Past Meetings - 2014
December 2014 - Christmas Cracker
12 members attended, including our chairman Mr John Smith
Robbie opened the meeting with a talk about the West Sussex Archive and suggested that she might arrange a visit. There was a great deal of interest within our group.
The Christmas Cracker competition attracted 7 submissions, the following entry by Lesley Pardoe won the prize of a box of Christmas Chocolates.
‘A Floppy Eared Rabbit
He missed her. Missed her chatter, her hopping, jumping and dancing. Did she miss him? He wanted to be loved but he wanted her to be happy. He had supplied fish fingers and chips and chocolate ice cream, taken her to the swings and slides and then back to her mother. Did she miss him at all? Her mother didn’t.
On the car seat was an untidy Christmassy package labelled in childish script. ‘For Daddy to cuddle. Love from Ella. Tears welling he tore it open and joyfully clasped the pink soft bodied toy rabbit with long floppy ears.
Lesley took a photograph of members to be published on the Circle’s website and the meeting broke for cakes and wine and chatter.
After the break, John distributed a copy of the song ‘We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again…’ by Ivor Novello
Our members went through each line and discussed how the world around us has altered and how the meanings and implications of words and phrases have been transformed by changes in social attitudes and by technology.
John invited our group to take a sentimental song and interpret it in terms of modern thought and circumstances.
Next month Karen will talk about dialogue.
September, 2014 – Inspirational First Paragraphs
Our meeting opened with a discussion of this Blog. It was agreed that when we have a competition the winning entry should be put on our blog, perhaps also the critique, if the writer is happy with that.
Wendy Hughes read out the results of the current competition, with a brief critique of each. Robbie was declared the winner, though Vera was a close second. Runners up were Nicky, John and Janet.
The night’s programme was about analysing a favourite piece of work, and John, our meeting Chairman, thought we should concentrate on first paragraphs.
At the last meeting members were asked to bring along the first paragraph of any favourite story, recent or vintage, chic lit or whatever, preferably with enough copies for all members to read and examine in terms of the following criteria:
Fall of the house of Usher
1. Does it accurately convey the mood of the story? (Pace Pauline Briggs)
2. Does it convey the setting of the story?
3. Does it grab your attention and encourage you to read on?
These questions would clearly each be followed by an unspoken supplementary: if not, why not?
Lesley chose Prester John by John Buchan and analysed the first paragraph leading to a deeper discussion by the group. Then Vera read The Snow Falcon followed by other members of the group with first paragraphs from favourite books.
The reading finished with Robbie reading the first paragraph from Misery by Stephen King. Robbie said that she thought he was in a loonie bin.
The meeting closed with thanks to Wendy and special bouquet of flowers to celebrate her birthday.
August 2014 - Novel Beginnings
Local writer Pauline Briggs, who judged the recent novel beginning competition, attended the August meeting to announce the winners and give a short talk about the entries and novel writing.
First prize went to new member Paul Marshall for ‘The Melancholy Heart’ and the runner-up was John Smith with ‘Lonely in Lusaka’.
Both prize-winners read their entries and a discussion followed. All agreed that the both openings gave a taste of what was to come and enticed the reader to read on.
Pauline then spoke about the different entries and the various themes explored. She asked ‘what is theme?’ – a concept some of us struggle with. She said that the theme should be evident from the start although it wasn’t always possible to do this. Sometimes the theme emerges as the story progresses. Some of themes suggested were courage, hope, generosity, greed, fear.
Several members are thinking about going down the e-publishing or self-publishing route and Roz gave a brief outline of her experiences and how she went about it.
The meeting ended with Roz reading the first paragraphs of her current work in progress which provoked lively discussion.
July 2014 Meeting
Whilst most of our members took advantage of the long sunny evening to sit in their garden or have a drink at their local, a few of us die-hards met to read and critique one another’s writing. Robbie took the Chair and read a lovely piece of French whimsy, which John left for us before he took off for his annual trip to France, making all of us wish-we-were-there. Most of us were fairly glad we weren’t in Portugal as we discussed the fate which befell the protagonist, travelling the Algarve, featured in Paul’s long short story. Jan entertained us with a
beautifully descriptive chapter from her historical novel and Mark gave us food for thought as we discussed if there’s a right way or a wrong way regarding poetry layout. The discussion progressed onto what role editors play in a writers’ life and we ended by debating the definition of ‘the chapter’. All in all a lively and interesting evening.
Roz did not mention in her report that she read the prologue and first page from her own work in progress. This provoked discussion on whether or not a prologue is needed. Some were for, some against, but Roz’s prologue certainly gave a taste of what was to come and made one want to read on. Her descriptions of the waterside at Bosham struck a chord with me as I had been there the day before.
June 2014 - Wendy Hughes
This month’s meeting was given over to a guest speaker, Wendy Hughes, who talked about writing non-fiction for magazines and newspapers. Wendy is an accomplished article/feature writer, with over 2,000 pieces published, so she has a lot of experience to draw upon. From the outset a practical tone was set with the advice: “what matters most is not the readers, but the editor”. In fact, currying favour with this elusive being was described as a “make or break” deal.
As a first step Wendy recommended doing your research, down at the newsagent or in the doctor’s waiting room, by reading a selection of mags. Look for the media’s style, chatty or formal for example, and the typical subject matter of the articles published; pick up clues on the type of reader the magazine or newspaper attracts, but most importantly of all read the editorial, to get a handle on the one person who will eventually say yeah or nay on anything you submit.
Most articles in magazines, Wendy estimated, are a short-and-pithy 800-1,000 words in length. At most, a feature can run to 1,800 words across a double-page spread and in all cases photographs with an article will increase your chances of success. This all needs to be borne in mind when, as an outsider to the in-house team and known circle of freelancers, you make your first approach with a new idea. Wendy pointed out that submitting complete articles is a thing of the past, although this may have been how she got her break with “a non-commissioned article sent on spec.” to a Builder’s Trade Mag. — and as a result Trade magazines became Wendy’s mainstay.
“There is less competition, you see,” Wendy admitted with what sounded to me a hint of a Welsh accent.
Nowadays there is a Trade Journal for just about anything and, as Wendy said, you don’t have to know anything about the subject to start with, if you are prepared to do the research. Some trade titles struggle to fill their white space, so they can be an easy route to get published for the first time.
As for the rest of the consumed media, although you might at first think only of The Sunday Times or Woman’s Weekly, the range of organisations any aspiring jotter can approach are actually very wide: local newspaper dailies, weeklies, regionals, Sunday Supplements, local freebies, as well as a whole raft of charitable and local-group newsletters and pamphlets. Yet, why stop at our shores? Other countries speak English and English speaking expat enclaves can be found in almost any country, and often these have their own newspapers. This is something I know a bit about having been a freelancer for English speaking, “coffee table magazines” in Asia and a subeditor on a foreign newspaper. Obvious targets may seem to be the ex-colonies: America, New Zealand, Australia, even Ireland. However, personally I would add a warning that local competition overseas is likely to be stiff.
A key message in Wendy’s talk was about doing articles professionally and in a business-like way. An email to the editor with a paragraph about your idea (whether you have written the article or not) is now the best way to begin, and try to make it an idea that can run-on into a series of about 4-6 pieces. Articles, if commissioned, need to be on clean paper, clearly printed, double-spaced and, most importantly, on time. Submissions should be chased, Wendy recommended a three-month’s wait period as politically correct, and payments need to be followed up. Money is tight in the publishing industry with many layoffs and a lot of good journalists out of work. Being sloppy will not work in your favour.
More than anything else an article has to have good content. Wendy suggested a Magpie’s approach to any subject you find yourself writing about, jotting facts down as you come across them: in other people’s articles, in second-hand books, as well as from encyclopaedias and finally, but to be trusted least, the good old internet. On a personal note I advocate triangulating facts and using the Net as only one of those sources. Wendy assured us that with time you can build up a “bookmarked set” of trusted websites. Either way, relying on copy, or research, solely from the internet will be transparent to both readers and editors alike and will definitely shorten your time in print.
A top-tip is to find new angles on a subject. Wendy took us through a mind-mapping exercise to help free up our thinking, but after that she came back to the basics, that good writing needs to be written, and rewritten, with an obsessive eye for detail and that any new idea or turn of phrase should be written down as soon as it comes to you.
“You won’t remember it if you don’t write it down” said Wendy solemnly, in a way that that implied she had hard experience of this advice.
Towards the end of the night’s talk some of us managed to drag the discussion down into finances. As someone who left freelancing ten years ago, with a rock-bottom price of £250 per 500 word article, I was shocked when Wendy said: not to do anything for less than £20. She agreed with me that there is money to be made in reselling articles and even regurgitating them, perhaps after four years or so. Yet the money is small, and seemingly getting smaller, when you consider the amount of research that is needed, sometimes involving travel and interview time, and all within the one price.
“But for me it is not just about the money, it’s about being published,” Wendy added.
I know what she means. The one thing I remember from my time as a freelancer was nothing to do with money, or the way of life. At my peak I was each month driving fast cars, dinning at the best restaurants on the island and staying in the best hotels ever, and being paid to do all of this as a feature writer on cars, food and accommodation in Phuket. Yet the one thing I still have a clear memory of is the one article that really hit bulls-eye. It was about land rights in Thailand: how the system worked, what the various bits of paper, locals proffered to property-obsessed Western’s, really meant and so on. I ended the piece with a bit of homespun philosophy about nothing in life being certain “not even the ground beneath your feet”. For a whole year afterwards I overheard conversations in clubs, pubs and bars, between foreigners, sometimes even between locals, where someone would say something like: “Yeah, but I read in this article…” Sometimes I even had my own article quoted back at me by an unsuspecting local trying to prove his point. It never failed to give me a buzz.
Yes, magazine and newspaper writing can be worth it, but don’t expect a stroll in the media gardens. Articles require a lot of work, patience — our chairman waited two years before he was surprised to be told he is going to be published, hopefully, shortly — and a lot of persistence. As Wendy agreed, being in with an editor, being on that list, is a key to any tour de force; that and luck, good research and a lot of rewrites.
Chairman John Smith rounded up our evening by thanking Wendy and commenting that she had covered just about every point from inception of ideas to final publication.
May 2014 - Plotting Murder
The well-known local author, Peter Lovesey, joined us for our May meeting and talked us through the process of writing a crime novel. This covered whether to write one draft or multiple drafts, characters, dialogue and titles. He explained how different authors approached it in different ways and that we all have to find the way that suits us best. The methodology was illustrated by extracts from Peter’s recent book, The Tooth Tattoo. Once again, Peter gave us an enjoyable evening.
April 2014 - Getting Into Print
Using her wide experience Robbie took us through the processes and pitfalls of getting into print. She covered many areas including editing, writing a synopsis, getting an agent and email submissions.
She also gave us an oversight of self-publishing. This took into account helpful websites and information on cover designs. Another session will cover this, probably at the July meeting.
This was a very useful meeting with lots of topics covered.
March 2014 - Cutting back the Ivy
Interesting AGM. Lovely poem about ivy from Christine, which got me thinking I must get out I my garden to do a bit of pruning.
Interesting discussion about ebook publishing with Mark, have started looking into various other outlets, as I’ve realised ‘Hidden Evil’ isn’t selling as well as it could because it needs to reach a wider audience.
Looking forward to Robbie’s talk next month. Roz