Thursday, 26 July 2012

Editing the First Draft

It's been about six weeks since I finished the beloved monster that is my first draft. And, for no reason I can explain, it feels like the right time to go back for 'round two'. But where do I start? I'm part-way through reading a good book about editing your work before publication and I've read countless tips on the internet, Twitter and other blogs. And now I'm close to information overload!

It seems the best place to start is to make a chapter-by-chapter outline of what the first draft looks like, with a paragraph of what happens in each chapter. Then I need to work out the theme/message. Next I ought to look at the protagonist (but what if there's more than one?) and how he/she changes over the course of the story. Then I have to write summaries of the subplots. Once I have my story and character arcs outlined, the novel needs to be split into three parts: beginning, middle and end. And then, only then, am I allowed to begin at the beginning and tackle Part One!

It all sounded quite manageable until I read one piece of advice which said: "Expect this process to take at least as long as it took you to write the first draft, and likely a lot longer." What??? Surely there is no way it could possibly take that long? I refuse to believe the second draft will take me longer than the first (which took over two and a half years for reasons which I won't even go into), but then surely there's no way that Life could drop that much dung on me this time - is there?

Anyway, onwards and...editingwards (or should that be 'editing words' - sorry!)

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Family Street Cabaret Heaven

Three exciting things happened this weekend. They were (in no particular order): the Cleckheaton Folk Festival, the Wimbledon Finals and (cue fanfare) the climax of this year’s Hebden Bridge Arts Festival (HBAF). Despite being tempted by the other two events, I decided to enjoy the last day of the HBAF and, this time, I brought my family with me.

We arrived before 12, found a parking spot and walked up to the Marina. My husband, B (a keen astronomer and science boffin) wanted to try the Astronauts’ Caravan, although we decided that R was probably a bit too young for it (R will be two next month and we never know how she’s going to be with these things – and I certainly didn’t want to subject the other ‘passengers’ to one of her meltdowns within such a confined space!) So B paid his pound and hopped aboard. It was a clever concept as the ‘passengers’ don’t actually move – they stay static while the caravan revolves around them. It really plays tricks with the mind and when B came out he described it as: “Disconcerting but enjoyable.”

We popped over to the tourist office to find out what was going on and where (they were very helpful and friendly) and then headed into the centre to look for a toddler-friendly cafĂ©. We settled on a place called ‘Innovation’ which was tucked behind a gift shop, just off St. George’s Square. Again, I found the staff helpful and friendly and the place clean and bright. They had items on the menu to suit all of us (giving them a BIG gold star in my book) and the food was tasty and good value for money.

After lunch B decided to buy a harmonica (so that he could sit on the step outside our house and ‘play the blues’, apparently) and we made our way to St. George’s Square where the MC Unofficial Medal Ceremony Band were getting ready to play their first set of the day. The three men, dressed in mock uniforms, warmed up the audience with some banter before throwing themselves into an upbeat skiffle rendition of ‘I Used to Love Her’ by The Rolling Stones. The band played several sets, featuring covers of songs from The Clash to Johnny Cash. The set went down well with R, who happily clapped and danced along to all of them.

In between songs, the bands awarded medals to members of the audience for having the ‘most interesting T-shirt’, ‘the best hair’ or the ‘freshest ice lolly’. When not playing or giving out medals, the multi-talented musicians took it in turns to entertain the audience with comedy, magic tricks, juggling, balloon modelling and unicycling (while juggling swords!) All their acts were funny and involved the crowd: both adults and children (at one point three audience members were throwing juggling clubs at one of them).

One of the highlights was the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ trick, where a (brave) woman from the audience had to ‘sleep’ (on a board balanced on the backs of two chairs) while her ‘prince’ fought and won a duel against a baddie, using balloon swords, and finally woke her with a kiss. The actual trick involved removing one of the chairs (without her crashing to the ground, which thankfully she didn’t!) but it was the high comedy factor that made it so memorable.

The forecast had been mixed, so we were expecting showers, but the weather stayed fine. As we took a stroll along the streets, we soaked up the happy, relaxed atmosphere around us; it was the perfect tonic after such a hectic and tiring week – I wish we could do this every weekend and can’t wait to do it again next year!

Friday, 6 July 2012

‘Beyond Chick Lit’ Part Two: Jane Green at Hebden Bridge Library

Jane Green was one of the calmest latecomers I've ever met. Charming and serene, she apologised profusely for her late arrival before taking the ‘hot seat’.

Novelist Linda Green introduced Jane, explaining she was on a hectic tour of the UK (she now lives in the US) and revealed that she and Jane have the same literary agent. However, despite having the same surname she said they were not related. Linda said she had been a Jane Green fan for years, having read her books from the start, and that when ‘Straight Talking’ came out it heralded a whole new genre within women’s fiction. Linda then led an informal discussion (more of a friendly chat really) including the odd comment and question thrown in by the audience…

Jane has written 12 novels, all of them best sellers. She has sold over 10 million copies worldwide and writes about many of the challenges that women face. Her latest novel, ‘The Patchwork Marriage’ is about a childless woman who marries a man with children. Becoming a wife and mother overnight proves harder than she imagined as the children make her life difficult and it puts a strain on the marriage. Jane is particularly interested in the dynamics of ‘blended families’ as both she and her second husband have children from previous marriages.

Going back to her first novel, Jane explained that ‘Straight Talking’ was very much about her life at the time – it followed themes that she was familiar with (a 20-something woman looking for Mr Right) although the story was not about her. She has since written about marriage, divorce, motherhood, coping with teenagers – the whole gamut of a woman’s life. But when one of her friends died from breast cancer, she completely lost her will to write. It was around the time she married her second husband and she did a lot of ‘lurking’ on internet chat forums. As she had just gained a blended family she was fascinated by the idea of a woman who marries a man and tries to ‘adopt’ his children as her own, only to find out it isn’t the perfect family she’d always dreamed of. During her research she discovered that it was widely recognised that most children of divorced parents have a secret hope that their parents will one day get back together. So, for the children, it is a greater loss rather than a gain when one of their parents remarries someone else.

Jane said she never takes characters straight from life; most of her characters are from her imagination, although she has “messed up” once or twice in the past. She wrote ‘Mr Maybe’ loosely based on an ex-boyfriend, but before she’d written it she told the ‘ex’ she would “write a book about him one day”. She explained the man in her book was only a bit like her ex, but “far more handsome and charming”, although to this day her ex tells people the book is about him. She also joked that ‘Straight Talking’ was “revenge” on all the horrible men she had dated in her 20s.

When asked whether there was a difference between readers in the US and the UK, Jane said there was. One of the differences, she said, is the covers – in the UK, book covers are “patronising” and often “dumb down” books. She said North American writers take themselves very seriously and work hard at being the best they can be.

Jane explained she was recently on Radio Four discussing the ‘Chick Lit’ tag with Adele Parks. Jane and Adele disagreed on the point. Adele called it ‘demeaning’ while Jane said it simply did not apply to what she’s writing now. She said she was in her 20s when she wrote ‘Chick Lit’ but she is older now and writes about different things. Even her book covers are more ‘grown up’ now.

Her next book is likely to be a Young Adult (YA) one. In her current novel, one of the voices is that of a 17-year-old. To get the voice right, she ran a few things past her own teenage daughter, but she says she can also remember vividly what it was like to be a teenager. She can remember feeling ‘on the outside’ during her teenage years and so she identifies with those teenage girls who don’t ‘fit in’.

When asked how she begins a novel, she explained she starts with a theme and then works on the characters. She said the characters tell their own story. She knows the arc of the story, but not every detail and only plots about one third of the arc at a time. The story is very much character led and she said you must stay true to the characters.

Linda asked her what she thought about ebooks and the future of publishing. Jane replied that technology has changed everything; people are more removed and isolated and they’re not reading as many books. She said she doesn’t believe it can carry on like this and at some point people may go back to books (in the conventional sense). She admitted that in the US ebook sales have surpassed hard covers for the first time and that Britain will follow suite before long. But overall she wasn’t worried. She said that women read for two reasons: to escape and to relate.

The discussion led on to the inevitable topic of the moment: what did she think about the ’50 Shades’ phenomenon? Jane said she wasn’t impressed by it and thinks most of its success is down to people wanting to be “part of the discussion”. She joked that her next book was going to be called ‘60 Shades of Green’.

The next topic was the relationship between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law. Jane admitted she’d had a difficult relationship with her first mother-in-law but grew to love her later (after her first marriage had ended). This provoked a general discussion on daughter-in-laws and mother-in-laws which most of the audience agreed was a tricky relationship.

Linda asked whether Jane’s writing had changed over the years. Jane said that it had, but she wasn’t sure if it was down to living in the US or being a mother. She said her writing had become less edgy and more soft and sentimental.

When asked whether she preferred living in the UK or US, she said she felt at home in both, but that the US was her home now - she’s lived there with her family since 2001 and she’s now a US citizen. She said she’s not often in the UK and misses the London she grew up in, not the London of today.

Living in the US has hugely influenced her story settings and characters, starting with the Beach House which was the first to have only US characters. She said all her characters are US ones and she finds she has to consciously introduce British ones if necessary.

Jane didn’t do a reading from her latest novel but was happy to sign any books before she headed off on the next leg of her UK tour. The whole evening had a nice, intimate feel as if we were friends having a girly chat over a glass of wine. And it was clear the audience enjoyed themselves, throwing in lots of good questions and funny anecdotes of their own (I won’t mention all the details but many eyebrows were raised and much laughter induced!) One of the audience members was a lady approaching 70 who wanted Jane to bear in mind that when she starts to write for the older generation she must cast aside stereotypes. But the question remained: what to call ‘Chick Lit’ for a female readership over 60? (‘Pension-Lit’ just doesn’t have a great ring to it!) It was a fun and informative evening and K and I left feeling we had gained a useful insight into the writing and publishing processes from both of the Green ladies. Now all I need to do is to apply this insight to writing my own best seller! Well, a girl can dream, can’t she?

‘Beyond Chick Lit’ Part One: Linda Green at Hebden Bridge Library

We set off early but ended up cutting it fine as the event’s timing meant battling through the rush hour traffic. But this time we knew where the venue was and so, once we’d parked, K and I scoffed a quick sandwich in the car before dashing into the library. We needn’t have worried. As we stepped inside we were greeted by a lady who said Jane Green (the ‘headline act’) was running late and offered us a glass of wine. There’s nothing like the offer of a free drink to put a smile back on someone’s face and we helped ourselves; as designated driver, I only had a thimbleful but it still felt somehow wrong to be drinking in a library!

While we waited for Jane, we were treated to a very interesting talk by novelist Linda Green who told us about her route to being published and what led to her decision to change publishing houses. Linda, who is from London but now lives in Hebden Bridge, used to be a newspaper journalist; but it was her life’s ambition to get a novel published. So, she took the brave decision to give up her job and write a book. Five years and 102 rejections later she got her second novel published. In those five years she studied for an MA and rewrote one of her books many times over. Her advice to aspiring writers was that you must learn your craft and remember that “writing fiction is an art and not something you can just do without working hard at it.”

Linda’s first breakthrough came when she attended a writing workshop run by writer Martin Bedford. He agreed to read her first three chapters and synopsis, suggested revisions and asked her to delete a third of the book! She found the latter part really tough having spent so long writing it. After following Martin’s advice she managed to get an agent and thought that was it, but she had to face 12 rejections from publishers and then the agent asked her to write another book instead!

She obliged and was two weeks overdue with her baby son when she finally finished her manuscript and sent it to the agent (she was sure the baby was waiting for her to finish her book). She received a note back saying that they had preferred her first novel!

Once her son was nine months old she rewrote the book and asked Martin to look at it for her again. Then she sent it to two agents who were both interested. After eight more rejections from publishers, she finally landed a book deal with Headline Review and the book went on to sell 75,000 copies.

Her surmise of her experience of getting published is that “talent doesn’t always come through”. In other words, publishers don’t like taking chances – they have to be able to see exactly where the book will sit on the bookshop shelf – so it has to fit into a particular genre. When her first book was marketed they called it ‘Chick Noir’ as it was a lot darker than the average ‘Chick Lit’ book. She thinks that publishing is a strange business and that ‘Chick Lit’ has become a very broad genre – it has grown from a genre aimed at 20-something women to cover books for women of up to age 50!

Linda went on to explain she was no longer with Headline Review as she took issue with them over a few things. Firstly she objected to the ‘Chick Lit’ pigeonhole; she wanted to be more ‘grown up and serious’ but when she broached the subject with her publisher, she was told “You’re not Ian McEwan you know.” Also she was fed up with what she viewed as ‘sexist’ book covers being used i.e. lots of pink, high heels and even a thong on one occasion! She told us that the publisher said they had taken ‘a massive risk’ with her last book by not making the cover pink!

She also explained how a lot of books are rejected by the marketing department, not the editorial team. And she told us that it can take so long to turn a book around that by the time it has come out it will have missed the current trend (so there’s no point jumping on the ‘50 Shades’ bandwagon then!)

She said she thought ebooks were a good thing as they gave authors ‘another path’ to getting published. Linda thought that publishers may have to open their minds and be willing to take more of a risk. She explained every time she tried to do something different she’s had to fight for it. Her new book is heavy going and she had to fight hard to get it published. The publisher wasn’t keen and told her that “women want happy endings”. So she found neither the editorial team nor the marketing team were behind her as it wasn’t ‘happy’ enough.

It was this attitude, coupled with the fact she felt the covers of her books were all wrong, that prompted her to leave Headline and join a smaller publisher, Quercus Books. Since joining Quercus she has been much more involved in consultations about the cover and other parts of the publishing process.

Linda also told us how all book sales were down at the moment, especially for women’s fiction. (It was agreed by all of us how women, especially mothers, were the first to ‘do without’ when times were hard). She also said that had meant that book covers were changing too, from illustrations to photographs, which she considered a good thing. And the advent of ebooks meant that book covers are becoming much less important. For example, her most recent book ‘And Then It Happened’ is told from two points of view (one male, one female) but she is sure that the cover would put off any potential male readers. Thanks to the Kindle (other ereaders are available) people might read things they wouldn’t normally read, as no one knows what they’re reading. She thinks lines will blur and people will just pick and enjoy a good book regardless of author and genre.

Linda said she never set out to write for one particular genre. Her first novel, ‘I Did a Bad Thing’, was set in the world of newspapers as it was a world she knew very well. But she was conscious to make sure that the voice of the novel wasn’t her. In her latest book, she said there is more of her in the male character than the female one (like her, the man is a former journalist).

The idea for her last book came from a story she covered as a journalist where a man had been in a coma for seven years (when she covered the story). His wife took him home from hospital after a year and nursed him for the next 10 years until the strain became too great and she found a suitable home for him. In her book, Linda decided to take a younger couple with a young daughter and throw in a few ‘what ifs’ for good measure.

Her new book (not yet available) is set in Hebden Bridge. It’s about three women who are fed up with the way the country is run. They each have their own cross to bear and they all have children at the same school, which is how they first meet. When local cuts mean that the local lollipop lady is about to lose her job, the three of them successfully campaign against it. It sets them on a path to set up a new political party and run for the next general election. Linda thought ‘what if they used social media to bolster their campaign and what if they were successful?’

As aspiring novelists, K and I found it a highly interesting and informative talk. Linda said she loves to put the ‘what if’ into the situation and she’s not afraid to stick to what she believes in, making her a woman after my own heart. I hope she goes on to push the boundaries of women’s fiction and perhaps even gain a (probably clandestine) male readership. I wonder if it could be the start of a whole new genre? Answers on a (non-girly) postcard…

Thursday, 5 July 2012

‘New Blood’ at the Hebden Bridge Little Theatre

It had been a manic day, so I was frazzled by the time K and I set off for Hebden Bridge. Once we’d arrived in the town, it took a while for us to find the Little Theatre. It wasn’t signposted but we found a friendly local who pointed us in the right direction. We arrived just ahead of N, another member of our Cleckheaton Writers’ Group.

As aspiring authors, our group (well three-quarters of it) was keen to see 'New Blood', a talk featuring five newly-published authors: Sophie Colombeau, Peter Salmon, Selma Dabbagh, Ros Barber and Suzanne Joinson. The collection of novels and authors was pretty eclectic and we were looking forward to seeing how the event would work. We bought drinks and watched people filter in, chatting and milling about before the show, most people were friendly, but we couldn't help noticing a lady who worked in the theatre giving us very strange looks, both before and after the show, which we all found rather unnerving.

We found some seats just before the lights went up and the five authors were introduced by Stephen May, an established novelist, playwright and TV writer. He explained how the authors would take it in turns to talk about how their novel came into being and then read a short extract from it.

The first author to speak was Sophie Colombeau, author of YA novel 'Rites'. Sophie, who is currently studying for a PhD in York, explained she had gone down a fairly unconventional route to getting published. She decided to enter the Next Great Novelist Award for writers under 30 run by Route, an independent publisher – she had to submit the first three chapters of a novel, which she did, even though her book was far from finished. The publisher liked what they read and asked to see the rest, giving Sophie the choice of an impossible deadline to get it finished fast or to withdraw from the competition. She chose the former and churned out a whopping 50,000 words in two weeks and won the competition. (The book was edited / redrafted before publication). Her story is about four Irish teenagers who make a pact to lose their virginity away from the watchful eyes of parents and priest. Ten years later, they look back on the events and reflect on how it all went horribly wrong. The story is told from 11 points of view and comprises of narrative chunks rather than chapters. She explained her inspiration began when the voice of one of the main characters, Damian, started 'speaking' to her and the rest flowed from there. The extract she read out was Damian's version of 'the truth' (each character has their own version of events). The character's voice came across as that of a very real, self-absorbed and obnoxious individual, and gave us a tantalising taste of an intriguing story.

Peter Salmon, an Australian now living in the UK, did many other things before becoming a novelist. His first novel 'The Coffee Story' was chosen by Toby Litt of The New Statesman as his 2011 Book of the Year. As well as The Coffee Story, Peter has also written short stories, and for radio and television, and is currently working on his second novel. The Coffee Story is told from the point of view of an old Ethiopian man in the last days of his life. Peter explained how he had done five years of research to make it authentic, but in the end he just had to stop researching and follow Teddy's voice. Peter explained how his inspiration came from 'old moleskin diaries with only three pages written' and the rest was from the character of 'Teddy' who 'took over his life and refused to die'. At the behest of an audience member he read a steamy sex scene from his novel while pacing up and down (the audience member had requested the scene, not the pacing!), which (he said) helped him to correctly pace the reading of the extract. It was a highly evocative piece, involving all the senses and pulling the audience into the minds and bodies of the lovers, whether they liked it or not!

Selma Dabbagh is a British Palestinian who has lived and worked in both London and Palestine. She spent 9 years living in the Gulf but she explained how the time she spent living in London both before and afterwards enabled her to look at the situation from both sides. Her writing is mainly set in the contemporary Middle East, and is especially concerned with men who have fought and been injured in combat. Her novel 'Out Of It' started with the image of a young man on a roof, stoned, frustrated and jumping up in defiance in front of a plane. She said it was also about a sense of guilt. She read a powerful extract from her book featuring the young man in question. The extract plunged the audience inside the mind of an angry young man raging with conflicting emotions while the battle raged on outside. It was a powerful, visceral piece, bursting with raw power and energy.

Ros Barber is a newly-published novelist, but she has had several poetry collections published in book format and over 50 poems published in journals and magazines. She has also taught creative writing for many years. Her first novel, The Marlowe Papers, is written entirely in verse. She said she preferred not to think of it as one long poem, but as '131 linked poems'. Ros explained that this wasn't the first novel she'd written, but it was the first to get published. Her inspiration for The Marlowe Papers came about when she accidentally came across a programme on BBC4 about Christopher Marlowe being the true author of Shakespeare's plays. It set her thinking 'what if...' and she spent the next five years writing The Marlowe Papers (although one of those years was spent purely researching). She deliberated over what language to use when writing her story and decided she didn't want it to be written in mock-Tudor language but in contemporary English. But how could she do this when the narrator of the story was Marlowe, who lived in Tudor times? Ros considered how all Shakespeare's plays were written in iambic pentameter and so took the bold decision to write her entire book in blank verse! In Ros' story, Marlow, a wanted man, doesn't die in a tavern brawl – his death is staged and he escapes to France. Marlowe lives the rest of his life in exile, longing for his true love and pining for the damp streets of London; while in hiding he continues to write plays and poetry, under the name of 'William Shakespeare'. She then read us a moving extract from her novel, which really conveyed the sense of loss and sadness that the protagonist felt at leaving everything and everyone he cared about behind.

The fifth and final author was Suzanne Joinson, ex-Writer in Residence at Shoreham Airport (according to Stephen May) and author of 'A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar'. Suzy explained how she had spent most of her 20s travelling, staying in countless far-flung destinations (Europe, Asia, Russia, China, Middle East). She talked about the feeling of dislocation she felt after spending so long staying in soulless hotel rooms, staring out the window at flashing neon lights in a city far from home. Then she started thinking about travellers in days gone by and did some research into missionary travellers in the early 20th century. She discovered that, after World War One, there was a huge surge in applications from women to become missionaries. She wondered if they were really all that religious, or whether they had other reasons. She wondered if one of their reasons was to escape after suffering loss, such as the death of a loved one. Her novel is set in 1923, a time when missionaries were allowed to set up 'ladies houses' which would be designed in an eastern style, set around a courtyard. In these houses, Suzanne supposed there would be lots of affairs, breakdowns, conflicts etc. Suzanne explained how her own upbringing was rather unconventional, growing up in a sort of 'hippy cult' on a council estate in the late 70s/early 80s. She found that her travelling brought her origins to the fore and she felt and looked obviously English wherever she went (red hair, big hat etc). She succeeded in getting a grant to do research in Kashgar, only to find there was a riot going on when she landed! The phone lines had been cut and the whole situation was “very useful and scary!” In the book her character takes her bicycle to Kashgar with her, a very English thing to do. Suzanne then read an extract from her novel which was written and delivered in an amusing style, with the characters seeming to be drawn very much from real life – I got the impression that some might perhaps be people from Suzanne's own past.

The talk was rounded off with a Q&A session, which produced some interesting answers.

Question 1: Where do you get your inspiration/motivation and do you work out your entire plot in advance or do you sit around and wait for a 'big idea'?
Most of the writers agreed that a writer 'just writes' (rather than plotting or waiting for the big idea), apart from Selma who said she decides on the ending and then works back from it. Regarding motivation, Sophie said she thought a looming deadline really helps (well, she should know!) Suzanne said that personal confidence also helps - she also had the looming deadline of childbirth and said after the birth of her son she wasn't sure how to get back to her manuscript as she wasn't the same person as she was when she started it. (This was something I could really identify with, having started my own novel while pregnant). At the same time, she said that, before having a baby, her job had stopped her from working on her novel and so having the 'break' from work helped her writing too.

Question 2: Did you choose the style and format your book was written in before you wrote it – if not, how did you decide on the style and format?
Selma explained that, as her main action was in Gaza, she knew she wanted to keep the chapters short, the style pacy, the characters young, with lots of action such as chases etc. She said it took a long time to get the balance right. Suzanne has two viewpoints in her book, one past and one present, so she knew it would be a dual narrative within one story. Peter said he hates a 'well-crafted' novel. In his book his character is dying and on strong drugs, and his character isn't a reader, so the narrative is very disjointed. He said his character dictated the style of his book. But he admitted that he is currently writing a more conventional book. He doesn't think you can 'pick' a style and that he has been known to write 40 pages of just one sentence! Sophie said she likes Julian Barnes' books which have the main character(s) talking directly to the reader. Ros explained how her book is really an epistolary novel, creating an intimacy between the narrator and the reader. Her book is centred around human emotion which determined much of its style.

Question 3: How do you deal with rejection / dejection?
Peter's answer was “drink”, which was followed by vigorous nodding from the other authors! He went on to say that he had decided that he wasn't going to be a writer on several occasions. He said even when he was finally published he still felt some self doubt. And if he hadn't written anything for a while he thought that was it. Ros said she had a strange conviction from childhood that she was born to write even though she had nothing to back up her claim until she was well into her 20s! And when she had finally written something, a bad event stopped her from writing for several years. She said she wrote her first novel 'in anger' and to 'escape' (she had a very unsupportive partner who didn't want her to write). She said that as long as you're writing it's fine – even bad writing is better than no writing at all. Sophie was in quite the opposite situation: she had a boyfriend who told her she should leave her job in the civil service and take up writing. Her advice was to find fellow writers which she said was a very important thing for her.

Question 4: How much of yourself is in your book / characters?
Sophie joked that her 11 characters had '36%' of her in them. Peter said he had never written as himself – he always writes as an old man. Suzanne quoted Bennett saying “All art is a return.” Her new book is about Jerusalem at the start of the occupation and admitted that certain personal elements always creep in. Ros said that her novel was a “blissful escape from autobiographical poetry”, although she admitted that in her novel the theme of longing for someone you can't be with was an autobiographical thread. Selma said that in her books there are 'bits' of people she knows and that each character is one aspect of her psyche. She also admitted she had to consciously avoid bringing in negative versions of people she knows, which wasn't easy.

At the end of the Q&A the authors and audience mingled in the bar area, where the authors signed their books, all of which were available to buy on the night. My friends K and N bought a book each and got them signed, but as I'm a cheapskate with expensive taste (the one I really wanted was £20) I decided to add it to my Christmas list!

It was an interesting event with some very different personalities who had written in a range of styles and genres. As I left, I wondered whether it was a good or a bad thing for a new author to go on tour with four other new novelists. Surely there must be some rivalry / conflict along the way? Perhaps it could provide the material for a new novel, as yet unwritten?...