Winchester Writers’ Festival – Summing Up and Random Thoughts

Food (not so) Glorious Food

The festival included all breakfasts and lunches. The breakfast choice was excellent and tasty. It did what it needed to do – set everyone up for a busy day. The lunches were okay. Quiches and salads. Unimaginative but adequate.

And so to the grandly described “opening dinner”.

The previous conference I had been to (not at Winchester), had made every effort to make this event a special occasion, a true welcome to the attendees, round tables had encouraged conversation, there was decent linen and cutlery, there was a seating plan to ensure that every table had new writers, experienced writers, agents or editors and other speakers at the conference, giving everyone the opportunity to swap small talk in a relaxed and convivial atmosphere whilst enjoying tasty food.

cutlery
Cutlery by Masaaki Komori courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/6vruZ9 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

The evening meal at Winchester was a disappointment both in terms of the food and the set up. Fish that had been kept hot too long was barely edible with hard and tasteless batter. I had a friend who jokingly would rate professional courses in her day job by the standard of the lunch they would provide. I would give Winchester a B- and that was generous.

The tables were set up in exactly the same way as they had been at breakfast and lunch so you could only really talk to the people sitting next to you or opposite you. There was no seating plan, it was cafeteria style, get served and find a seat. Whilst I occasionally saw the flash of a blue badge – which differentiated the speakers and organisers from the writerly hordes, they appeared to settle themselves in their own separate enclaves. It had a feeling of them and us. Although to be fair there weren’t many of them there. Clearly, they had all gone into town instead. We wished we had too.

Summing Up

Leaving the disappointing food to one side, the conference was a worthwhile investment in my writing life. The chance to be amongst other writers is always a reliable way to refill the well of creativity. I will never be a conference junkie but attending an event every handful of years is a good way to reboot, you realise how far you have come and how far you still have left to go and above all you feel rejuvenated, buoyed up by all the fresh, young writers around you who have yet to experience the hard knocks of this writing life and still burn with the passion you had once and still have on the good days.

Inspire
Inspire by Roberta Romero courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/p2VH5f https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Random Thoughts

Small people with large bags.

Willowy women in floaty dresses.

Hot men in cool shirts.

Ancient buildings with calming gardens.

Burning heat and impromptu fans made of flapping conference notes.

Ferns and Hostas, a cool oasis.

Classy shops with homeless people sleeping in the doorways

Humble houses with large price tags.

Writers of all shapes and sizes

Agents who all looked the same

A keynote speaker that touched hearts as well as minds

Winchester Writers’ Festival: fun, tiring, hot, frustrating and inspiring.

The end.

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

Advertisements

Why we all need a flexible plan

We’ve all done it – set out a plan in our heads of how we would like life to work out. I don’t mean once our lottery numbers come up when our world will consist of azure seas, large, airy houses and fabulous cars or is that just me? I mean the day to day, life plan, of how we get from here to there.

It’s all in the planning

When it comes to life, it’s good to have a plan. It gives you a roadmap for when things get bumpy. It helps keep you on the straight and narrow when circumstances can knock you off course. I’m a fan of planning.

Plans
Plans by Jeremy Keith courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/6BNBZC https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

What I’m not a fan of, however, is having a plan so rigid there is no room for manoeuvre. If you think there is only one way to get from A to B you risk closing your mind to the possibilities that might occur if you travelled down a different road.

I am reminded of an old joke.

A man is sitting on a roof after a terrible flood. He watches the waters rise and thinks ‘God will save me.’ An hour or so later, a man comes along in a boat and offers to take him to safety. ‘No need,’ says the man on the roof. ‘God will save me.’

The waters continue to rise. A few hours later a helicopter hovers overhead and a man offers to winch him up and fly him to safety. ‘No need,’ says the man again. ‘God will save me.’

Later that night the waters close over the man’s head. When he meets St. Peter he says ‘What am I doing here? I thought God would save me.’ And St. Peter says, ‘We sent a boat and a helicopter. What more do you want?!’

Don’t Stay on the Roof

The moral of the story is that we have to be ready for the unexpected. When opportunities present themselves we shouldn’t ignore them because they don’t fit within our carefully constructed plan. They could be a valid way to get from A to B that we’ve never thought of before or they could take us in an entirely new direction and deliver us to a whole new destination that we could never have envisaged.

In this fast paced world, we have to be adaptable and less rigid in our thinking.   Having a flexible life plan enables you to do that.

So don’t stay on the roof, refusing to budge, because it isn’t part of your plan. Be prepared to jump in the boat if one comes along and see where it takes you.

Boat
Boat by Ivan Milosavljevic courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/dff6Kr https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

Winchester Writers’ Festival – Four Courses in One Day

So here I was – four courses in one day. Polishing your Manuscript; The Language of Crime; Whodunnit – How it’s Done and finally Reaching your Readers but before I talk about them, a word about the previous evening.

The Beauty of Small Presses

My friends and I went to the Meet the Editors Panel. It was an interesting discussion marred only by poor acoustics. It highlighted the incredible work small, independent presses do. There are so many passionate people in this field of endeavour and of the ones represented on the panel most did not draw a wage from their businesses.

They obviously had a skewed view but it chimed with my own experience. At a large publishing house you run the risk of being a product, at a small press, you are a writer. It’s a very important distinction. There are some quality presses out there, some very niche, some with wider appeal. Many started their businesses in the wake of the crash and we are now blessed with a proliferation of companies giving writers more choice than ever. I would urge you not to close your minds to small presses.

heart
Heart by Nghiem Vo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

While the previous day’s intensive, day-long course was immersive, today the four courses were each an hour long, providing no more than a whistle stop tour through the highlights of the subjects they were covering.

Press Releases

In a last minute change, I decided to swap Polishing your Manuscript for Publicising your Book with author and journalist Maria McCarthy. The key points to take from the talk were (a) ask for a copy of your press release for your files so that you can update it and use it again in the future (b) if you are asked to appear on TV think very carefully about what you are going to wear – stay away from patterns or anything that shows tan lines. Stick to bold, primary colours. Maria then talked us through what makes a great press release including the importance of the 5 Ws – Who, What, When, Where and Why.

Crime Readers are the crack cocaine users of books

Then it was on to the Language of Crime with author Helen Fields. This was an interesting talk with a standout handout – possibly the best one of the whole weekend. Helen talked about the modern crime novel which has snappy dialogue and is short on description. She described readers of crime as the crack cocaine users of books. As writers in the genre, you have to keep giving them their highs or risk them seeking them elsewhere. Readers are there for the thrill of the ride. We forget that at our peril.

Rollercoaster fun
Rollercoaster Fun by David Flood courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/XVT7zA https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Next was Whodunnit and How’s It’s Done with Linda Bennett the Director and Commissioning Editor at Salt Publishing. I must have been flagging at the halfway point on a very hot day as I have very little recollection of the hour I spent in Linda’s company. My fault, I am sure, not hers.

Social Media Know How

Finally, it was on to Reaching your Readers with author M G Leonard. Wow it was hot in that room. It was late afternoon on one of the hottest days of the year and the room was packed. We were all wilting and frantically fanning ourselves just to get some air. For anyone to hold the attention of the people in that room in those conditions is testament to the force of nature that was M G Leonard. What a wonderful bundle of energy she was. Darting to and fro, looking, annoyingly, as cool as a cucumber, whilst flashing up a wonderful bullet point presentation on the screen behind her.

Social media keyboard
Social Media Keyboard by Animated Heaven courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by Public Domain https://flic.kr/p/S7w8UL https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

The talk was packed full of useful stuff, funny and engaging. She also rivalled Helen Fields for the best handout of the conference although it came later by email. Her key points were that online is: a crowded marketplace, a shop window, a creative playground, a community hub, WORK, TIME CONSUMING and UNPAID [her capitals]. Her recommendations were: work out what presence you need to generate work or sell your product, figure out your strengths and use corresponding platforms, what are your criteria for success, track analytics where you can, review your presence online regularly. IS THE TIME YOU SPEND ONLINE WORTHWHILE? [my capitals].

It was a busy, tiring and informative day. With so much to take in, the beauty of the handouts came into their own. Nuggets of wise information and advice I will return to again and again as an aide memoire for the future. I would highly recommend attending talks by Helen Fields and M G Leonard, in particular, if you ever get the chance.

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

Surprise, Surprise!

surprise
Surprise by Pedro courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/3fdbnf https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

A few weeks ago I was asked to write a couple of articles to help promote my new novel. I was daunted by the prospect but keen to give it a go nevertheless. I sat down to write and came up with five articles in total. I was amazed. And then I realised I had my blog to thank.

For eighteen months now I have been blogging at least once a week. It was only when I needed to write those articles I realised how many transferrable skills blogging had given me. I could write to deadlines. I could write focussing on a chosen topic. I could write to a set length. I could structure an article with a beginning, middle and end. I could write headlines. All skills I learnt from blogging.

Don’t hold yourself back by thinking you cannot do something. Jump in and have a go.

jump in
Jump In by Lies Vercamere courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/pWBECj https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

As writers in the digital age we have a lot of transferrable skills – some we may not even recognise. Experimenting with different types of writing can lead to wonderful new opportunities but it also makes us better writers.

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes
the-flower-seller-cover-small
The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

Inspirational Essex

Poor Essex, woefully misunderstood, maligned by those who have never visited, routinely laughed at and made fun of. If it was a character in a novel it would have you rooting for it from the first page, the underdog who would fight off its naysayers and emerge to capture the hearts of all, the hero of the piece by the end of the book.

Anyone familiar with TOWIE could be forgiven for thinking that Essex is nothing more than tanning salons, nail bars and nightclubs full of loud, image-obsessed people. We have our fair share of the latter and Essex people are often loud and proud but that is not the whole story and as a writer, I’d like to tell you why.

Look beyond what you think you know and you will find an Essex that has so much more to offer – ancient market towns, beautiful villages, rolling countryside and lovely beaches. It is the perfect mix of town and country.

Dutch Quarter Colchester
Dutch Quarter Colchester by Ben Sutherland courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/apA7Ks https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Is it any wonder then that I use my home county as a source of inspiration for my books including The Flower Seller and White Lies? Both of these books are based in and around the fictitious market town of Abbeyleigh, the inspiration for which came from Colchester (Britain’s oldest recorded town) with a nice dash of Saffron Walden thrown in.

Colchester Castle
Colchester Castle by Giborn_134 courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/of5w5c https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

I love the fact that in Essex, you can be in the centre of a vibrant, urban environment enjoying all the mod cons of modern life one moment and in the next you can be in the heart of the countryside. It really does have the best of both worlds. And for those who think any form of ‘culcha’ stops with the tube line, there is a vibrant music and arts scene to enjoy. For a writer, that contrast between worlds brings with it an endless source of ideas.

Royon
Roydon by Richardghawley courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/661HpS https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Essex is also blessed with a varied and interesting coastline. The genteel, almost Edwardian, feel of Frinton on Sea, gives way to the Kiss-Me-Quick culture of piers, rides and slot machines at Clacton and Southend. While West Mersea is a hub for the sailing fraternity and the oyster fisheries.

west Merseajpg
West Mersea by John Fielding courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/wxmrhr https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I love nothing better than taking my dog Willow for long walks along the county’s beaches, mulling over my plots while Willow frolics on the sand and I pause to watch the kite surfers.

But it is not only the landscape of the county that inspires me, the people do too. Down to earth, hard-working and funny, Essex people take no nonsense from anyone and if someone asks for their opinion they’ll give it to them straight, no messing. We may have a predilection for bling and Prosecco but there are worst vices to have.

Prosecco
Raval by James West courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/bvFWbe https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, don’t think you know Essex because of what you’ve heard and seen – there is so much more to my home county that is just waiting to be discovered. Why not find out for yourself and pay us a visit?

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

the-flower-seller-cover-small
http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

This article first appeared on FemaleFirst.co.uk

http://www.femalefirst.co.uk/books/ellie-holmes-white-lies-1077670.html

 

 

Ten things blogging has taught me

 

 

blogjpg
Blog by Xiaobin Liu courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

1. To create a schedule that works for you and your audience

Posting regularly is the key to a vibrant and engaging blog but your schedule has to be realistic. Too busy and you will never meet your target, too little and no one will visit.

2.  To respect and meet deadlines

Once you have a deadline, even if it is a self-imposed one, it is hugely satisfying when you meet it and great practice for when someone else is setting deadlines for you in the future.

3.  To come up with interesting headlines

You have created what you hope is an interesting blog but how do you get anyone to take a look? You need to cultivate the art of writing good headlines. They have to neatly sum up what your blog is about but be punchy enough to catch the eye.

4. To pick illustrations that bring interest and colour to your blog

Pictures paint a thousand words…..you can create great copy but without some pictures to break up the text your readers will quickly lose interest. Photos that add life and interest to your piece – quirky, arresting or funny images are best. I use my own photos or Flickr Creative Commons for my blogs. If you are using Flickr Creative Commons always remember to add a credit to the person who took the photo, add the link to the photo on Flickr and acknowledge the licence under which you are allowed to use it, linking to that as well.

camera
Photo by Reynermedia courtesy of Flick Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/ifBTMT https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

5. To write to a set length

Blogs can be any length but too short and you will leave readers feeling unsatisfied, too long and readers will not finish the piece. For me the Goldilocks length is around 500-600 words. It’s long enough to get your point across but not so long that you start to ramble.

6. To learn how to structure an article

Articles like stories need a beginning, middle and end. You usher your readers in, explaining what the post will be about, you get to the heart of the issue and then you give them your conclusions and leave them with something to take away.

7. To learn how to promote

Putting your blogs out there is one thing, getting people to read them is something else. Leaning how to promote your blog is key. Pointing people to your blogs via social media and using your own website brings readers who may not have found you otherwise.

hello
Hello by Bob Fox courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/oVvMgg https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

8. To learn how to interact with others

When people take the time and trouble to comment on your blog, be sure to check in and thank them or answer any questions they may raise. It’s basic good manners but it also gives you a chance to interact with your readers. I have met (in a virtual sense) some lovely people through blogging and have discovered some wonderful new writers.

9. To learn presentation skills

Make your blog as attractive and user friendly as possible. White writing on a red background or red writing on a black background may look funky but you try reading a long blog like that. Your eyes will tire and you’ll give up however good the writing may be.

10. To play nicely

Okay – I didn’t need to learn this skill but when it comes to blogging, as with all social media, it is a handy thing to remember. Be supportive of other bloggers, encouraging them when they are down, celebrating with them when are up. Liking, commenting on and following other people’s blogs makes you part of a wonderfully supportive network and you never know they might follow you back.

Play nicely
Playing cubs II by Tambako The Jaguar courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/nnTzzq https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes
the-flower-seller-cover-small
The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

Are You Kidding Yourself?

The biggest lies are the ones we tell ourselves

We all lie to ourselves occasionally. ‘I’m happy as I am.’ ‘He loves me.’ ‘I love him.’ ‘I’ll work less hard.’ ‘I’ll make more time for me.’ Sound familiar? We are all guilty of it but the biggest lies we tell are often the ones we tell ourselves and that’s the brutal truth.

Catching ourselves in the act is, of course, never easy, particularly if the lies are long standing ones. Ironically it is often easier to spot when others are doing it. You meet a friend for coffee and listen to her latest dramas – work related or romantic and think: ‘Her life would be so much better if she would just go for that promotion and/or dump him’. You might even offer some gentle advice to which your friend will smile serenely and say, ‘I’m happy as I am.’

Being that honest with yourself however is tough. Sometimes we have lived with our own lies for months, if not years. They have become a part of us. They are a comfort blanket to shield us from a cold, harsh world. They are our friends or so we think.

Comfort blanket

In reality, the lies are holding us back, trapping us in the safe yet restricting surroundings we feel most comfortable in. Beyond those boundaries another world exists. One where you can be yourself without compromise or deceit. Doesn’t that sound appealing? Getting there, however, is the tricky bit. Fessing up is never easy however good it may be for your soul.

Quiet time
How not to manage an introvert? By Nguyen Hung Vu courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

In my novel White Lies it is only when the three main characters face up to the reality of their situations that they are ready to start over and become the people they have always wanted to be.

Frequently the lies we tell ourselves are a protection mechanism to shield us from an unpleasant reality or to stop ourselves facing up to a problem we need to tackle.

People shy away from change because we like to cling to the familiar even if ultimately it is making us unhappy but it’s through change that we learn and grow.

stagnant water
Stagnant water by Bossi courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/6K97yF https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Picture a pool of stagnating water – dark and murky, choked with weeds. Not a great image, is it? Now picture a babbling brook, flowing freely over pebbles, gushing and gurgling, giving life, enhancing life. Which would you rather be? Stuck convincing yourself that nothing needs to change or taking your courage in your hands and becoming a better version of you.

Gentle brook
Gentle Brook by Andrew T Thrasher courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by Public Domain 1.0 https://flic.kr/p/vhXYNm https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

Owning up to a lie is the first step in the right direction. Only when you have done that can you begin to see there are other choices available, new directions you can take.

Honesty is the best policy

Don’t sell yourself short. Be your own best friend. Have that conversation with yourself. Honesty really is the best policy as your gran used to say.

Change is scary but it can be exhilarating and life-affirming too so be brave.

And the next time you hear yourself say, ‘I am happy as I am’ you may actually mean it.

Smile2
Smile by Jens Bergander courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0
white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes
the-flower-seller-cover-small
http://Author.to/EllieHolmes