News and views
Announcing the 2014 Norfolk and Norwich Festival City of Literature Events
The Norfolk and Norwich Festival is back, and this year it’s bigger and better than ever. We’ve programmed a series of extra special events, including an evening with *Ray Davies of The Kinks,our second Harriet Martineau Lecture, given by celebrated novelist Kate Mosse, and a day long literary festival celebrating great women writers. For the first time, our events have been inspired and dedicated to Norwich, City of Literature, bringing the best local and international writers to our fine city.
With 14 events in the City of Literature line up, I barely know where to begin – but I’ll start with Literary Death Match, the first event of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival to take place in the stunning Spiegeltent. AL Kennedy has already been confirmed as one of our judges, and the night promises raucous wordplay and spirited merriment.
If you like your literary events lively, our Live Literature events at Norwich Arts Centre are sure to be up your street. Ross Sutherland will be previewing his new show Stand By For Tape Back-Up
and Molly Naylor will be exploring the teenage experience with her show If Destroyed Still True
, with a musical accompaniment from Iain Ross- tickets for both of these shows can be bought for £14 through our joint ticket offer
. Our third event, The Shroud
, is a two man miniature epic, and is part of the [LIVE] Art Club.
After the success of our inaugural Harriet Martineau Lecture
, we’ve invited Kate Mosse (author of Labyrinth
and The Taxidermist’s Daughter
) to give the second lecture celebrating the life and legacy of radical thinker Harriet Martineau
. We’d also like to welcome you to our Norwich City of Literature Salon
, where you can get involved in your City of Literature.
I’ve been humming hits from The Kinks back catalogue as I’ve been typing, thanks to our event with lead singer Ray Davies
. Davies will talk about his new biography, Americana
, giving you an intimate glimpse into what music and fame really meant to him.
Like your writing bloodthirsty? Masters of horror, Darren Shan and Alexander Gordon Smith will be discussing writing and reading in an edge of your seat event
, which is destined to be a hit with the younger readers.
Our final Playhouse event is with Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard
, whose series of My Struggle novels was a controversial bestseller in his home country and is causing a buzz over here too. Having just read this Guardian article
, I’m already looking forward to this event (with a dollop of healthy trepidation)!
Last, but certainly not least, is our day long literary festival The Lives of Great Women Writers
. For only £20 you can buy a ticket for the full day of events, or get an individual ticket for £6. We’ll be kicking off with an event celebrating the life of Penelope Fitzgerald
, with biographer Hermione Lee, which is sure to shed a new light on the life of this intriguing novelist. Next, we’ll be joined by Samantha Ellis
who will discuss her memoir How to Be a Heroine
, and how her literary heroines (from Cathy Earnshaw to the Little Mermaid) shaped her life and writing.
Writing team Mary and Bryan Talbot created the first graphic novel to win the Costa Biography Award (Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes
). With their second graphic novel they’ve turned their focus to women’s emancipation in Sally Heathcote: Suffragette
and they’ll be discussing the challenges and delights of tackling such a tough topic in the third of our festival events
I’m eagerly awaiting our event with Diane Setterfield, having adored her novel The Thirteenth Tale (which was recently adapted for BBC). You’ll hear all about her new novel Bellman & Black, its writing process, and how her reading affects her writing. Rounding off the day will be local writer Raffaella Barker, whose latest novel From a Distance captures the secret and flaws which shape family life across generations. I’m hoping to discover how Norfolk and her writing family have influenced Raffaella’s own craft.
As I’ve been writing, tickets are already flying off the (imaginary) shelves, so I would urge you to book quickly! You can view the whole City of Literature Festival Programme here
, and individual tickets are available for all our of events.
In the meantime, I’m off to have a proper hunt through the entire Norfolk & Norwich festival line-up
– I’d hate to miss anything!
*Suggested musical accompaniment for this blog:
Rich Pickings- A Guest Blog from Bianca Jane Winter
Bianca Jane Winter, Readers' Circle member, blogs about choosing the 2014 Summer Reads and reader expectations.
Participants in Writers' Centre Norwich's Readers' Circle
have one thing in common: we love reading. But perhaps that's as much as can be said about our similarities. So how can a diverse group agree on a selection of a handful of books?
What has surprised me about the Readers' Circle is that readers have taken on a commitment to discovering the clutch of books for Summer Reads
2014 with utter seriousness. That's not to say it hasn't been a process full of fun and enjoyment, but it has been evident in all my encounters with members of the Readers' Circle that serving the ultimate purpose – of bringing together a collection of books that will delight and inspire a wide readership – takes precedence over personal preferences.
I'd say the rule of thumb for the Readers' Circle ought to be expect the unexpected: so many reader reviews begin 'I didn't expect to like this...' or 'I had high hopes, but...' - and it's no exaggeration to say that most of us formed some notion about what we were about to read before we did so (elaborate tactics of selection to avoid this are a whole other story)! Selecting a book inherently involves a judgement – but we could perhaps argue that the best books are those that challenge our judgement; that surprise us, that move us in ways we couldn't possibly anticipate.
Revealing, too, is the way that our understanding of ourselves as readers has shifted as a result of this process – many people are open to new genres, new authors and new imprints. But it's not just an increase in appetite for different sorts of books that I've noticed – it's what we learn when we're forced to articulate our opinions. Discussing books, contrary to my assumption that it would reveal 'camps' of people with similar tastes, only served to highlight how diverse a group of readers had come together. I'm now celebrating the fact that, as readers, we are completely unique, and our passions simply can't be predicted.
Such a diverse group of readers makes it impossible, of course, to reach a consensus about the greatness of each of the books that make the final selection. But what can be guaranteed is that each book has earned its place by eliciting passions and gaining advocates that can champion even the book’s flaws. For no book is perfect, and all that can be promised for Summer Reads 2014 is a collection of books that are varied in tone, subject matter and form, but that all possess qualities that readers have fought for and proclaimed. We each, no doubt, have our own list of books to recommend, but by harnessing the collective in order to reach the final selection, we ensure that Summer Reads represent a breadth of opinion, and is the richer for that.
Underpinning Summer Reads is a belief in the transformative power of reading, a belief borne out by the process of selection and shared by every member of the Readers' Circle. It results in a collection of books that have been interrogated, argued for, loved and sometimes loathed – a collection of such richness and varied appeal that it simply couldn't be selected by a single person. So, I urge every keen reader to pick up some Summer Reads and expect nothing except a powerful experience.
Find out more about the Readers' Circle
Find out more about Summer Reads.
Read Julia Webb's blog on choosing the Summer Reads.
About Bianca Jane Winter
Bianca's love affair with books started when she was 2 by copying words from the Encyclopedia Britannica, includes much illicit 'reading in the dark' as a child, and has recently encompassed a love-hate relationship with the Man Booker prize. Participating in the Readers' Circle, with such a dedicated and erudite bunch of readers, has been a real privilege.
Professionally, Bianca is a Digital Producer working with two companies, Hoipolloi and METIS, based in the East. She's worked to develop new work and support artists and writers over the last six years, and before that, she graduated from a degree in Fine Art.
Visit Bianca's Blog
Follow Bianca on Twitter @DiscoverBrevity
Congratulations to our TLC Free Reads Winners!
Last year we teamed up with The Literary Consultancy to offer writers from the East of England the chance to have their manuscripts critiqued for free by professional writers. TLC Free Reads gives talented writers honest, constructive feedback, providing the writers with a framework for improvement and helping them to progress with their writing.
Meet our winners:
was offered editorial advice on her novel As the Crow Flies
Raised in England, I worked as a teacher in East Africa for several years before settling in Cambridgeshire and setting up my own arts and sustainability education business. I am inspired by opportunities for building international understanding and environmental stewardship through the arts, and these are themes that run through my writing. I have always written: journals, song lyrics, poems, but my submission for the TLC Free Reads is my first novel. As The Crow Flies
is an ecological fable for young adults with a riddle at its heart. It explores the importance of diversity through a story that focuses strongly on individuals and relationships.
was offered a critique of her novel Safe in the Dark
I was born and grew up in Hackney and worked in London as a journalist on broadsheets and magazines for over twenty years. After moving to Cambridge I took an MA in Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin University and during that time was shortlisted for the Hookline First Novel competition. I am a founder member of local writing group, Angles Writing Workshop and am currently working on my second crime novel. Safe in the Dark
, concerns Laura, a thirty-something detective, who finds herself trapped in a dilapidated pub in Lancashire, surrounded by 10-foot snowdrifts and five people she can’t trust.
will receive feedback on his novel Cobra Strike
Tony is a vet who trained at Cambridge then went to East Africa and became an expert on a disease of cattle and wildlife that no one outside Africa has ever heard of. Travelling throughout the region, he camped among elephants, canoed among hippos, photographed a rhino in his pyjamas and worked closely with the Maasai. Drawing on this background, he self-published The Ant-Lion
and The Elephant-Shrew
(fiction: 8-12 year-olds). Cobra Strike
(teenage fiction – action, adventure), also set in Tanzania, involves the same principal characters, but some 10 years later when they have been recruited to a covert anti-terrorist organisation.
will receive feedback on her novel; There’s No Such Thing as Seagulls
I have been a voracious reader since childhood, have a passionate interest in Children’s Literature and have always enjoyed writing. My research work has been published in The Excellence of Play
(editor - Janet Moyles). After thirty years of primary school teaching, I completed my Masters’ degree in Children’s Literature at Cambridge University and attended a writers’ workshop at the Writers’ Centre Norwich. These experiences inspired me to complete my first novel for children. There's No Such Things as Seagulls
is about a boy struggling to control his violent temper among a group of children regarded as weirdoes and misfits.
Jen Morgan was offered a critique on her novel Stone Master.
Jen has always written stories for children but began to pursue this more seriously through doing an MA in Writing for Children at Winchester University. After raising two small children (they are still quite small) she finally completed the story she began during that MA. That is the story she has submitted to TLC Free Reads. She loves stories by Philippa Pearce, Lucy Boston and Susan Cooper, but is most inspired by the work of Kevin Crossley-Holland. Her story is about magic, memory and myth and is partly set North Norfolk, one of her favourite places.
will receive editorial feedback on her manuscript Patience Collier
My entry is a life-writing project about Patience Collier, the twentieth century character actress. She is a compelling subject - outrageous, funny, and promiscuous: a late-blooming actor who left revealing personal archives and vivid memories among her contemporaries. Writing skills have been essential throughout my rather varied career. But telling the story of someone’s life presents a very special challenge. I gained enormously from the UEA Life Writing MA, graduating in 2010 with a distinction and a Lorna Sage Memorial prize. My self-published project, Travelling Towards War
, introducing a Norfolk man’s eye-witness accounts of Central Europe in 1938-39, was shortlisted for the 2012 East Anglia Book Awards.
was offered a critique of her novel Home
I began to write in earnest about five years ago, initially concentrating on picture books, and receiving some encouraging feedback from agents. In 2010 I attended an Arvon residential course on ‘writing for children’ which was both an enjoyable and inspiring experience. My current piece of writing (Home
) is a ghost story for the young adult genre, in which a long decommissioned phone box starts to ring night after night but Lucy, my fifteen year old heroine, is the only one to hear it. I see the TLC Free Read as an invaluable opportunity to polish my manuscript prior to submission.
will receive editorial feedback on his piece An Unreliable Man
I’ve written lyrics, screenplays, and short stories. Most languish in obscurity, though last year I won a short story competition run by Norwich’s Theatre Royal. I write the blog for Diss Arts Centre, and have had reviews in the Sunday Times and the Diss Express. An Unreliable Man
combines my interest in literature, history, and conspiracy theories. Robert Poley languishes in obscurity too - in the footnotes of other people’s histories - but his life was extraordinary. Francis Walsingham, Mary Stuart, and Christopher Marlowe all knew him and thought him an incorrigible rogue. This is his version of their stories.
Many congratulations to all of our TLC Winners, and thanks to all those who applied for TLC Free Reads. We were delighted to have so many high quality entries, and we look forward to hearing how all of our writers progress.
Find out more about TLC Free Reads
Find out more about The Literary Consultancy
See last year's TLC Free Reads Winners
Artistic Rivalry and Literary Friendships - A Guest Blog from Emma Claire Sweeney
Emma Claire Sweeney, Escalator Winner, writes on literary friendships and her new project Something Rhymed.
By the time I won an Escalator Award back in 2005, I was already firm friends with Emily Midorikawa – the fellow writer with whom I've launched Something Rhymed, a website about famous literary friendships.
I met Emily during a time when we were both living in rural Japan – working as English teachers by day, and scribbling stories in secret by night.
We both have fond memories of the moment we first dared to admit our literary ambitions: we were in a garlic-themed restaurant at the time, chatting over bowls of noodles.
I clearly remember talking with Emily that night about the way novels give us the illusion that we can mind read. Over a decade later, I keep circling back to this notion. But I only recently realised that my preoccupation with this likely stems from my yearning to be a more eloquent interpreter of my autistic sister – something I've blogged about here.
The Waifs and Strays of Sea View Lodge
– the novel I'm completing for my agent, Veronique Baxter at David Higham – is inspired by my relationship with my sister, and its main theme goes back to my first literary conversation with Emily: the impossibility of truly knowing even those closest to us but the restorative powers of our attempts to do so.
From our discussion back in that garlic-themed restaurant to the final redrafting of this novel, Emily has joined me on each of my deviations, uphill struggles, and delightful discoveries. And she has given me the great privilege of sharing her intellectual, creative, and emotional journey too.
Until this point, our writing careers have grown roughly in tandem, but now, both nearing the end of novel drafts, we fear that the coming year could put new pressures on our relationship. Wary of the dangers of artistic rivalry, we are keen to glean tips from our literary heroines on how to sustain an invaluable friendship through potentially trickier times.
Throughout 2014, our new website, Something Rhymed
, will be profiling a different pair of female writer pals each month, and we’ll be challenging ourselves (and our blog followers) to complete an activity based on a prominent feature of that particular friendship.
We’ll be posting regular updates on our progress, and would love for you to get involved by letting us know of any literary pals we could profile.
Or you might like to make it your New Year’s resolution to complete the activities alongside us. You can find out about the first challenge here
About Emma Claire Sweeney
Emma Claire Sweeney won an Escalator Award back in 2005, after graduating with distinction from UEA’s Creative Writing MA. Her fiction has also been granted Arts Council and Royal Literary Fund Awards, and has been shortlisted for several others, including the Asham, Wasafiri and Fish. Most recently, she has been published in The Times
, and The Independent on Sunday
. She is represented by Veronique Baxter at David Higham and is currently completing The Waifs and Strays of Sea View Lodge
– a novel inspired by her autistic sister.
Last year, Emma Claire published The Memoir Garden
– an Arts Council sponsored collection of poems comprising the words and experiences of adults with learning disabilities.
Having co-written literary features, this year Emma Claire and her long-standing writer friend, Emily Midorikawa, launched Something Rhymed
Visit Emma Claire's website
Follow Emma Claire on Twitter @emmacsweeney
About Emily Midorikawa
Emily Midorikawa grew up in Yorkshire. She is a half-English, half-Japanese writer of novels, short stories and non-fiction. She has an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia and her work has been published in, amongst others, Aesthetica
, the Telegraph
, The Times
and the UEA anthology Otherwheres
Her as-yet-unpublished first novel A Tiny Speck of Black and then Nothing
came joint-third in the SI Leeds Literary Prize 2012, third in the Yeovil Literary Prize 2013, and was long-listed for the Mslexia Novel Competition 2013.
Emily is one of the writers involved with Tangled Roots
, a literary project that celebrates the stories of mixed-race families from Yorkshire. With her writer friend Emma Claire Sweeney, she runs the website Something Rhymed
, which profiles the literary friendships of famous authors.
Here be Dragons- a Tour of Norwich
There are dragons hiding in Norwich. And they’ve been hiding for years.
But from the 10th-23rd February Norwich’s dragons are coming out to play and you’re invited to join them at the Norwich Dragon Festival. Over the three weeks there’ll be exhibitions, displays, performances, talks and quests, all focussed around the scaly fire-breathers themselves.
Whilst we’ve managed to coax most of the dragons out from their lairs, some are too busy guarding their piles of treasure. Luckily, through our special tour of the city and with some canny wordplay, you’ll be able to track down all of the city’s dragons, and discover their hidden secret. If you’re brave enough to face the dragons’ flame, that is.
The Dragon’s Spell City Trail
The Dragon’s Spell city trail will have you peering round corners cautiously and puzzling through poetic clues. George Szirtes
, award-winning poet, has written a specially commissioned poem which hides a secret code – crack the code and you can enter a competition to win your very own dragon.
Pop into the Forum, the Tourist Information Centre or intu Chapelfield to pick up a map and an entry form, and explore the city centre in a whole new way. Once you’ve finished the tour (singe-free, we hope), drop off your entry form at intu Chapelfield Information Desk to pick up your limited edition poem postcard and to enter the prize draw.
You can also enjoy a free live reading of The Dragon’s Spell
with George Szirtes, Robyn-Astrid, Meghan Purvis and Keiron Pim, at the stunning Assembly House on the 18th Feb. The evening promises to be an extravaganza of music, monsters and poetry, and if you’d like to join the performers there are also open mic spots available.
Find out more about the Norwich Dragon Festival
Book your free ticket to The Dragon’s Spell reading event
Norwich Dragon Festival is organised by Norwich’s Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust (HEART), with support from Norwich Business Improvement District (BID), The Forum and the Norwich Town Close Estate Charity.
52,190 Words of 'Light Relief' - A Guest Blog from Escalatee Robert Mason
Robert Mason, an Escalator graduate blogs on exploring new disciplines, the Escalator experience, and publishing Other People's Dogs.
Escalator Literature 2009/10 was crucial for me – it made me decide that this writing malarkey was serious. After thirty years as an illustrator that was a massive realisation and surprise, and, having painted pictures since I was an embryo, I felt some guilt about my new direction. This lasted for about a week; the concomitant poverty has been more tenacious.
Escalator was enjoyable and nerve wracking: I had no prior experience of presenting or formally discussing my writing, though friends from the UEA Creative Writing courses had been incredibly generous and helpful, informally. So, to receive feedback, in a public place, from my mentor Courttia Newland, and to have to read to literary agents, in a public place, was demanding. To do those things without weeping was a triumph.
Perhaps most valuably Escalator opened my eyes to tangible practicalities of literary life: how to write synopses, how to use social media (still not 100% there), how agents operate and – most interestingly – how practising authors actually work. My appreciation of the latter went from indiscriminate absorption of all information imparted to a far more selective mode, as I realised that all writers differ and that it was OK to put together my own working routines. Some pointers, such as write original material at one time of day, and edit at another, were invaluable: thanks to Alex Preston for that. I manage to adhere to it some of the time.
Other People’s Dogs is not my Escalator book: The Rec – now re-titled Retribution – is still ongoing and I think it’s going well. OPD began life a year or so earlier, as (50,000 words of) light relief between two longer manuscripts. Its genesis was, definitely, as ‘dog book’, rather than ‘memoir’: I dislike that m-word. But my dog book differs from most in that, while the majority are concerned with a one-to-one relationship between dog and owner, OPD is written by someone who adores dogs but has never owned one. So a degree of autobiography was inevitable, in describing serial, irresponsible relationships with any number of canines, over many years. And, for me, that aspect of the book has been the most interesting, as it threw up dilemmas revolving around memory, wish fulfilment, truth, fiction, etc. All of which sounds too serious: OPD is predominantly humorous – and that’s an h-word I dislike. Oh God, I’ve written a humorous memoir. Shoot me now.
I’ve been very lucky in getting Ian Pollock, an old RCA friend, to illustrate the book, and I’m hugely grateful to Barrie Tullett at Caseroom Press for sticking with me while I dithered and edited – two activities that can seem fiendishly similar. My sincere thanks to them, and to Courttia Newland and WCN for the Escalator experience.
So, if you want to read a dog book written by someone who has never owned a dog, or a memoir written by someone who can’t remember what he had for breakfast, look no further.
You can purchase a copy of Other People's Dogs online
, or from The Book Hive
Read a review of Other People's Dogs.
Robert Mason graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1976. He embarked on a thirty-year career as an illustrator, working for many major publishers and producing artwork for books by Rose Tremain, Robertson Davies, Robert Musil, Angela Carter, Alan Moore and many others. In 2006 he virtually stopped drawing and began to write, and in 2009 applied successfully for a place on WCN's Escalator Literature programme. Robert ran the Illustration course at the (then) Norwich School of Art from 1990 to 2006, and eventually retired from the (now) Norwich University of the Arts in 2013. He has written two short books about Illustration; Other People's Dogs
is his first non-Illustration title. He lives in Norwich with his wife, the totally brilliant jeweller Elaine Cox.
Literary Versus Commercial Fiction - A Guest Blog from Charlie Brotherstone of A.M. Heath
Charlie Brotherstone, an agent at A.M. Heath, discusses psychological suspense, the new world of commissioning, and finding the 'sweetspot' between commerical and literary fiction.
I recently spoke to a writers’ group and the question of what defines commercial and literary fiction cropped up. It’s a classic publishing conundrum and dangerous territory: I was simultaneously planning an escape route through the gent’s window whilst answering. Luckily it didn’t come to that, but I did talk about a sweetspot where literary and commercial overlapped. Unfortunately this was misquoted as ‘sweatspot’ on twitter. You can’t have it all.
It is an interesting debate, however, and one which has relevance for aspiring authors. Is the publishing industry just a massive commercial juggernaut? Are we sacrificing quality for the sake of the market? Publishing phenomena like 50 Shades of Grey must baffle authors but they are one-offs and should be seen in that context. I’m thrilled that Gone Girl was this year’s runaway success. A superbly crafted novel whose characters captured contemporary neuroses was being given a massive thumbs-up by readers.
There was an inevitable backlash after Flynn’s novel was longlisted for the Women's Prize, with critics questioning its literary merit. Brits have to knock something down when it becomes ubiquitous, and you need only wind the clock back to the 2011 Booker Prize to see how neurotic we are about this particular issue. Ultimately, the lines are becoming increasingly blurred when it comes to defining literary and commercial fiction.
Psychological suspense has been overhyped this year but it a useful prism to explore the literary/commercial divide. The desire to unravel the inner psyche seems to me an intrinsically literary exercise and the one constant which has driven the novel forward since its inception. Novels traditionally seen as either literary or commercial can now belong to both camps and this cross-pollination is a healthy challenge to some deeply entrenched and often ill-articulated prejudices.
What has become more evident in recent years is that a book, especially by a debut writer, needs to be commercially viable before being commissioned by an editor at a major publishing house. Previously a longer term view may have been taken on an author and their potential, based on the editor’s personal taste. Now that editor will have to convince their sales team before being able to commissioning. Be it challenging psychological territory, a fascinating choice of time and place or an original voice, there must be something unique about the book which makes it stand out from others. This could be seen as a formulaic, box ticking exercise, i.e. commercial, but the desire behind it is to discover something new and original, i.e. literary. These two almost always appear at loggerheads whereas arguably they are two sides of the same coin.
Undeniably, authors are having to think in a more commercial way by highlighting what is different about their work and generating enthusiasm for it, whether it be through a catchy title or a memorable pitch.
Agents in turn are spending more time editing an author’s work before sending it to a publisher. I would again argue that this is a process of refinement which improves an author’s work and that an awareness of the market can help set an author’s work apart, not pigeonhole it.
In the spirit of list culture here are some examples of the ‘sweetspot’ where commercial and literary have fused.
Yann Martel's Life of Pi
Emma Donoghue's Room
M. L. Steadman's The Light Between Oceans
Lottie Mogach's Kiss Me First
Claire Kendal's The Book Of You
All of these novels have an original central premise driving the story forward. They explore dark themes with deeply ambiguous characters ad show there is a healthy appetite for challenging fiction which defies easy categorisation. Publishers are putting their weight behind originality and agents are looking for authors who can provide it. Commercial nous should not be seen as the opposite of literary integrity.
I have been at A.M. Heath
since 2008 and am always on the lookout for exciting new voices. Working with debut writers and launching their careers has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job. I love writers whose powerful prose, brilliant storytelling, or unique vision can totally immerse the reader. I would particularly love to receive commercial and literary fiction, reading group fiction, upmarket crime and psychological thrillers. On the non-fiction side my main interests are in politics, history, music and sport.
Escalator Alchemy- A Guest Blog from Escalatee Jon Curran
Escalatee Jon Curran writes about the transformative power of the Escalator Writing Competition
Most stories are about transformation – ugly duckling into swan, frog into prince, kilt-wearing Scotsman into wild-haired, woad-faced Mel Gibson. And like all the best stories, the Escalator scheme has been, for me, a story about transformation.
This time last year, I had a few thousand words written down and some ideas that excited me about where the story might go from there. I’d get up each morning before the sun had risen and the rest of the family was awake and write a few more pages, moving the story forward piece by piece. I didn’t think of myself as any kind of writer though, just someone who wrote in the spare corners of the day that no-one else wanted.
Over the last year, through the Escalator programme, that scant start has turned into something that’s starting to look like a real novel. More than that though, I’ve started to become someone who thinks of himself as a writer, albeit one still in the early stages of the journey. Being an Escalatee puts you in the company of nine fantastic and hugely-talented writers as companions in the journey, and that’s been a wonderful experience. The journey isn’t always smooth. After the elation of winning a place on the scheme comes the part when you wake up in the middle of the night and wonder to yourself how you’re actually going to manage to pull this off. Me? Write a novel? Are you kidding?
That’s where David Rain – Escalator mentor
extraordinaire – proved himself as adept an alchemist as any in medieval Baghdad, where my novel is set. I would troop down to London with characters, plots, themes all jumbled around in my head– and David would somehow help me to make sense of them all. We’d wash it all around over coffee and there! A glimmer amongst the base metals, and lead would turn into gold. It seemed effortless, but I’m sure it wasn’t, so I’m eternally grateful to David for helping to get the thing off the ground.
The Escalator scheme has been about pushing myself, trying things I’ve never tried before, and growing as a result. Reading from our work at a special showcase
for friends and family here in Norwich made for a great evening, and a fitting end to our Escalator year, but of course the real work – the actual writing – goes on.
I still get up early in the morning as it’s my best time to write, but I now think of writing as the thing “I do”, and other things rotate around that.
Over the summer, my six year old daughter made a sign to put on the door saying “Quiet Please – Writer at Work”.
That is quite a transformation for one year.
About Jon Curran
Originally from Rochdale, Jon Curran spent his formative years in West Africa, the Middle East and Suffolk. After leaving university, Jon worked in the magazine industry before following the dotcom boom into IT. He now lives in Norwich with his wife and two lovely daughters. Jon’s fiction has appeared in Inferno
magazine, and he was one of the co-founders of the community blog “This Low-Carbon Life”, writing on environmental and community themes. He is working on his first novel, The House of Wisdom
, set in 13th Century Baghdad.
Visit Jon’s website
Follow Jon on Twitter @jaysaulc
Read an extract from The House of Wisdom
Whittling Down Summer Reads - A Guest Blog from Julia Webb
Poet and Editor Julia Webb discusses the Summer Reads Readers' Circle, choosing between books, and reading widely.
I came to Summer Reads in its first year, attending some of the Summer Reads book group meetings that were held in various bookshops around Norwich. Attending a book group was something that I had wanted to do for a long time, but had been put off of by the regular commitment expected. The Summer Reads book group was ideal for someone like me with a lot of other commitments – the books looked really interesting and there was no obligation to read all the books or attend all the meetings. As it turned out, however, everyone enjoyed the book group so much that we decided we wanted to keep meeting beyond the end of the programme.
I have always been an avid reader, so I was delighted when last year members of the book group were offered the chance to take part in the Summer Reads selection process. The reading circle is rather like a big book group, but we are talking about lots of books at once. We get to borrow and read loads of great books, write reviews and talk to the group about our favourites whilst drinking coffee – it’s like readers heaven. For the reviews we employ a traffic light system: red is bad – you wouldn’t recommend it, amber is midway – you might have quite liked it but it wasn’t memorable, green is for really good. We also write a short review to go alongside our rating.
Last year first whittling down was relatively easy – to begin with there are some books that are very obviously not going to make it (lots of red reviews) and some that are clearly ahead in the popularity stakes. But the last couple of meetings were when it became really hard. This was the stage in the process where most of the books were really good and it became much harder to choose between them. In the final meeting there were books that people loved that didn’t make the final cut. Sometimes it was a case of choosing between two quite similar books, other times it was simply the case that we couldn’t choose all of them so a group consensus had to be reached. Overall though I was very happy with the books that were chosen and it was very rewarding attending reader events and book groups and hearing what other people thought of our choices.
This year the process is even better. The reader’s circle is bigger, with a more diverse range of participants – last year’s circle reflected the general demographic of book groups in that it was mostly made up of older women – this year we have more young participants and more men. The more diverse range of participants has meant that discussion has been more lively and interesting as there is a more diverse range of taste and opinion. There have also been some great debates taking place on the readers circle Facebook group - discussions about the books and about literature in general – for example whether you have to be a native of a particular country to be able to write a good novel about it. It has also been noticeable this year that the participants are reading more widely – last year for instance, I was the only person who read all the poetry, this year several people have already read all the poetry collections.
What I personally gain from participating in the programme (apart from the loan of some great books) is the challenge of reading things I that I might not normally choose, as well as being able to participate in discussion and debate – both about the books themselves and about what makes a good book. Literature is very close to my heart and this programme is both engaging and uplifting. As a poet I have been very pleased to see that the programme is breaking down people’s fears about engaging with modern poetry.
About Julia Webb
Julia Webb is a poet, writer, creative writing tutor, copy-writer, editor and proof-reader living in Norwich. She has a first class honours degree in Creative Writing from Norwich University of the Arts and an MA in Creative Writing, Poetry from The University of East Anglia. Julia is one of the editorial team The Lighthouse – a journal for new writing published by Gatehouse Press.
Gods, Monsters and Weird Creative Processes - A Guest Blog from Molly Naylor
Former Escalator winner and Norwich-based writer Molly Naylor reports on the creative process, being around the busy WCN office, and learning to write anywhere.
I have been in residence at WCN for the past few weeks, partly because they are lending some support to the development of my new live show but mainly because I begged them to let me come and write here. I am temporarily living in Beccles, and so the necessity to have somewhere to write is also mingled with the desire to not lose my connection to The Fine City and its many cosmopolitan benefits (you know, like things being open; and there being more than one pub. No offence to Gary's Discounts and the rest of the Waveney Valley region).
I thought I'd be using the meeting room, a large and private space. I imagined pacing around in there with a coffee, reading things aloud, blue-tacking my extensive notes to the walls. Perhaps the staff would pause from their work to wonder about The Writer downstairs, discussing in hushed, probably super-impressed tones what they imagined I was up to.
The problem with this notion (aside the narcissistic delusions) was that the meeting room is actually in use quite a lot. For, well, meetings. Meetings about actual, proper things. So instead I was offered a desk. In a room. With... other people.
Right, I thought. HOLD UP. I don't know if you've ever met me, but there's a reason why I don't have a 'proper job'. I can't do other people! And more than that, surely these other people can't do me. I will interrupt the flow of this lovely, calm, functioning office with my Weird Creative Processes™.
If you're a writer, you'll probably have your own needs in terms of the ideal environment in which to write. When I did the scriptwriting MA at UEA, the brilliant course tutor Val Taylor asked us to write down our 'gods' and our 'monsters' - things that help us write, and things that hinder our process. My gods list was far longer than my monsters, but there was a sense that I was going through the motions. Making it up a bit, or at least exaggerating. I went to town with an imaginary rider, probably feeling a bit like whoever that band was who wouldn't have blue M & Ms in their dressing room. Van Halen was it? Or Scouting For Girls? One of the two. I put down that I ABOSULTELY COULD NOT AND WOULD NOT WRITE without things like: a massive wooden desk, natural light, a fountain pen, a dog at my feet, absolute silence, real coffee... you can imagine the sorts of things. You probably have your own list. Maybe you can only write in complete isolation, or while wearing a suit and cravat, or when sat on a bean bag, or when Shania Twain is playing the banjo in your airing cupboard, or when you are aware that there is a snake, in a bag, in Dorset... we all have our gods and monsters. Or at least, I thought I did.
I sat down on my first day feeling pretty self-conscious about what the other people in the office would think of my Weird Creative Processes™. I had a cup of tea and I opened my laptop and in lieu of any other option, I started to write. Which, considering that this is literally my only job, was probably a good idea. And as I wrote, and drank, and deleted, and sighed, and edited, and yawned along with everyone else, I realised that actually the only thing I had to be self-concious about was my seeming lack of WCPs.
I think so many of those specified conditions have been, for me, an exercise in procrastination. And let's face it, I do not need more ways in which to procrastinate. I already have social media, an attention span that's been vastly impeded by the aforementioned and pretty much every film that's ever been made available at my fingertips. In these times of crazy busy noise, I've started to realise that instead of trying to switch everything off I might just have to start finding my quiet somewhere and someway else. Perhaps through the comfort of basic human interaction and community. Through structure and routine (you know, like a normal person). Through not thinking or suggesting that what I – or writers in general - do has any particular mysticism. Through acknowledging every day that writing is a craft and a skill just like any other job. If you want it to continue being your job and also have a shot at being content, it has to be functional. I mean, if you are accidentally a bit Bukowski-eccentric, then that's not for me to judge. In fact I'll inevitably fancy you a bit. But it's perhaps not something we should be aiming for or hiding behind.
I hope they let me stay a bit longer, anyway. I think it's helping the show hugely, by making me realise what could be a writer's greatest skill - to be able to write anywhere. Under any conditions. To be portable, and flexible, and unimpeded by gods, monsters, or Shania Twain's banjo-playing.
Molly Naylor is a Norwich-based writer and performer. She makes live shows and writes scripts for radio, theatre and television. Her first poetry collection is published by The Book Hive and she has recently been commissioned to write a sitcom for Sky, with fellow Norwich writer & broadcaster John Osborne. Her new live show will debut at the Norfolk and Norwich festival in 2014 – working title If Destroyed Still True.
For more info visit www.mollynaylor.com
University Writers Service Offers UEA Students Digital Copy Writing Experience – a Guest Blog from Emily Buchanan
Emily Buchanan, project coordinator of the University of East Anglia’s University Writers Service (UWS), blogs about the origins, aims and potential of the Service.
With people reading blog posts more than they read traditional media, online content marketing has become a highly valuable industry that’s worth in excess of £4bn in the UK alone. This means that writers, particularly those capable of spinning gold out of a sales pitch, are finding an abundance of work online.
Naturally, this has created significant opportunities in the graduate employment market for those with digital skills. And yet, a recent report from Facebook exposed a digital skills gap amongst UK graduates; with many not possessing the necessary experience or training required for a career online. "It's really not easy,” said Simon Milner, Head of Policy at Facebook, “We don't tend to find a lot of British young people who are ready to come and work." It’s a convoluted dilemma. The jobs exist and the graduates are certainly willing and capable, it’s just a case of experience.
When Fountain Partnership, a local internet marketing company, recognised this dilemma, they alerted the University of East Anglia to a commercial opportunity. The company needed to outsource some copywriting and felt compelled to offer the work to students – they just didn’t have the means to do so.
Fountain’s initial interest represented a wider employability opportunity. If UEA could create a pool of talented student writers and offer their skills to online businesses, they could plug the digital skills gap by giving students professional references, portfolio material and hands-on paid commercial experience.
Based on this understanding, a pilot scheme was quickly created. The University Writers Service, as it became known, was designed to hire 7 students as copywriters for Fountain, who would train and mentor them in the ways of the web. If this was successful, there existed the potential for expansion in the New Year.
In the first week of the new semester, UEA held an introductory workshop to gauge student interest. It was a sell-out, with over 160 students signing up. The initial talk was led by Fountain’s co-founder, Marcus Hemsley, and explored the basics of search engine optimisation (SEO) - teaching students how to optimise their online presence and how to develop their writing and research skills for the web.
After the event, students could apply to become writers for the service by submitting a short article on a chosen subject. Almost 50 students applied for the job and seven were chosen to take part in the pilot. Since then, it’s been a huge success, with one student writer saying, “I already feel like I've learnt a great deal. Writing concisely and to a specified brief -and especially writing for the web- is completely different to anything I've studied within my degree. It's really nice to see potential uses for my interest in writing in the future.”
Looking to the future, the University Writers Service has two long term goals: to provide applied digital skills training to a large number of students and to create a national client portfolio of agencies, publishers and businesses that want copywriting services from an employability scheme. The service hopes to double its database of writers by the New Year and to offer its services to a host of new clients. Should this be successful, it will become the country’s first self-sufficient, university-based writers’ service that not only produces great content for the web, but significantly improves graduate job applications.
For the latest updates, follow the University Writers Service at @uni_freelance
About Emily Buchanan
Emily Buchanan is a writer, a UEA English Literature alumni and the project coordinator of the University Writers Service. She’s also a digital editor for Further, a multi-award winning marketing agency based in Norwich and on occasion, she’ll speak at employability events and seminars - offering guidance to undergraduates interested in writing for the web. Although fiction writing is her ultimate goal, Emily is an example of the employment power of the internet – without which she wouldn’t be where she is today.
Check out Emily's blog.
Follow Emily on Twitter @MileyChanbuna
Permission to Write - A Guest Blog from Escalatee Kyra Karmiloff
Kyra Karmiloff, 2012 Escalator Winner, blogs about writing nerves, her experience of Escalator and how the programme helped her to improve as a writer.
It was about this time last year that my lovely friend, the talented novelist and past Escalatee, Susan Sellers
, started breathing down my neck to enter this year’s Escalator Literature Writing competition
. I was feeling very despondent about my writing – ready to give up on it all after 10 long years of heartache and two novels withering away in the lightless files of my laptop. Reluctantly, I agreed to give it a bash and set out revisiting old pieces, tossing one after another into the bottomless bin on my screen.
A pointless endeavor, I told myself, as I picked the chosen one and started dusting it down. Two weeks and eight-hundred edits later, I had my five thousand words ready. Or so I thought. With just days to go before the closing date, I printed out my competition piece, read it aloud for the nth time, made a few last changes and printed it again. Sixteen prints and two ink cartridges later, I put the blasted thing in an A4 envelope, addressed it, stamped it and put it in my bag. I dressed to go to the post office, took one final look at the words still humming on-screen, made a very final change, opened up the envelope, threw its contents away, printed out a fresh copy containing the much-improved first line, and sealed up the envelope again. I got in my car, started the engine, turned it off, went inside and repeated the whole process again, all for one word which was never going to make the difference between success and failure, but the opening sentence really was better in its original form.
It was a blessed relief to finally push the heavily-sellotaped envelope into the post box. It was out of my hands now. “All done,” I told Susan. Then silence. For weeks. Then an email, one morning before Christmas, telling me that I had made the shortlist and would hear in the New Year if I was one of the ten winners. Weeks of worry followed. A flicker of hope had been reignited: perhaps I would become a real writer after all. No no, said my brain. My bank balance agreed. Yes, yes, said my long-suffering friends and family.
And so it was that I became one of the 10 Chosen Ones
. For this year at least.
What ensued was the most amazing, nurturing and spirit-lifting experience I have had as a writer. Writers’ Centre Norwich provided us not only with wonderful support and guidance, it gave us a stamp of approval, a permission to write. We received help applying for funding from the Arts Council
, allowing us to cut down on work in order to focus on our projects, and were given months of invaluable mentoring. I was lucky enough to have been chosen by the amazing Tobias Hill, who not only helped me turn a scruffy idea into a fully-fledged story, but gave me back my confidence as a writer. Most of all, what the scheme provided us with was a license to be who we are – writers – and do what we love doing best: writing. No longer solitary scribblers, tossing hour after hour at a pursuit that felt like little more than pure indulgence, we were now recognized talent, bona fide novelists. It was like receiving Dumbo’s feather and jumping off a cliff, knowing we would fly.
I took my little competition piece, looked it in the face and decided that it deserved some limbs, a beating heart, a personality or two, and a name. What started as a few paragraphs bullied onto a page by a well-meaning friend now became the beginning of a novel, my third and hopefully the lucky one. The one that will make it onto the shelves of Waterstones, where there is space: I’ve checked. In fact, last time I went to peruse the rows of K’s, a thoughtful shop assistant had cleared a great big gap precisely in the spot where The Witchfinder’s Lover
will, with any luck, sit one day. Yes, yes, said my brain!
Find out more about Escalator Literature Writing Competition.
View all the 2012 Escalator Winners.
About Kyra Karmiloff
Half-English, half-Russian, I did most of my growing up in London. After completing my degrees at UCL, I set up as a freelance writer and researcher, mainly in the field of Language and Child Development, while continuing to dedicate as much time as possible to my fiction. I am the author of three non-fiction books and have had many articles published in magazines and online. During tough times I have also been a DJ, a dog-groomer, a stable-girl and cleaner – anything to stay self-employed and keep writing. I live in Fen Ditton with my boys and my partner, Rocky, a film director with whom I collaborate. I now make a living writing film treatments and researching new material, while continuing to pursue my novelist ambitions.
The Witchfinder’s Lover
is a coming-of-age story of two siblings growing up in Cambridge during the turbulent years of the Civil War, whose lives are transformed by the arrival of Matthew Hopkins, the man responsible for mounting the deadliest witch-hunt in British history.
Visit Kyra's blog.
Follow Kyra on Twitter @KKarmiloff
Welcome to the Fine City of Norwich.
In 2012 Norwich became England’s first UNESCO City of Literature, and the sixth in the world. This elite international network now includes six other cities around the world; Edinburgh, Melbourne, Iowa City, Dublin, Reykjavik and recently Kraków.
Today, Norwich’s new city signs have been unveiled, proudly declaring to all visitors (and, of course residents) that this fine city is a UNESCO City of Literature.
The UNESCO City of Literature award is much more than a recognition of Norwich’s literary heritage and contemporary strengths
– it is a promise of what will come.
In the year since Norwich became a City of Literature Writers’ Centre Norwich has already established many projects, events and even a publication, which celebrates and builds upon our literary strengths.
26 for Norwich
celebrated Norwich’s literary heritage, present strengths, and future potential by pairing professional writers from writers’ group 26
with students from the UEA Creative Writing courses. The pairs were then asked to produce a piece of work in response to a historic Norwich writing. You can explore the work of Norwich’s historical writers and the pieces produced by our contemporary writers on the 26 for Norwich website
Into the Light: The Medieval Hebrew Poetry of Meir of Norwich
is a collection of poems written by Meir ben Elijah, England’s only medieval Hebrew poet, and our first UNESCO City of Literature publication. Find out more about Meir ben Elijah and purchase a copy of the collection
UEA UNESCO City of Literature Visiting Professorships
was established in early 2012, and brings leading writers to teach at the University of East Anglia
. The inaugural professors in 2013-13 were playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker and novelist Ali Smith
Ali Smith gave the inaugural Harriet Martineau Lecture
at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2013
. The lecture celebrated Harriet Martineau, an unjustly oft-forgot Norwich writer. Read a report on the event and listen to a recording
Our plans for the future are even more exciting. Future plans are designed to make literature accessible for residents of the city and county, as well as to visitors to the region.
The National Centre for Writing
(NCW) will be a unique building based in the heart of Norwich. Never before seen in England, NCW will be regional beacon and a national draw for the city, offering a home for those passionate about the power of words, whether they be readers, writers or translators. Writers’ Centre Norwich is leading the bid to develop the National Centre for Writing, which will open in 2016. View plans on architect Ash Sakula’s website
A £360K partnership bid to Heritage Lottery Fund
has been developed, with the proposed funding being used to explore, celebrate and open up Norwich and Norfolk’s literary history for everyone who lives in and visits Norwich. (More news soon)
A £300k Cultural Tourism bid led by the New Anglian Local Enterprise Partnership
is underway, which is designed to attract more visitors and tourists to Norwich.
A series of workshops for young people and schools
is being planned to bring creative reading and writing in to the heart of their lives, and broaden the opportunities available to them.
Margaret Atwood will be the third UEA UNESCO City of Literature Visiting Professor
. We’re delighted to welcome Margaret to Norwich for two months in 2014.
SPACE, a volunteer-led reading and writing programme
, is running in libraries and venues across Norfolk. A collaborative project with Norfolk Library Service
and University of East Anglia
. SPACE works with young people and communities to remove barriers to creative writing and reading.
New work will be commissioned
which will celebrate our sister UNESCO Cities of Literature, and includes a commission to make a film of one of the stories from Finnegan’s Wake
by James Joyce.
If you’d like to know more about Norwich UNESCO City of Literature, you can read our successful bid online
or visit our webpage devoted to the subject
To keep up to date with all Writers’ Centre Norwich’s news sign up to our enews
The Opportunity of SPACE- A Guest Blog from Jen Morgan
Jen Morgan, Specialist Creative Reading Mentor for the SPACE project, blogs about her experience of SPACE.
Although it is the beginning of the second phase of SPACE it is the start of my involvement with the project. I have taught creative writing to adults for a number of years which I have loved and continue to love, but my background is in teaching young adults and that was what made me so excited about SPACE – the opportunity to explore creative writing/creative reading with 12-18 year olds. I am particularly pleased to have been given the role of specialist mentor as it means that I will have the opportunity to visit each of the project venues and meet lots of the young people involved.
My main role is to work with the young people and suggest books that they might like, based on their interests and reading preferences. I have already visited the project based in Thetford and think I have some challenging times ahead with coaxing some of the young people into giving things a try! But that is what this project is all about for me – opening young eyes up to new experiences.
My other role is to work with the other mentors in terms of helping to create a positive reading space in the venue but I’m also on hand if they want any help with devising the creative writing sessions. I got to meet all of the other mentors at the training sessions run by Roxanne Matthews. Many of the mentors are undergraduates from UEA, still young people themselves, who are all passionate about literature and about the SPACE project. I certainly wasn’t that passionate about anything when I was an undergraduate and their dedication to the project, many of whom have been involved for a year already, has really impressed me. Getting to work with all the mentors has been an unexpected highlight for me. As an adult education tutor I have always worked on my own in terms of planning and delivering my sessions. When I attend training events run by the County Council I am always the lone creative writing teacher among the groups of fitness instructors, literacy tutors and so on. Now I am suddenly part of a team of hard-working and talented people who share my enthusiasm for literature. I am very much looking forward to the coming months to see how my role develops based on the needs of the young people and the other mentors. Watch this space!
Find out more about SPACE.
About Jen Morgan
Jen Morgan is the Specialist Creative Reading Mentor for the SPACE project. Her early career was in secondary education teaching Philosophy and Ethics, having studied Theology at Cambridge. She has always loved reading children’s stories and whilst teaching, she realised that what she really wanted to do was write them as well. She took the opportunity to pursue this whilst on maternity leave and completed an MA in Writing for Children at Winchester University, for which she achieved Distinction. Since then she has taught many creative writing courses to adults and has recently completed the YA novel she began during her MA. She also works in the children’s department at Heffers Bookshop and is Assistant Editor for the academic e-journal Write4Children. She is based in Cambridge with her two young children and loves dressing-up. Especially pirates and Tudor costumes.
Visit Jen's blog.
You can follow Jen on Twitter @JenDrakeMorgan
We are currently looking for enthusiastic volunteers to get involved in the SPACE project. Are you interested in developing your skills and experience working with young people? Do you have a love for creative writing and reading that you want to share? Please send an email with your CV and a covering letter to Melanie Kidd, Project Coordinator: email@example.com
Deadline for applications is Monday 25th November. Please note interviews are likely to take place on Monday 2nd December. For more information about the volunteer role and the SPACE project, call Melanie on 01603 877177 for an informal chat (Monday-Wednesday).
Keep Calm and Carry On- A Guest Blog from Lynsey White
Escalator Literature Writing Competition winner Lynsey White blogs about her experience of the programme and the importance of keeping on going.
In the immortal words of Ronan Keating, ‘Life is a rollercoaster. Just gotta ride it.’
There have been times, during this Escalator year, when I’ve joked that the scheme should be renamed Rollercoaster to better reflect the ups and downs of the process. From our inaugural meeting at Writers’ Centre Norwich, back in January, to the recent ‘Showcase’ reading at Foyles bookshop
, the year began and ended with stimulating and inspiring company (and some of the best nibbles I’ve ever tasted).
To have nine such talented writers
for bedfellows was an honour in itself. But as January turned to February an ice wind nipped at the heels of my Escalator win: ‘You’ve told these nice people you’re writing a book. You know what? Now you’ll actually have to write
And not only write it, but share
it. My lovely – and undeniably canny – mentor, Michelle Spring, was poised by her email inbox (or so I fantasised), waiting for the satisfying plop of my first delivery. Waiting to see right through me. ‘This woman thinks she can write
? Oh boy.’
Like a scene in a Hollywood movie, an ominous ticking began.
So I sat myself down at the empty white screen and the nagging black cursor was flashing in time with that ticking, and maybe the ticking was actually somebody’s fingernails drumming… and slowly that somebody took on a face, and that face was Michelle’s as she fired off a gently encouraging email: ‘You mentioned you might have some work for me, Lynsey…?’ And words would burst onto the screen in a frenzy of typing – and frenziedly vanish again in a fit of despair. I would hold up my plot for inspection and peer through the strange lacy holes in the framework. Oh god. I can’t do this. A short story, fine, but a novel? A novel’s so long…
But gradually, painfully, brewing my fiftieth tea of the day, I put fingers to keyboard one morning and started to write. The mere fact of a reader as witty and wise as Michelle being willing to read my poor efforts was more of a spur than I’d known it would be. The best book, we all know, is a book that’s not written yet. Something still wrapped in the cosy cocoon of your head. As that book takes its first clumsy steps on the page it’s invariably awful. It wobbles and stumbles and bashes its feet on the furniture. Hence, my first drafts had been jealously guarded till now. ‘No one’s died of embarrassment yet,’ I reminded myself as I mailed my first pages and met with Michelle, a week later, for tea in a quaint Cambridge pub.
There were things that she liked. There were things that she didn’t. Keep going, she said. So I did. When the feedback was more bad than good I would sit on the train home from Cambridge, my wreck of a book in my lap, and I’d ruminate on the pros and cons of giving the whole thing up and retraining in something more sensible – crocodile wrestling; clown school – instead. I was right. I can’t do this. I suck.
But the weeks and months passed, and in time – as I wrote and rewrote the damn book, and regrouped with my nine fellow writers for moral support – something started to happen. All right, so I’d written a terrible sentence, a scene that was dead on the page. I had too many characters. Far too much wallpaper. Barely the hint of a story… So what? These were challenges, gauntlets thrown down as we thrashed out the wheat from the chaff of my novel. I stopped being precious about it, and grew a new layer of skin. Michelle fizzed with ideas, and instead of resisting her input (it’s my book, get off!) I would hear the soft click of a brilliant idea as it fell into place, and rush back to the screen – mostly black now, not white – as that brilliant idea stitched a hole in the plot or suggested a subtext or sped up a scene.
Writing novels is hard. We Escalatees have been gifted with our first sniff of real professionalism this year and – for this Escalatee at least – that’s meant glimpsing the troubles as well as the joys. In these turbulent times for the publishing industry, a writer must sail in the cutthroat seas of the Amazon one-star review. Mere talent won’t keep you afloat. What you need is resilience. I’ve so many reasons this year to be grateful to WCN and my mentor, Michelle, but it’s this, above all, that I’m thanking them for: the simple, but vital, ability – in the face of the utmost despair and self-doubt – to keep calm, and keep going.
And so, as we come to the end of our Escalator year, I’m making another bid for a name-change – but this time to ‘Carousel’, in the vain hope that WCN will let me go round for another year.
Find out more about Escalator.
See the 2012-2013 Escalator Winners.
If you think you'd benefit from a professional critique, then take a look at our TLC Free Reads competition
, which is open for entries now.
About Lynsey White
Lynsey was six when she first fell in love with writing, eleven when she wrote her first novel (which, sadly, remains unpublished) and seventeen when she made it into print with a poem in The Rialto
. In 2002 she won the Bridport Prize for short stories and a Canongate Prize for New Writing. Her work has been taught on a creative writing syllabus at Birkbeck College and translated into Braille by the RNIB (alongside stories by the rather better-known Robert Harris and Agatha Christie). After a spell presenting arts shows on local radio she moved into Adult Education, where she currently teaches short story writing. She’s also a travelling piano teacher, a nonfiction copywriter and, occasionally, an editor. Most recently she was shortlisted for the 2011 Fish Short Story Prize. Her novel-in-progress is Madder Hall
: a playful take on the haunted house genre, set in the 1970s.
Visit Lynsey's website
Follow Lynsey on Twitter @LynseyAnneWhite
Read an extract from Lynsey's novel
, Madder Hall.