Bloomsbury comes to Sevenoaks

As a regular visitor to Charleston House and fan of the Bloomsbury group it was a joy to join friends at the Sevenoaks Bookshop for a lunchtime bookclub with the novelist Priya Parmar.  Alongside the homemade biscuits and display made by a talented friend, it was lovely to hear about the writing process behind Priya’s latest novel: Vanessa and her Sister.

Priya1

At the heart of every good novel is a relationship and in this one Priya has focussed, as the title suggests, on Vanessa and Virginia. Priya won my instant respect with two pieces of information – she was brave enough to write parts of the novel from Virginia Woolf’s point of view and the book took seven years to complete. I’m going to save this one for a holiday read so I can really savour all of the meticulous research that has gone into what sounds like a paperback masterpiece.

Priya2

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Imagining my book cover

Today I started a collage for my novel with this greeting card print of ‘diving’ by Onchi Koshiro. It’s pretty close to how I imagine the cover of The Lido could look, but I’d like a bright blue background!

Diving

A new writing chair

Last month at my writer’s group we decided we needed to have a little Julia Cameron nourishment in our lives. We spent a satisfying 20mins ripping up magazines and then sticking. When we sat back to reflect on our collages we could all see we’d been drawn to images that really reflected things we craved.

imageThen as a week or two passed, the messages we sent ourselves in our collages started to seep through. I found a pretty jar at a charity shop and filled it with the shells I collected last summer in Pembrokeshire, and I fed the birds.

A proper space to write has been  on my mind for a while and this theme recurred in my collage. So really, I’m telling you all of this so I can show you my new chair.

The chaise

The chaise

I’ve moved my work desk to a better spot and then I found this lovely writing chair to go in its place. I’ve already spent many hours on my word count here – it’s not quite a room of my own, but it’s a good next best thing.

 

Get published course with literary agents Janklow and Nesbit

I spent a lot of time talking to myself last week.  I’d signed up, along with my writing group, for a 10 minute quick-fire pitch with Janklow and Nesbit’s agent Rebecca Carter, and was finding a way to describe my novel in a sentence or two.  I looked Rebecca up online, she had friendly eyes, and that became my mantra,  she has friendly eyes, it will be fine.

But on the day, logic and friendly eyes didn’t stop me from forgetting the pitch I’d whispered to myself for the last week. But it was worth the anxiety, I came away with some useful advice to sharpen my choice of point of view and the confidence to pitch again.

Author M.J. Arlidge, Frankie from Transworld and Hellie from Janklow and Nesbit

Author M.J. Arlidge, Frankie from Transworld and Hellie from Janklow and Nesbit

The day, hosted by Janklow and Nesbit and the Mumsnet Academy, was a chance to get some industry insight, talk to other writers and hear first-hand how best to submit my manuscript. For covering letters, we were advised to show that we’ve researched the agent, but not to get carried away with agent flattery. And don’t send submissions in April and October because agencies are far too busy with the Book Fairs.

We also had a fantastic panel of editors from the publishing houses. I not only loved their obvious passion for making stories the very best they can be, but I came away realising just how important it is for them to have a strong concept with a distinctive hook, so they can pitch the novel internally.

Me smiling AFTER my pitch

Me smiling AFTER my pitch

With all the talk of rewrites upon rewrites and the challenge of standing out in a pool of talented writers, the day ended with a reminder that publication can and does happen. Four recently signed or published authors – MJ Arlidge, Julie West, Sarah Alexander and Jason Hewitt shared advice, which settled on lots of ‘c’ words – confidence, commitment, canny and commercial-thinking. Even when they disagreed over the last point, they agreed on another ‘c’ word – a compromise between writing for yourself and the market.

Over a post-course writing group chat in the pub we discussed what we’d learned, not least that when someone greets you with news that they have a terrible cold, only choose the seat next to them if you’re not going to spend the rest of the day worrying about the germs.

It was such a useful and positive day, I’m ready to do another pitch and itching to use my new publishing savvy to give my novel’s concept an even stronger hook.

How every writing group adventure ends (and sometimes begins, but we had an early start this time)

How every writing group adventure ends (and sometimes begins, but we had an early start this time)

 

We went away for a writing weekend, got drunk on the views and gin, and returned to normal life as the Fairlight Set.

View from my writing chair

View from my writing chair

This is just the ideal place to write. It has it all. A dual aspect of sea views so inviting that I ended up hoping for a storm so we could lock ourselves away indoors. But as a writing space it was just as perfect on the inside as the surrounding countryside.

My writing chair

My writing chair

I thought it was a place of possibilities. A neutral and calming pallet with suggestive spots around the house that were blank pages waiting to be filled. The garden was inviting, the borders lean into the garden to create a path that drew The gardenme down to a picnic bench and another view of the sea. The coastguard lives next door and the radar menaces the air with a constant whir and its huge mast came in handy when we got lost following pathways in the gorse.

But for more on the house you’ll have to check out trip advisor because we weren’t on holiday, we were there to write. As I’d left my family behind for the weekend I put myself under  pressure to produce some work – quality and quantity. It was my chance to make a dent on my word count and for once not moan that I didn’t have enough time to write. I resented taking time out to prepare meals (even though they were ready meals) and felt guilty about going for walks.

Miss Red had different goals for the weekend. I was woken by the rustle of paper in the morning as she began her morning pages. She used the time and space to go back over old projects, think about the new ones and decide where to go next.

Evening reading chair

Evening reading chair

Sue, who had found the house for us, took the attic room. When she wasn’t in the roll top bath, admiring the views of Rye she was her usual productive self, spreading her pages out on the king-size to re-plot a section of her book and then keep on track with her monthly word count target.

I wrote more that weekend than I have in a long time, it was such a good chance to relax into my story and live out the scenes in my mind without any of life’s usual interruptions. I wanted to stay for a month, but I came away deciding I was lucky I got to go at all.

 

 

Our writing retreat