Tag Archives: fiction

How I wrote my first published novel – Barbara Copperthwaite

Barbara Copperthwaite author
Barbara Copperthwaite author

This month’s author chat is with a psychological thriller writer who started off self-publishing before she got a publishing contract based on the success of her novels.

I particularly loved what she had to say about first drafts – it resonated with me and I can tick off every one of the items she mentioned! In fact I might just print out her final comments and stick them somewhere to keep reminding me that all the problems in my draft are fixable.

I hope her story and advice give you a bit of encouragement to carry on whatever draft you’re on.

How long had you wanted to write for before you began?

I’d spent almost twenty years working as a journalist, so had always earned a living through my writing. But it didn’t enter my head to try to write a book until I got an idea that simply wouldn’t go away.

Over a period of about two years, it developed into a storyline, but I didn’t honestly think I’d ever get round to writing a book as I was too busy in my job until one weekend I bought a laptop, and started writing my book during snatched lunchbreaks, and on my commute on the train. It still wasn’t about writing a book, though, it was more about doing something I loved, and that stubborn idea for a book seemed as good a thing as any to work on.

Within six months, though, I’d written enough to know I really wanted to finish the story. I still didn’t know if I could, as I’d never produced such a large body of work before, but the desire to type The End became all-consuming

What was your first published novel? 

The novel I had been working on during lunch breaks and on my commute started to become more and more important to me. Eventually, it became my first published novel, Invisible,  which became a bestselling psychological thriller in the UK and US.

Writing it had been hard work, but so much fun. First, I’d written a very simple outline of the plot. I’d also picked the title early on – choosing  Invisible because it helped consolidate in my own head what the theme of the book would be:  the twisted journey of a woman who starts out feeling ignored and unnoticed in her own marriage and friendships, and later becomes one of the most hated women in Britain. She is the invisible victim of a series of horrific crimes; someone everyone sees but no one cares about.

After eighteen long months, I finally finished it. It had gone through various drafts and revisions. After years of being able to write features that were published in national magazines unchanged, it was a culture shock to suddenly have to go over and over and over (and over) my work to get it right. I didn’t bother with writing forums. I know this may draw shocked gasps, but I was so certain of my idea that, right or wrong, I felt other people’s input would simply confuse me.

Then I contacted agent after agent. Though rejected by them all, the vast majority went to the trouble of saying they had enjoyed Invisible; that it was well-written, different, imaginative…it just didn’t fit in with what they were looking for at that time. I could have got hung up on the rejection but instead I took it as a great sign. The experts liked it, I liked it – if I published, hopefully others would like it…

I’d read about self-publishing from magazine articles. I chose Amazon as it cost nothing and has global reach. My partner is a professional artist, and I’d spent years working on magazine covers, so together we created the striking image for the book’s jacket.

Invisible wasn’t an overnight success, but after a few months it hit the charts. I built on its success by writing a second novel, Flowers For The Dead. This second psychological thriller was also a genre bestseller here and in the US.

How did you find your agent? Was that an easy process?

The success of my self-published novels had been noticed by a publisher, Bookouture. They expressed interest in seeing the next manuscript I completed. When my third novel was finished, I sent it to them and a few other publishers, and a handful of agents.

Several got back to me. But I loved Bookouture’s innovative, modern approach and its friendly persona. I’d read and enjoyed a lot of their authors’ works, and knew it was where I wanted to be.

At the same time that I signed with them, I was taken on by my agent, Jane Gregory, of Gregory and Co. Jane has an incredible reputation, particularly in the crime genre, as she helped found Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, and represents the likes of Sarah Hilary, Belinda Bauer, and Val McDermid. As soon as I met Jane, we clicked.

Once you had an agent/publisher what did you learn through the editing process?

I had employed an editor for my previous books, so I’d already learned an awful lot about pacing, structure, characterization, etc. But my new editor at Bookouture, Keshini Naidoo, is brilliant. It’s so important to have a good relationship, and trust your editor, so the two of you can work together to make the book even better. She’s always so upbeat, positive and energized that her suggestions never feel like criticisms.

What advice would you give to any aspiring novelist?

The thing I probably hear most when people are writing their first book is that they get disheartened because it’s a mess, so they give up. Or they spend ages going back over that beginning, rewriting it, honing it, but never doing anything else.

My advice? Don’t worry about editing as you go, just push forward and get the plot down.

The first draft will be a mess. There will be bits that make no sense, characters who change name halfway through because you decided you didn’t like their original moniker (or forgot it), and plot holes big enough to drive a bus through. That can all be fixed – but at least you will have a story entire to fix. If you keep polishing those first few chapters you’re unlikely to ever get to the end of your book.

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USA Today bestseller Barbara Copperthwaite is the author of psychological thrillers INVISIBLE, FLOWERS FOR THE DEAD, and THE DARKEST LIES. Her latest book, HER LAST SECRET, was published on 13th October.

With over twenty years’ experience as a national newspaper and magazine journalist, she’s interviewed the real victims of crime – and also those who have carried them out. That’s why her novels are dark, realistic and tackle not just the crime but its repercussions.
When not writing feverishly, she is often found hiding behind a camera, taking wildlife photographs.

To find out more about Barbara visit

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorBarbaraCopperthwaite

Twitter: @BCopperthwait

Website: www.barbaracopperthwaite.com

SCBWI Agents’ Party

I only got around to joining SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) a few months ago after attending the local SCBWI critique group a few times and my first event took place last week.

I wasn’t sure at first whether to go to the Agents’ Party as my manuscript is in early draft stages and it will be a few more months before it’s finished. However on the encouragement from other SCBWI members I booked a ticket.

I also booked a space on the Pitch Perfect workshop run by Book Bound in the lead up to the party. I thought it would be good to work on my pitch ahead of time. And I’m glad that I did.

Book Bound also ran a webinar the evening before the party and whilst there was a lot of overlap between the two I learnt things from both.

The party was held at the Royal Overseas League just round the corner from the Ritz. I planned everything meticulously. I sorted childcare, I arranged back ups and timetabled my leaving the house with military precision.

The train being cancelled was sadly out of my control. However, there was just enough time to get there on the next available train.

Also out of my control was the horrible cold virus that one of my children and my husband went down with in the week leading up to the party. “Just don’t give it to me until Saturday,” I pleaded.

But no, I woke up with a scratchy throat on Friday morning. I sucked lozenges on the journey and as I ran up and down the escalators racing to catch up lost time. (I’d forgotten how deep down the Jubliee line is).

I had arranged to meet another SCBWI member outside and I texted her as I ran. “I’m late!” followed by, “I’m nearly there” and “Where are you?” and we finally found each other as I queued.

We’d never met before but it was lovely to feel like I knew someone as we went in and found somewhere to sit.

The evening kicked off with two panel discussions with the agents. This was really interesting – lots of insight into the market, what agents want to see in a submission and just as importantly what they don’t want to see and so much more.

It was the first time I’d sat still all day without having to get something done or be somewhere else and perhaps that’s why a fog of weariness descended on me now.

But there was no time to worry about that as next came the exciting bit: networking and chatting to the agents. So with a deep breath, I grabbed a glass of wine in the hope that it would cure rather than kill.

And it did the trick. I navigated around the five agents I wanted to see. I had lovely chats with them all and all five said to send the manuscript in when it is finished. Fantastic result!

I did go into a swift decline after that and made a slightly earlier exit that planned. But I’m so pleased I stuck to my aim of chatting to as many agents as possible.

The evening isn’t just about seeing agents though. It’s also a great chance to meet up with fellow writers and illustrators – some published, some not – and make new friends.

Aside from the things that were out of anyone’s control this was a brilliant evening and particular thanks must go to the SCWBI organisers Kathleen Isaac and Terri Trimble as well as all the agents who attended.

If you missed it and are thinking about going next year, then here’s my advice:

  1. Even if your manuscript isn’t finished – don’t let that hold you back. It’s a great evening for talking to agents about what you’re doing and making contacts.
  2. If there’s a pitch workshop you can attend – either in person or online – attend it. (It is more geared for writers than illustrators, but that may change).
  3. Practice your pitch. Yes you may feel silly talking to your cat/dog, into the mirror or recording onto your phone but it’s a good way to practice and you’ll feel less self-conscious when you come to pitch in person.
  4. If you don’t know anyone then find someone to buddy up with before you go. The SCBWI facebook page is a good place to shout out for this.
  5. Get a good night’s sleep the night before.
  6. Have a glass of wine – but not several. You’re aiming for the relaxed approach rather than the sozzled one.

The event is only open to SCBWI members so if you’re a children’s writer or illustrator and you’d like to find out more about joining SCBWI then follow the link through to the SCBWI web page.

How I wrote my first published novel – Clare Swatman

 

Author Clare Swatman
Author Clare Swatman

This month’s author is a journalist whose debut novel was published by Pan Macmillan last year. Before You Go is a poignant love story that made me laugh and cry.  I was so pleased when Clare said she would love to answer a few questions from me and particularly interested to hear how she fits her writing in with her journalism and a young family.

How long had you wanted to write for before you began?

I’ve always wanted to write and have actually been a writer since I started my career in women’s magazines back in 1997.

What stopped you from writing a novel?

A number of things. I always longed to do it, it was my dream, but it felt like a pipe dream. Part of the reason was that I spent most of my day writing, so the last thing I felt like doing after that was writing in the evening. But the truth is also that I spent my 20s enjoying myself in London, and then my 30s having babies, so there never seemed to be the time, and more importantly it never seemed like the right time.

Before You Go is the first novel you wrote – how did you write it?

I decided one New Year’s eve that I just had to do it – that the next year was going to pass whether I started writing my novel or not – and so I just got on with it. I’d had the idea bubbling away for a while but had been unsure what to do with it so I sat down and tried to work out where I wanted it to go. I plotted out chapter by chapter (it changed during the writing process but it was a great place to start).

At the time my children were only five and two, so I didn’t have much time to put aside. I’m no good at writing in the evenings so instead I decided to ring-fence every Thursday when my youngest was with his childminder. It meant I earned less money as I only had two or three days a week to work anyway, but it was important to me. And so every Thursday I went to my local coffee shop and sat and wrote. I wrote as much as I could before I had to go and pick the kids up, and then I tried not to worry about it until my next writing day. And amazingly, by the end of that year, I had a whole first draft written!

Of course it’s changed a lot since that first draft, but it was the basis of what became Before You Go and I was very proud of myself! That first draft then sat on my computer for a few months before I came back to it and started trying to edit it. The trouble was, I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. So I paid my friend and fellow writer Katy Regan to read it and give me detailed feedback. It was a good way of finding out if it was actually any good at all. Luckily, she thought it was great and after incorporating a few of her suggested tweaks, I finally had the courage to send it off to some agents.

What was the most difficult part about writing it?

The middle bit! People always say the middle bit is the hardest as you lose the excitement of the first few chapters and the adrenaline of nearly reaching the end, and it’s true. And of course, being so limited on time, it meant I had to produce something every time I sat down to it. Some days it flowed and some days it just didn’t want to come. They were the days I felt like giving up.

How did you overcome that?

I’m very stubborn, and don’t like to give up on something once I’ve set my mind to it! I’m also a firm believer in just writing through it. It’s better to get something down on the page and then move on to the next bit when you’re struggling, and then go back and edit it or even completely rewrite it later. But sitting waiting for inspiration never works for me. You could sit there forever!

How did you find your agent? Was that an easy process?

I did it in a very traditional way. I sat down with the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and marked all the agents who accepted manuscripts like mine. Then I went through them methodically and looked at their websites for more details, as well as submission guidelines. I then whittled my initial list down to about 12 agents that I thought were the best fit and took a deep breath and sent it out. I was very careful to follow their submission guidelines because they’re there for a reason. And then I tried (and failed!) to forget about it for a while. It was two days later that I was asked for the full manuscript, and a week later Judith Murray had taken me on and I got on with more edits. It was VERY exciting!

Once you had an agent/publisher what did you learn through the editing process?

Loads. Judith knows far more than I could ever know about how to sell a book, but she also trusts her writers to know how to make the changes in the best way. I went away and took on board all her advice and did my very best to improve it. As a journalist I learnt a long time ago not to be too precious about anything I’ve written – and so I was happy to accept constructive criticism from her and trust that she knew what she was talking about. And I’m glad I did because the book sold to a publisher a week after she sent it out for auction!

What advice would you give to any aspiring novelist?

It sounds obvious, but just write something. I spent far too long thinking ‘one day I’ll write a book’. It doesn’t matter if your first draft is a load of nonsense. You’ve started, and you have somewhere to go from there. But do make sure you’re realistic when working out when you’re going to fit your writing in. And just do it! What have you got to lose?

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Clare Swatman is the author of Before You Go which has been translated into 21 languages, and her second novel, The Mother’s Secret, is coming out in February 2018. She has spent more than 20 years working as a journalist for women’s magazines. She lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and two boys.

To find out more about Clare’s work visit her website.

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Next month’s interview is with Barbara Copperthwaite who writes psychological crime thrillers. She has self-published and is now traditionally published. Her books sell internationally and she is a USA Today bestseller.

How I wrote my first published novel – Anna Jacobs

Anna Jacobs author
Anna Jacobs author

I’m in awe of this month’s author, Anna Jacobs. She writes novels, a mixture of historical sagas and modern day family/relationship stories,  with the same frequency that some of us have holidays. She’s the fourth most borrowed author of adult fiction from UK libraries and next month, her 80th novel is published. I’m so pleased that out of her busy writing schedule, she took some time out to answer some questions on how she got started and what she’s learned along the way.

How long had you wanted to write for before you began?

I’d been wanting to write ‘stories’ since I was 10 years old and wanting to write proper novels since I was 20.

What stopped you from writing a novel?

Life! Finishing my first degree, starting work, falling in love, getting married, having two kids, moving round England and later emigrating to Australia. I wrote a lot of bits and pieces of stories during the truly wanting to write years after I was 20.

Instead, what I wrote and got published were French textbooks. As a teacher I found the books we were given to read with teenage boys impossible, so I wrote my own. I had nine French textbooks published before I turned seriously to writing.

What was your first published novel?

Persons of Rank – a regency romance in the style of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer whose best novels are, I believe, better than Austen’s. In a sense Heyer taught me to write because I was copying her style. After a while I developed my own style, but I’m still grateful for the things I learned from her books and her wonderful characterisation.

Is this the first novel you wrote?

No – the sixth. It’s the first novel I wrote in one fell swoop though, during long service leave, three months’ holiday given to Australians for working ten years for the government. I entered Persons of Rank into a big Australian writing competition, and came second out of over 800 entrants, winning $10,000 and publication.

How did you write it?

I had tried various ways of writing and had found by then that I can’t plan a novel. Once I start writing, the story unfolds bit by bit inside my head, like a TV serial really. I only know the background and setup scenario when I start a book.

I write organically and the characters carry me through. They know better than me what works.

I did a lot of drafts in those days. I’d read one or two how-to books, attended some talks at conferences, but mostly I practised by doing it ie writing stories. It’s how sports people train, after all. They do it until they’ve developed their skills. Thank goodness I didn’t go on a university creative writing course! I was able to develop my own style freely, and I wanted to write popular fiction not literary novels.

What was the most difficult part about writing Persons of Rank?

There wasn’t a difficult part to this sixth story which sang to me all the way through. For the first five novels though, there were indeed difficulties, as I learned my craft. Middles sagged, endings weren’t good enough and tension wasn’t gripping enough. Rewriting helped, and rewriting after some time had passed helped some more. But with Persons of Rank, it flowed smoothly from start to finish.

How did you overcome your earlier difficulties?

Practice makes perfect. They used to say when I started learning that writing half a million to a million words was necessary to become a good writer. I still believe, for most people, that’s true.  I wrote, and wrote, spending every spare minute on my passion for writing. I was working full-time and raising teenage children so started getting up at four in the morning to get in a couple of hours’ writing before work. I had become very addicted to story-telling by writing novels by then.

Once you had an agent/publisher, what did you learn through the editing process?

Not a lot technically. I learned a lot more from readers writing to me about what they liked and didn’t like in my stories. I learned most from my first proper editor, which happened with my second book, which was taken up by Hodder & Stoughton.

What advice would you give to any aspiring novelist?

First, read a lot, write a lot, read a lot more. You can learn so much from other writers about what works and doesn’t work when story-telling. If you don’t like reading you’re at a big disadvantage trying to become a novelist. Oh, and don’t read ancient authors like Dickens. His style wouldn’t work today.

Then, write a whole novel, polish it as much as you can then set it aside. Write another whole novel, repeat the polishing and set that aside. Then go back to your first novel and you’ll see how to improve it.  Well, you will if you’ve been reading a lot as well as writing.

I know you can self-publish these days but one novel doesn’t usually teach a writer enough, so hold back till you’ve learned your craft.

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Anna Jacobs is the author of 80 novels and is addicted to storytelling. She grew up in Lancashire, emigrated to Australia in the 1970s and writes stories set in both countries. She loves to return to England regularly to visit her family and soak up the history. She has two grownup daughters and a grandson, and lives with her husband near Perth and the Swan Valley, a tourist/winegrowing area. She’s addicted to reading as well as writing, so her house is crammed with thousands of books. Her website contains a lot of information, including list of books and which series each belongs to, plus first chapters to read: www.annajacobs.com

Anna’s books are available on Amazon. Links to her three latest paperbacks published last month are below.

Anna’s 80th novel, Saffron Lane, the third in the Peppercorn series, is published on 21 September 2017 and can be pre-ordered using the link below.

Next month’s interview is with author Clare Swatman. Clare’s debut novel, Before you Go, was bought at auction by Pan Macmillan in a two book deal and it has been translated into 21 languages.

Enter #WriteNowLive 2017

 

Penguin Random House staff at Write Now London

Penguin Random House is running its hugely popular Write Now event again this year. In case you missed it, this is an opportunity for writers from under-represented communities to submit an idea and up to a thousand words of a novel or a non-fiction book to win a place on one of three insight days to be held in London, Bristol and Newcastle. From there ten writers will be chosen for a year long mentoring programme.

I entered this last year and was one of fifty chosen out of 1,100 to attend the London event. It was a great experience and a huge boost to my confidence and I made friends with other writers who I’m still in touch with today.  Although I wasn’t one of the ones chosen for the mentoring programme in the end, I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to attend.

If you’re not sure whether to enter or not, I would say just do it. Write up your idea in the most concise way that you can, focusing on what’s original about your story.

Prepare your submission thoroughly.  Check it for typos and stray adverbs. Ask someone else to read it through.

It is up to you to determine if you are from an under-represented group. Typically you could be from BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) or LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer) communities or a writer with a disability or from a socio-economically marginalised community. You will need to explain what group you belong to as part of your application.

The deadline is 16th July 2017.

You can read the full details here on the Penguin Random House website. Make sure you read the terms and conditions fully.

Good luck.

The child reading gender gap

 

Child reading a book
Child reading

I’ve been fascinated by a survey by www.onbuy.com.

They surveyed 904 parents of children aged between four and twelve years old about their bedtime reading routines. Surprisingly (for me) there was a difference in whether children were read to at night based on the gender of the child.

67% of parents with only daughters read to them more than four times per week whereas 33% of parents with only sons read to them more than four times per week.

Interestingly, 29% of parents with both sons and daughters admitted to reading more often to their daughters.

Many parents also admitted that their sons were more interested in playing on the iPad before bedtime.

I can’t help but feel sad that boys are getting the rough end of the stick here. Yes they might love playing on screen before bedtime but they are missing out on a lovely opportunity to bond with their parents over a magical adventure or fantasy story.

Some of my favourite moments are when I get to sit down with my youngest two (a boy and a girl for the record) and read a chapter from a story. They love reading by themselves too so we don’t do this every night these days but it does mean that they get to hear a more challenging book than they might read to themselves. We get to talk about the vocabulary – they are always allowed to interrupt to ask what a word or phrase means – and we find ourselves discussing the story at random times of day.

According to a Scholastic report 83% of children love being read aloud to. The only thing that surprises me here is that the figure isn’t higher.

And finally, 39% of fathers admitted they never or very rarely read to their children (compared to only 4% of mothers). This is a tricky one. Many fathers don’t come in from work before the children are in bed and yes, I know it’s sexist and old fashioned but bedtime has long been seen as the mother’s domain. But even so, if boys don’t see that reading is something that daddy does, then maybe they don’t see that it’s something they should do either.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then that boys in general under perform in reading tests compared with girls. And could it be changed by more bedtime reading at home?

Winchester Writers’ Festival

Winchester Uni bar and restaurant
Winchester Festival on a hot summer’s day

I’ve just recovered from a weekend at the University of Winchester attending their annual writer’s festival. And what a weekend that was. it’s not often – read that as never – that I get to spend that much time focused on my fiction and it lived up to my every expectation.

Lemn Sissay was the keynote speaker – powerful, vibrant, funny and profound. He talked about how although we write individually, tucked away in our oneness, that writing is a team sport. And that’s the feeling I came away with from this weekend. Everybody supported each other. The speakers wanted us to do well – particular thanks to Adrienne Dines and Helen Dennis for brilliant workshops. I met up with friends and made new ones. And we cheered for those who had requests from agents for full manuscripts.

I think it was Helen Fields in her after dinner speech who said that Winchester Festival changes you. It sounded like one of those throw away comments which sounds good at the time washed down with a glass of pinot grigio. But you know, when the swirling blizzard of thoughts and ideas finally settled some time over the 48 hours since coming home, then I can say now that actually yes it does.

I have a new found confidence and I’m brimming with ideas and enthusiasm to take to my writing. I’ve already made some decisions that were just not in my consciousness prior to the weekend. My agent meetings went well – and they play a large part in the confidence I’m beginning to feel in myself – thank you to Felicity Trew and Ella Kahn for cheeriness and professionalism at the end of a very hot Saturday. But it was also the enthusiasm of all the speakers and delegates rolled into one that grows into something bigger than the sum of its individual parts.

I’m already looking forward to whatever package of speakers and events the organisers will be pulling together for next year and eagerly awaiting the email so that I can book it all over again.

Finishing a novel’s first draft

The moment finally arrived.  One that, for so long, I thought I would never achieve and which all of my thoughts have been focused on.  The typing of two small words:  “The End”.

I’ve dreamt about this moment in the same way that I sometimes day dream about winning the lottery.  Something that deep down I never really believed  would happen.  I don’t actually buy a lottery ticket so the odds on that one happening were nil but for a long time that’s how I felt about the first draft.  It was something that I wanted but I wasn’t actually sitting down and writing it.  And not surprisingly that’s an important part of getting a first draft completed.  Bum on chair and fingers on keyboard (or pen on notebook).  So this year I changed that and I set myself the goal of writing the first draft before the end of December  2016.

So here I am. I thought when I actually got here I would be wild with joy and excitement but it was a strangely muted affair.  I sat, waiting for the fanfare of trumpets in my head but it felt more like shock.  Yes there was a warm sense of achievement  spreading through my body but there was a mixture of emotions and that surprised me.

Relief.  Disbelief. Surprise.  Joy.  Fear.  I can compare it to climbing a mountain.  A really big mountain.  You’ve been staring up at the summit for weeks and edging closer day by day.  It consumes your thoughts.  You doubt whether you have the strength to get there.  You doubt whether you will find the right route.  There are days when the weather is bad, your mood is wrong and you just don’t want to do it but you do.  And then finally you’re there.  You look down at how far you’ve come, marveling at how all those days of  toil have added up into this big single achievement and you feel humbled that you have done something you’ve never done before.  and yet, as you blink, you realise what was obvious all along.  This isn’t the summit at all.  This is just the first ascent to a landing stage and that the rest of the mountain towers above still.

However don’t let that put you off.  It’s a very important stage to reach and you’ll never reach the summit if you don’t get the first draft down.  It’s a moment to be proud of; to have a rest and take stock.  And then get going again.

Which is what I’m about to do this week.  I’m going to plough on into the second draft which requires an awful lot of work.  But as the talented novelist Emily Barr said to me recently in an author chat: “The first draft is the worst your novel is going to be.”

How great is that?  From here on I’m going to be improving the novel that I’ve written.  And although there are many more months ahead of revising, rewriting and redrafting – hopefully they will all be taking me a few steps closer to that magical summit.

#Writenowlive Experience

The biggest question when I got up on Saturday morning for the Penguin Random House Write Now event was whether to wear my hat or take my umbrella.  Everything else was organised the night before – from the printouts of my submission, an up to date synopsis (when I submitted back in August it was too early in my first draft to be completely sure of all the details) to the clothes I was going to wear.  In the end, with rain coursing down the street, I took both.

Receiving the email to say I was one of the 50 who had been selected from over 1,100 applications was an emotional moment.  My fiction writing is something I do quietly in the sidelines of my life and so to get an endorsement from a publisher is huge.  Truly.  And as the day of Write Now loomed, the excitement grew.

So, if you’re wondering what it’s all about and what happens – read on.

Penguin Random House, along with supporting charities, is trying to address the issue that the publishing industry does not reflect the society that we live in.  The Write Now project aims to remove some of the barriers for underrepresented communities (Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups; people with disabilities or people from a socio-economically marginalised background).

It’s doing this through a series of insight days in London (which took place this weekend), Birmingham and Manchester to which 50 people will be invited to each one.  From here, ten will be chosen for a year long mentoring programme.  Heady stuff!

The insight day is amazing.  It runs at a fast and frenetic pace with three set sessions, a one-to-one with an editor to discuss your work, lots of opportunity to network and of course a Penguin goody bag.

I met authors, a (very lovely) agent*, and a range of people from Penguin, from the Managing Director of Ebury Publishing, to the contracts negotiators, to the marketing and PR staff and so on and learnt about the life of a Penguin author.  That bit might not help me to become a published author but it sure as hell made me want to be one, one day.

Next we broke out into two groups – one for adult and one for children’s publishing.  This was more hands on finding out about the route to publication with the opportunity to ask lots of questions.

And then finally a brainstorming session discussing the barriers to publication and what can be done about it.  Our table talked a lot about education – how expensive it is to learn the craft whether that’s going the university route or using one of the many courses that are available.  And while my tongue in cheek suggestion to replace Great British Bake Off with a novel writing reality show won’t see light of day then a series of web based video masterclasses and insights and teaching would be great.

Finally, probably the most important bit of the day – the editorial one-to-one.  This is a valuable opportunity to get some feedback on the work you submit – and hear a few compliments too (which is always nice).

I’ve come away with a few pointers to think about when I’m redrafting which I can already see will improve my story so I’m feeling inspired to finish the first draft over the next few weeks and then get stuck into the second one.

If you’re thinking of applying – do!  Cast aside any doubts that you might not be good enough.  If you don’t try, how will you know?  The mentoring prize at the end is fantastic, but this day alone is a huge gift.

For further information see the Write Now website and follow #writenowlive on twitter.  Good luck.

If you want to ask me any questions – drop me a note below or send me a tweet @journalistfran

* That’s not me being sycophantic.  But an observation.  I think agents get a bad press as being the people who reject nearly everything that is sent to them.  And statistically they do.  So I thought it was important to mention it.  But it has to be said, everyone was lovely – it’s a really friendly day.

How to Read a Mind

A free online course about understanding literary characters’ minds begins next week.  Run in conjunction with Future Learn and The University of Nottingham, it’s a short two week course in the field of what is known as cognitive poetics.

And if that sounds a bit technical, don’t be put off.  It’s about applying the science of cognition to how we read and process literature.

So if you’re a reader or a writer of fiction then this course should help to explain why we feel the way we do about fictional characters.  Why do they make us angry, sad or happy? Why do their lives matter to us?

I don’t know about you but when I’ve read a book where I’ve identified strongly with one or more of the characters, I feel sadness when I get to the end.  Why is that?  When a great character dies – why do I grieve? (I have to confess I have cried over countless characters’ deaths – even non-human ones such as Dobby in Harry Potter).

It sounds like a really interesting course and I’m looking forward to it starting next Monday.  There are no limits to who can join (as far as I’m aware) so if you’d like more information or to sign up, then click here  or follow the chat on twitter with hashtag #FLread or follow lead educator @PeterJStockwell