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Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Writers’ Conferences and the SAW

Some writers hate them, some love them, and some go because they feel they have to promote themselves as much as possible. Me, I go for the good company, the crack (the chat kind that is, not the drug), the stimulation and loads of other reasons. What am I talking about? Why writers’ conferences, of course.
I attend several every year, always starting with the SAW weekend conference at Erskine Bridge, which is just west of Glasgow. And for those of you not in the know, SAW stands for the Scottish Association of Writers.
Well, I’ve just returned from Erskine and I’m absolutely shattered. For there is one thing that’s common to all these events, and that is that they are lively and hectic, requiring loads of stamina and energy. But they are also stimulating and a good way of networking.
So what kind of programme did we have on this fantastic weekend. Well, there were loads of workshops and talks on every aspect of writing you could imagine. There was also the ‘Night of Drama’ where lots of the drama entries were performed by their writers and various ‘volunteers’, willing or otherwise. The speakers and workshop leaders were brilliant, and of course, we can’t forget the prize giving. That is one thing that the SAW is renowned for, the amount of competitions and prizes they award.
SAW Prizewinners 2012

There’s nothing quite like it. More than a hundred people sitting there with their hearts pounding, waiting to hear if they are among the prize winners. I used to be one of them, but now, with several books under my belt, I just go along for the company and the crack, not forgetting the networking. I’m afraid I’m a bit of a litter lout when it comes to conferences, and I leave a paper trail wherever I go.
Then on Saturday night, after all the awards and trophies have been handed out, there is always the disco. This year it was the ‘Shimmer Disco’ to reflect the 70s and 80s. It’s fascinating to see how many people have brought costumes with them, and the wondrous variety of those costumes, as they strut their stuff on the dance floor. There is another option for those who aren’t into the disco scene, and that is the ‘Poetry Penthouse’ where they get a chance to perform their poetry.

On Sunday there are more workshops, then in the afternoon, readings of many of the entries. It’s astonishing how many able and talented writers attend this conference.

Then it’s off home, stimulated, invigorated, and exhausted, but ready to tackle the next part of the novel I’m in the middle of writing.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

What Scares a Crime Writer?

A lot of readers will tell you I write some scary stuff, so I’m used to chills and thrills and scares aplenty. I also talk at libraries and writers’ conferences, and sometimes I even run a workshop. So you wouldn’t think there would be much that would scare me.
Well, I did something this week that scared the pants off me.
It all started with a phone call asking me to speak at a primary school, classes 5, 6 and 7, approximate ages 9 to 11 years. Oh, and there would be about 100 of them. I only had one comment, and that was, ‘You do know that I don’t write children’s books.’ The speaker assured me they did but that was okay, because what they wanted me to talk about was what it was like to be a writer. So, being the nice amenable person I am, I said yes.
As the date grew nearer I got the collywobbles. Why on earth had I said yes? I’d never talked to children before and wasn’t too sure how I would handle it. One thing for sure, I wouldn’t be able to intersperse my talk with readings. My books are definitely the kind of book that no parent or teacher would want read out to their kiddiwinkies.
Now I usually do my talks straight off the top of my head. I open my mouth and wait to see what comes out. I wasn’t sure that was the best of ideas if I was addressing primary school children, so I cobbled together an agenda:-

1. Introduce myself.

2. Tell them writers aren’t special people they’re just ordinary like everyone else.
I congratulated myself, this agenda thing was a good idea. What ho, let’s carry on. What’s next?
3. Skills needed.
Had to stop and think there. What are a writer’s skills? Pen, paper, commas, full stops, imagination – Bingo, I’d talk about imagination. I’d just have to rely on my ability to open my mouth and wait for something to come out.
4. How do writers write their books?
Stop for another groan and scratch of the head. Have you ever tried to figure out how you write your books? No, I thought not. We just write don’t we? Goodness only knows where the ideas come from, never mind the words.
5. Getting published.
That’s a doozie and they’re bound to want to know. After all, it’s easy, isn’t it?
6. Selling books.
Groaning again. That’s easier said than done. In an ideal world readers would be queuing up to buy our pearls of wisdom, that fantastic story that will have them on the edges of their seats. But wait a minute – what about the other thousand plus books out there all clamouring for the same reader.
7. Any questions.
Hope they don’t think up anything I can’t answer, but they’re kids, right. The questions they ask aren’t going to be like the ones my adult readers ask. Compiling this agenda has given me one massive headache and I retire to bed to sleep it off.
Next day I gritted my teeth and drove to the school. Got there 10 minutes early and as I parked the car it dawned on me that I’d forgotten to take my Kindle, and I intended to bring Kindle publishing into my presentation, and they might not know what a Kindle was. Mad dash back home, lucky there were no speed cops about, grabbed my Kindle and my Sony Ereader and whizzed back to the school with seconds to spare.
I was led into the hall, a bare room that doubled as a gym and the dinner hall, and all the kids were sitting cross-legged in the middle of the floor. A teacher pulled a plastic chair over, plonked it down in front of them and asked me if I’d like a desk as well. I declined gracefully, took my jacket off and sat down. The teacher then stood and said everything I had intended to say in my introduction, including the fact it was World Book Day. Ho hum, that was number one on the agenda out the window.
A hundred pairs of eyes fixed on me and I opened my mouth and waited to see what came out. I needn’t have worried, they were a receptive audience, no one went to sleep and no one fidgeted, in fact they were engrossed. So I rabbited on for a while and when I came to the questions they came thick and fast. Most of the questions were intelligent, although there were one or two less intelligent ones. Like ‘How old are you?’ and ‘What age did you start writing?’ There were also several of the variety ‘Do you know this author?’ but as they were mostly children’s authors I didn’t know many of them.
The spin off was that quite a few of the children said that their grandas, aunties, uncles etc, had Kindles, so several of them went off clutching the flyers I make to advertise my books, with a little bit of luck it might turn into a few sales.

So, on the whole my scary talk wasn’t so scary after all. The children all said they enjoyed it, and I certainly did too.