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The Joy of Being Edited – and a festival in St Andrews

Amongst the many delights of signing with Linen Press has been the unexpected joy of having an editor. I’ve been in more than one writing critique group and learned lots from writing workshops, so I consider myself quite a good self-editor, but having lived with Blink for several years and in multiple versions, I hadn’t realised what a relief and pleasure it would be to have a fresh eye and another ‘ear’ when it comes to making decisions.

westonbirt glade

Editing – seeing the wood  and the trees 

In fact the smallest decisions can be the biggest bugbear.  Here I am with a complete work of fiction encompassing in its particular way, love, death and pretty much the whole damned thing. This doesn’t take away from the need to position every comma and paragraph break in just the right place. Doing this alone and at this juncture is a particular tedium. With publisher-editor Lynn Michell doing the initial line edits, I just have to respond and in 99% of cases, to quote a has-been politician, I agree with Lynn!

Of course it’s not all about nit-picking. Some parts of the Blink I submitted to Linen Press had been worked over ad infinitum, others had been added in a flurry when I saw what the shape of the book needed to be. As a result there are sections even I want to change and it’s invaluable having Lynn as a sounding board, ready to confirm or dispel those insidious doubts – ‘is this better or should I have left it as it was?’

At other times Lynn has pointed out places where there’s too much happening in too short a space for the reader to take in, or where I forget that the reader isn’t quite as au fait with my characters and their predicaments as I am myself. Some of Blink began life as short stories where word-count was at a premium. This is the time to let go and, where necessary, spell things out!

All editors come with the advantage over the writer of a certain detachment, and there are many well qualified editors out there with glowing references from authors. If I had self-published, I would have hired one. But having an editor-publisher comes with a built-in advantage and the crucial factor is trust. Not that I don’t respect every reader’s opinion, but Lynn has, literally, bought into the idea of Blink. She is familiar with the whole narrative and I know she likes the overall approach. Since signing the deal, we’ve emailed and talked via Skype and I sense we share a vision of how the book should turn out. If something doesn’t work for her, I know she is looking at it from a similar perspective.

Feedback from fellow writers, beta readers, and independent editors all have their place, but for the final MS, the publisher’s advice is head and shoulders above anything that I could get from elsewhere. Of course we’re not going to agree on absolutely everything, in which case Lynn is technically the boss. However, up to now she has never insisted on a change, only invited me to consider an alternative. As a result, she cunningly makes me feel it’s my choice rather than hers.

We’re not quite done and with some rewrites still on the cards I could be speaking too soon, but mostly it feels like I have exactly what I need to get the book into its final shape. Writing is a solitary pursuit but with an editor I am no longer alone!

standphotofest-ali-bacon-reading-2_smflipMeanwhile I’m taking off for Scotland and the St Andrews Photography Festival where  I read a programme of stories last year that became  In the Blink of an Eye. This time I have studied the weather forecast and have plenty of indoor activities on my agenda, chiefly an exhibition of Rob Douglas’ twenty first century calotypes and a look at the University Library’s photographic treasures. If I feel brave enough for the SSHoP Pub Quiz I’ll let you know

As for my baby, you can download a preliminary info sheet for In the Blink of an Eye here
BLINKAISFINAL2_ALI.doc

 

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Words and pictures (1): Other people’s photos

SweetCares

Fiction with photos?

I’ve just been reading William Boyd’s  Sweet Caress which I picked up when I spotted its photography connections. It’s about a girl growing up in the twenties who, after a family trauma, joins her uncle as a  society photographer in London then unshackles herself from an unhealthy relationship to reinvent herself several times over and in as many places: in from Berlin to Mexico,  New York and ultimately Vietnam.  It didn’t reel me in straight away and I noted a consensus amongst Amazon reviewers that it was ‘over-long’. I would say ‘episodic’ is more the case, but it does take its time to get where it’s going. On the other hand, that isn’t always a bad thing.

It’s a straightforward chronological narrative(contrast Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life), told by Amory Clay as she looks back on the different lives she has led from her final abode – a cottage in a remote corner of the Highlands. For a while the lack of a driving plot frustrated me, but I was eventually drawn in to this account of a restless soul who happens to be in the right place at the right time to capture iconic images of the twentieth century.

sweet caress photoInitially, one of the barriers to my enjoyment was the use of photographs incorporated into the narrative. They look like contemporary snapshots (their graininess is emphasised by being printed on ordinary book paper) and are labelled as illustrations of Amory Clay’s life and work.  But, wait a minute. This is fiction. These look like authentic illustrations but where did they come from and, most of all, why on earth are they there? The ‘acknowledgements’ refer to the many real photographers mentioned in the book but not to these photographs. Mr Boyd is either playing with the truth or teasing the reader or both, and I’m not sure I like it.

There was nothing for it but to ask Google what was going on, and it turns out that William Boyd is a collector of ‘found’ photographs – i.e. photos whose origin is unknown, photos lost by their original owners. As the Telegraph interviewer puts it,

These uncredited images of unknown subjects collected by Boyd over many years, originally without intent – are now freighted with narrative significance.

Aha – I think of Boyd arranging his motley collection of photos into a kind of story board and immediately I like Sweet Caress better than I did. But no, it appears he had the story in his head and went looking for  these illustrations, occasionally letting them take the plot in a new direction. Boyd likes trying to make fiction ‘seem so real you forget it is fiction’. Isn’t all fiction doing that same thing? Isn’t it possible to do this with just words? But the explanation does stop me fretting.

Maybe it’s this new found knowledge or maybe it’s coincidental, but from this point on I find  myself at peace with the book. I enjoy picking it up in a very busy fortnight to see where and when we’re heading next. Its episodic nature (very many chapters begin ‘I remember’)  suits my mindset.

Although Boyd claims to be ‘technically inept’ (a bit like me then!), there’s plenty to interest the photographer –  armchair or otherwise. For instance his heroine claims there are only thirteen genres of photography (that many?!) and I like the way she explains her preference for monochrome images.

The black and white image was in some ways photography’s defining feature – that was where its power lay and colour diminished its artifice: paradoxically, monochrome – because it was so evidently unnatural – was what made a photograph work best.

After so many months spent in the company of early photographs, I’ll drink to that.

Ironically, the paperback edition I read had a much more colourful (and to me less suitable) cover, but don’t let that put you off if you fancy a photographic adventure.

Signed with Linen Press – In the Blink of an Eye

Sometimes something just feels right. 

Having toiled for what has seemed like aeons over my fictional version of the Hill and Adamson partnership, I looked at what I had a few weeks ago and realised it was finished – maybe not totally ready for publication, but the beginning and end felt right and the middle wasn’t far off. Most of the writing was polished (one chapter had just won a prize.) Suddenly  it felt like the story I wanted to tell. As I made some minor revisions to the opening chapter, a new title popped into my head.

In the Blink of an Eye

I liked it.

For fun I decided to enter the MS into a competition and discovered writing a synopsis (usually the worst job in the world) had become a piece of cake. After all this time, the feeling of something coming together was  overwhelming. So much so that on an impulse I sent the whole proposal off to the owner of a small press (we’d chatted over coffee last year) to see what she thought. I had a reply straight away saying the proposal was strong and she was looking forward to reading the sample.  Within a day Lynn Michell of Linen Press got back to say she would like to read more and (my approach had been fairly casual)  did I want her to consider it for publication?

By now I was feeling more confident about this book than I have ever done. I had an inkling if Linen Press said no,  someone else might say yes. But who would that be? I could have  gone looking for other, bigger publishers.  That of course would mean finding an agent. The whole process could take months or years – with no guarantee of success. There were other small presses but what did I know about them? Linen Press (recently described as ‘the new Virago’), might be small, but it’s celebrating its tenth birthday this year. Crucially, I liked what I’d seen of its list,  particularly Avril Joy’s Sometimes a River Song, a beautifully written and produced  book  which I mentioned not so long ago  and has since won an award in the People’s Book Prize. Not many small presses had this kind of charisma.

To cut to the chase, I said yes, please consider it. Lynn read it and  liked it – a lot! Within a week  we had ourselves a deal. The rest is not history, it’s the future! If all goes well,  In the Blink of an Eye will be out next year. 

You can read about the book in its new guise on the Linen Press site.  While you’re at it,  cast your eye over the rest of their lovely list. I think you’ll like the look of it.

linen press logo

FINE WRITING FOR WOMEN, BY WOMEN

Feels like a good place to be.

A win for historical fiction – and me!

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Collecting the trophy!

Having seen my historical short story Silver Harvest shortlisted several times without ever making the winners’ enclosure, I was beginning to suspect that even if competitions were ‘welcoming’ all genres, there was a reluctance to give the overall prize to a historical piece. I’m happy to say my suspicions have been allayed , since on Friday night The Bird of Wax (from the same series as SH) took the adult prize at the Evesham Festival of Words.

The prize was presented at the official opening of the festival which featured a talk by writer and food supremo (suprema?)  Prue Leith who explained just how hard writing can be and how much she had to learn to get a novel published.

 

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Prue Leith signing books

 

(Comforting to know even proven celebs have to put in the hours!)

However the main judge for the competition was acclaimed short story writer Vanessa Gebbie, whose work I’ve always admired, so that was very pleasing indeed, as are her comments, published with the story  in the festival anthology:

 

 

‘I enjoyed so much about this piece – the voice, the characters, the fascinating details which painted the era so well … I found the ending rather poignant and charged with hope.’

Vanessa also admits to googling my characters to find out more, which I think is a good sign! In fact of the shortlisted stories, two others are also historical. So at least one competition judge is in favour of period pieces – fingers crossed this is a growing trend.

 

eveshambooty

Evesham booty

Free tomorrow? See you in Hawkesbury!

Festival founder Debbie Young (centre) with poets Dan Holloway (left) and Shirley Wright

I hope it’s not to late to remind everybody of the amazing opportunity provided by anyone within striking distance of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, everybody that is who is turned on by reading, writing or getting published in any genre or format.

Throw in a cafe with home-made cakes and snacks and really what’s not to like? And did I mention every discussion, workshop and reading event is free? My only complaint is having ‘volunteered’ (organiser Debbie Young is very persuasive!) for three sessions, I’m going to miss out on a few things I would like to have heard for myself!

So, here are the things I am in:

11 am – The importance of a sense of place in fiction

A discussion chaired by Lisa White of the National Trust

1 pm – Short Stories

Complete stories – none longer than 3 minutes – read by star performers: AA Abbot, Rod Griffiths, John Holland, Rosalind Minett, Mark Rutterfod, Jenefer Heap, Jacquie Gooding and moi. I have heard the others, they are all good!

Sue Johnson – short story workshop

4 pm – Contemporary Fiction

Readings with  JJ Franklin, Kate (Under the Apple Blossom) Frost,  author and writing coach  Sue Johnson, Lynne Pardoe, Thomas Shepherd, Katharine Smith Josephine Lay and Ellie Stevenson

Since I’m also having a new author mugshot taken at 12.30 by writer/photographer Angela Fitch, the chance of getting to much else – or even find lunch! – seems desperately small. But I’ll try to pop in to the Short Story Workshop at 2 pm with Sue Johnson – or the discussion on creative thinking led by Orna Ross. Difficult decisions! And I’m very disappointed to miss the 1 pm talk on the History of Print and Publishing.

Best murder mystery in Hawkesbury?

You can decide on what you’d like to do by downloading the full programme here or just see what takes your fancy on the day.

 

One highlight I will not miss is the launch of Debbie Young’s debut crime novel Best Murder in Show set in a village rather like, you guessed, Hawkesbury Upton.  Sounds like a blast.

Free tomorrow? See you there!

Save the dates!

It’s great to see everyone emerging from the winter gloom and getting together again.

Here are a few dates which should be of interest to anyone who loves writing, reading or just listening.

March 19th: Story Sunday ‘Another Country’

As you know I’m a member of Writers Unchained and hopefully this poster says it all. Writers have until March 5th to submit, or just come along and listen.

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Feb 26th: submissions opening for Stroud Short Stories

stroud short stories

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? I am very pleased to be co-judging the next  SSS event (is this the closest a writer gets to promotion at work?!) which is not until May, but submissions are open from Feb 26th to April 22nd. Why not get thinking and writing now? To submit you do need some connection to Gloucestershire or South Glos, but the theme is open. Check out the entry regulations here. Join us on May 21st to see who we picked.  Feel free to get annoyed if it isn’t you!

molpcoverMeanwhile on March 11th I am thinking of taking myself  to the lovely town of Lyme Regis where the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize winners will be announced. Yes, I am shortlisted for the short story prize and I’m planning to treat myself to a day out in Dorset. If you’re anywhere in the vicinity, the evening event looks like fun,  and as well as celebrating great writing, these people plant trees in Kenya.

Tickets here.
Copies of the winners’ anthology will also be on sale.
How nice to be in it!

 

 

Beyond the Bestseller

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Who doesn’t want to be a best seller? Perhaps in the title of this forthcoming event there’s a recognition that we can’t all be best-sellers and it might be as satisfying to find the right publisher for your book and sell it to the right audience. Or perhaps, since it’s being staged by a very small indie publisher, it’s an invitation to wonder if our work will ever suit the limited (and limiting?) requirements of the Big Six, and suggest there are other places to take it?

And of course there’s nothing that says you won’t be a best-seller by going with a small publisher. I’ve just been reading Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project, Man Booker shortlisted, from Scottish indie publisher Saraband BooksSandstone Press has also had lots of mainstream success.

ajoyriverLinen Press, possibly the smallest of the small, came up on my radar years ago, I think because of the Scottish connection (director Lynn Michell was based in Edinburgh at the time) and their small but inviting website. Prompted by an online article elsewhere, I ordered one of their titles and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Since then I’ve read and reviewed others and although not all have been to my taste, they have  all had the  stamp of quality fiction: well-written, thoroughly edited and with unique voices. Avril Joy’s Sometimes A River Song was one of my stand-out reads of last year and a worthy contender for the People’s Book Choice prize. (Read! Vote!) I can also recommend Susie Nott Bowers’ The Making of Her, a compelling novel about the media and the beauty industry.

Like many indie publishers, Linen Press accepts unsolicited submissions – always tempting for the un-agented author – but of course they take on very few of those who apply. So what does a small press look for? How does it work?

I think Beyond the Bestseller will be an intriguing event, lifting the lid on what it takes and how it would be to work with this or other indie outfits. £30 for a day (with lunch!) strikes me as very reasonable. I’m consulting my calendar to see if I can make it.

 

 

 

‘Poor Chattie’ comes to Novel Nights

D.O. Hill’s daughter Chattie is best known from the  iconic portrait  taken near the start of her father’s partnership with Robert Adamson, but we have very few further calotype images of her (calotyping was too expensive for regular ‘family shapshots’) .

All we know from the playful letters, notes and sketches her father made for her, is that she remained central to his  busy life and that her early death marked the beginning of his declining years.

When I was talking to other Hill and Adamson fans last year in St Andrews, one long-time aficionado exclaimed ‘Poor Chattie!’ and a  collective sigh went up in recognition of a father’s grief and a young life snuffed out to soon.

Of course in historical fiction, the less we know about someone the easier it can be to incorporate them into the story we want to tell, and I’ve been thinking for a while that Chattie’s voice could be a useful vehicle for her father’s story if only because she provides a unifying thread,  from the ‘Adamson years’  through the 1850’s, when she and D. O. shared Rock House with his sister Mary and an extended family of cousins. This  was also when D. O. Hill grew particularly close to the artist Joseph Noel Paton, an alliance that would  have repercussions on D.O.’s personal and professional life.

Next week  I’m reading the beginning of a story set in 1854 when Chattie would have been fifteen and attending the first ever  Edinburgh school for young ladies. By now she is old enough to take a view on her and her father’s situation. I wonder what she made of it all, and what D. O. made of her? I imagine her confident, articulate and well brought up. But we all know how teenagers can jump to conclusions …

nnaudienceIf you’d like to hear my version of the (not so poor) Chattie, Novel Nights is taking place on Wednesday Jan 25th in its new venue at The Berkeley Square Hotel, Bristol at 8pm.

Several other local writers will be reading their work and there is a talk by historical fiction expert Celia Brayfield (also mentioned here).

Don’t forget to get your ticket in advance.

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The Berkely Square Hotel, Bristol

Looks like a lovely venue.  I think Chattie will be in her element!

 

*Calotype of Chattie Hill by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson,  Scottish National Galleries collection https://art.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/42236/112194?overlay=download

 

Writers just wanna have fun

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With friends old and new at December Talking Tales in Bristol*

If I was wondering how to sum up 2016 (on the writing front that is) this picture looks as good a one as any to do it: some twinkly lights, friends old and new, writers celebrating stringing a few words together.

At these local events (Story Sunday, Stroud Short Stories, Talking Tales, Novel Nights etc) our audience is made up mainly of other writers  – all avidly curious to see who has been chosen to read and what they’ve come up with. Our ‘public’ is chiefly ourselves -and our trusty and long-suffering camp followers, let’s not forget them!

But while the big bad world of commercial publishing sucks its teeth and eats authors, it seems, for breakfast, testing ourselves amongst our peers is a good way to start on wherever we are headed. We may be our own harshest critics, but knowing how hard it can be to chuck out even a very short short story that works, we also love to support each other and give each other praise where praise is due.  And despite the inevitable nerves, it’s also a lot of fun.

So whatever else 2017 holds, here’s to writers around the world getting together to please themselves – and each other.

Despite a few lucky and talented (yes you need both) exceptions, there isn’t much money to be made in this game,  but we sure as hell are going to enjoy ourselves!

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The Twilight Zone at Southbank, Bristol – more writers, more fun!

 

Thanks to everybody who contributed to my writing year .

Happy Christmas one and all!

 

 

*photo by Christopher Fielden 

 

 

Snow is falling – special offer on A Kettle of Fish

Our tree is up and my shopping is (nearly) done!  So to celebrate, I thought I could help you out with yours – 🙂

Signed by the author (that's me)

Signed by the author (that’s me)

So, if you order  A Kettle of Fish (and even if it’s a while since it come out, as far as I know, books do not go off or lose their appeal due to the passing of a few calendar months)  from a well-known online retailer and have to pay postage,  it will cost you £8.99 + £3 – a painful £11.99*.
But hey, it just so happens I have some right here.
If you ask me to post you a copy, I will charge the you the same  – £8.99 – and include the postage. 

Or if you happen to be someone who sees me or can call in, the price is £7.50.

There’s more about the book here and it had lots of nice Amazon reviews.

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This tree is bigger than it looks

And yes, it is still available on Kindle – this week at a paltry £1.15!
You can also order the paperback from booksellers, I just thought I might save you the trouble of going anywhere or doing anything other than contacting me here or via social media (Facebook or Twitter @AliBacon) to set things in motion.

Offer ends Friday 16th by the way.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS

Snow courtesy of WordPress.com!

 

* Of course if you are on an Amazon package or have a bigger order postage won’t apply. I’m just helping out anybody like me who only ever seems to order books one at a time, or who would like a signed copy!