Showing posts with label creative writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label creative writing. Show all posts

Monday, 8 October 2012

Interview with Liz Harris - author of The Road Back

If you’re looking for a compelling story set in Ladakh, a remote region north of the Himalayas, then Liz Harris’s debut novel is just the book. The Road Back is the story of Patricia, who accompanies her father to Ladakh in the early Sixties. There she meets Kalden, a man destined to be a monk - but how can their forbidden love survive?
Dynamic ex-teacher Liz is a great friend of mine and agreed to be interviewed about the path to publication. Liz will also be giving a talk at Thame Library in Thame, Oxfordshire, on Friday October 12 at 1pm. Find out more here.
Did you write as a child and did you always want to write novels?

Liz: I don’t know that I wanted to write novels, but I loved writing essays, letters, anything I was given to write. I think it was some time before I connected the books that I adored reading with the process of writing. As a child, I rather assumed that books just happened. If only!

You were a teacher before becoming a novelist. What did you teach and did your years in schools help your writing in any way?

Liz: I taught secondary school English and French. If you approach me speaking fluent French next time we meet though, I should warn you that I feel a lengthy bout of laryngitis coming on. I think those teaching years did help me.  Apart from studying texts in the way that you have to do when teaching A level English, which gives a great awareness of what can be done with language and of the importance of the relationship between character to plot, a school is a microcosm of the larger world. It is a hotbed of seething emotions - although perhaps not quite as seething as Waterloo Road

Your first novel, The Road Back, is just out. Can you tell me about the road to publication and how you got a publishing deal?

Liz: For the seven years prior to being accepted for publication, I kept on writing. I’d send a novel out, feel bereft and instantly start on another. I’d also send my novels for a critique. I believe that every novel needs independent eyes to help the author to see clearly what needs work. A published author has an agent/editor to be those independent eyes; not so an unpublished author, as I then was. I love writing, and I never thought of giving up for so much as one moment.

What gave you the idea for The Road Back?

Liz: Three years ago, my cousin, who now lives in Australia, appealed for help in finding a home for an album of notes and photos compiled by my late uncle after a trip he’d made to Ladakh in the 1940s, when stationed with the army in North India. No one in Australia was interested. The ink was fading fast and she was anxious to see it preserved. The album is now in the Indian Room of the British Library. It was brought to England by friends of my cousin. When I collected it from them, I held on to it for two weeks, read it and instantly fell in love with Ladakh. I knew that I had to set a novel there and I began to research its tradition, culture and geography.

How did you go about researching the novel? Did you visit Ladakh, the area where it is set?

Liz: Visiting the place where a novel is set is the ideal, and that’s what I’ve been able to do with my next novel.  I went to Wyoming, where it’s set, in August.

But Ladakh is at a very high altitude and I have very low blood pressure. I would have been susceptible to altitude sickness, and I was advised not to go there. However, since the gates of tourism were opened in 1974, Ladakh has become a mecca for trekking tourists, and thanks to the internet, YouTube and some excellent books on Ladakh, I was able to go there with them. I can close my eyes and see Kalden’s village, see the monastery suspended above the white houses below, and the distant mountains, just as well as if I’d been there.

How and where do you write? Do you shut yourself away from your family? Do you spend a certain number of hours writing or do you set yourself a daily word count?

Liz: In my pre-publication days, I’d come down, have my breakfast whilst catching up with my emails, then I’d write all day.  Whilst I can write anywhere, I prefer to be in my study. My husband, as practical as I’m impractical, would busy himself in the house until the evening. A blissful arrangement.

Post-publication, things have changed. It’s much harder now to find a concentrated period of time in which to write as there are so many other calls on one’s time. When I start work on my next book, which will be soon, I shall probably give myself a couple of days in the week when I don’t switch on the internet.

Do you have any tips for writers working on their debut novels right now?

Liz: Don’t worry about getting published: just write. Write what is crying out in you to be written, and don’t worry about anything else. In the end, it’s a matter of luck whether an author gets published. Hopefully, everyone will be as lucky as I’ve been, but giving birth to people who didn’t exist before you put finger to keyboard, people with emotions, who live and breathe in a world that didn’t exist before you created it – that is the real thrill. Getting published is only the icing on the (chocolate) cake.

What is your own favourite novel? And are there any particular novelists who have inspired you?

Liz: I’m going to be so corny now – I adore Pride & Prejudice. I love all of Jane Austen’s novels, though Northanger Abbey less than some – and I re-read them most years. I particularly love the way in which she lets her characters condemn themselves. She doesn’t take on a narrative voice – she lets the characters speak, and through their words we see their foibles. This is a rare art. But who initially stimulated my imagination as a child? The answer is Enid Blyton. I loved her school stories and the adventure stories. The Famous Five were six when I read the novels, and I led the way with a torch!

I know you’re an avid theatre-goer in your spare time. I can’t resist asking you about the best drama production you have seen this year. And what are you seeing next?

Liz: I’m going to see the drama about a family, Jumpy at The Duke of York’s. I missed it the first time it was on in London as it was instantly sold out, but I was at the head of the queue when it returned this year, again with Tamsin Greig, and I’m very much looking forward to it. The best drama production I saw last year may well be something most people won’t have heard of. It was Witness, an absolutely spell-binding production of a story of great emotional intensity. 

The Road Back by Liz Harris (Choc Lit, £7.99)

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Just the ticket - the first writer-in-residence on a train

From universities and libraries to hotels and even prisons, novelists love being asked to be writers-in-residence at venerable institutions.

Well-known names like Fay Weldon, Kathy Lette and Michael Morpurgo have all leapt at the chance to do stints as writers-in-residence at London’s historic Savoy Hotel.

But crime writer Julia Crouch has gone one better. She’s become the UK’s first writer-in-residence on a train.

Rail company East Coast offered Julia the chance to write a short story, Strangeness on a Train, on the train from London’s King’s Cross to Harrogate and back again. It worked a treat. Her dark tale of a passenger who pushes a female traveller beyond her limits is published tomorrow (July 19) to coincide with the start of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate.

“There’s something wonderful about writing on trains,” says Julia. “Working on board the train seemed like being in a bubble of concentration as I moved through time and space, only being distracted when eavesdropping on the dramas of my fellow passengers as swathes of the countryside flashed past the windows.

“Some of it was inspired by things I saw and heard on the journey, other parts by the effects a train carriage has on the twisted mind of a crime writer. Over the journey from London to Harrogate I wrote the entire first draft, whilst also managing quite a bit of window-gazing, tea-drinking and even the odd glass of wine or two.”

Saturday, 23 June 2012

BritMums Live - The Path to Getting Published

If you’ve been reading House With No Name for a while, you’ll know that I’m a writing workshop addict. Hearing other writers speak about their work and picking up advice and guidance along the way is one of my favourite pastimes.

So yesterday I jumped at the chance to hear five bloggers present a workshop entitled The Path to Getting Published – Bloggers Who Have Done It. The session was part of BritMums Live, a massive two-day event in London attended by 500 bloggers that I’ll be writing about soon.

The publishing workshop was chaired by US-based writer Toni Hargis, author of the Expat Mum blog, and as she astutely said at the start “there is no right way to publish - but the one thing you do need is a product.”

First up was writer Kate Morris, author of three novels, including Seven Days One Summer. It was fascinating to meet Kate at last because we once wrote a pair of blogs called Country Wife and City Wife for Easy Living magazine. Even though it felt like we know each other well we’d never actually met in person before. 

Kate admitted that writing a novel is “a long, lonely journey and a scary process,” and advised budding novelists to make sure they send out “a very polished product that’s as tight and compelling as possible.” Rather than submitting a book too soon, she reckons it’s a good idea to ask people you trust to read your work and give an objective view. They could be close friends or fellow writers or members of a writing group, but make sure they give “constructive and truthful criticism” and then take on board “what resonates with you.”

Next came the dynamic Emily Carlisle, who writes the ultra-successful More Than Just a Mother blog. She said she felt like “a complete fraud” because she hasn’t had a book published yet, but thanks to the success of her blog she has been approached by three agents who love her work. She's now signed up with one of them and is working on a novel.

“All three told me that having an online presence and a solid platform is absolutely crucial,” said Emily. “It means you have a group of readers who are coming back for more and it means you are marketable.”

She also came up with a list of five tips for bloggers who want to write books: 
  1. Keep your blog fresh, original and professional.
  2. Make sure you have an About Me section on your page (so agents and publishers can find out more about you).
  3. Make sure your contact details are on there.
  4. Include a page about your writing aspirations. Agents want to know you are in "for the long haul.”
  5. If you have done interviews for radio or TV, then put them on your blog. It shows that you can hold your own in conversation and that you are marketable.

Meanwhile American agent Erin Niumata, senior vice president at Folio Literary Management, added some practical advice on submitting work to agents. She advised writers to send a query letter, a synopsis of three to five pages (including the ending) and the first three chapters or 50 pages. “Send them something they can actually read,” she quipped. “And don’t put glitter inside, don’t send gifts and don’t call to follow up. Don’t do any of that.”

Erin pointed out that agents frequently look at blogs – “we are out there, lurking in the dark, looking at you,” she said. “The bigger your platform, the better. So be clever, be smart and write something that is original.”

Last, but not least, came writer Cari Rosen, a former TV producer whose first book was published last year. The Secret Diary of a New Mum (Aged 43 ¾) is the story of “one woman, one baby, a slipped disc and rather too many wrinkles,” and as Cari explained, she wrote it in five months, sitting on the sofa in her pyjamas with a bag of M&Ms. The TV rights have now been sold in the US, so watch this space...

Monday, 28 May 2012

From Wham! to physics O level - seven random facts

Along with a flying visit home from my daughter and a half-price Frappucino at Starbucks, the best thing to happen this weekend was receiving a Versatile Blogger Award from Rebecca Leith.

Rebecca Leith’s Blog is an irresistible mix of interviews, commentaries and reports on everything from the Olympic Torch to Friday 13th.  My favourite post of all was the one where her lovely mum, the writer Anita Burgh, interviewed Bex herself. What a great idea.

Anyway, a big thank you to Bex for nominating me. I wasn’t sure what to do next so I’m following Bex’s instructions to the letter.

“Thank the person who gave you this award, and include a link to their blog,” she told me. “Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers you've recently discovered or follow regularly - I'd pick blogs or bloggers that are excellent! If it's a bit of a task to list 15, and I don't want you to feel being nominated is a burden, but mention as many as you can – eight or ten is fine. List them, and you might like to include a link to the sites, and let them know that you've nominated them. And then tell the person who nominated you seven things about yourself.”

And here are seven random facts about me:

I once interviewed George Michael in a white towelling dressing gown (him, not me!) I was a feature writer for Woman’s Own at the time and he was one half of Wham! When I hurried into the Midland Hotel in Manchester, the tour manager told me George was in the gym and I should interview him there!

I’m a serial mover. My dad was in the RAF and I changed schools eight times. The moving habit has clearly stuck because me and my husband have moved ten times since we got married. Places where we've lived include London, Lancashire, France, North Yorkshire,  Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire.

My blog’s called House With No Name because the tumbledown farmhouse in France that I bought on a whim doesn’t have a name. “How does the postman know where to deliver letters?” we asked the elderly vendor. “He just does…” she said, mystified that we were mystified.

I failed physics O level.

I was once the world’s worst au pair. I couldn’t cook, couldn’t make beds with hospital corners and had never changed a nappy in my life.

When we were little my sister and I had our own dinghy. We once nearly crashed into a tanker in Poole Harbour. We heard a loud booming sound and looked round to see this massive monstrosity sailing straight at us.

I hate eggs. 

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Twitter - and Sarah Duncan's writing blog

If you’re a writer in the first stages of your career – or any stage in your career, in fact – then Sarah Duncan’s blog is a must read. The author of five novels (including the highly-praised Kissing Mr Wrong), Sarah is also a creative writing lecturer and the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Bath.

I’m a big fan of her blog, which covers everything from characterisation and dialogue to writing a synopsis (or not, as the case may be) and finding an agent. Yesterday’s post, as thought-provoking as ever, examined the thorny question of networking for writers – and more especially, the dos and don’ts of Twitter.

Sarah smartly compared Twitter to a drinks party. “ At this party it's socially acceptable to eavesdrop on conversations and join in if you've something to say even if you don't know the people talking, but generally the party operates on the usual lines,” she wrote. “Only the most socially inept people bang on about themselves all the time, conversations are about give and take, and no one likes being sold things at a social event.”

I reckon Sarah’s drinks party analogy sums up the best and the worst of Twitter. The most entertaining people on Twitter hardly ever mention their books or articles or blogs (mind you, many of them are such superstars they don’t have to), while the most annoying people never blooming shut up about themselves.

Actually, the best things about Twitter are the friends you make. I’ve chatted to lots of people on Twitter so often that I forget I’ve never actually set eyes on them in real life. I met a couple of writers at the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s summer party recently and it felt like I’d known them forever.

Oh, and when it comes to singing Twitter’s praises, my biggest treat of the week resulted from a tweet. Quod, my favourite Oxford restaurant, recently ran a competition to win lunch for two. I retweeted the competition - and guess what?  I won! So thank you, Quod, for a fantastic lunch. It was the perfect end to my week on Twitter. 

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Write to be published - tips from Nicola Morgan

Nicola Morgan doesn’t mince her words. An ex-teacher and the author of 90 books (ranging from teen novels to non fiction), she’s known as the Crabbit Old Bat for her forthright views. She writes the popular Help! I Need a Publisher! blog and offers such constructive and honest advice that best-selling novelist Joanne Harris has described her as “the tutor I wish I’d had when I was starting out…” 

So as soon as I spotted that Nicola was running a Write to be Published workshop in my neck of the woods I snapped up a ticket like a shot.

The evening, hosted by Blackwell’s in Oxford, proved worth its weight in gold. During the course of Nicola’s two-hour talk she outlined everything from the importance of knowing your genre inside out to the nuts and bolts of writing a submission letter. As Nicola said: “I had 21 years of failing to get a novel published, then ten years of success. This is what I wish I had known when I was trying to get published.”

The 25 or so writers at the session scribbled her advice down intently, particularly when it came to the art of drafting a submission letter for prospective agents and publishers. When Nicola heard that most of us were writing novels she advised that fiction submissions must comprise a covering letter, synopsis and the first three chapters of the book (you must, by the way, have finished the book before you approach anyone).

Novel chapters obviously vary in length, so as a rough guide, said Nicola, you shouldn’t send more than 10,000 words or 50 pages. Your manuscript should be double-spaced, typed in a “sensible” font and have reasonably-sized margins.

Next, Nicola offered advice on covering letters, which should be limited to one page. The first paragraph should introduce the book, its title (typed in capital letters at the first mention and lower case after that), its length and its genre. The second paragraph should be your “pitch.” This should be objective, give a specific (not general) outline and include the elements that will make readers sit up (in other words, the must-read factor).

The third part of your letter should be about you, giving relevant information about what you’ve had published and showing that you are serious and professional about your writing (without saying exactly that, of course).

As for writing a synopsis, Nicola's e-book about that very subject is out this week. I’ve ordered a copy and if it’s anything like as informative as her workshop it’ll be essential reading for writers. If you order in January, by the way, it will only cost £1.

Write to be Published by Nicola Morgan (Snowbooks, £8.99)
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