FIRST FLASH FICTION FESTIVAL

This weekend, Jude Higgins pulled off a wonderful feat in initiating the first Flash Fiction Festival in Bath.

Gaining support from the Arts Council Fund, she was able to attract some of the best flash practitioners to give readings and workshops to enthusiastic participants from five countries.

Vanessa Gebbie, Kit de Waal, Tania Hershman, Paul McVeigh, David Gaffney, Ashley Chantler, Peter Blair, David Swann, Meg Pokrass, Jude Higgins, K M Elkes, Christopher Fielden, Michael Loveday and Calum Kerr all gave generously of their time and expertise.

The weekend course opened with an overview of the genre from Peter Blair (Senior Lecturer, University of Chester) who led through saucy double-entendres and allusions to describe the range of names and kinds of very short fiction. From dribbles, drabbles, palm-held, micro-fiction and many others, he showed how a world could open up from a hard-worked choice of words, and from the power of omissions. Using examples of thought-provoking word-minimalists he discussed the significance of white space, and came near viewing the tiny story on the big page as an art form.

The writing tutor, Pamela Painter, Emerson College, Boston, opened the workshops with a charm that held the audience in her grip. Within minutes she had writers composing the most unlikely but captivating story titles.

Subsequently her workshop plummeted writers into developing stories they had not known were in their heads.

In a thought-provoking and directly helpful workshop Kit de Waal brought participants into her world of powerful stories. She demonstrated how to make the title work for the writer, and used images to stimulate imagination within the ‘container’ that is flash fiction.

Jude, herself, led a dream workshop that produced amazing results. Using three different techniques the original dream fragment developed into a meaningful whole, using myth, underlying thoughts and a current experience.

Charismatic Paul McVeigh talked of the power of every word to summon up a setting, a character, an era through saying little but saying it exactly. He described “opening a box in readers’ brains” calling on their past knowledge to furnish what was not written. He advocates laying personal pain on the line and imbuing every sentence with passion.

Tania Herschmann enlivens her writing with her scientific background. She fascinated her workshop participants with examples and exercises using scientific concepts to form innovative prose.

There were other workshops from Vanessa Gebbie and Christopher Fielden: it was impossible to attend them all but informal discussion between events revealed a very high level of satisfaction. There was enthusiasm for the possibility of a second Flash Fiction Festival next year. Will it need a larger venue to meet the demand?

 

 

 

Promoting literary fiction on-line

Bookbub promotion: a wise investment?

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Jane Davis recently ran a Bookbub promotion. Jane is a successful indie author and member of ALLi whose first novel, Half-truths and White Lies won the Daily Mail First Novel Award in 2008. She has written six further novels, each of them in the genre of literary fiction. They have earned her a loyal fan base, especially after An Unknown Woman was named Self-Published Book of the Year 2016 by Writing Magazine and the DSJT Charitable Trust. But like all authors, she has to market and promote her books.

It is well known that Bookbub is the most effective of all promotion sites. Thousands of downloads follow the one day of a Bookbub listing, but getting a book listed is notoriously difficult. And expensive. It costs hundreds to donate a book – even free – to a potential thousands of readers. No wonder that millions of authors turn to other promotion websites. There are myriad on-line writer advice sites recommending that authors do this, with a consequent rise in websites providing promotions. Not surprisingly, with multiple sites promoting the full gamut of genres, the result is lower effectiveness and fewer sales.

Despite Jane’s existing success, it took several attempts before Bookbub accepted Funeral for an Owl for promotion. Often book promotions are for genre fiction. Would Bookbub work well for literary fiction? This was Jane’s question. Her partial answer she generously shared with fellow ALLi members: the results of her Bookbub promotion: costs and benefits.  (One of the advantages of membership of ALLi is the access to this inside information.)

JaneDavis       Jane’s results are particularly useful because:

  • many website posts that quote results are averaging outcomes from several genres among which literary fiction may well be the least represented.
  • Those ‘sold a million after promotion’ success stories often relate to self-help books (often about self-publishing!);
  • FREE e-books are now expected, encouraging myriads of downloads that are never read. Jane’s data inlcuded the number of reviews that followed: i.e. proof that the book had been read.

Once or twice I have looked up the ratings for books cited by promoters as examples of phenomenal sales after exposure on their site. Once the sales day is over, the rating has slumped to very low.  This does not seem to be so severe a case with Bookbub, probably because the audience is already targeted to its preferred genre. For instance, two weeks or more after the promo on Amazon.co.uk Funeral for an Owl’s best rating was as follows:

Yes, it would be nice to be at number 1, but it is sales that matter and these are by no means all that Amazon use to decide on ranking. One of Jane’s goals was to increase the number of people on her mailing-list, people who would be interested in buying her books. This goal was achieved as result of the Bookbub promotion.

It seems to me that literary fiction is the last to benefit from on-line promotions. This may be because its readers are those most likely to prefer a physical book and most likely to keep it, re-read it, lend it, pass it on. Jane has her books in print too . . .

Jane Davis lives in Carshalton, Surrey and is the author of six novels. The Bookseller featured her in their ‘One to Watch’ section.

You can find her at:

 Website: www.jane-davis.co.uk

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JaneDavisAuthorPage   Paperback-iphone-FB-AD

Twitter: https://twitter.com/janedavisauthor

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/janeeleanordavi/boards/

 Or get an eBook of her novel, I Stopped Time, by signing up to her mailing list at www.jane-davis.co.uk/newsletter

 

 

 

Winning Writing

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This lovely image is Iranian.

I like playing Scrabble, but I’m not competitive. The challenge presented by the board in hand and the variety of options, limitations placed upon moves is sufficient. Sometimes the layout feels like an art form. It’s fun to enliven the game further by restraints such as allowing only nouns related to e.g. writing, for words of 4 letters or more. Going to an event based on competition would spoil the enjoyment completely.

It seems that the lack of competitiveness has a worthy origin.Chess_Players_of_Haft_Awrang

Chess is thought to originate in India, before the 6th century AD and then spread to Persia, pictured here.

Chess reached Southern Europe via Arabs and Muslims, and by the 15th century it had evolved into its current form.

The “Romantic Era of Chess” was characterized by swashbuckling attacks, clever combinations, brash piece sacrifices and dynamic games. Winning was secondary to winning with style and the focus was upon artistic expression. I’d loved to have been an audience then before the style changed, in the 19th century, to one of technical mastery and long-term planning.

In presenting our fiction to the world we writers are exhorted to use multiple techniques to gain sales.  Innocent days of creating the best that our talent and art form allow, end. Months of miserable media-bashing follow. What contrasting activities, what different emotions!

Reading about the origin of chess brings similarly opposite emotions to reading self-help books that teach tricks of beating algorithms or garnering a following. It’s these books themselves that sell in huge numbers, their authors then ‘teaching’ a system to all other writers on the basis of this ‘sure’ success.

How sad.  William Boyd, Anne TylerKasuo Ishiguro novels, say, may have comparable Amazon sales rankings with a very badly produced book on Twitter techniques. Even the most reputable newspapers may show best-selling books for their Top Twenty rather than a list of most highly regarded fiction.

Swashbuckling attacks on the media, clever combinations of layered promotion, technical mastewinningry of marketing ploys and long-term planning of a marketing campaign is what sells books and makes a winning writer. Thank goodness that reputable writing competitions rely on writing judges, not the amount of ‘votes’ an entrant can grab via social media. Nowadays, all of us writers are pushed into this.

I wonder whether a ‘romantic era’ for art forms will ever return.

Not a planner – a pantser.

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Do you know how you will plan your novel? On March 8th, I was invited onto Jane Bwye’s blog where I disclosed that I am not a planner, I am a pantser.

It seems there are two kinds of writers: those who plan, and those who write on the seat of their pants. I would love to write the synopsis, theme, backgrounds of each character, main events of each chapter, before I ever begin but that just won’t work for me. I don’t even know what kind of characters will pop up, which will prove to be major and even where the setting of dramatic scenes will be.

Despite the discipline of degrees and diplomas and a Ph.D. I’m not just a dyed-in-the-wool, but an irrevocably skin-stained, bone-irradiated, ingrained irredemiable pantser.

A small germ, such as a stray phrase or incident, visits me. I follow it; it turns into a chapter or a theme. When I start writing, a novel, more often than a short story, begins. When I get to the end of one chapter, I know what has to happen in the next but not further. As I struggle to find exactly the right word something often emerges that enriches or expands the plot, becomes a sub-plot or develops one of the characters.

That’s when the novel outline falls into place. I usually know the ending before I get halfway. Then it’s a matter of laying out the remaining ground, including character backgrounds, toward reaching that end.

All my fiction has one thing in common (as well as their manner of creation) — they are character-led. I can’t write any other way.

No great plan. But something gradually emerging. Emerging picture

Here’s an example of my writing process. A Relative Invasion is a trilogy set in the Home Front of WWII.  It all began with one tiny thread. An elderly man chatting to me mentioned that he had been the last child to be ‘chosen’ by the villagers where his school had been evacuated. The children had been walked around the village in a crocodile. This man had been a tall seven-year-old, (‘He’ll cost a bit to feed and clothe’) and was only taken in reluctantly.

I thought, children must have been so resilient at that time. And so Billy was born, a sturdy well-meaning boy. But he was only aged five in 1937, and so I found myself writing historical fiction (with all the research that entails). The key figure at that time was, of course, Hitler, and his rise to power came as result of German resentment , humiliation and envy after the end of WWI.

Somehow, a cousin for Billy surfaced, one who would experience these negative emotions and turn them into psychological bullying to make Billy’s life a misery. However, this Kenneth would have undoubted talents and would need to be charismatic for the adults to be blind to the bullying. I made him artistic and physically frail.???????????????????????????????????????

Now I had a theme for my novel whereby the feelings and tensions in Europe (macro scale) would be mirrored in micro by this family, and particularly the two cousins in their developing rivalry.

Billy needed a secret symbol of power to support him.  I hit upon a Cossack sabre, that then needed a background story of its own. This led me into Russian/ Germanic conflict at the start of WWI. And the sabre icon would need to filter through to a conclusion.

I am not recommending this approach to writing, just saying that novels can emerge bit by bit as the narrative continues, and in this case, it was a trilogy that emerged.

Are you are writer? Consider which kind you are.

Writing: how to improve your focus

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Samuel Johnson in close focus

It’s commonly mentioned by writers as a problem: keeping focus on the book you’re currently writing. It isn’t just the intrusion of other writing or everyday chores. More than ever, writers blame the ingress of social media caused by two pressures: firstly the attraction of seeing friends’ and family’s daily activities, with consequent need to like, comment, or even worse, engage in a to and fro dialogue; secondly, the constant emphasis on the importance of social media for marketing the books we write.

There is only one way round this problem. Limitation. In the same way that we curtail, if not curb, our pleasure in food and drink in order to escape obesity, we can avoid gluttonous social media activity.

Easiest to restrict family/friends to a time of day assigned to relaxation. Just best not to open those Facebook etc at other times. There’ll always be something to divert you. For marketing, wisest to schedule a set day and time for such work and avoid it at all other times.

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I wonder if Pasternak was having trouble focussing in this picture, or was tormented in sympathy with his characters?

Keeping focus on the book in process does not mean never doing anything else until it’s finished, however. You can take off for a break somewhere entirely different and yet keep your focus on your characters. Keep them and their problems in mind and relate what you hear and see to their situation.

For instance, working on my WWII trilogy, A Relative Invasion, I realised that my protagonist, Billy, had not been punished by his adversary, cousin Kenneth, for a well-meaning interference. Manipulative Kenneth would surely not let Billy get away scot free.  Taking time away from the computer, I set off to wander round an arboretum and get some fresh air (and fresh ideas). On the way, I listened to a radio programme about printing and book binding. The word ‘pigskin’ made me sit up. Of course! The pigs Billy loved and fed daily had been taken to the abattoir to Billy’s great distress. Kenneth could punish by giving Billy a pigskin wallet for Christmas.

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Van Gogh

The arboretum itself made me realise that I hadn’t included much description of the boys’ surroundings beyond the initial one. How would they react to the countryside when evacuated away from the blackened buildings of London?

I listened to an interchange between some children nearby. The running and quarrelling suddenly stopped when one of them saw a squirrel burying nuts. It was vigorously stamping its feet, or that’s how it seemed to the younger child. She turned to her mother, ‘It’s having a tantrum!’  The other child laughed. A lovely moment, and one I could work at for hostility between my two boy characters.

There were other ideas, too, that came from this outing. These could be called ‘writing refreshments.’

I could have taken a break and thought of other things, but keeping my focus on my book didn’t stop me benefiting from this time away from the computer. In fact, I wrote more rapidly once I got home, all the new ideas fresh in my mind. As is often the way, one new idea helped others so that the narrative moved along.

Have any of you gained unexpected ideas through taking a break away from your desk?

Starting a Novel – 10 points

 

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Are you starting to write a novel? Yes, it’s hard. Really, it’s best just to press on with it rather than tell people about it. There will be time for that when you’re finished.

Here are 10 points to consider. You can waste so much time in the early stages of starting a novel when you should be just getting that important first draft down. Before listing these, one thing that will help you above all others, is to buy Scrivener. At around £45.00 it’s the best purchase I’ve ever made and if I’d had it years ago, I would have had a longer life and lived more of it! It organizes all your writing and avoids all those hours searching for previous drafts, short notes you’d made on a character or setting and so on. It will considerably help your structure. You can even trial it free.

Let’s say you’re well past the ‘thinking about writing a novel.’ You have the germ of the plot and have written enough to imagine the finished work in your hand. Download the trial of Scrivener and start building your chapters, or scenes within the chapters. (iTunes has how-to videos).

Now consider these ten points.

1. Write your target quota each day before entering any social media site. Social media diverts you, it is time-consuming and will seriously cut in to your allotted writing time.  Scrivener provides a progress signpost, showing how well you are meeting your target.

2.  Write from your instinct before reading any writing advice on style. This is to ensure it is your voice that emerges on the page. Texts on the craft of writing are best read before or between writing novels. The analytical task is best kept separate from the creative one of starting to write a novel.

3.  Similarly, only seek feedback when you have planned and written a substantial section. It is your novel from your imagination and experience. Others’ views and suggestions when you are writing the first draft will confuse that first push to get the story down.

4.  Only seek feedback from other writers. Readers’ views are wonderful, but only when your novel is published or ready to publish.

5.  Stop and decide where the plot is going one third of the way through. You might write the end at this point.

6.  Lie in bed and hear your characters’ voices clearly. Feel their conflicts and listen in to their conversations.

7.   When you are ready to read your first draft, print it out. Highlight the sections you’re unhappy with in blue. Scrivener allows for you to mark your chapters or scenes with colours according to how near they are to ‘finished.’

8.   Beyond halfway, read the first and last lines of every chapter. This is a way of seeing a ‘want to read on’ for your future readers.

9.   Your own voice and writing style will be uppermost in your mind.  Read a highly rated novel – with a very different plot from yours – while you take a break. High quality writing is privilege to read. Each such work has some impact on your own developing skill.

10.   Care about your characters and write their future… and above all, get on with your writing NOW

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