s Neighbour – the sequel of my bestselling novel, Abi’s House. I will have a cover for you to look at shortly (I’ve seen it already- and I love it!), as well as a blurb. All I can tell you at the moment is that the main characters, Abi, Max, Beth, Jacob and Stan, are still in Sennen Cove in Cornwall- along with a few new faces. And before anyone asks- no, I haven’t killed the dog. You’d be amazed how many emails I got asking me not to kill off Sadie, Stan’s Golden Retriever. As if I would!

My Jennifer Ash book this year will be a full length novel which carries on a few months after the end of the novella, The Outlaw’s Ransom. The new novel, The Winter Outlaw, will be out in November. It is that novel I’m working on at the moment. So I’m starting 2017 by doing a rewrite of the first draft of the book which will probably end up being the last publication of the year.

Along with these two novels, I also have short stories and a novella coming out under my adult pen name.

In between the editing and writing, I’ll be teaching as many writing workshops as I can squeeze into the days, drafting yet another novel (not saying what that’s about yet….), and taking on freelance writing assignments.

2017 is only a few days old, but it’s already shaping up to be one of the busiest yet, and after the publication of Another Glass of Champagne, The Outlaws’ Ransom, Jenny Kane’s Christmas Collection, and several other pieces for the ‘other’ me in 2016, I wouldn’t have thought that possible!

Happy reading,

Jenny/Jennifer x

 

Guest Blog from Lucy V Hay – 3 HABITS OF EFFECTIVE BOOK REVIEWERS

Today I’m joined by my friend and Devon Writers business partner, Lucy V Hay – this is advice you can’t afford to ignore.

Over to you Lucy…

3 HABITS OF EFFECTIVE BOOK REVIEWERS

by @LucyVHayAuthor

1)They know what they like. I’m a big ‘grip lit’ fan – in other words, I’m most interested in female protagonists who are probably NOT police (or other related authoritative figures). I like mysteries, thrillers, unreliable narrators and characters who are not your ‘usual’, meaning I like diverse casts and I don’t feel have to necessarily ‘like’ characters to relate to their journeys. Plot-wise, I like strong concepts and prefer a fast pace with unexpected twists and turns. I favour psychological torment over actual graphic violence generally speaking. In terms of writing style, I like prose that’s lean, visual and sharp, almost literary.

That’s not to say I never read male protagonists, police procedurals or novels with torture and splatter in. I even read romance from time to time! But I favour ‘grip lit’ because ultimately I want to be entertained. Obvious, really!

effective book bloggers

BOOK REVIEWER TOP TIP: Know who you are, what you like and let people know – then you’re more likely to be approached by publishers, small presses and individual authors who have ARCs you would love to read.

2) They know their opinion is one of many. I don’t see the point in ‘hate reading’, so I always stop reading if I am not enjoying a book.  My time is limited as a busy working Mum of three, why would I waste it on something I am not enjoying? What’s more, I never review books I haven’t finished. But most importantly, I recognise that just because I don’t like a book, doesn’t mean someone else won’t LOVE it! As book reviewers, we have to realise our opinion is just one of many.

BOOK REVIEWER TOP TIP: If you’re not enjoying a book, why not pass the baton on to another reader? You could always say to the ARC giver, ‘this wasn’t for me, but I think X would love it’.

3) They have a strategy. I keep a record of the books I’m reading and have read via my Goodreads page, plus I share my top crimefiction picks based around a theme on my ‘Best of 3’ feature on my blog. I also try and post to my blog at least twice a week, plus five or six times in Facebook groups and Twitter chats about reading and writing. In other words, in any given week, my fellow readers should hear approximately ten times from me.

But it’s NOT all about me and what *I* like: I also invite fellow crime fiction fans to submit THEIR ‘Best of 3’ picks to my blog, plus I also invite authors and screenwriters to take part in an interview feature called Criminally Good. Once a month, I’ll do an author chat on my FB page, CRIME, INK too

BOOK REVIEWER TOP TIP: Decide in advance how you will build up your platform. And try and stick to the 80/20 rule – if you’re talking about yourself and your site 20% of the time, make sure you’re taking about others (and their books or picks!) 80% of the time!

Good luck out there!

***

Lucy Hay

BIO: @LucyVHayAuthor is currently writing her first psychological thriller novel. She is also a script editor for movies and has written the nonfiction book, Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays (Kamera Books). Join The Criminally Good Book Club to sign up for news, offers and giveaways.

Devon Writers

***

Many thanks Lucy.

Jenny x

The Importance of Instant Impact

There are many rules in the construction of good story. One of the most important is the art of instant impact- the art of capturing the attention of your readers/potential readers as quickly as possible.

Take your lead from the balladeers and the storytellers of history. If they didn’t impress the audience who gathered to hear their tales by the end of the second line they’d uttered, then they wouldn’t earn enough money to eat that night.

writing woman

For the modern writer this lesson is a good one. There are so many books in the world that, if you don’t take a firm grip of your reader’s imagination within the first two or three paragraphs (if not sentences), then the chances of you selling your work is automatically harder. If not impossible. Editors and agents read hundreds of first paragraphs each month. If you don’t engage them straight away they won’t read more than a few pages. Consequently, every single word you have written after page four is in danger of being nothing but a waste of time.

ripping paper

Here are a few ways to create instant impact and grab that elusive audience- and hopefully keep them grabbed!

Start with some powerful first line dialogue. Something that makes you want to know what follows, and why what is being said, is being said. Such as…

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” – (Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier)

Add immediate tension by starting in the thick of the action. Such as…

Dr Clouston could barely keep himself on the seat. The wheels of his carriage kept cracking over humps and puddles, breaking the night’s silence as they rode frantically towards Dundee.  –  (The Strings Murder, Oscar de Muriel)

Build a scene on paper that draws the reader in so much, that they want to be there- or that leaves them feeling relieved that they aren’t.  Such as…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” – (A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens)

Start with a sentence that makes sense- but makes the reader need to keep going to find out what on earth is going on. Such as…

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – (1984, George Orwell)

Begin with an intriguing recollection. A situation that your novel will later explain. Such as…

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” – (One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez)

Keep calm and write on

Happy writing,

Jenny x

 

 

 

Guest Post from Joanna Campbell: How I approach my writing.

I’m delighted to welcome Joanna Campbell to my site today. This is a truly fascinating blog about her journey into the world of words and storytelling.

Over to you Joanna…

Eight years ago, after being a housewife for many years, I completed a proofreading course, but proved spectacularly unsuccessful at securing any work. No one wanted to hire ‘an inexperienced woman who had never worked in the industry and had merely read a couple of text books and done a few exercises’, one weary-sounding, hard-bitten publisher—quite rightly—told me.

However, I knew I wanted to work with words. I had always written poetry—and then a novel which I slid under a wardrobe and left to grow a cocoon of cobwebs—but felt drawn to the short story form because I had always loved reading them.

I had not yet learnt how to use a computer properly, having written the novel using voice-activated software, so the process of hauling myself into the twenty-first century and teaching myself new skills was hugely exciting.

After years away from the world of work, I couldn’t even pour water out of a boot with instructions on the heel, but I did begin to believe that, from my desk at home, I could try to reach people, or even touch just one person out there. It was—and still is—all about entertaining people with the written word.

I began writing stories for the women’s magazines and was given encouraging feedback for my earliest stories, but publication took a little longer. I didn’t mind the wait because I was expecting to try, try and try again. I was given helpful snippets of feedback when a story was judged a ‘near miss’ and I taught myself from those. Above all, I needed to find my own ‘voice’ as a writer, that ‘matchlessness’, or individuality, that has attracted me as a reader to my favourite authors over the years. I have an aversion to the concept of ‘genre’ and the obsession with marketable trends. I love reading anything which appeals as I browse through the bookshops or library, discovering wonderful authors regardless of their category or popularity.

I enjoy the writing process so much that publication is not the only goal. The greatest value comes from practising the craft, day in and day out, even crawling out of bed at four in the morning to make a start because I can hardly wait. (I learnt to type, although I am still slow and my daughters love to do impressions of me hunched over the keyboard and peering at the screen.) From day one, it was more about improving than succeeding, more about showing up every day than seeing my work in print. Once I began to believe in my writing, I began making sales.

Along the way, I also discovered short story competitions and have entered hundreds over the years. The thrill of reaching a shortlist never diminishes and when a story does not succeed—which happens often—I revise it and submit it elsewhere. Many of my stories have reached a shortlist after two or three attempts. One judge might not be enthralled by a story and place it on the ‘no’ pile, yet the same story could manage to captivate another judge and soar straight to the top.

When a story is rejected by a publication or is unplaced in a contest, I allow myself five minutes to wallow in disappointment. It is natural to feel a twinge of hurt and frustration when you have invested so much time and emotion into a creative piece and sent it away with great hope. However, there is no point in dwelling. Rejection is a brief setback, not a comment on the story’s worth, nor a personal rebuff, just an integral part of writerly life.

I have received enormous value from entering competitions. Not only have they brought me into contact with hundreds of supportive writers, many of whom have become friends, they have also secured me both a publishing contract and representation by a literary agent.

J Campbell Tying

I entered my first novel, ‘Tying Down The Lion’ in a competition run by Cinnamon Press and it reached the top ten, narrowly missing the final five. This boosted my confidence and encouraged me to send it to independent publisher, Brick Lane, who took it on and released it in paperback last year. It went on to be longlisted in the Guardian’s ‘Not the Booker’ prize.

After one of my stories became a runner-up in the Ink Tears annual competition, I was informed that Ink Tears, who are great supporters of the art of short story-telling, were about to venture into publishing and did I have a collection they could take a look at? This was a dream come true for me, since I had a large number of stories with the unifying theme of ordinary lives slipping out of kilter, similar to the way a turn of the kaleidoscope alters our perception and causes a sense of disorder. As a result, ‘When Planets Slip Their Tracks’, my first collection of short stories, was published in January 2016 in a beautiful hardback edition, as are all the Ink Tears books.

J Campbell When Planets Slip Their Tracks (Amazon)

When my story, ‘Upshots’, won the London Short Story Competition in 2015, one of the judges was the literary agent, Elise Dillsworth. When she offered to represent me, yet another dream come true. And although a little good luck does play its part when dreams become reality, I would strongly advocate submitting work regularly and writing consistently, every day if possible, in order to assist the magic bullet to hit the target.

The hardest part about writing is starting. I often procrastinate. My husband, when passing my desk on the way to his, has spotted me engrossed in articles about Tibetan bandits or the history of the Navel orange. I tell him they are for research, but I believe they are digressions. As soon as I have written a few words, I wonder why I felt the need to put it off.

The writing is definitely not the hard part, but thinking about writing is horrendous. That is the time the sting of self-doubt and thoughts of ‘shouldn’t I be mopping the floor/sending emails/tickling the cat/going for a walk in the fresh air instead?’ start to niggle. The answer is to swat these moments of insecurity away like wasps, get a grip and press on with it. After all, the worst that can happen is that I loathe every word and delete it all. But in the process, I will have learnt something about my writing in general and something specific about my work-in-progress. I will have made no tangible progress, but by discovering which aspects have not worked I will have taken a giant step forward. This is why I never keep a word count.

Although a tally can provide a motivational target, I prefer to aim for maximum satisfaction. After a less successful writing day, I would rather be dispirited by the humdrum quality of my writing—and aspire to improve it the next day—than by a number. Numbers carry no real meaning for me, no emotional pull, and I have no desire to feel I have fallen short of a numeric total. If I kept a tally, I might feel compelled to make good the shortfall the following day and in the rush to do so, might be tempted to sacrifice quality for quantity.

Maybe too many bad memories linger from school maths lessons of yesteryear. Long division tripped me up and the properties of a circle had me in flat spin. My maths teacher complained to my parents that whenever she chose me to respond to a question, I would be gazing into space. When I finally realised the whole class was waiting for me to speak, I would literally have to shake myself out of a daydream. Needless to say, I could never answer the question because I had no idea what she had asked. Hence I pursued languages rather than logarithms, vague daydreams rather than Venn diagrams. As one teacher put it on my end-of-year report, ‘Joanna has a perfect attendance record, but she isn’t always with us.’

I have always lived in my head and made things up. While I have never possessed the outward confidence I envy in others, a quiet sense of assurance lurks inside me. The East German novelist, Christa Wolf, talked of how “a deep pain or a deep concentration lights up the landscape within.”

I have learnt at last that it is valid to be a quiet person. (Dr Seuss lived in a bell-tower and was scared of meeting the children he wrote for.) However, when I was a cripplingly shy, withdrawn child, someone called me rude and anti-social. Wracked with guilt, I spent forty years trying to be extrovert and fun. I really suffered as an adult during the eighties when all the self-help books changed from showing how to build character to how to increase charisma. The workplace became a hotbed of role-play, teamwork and competition—and those spiteful clip-on earrings that really pinched.

Writing allows me to celebrate my shyness. I work ay my best alone, but it is only now I am older that I can take pride and pleasure in solitude. In my youth I assumed popularity equalled happiness and wished I could be one of the golden ones. I was mortified to be chosen last when the netball captain picked her team, favouring even the girl who broke her leg and still had the cast on. Very quick on her crutches, she was.

Now that writing has brought me greater self-esteem—not the publication part of it, but the act of writing itself—I tuck myself away and live in my own world without compunction. I am enjoying writing novels now, but impulses for short stories often take over. When this happens, I place the novel-in-progress to one side because these sudden ideas appear as if someone has cleared away a pile of earth and there they are, broken stories, like fragments of old china which urgently need me to piece them together.

Short stories have a special, tight rhythm and a need for every word to keep to the beat. They are raw moments in time, revealing snapshots of people frozen in a few pages. You leap straight into a short story, smashing its heart open in the first line to reveal its core, and end it with frayed edges—unanswered questions—left to drift.

Nabokov said: “The writer’s job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them.”

I must admit, when my characters are confronted with nightmarish problems, I relish the surge of power during the rock-hurling—I’m no shrinking violet then.

In the evenings, when my family ask about my day, I have, at various times, been able to confirm that I have given an old man with dementia a trip in a car without him leaving his living-room; have awakened Benito Mussolini’s mistress from the dead and transported her to Becontree station; and transmogrified a brash young salesman into a red-necked ostrich. I once wrote a story called ‘The Journey to Everywhere’—which is where I go every day—all from my desk in a corner of the living-room.

They say to write what you know, but I like to take what I know and extend it until it becomes something I don’t know. I try to let my mind reach all the way to the outer edge of my knowledge and then use my imagination to stretch further beyond that border until I am hanging my characters from a cliff by their fingertips—while forcing them to take in the view of course. There is nothing to match the sense of possibility that arrives when I reach the edge. It is the place where I meet myself as a stranger, so that I am not a part of the writing, only the infinite panoramas beyond me.

I think the characters are the most important part of story-telling. I let them drive the plot and never know what will happen until they show me. The disadvantage of working without an outline is that it can take time for me to locate the heart of the story or novel. I have to wait until I understand the protagonist and, until that happens, I am convinced it will never work and am always on the verge of giving up. It takes staying power—or sheer doggedness—but once I know who is taking me on the journey, then I am with them every step of the way and have the incomparable pleasure of discovering their story as it unfolds. I hope they can engage the reader in the same way and love to hear about the different nuances that others have found within—and between—the words.

‘When Planets Slip Their Tracks’ contains twenty-four stories, all glimpses of people battling with disruptions to their normal pattern, and most of which have won prizes or been shortlisted in competitions. As a sample of my writing, I have also published an extra story—‘No Consequence’—on the Stories section of my website.

‘When Planets Slip Their Tracks’ is available to buy from Amazon and you can find out more about me and my writing life on my blog, Twitter or Facebook Author Page.

Thank you so much, Jenny, for giving me this wonderful opportunity to talk about my writing.

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Jo Campbell

Joanna is a full-time writer from the Cotswolds and her short stories have been published in literary magazines such as The New WriterWriters’ ForumThe Yellow Room and The Lampeter Review, and in anthologies from Cinnamon Press, Spilling Ink, Earlyworks Press, Unbound Press and Biscuit Publishing, as well as The Salt Anthology of New Writing 2013, both the 2013 and 2014 Rubery Book Award anthologies and the 2010 and 2013 Bristol Short Story Prize anthologies.

Shortlisted five times for the Bridport Prize and three times for the Fish Prize, she also came second in the 2011 Scottish Writers Association’s contest. In 2012 she was shortlisted in Mitchelstown Literary Society’s William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen competition and runner-up in 2013.

Her stories have won the 2011 Exeter Writers competition, the 2013 Bath Short Story Award Local Prize and the 2015 London Short Story Prize.

As a student, Joanna lived in Germany for a year during the time of its division and was moved by the sorrow underlying the stoicism of the people she met there. The construction of literal and figurative walls, and specifically how the Berlin Wall altered the concept of home overnight, sowed the first seed for her debut novel. Reflecting both the suffering and the irrepressible spirit of ordinary people living in a country frozen by the Cold War, it began as a short story and grew into Tying Down The Lion, published by Brick Lane in 2015.

Ink Tears Press published her first short story collection, When Planets Slip Their Tracks, in January 2016.

Her second novel, Estuary Road, which is about the way our lives can unravel in a split second, is currently with her agent, Elise Dillsworth.

www.joanna-campbell.com

www.brightwriter60.blogspot.co.uk

www.waterstones.com/book/tying-down-the-lion/joanna-campbell/9780992886332

www.goodreads.com/book/show/25524446-tying-down-the-lion

www.bricklanepublishing.com/news

www.facebook.com/joannacampbellauthor

www.twitter.com/pygmyprose

http://www.inktears.com/book-whenplanets

http://elisedillsworthagency.com/?page_id=21

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An excellent blog- many thanks for visiting today Joanna.

Happy reading,

Jenny x

 

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