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Bloody Scotland Masterclasses

October 12th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment »
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Heather Malcolm, delegate at the recent Bloody Scotland masterclasses, reports on her day at the University:

Ann Cleeves at the Bloody Scotland masterclasses

In June this year, I heard that a new crime writing festival called Bloody Scotland was offering a day of master classes. I was a bit hesitant to sign up an untried event, but since the University of Stirling were organising it and they had chosen Ann Cleeves as the keynote speaker, I decided to chance it and parted with £75.00 for my all-day ticket.

September came quickly and the master class day started well. Registration was easy, after which Ann Cleeves opened the event. She was a funny and passionate speaker, and she took us through the process of writing her award-winning novel Raven Black, all the way from its inspiration, through the enjoyment of writing, to the tedium of editing. Among her tips for aspiring writers were; read widely across the genre, get to the end of the book, be lucky, write what you love, and good editors are “worth their weight in diamonds.” She was especially emphatic in calling for us to support our local libraries.

After refreshments, it was time for the classroom sessions. The first was on character and setting, led by Laura Marney. She is a lecturer, short story writer, dramatist and author of four novels including Nobody Loves a Ginger Baby. Laura was funny and authoritative and her session was practical, challenging and very hard work. Her exercise on character was particularly useful – I discovered that one of my minor characters is a Goth.

After a lovely buffet lunch, the second session, on plotting, began. It was led by Allan Guthrie, whose Two Way Split was Theakston’s Crime Novel of the year. He is also an agent and co-founder of a digital publishing house, Blasted Heath. Alan covered the essential characteristics of protagonists and antagonists and discussed the various ways in which a crime novel can be structured. Alan’s experience and forensic understanding of good crime writing meant his class was, like Laura’s, practical and encouraging. I’m already applying his analysis of structure to my own writing.

After another refreshment break, the final event began. Chaired by Professor Claire Squires, Allan Guthrie (in agent mode) along with publishers Maxine Hitchcock from Simon and Schuster, and Rachel Rayner from Transworld discussed trends in publishing. It was fascinating and sobering to hear that good writing is only one factor in deciding whether to take a manuscript on. We also heard how we can help ourselves, e.g. by approaching agents as if we were applying for a job, by doing a creative writing course and having our manuscripts edited.

This was a great chance to get the latest information, the best advice and the most authentic inspiration from some of the most accomplished people in their fields. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, thanks to the great organisation, so it was easy to network and gab on endlessly about writing.

The day was inspiring, practical and hard work, and definitely worth the wait. I’m glad that I took that risk back in June and I’ll be back next year.

For more on Bloody Scotland, see Stefani Sloma’s report on volunteering at the festival.