Two years ago I was short-listed for the Winchester Conference short story prize and this year was a bit disappointed when my entry didn’t get anywhere. But one nice thing about Winchester is that every entry (winner or ‘loser’) gets feedback from one of the judges. Mine arrived today and this year it is not in the form of a scoresheet which makes interesting reading in itself.
My story was scored on nine aspects: opening, title, plot/theme,action/pace, characters, entertainment quotient, dialogue, language and ending. I scored highest on title, plot, action and ending and was above average in everything else, although I was disappointed not to have done better on character and dialogue. But if 138 points out of 230 looks a bit lacklustre (and certainly not amongst the prizes) my anonymous marker described it as ‘an amusing well-paced tale’ and he/she took the trouble to add comments to some of the allocations so that the feedback has a personal touch. I’d also like to think that my score of 20 on the language scale (for “flashes of originality give it an extra sparkle”) is actually what I aimed to achieve, although “smooth and easy to read” would have scored higher!
I think it does help to have this kind of rubric, not just so that the writer can focus on what might need attention, but also to introduce a degree of uniformity in the response each writer gets. Instinctively I’m against reducing a piece of creative writing (especially my own!) to a tick-box score, but I’m also of the view that writing can be taught, in which case I have to concede it can be assessed.
This week Sarah Duncan puts forward the view that no writing is worthy of publication unless it scores 70% . Sounds good to me, just a shame that mine is languishing (searches for calculator) at a mere 60. Still it did get shortlisted here, so not entirely a lost cause!
On a different tack. I’ve just added a new page to the site. Two posts and a page already this week. Possibly a record!
On returning from a conference, the writer was asked if her attendance there had been a success. Her answer was that, on a personal level, this was probably not the case, since although she had achieved her ambition of meeting not just one but two literary agents, neither of them seemed likely to add her to their client list.
She had, on the other hand, received a great deal of advice and encouragement, not all of it contradictory, and in most cases favouring her next project, which, as a historical novel, is apparently more likely to find favour than anything in the huge and amorphous category of ‘contemporary fiction ’.
To the conference in general, she gave a mixed review. A plenary session given by a renowned author and brilliant raconteur was well worth the visit. The cattle-market atmosphere of one-to-one appointments she found less inspirational. Most perplexing of all, was a talk on ‘locating your novel’, in which the speaker digressed (not for the first time) to inform his audience that due to government inadequacies over swine flu, they would all be dead by Christmas.
The writer is not yet sure how the conference experience will shape her writer’s journey, but has already taken one salient piece of advice very much to heart.
She will not write in the first person again.
Winchester Hat Fair. No hats, lots of people.
I ran out of energy (and patience) some time ago with peer review sites. You Write On was fun for a while, but eventually I felt reviewed out – both as reviewer and reviewee. Since then I have given Authonomy (horrid name!) no more than a passing glance, and although there are other worthy contenders, I haven’t felt tempted. The latest to cross my radar is Completely Novel. This isn’t just a peer review site, but like Lulu (and now, controversially You Write On) C.N. also offers a self-publishing (i.e. print on demand) service.
In its favour, Completely Novel – if all claims are true – does not claw back any commission. It also offers the ability to review ‘unpublished’ works for those who haven’t yet committed to the POD offer. Its community elements, although still under development, have a good feel, and I like the way that conventional books are reviewed alongside those of the site’s own authors. Worth keeping an eye on, I think.
Meanwhile in my never-ending quest for conventional publication, I’ve booked my place at Winchester and requested interviews with two agents (including one who blogs here) and an author who has adult and children’s books to his name as well as historical T.V. documentaries. Should be interesting.
I’m a bit frustrated that the Winchester Writers’ Conference still hasn’t published its programme for July. With Ailsa almost ready to go out to ‘critical friends’ I am determined to take her along this year. Even if I don’t get any interest, I can at least achieve my lifelong ambition of seeing an agent (any agent!) in the flesh. I know of only one who is giving interviews there this year and hope the timeslip (we were promised a programme in March) doesn’t signal any difficulty in getting people to attend.
Meanwhile, followed a link from Helen Scott Taylor to Publishing Talk which has lots of useful news on social networking and takes the view that publishing is set to go off in some new directions any minute now. I don’t dispute there are lots of ways to publish now (inculding the humble blog!) but while there are new models available, I have to agree with Jane Smith when she reminds us that, despite a lot of talk to the contrary, the ‘old’ way isn’t actually broken, not, at any rate, from the point of view of publishers who are still making money and readers who are still buying books.
A new writer trying to break in to the market, may of course take a different view, but given the choice of editing, typesetting, designing and selling my own book (with no guaranteed return) or having the whole process done professionally by a company who will pay me for the privilege, sorry, I know which I’d choose. The fact that so few new writers are given this option doesn’t mean it isn’t still the best one out there – and the most highly prized.
With fantastic timing, WordPress has added a Twitter widget just when I needed one. I am also using Twitterfeed to post from the blog. Hope this circularity doesn’t result in a some kind of blogging melt-down!
I have now written the last piece of the plot of my W.I.P. and have only a chapter or so of ‘loose ends’ to tidy up. Am I celebrating? Actually, no. Because I find writing the act of finishing a novel a strangely vicarious pleasure. Last time it proved no pleasure at all, but more an uncomfortable act of separation. I wrote nothing for several weeks afterwards.
Even now as I realise that the end (and not quite the end I had planned) is in sight for Ailsa, I can feel a bit of a dark moment creeping over me. This time I do have other projects to attend to, but I feel sure that when I have written the last sentence I won’t want to go back to this book for quite some time. I could of course simply finish it of and send it out for critiquing, but I already know there are elements of the first section which need to be changed. Sending it out ‘warts and all’ doesn’t feel quite right. On the other hand, waiting until the spirit moves me to go back to it could result in a long gap – good for the book, perhaps, but not in line with the target I have set myself of having a finished article in time for this year’s Winchester conference.
Foreseeing this difficulty, I have come up with a cunning plan. I am going to hold back from that last chapter and attempt to do my tidying now. Having reached the end in my head, I should be able to see how the plot as a whole shapes up and, with this in mind, I have rewritten my synopsis. It looks, I think, pretty tidy, except that the novel itself doesn’t quite match – so some work to do there!
This experimental game (of pretending not to be finished) may not work. Perhaps I’m too close to it to make a decent job of rejigging it at this point. But I think it’s worth a try. If all else fails I can revert to my original file and try again later.
If you want to know the outcome, watch this space!