It is a not very well known fact that when I was a wee gal growing up in the wilds of Shropshire (well suburbs) I had quite a thing for reading and, more importantly, writing stories. It didn’t matter what, from Beatrix Potter, to Enid Blyton, to Scottish Ghost stories, I lapped it up and loved to emulate and put my own spin on the kinds of tales I was reading. I was even known to dabble in the occasional bout of poetry but the least said about that the better. It wasn’t that it was bad, not for a young child anyway, it is more that I have since grown up to realise that I am neither romantic nor chronically depressed and so basically my poetry now would totally suck. I can do sarcastic though so maybe I could channel my inner Spike Milligan … Anyhow, I digress. Fast forward a good few years, gallop on past a seventeen year reading hiatus (I have made up for it since) and I was faced with a few changes in my life which made me think about all of the things I had let pass me by in the pursuit of a career (?) in Logistics. One such thing was my reading and my writing. I’ll be perfectly honest and say that I never really thought about whether or not I had aspirations to be a writer. It was simply not on the career options list when I was a child, nor was my creativity encouraged by my parents in any way. But it was after my mother passed away back in 2014 that I came across an old school report in which my English teacher had remarked about my writing and the hope that I carried this on. I hadn’t. I hadn’t done anything much at all about anything I loved as a child. Other than crisps. We never fell out at all which explained my ever expanding rump.
The thing about getting older is that all of the fears you have seem to multiply – the paranoia, the doubts. As a child, most of us are so certain and so open that we never think about what could possibly go wrong. All the ways in which we could fail. As an adult – well it’s all we obsess about. When I picked up my pen (or in my case my laptop) and decided to give writing a go again, I never expected that it would or could lead anywhere. I’d looked into a few things, read a few books and online sites. Seen NaNoWriMo mentioned on Twitter and taken a look at what it was all about but been too chicken to give it a go. I eventually succumbed and tried my best to reach the 50k word total in the 30 days available. Imagine my surprise when I actually completed it in just over half the time. (Now regular readers of the blog won’t be even remotely surprised given how verbose I usually am, and neither will readers of this post …)
I pushed myself when NaNo was over and finished the manuscript. Definitely a bottom drawer job as it was awful and probably not even in a genre I was comfortable with. It was what they may term ‘women’s fiction’ whatever the hell that is meant to be but I made it to the end so it was something to be proud of I guess. In truth, I made it to the end of three very very awful books but I was curious as to my ability as a writer so I paid for a critique of one of them. It essentially told me what I already knew – the plot needs work but your writing style doesn’t entirely suck.
Enthused by the heady praise I set to work … doing absolutely nothing about it. Those three bottom drawer manuscripts have sat on my laptop for the best part of two and half years untouched. I’ve dabbled in other (crap) writing, but not bothered to do anything at all about it.
But I did start a blog.
Not because I had aspirations as a writer, more because I loved reading and wanted to record my thoughts in one place. Something that wasn’t as cluttered as Goodreads or as prone to ridiculous rules and algorithms as Amazon. Something that was 100% pure me. And I am so glad that I did as it has introduced me to some very wonderful people from around the bookish world, who I am proud to now call friends. I has introduced me to some very brilliant (and some not so brilliant) texts that I may otherwise never have read. It also reintroduced that snippet of an idea that perhaps I could, maybe, possibly, at a push, some day, write something myself. And, courtesy of the enthusiasm and passion for the course shown by lovely lady Noelle Holten, it introduced me to Crime and Publishment.
Now, for the uninitiated, Crime and Publishmentis a kind of weekend retreat for aspiring and experienced novelists to learn about the art of writing all things Crime. Set over a three day weekend in early March the event hosts a series of writing workshops with experienced crime and thriller authors and gives delegates the opportunity to hone their skills or, in my case, perhaps develop new ones.
Crime and Publishment is the brainchild of Graham Smith and Inga McVicar. The two met while Inga was the project manager for Destination Dumfries and Galloway – a destination management organisation whose mandate was to promote, represent and develop tourism in Dumfries and Galloway. Graham is on the board of DD&G and the two soon found a shared interest in crime fiction.
Together they came up with the idea of hosting a weekend of crime centred creative writing workshops and Crime and Publishment was born. Using both their professional expertise and contacts within the publishing industry, the pair created a unique offering which has attracted widespread interest from all manner of groups within the tourism and publishing sectors.
The workshops take place at The Mill Forge in Kirkpatrick Fleming, just over the border between Scotland and England and a gnats nuts away from Gretna Green. (Incidentally, if anyone is looking for a beautiful wedding venue or just fancies the idea of a romantic elopement to Gretna, then The Mill Forge is an ideal venue. Very intimate, a really beautiful setting and the staff are amazing.)
I most certainly was only there for the writing.
This is a course which can boast many successes, with many former attendees having gone on to become published authors. The talented bunch include Graham Smith, Mike Craven, A.A. Dhand, Tess Makovesky, Jackie Baldwin and Lucy Cameron. Definitely an inspiration for those of us at the start of our journey. Now many of the past alumni actually return to Crime and Publishment year after year, even those like Lucy and Tess who are already published, which has to tell you just how popular the course is. There is always something new to learn, new contacts to be made, and ultimately a lot of fun to be had.
Every year Graham manages to engage some very impressive writers and publisher/agents to take the students through the art of writing and this year was no exception. The course was fully booked, some thirty people in total, and with the group split in two we alternated workshops over the two days, with Sunday providing an opportunity for those with a finished or nearly finished manuscript to pitch to this years Publisher of choice, Karen Sullivan.
For me the weekend started out with a session led my Michael J Malone on ‘Knowing Your Characters‘.
Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country, just a stone’s throw from the great man’s cottage in Ayr. Well, a stone thrown by a catapult. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. His career as a poet has also included a (very) brief stint as the Poet-In- Residence for an adult gift shop. Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize (judge: Alex Gray) from the Scottish Association of Writers. Other published work includes: Carnegie’s Call (a non-fiction work about successful modern-day Scots); A Taste for Malice; The Guillotine Choice; Beyond the Rage and The Bad Samaritan. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number one bestseller. Michael is a regular reviewer for the hugely popular crime fiction website http://www.crimesquad.com. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller. Twitter: @michaelJmalone1
(info courtesy of Orendabooks.co.uk)
Exploring the subject of character tropes and the main types you would expect to find in your novel, Michael encouraged us to think about books and movies we had enjoyed and to discuss who the key protagonist and antagonists were. We also talked about our own work in progress (WIP) and tried to apply the concept of protagonist, antagonist, mentor etc to that. It was a really informative session and made you stop and think about just how your characters fit together – who works for and against your characters, and who which of your characters may well be a ‘trickster’ or ‘shapeshifter’. It’s amazing how, when you stop and think about it, a lot of these characters are written into out work without thinking. Perhaps a more conscious approach to it will help us to give the characters real life.
After lunch, Graham Smith and author and fellow delegate Paul Teague treated us to a crash course in social media for authors and also a discussion on blogs and blog tours. There were one or two of us, myself included, who had a little insider knowledge on this subject, something that people were able to make the most of in the bar and over dinner later. After all the whole weekend is about sharing and supporting each other so actually being able to talk others through the minefield of blogging was something I could and did gladly offer.
After lunch (included in the course costs) was a session with author Craig Robertson on the most vital of subjects – research.
Craig Robertson is a Sunday Times bestselling author, and his debut novel, Random, was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger. His most recent novel, Murderabilia was longlisted for the UK’s top crime fiction awards, including Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2017 and the McIlvanney Prize 2017. During his twenty-year career with a Scottish Sunday newspaper, Craig Robertson interviewed three recent prime ministers and reported on major stories including 9/11, the Dunblane school massacre, the Omagh car bombing, and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Twitter: @CraigRobertson_
(Image and info courtesy of simonandschuster.co.uk)
‘Getting to the Heart of the Story’ had us looking at the subject of research. How to do it, when to do it and the simple tricks of the trade which avoid the need for travelling the globe. Or to Liverpool. Wherever your book is set. Unless you want to. Or you live there. It’s a lot easier then. Anyway, using things like Google Maps, Zoopla etc, you can avoid the need for expensive and extensive travel, even following videos on YouTube if you need to, although there is no substitute for visiting if you want the authentic sights, smells and sounds of a particular neighbourhood. Craig even took us through a quick masterclass on interviewing people, using delegate and soon to be super published author (yes you are!!!) Noelle Holten who told us a little about her past career in Probation. He also encouraged us to think about the areas of research we needed to undertake for our own WIP. Again, I was able to offer help here as one of the other authors wanted to know about van drivers. I have a little experience in this area too. Small world!
After a brilliant evening of chat and catch up, Saturday morning saw us engage in more workshops. My group started out with Karen Sullivan giving us the all important tips on how to pitch to agents and publishers.
For those who don’t know, Karen is the mastermind behind the brilliantly successful independent publisher, Orenda Books. Orenda have published some of my favourite titles of the past couple of years, specialising in fiction in translation and high quality, literary crime fiction. Karen’s session included the importance of having that killer hook, the elevator pitch and the short but super effective blurb,. This gave people who were planning on pitching on Sunday the chance to do a dry run and to gain valuable advice on what to tweak ahead of their nerve wracking five minutes of fame.
Lunch was swiftly followed by a short session on networking and how not to scare, bug or annoy the heck out of agents at literary festivals. Short, sweet but fun, there was definitely a good lesson in what not to do as improvised by Graham and Michael.
The final workshop of the course was a session on genre with Russel McLean.
Russel D. McLean was born in Fife, and moved to Dundee where he studied philosophy at the University of Dundee. His speciality was philosophy of mind, but after he discovered the difficulty of funding a PhD, he fell into the disreputable company of the booktrade.
His first paid credit was in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery magazine in 2004 and his first novel, THE GOOD SON, was released in 2008. He has since been published in the US, translated into Italian, French and German, and was nominated for the best first PI novel by the Private Eye Writers of America. Twitter: @RusseldMcLean
(info courtesy of crimeandpublishment.co.uk)
If there is anything that confuses me about reading/writing it is quite probably genre. So many genres/sub-genres/mash-ups that sometimes it is very hard to determine exactly what classification of book it is you are reading. And thus, in the session ‘Genre Expectations’, Mr McLean tried to help us navigate the murky waters of genre and the tropes associated with each sub-class of crime fiction, from the procedural to serial killers to that well known and well known aspect of cosy crime – the Cat Detective. Yes you read that right … A fun and informative session in which Tess managed to scare the heck of of Russel (and everyone else) with her confessions of darkness. I may have also admitted to writing an auto-biographical text on the serial killer (just kidding).
With the workshops completed, all that remained was a chance for people to have a one to one session with the featured authors and to enjoy our last evening together as a group. I can quite honestly say that the evening was both entertaining and a little scary, but I can elaborate no more. What happens in Gretna (well Kirkpatrick Fleming) stays in Gretna. After all the first rule of Write Club is … nah. I’m seriously not going there.
Now I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn when I say that everyone left the course on Sunday feeling motivated and invigorated and determined to make the most of everything we had learned. Whether starting out on a new writing journey, completing a work in progress, or hoping for that happy bit of feedback from Karen by way of the coveted red card (unlike in football, this is a very good thing), I think we all learned something, shared something and, equally as important, had a bloody good time in the company of some very brilliant and often funny people.
For me the weekend has completely changed my outlook on writing. I have made no bones about the fact that I am an introvert, that I am as shy as anything and that walking into a room of strangers damn near kills me every single time. For whatever reason, I never felt any of that at Crime and Publishment. Everyone, from the staff to the other delegates, were extremely friendly, welcoming and helpful, all there with one thought in mind. I arrived in Scotland with a vague idea or two of books I might like to write. After Russel’s session on genre and a brief chat with Craig on Saturday night, by the time I left on Sunday I had a clear vision of what I wanted, a decision to take my writing a fraction darker than I thought I might, and a whole load more confidence on what I was doing. So much so I even did this …
AM BOOK 1
by Jen Lucas
My writing may still only be a little less than sucky, and ultimately it may go absolutely nowhere, but I’m going to have fun trying, And I’m going to enjoy the fact that by going through the Crime and Publishment experience I have found a whole new group of friends to support and guide me on my writing journey and to share my highs and lows with. I have new notebooks (see below), a bunch of new reference books based on recommendations from the weekend due to arrive from Amazon in the next couple of days, and the makings of a decidedly dodgy google search history as I start my research. Hey ho.
I also have a new entry in the diary for 2019 – March 8-10 when I plan to be returning to The Mill Forge and Crime and Publishment 2019, hopefully with at least a first draft of a complete novel in the bag. Wish me luck.
If you have ever thought about putting pen to paper and writing your first crime novel, I really cannot recommend this course enough and it is brilliant value for money. With next years authors confirmed as Caro Ramsay, Zoe Sharp and Doug Johnstone, who wouldn’t want to attend?
If you would like to learn more about Crime and Publishment you can find all you need to know at the website here. Go on. Give it a go.