Showing posts with label book events. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book events. Show all posts

What Are You Writing Next?

My other (Polish) great great uncle was an artist.

The very first question that an audience member asked me, at the very first event I did for my new book about my murdered Leeds Irish great great uncle and what came after (in Blackwell's, in Edinburgh, as it happens) was 'What are you working on next?' I was tempted to say 'I don't have a scoobie' because that would have been the absolute truth.

It was a very hot night. Lovely friends had lent me their apartment, otherwise the event would have cost me a fortune. Edinburgh in July is not the cheapest place to stay. And because it was such a very hot night, only twelve people turned up to hear me speak about A Proper Person to be Detained.  Fortunately, if you click on the above link, you can read all about the book, since the Books From Scotland website very kindly asked me to do a question and answer piece about it.

The Ayrshire launch of the book, a couple of weeks later, was extremely well attended - many thanks to all those who ventured out on another very hot night! - and Waterstones sold out of copies, which was even better. There are more events to come. If you click on my events page, to the right of this post, you'll find a list and there may be a few more to add to that next year.

But ever since then, I've been pondering what to write next. So this post is partly to allow me to put some of those thoughts into words. Because I genuinely don't know. A friend asked me if I was 'looking for inspiration' today, but that isn't it. Besides, as most writers know, if you wait till inspiration comes along, you wouldn't write much at all. I'm never short of ideas or inspiration. In fact I probably have too many.

I've been planning another (factual, reflective) Robert Burns related project, and to tell the truth, I'm about half way through it. But it isn't exactly setting my heather on fire! Before I do anything else, I probably need to knuckle down and finish it and then let it lie fallow for a few months before I work on rewrites.

Recently, three different people have asked me when the sequel to The Posy Ring, which was always intended to be a trilogy, is coming out. It's going really cheap on Kindle for the summer, and the beautiful paperback is still available if you prefer solid books. But I don't know when The Marigold Child is coming out, if ever, because I haven't written it yet, although I do know what happens. And just occasionally, the characters, of whom I am very fond, walk into my head and ask me what I'm going to do about them. 'You can't just leave us in limbo like this!' they say.

There's a third possibility. Because at least some of A Proper Person involved writing about my much loved late father, Julian Czerkawski, and because I have been spending some time embarking on the process of applying to reinstate the dual Polish nationality I once had, I have also been considering researching and writing about the other side of the family, the Polish side. As different from the Leeds Irish side as it is possible to be.

So, I suppose the answer to the question 'what next?' is still, I don't have a scoobie. Because above all, I need to earn some money. Not for extras like holidays, but for money to live on. Money for groceries and house maintenance and electricity and central heating oil. That kind of money. And I suspect that the only way I'm going to achieve that (although it has taken me a lifetime of working in hope to be able to admit it) is not through writing.

It's to do something else altogether.

So I might just sell antiques for a bit, blog about them, and about various related things like gardening and country living on my 200 Year Old House blog, finish my Burns book in my free time, research more of my Polish family history, and see where all that takes me.

Or I might give up completely. For the first time in my whole writing life, since I was about ten years old, and wrote bad poems, madly and happily, I sometimes fantasise about stopping. I don't really believe I will. Sooner or later, the need to shape words into something more than fact will prompt me to start again. But all the same, there's a part of me that acknowledges the novelty of this. I've never felt this way before. Not once. Not ever.

And that worries me.

Working for Free: Factoring in the Fun

One of my most enjoyable events of last year - Grantown.
This is a topic that crops up with great regularity on social media and various other forums when writers and artists discuss the ways in which they are asked to work professionally for nothing except exposure.

And we all know that you can die of exposure.

It's not an all or nothing issue though, which is where the difficulty lies. Recently, I decided to post some information about events on my website. (Have a look at the News and Events page and you'll see what I mean.)

It certainly made me think about what kind of freebies I will and won't do, and for whom and why.

Because I write plays and am still occasionally involved with theatre, I'm on a few message boards for theatre professionals. I am also a member of various social media groups for writers of fiction and non-fiction. Whenever anyone posts a message to the theatre professionals about some unpaid project, the theatrical people voice their objections in the strongest possible terms. The justification is always that 'there's no money in the budget' which implies that there is, in fact, a budget. Just that they thought you would do it for nothing.

Now I don't mean that nobody ever works for nothing in theatre because obviously they do. Amateur, semi professional and community groups abound. Excellent profit share projects abound too, where nobody is making any fortunes but everyone is valued. But where a project has significant funding but those in charge have assumed that actors and writers don't need to be paid, there is a general - and completely justified - outcry.

On the other hand, a recent request on a writing group for people to come and give talks within a setting where everyone else was getting paid, elicited a heap of enthusiastic responses. Why yes, people said in droves. We'll be delighted to travel many miles to your venue and speak about writing. Just tell us where and when.

The contrast between the two groups of people was marked.

The second thing to prompt these thoughts involved a couple of direct requests to me to speak for free. One was from a delightful group, not too far from where I live, and with very specific interests that coincide with mine. Plenty of notice, and a lovely invitation. I said yes immediately. Mostly because I really want to do it. It's an evening event, a short drive away, and I'll enjoy it when I get there. I do a number of these kind of events on a first come first served basis, and they're usually a pleasure.

The other, however, was an invitation to travel three hours there and three hours back to an unpaid event where I would spend a few minutes actually 'on stage'. So that's six hours away from my desk, six hours when I'm not writing, and not even promoting recent work. In professional terms, that means I'm actually losing money. I said no to that one. This is not to denigrate the event, which will be lovely. If I lived in the immediate vicinity, I may well have gone, but the six unpaid hours on the road - even with travel expenses - was the clincher. Some years ago, I attended a literary event with a friend who had been asked to read as part of the programme. I paid my entry fee but - astonishingly - so did she!

Last year, with the publication of my new novel, The Jewel, I did a string of book events and enjoyed them enormously. It was a tiring but rewarding year. Many events were paid but a few weren't, or only involved travel and/or accommodation expenses. But since almost all of them were directed at promoting my book, and since even the unpaid events (or most of them) involved generous hospitality, they were well worthwhile. Between us, we sold a lot of books and I met a lot of wonderful people.

So because it's complicated, I've been trying to hammer out some ground rules for myself.

There are the professional organisations, festivals, groups who ask me to speak for a fee - the one recommended by Live Literature Scotland - and that's great. (I should add here that Scottish book festivals have a nice egalitarian ethos with everyone being paid the same from the most starry bestseller to the first time novelist.)

Then there are the small, charitable organisations and book groups who don't offer a fee but offer a great many fringe benefits: lovely audiences, excellent hospitality, good book promotion and sales. That's fine too, even if the events are quite small. I've had some of my most enjoyable evenings ever in the company of interesting people at not-for-profit events of this kind and from time to time, I've sold an astonishing number of books.

But there are also, sadly, events where you turn up and there has been little publicity and an unbelievably casual attitude to the speakers. Sometimes you arrive to find locked doors and have to wait outside for somebody to open up. Tea, coffee, biscuits: these are surely non-negotiable but they aren't always offered. Proper directions to the venue. Somebody to meet and greet and do the introductions. Predictably, these poorly organised events are almost always events where there has also been 'no money in the budget' etc.

What's the solution? There's no point in throwing out the baby with the bathwater. If you elect to do no unpaid events at all, you might miss the gems such as I experienced last year. If you do too many, you'll eat into good writing time to no purpose. And as a self employed person, remember that time away from your desk isn't just free time in the way that it might be free time for a salaried individual. It's unpaid time away from your business.

So I've reached the conclusion that the fun factor is vital. If you're pondering an enthusiastic invitation and you reckon it'll be a lot of fun, whether or not the potential exposure is good, then go for it. If you're pondering an invitation that sounds so casual that your heart sinks whenever you think about it, think again. Essentially, they have to want you and your work! Not just any old writer!

Above all, learn from experience. As a beginner, you might find yourself saying yes to just about everything on offer. We've all done it. It might be right for you. Or it might not. You have to decide.

Paid gigs are good. Even when they're bad, they're good, because there's money in the bank at the end of them. Often unpaid gigs can be very good too so don't automatically turn something down. It may be that nobody is getting paid, but they'll buy a ton of books and tell their friends too. That's where the fun factor comes in. If the event looks like fun and you really want to do it, then go for it.

But a lack of organisation, a lack of specifics at the invitation stage, tends to mean that the event will be poorly organised and publicised. Just remember that unpaid gigs where you feel you 'ought' to do something, but where you're unappreciated, will leave you thinking, as you drive the long miles home through the sleety night, while the organisers put their feet up with a nice cup of tea, that you'd have been much better off doing the same thing.

Ayr Waterstones: A Very Welcoming Bookshop.

It always gives me a bit of a kick to see novels with my name on the cover in a book shop. It's the kind of thing you dream of, not just when you're starting out (although you do, of course!) but as you're soldiering on, perhaps with a few successes behind you, when you've hit a rough patch and can't see anyone ever wanting your work again.

The truth is that a career as a writer - probably a career in any of the arts - is a switchback. There will be a handful of people for whom it's a dizzying rise to sustained to fame and fortune and good for them. But for the vast majority of us, it's a game of snakes and ladders and just when you think you've made it up the final ladder, there's that huge snake - an anaconda surely - that takes you slithering down to the bottom of the board again. So although most of us expect everything to be kind of temporary, it's exhilarating to see that you're building up a certain volume of work and that people want to know about it. I don't think I'll ever get tired of that.

Incidentally, everyone thinks that seeing the very first printed copies will be the most thrilling thing about being published, but for me at any rate, it isn't. It's exciting, no doubt about it, but coming to the end of a big project is always a bit of a let-down until you get properly started on the next novel. And there's a sense in which the box of advance copies - although undoubtedly lovely to have and hold and show off to friends and relatives - isn't just as exciting as you think it will be. Maybe it was the very first time I was ever published. Maybe it's a feeling that you can never quite recapture, the novelty of it all.

But seeing your books in a bookshop - especially seeing quite a lot of your books in a bookshop - that is thrilling and brings home to you just how far you've come. A few weeks ago a friend posted a picture of her novel on a table of recommended fiction in another Scottish branch of Waterstones and there was The Jewel as well, keeping good company with all kinds of  'weel kent' writers - and that was even more thrilling. We shouldn't make these comparisons, but it's only human to do it.

Anyway, these heaps of my books were on show because Ayr Waterstones was having its own small festival of local history. There were events for children and events for adults. I was speaking about researching and writing historical fiction and I began by saying something about The Curiosity Cabinet, and what will be coming after. But because we were in Ayrshire, I was asked so many interesting questions about The Jewel, and Jean Armour, that I spent quite a bit of the time chatting about Jean and Rab as well. There was a good, receptive audience in a lovely intimate space and it was a pleasure to be there. It struck me afterwards what a warm and welcoming bookshop Ayr's Waterstones is. Friendly and knowledgeable people, nice cafe, excellent range of books. I know I would say that anyway, but it's true. If you don't believe me, go along and see for yourself!

10 Questions About The Jewel for Book Groups

Last week, somebody contacted me to ask if I had any questions about the Jewel, to prompt book group discussions. I was very glad she had done so, because it's something I had originally thought about and then forgotten. I know some writers include them in the book itself, but in this instance, it seemed better to keep them separate.  Besides, I wanted time to think about them!

One good reason for delaying is that now, lots of people have asked me all kinds of questions about the novel, so I have a pretty good idea of the kind of things readers might want to discuss.

Anyway - here they are. There are no hard and fast answers and I'm sure people will have plenty of ideas of their own, but these are the issues that seem to have most interested audiences whenever I've been asked to speak about the Jewel.

1      1 Why do you think Jean has been so neglected as a significant figure in the poet’s life for so long? 

2 Why do you think Catherine wrote this in the third person – he said, she said – and not a first person account? Even though this is a third person account, we are pretty much always with Jean throughout the story. What problems might a first person account have presented?

3 What do you think first attracted the couple to each other, and why?

4 Why do you think Jean’s parents so disliked the idea of Burns as a prospective son-in-law? What made them change their minds?

5 How did you feel about the couple by the end of the novel. Did it change your perception of Burns as well as Jean? Did you feel better or worse about him? If you are female, do you think you would have fallen for him and why? Or why not?

6 What does the novel tell us about the kirk and family and attitudes towards morality at the time. Did any of this surprise you and if so, why? Why do you think having a child outside marriage seems to have become so much more of a disaster after the Industrial Revolution?

7 Burns seemed able to distinguish between an attachment of ‘romance’ and the reality of his love for Jean. The word romance itself has changed over the years. What do you think he meant by making this distinction, since he is at pains to stress his ‘love’ for his wife in letters and poems.

8 How far has the author succeeded in taking the reader back to the Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire of the eighteenth century?

9 The author says that everything in the novel either happened, or ‘could have happened’ but that most of the story is true. If you checked up on anything afterwards, were you surprised?

10 Do you think Jean was the love of the poet’s life? What do you think would have happened if he had lived longer?

The Bookmark, Grantown - a Bookshop in a Million

As usual, I'm talking with my hands!

Last month, I was invited to speak about my new novel, The Jewel, to a group in Grantown on Spey. To my shame, I'd never been to Grantown before but it's such a jewel of a little town in itself that I really hope to be back. The visit was organised by Marjory Marshall who runs the Bookmark, a fabulous independent bookshop in the centre of town. My husband came along for the trip - it was a mini East Coast book tour with more events planned in Dundee and St Andrews - and he did the driving, leaving me free to concentrate on my talks while admiring the scenery.

We had been booked into the Garth Hotel - a lovely traditional Scottish hotel only a stone's throw from the shop - and Marjory had told us that the event would also be held in the hotel, because the shop would be too small. Once we had checked in, Alan put his feet up in the comfortable room, with a cup of tea, and I wandered along the main street in search of the Bookmark. Grantown is exactly what a small town should be with lots of wonderful small shops, real shops selling everything you could need, plus cafes, pubs and hotels. It has a prosperous and well kept air, a pretty town too, and it must be a very good place to live.

The shop, for a bookaholic like me, was paradise: small, for sure, but absolutely crammed with all kinds of books you really want to read. Marjory - a small bundle of energy - was instantly friendly and welcoming. I could have spent ages browsing in there, and immediately vowed to go back when I can spend longer.

When the time came for the event, I looked at the (large) size of the room and the number of chairs and couldn't believe that so many people would turn out to listen to me. But, as you can see from the pictures, people did. Marjory runs three book groups and most of them came, plus a few more. 'I'm very persuasive,' she remarked, and she certainly is! A lovely lady played the celtic harp and sang Burns songs beautifully, to get us all in the right mood. I chatted about Jean and all the research that had gone into the book, answered the excellent questions, signed copies, drank wine, ate nibbles and was buzzing from the event all night and most of the next day. In the morning, after a very good breakfast, we managed to spend a bit more time in the Bookmark. Then I browsed the charity shop, the antique shop and the hardware store before we - rather reluctantly - headed off to Dundee. I love old fashioned hardware stores almost as much as I love bookshops, and Grantown's is wonderful. There's even a dedicated shortbread shop, as well.

I'd go back again in a heartbeat. Meanwhile, if you're interested in Crime Fiction, they are holding a
Wee crime festival  at the end of this month and more Saraband authors will be involved. I'll be heading the other way, to the Tarbert Book Festival and thence to my beloved Gigha, weather permitting, but if you're anywhere near Grantown, go along. You won't be disappointed. And if you're anywhere near Tarbert, you could come along and see me instead!

Launching a Novel: Pausing for Breath

Research material.
Last week was a whirl of train travel and book events for me: the Boswell Book Festival, followed by Blackwell's in Edinburgh followed by Waterstones in Argyle Street, on a warm and sunny evening in Glasgow. In between I managed to spend a very happy couple of hours chatting to my son - who had come down to Edinburgh  from Dundee for the occasion - in the gorgeous Cafe Royal in West Register Street, a place I used to visit occasionally with radio producers and other 'media people', back when I was writing radio drama for a living.

'You look very comfortable in here,' he remarked.

I studied at Edinburgh University and I lived in Edinburgh for five years in total, two of them in a big, shabby, cold, but beautiful flat in the New Town, and I still love the place. One of these days, I keep promising myself, I'll move back there.

Truth to tell, I love the book events as well. What's not to like about chatting to nice people about a subject you love? And this time, the questions have been fascinating, perhaps because so many people know about Robert Burns, have wondered about his wife, and are now really interested to hear more about her.

But it's also good to have a breather this week, if only to catch up on the mountain of paperwork that seems to have accumulated on my desk in a short space of time - as well as tackling the garden that was awash with mare's tail and ground elder. Besides, I have letters to write, books to post, people to email. And a husband with an art exhibition coming up next month to add to the confusion.

The book is going very well, I'm pleased to say. It is Scottish Book of the Month for May in Waterstones and Blackwell's Book of the Month too. I feel an extraordinary sense of pride in Jean, my long neglected heroine. You can't live with such a fine character for so long - a couple of years of intensive research and writing - without growing to love them.  I feel as though Jean is a friend. Rab too, although you'd find yourself coping with the warm blast of his charm.

Next week I've an event in Ayr and then what promises to be a really fun evening at the Globe Inn in Dumfries - where the poet bedded Ann Park - on 22nd June. (In conjunction with Waterstones)  I use an academic year planner - August to August - so yesterday I pinned up a new one because I'm beginning to be booked for autumn and winter and even a few dates for next year.

In between, there's a new project or two nipping at my imagination. Meanwhile, I've been thinking about muses. Of which more in the next exciting post!