Sunday, 12 February 2012

Back from Get Writing 2012


It seemed that most of the delegates were undeterred by sub-zero temperatures, as it was quite a good turnout at the DeHavilland Campus, Hatfield University for Get Writing 2012. Maybe a few more empty seats than last year in the main auditorium but nevertheless enough people to be warmed by the friendly atmosphere throughout the day.
By its very nature writing is a rather solitary pursuit, which would explain why myself amongst other delegates leave their loved ones behind. My Karen wouldn't expect me to go with her to a knitting conference. (I am trying to picture a packed auditorium filled with the collective sound of knitting needles click clicking away). For this reason there appears to be little or no discomfort from making approaches to other lone delegates during the frequent coffee breaks to ensure the day is enhanced by good like-minded companionship and an expanded literary network to take home with me.
In the main hall it was mainly Q&A sessions with publishers, editors, literary agents, booksellers and of course writers. The subject of Kindle and e-book readers did crop up from time, but not as much as last year. There appeared to be more acceptance of the electronic page giving more opportunities for writers to get their work out there, and perhaps, as one delegate suggested an increase in sales within the book market. On the negative side of the argument, there seems to be a glut of sub-standard unedited work around which would make it very difficult to sift the good from the bad to the downright ugly.  It would appear that a monster is born, the book world's equivalent to spam. I am in no position to argue against the Kindle. I have had one for around 18 months now, and have no complaints with the quality of books I have downloaded. Indeed the Kindle has introduced me to some amazing talent which I may well have missed whilst physically browsing bookshelves.  However, I do feel there should be some regulatory body that will ensure the normal standards of proof-reading and editing are maintained to protect the book industry, writers and indeed the readers.
I did a three minute pitch to a literary agent, pitching Henley's Ricotta. Having managed to keep my synopsis down to one side of A4 I didn't feel the need to outline the premise or the main body of the story. Instead I spoke for one minute about how I came to write Henley's and described how and why it has evolved into what it is today. Then there was another minute on characterisation, ensuring that the main characters appeared well rounded and not one-dimensional. I reserved the last minute for questions, feedback, support, here's my number... but I had none of that. The agent (who will remain nameless) said 'comedy is a definite no-no in the book business right now. Write in another genre.' I knew things were going badly when I passed him my synopsis and he didn't even bother to turn it the right way round to look at it. A friend had advised me to smile, and I did. I approached him unrehearsed and relaxed (which tends to work best for me) and the only expectations I had, was to have a good experience, afterall, its three minutes... it's a fun thing, isn't it?
I don't believe that comedy is not in demand, or should I say in book form the genre is humour, not comedy. I searched fiction then refine searched to the genre of humour on Amazon and came up with over 29,000 search results.
Current market trends, we were told by one bookseller, places historical fiction at the top above crime. I have a passion for both crime and history novels but I find this hard to believe that history is the best selling genre.
My chosen workshops were 'Show me the Funny' which was an excellent hour with experienced stand up comedian and writer Brian Higgins. We did some work on observational stand up comedy. Brian is so good at people-watching that he claims to be reasonably accurate at guessing an individual's occupation by looking at them and talking to them for a short while. Stand up comedy has altered audience tastes and paved the way for writers of humorous fiction. Afterall there is nothing funnier than human behaviour which never fails to surprise. Take a fairly regular individual who appears to have his life mapped out for him, then end all that by pulling the rug from underneath him and put him in a different situation within a different social circle and chances he will be socially dysfunctional to some extent and that's comedy that a writer can work with. That's what I did with Henley.
 During the afternoon I picked up some good advice from writer/actress Julie Mayhew with her masterclass in writing for radio 'An Ear for a Tale.' She made us work and write small passages and got us to remove all the deadwood, meaningless exposition and retell the story using sound in ways I hadn't have thought of. We had to make up two characters, coming up with a name and age. Then she asked us to write down answers to these questions about our characters:
  • ·         Favourite food?
  • ·         Earliest memory?
  • ·         How does he/she sleep?
  • ·         Does he/she have a god?
  • ·         Biggest fear?
  • ·         Music playing now?
  • ·         What does he/she want?
  • ·         Why can't he/she have it?

None of this may be significant to the plot, but in terms of characterisation it is invaluable for the writer to have this depth of knowledge to fully understand how the character thinks and behaves. She said there is a list of 100 questions you should ask your characters!
My short story didn't make it for the Get Writing Cup, but I enjoyed writing it and will probably use it for something else. 
My thanks to the organisers and people from the Verulam Writers Circle ( who make this event bigger and better each year. This was my third one. And special thanks to Brian Higgins, Julie Mayhew and Mike French.