Whose stories are they?

Jenny close up readingLast Thursday, I had a wonderful evening launching Women in Shorts out into the world. Yes, it had already been on Amazon for a few weeks, but this was the official launch with friends and prosecco and enough cake for a battleship full of hungry sailors, let alone a land-locked village hall with forty or so ladies (and four gentlemen).

kitty and colin

Despite it being, perhaps, the coldest evening so far this year, there was a great turn-out – possibly due as much to the reputation of my husband and daughter’s baking as to the prospect of hearing a story from me. The village hall was rather chilly, but, fortunately, one of the ladies present is on the committee and knows how to get the heating going. This, along with the lively conversation, soon warmed us all up.

 

ladybird cinderella

I put a lot of thought into selecting which story to read and mulling over readers’ reactions to my first book, The Woman Who Never Did. What struck me was how different people not only like (and dislike) different stories, each reader interprets a story in their own unique way – sometimes finding a meaning that even the author didn’t realise was there!

scarecrow painting

Once upon a time, my neighbour, Sylvie, painted a picture  inspired by a rhyme I had written about a scarecrow who was dreaming of the harvest ball so that she could ditch her rags for one night. My scarecrow was thinking of a big, sparkly Cinderella ball-gown from the Ladybird book I had as a child. Sylvie Jolie, my elegant French neighbour, had different ideas. In her wonderful, colourful painting, the scarecrow lets down her long dark hair and slinks off to the ball in a saucy, figure-hugging, little scarlet number.

At first, I was unsettled by the idea that a reader might not see the story in the same way that I do. Then I thought about the books we discuss at our village book group; we’re always disagreeing and pointing out different aspects to one another – that’s part of the fun. And so, the more I think about it, the more I like the idea that different readers may interpret my stories in different ways. Of course, I want them to get the essence, the plot, the main theme – otherwise I might just as well type up a list of my favourite words and leave it at that. But I think it’s wonderful that the story continues to grow and develop once it’s printed and leaves my hands.

PhilippaIn the end, I didn’t choose a story to read. I said a few words about how the book came to be (covered in an earlier post, so I won’t repeat myself here) and I read a rhyme called ‘The Day We Got to Choose’ (read it here), which is about the joy of doing things on your own terms. Then I handed over to my friend, Philippa Mitchell, and she read a story from the collection that she had chosen and rehearsed herself – without input or direction from me. Her reading was beautiful, full of interpretation and feeling, and it was like hearing my own words with fresh meaning.

Now I feel Women in Shorts has truly been launched out into the world!

village hall filling up

P.S. There were lots of good photos from the event, below is one of my favourites. It looks like a real soap opera moment. Your suggestions please … what has Sue just told Terri?

Sue with a story to tell

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Phew … Book Number Two!

Hooray, Women in Shorts is done! I’ve written it, edited it, had someone else edit it, edited it again in response to their feedback, reshuffled the stories, formatted the document, checked it all and uploaded it to CreateSpace. In parallel, I’ve designed the cover in Canva, tweaked it, printed it, changed it, and also uploaded that to CreateSpace. I’ve ordered a proof copy, waited a week, kicked myself and made changes. Then I’ve ordered another proof copy, waited a week, kicked myself and made changes again. By the way, I know this opening paragraph is not a very good opening paragraph and should be ruthlessly cut down – I’ve already done that, this is the abridged version. Most of the listed tasks should actually be listed multiple times, in particular the number of edits, which runs into double figures.

One of the things I love about being an indie-author is that I get to try my hand at everything – for example, this evening, I shall be ironing transfers onto canvas tote bags to send to all the other women in shorts who feature on the front cover. 

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Another wonder of digital self-publishing is that a mere few months after deciding to put the collection together, I’m now waiting to take delivery of a big fat parcel of books (and biting my nails that they will arrive on schedule). In the meantime, Women in Shorts is already available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle form (here). And I’m a bit worn out.

Next should come the marketing bit. I’m not very good at that. There’s lots of excellent advice around, and lots of resources and ideas you can either use yourself or pay others to use for you. I quite enjoy some of them, Facebook and Twitter for instance, but I’m not sure how much difference they actually make to my sales.

sell your booksOne of the best books I’ve read on the subject is Debbie Young’s Sell Your Books (read more here). She recommends tailoring your marketing plan according to the sort of thing you write and what you feel comfortable doing. So, for now, I shall be blowing my own trumpet on Facebook (just a bit), tweeting a bit, blogging a bit, reading a story and chatting with Nick Le Mesurier on the Stratford Words radio show next Sunday  (19th November, 4-5pm, you can listen live here), and having a little celebration party with friends in our village hall at the end of the month (that’s why I’m so anxious about the books arriving on schedule). I also hope to find the time for a sizeable nap.

Then, in 2018, I’m looking forward to reading from Women in Shorts at WI meetings across the county and at Live Lit evenings, including Words of Love, Upstairs at Merchants in Warwick on Monday 12th February. After all, it was for events such as these that many of the stories in the collection were written.

 

*** UPDATE – I’ve just heard that Welcombe Radio is moving premises and will be off air until they can be reconnected on 26th November. So, sadly, this week’s Stratford Words is postponed to a later date. ***

I’m going to tell you a story – but how?

front only women in shortsI’ve just ordered the first proof copy of my new book Women in Shorts and I’m feeling rather nervous about it.

This isn’t because I think it’s going to be a mess and I’ll have lots of work to do to tidy up the files. I’ve worked very hard on the editing and formatting and I know the files are in good shape – while there are bound to be a few corrections to make, I’m not expecting anything major.

Nor am I unhappy with the stories. Of course, I’m prouder of some than of others, but I like each and every one and I’ve worked on each and every one until it’s the best I can make it.

What’s making me nervous is how the book came to be in the first place.

The book I intended to write

After I published The Woman Who Never Did, I resumed work on a project I’d already begun under the working title, ‘The Mother and the Ghost’ (see several earlier blogs – I did a lot of research at one point!). This was to be a collection of short stories, each with their own theme and narrative, but interlocking (rather than simply linking one to the next) to form an overriding work. However, over the past couple of years, I’ve allowed myself to be distracted by all sorts of interesting opportunities and, so far, the book I’d intended to write next consists of one completed story, three planned stories and a handful of false starts.

The desire to publish another book

portrait sizedIn the meantime, I’ve discovered the joys of having an audience. When a friend who was too poorly to honour her booking at a local branch of the Women’s Institute asked me to stand in, I had a wonderful time speaking about my writing, reading stories, and chatting with the assembled ladies. One thing led to another, and I now have a diary full of bookings for early next year. I’ve also appeared at a number of open mics and even hosted my own series of live events Upstairs at The Globe in Warwick.

I always take along copies of my book and people had very kindly started asking when the next one was coming out. Which made me realise I really wanted to have another book to my name. Unfortunately, as I mentioned already, ‘The Mother and the Ghost’ had not progressed as I’d hoped.

The book I realised I’d already written

So, I wondered, had I actually done any writing over the past two years? Was I really a writer, or had I become someone who just talked about it all the time?

When I looked back, I realised that I had produced plenty of stories, often specifically for open mics and public readings. Indeed, I had almost enough stories for a book. But they didn’t link together like my first book and there was no over-riding theme. Except for this: the stories were all about women. Which is why this new collection is called Women in Shorts see what I did there?

So, why am I nervous?

nervous clipartWomen in Shorts is a bit of a mishmash: of subject matter, of mood, of lengths, of ages of the protagonists. I don’t think that’s a problem, per se. What bothers me is that many of the stories were written specifically for reading aloud, a few are actually monologues, and I wonder if these will be as satisfying if the reader only hears the words in their head. When I read my stories in public, there is always an element of performance – even if I don’t leap about, I pull faces, pause, place the emphasis on certain words or phrases. Will the same stories work in black and white on the printed (or electronic) page?

I think they will – although they may not remain precisely the same stories as when I perform them for an audience. The readers will fill in those gaps in their own way, making each story their own. And I rather like that idea, that each person will interpret FAB at 50 based on their own experience of such celebrations, or On the Way Home based on their own childhood. There are nineteen stories in my new book, but this view means those nineteen will actually result in many more.

Women in Shorts will be available on Amazon from 20th November. If you read it, please let me know if it works for you – you could always try reading it aloud.

A (pink) face for radio…

Stratford Words Flyer jpegAn exciting first for me last weekend – my first ‘appearance’ on the radio.

Welcombe Radio has only been broadcasting since May this year. It’s a community station for Stratford upon Avon and the surrounding area and you can listen to it over the internet here. I had been invited onto Stratford Words, a new program for all lovers of the spoken or written word set up by Bernard and June Hall.

I read my first piece, Monty and Jules Act 1 (which is one of the stories in my new book – Women in Shorts – due out in November) plus a couple of rhymes and I was interviewed by Nick Le Mesurier about writing in general and my love of short stories in particular. These days, I’m fairly comfortable reading to an audience – even when the room is full of strangers. Why then was it all so nerve-wracking to be reading aloud in a little room with just two other people? Was it the big black foam coated microphone invading my personal space?

220px-Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_Wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fog

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich

As I read my story, though, I began to settle down and when it was time for my interview I  thoroughly enjoyed talking to Nick (who is also a regular performer at the open mic events Upstairs at The Globe). For the record, one of the things I really like about short stories is that you can capture a moment, or a scene, or a mood in the way that a picture does. I’m not good at painting or photography, but I can get closer to the meaning with words. And writing short stories gives you the time and the space to try to perfect that moment or mood. Of course I love novels and I have great admiration for those who can write them, but for me, at the moment, I just don’t have room in my head to hold a novel-sized idea.

After my interview, I was able to settle back and enjoy the rest of the program, although I must confess to scoring a measly 4/10 in this week’s quiz. As usual, there were plenty of entertaining readings, including two pieces by Nick, and an interview with the talented poet Gwyneth Box about what ‘history’ actually means. All of which was extremely pertinent as we’re getting ready for the Historical Words open mic Upstairs at The Globe on Tuesday 3rd October.

Once I got over my jitters, I had a great time – and would love to be invited back again (hint hint). In the meantime, I shall certainly be listening in every Sunday between 4-5pm.

I was going to end with a photograph, but I forgot to take one! Still, this may be as well, one of the benefits of radio is that nobody can see you – so if my hair wasn’t brushed and my face and neck were pink with nerves, then no-one outside the recording studio need know. I will end instead with a photo of Bernard and June Hall and two other talented contributors to Stratford Words: poet Gwen Zanzottera (seated) and actress Sophie Jukes (on right).

bernard etc

 

Creativity @ The Crypt

Image result for st mary's church warwickOver the past few weeks I’ve been working on a very exciting project with St Mary’s Church in Warwick. We first worked together last year, when I was asked to host Words! Words! Words! Inspired by Shakespeare and the Bible – the first in what has since become a regular series of themed open mic events Upstairs at The Globe.

St Mary’s has now applied for a grant for me to work with them as their Writer in Residence for a year running a programme involving local writers, GCSE and A Level students and members of the congregation and wider community.

Our project is called Creativity @ The Crypt and our aim is to promote creativity, literacy and public speaking skills through a series of writing workshops. Selected work produced from the workshops will be combined into an anthology – Pilgrim Tales: A St Mary’s Miscellany, culminating in a book launch and public performance in the church in November 2018.

(Find out more about St Mary’s Church here.)

 

Creativity @ the Crypt - voting flyer - final finalPlease would you help?

St Mary’s has applied to the OneFamily Foundation and have made it through the first round of selection, being selected to go on to the public vote. There are a number of projects in the running and we need to get as many people as possible to vote for our project. Basically, the projects with the most votes will be awarded the grants.

Public voting runs from 9th August to 6th September 2017. To vote you need to register on the OneFamily Foundation website, but it’s quite a simple process.

It would be wonderful if you would vote for us, and fantastic if you’d ask your friends and family to vote for us too. Just follow the link here.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. For now it’s getting hard to type with my fingers crossed!

UPDATE: Sadly, we didn’t get enough votes to win the grant. Happily, we’re not giving up and are looking into other funding possibilities as I type…

 

May already? Surely not!

I’ve just realised it’s been six months since my last blog entry. Oh I’ve got a long list of excuses (mostly involving children, other members of the family and moving house), but I still feel shame-faced about it.

Those months have been very busy, sometimes even with writing/writerly projects. New stories and readings for festivals and open mics, a talk for the Women’s Institute and  a guest blog for the wonderful Authors Electric website – it’s all about creating complex characters and you can read it here on 31st May.

IMG_20170519_230004Last week I hosted the latest in the Words Open Mic evenings. Words of Change was another lovely couple of hours featuring a great line-up of talented local authors and I was very proud to see my daughter, Kitty Heap, reading her own work in public for the first time.

You can read more about the evening, and find a link to more information on how to set up an open mic on Jacci Gooding’s blog here. Jacci is a regular Upstairs at The Globe and has just published A Collection of Unsettling Short Stories available from Amazon here.

brochure frontPoet Nigel Hutchinson also has a new book out, The Humble Family Interviews, available from local bookshops or from Amazon here. And many other of the writers who were at Words of Change have websites detailing their own projects and publications.

We’re already planning the next event  on Tuesday 3rd October in our regular venue, Upstairs at Globe. I’m very excited to say that Historic Words will be in association with the Warwick Words History Festival, you can read more about the festival here.

As I was writing my new piece for Words of Change, I realised that I now have quite a number of short pieces written for open mics and other such events, so I’ve decided to put them together and I’m currently editing Women In Shorts (working title) which I hope to publish towards the end of this year. In parallel, The Mother and the Ghost is progressing, but very slowly.

Here’s to a busy and creative summer!

 

The Warmth of Winter Words

 

After keeping my head down for a couple of months and getting on with a bit of actual writing, I’ve ventured out again. Last Thursday, the day towns across the country turned on their Christmas Lights, I hosted another open mic Upstairs at the Globe in Warwick.

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Bren Littlewood reading from Echoes of Justice

My planning was less than perfect this time around. I had inadvertently chosen the same evening as the Warwick Victorian Market; the town’s carparks were under severe pressure and some of the roads were facing gridlock. Frankly, I was worried: Would the readers (some of whom were travelling a considerable distance) make it to the Globe on time? Would our audience think better of it and stay home in front of the TV instead?

with-bren-and-debbie-cropped

with Bren Littlewood and Debbie Young

I should have had more faith. Warwickshire (and Gloucestershire) writers are made of much sterner stuff! And our lovely audience braved the crowds (and the crowded carparks) and were rewarded by a richly diverse mix of offerings  in a beautiful, atmospheric venue. Enough to warm the chilliest of winter evenings.

There weren’t many photographers in the room this time around, so I don’t have lots of pictures. Instead, here are the brief biographies of the writers who read with me during the evening:

John Bishop

John Bishop become interested in poetry when hearing The Moody Blues in 1967. On hearing Pam Ayers in the ‘70s he began to write his own poetry. With over 4000 unpublished poems, this is his first ever open Mic. (He read some on the 4th plinth but it was 1 am. The audience was somewhat limited.)

Gwyneth Box

Gwyneth’s writing explores the literary borderlands between writer and narrator, translation and creation, and memoir and invention. Personal experience often provides the raw material for her writing, but she believes that real life is merely a stepping-stone to the poetic: facts can – and should – be sacrificed if they get in the way. www.gwynethbox.com

program-snapTerri Daneshyr

Terri Daneshyar began writing stories for children many years ago. She is a founder member of StoryVine, a Warwick based children’s writers group. With their help and encouragement, she has just completed her first novel, a YA fantasy. By day she masquerades as a teacher.

Jacci Gooding

Currently beavering away behind the scenes, competition winner Jacci enjoys working with other authors and reading at open-mic events.

Kitty Heap

Kitty Heap’s story, Sometimes You Have to Fall Before You Fly, was selected from more than 123,400 entries to progress to the second round of this year’s BBC Radio 2’s 500 Words Competition. Kitty is currently in Year 9 at Stratford Girls’ Grammar School. Kitty read Innocents’ Song  by Charles Causley.

Chris Hogarth

An ex-Shottery girl, Chris Hogarth is returning to the haunts of her youth this evening. These days she lives in a beautiful watermill in the depths of a magical Welsh valley, the subject of her tribute to Dylan Thomas. www.valleyholidays.co.uk

Nick Le Mesurier

Nick Le Mesurier is a playwright, occasional poet, short story writer, researcher, and blogger about birds and culture. He has had monologues professionally performed. He writes for a Coventry based charity that helps musical and other developing artists nurture their skills through performance. Kate Wiltshire joined Nick in reading his duologue.

Bren Littlewood

Bren Littlewood, writing under the pen name of JJ Franklin, has written scripts for the BBC and her first novel, Urge to Kill, is a psychological thriller featuring DI Matt Turrell. Bren read from her second book in the series, Echoes of Justice. Both books are set in Stratford-upon-Avon. www.bmlittlewood.com

Sue Newgas

Sue has been messing about with words since she sat at the family kitchen table as a wee child, making up poems and plays on her mother’s Olivetti. She’s worked as a copywriter, freelance journalist, loves writing stories and poems, and is delighted to be a member of the wonderful StoryVine children’s writing group!

Jane Scott

Jane Scott wrote her first book, Jane’s Book of Poems at the age of nine. While her children were young, she wrote pantomimes to raise money for the PTA and has since written many humorous poems and monologues for village events. These days, Jane writes, acts and directs for the Barford Drama Group.

Ellie Stevenson

Ellie Stevenson is the author of three novels, a collection of surreal short stories (Watching Charlotte Brontë Die) and a booklet on Writing for Magazines in the UK. Her latest novel, The Floozy in the Park includes an unsolved murder, a missing woman and an Edwardian mystery. Ellie is currently working on her next piece of long fiction, fuelled by inspiration, determination and coffee! www.elliestevenson.wordpress.com

with-debbie-and-brenDebbie Young

Stocking Fillers, Debbie Young’s collection of Christmas short stories, has been described by one reviewer as “A delightful tray of wrapped Christmas bon-bons,”, but fortunately they don’t contain any calories. She’s currently working on a festive cosy mystery, Murder in the Manger, and hoping not to be struck down. www.authordebbieyoung.com

Thanks to all the readers. Let’s do it again in the Spring/Summer next year!