Thursday, 10 June 2010

A talk? or just a friendly chat?

If you've read my ramblings on this blog before, you'll know that I always enjoy the opportunity to give talks about writing ... either on my own (which takes a bit of preparation and thought, planning a talk of the required length and targeting it for the type of audience), or with our recently formed panel of 'Essex Writers' - with my friends Fenella Miller, Maureen Lee, Fay Cunningham and Jean Fullerton. The panel events are a lot more informal and because of audience participation, tend to be fairly 'ad lib' - a comparatively relaxed experience for us!

I've given talks on my own to audiences of all sizes ... well, OK, not to anything the size of a stadium! - but from a packed hall where people were standing at the back, to disappointingly low turnouts which turned into enjoyable cosy chats with a few gratifyingly keen and interested people. I've learnt never to mind the latter ... as long as there's at least one person there, and as long as they want to listen, I'll go ahead and hope we both gain something from the experience.

Our panel events have attracted some encouragingly good audiences so far ... so it was initially a bit of a surprise to find only a handful of people at Monday's event at Ingatestone Library. More than anything, I felt sorry for the organisers - I know Sharon there had done her very best with the publicity, and I'd done my bit too - getting a write-up in the Essex Chronicle, mentioning it everywhere I could think of and including it on a leaflet-drop in my own village for anyone who couldn't make the previous event at our own library.

But hey - these things can't be forced, and can't be predicted. It may have been a bad day for people, for any number of reasons. But those who HAD turned up were very enthusiastic ... in particular, it was lovely to see 'Jarmara' again, with her sister - we've met a couple of times before and I know how keen and interested she is in everything about writing. Take a look at her blog where she's kindly given us a write-up about the event:
Thanks again, Jarmara, and I'm glad you found our chat helpful!

Because that, of course, is one of the benefits of a small audience ... the afternoon turned into a cosy chat between friends, where we all had time to ask and answer as many questions as we wanted to.

I ought to say, at this point, that I've never considered myself an expert on anything writing-related! I've never taken a creative writing course, I don't have a literary background and I'm not (yet, anyway!) a best-seller. So I realise people might wonder who the hell I think I am, putting myself forward to stand up and talk about writing to them. Well, I thought the same thing too, when I first tried it ... but after I'd given one of my very first talks (merely about 'how I got published'), a lady from the audience came up to me and told me how encouraged she'd been to hear about my experiences ... because I was just an ordinary working Essex mum who had been lucky enough to have some success with my greatest dream. Since then, so many people have made similar comments that I now feel able to speak with confidence about my own experiences ... and that includes the agonies and disappointments as well as the joys and triumphs!

As Jarmara mentions in her blog ... we discussed these at some length on Monday and I suspect people are often surprised that even after becoming a published author, the rejections, sadly, aren't always a thing of the past! Nor are the re-writes, the long waits for responses to submissions, or the days when everything you write is rubbish. BUT, of course, the excitement of an acceptance - any acceptance, however qualified ('We like this story but please re-write the entire second half, cut it to a third of its size and change the tense and the names of all the characters ...') never fades. The thrill of receiving messages via my websites from people who have not only read one of my books, but taken the trouble to get in touch with me and say they've enjoyed it, is still like manna from heaven. Seeing copies of one of my books in a bookshop and in the libraries is a joy I never really expected to experience ... and every magazine containing a short story I've written is a precious gift. If those things didn't outweigh the serious disappointments, we probably wouldn't soldier on!

My friends on the panel and I, are a mixed bunch of writers: some more experienced; some more successful; some writing novellas as well as novels, others writing short stories too; some writing historical, others writing contemporary. But between us we seem to have a lot to say about our writing lives! So don't ever be put off from attending events like ours, by the potential size of the audience - large or small. It doesn't put us off, and we hope everyone gains something, regardless of how many turn up.

PS: On the subject of successes, I've a short story in this week's 'The People's Friend' (12 June issue), and two more on the way: one in 'Woman's Weekly Fiction Special' issue 6, and one in 'Yours', 13 July issue. So who cares about the four that have just been rejected!


  1. Exactly! Phahh to the 4 that were rejected. Congratulations on the stories you've got out soon.
    I read about your talk on Jarmara's blog and it sounded really helpful and informative. I was particularly interested in the part abput waiting. As you know, I hate the waiting
    Par for the course though I guess.

  2. I had a great time with you and the Essex Writers and hope to meet you all again soon.

    My much beloved bought PF last night for me. I really enjoyed your story 'Buttons & Bows', it's lovely. I hope to pick up the other magazine when they come out.

  3. Thank you both for your support. You're right, Colette - we all hate the waiting but as you know, the only way to cope with it is to keep on submitting more and more, so that you get more responses (hopefully positives as well as negatives!) x

    And I'm glad you liked the story, Jarmara - it was the one I wrote about a given illustration, so the subject was pretty much decided for me but it was fun to do. PF have a few more of my stories in the pipeline, accepted but not yet published - and I've just received the complementary copy of the next one (26 June issue). Sadly there are a couple of editorial errors - I'm not complaining because it's never happened to me before with PF, they're normally very good. But if you read it, see if you can spot what I'm talking about!!

  4. Never given any kind of talk, large or small, about writing. I would feel absurdly under-qualified, but agree with what you say about sweetness of acceptances. I never quite get over the warm feeling of walking past the mag shelf in W H Smith, knowing my story is inside something on the shelf! Rejections? Who cares! x

  5. Hi Lydia! I don't think you'd need to worry about being 'under-qualified' if you were invited to give a talk. People usually just want to hear about your own experiences (good and bad!) rather than a lecture on 'how to write' or 'how to get published' - neither of which I'd presume to do. If you set yourself up as a writing tutor, that's a whole different ball game, in my opinion anyway!

    You're right about rejections. Huh! Forget 'em and move on. x