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creative writing

Literary Dundee – Peggy Hughes

November 10th, 2017 by Mireia_Paune | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Literary Dundee – Peggy Hughes
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On Thursday November 2nd, Peggy Hughes, manager of Literary Dundee (but changing to Program Director of Writers’ Centre Norwich this month), visited Stirling University and enlightened Publishing and Creative Writing students in our future possible paths in the book industry.

With a lot of enthusiasm, Peggy talked about her adventure in this sector, beginning with her English Literature studies at St Andrews. While studying, she knew that she didn’t want to become a teacher, so she applied for a job in the Edinburgh International Book Festival to get some experience in the book industry. She got rejected (as life is full of rejections) but she got involved with StAnza Poetry Festival, a very useful experience that helped her get into Edinburgh International Book Festival the following year.

West Port Book Festival

Then she graduated and started to work in the bookshop Armchair Books, located in Edinburgh, which the sitcom Black Books was based on. As a result of working there and seeing the potential of the area for housing a book festival (West Port had six bookshops and a nice pub), she set up the West Port Book Festival with some friends.

It was not easy to re-brand the area and start a project like this without funding, so they pre-crowdfunded the project (the clients of Armchair Books contributed to the cause) and learned how to develop a festival like this. West Port Book Festival was celebrated for five years (from 2008 to 2012), which is not difficult to believe, regarding that some of the authors of the first year were Ian Rankin, Ali Smith and Alison Louise Kennedy.

After that, Peggy worked for nine months in the Scottish Poetry Library (at one point the 4th most influential library in Twitter) and later in the press and marketing of Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust, where she got to promote unique events celebrated in Scotland. In 2013 she got a job in Literary Dundee, where she is currently working as a manager, as said earlier.

Literary Dundee

This cultural organisation, associated with the University of Dundee, celebrated Dundee Literary Festival for the first time on 2007. Since then, the organisation has organised lots of different and uncommon events, as talks with authors, involving music, biscuits, networking and a brilliant atmosphere. This October the festival had Laura Jones and Heather McDaid (404 Ink), Jenny Niven (Literature and Publishing at Creative Scotland) and Laura Waddell (HarperCollins) among others.

This November, Peggy starts a new chapter in her career as the Program Director of the National Centre for Writing at Dragon Hall, a magnificent medieval building in Norwich that will become a literary centre and where she will be working within a team. She is very excited to start a new adventure in this dreamy place.

Some final tips and book recommendations

Apart from seeing Peggy’s steps and how her career has brought her to Ireland again, one of my favourite moments of her visit and, probably not only mine, was when she gave us some top tips for working and getting into the book industry:

  • Keep calm and love spreadsheets: have a good relation with numbers and with Excel, as being confident with it will benefit employment opportunities.
  • Look for a mentor.
  • Live and learn how to prioritize.
  • Do your research: be accurate when applying for a job and think about the person that is in the other end and receives your email (as there are people there).
  • Read, read… read: if someone asks you “What are you reading?” you should be able to answer.
  • See an opportunity and do it: this is what 404 Ink did.
  • Say yes, and yes: the first time is frightening, but you have to try. Only if you know for sure that you can’t do a good job say no.
  • Just be nice.

She also gave us two book recommendations: Align me by walking by Sarah Bomb, a novel that shows you how to stay motivated and remain hopeful, and The faraway nearby, by Rebecca Solnit.

She finished her visit in the best way possible: with free books to a lucky winner and the quote “how you spend your days is how you spend your life”, affirming that we had to feel like a cat with balloons, meaning that what we do has to make us feel happy. The truth is her visit and her enthusiasm (and its terrific end) made us feel really happy.

 

By Mireia Pauné

Internship: Scottish Book Trust

March 30th, 2017 by therese_campbell | Posted in Blog, Internships | Comments Off on Internship: Scottish Book Trust
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Over the past few months, I have been fortunate enough to be a member of the Scottish Book Trust’s editorial board for their new online magazine, What’s Your Story?, which focuses on supporting and developing the creative writing talents of young people in Scotland. What’s Your Story? offers free support and advice to those under 18 who have an interest in creating content, be it poetry, short-stories, plays, or illustrations.

The internship is undertaken remotely, and as one of six editorial board members, it entails reading over submissions, offering feedback on each, and choosing a select few to be included in the magazine. My role on the editorial board mostly involves reading young people’s work and offering critical, yet encouraging feedback. For each creative piece I receive, I am required to comment on two things the writer or artist did successfully, while also highlighting a ‘wish’ which refers to something the author or artist could alter to improve their work. It is my responsibility as an editor to express my feedback in a way that will not deter or upset the author or artist, but rather that will encourage them to persevere and keep creating. The Scottish Book Trust hopes that What’s Your Story? will inspire and encourage young writers and artists who may not receive support elsewhere, and it is definitely eye opening to read submissions from young people from all over Scotland.

The training day for the role, which was held in Edinburgh on the 5th November, was particularly insightful and helped me understand the aim of the magazine and my role as one of the editorial board members. Organised by Nicole Brandon – Young Writers Co-Ordinator for Scottish Book Trust – we were guided through all that was required of us, and were given talks by YA author Keith Grey, as well as author and journalist, Kaite Welsh. While Keith Grey spoke of creativity outside educational boundaries, Kaite Welsh focused on how we might craft our feedback effectively when critiquing submissions. These talks were thought-provoking and definitely essential for us as new editorial members.

Since the training day, I have worked on two magazine issues for the What’s Your Story? website, with each issue covering a different theme. While this is a remote internship, we do get paid for each issue we work on (yay!) and I have found the process engaging. Each submission has made me realise that creativity is boundless, with each piece offering refreshing and unique perspectives. I have also been able to read submissions with an editor’s eye and offer helpful, yet direct comments which will – hopefully – help the authors improve their work and encourage them to continue writing. Each submission I have read has exposed me to a variety of genres and subject-matter, and by delivering useful feedback and advice, I am helping guide young writers who are just beginning to realise their potential.

What’s Your Story? is a new magazine for the Scottish Book Trust and it has been exciting to be a part of the project from the beginning. It has allowed me to exercise my editorial skills – such as proof-reading, editing and critiquing – and this will aid me in my chosen career. It has also taught me not to have preconceived ideas regarding authorship and writing, and that, no matter how young an author or creator may be, they can offer a variety of different perspectives, experiences and styles of writing. I often find myself surprised by the submissions I read, which present ideas and life-experiences in comical, shocking and often eloquent ways, and being exposed to a variety of creative writing has definitely been the highlight of the internship.

by Therese Campbell

A Retrospective on NaNoWriMo

December 9th, 2016 by isabella_pioli | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on A Retrospective on NaNoWriMo
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For those who don’t know what NaNoWriMo means, it is the National Novel Writing Month which takes place every November, in which people all over the world decide to write 50,000 words. During my undergrad, I would work on school-work during November trying to retain some semblance of motivation as the semester dragged slowly to a close. My roommate, on the other hand, would begin to write a novel. For four years, every November, she would write a novel; and I would sit on the other side of the room resisting the urge to slam my head into my desk and begging the Finals Gods to grant me one more moment of academic inspiration. My roommate, who for the purposes of this post shall be called Calliope, managed to balance four classes, hockey, her job, various extra-curricular activities, and a novel. She is what NaNoWriMo participators call a pantser, meaning she starts writing without thought or plan, she writes as inspiration comes and a novel is the end result. I hope you can feel my disdain for this woman, she’s my best friend and I love her, but in this month, I loathe her.

So, I talked to Calliope about her process and why she does it. It seems to be that writing and not looking back is the main task. Editing while writing is a no-no, so you should probably just turn off the function in Word that tells you that everything that you do is wrong. Two of my current grad school roommates decided to participate this year, one a native Scot (Caitlin) and the other an Italian (Marta).

storyboard

Storyboarding. Started out as a post-it. It has grown.

Marta decided to write her NaNoWriMo project in English as she thought it would be a good way to practice her English. It was her first NaNoWriMo experience and she got to 3000 words while balancing a very full class schedule. She decided to write a dystopian fantasy and had drafted a plot-line as well as some character descriptions. She put some thought into the world she was building and set forth to write whenever there was time and whenever inspiration struck. Only, time is very limited during the month of November in a grad program, and inspiration is a cruel and flighty mistress. All in all, Marta said that she enjoyed the experience and would do it again, only next time there would be daily word count goal and hopefully less stress.

It was also Caitlin’s first time writing in NaNoWriMo. Caitlin started the process with an outline, characters, and had written 10,000 words prior to beginning NaNo, so she didn’t start from scratch. To clarify, those 10,000 were not included in her final word count which was 32,000; she also counted an additional 5,000 words for school assignments. Caitlin initially set aside an hour or two a day once she had finished with her classwork for that day. As the month continued, she discovered that it was hard to find motivation and began to use the weekends to catch up in her word count. However, by week three, she realized she wouldn’t hit 50,000, but had begun to average 1,000 words a day. Caitlin felt pleased with her progress as she had more at the end than when she had started. She may not have ‘won,’ but she was glad to have taken part in the experience anyway, regardless of the outcome. Similar to Marta, Caitlin said she would do it again, when she wasn’t in grad school and therefore, less likely to be so stressed.

I made the decision to attempt to do NaNoWriMo this year. Why? I have NO IDEA. Because grad school isn’t hard enough? Because I’m apparently both a sadist and a masochist? Because I love a challenge? Because I thought, “This is the perfect time to write the content of my Publishing Project?” All of the above, but mostly the last one. And what did I learn from this experience? It is really hard to write an essay, let alone a novel. I don’t think being an author is in my future. However, I also recognize that authors write over a period of time, not in a rush of 50,000 words in a month. Sure, there are times when your muse visits for longer than an hour and in those gracious periods of time words are written in incredible amounts. Chapters finished, characters killed, plot moved, but then the will to write ceases. My muse likes to visit when I’m busy with other things, and especially when I lack paper. My arms have witnessed a lot of ink this month. Still, I failed horribly at the target word count. Sure, if I counted all the words I wrote for my class essays and my text messages, I probably would be closer to 25,000 words, but still nowhere near 50,000. I honestly only made it to 8,000 in my novel.

I didn’t put aside a set hour every day. I didn’t really take the challenge all that seriously, because once I reached 6,000 words I realised that I had more than enough for my publishing project. The thing is – the story won’t leave my head. I have a wall in my room covered in paper that lays out the book’s timeline, I have character biographies, and a family tree. I have an idea of how this world I’ve built will end. I think the thing that NaNoWriMo helped me discover is that I cannot write a story without plotting ahead of time and that my imagination is nowhere near as dead as I thought.

Overall, I think the main thing that I realized is that books are written by many types of people. The author writes the words and maybe they are good, maybe they have the potential to be good, and maybe they will never see the light of day. We all have a story inside of us, but only some of us set aside the time to put pen to paper and let the words flow outside of our internal monologue. I hope that I continue to write my story in spite of the fact that November has come to an end. I hope that we get a November that proves friendly to writing a novel, a month not filled with due dates and stress, but let’s be honest, stress and due dates don’t stop with school ending. But hey, look at that I’ve written another 1000 words and somehow it came easily. If anything, this experience has taught me that looking at the word count is somehow easier than looking at a page count. Oh, and that it helps to have a good writing playlist (mine was a combination of Florence + the Machine, Sia, Electric Light Orchestra, and Cat Stevens). So, plan ahead, if that’s your thing. Write whatever comes to mind. Just have a bit of fun, and don’t judge the random meanderings your mind takes at 4 am when inspiration strikes and your computer is close enough that you can just roll out of bed, burrito yourself in your duvet, and squint at the blinding screen as the nagging voice in your mind finally makes itself known even though you only have five hours to sleep before class…no, I’m not speaking from personal experience at all.

by Isabella Pioli

Visiting Speaker: Dr Sam Rayner

January 7th, 2015 by Callum Mitchell Walker | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker: Dr Sam Rayner
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staffphotosam

On Thursday the 4th December we enjoyed the last visiting speaker of the semester, Dr Sam Rayner, the Director of the Centre for Publishing at the University College of London (UCL). Dr Rayner’s talk focused on her paper ‘Star Texts: The Next Generation’ in which she explores the dynamic modern world of publishing and its impact and potential impact on teaching and learning in society. Dr Rayner analyses the way in which publishers edit and package content for new readers and new markets, the shaping of the literary canon, and the emergence and significance of several types of ‘Star Texts’. Before beginning her talk, Dr Rayner pre-warned us of her use of Star Trek puns (which she admitted she had toned down), however the class was eager to hear about her research on ‘Star Texts’.

But what does Dr Rayner mean by Star Texts?

Dr Rayner began by expressing that throughout her academic and professional life (whether it be teaching, research, working in libraries or bookselling), texts and their status and consumption have been fundamental. This made her interested in observing how we read, keep, study and rate books. As a literary and publishing researcher, Dr Rayner recognised that certain terms related to texts with cultural standing—‘The Canon’ and ‘The Classic’, have “become elusive and complicated by two other means of quality control”—‘The Prize Winners’ and ‘The Book Club Recommendations’. Dr Rayner collectively calls these four groups ‘Star Texts’, and argued, “these texts create clusters in the impossible constellation of the research environment that they belong to”. This term, ‘impossible constellation’ comes from Prof. Ruth Mateus-Berr from the University of Applied Art Vienna, during a conference on artistic research, and she used the term to attempt to describe the “several contradictory methods, understandings and histories” that could be applied to artistic research. Dr Rayner believes that this ‘constellation’ was a particularly useful way of understanding how texts exist in the 21st Century. Her research therefore focuses on the tension between a literary work, and the responses to the literary work in question. Dr Rayner suggested that whilst the text remains unchanged, there is a constant transformative process of the work, born out of the interaction and response from each specific reader.

‘The Classic’

Dr Rayner went on to discuss importance of the transformative star text group of ‘The Classic’. These texts, Dr Rayner argued, are those that most commonly stand the test of time. But what makes a text a ‘Classic’? Dr Rayner pointed out that scholars have very varied views on this question. The ‘Classic’, academics argue, should arguably be “timelessly appealing” and “elevate its author to the status of a god”. Dr Rayner also added that ‘Classics’ can be very subjective, and one individual’s list of ‘Classic’ texts won’t necessarily be the same as that of another individual. However, we do find a curated ‘Classics’ section in a bookshop, and publishers for centuries have created ‘Classic’ lists. This type of text is chosen, designed and marketed by publishers rather than academics (not suggesting they are purely commercial products, however). Dr Rayner asserted that the ‘Classic’ should appeal to every type of reader. She also pointed out that publishers such as Penguin attempt to modernise by means of packaging, engaging with digital, and marketing these timeless texts.

‘The Canon’ 

Dr Rayner next went on to explain another type of ‘Star Text’ known as ‘The Canon’. The establishment sets this group for primarily educational purposes and to define identities within culture. This type of text exists to represent the view of the individual and the preservation of tradition. Dr Rayner went on to discuss how texts have become ‘canonised’ in education through curriculum and have moved away from chronological presentation, towards a clear genre focused syllabi of texts. ‘The Canon’, Dr Rayner believes is undergoing a time of extreme change, and the impact of celebrity culture and national feeling are determining the way texts are canonised in education. Dr Rayner also addressed the issue of whether or not students should be given a prescribed reading list, as arguably this is a means of industrially restraining the individual’s imagination. Perhaps a more effective system would rather encourage young people to love reading and get into a habit of it, Dr Rayner shared to the argument.

‘Prize Winning Fiction’ 

The next type of ‘Star Text’ Dr Rayner explained was the ‘Prize Winning Fiction’ category. Dr Rayner argued that in the modern world of publishing, being nominated for literary prizes quite often means being read or not being read by the reading public. Dr Rayner also discussed how effective creative writing courses are in the emergence of this type of text and the development of a synergy between academics, creative writing and publishing bestsellers. The question was also raised over what should constitute as a ‘prize winner’. Should it be by measured by unit sales or by its literary quality? Furthermore, who should decide on these status elevated texts? Academics, publishers or readers?

‘The Book Club Recommendations’

Following on from Dr Rayner’s previous group of ‘Star Texts’ was the final group of ‘Book Club Recommendations’. This group can also be a prizewinner, but experiences the treatment of being associated with a well-known figure or celebrity. In these cases, the power of an individual’s brand is worth thousands in sales of a title if they have been selected as part of their ‘book club’. This phenomenon arguably gave the book back its ‘social history’ and within these book clubs, the well-known figure(s) (such as Oprah or Richard and Judy) play an active role in choosing, recommending and associating themselves with a title. Dr Rayner described how in a sense these individuals act as mediators between the author’s text and the audience. Book clubs show more than any other type of ‘Star Text’ the tension between the cultural and the commercial that exists in the book trade.

Merely ‘Solar Flares’ or Eternal ‘Burning Stars’?

Dr Rayner developed her argument by observing the conflict between cultural and academic responses of texts and the importance of reader interaction and marketing campaigns on the success of these titles. In the vast ‘constellation’ of texts in the current market, Dr Rayner believes that grouping these ‘Star Texts’ helps us to identify what drives us when we choose what we are reading. The development of technology also makes the text organic, with digital transforming the way in which we read, store and share text. Dr Rayner’s paper raised several interesting debates on the textual environment and what defines a text as a ‘Star’ and indeed what cultural, academic and commercial forces play a part. By the end of Dr Rayner’s talk, we were ready to “boldly go where no researchers have gone before” and explore the future of ‘Star Texts’ and textual constellations!

 

 

 

Visiting Speaker: Zoë Strachan

November 26th, 2014 by Kena Nicole Longabaugh | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker: Zoë Strachan
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zoestrachanOn Thursday 20th November, author  Zoë Strachan paid us a visit as part of our visiting speaker series. Based in Glasgow, Zoë has three published novels: Negative Space (Picador), Spin Cycle (Picador) and Ever Fallen in Love (Sandstone). She also writes short stories, plays, libretti and essays and is a lecturer for the University of Glasgow’s Creative Writing programme.

To start off, Zoë discussed how the publishing industry has changed since the publication of her first novel in 1999. Her first experience of publishing was of an incestuous world: everyone knew everyone and you needed connections to get your foot in the door. With the support of her literary agent David Miller, she was able to sign a two book deal with Picador.

Next, Zoë discussed the pros and cons of working with a large publisher like Picador. Picador had many valuable resources and her book was heavily copy-edited to a high standard. However, there were several staff changes during the development of her first novel that left her with three different editors throughout the process. She had a much better experience with her second novel and described her editor as an ally who “really made me think, really challenged me.” She also stated, “If you’ve got a good editor, a good publisher…it is a tremendous privilege.”

Zoë’s third novel was published with Sandstone Press after being rejected by Picador. She said there was less money involved than Picador, but as a small publisher Sandstone was able to give her much more support and personalised attention.

To the aspiring author, Zoë gave some hopeful advice: “You just have to get your manuscript on the desk of one person who opens it, gets it and likes it. Only one person has to like it.”

Zoë’s talk was delightful and informative and provided us with insight into the publishing process through the eyes of authors. Moreover, she praised the role of publishers as supporters and gatekeepers, a refreshing sentiment to hear in a time when many are questioning the role of traditional publishers.

Bloody Scotland 2014 Programme Launch

June 8th, 2014 by Stevie Marsden | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Bloody Scotland 2014 Programme Launch
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photo (10)Stevie Marsden reports on the launch of this year’s Bloody Scotland festival:

Wednesday 4th June saw the launch of the third Bloody Scotland festival, Scotland’s first and only literary festival dedicated to celebrating crime fiction from all over the world, which will take place from Friday 19th to Sunday 21st of September this year.  The intimate lunch time unveiling of this year’s programme was held at Tolbooth, Stirling where Dom Hastings, the festival manager, commented on the diversity of the festival’s proceedings with events ranging from live talks from best-selling and world-renowned crime writers Ian Rankin and Kathy Reichs, to a discussion about the representation of women in crime fiction hosted by the Glasgow Women’s Library and a play re-enacting the trial of notorious serial killer Peter Manual to be held in the fitting setting of Stirling Sheriff Court.

As well as putting together a fantastic programme every year, which not only promotes Scotland’s extraordinary love for crime writing but also encourages crime fiction lovers from all over the world to visit Stirling, one of Scotland’s most historic (and haunted!) cities, the Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing festival is unique in that it actively encourages crime fiction fans to become creators of crime fiction.

Since its conception, Bloody Scotland has had a strong commitment to finding and promoting the next generation of crime writers.  Even before the festival programme was launched, the Bloody Scotland Short Story Competition was open for submissions.  This competition – the winner of which receives £1,000 and a
weekend pass to the   festival – is open to all previously unpublished writers from all over the world. short story comp I’m lucky enough to help in the co-ordination of the competition, and it’s really exciting to see undiscovered authors get the opportunity to have their work read by a worldwide audience; last year’s winner was US writer Mindy Quigley who won a landslide public vote for her story ‘The Best Dish’.

BloodyScotland

Not content with inviting the world’s crime-lit-enthusiasts to try their hand at writing short fiction, the festival weekend opens with a day of Crime Writing Masterclasses held at the MacRobert Arts Centre at the University of Stirling on Friday 19th September.  The day is full of enlightening and insightful workshops, allowing budding crime writers to spend time refining their writing skills under the guidance of best-selling authors and experts in the publishing field.  This year’s line-up of writers and publishers includes Christopher Broomkyre, Helen Sedgwick, Craig Robertson and Sara Hunt to name but a few!

As if all this wasn’t enough, Bloody Scotland also holds its annual ‘Pitch Perfect’ event on Sunday 21st September.  Sponsored by the Open University Scotland, this competition allows aspiring novelists to pitch their idea to a panel of publishers for the chance to gain invaluable feedback from experts in the field.  This year’s panel includes Alison Hennessey, Senior Crime Editor at Harvill Secker, Krystyna Green, Editorial Director for Constable & Robinson crime fiction and Tricia Jackson, Editorial Director at Pan MacMillan.  Last year’s ‘Pitch Perfect’ event was brilliant, and it was fascinating to hear some of the ideas for (as yet!) unpublished work and the feedback that the specialists in the field had to offer.

What all of these events show is that the Bloody Scotland festival is not just an amazing opportunity for readers and writers to come together in a celebration of all things crime-lit related, but it is also a brilliant occasion dedicated to inspiring the next cohort of  crime writers.  Bloody Scotland, along with the University of Stirling’s Creative Writing team, the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication and Open University Scotland, actively encourages attendees to get involved in crime writing, arguably making Bloody Scotland one of the most inspiring literary festivals in the world.

bloody-scotland

 

 

Bloody Scotland 2013 is launched!

June 5th, 2013 by SCIPC | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Bloody Scotland 2013 is launched!
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The Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication is delighted to be working again this year in partnership with Bloody Scotland and our colleagues in Creative Writing to deliver the 2013 Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Masterclass.

This year’s Masterclass will be held on Friday 13 September 2013, and will feature an enticing array of speakers and workshop leaders for those who want to sharpen their crime writing knives.

Our keynote speaker will be bestselling crime novelist Val McDermid. Val is a Number One bestseller, with over two million copies sold in the UK and over 10 million worldwide. She has written 27 novels, including in 2013 Cross and Burn, the latest in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series – previously adapted for TV as Wire in the Blood. She will discuss The Craft of Crime Writing.

Workshop sessions will be led by Alex Gray, co-founder of Bloody Scotland and bestselling Scottish crime writer, and Liam Murray Bell, author of So It Is and Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stirling.

There will also be a publisher and agent panel chaired by Claire Squires, Director of our Centre, and featuring literary agent Jenny Brown and publisher at Little, Brown David Shelley.

The day includes lunch and refreshments, and will be held at the Macrobert on the University campus. Tickets are limited, so book fast! If you want more persuading, do take a look at the report of one of the delegates from the 2012 Masterclass.

Full details, including how to book, are available from the Bloody Scotland website.

 

Bloody Scotland Masterclasses

October 12th, 2012 by Claire Squires | 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.

It’s a tough job…

July 29th, 2012 by Helen Lewis McPhee | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on It’s a tough job…
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This week finds me editing submissions in the shade of the wisteria that runs wild across the terrasse of my grandparents’ house in the Ardeche region of France. Behind me, Ben, the black Labrador, is my sleepy supervisor, snuffling along the hedgeline and reminding me to keep at it. Despite his insistence, I occasionally allow myself respite from the eradication of comma splices and erroneous apostrophes with a refreshing dip in the 26 degree pool, or a literary dip into 18th century Paris.

There are worse jobs in the world. To fund my undergraduate degree I spent my summers, amongst other things, cleaning at a chicken farm. Such is the true price of higher education. That delicate scent of chicken poop and disinfectant may be the one presiding memory that has stuck with me since my student days.

In the few short years between undergraduate and postgraduate study, I turned my hand to wedding planning, fine wines, facilitation and fostering. Through every one of these roles, I found myself drawn back to working with writers and writing, and finally summoned up the courage (and the several thousand pounds), to take the publishing plunge: initially interning at a literary agency, and then completing my Masters.

The journey over the last two years from wannabe publisher to fully-fledged editor has been a bumpy one, and I still struggle to believe that I’m finally here. To have the privilege of working with such talented writers and esteemed academics is the realisation of a long-standing dream. To play such a part in the exploration and expansion of publishing boundaries through the new digital medium is beyond my wildest.

Today, I am copy-editing short stories and poetry from the comfort of a French villa. The cigales are singing in the background as I immerse myself in rural Luxemburg, remote Shetland, and central Glasgow. And Nana has just brought me a kir. Santé!

Sharpen your knives!

May 27th, 2012 by SCIPC | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Sharpen your knives!
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In association with Bloody Scotland, Scotland’s newest literary festival devoted to international crime writing, the University of Stirling will be running crime writing masterclasses on Friday 14 September 2012.

Whether you’re trying your hand at crime fiction for the first time or already working on a novel, our practical classes – taught by the university’s creative writing staff – will help you hone your skills and get insights into the fast-changing marketplace.

The masterclasses will begin with a keynote address from novelist Ann Cleeves on The Craft of Crime Writing. Ann has been writing crime for 20 years, and is author of the Vera Stanhope novels (now adapted by ITV) and a series based on Shetland.

There will then be a choice of two workshops, The Plot Thickens: Shaping a Dramatic Story; Dark Alleys: Creating Atmospheric Settings; and Victims and Villains: Developing Convincing Characters). In these workshops, you’ll get the chance to develop your own writing.

The day will end with an expert panel of agents and publishers, featuring Maxine Hitchcock, Editorial Director at Simon & Schuster, Bob McDevitt, literary agent at Jenny Brown Associates and Professor Claire Squires, Director of the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication.

Tickets are selling fast for the masterclasses and other Bloody Scotland events, and are available via the Bloody Scotland website.