Clubbing for Writers: Competitions, Conferences and Connections

Photo by Simon Hattinga Verschure on Unsplash 

Listening, Linking and Learning

Writing can be a lonely job.There are times when it can feel as if your only friends are your imaginary ones.

Most of us work alone. There are no colleagues to chat to over coffee or to share lunch breaks with. There’s nobody on hand to help if you hit a problem, to discuss ideas with, or just to offer encouragement when your motivation levels are low.

Or so it can seem.

But it needn’t be this way. Writers do have colleagues – even if they don’t share a physical office space.

And one of the easiest ways to find them is to join a writing club.

Writing Clubs  

I recently attended the 70th anniversary party of the Edinburgh Writers Club. It was a very pleasant evening. There was cake, cut by Ian Rankin (I know! I came over all fangirl and couldn’t string a coherent sentence together when he said hallo), there were glasses of bubbly, but best of all there was the company of other writers.

I joined the Edinburgh Writers Club (EWC) back in 2000 when I lived in the city. It was at the time when I was just beginning to take my writing seriously and being a member of this most welcoming club helped me to get started. Indeed, I got so much out of my membership that even after I moved to the Isle of Skye in 2004, I kept up my membership and attended meetings whenever I could.

I’m still a member today – even after my recent move to the Scottish Borders. And, yes, I’ve joined a local writing group too. So I’m a new member of the Borders Writing Forum (BWF) – another club where I’ve been made very welcome and with lots of new writing opportunities to explore.

The members at both the EWC and the BWF, range from those taking their first tentative steps to those who are successful, published authors, and everything in-between. The meetings include writing activities and guest speakers. The atmosphere is positive and encouraging and I always feel I learn something useful which could help improve my writing.

Competitions

Like many clubs, EWC offers a series of annual competitions. These cover all the genres including poetry, short stories, drama, non-fiction and novels and entering them give writers invaluable opportunities to learn more about the craft and to extend their skills. They provide deadlines – always good for the procrastinating writer. They tempt participants to step out of their comfort zones and try writing genres other than their usual ones. And most valuable of all they give the writers taking part the chance to get constructive feedback from the adjudicators.

Of course there are hundreds of other competitions for writers where no membership of a club is required. They’re available online, in magazines and through large literary organisations. But the advantage of club based competitions is that (other than a modest annual membership fee) they are free to enter and the pool of competitors is relatively small. And very few of these wider competitions offer any useful feedback.

Conferences

Competitions with similar benefits to the club ones stated above are also open to those eligible to attend the annual weekend conference of the Scottish Association of Writers (SAW) held every March. Being a member of an affiliated writing club such as EWC or BWF entitles you to go to the conference. I’ve gone to several of these conferences now and I love them.

Winners (and other placed entrants) of the SAW competitions are announced during the weekend conference, usually by the adjudicator of the particular competition, and in front of all the delegates. This provides a good buzz of anticipation and a healthy rivalry between clubs. Besides the competition announcements, there is lots of other stuff going on. There is always an excellent keynote speaker. There are workshops run by established authors and by agents and publishers on a wide variety of writing related topics. There are opportunities to pitch your work to publishing professionals and there’s even a book shop where you can both sell your own books and buy those written by fellow delegates. And then there are all the networking opportunities over drinks in the bar or at mealtimes.

Connections

But by far the biggest advantage to being a club member, and going to conferences such as the SAW one, is the chance to connect with colleagues. It is wonderful to be with people who not only understand the frustrations of the writing process –  the perils of procrastination, and the periodic absences of inspiration, but who also understand the rewards –  the satisfaction of completing a piece of work, the joy of having your work appreciated by a reader, and the obsessive compulsion to write. Peer group support in any endeavour is useful, but for the solitary writer I reckon it’s priceless.

And although I’m also part of an amazing network of supportive and helpful fellow authors in the virtual, online world, I don’t think you can beat the real world connection with kindred spirits.

Over to you

I’d be interested to hear other writers’ thoughts on the usefulness, or otherwise, of clubs and conferences and the like. Do you value being part of a writing community? Do you connect with other writers, if so how? Please do leave comments below.

Competition and Conference Success and Other Writing News

SAW Conf 2017

There’s been a lot going on in my writing life recently so I reckoned a bit of an authorly round-up was due.

As mentioned in a previous post, I’m a member of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club and as such I’m eligible to enter their annual competitions. In that previous post I reported that I came second in the General Article competition. The adjudicator of that competition was Anne Hamilton who edits the online magazine Lothian Life, and the stipulation for entries to the competition was that they should be of interest to readers of the magazine. And I’m delighted to say that my article – all about my personal reflections on some of Edinburgh’s many parks – was recently published in the magazine and you can read it here http://www.lothianlife.co.uk/2017/03/park-life/

Then last weekend I attended the annual conference of the Scottish Association of Writers (SAW). I always enjoy this event and this most recent one was no exception. It’s great to meet with other writers and authors at various stages in their writing careers and to have the chance to share experiences with them. It’s also great to have a chance to network with agents and other publishing professionals.

The keynote speaker on the Saturday night was comedian and actress Helen Lederer and she gave an entertaining, funny and engaging speech after Saturday night’s gala dinner. There was an excellent selection of writing workshops on offer throughout the weekend. I particularly enjoyed one on self-editing given by author Michael J Malone and another one on writing for older children and young adults led by author Keith Gray.

I also enjoyed further success with my entries to the SAW conference competitions. Competition entries are submitted and adjudicated prior to the event, and the announcements of the results are made at the conference. I came third in the General Short Story competition judged by author Regi Claire, and I came second in the Women’s Short Story competition judged by author Kirstin Zhang. The feedback I received from both judges was helpful and constructive and certainly boosted my confidence in my writing.

And apart from competition entries, what else have I been doing at the writing desk? The answer is not as much as I would like. The reason being the desk, along with all my other worldly goods is in storage. We’re in the process of moving house and are temporarily lodging with family. Before the move I was tantalisingly close to finishing my next novel, but there’s been little time or space to write recently. However, the end is in sight – both for the book and for this transition phase. We get the keys for our new house at the end of April and after getting moved in, I’ll be able to reinstate my full writing schedule. In the meantime though, I‘ll be finding some time and space to fire up the laptop and press on with getting Settlement finished, redrafted, and ready for my editor.

Onwards and upwards!

Writing News: January 2017

Some writing success:

I’m a member of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club and yes, living in the Scottish Highlands, I certainly take the definition of a ‘country’ membership to its limits. I originally joined the club about seventeen years ago when I lived in the city, and when I relocated up north I wanted to keep my connection to this lovely group of writers. I don’t get to meetings, but I do catch up with fellow members at the annual conference of the Scottish Association of Writers and by maintaining my membership I get to enter the club’s annual competitions.

This year I was challenged by a fellow member to enter in categories outside my writing comfort zone. So as well as the short story competition (still to be adjudicated) which I always have a go at, I decided to give the poetry and the article competitions a go.

And amazingly I had some success! I got third place and a commended for my two poetry entries and I came second in the article competition.

It was good to take on the challenge of writing in different formats from my more usual genre of novel writing, and although i found the poetry writing especially difficult, I’m pleased I did.

The article competition was judged by Anne Hamilton the editor of online magazine Lothian Life and entrants had to write an article that would be suitable for the magazine’s readership. I wrote about my six favourite Edinburgh parks – what they have to offer and why they mean so much to me. Since the article will soon be published in the magazine, I won’t publish it here on the blog just yet.

But I’m happy to share the poems with you. Both were inspired by the landscape and nature of the Scottish Highlands.

 

Sea Eagle

Cliff-soaring, loch-skimming,

Thermal-riding, high-gliding,

Mighty-winging, eye-spying,

Fell-swooping, fish-scooping,

Jaw-dropping, show-stopping,

White-tailed eagle.

 

The Long View

Breath-stealing, steep climb,

Slippery scree and wild wind

Threaten the balance.

High plateau, broad view

Ancient granite mountains

Set a scene of possibilities.

Perspective changing,

Universe overarching, and

Myself, regrounding.

(Both poems are Copyright © of Anne Stormont and cannot be reproduced or shared without permission and attribution)

images are from shutterstock.com

 

Scottish Association of Writers Conference 2015

It’s fine to be indie and judging a book by its cover…

Seizing the Day and Getting Our Work Out There seemed to me to be the main themes of the above conference held on 27th to 29th March 2015. It was also the year that conference finally and fully embraced going indie as a legitimate and positive choice as a route to publication.

As writers, most of us can also be expert procrastinators. We allow self doubt, the rejection and criticism of others, the difficulties of getting published traditionally, the effort required to self-publish, the muse being away on leave, the dust on the shelves, the ironing in the pile, the worms in the dog – anything – to get in the way of just getting on with the job. We get distracted. We get discouraged. We get lonely. But writers groups, clubs and conferences – online and in the real world – can be a great antidote to the writing blues. There we find we’re not alone and, hey, we’re not weird after all, no, it’s just that we’re writers.

Although I live on the Isle of Skye, I am a member of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club (EWC). Yes, this is probably taking the club’s definition of ‘country’ member to its limits, but it’s such a good, friendly club with access to annual competitions, informative and inspirational speakers, and general writing support, that I was reluctant to give up my membership when I left the city many years ago. One of the advantages of belonging to such a club is that it’s affiliated to the Scottish Association of Writers (SAW) and therefore my membership of the EWC entitles me to attend the annual SAW conference weekend.

This year’s conference took place last weekend in Glasgow, and I made the long trek south to be a part of it.

It was definitely worth the effort. I caught up with old friends and made some new ones, I was inspired, encouraged, and I learned such a lot.

The keynote speaker was Alexandra Sokoloff,  an award-winning  thriller author and Hollywood screenwriter. Her talk was both inspirational and motivational. She has no truck with doubt, fear or procrastination when it comes to pursuing a career as a writer. Her determination and self-belief have been hard won, as has her success, and she urged all of us to believe in ourselves as writers and to ‘just do it’. She ended her speech with the following Goethe quote – Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now. This is a quote I’ve had above my own writing desk for years.

During the weekend, Alexandra also delivered two very informative workshops on story structure and pace. She talked about the three-act-drama format and about how the hooking process used in films and in television drama can and should be used when writing stories. She’s written a book on the subject if you’re interested to know more.

There were workshops on several topics including  writing non-fiction, writing for children, writing drama, writing dialogue and writing for women’s magazines. All of them included advice and information sharing on getting our work published. All of them embraced both traditional and self-publishing and in the case of non-fiction all of the workshop participants were encouraged to find their markets, no matter how niche and were also advised on where to look.

One of the workshops I attended dealt specifically with getting published. It was delivered by Allan Guthrie. Allan is a literary agent at Jenny Brown Associates in Edinburgh, the biggest literary agency in the UK outside of London. He is also an editor and an award-winning author of crime fiction. And as well as all that he’s a co-founder of publishing company, Blasted Heath. He began by acknowledging how publishing has changed in the last decade and he also pointed out how self-publishing has evolved and how the quality of books produced in this way has improved.

He then went on, in an excellent workshop, to point out why having an agent is a good thing if you’re going to be traditionally published.  He offered advice on how to get an agent and gave us copies of both good and bad query letters. He also gave us a ‘skeleton hook’ – that is a brief (less than 75 words) agent-slanted blurb containing all the essential information about your book.

It was refreshing and reassuring to hear that he, and in his opinion, other agents are open to taking on previously self-published authors. Although he did say that the first thing a prospective agent will do will be to do an online search of the author’s profile with a particular interest in level of sales.

Of course not  all self-published authors want an agent or to be traditionally published. But for those who do, and for those who are hybrid, it was good to see how the conference in general, and the guest professionals in particular, now accept the indie route as legitimate and of an acceptable standard.

Also on that note, this was the first year that there was a competition for self-published novelists included along with the other dozen or so annual conference competitions. I entered my own novel, Displacement  and I’m proud to say I was runner-up. Yeah! First prize went to Dundee International Award winner, Chris Longmuir. The adjudicator of this competition was Michael Malone.

Michael is both an author of several crime thrillers and a sales rep for a major publisher. His job as a book rep involves him going round bookshops and getting the store buyers to give shelf space to the books produced by his employer. In his adjudication speech he emphasised the importance of the book cover for getting a book into bookshops. He advised a matte finish, saying that for booksellers gloss equals amateur, and the same goes for not using cheap, white paper. He said how bookshop buyers will often neither look at the blurb nor the inside of the book, but will make a judgement based purely on the cover. Food for thought there.

I’ve only provided a snapshot view of the SAW conference here. It was an amazing and worthwhile experience – even more amazing when you realise what a lot of work the SAW council must have put in to organise it and make it all go so smoothly. The council members are all volunteers fitting in SAW work around day jobs and otherwise busy lives. It’s obvious when they speak that it’s a labour of love, but labour it is and the results were awesome.

Thanks to President, Marc Sherland, and all the council members, to the workshop deliverers and speakers, to the lovely staff of the Westerwood Hotel in Cumbernauld – and of course to my fellow delegates – for making the 2015 SAW conference such a worthwhile experience.

Oh, and a PS –  I was also highly commended in the conference Book Review Competition for my review of crime thriller Cold Pressed by JJ Marsh. I’ll post the review here on the blog very soon.

Reading, Writing and the Rhythm of Life

 

The clocks have gone back and it’s early dark, but rather than going into hibernation I seem to be nicely busy.

There’s been reading, writing and several coffee and cake dates with friends. And I’m really looking forward to attending the latest of the Atlas Arts talks this coming Saturday. I’ve enjoyed all of the Atlas talks I’ve been to this year. It’s a great local organisation that promotes the work of artists from all over the UK. This week it will be Nicky Bird talking about her work with photography and new media. You can read more about Atlas at http://www.facebook.com/atlasartpeopleplace  or on twitter at @skyeatlas

And it’s a collage of a post this week – a book review, a round-up of how my writing’s going and a general witter on my life as a busy old bat.

First, the book review. It’s been a while since I read a proper page-turner of a novel – a book that keeps me from getting to sleep at a sensible hour. So it was lovely to discover Louise Douglas’s ‘The Secrets Between Us’. Having previously read and greatly enjoyed two other novels by this author – ‘The Love of my Life’ and ‘Missing You’, I was hoping for an equally enjoyable experience this time. I wasn’t disappointed.

With its shades of Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ this contemporary, romantic, thriller is gripping right from the start. Even although I worked out whodunnit quite a while before the end, I was still in suspense to see how it all played out. My only gripe – and it’s a small one was that the ending was a little rushed and underplayed. But I do recommend the book to fans of Du Maurier and Douglas.

As for my own writing, I seem to have got my mojo back. The creative flow has been a bit interrupted  – and even blocked –  of late, with both work and family stuff having to take priority. But I resolved during my half-term holiday from school to get back to the desk. Or, rather, to set up a new desk.

Family circumstances have meant that my little granddaughter currently has my study as a bedroom. So, I bought a laptop with a nice big screen, a set of good earphones in order to listen to music while I work and block out the noise of the TV, and I’ve set up my office on the dining-room table. And so far so good.

I’ve entered my children’s novel in the ‘Myslexia’ magazine children’s book competition. I’ve entered a reworking of the Hansel and Gretel tale in the competition being run jointly by the National Library of Scotland, Scottish Ballet and the Scotsman newspaper. I’ve written my contribution to the December issue of writing magazine, ‘Words with Jam’.

But the thing I’m most chuffed about is getting back to my partly written, second ‘grown-up’ novel. Yesterday evening, I began re-reading the 80,000 words I’ve written so far. I haven’t looked at it for a few months and I was pleasantly surprised (she says modestly). It was great to be back with the characters and get re-involved in their lives. Now I’m really looking forward to spending my evenings in the company of these people and completing the telling of their story.

I’ve also put three more competitions into my writing diary for early in the new year.

And it won’t be long before 2013 is here. I know everyone of my age finds that time whizzes past, but I suspect that living by the termly rhythm of the school year, makes the passage of time go even faster. At school we’ve just had the excitement of Halloween and bonfire night and this Friday will see staff and pupils all wearing red in honour of armistice day. Then it’s our mega fundraising day for ‘Children in Need’ with lots of Pudsey related activities –  before we career towards the Christmas concert, parties and Santa’s arrival.

Autumn is well and truly ensconced on Skye  – and winter has already run some preview trailers. The crunch and smell of fallen leaves, the woodsmoke and the early morning mists have been trumped by icy roads and pavements. Even the fireworks display had to compete with a heavy snowfall on Saturday evening to win the wow-factor contest.

I’m bracing myself for the short days and very long nights that you get this far north in December and January. But the long evenings mean plenty of time to write. There’s also the granddaughter’s first birthday to look forward to –  as well as the magic that is Christmas. And then the holidays should provide an opportunity to get engrossed in a good book – or two…

Bring it on!

 

Trophy, birthday cake and good craic!

 

Birthday girl with writing trophy

 

It’s a 580 mile round trip from Skye to Edinburgh so we wouldn’t normally go just for the weekend. The narrow, winding, Highland roads and the bad joke that is the A9 make it a demanding drive at the best of times – but at the end of a tiring week at work it’s a daunting prospect. 

However, just after four p.m. last Friday the husband and I set off for a weekend in the capital. A couple of hours into the journey, we stopped at the Little Chef at Spean Bridge for something to eat. Fortified by tasty and filling fare –  hunter’s chicken (husband) and steak pie (me) – and two good cups of tea each we were on our way south again before seven o’clock. 

By nine thirty we were sitting in our son’s flat catching up with his and his girlfriend’s news.

Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh in Scotland, Great ...
Image via Wikipedia

 

The weekend was all about Saturday. I had quite a day. It was my birthday so it began with opening cards and presents. Then I had the optician and the hairdresser to get to before I could go to the first main event of the day.  By eleven thirty a.m. I was in a taxi – a few hundred pounds poorer having ordered new specs – and sporting a flattering new hairstyle – on my way to Edinburgh’s south side for a special lunch.

The Edinburgh Writers’ Club lunch for country members – i.e. members who live too far away from Edinburgh to attend the fortnightly meetings – is laid on every August by members of the committee. It takes place in the home of one of the committee members – this year it was at Angela’s. I’ve never managed to attend before but at the beginning of this year I resolved to make the effort to go. And I’m SO glad I did. 

The committee had laid on a beautiful buffet and it was such a lovely, sunny day that the party spilled out into the garden. It was good to meet up with Elaine, Kate, Anne and Sheila again (to name but a few). It was so nice to talk writing with other dedicated scribblers, to pick up tips and to share the joys and frustrations of our craft. 

the quaich

I was also presented with a book token and the Alanna Knight trophy for winning this year’s Writing for Children competition. The trophy is a pretty, little, silver quaich (a traditional Scottish communal drinking cup) and I’m so proud to have won it. Several of the lunch guests told me how well the judge, children’s writer, Lari Don, read out my wee story and how much she said she’d enjoyed it. I wish I could have been present on adjudication night – but this was absolutely the next best thing! 

Candles spell out the traditional English birt...
Image via Wikipedia

 

And so having enjoyed such warm hospitality and stimulating, writerly chat I made my way back to son’s flat. There I was greeted by the husband who produced a surprise birthday cake. So in spite of the lunch I’d just tucked into, I had to have coffee and cake. This was then trumped by son’s girlfriend who’d made that most delectable and sweet Scottish confection – tablet – for the first time and had put some into a little birthday bag, complete with pink ribbon and tag, as part of my pressie from her and the boy. I had to save the sampling of this for later. 

To round of a wonderful day, me, the husband, son and girlfriend, daughter and boyfriend  went across the street to ‘Dino’s Diner’ – the local bar-restaurant –  and were joined there by more friends and family for a most relaxed evening of good food, drink and great craic. 

Scottish Tablet
Image by ckaiserca via Flickr

 

What a fab birthday! 

Sunday was an early start for the long drive home. By the time we got back to Skye, I was ready for a weekend to recover from the one I’d just had. All in all it was exhausting – but so worth it. And the verdict on the tablet – scrumptious!

The Skye Bridge that links Kyle of Lochalsh to...
Image via Wikipedia

 

 

 

Summer Labours of Love

I’m in the fortunate position of having a day job that gives me a six week summer holiday – starting at the beginning of July. And I plan to spend a good proportion of the time off getting on with my writing.

I have various projects on the go that I want to give time to. The main one is, of course, the new novel – the first draft is now 40,000 words in. But I also have an outline for a children’s novel in place and would like to develop this. And then there are three writing competitions that I’m interested in entering.

So it will be a busy holiday – and I can’t wait. Two and a half weeks and counting…

Competition Win

Last Friday I was invited to read  out my competition winning entry at the end-of-term assembly at the school where I teach. It was about twins, Fergus and Fiona, and some dinosaurs. I was delighted when the 200 or so children (aged 3 to 12) all sat very still and quiet as I read, and then they burst into applause at the end. Quite a buzz!

Competitions are very good discipline for aspiring writers. You have a deadline and a specific brief – very good for focussing the mind. Some judges also provide feedback which is a very useful bonus.