I have one more session left of a writing group I’ve been taking part in at my local bookshop. It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. What attracted me to the course was that it offered the opportunity to tackle your work in progress. That’s what I needed – help with what I’ve been working on, rather than starting individual new pieces each week. The course, led by author Fleur Sinclair, also had a number of guest sessions, including authors, illustrators, agents and editors, all there to answer questions and try to help us make some sense of the publishing world. One of these speakers was the owner’s son, Tim Glencross, author of Barbarians and another was his sister, Stephanie Glencross, editor at Agents, Gregory and Company – obviously a literary family!
The first time I submitted a piece of my work for the others to critique was terrifying, but what I ended up with was positive and constructive feedback, which has not only boosted my confidence, it has helped me enormously. The group has worked so well together that it looks like we will be continuing to meet after the summer break, though on a monthly basis. We’ve all been invited to attend the guest sessions of the next course as well, which is a real bonus.
It just goes to show what amazing support you can find right on your doorstep. The bookshop that runs these courses is a small, independent business, offering so much for both readers and writers. On their website, there are suggested reading lists for book clubs and they also help bring together individuals looking to join or form a group (including offering discounts for multiple orders). They host literary events and book signings and they even have a dedicated coffee shop area.
We met one of the owners, Valerie, at a writing group session and she is lovely. Our discussion that evening centred around titles and blurbs and we looked at various examples. We also did an exercise where we had a series of titles and had to come up with our own blurbs. It was interesting comparing what we came up with to the real thing. I came away that night with three new books to read as well. The bookshop regularly receives proof copies from publishers who are obviously looking to distribute their titles. As they were proof copies, some of them did not even have proper covers, but we were let loose on them and it was an interesting exercise in itself to see which copies we thought we would go for. In these cases, we were looking at the blurb more than the cover, as they weren’t made to stand out and appeal to us in a visual way. When Valerie said we could take home any that we wanted, we were all like kids in a sweet shop!
I chose three books (didn’t want to look too greedy) and have since been informed by the publisher that I can review them too, so I’m really excited about that. All three are out in Kindle format anyway and In Bitter Chill (Sarah Ward) and The Dust That Falls From Dreams (Louis de Bernieres) are both out in hardback form, with the latter also available in paperback. The Boston Girl (Anita Diamant) is due for release in December.
Book reviewing is a relatively new thing for me and it’s not easy to do. There is a difference between saying ‘oh I loved that one’ to providing a constructive analysis of plot and character development etc but I think, as a writer, it is good practice to be able to do this. Looking at other stories and analysing them in such a way can only be a good thing for developing your own work. It forces you to think about how you structure your writing, as well as how your story and characters develop. The questions you ask yourself about the books you read, you can apply to your own writing. Hopefully by doing this you can learn from them too.
So that’s me all set for the summer at the very least. What’s on your reading list?
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