Life Cycle of a Writer ~ Jan Brigden ~ the fear and ultimate joy of my first author talk …

Earlier this year, my lovely publisher Choc Lit  announced they were off on tour and would be hosting events at various libraries around the country. On offer was an afternoon of author talks, Q&A sessions, fun quizzes, goody bags, a chance for aspiring authors to pitch their manuscripts to a Choc Lit editor. Oh, and plenty of choccies!

Tour-bus-with-books

When I heard that one of the events would be in Southampton, not on my doorstep, but a place I can get to by train direct from East Croydon, I was tempted to volunteer to be part of the author panel, but couldn’t see past my morbid fear of public speaking. I slept on it, talked to Mr B and as much as the thought of it gave me palpitations, a lingering ripple of excitement in my tummy told me I should go for it; that it would be good for me.

So I fired off an email to the Choc Lit team and before I could bottle out, booked my train ticket.

No backing out now, Jan, I thought.

I was Southampton-bound.

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Alongside me on the panel would be my fellow Romaniac, Laura James, who has written three books for Choc Lit, and Evonne Wareham and Liv Thomas (who writes under the name of Isabella Connor) – both ladies having published two books each. We’d be required to chat about our routes to publication and about our books themselves.

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My book!

 

Hideously nervous, I put together some notes, both detailed and bullet-pointed. Laura had given me a great tip to use highlighter pens for buzz words and phrases.

Other advice I received, all of which I was hugely grateful for, was as follows:

  1. Remember to breathe properly. Might sound obvious, but when I was practising my read-through, this was something Mr B picked up on, along with my habit of saying “Erm!” after nearly every sentence.
  2. It’s fine to slow things down if you feel yourself wanting to canter through it. It also gives you a chance to scan your notes if using them for reference as I did.
  3. Keep your focus on your audience soft as you begin,  until you settle into your rhythm, rather than trying to gain eye-contact with too many people too quickly.
  4. Be yourself. Smile. If you fluff a line, clam up or laugh inappropriately, it will be forgiven. You’re human. It’s your first time.

All of these tips proved invaluable, as did the public speaking/confidence hypnotherapy recordings my best friend sent me which I found really relaxing. Not for everyone, granted, but they did help me to focus on the ‘can do’ rather than ‘can’t’.

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I also drew comfort from my own memories of attending these types of events, sitting in the audience with my pad and pen, taking precious notes and listening to authors talk about their books and feeling so pleased that I’d gone along, as I learned so much. If I could in any way encourage the aspiring authors among our audience and convey to the readers and bloggers among us how very grateful we are for their time and support, it had to be worth all my doubts and fears, didn’t it?

And so off I set, armed with my wad of notes, caught my train to Southampton, which another of my lovely fellow Romaniacs, Sue Fortin, hopped on en-route as she was coming along to the event. We then bumped into Laura at the station and the three of us went for lunch, with both Sue and Laura doing everything they could to ease my last-minute jitters, having both given author talks themselves.

This nice plateful of food helped …

 

Jan Italian Meal

When we arrived at the venue, the rest  of the Choc Lit team welcomed us. I donned my T-shirt and after a lovely meet and greet session, we began our talk.

I heard the quiver in my voice as I began, was conscious of flapping my hands about a bit. I remembered everything I’d been told, though, and managed to engage the audience. We had a few laughs and talked about funny research memories and everyone on the panel had a different aspect and angle which gave the talk balance. I can’t deny I let out a long internal “Phew!” when my turn was over, but if I’m honest, I loved it and felt very proud that I’d seen it through.

FOUR CHOCLITEERS

L to R ~ Evonne Wareham, Me, Liv Thomas (Isabella Connor), Laura James

We then had a fun quiz, lots of interacting and more laughter and the whole event was professionally organised and wonderfully informal. We had some fantastic feedback and even managed to sell a few books. The chocolates kept coming throughout and it was great to meet so many of the people I speak to online.

 

Thank you to everyone at Choc Lit, readers, bloggers, writers and Southampton Library for helping to make my first author talk such an enjoyable, memorable experience.

Should anyone be interested in future Choc Lit library events, have a peep here Choc Lit on Tour for ticket info and notice of who will be in attendance.

Jan  X

 

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Crimefest – A guest report from Evonne Wareham

100_0671As I write romantic suspense – a genre that can have as a high a body count as a kiss-count – I sometimes get to play on the shady side of the street. Which is how I came to spend a recent weekend in the company of assorted serial killers, drug dealers, spymasters, global conspirators and all round bad lots, and the lovely people who create them. Yes, this was Crimefest, the Bristol crime writing convention that brings together criminal elements from all walks of life  – and the sleuths who pursue them – from the cosy amateur, solving puzzles over tea and scones, to the adventurer on the trail of an ancient artifact with mystic powers, by way of the jaded cop with the bottle of whisky stashed in his desk drawer. It takes all sorts to make a crime wave.

When you attend an event like Crimefest you realize just how many varieties of fictional crime there are – and locations. Scandinavian and American authors are always in demand, but delegates set their mayhem in Africa, Alaska, Italy, the Greek Islands, Iceland, … the Isle of Wight. The on-site bookshop was bursting with titles from all round the globe, with the chance of having them signed by the author in attendance. And it’s not just exotic places, but also a variety of time periods – Roman Britain, the eighteenth century, the roaring twenties …

Panels looked at everything from the North/South divide, to mixing crime and comedy. There were discussions on writing about the cold war and authors who have become overlooked or forgotten, often unjustly. Fans of Dame Agatha squared up to those of Sir Arthur  …

And all that was quite apart from the enthusiastic after-hours discussion that went on in the hotel bar.

The convention mixes writers and readers and everyone seemed to be in agreement that the panels this year were better than ever. I certainly enjoyed the ones I attended – even the one I was on. This year’s big coup was the appearance of Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat and Sue Vertue of TV Sherlock fame – currently filming the third series, working round the availability of two stars who have suddenly become big cinema box office and determinedly ducking all requests to explain exactly how Sherlock is coming back from the dead.  It was a fun session, packed with enthusiastic fans – but I have to say that the personal convention high spot for me was the appearance of author Robert Goddard. He’s a great story teller. I’ve been a fan of his complex plotting for years. Fingers crossed that some of that complexity stuff may have rubbed off. I hope so, as there’s nothing I like better than a plot like a corkscrew.

It was a criminally enjoyable weekend.

RT BookLovers Convention 2013 – Guest Post from Evonne Wareham

Those key cardsYou know you’ve arrived at a very special kind of convention when the key card for your hotel room features a book cover with a bare-chested man. And the RT Booklovers convention is very special to the (mostly) American readers who travel from all over the States to get their big romance fix – meeting authors and cover models, attending panels and parties, buying books and getting them signed at two monster signing sessions …

The convention is an annual event, hosted by RT Book Reviews magazine at a Choc-Lit bannerdifferent American location each year. This year it was Kansas City and it was the 30th anniversary convention. It was rumoured that more than two thousand readers and authors, mainly female, descended on the unsuspecting city for the hectic long weekend. And I was one of them, part of a group from Choc-Lit, intent on taking British-style romance to new audiences. It was exhausting and enormous fun. Those ladies know how to party and were focused on doing just that, from the morning mixers and breakfast events to the evening balls and parties. In between there were talks by authors – singly and in groups, quizzes, scavenger hunts, craft sessions and the chance for aspiring authors to meet agents and publishing houses, to pitch their manuscripts. The term ‘elevator pitch’ took on a whole new dimension while being practiced on the way down from the 29th floor. You could pick out the glow from the hopefuls who had just been asked to submit their manuscript from about ten paces.

Choc-Lit authors hosted a craft session on creating heroes, a chocolate tasting session, a Jane Austen celebration from CL’s Austen expert, Juliet Archer (which featured a guest appearance by Mr Darcy) and, captained by author Lynne Connelly, devised a fiendish quiz to test the participants’ knowledge of the British Isles. And yes, I was the one with the question that involved a sheep. I was specializing in Wales, after all. And wore the national dress, to prove it. I also forgot to give someone my camera to get a shot of me in it.

The BallThe hotel was fabulous, the free books on offer were amazing, the swag – gifts from authors and publishers of everything from bookmarks to letter openers – completely fascinating. You have no idea how many gew-gaws and gadgets can be printed with an author’s name. Actually I do, now. I brought home as many as I could carry. Some of the themed parties featured costumes – saloon girls to vampires – and the anniversary ball called for formal dress. The Choc-lit group rose to the occasion with sparkle and tiaras. I didn’t risk a tiara – I was afraid I’d end up wearing it as a necklace – or skewering someone’s eye, but I did have a snazzy pair of cream coloured elbow length gloves, which were admired by a gentleman I met in the lift on the way to the ball. His wife was very tolerant about it.

Signing Books

I had a really great time. It’s impossible to give more than the tiniest glimpse of the scale of the event here. The high-spot was probably being part of the huge book signing on Saturday morning, but the thing that made the most impact was the welcome and interest shown by American romance fans. The British (and Welsh) accents had something to do with it, but everywhere there were people keen to talk about books, writing and every kind of romance genre. Next year’s convention is in New Orleans and events are already being planned. And I’m already saving my pennies.

Evonne x

Roving Romaniacs – Evonne Wareham’s Book Launch

So this week started off with secrets, and over the next few days more top secrets will be uncovered as the Romaniacs talk about their works-in-progress. But before then – I’m going to let you in on another little secret…

I really should be editing now.

Ssh – don’t tell anyone. And while I’m in confessing mode – those times when I’m looking deep in thought, pen and notebook in hand? I’m not always thinking about my work-in-progress. Sometimes I’m dreaming about what my book launch would be like were I to get a book deal – where will it be? What will I wear? Who shall I invite?

I was lucky to receive an invitation to a real book launch on Thursday, that of Evonne Wareham for her debut novel Never Coming Home, a romantic thriller published this month by ChocLit. I happily went along, keen to make notes on behalf of the Romaniacs in preparation for that day when it might be one of our debut novels being launched.

Evonne is a member of the RNA and was a member of the New Writer’s Scheme for several years before getting her publishing deal with ChocLit. Her second book, a romantic thriller with paranormal elements called Out of Sight, Out of Mind, will be published by ChocLit in March 2013.

Waterstones in Cardiff was full for Evonne’s book launch, and after welcoming us all along, she led a very entertaining Q&A, where we heard all about her journey to publication – a journey as twisty-turny as her book! The staff brought out more and more chairs until they ran out and when it came to the book signing, the queue stretched the length of the shop. Luckily the delicious Cava and vast bowl of chocolates didn’t run out…

I was able to corner Evonne and ask her a few questions…

How much has the book changed since you first wrote it?
It’s bigger. In particular Choc-lit felt readers would want to know more about Devlin’s back story. I had a hard time getting it out of him, as he does not like to talk about himself. I’m not sure if he told me the whole story. In fact, I’m sure he didn’t, but what is there is true, because he is telling it to Kaz, not to me, and he would not lie to her.

Did the book go through the NWS and how helpful was the feedback?
Yes it did go through the scheme, and is one of this year’s contenders for the Joan Hessayon award. Having put a number of books, and partial manuscripts through the scheme, I’m always amazed at the generosity of the anonymous readers who give detailed feedback for what is well below the going rate for a critique of this kind. The one I got for Never Coming Home was no exception.  A crit from the NWS always makes you think, because you know it is from someone who has professional experience as a writer or editor.

Would you consider becoming a reader for the NWS?
I haven’t volunteered yet. I would like to, but would not want to do it until I had time to do justice to any manuscript that I received. As I’m currently deeply embroiled in studying for my doctorate, I don’t think it would be fair to get involved. Once the studies are out of the way I would love to do it.

Has the whole publication process lived up to expectation?
This is difficult, as the whole thing still has a dream like quality. Having been trying for publication for a long time, I’d rather abandoned rosy day-dreams and settled for dogged determination and refusal to give up. (Although it did get close a few times!)  Now, going through all the steps, seeing the cover illustration, holding the book for the first time, my first signing – it all has a breathless quality to it.

What do you think attracts you to the dark side with your writing?
I have no idea. It’s a bit worrying 🙂

Do you create the hero or heroine first?
It varies. In Never Coming Home, Devlin came first as the book began in my mind with the image of the fatal car crash that opens the book and he was the one to witness it. With Out of Sight, Madison was first on the scene, as I was very drawn to her vulnerabilities and doubts, because of the gift she has. She thinks she’s a freak, and has a hard time dealing with that. Jay is a total mystery when he arrives, as he has no memory.

What three words sum up the RNA for you?
Friendship, feedback, fun

So what are some of the things I learned from attending my very first book launch?

Prepare what you want to say

Invite lots of people

Make sure you have plenty of sparkly Cava and chocolates

Make sure you have enough chairs

Take a pen for signing books

Practice the perfect novelist signature

…but in order to get to that stage, first I have to finish my book. So I’m going back to my editing now, I’ll call in later to let you know how it’s going. In the meantime, be sure to pop in every day to find out all about what the other Romaniacs are working on, starting tomorrow with Celia.

Vanessa x