Writing Residencies: Alone With The Voices in My Head by Jackie Copleton

Ever wondered what a writers’ retreat is like? Me too…

Author Jackie Copleton (A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding, long-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2016, a BBC Radio 2 book club pick and a Richard and Judy Book Club choice last year) kindly obliged me with this explanation…

Alone with the Voices in My Head

By Jackie Copleton

I’m just back from a two-week writing residency in rural Ireland in January, probably one not best suited to those who like the comfort of a street lamp or a café that hasn’t closed for winter. But I loved my stay at the Heinrich Böll Cottage – including all the solitary hours and one offer to marry me off to a neighbour who sold turf.

The ‘Secret’ of Writing Retreats

Jackie Copleton

The desk in the room where the Nobel prize winner Henrich Boll used to work – a bit intimidating at first!

The cottage had a fire but no internet or television and only one radio channel. By day three I already knew which presenter to avoid. Nightfall came at 5pm and unless I wanted to put on a luminescent safety jacket and walk ten-minutes in the dark to the nearest pub for human company, that radio was the only contact with the outside world. It was lonely but I wrote shedloads. I had little to do by way of an alternative. And therein may lie the ‘secret’ of a writing retreat.

The temptation to get the whip out and only write from dawn to dusk is understandable if you’ve forked out money on a tight budget for a self-funded stay and that voice in your head keeps asking, ‘Can you afford this? Is this whimsical self-indulgence? Why can’t you just write at home?’

However, a writing residency isn’t just about the words, it’s about space and time. The best lines, the plot breakthroughs, the aha moments of observations or dialogue often come when you’ve fallen in a bog or have run into an abandoned house to avoid the hail or you’re having a stand-off in the middle of the road with an annoyed looking tiny horse.

Flowing Words

wr-viewsDespite setting myself rough word targets a day, I also managed to get outside to walk, cycle and drive over Achill Island in County Mayo. I saw megalithic tombs, a deserted village, treacherous cliffs, rainbows and stars. And I suspect these spots of beauty, rather than chaining myself to a desk, were what helped me get the words out in a flow rather than a dribble.

I have no idea if what I’ve written is any good, but in a fit of enthusiasm I went from that funded solo retreat to a subsidised self-funded one with other artists at beautiful Cove Park in Argyll thinking I’ll push on and try to finish a first draft – but I’ve hit a tiny wall. I’m still writing but not in the flurry I experienced in Ireland.

As I type these words a couple wearing matching slippers are curled up on the sofa opposite me in front of a wood-burning stove at the main centre. They look the picture of domestic compatibility while my book and I appear to have had a small domestic. Our slippers are not matching but we are still talking to one another.

Noisy Distractions

That’s the thing: you can find the perfect location, a great set-up (solo or surrounded by inspiring other writers), have an action plan and the money saved but if you’re not feeling it, you might as well be at home doing the ironing or getting your tax returns completed, with Facebook, Netflix and Radio Four all providing a glorious noisy thrilling distraction until the words bubble to the surface.

However, if you get the opportunity, go for it. But remember to leave your chair at regular intervals – you’re collecting experiences not just writing about them.

dictionaryJackie’s book is available in all good book shops and from Amazon and other e-book outlets. You can keep up to date with her news on her website, jackiecopleton.com

(Top pic shows the paperback cover, while the bottom picture is the hardback.)

 

If You Love It, Review It

No doubt about it, we live in a review-driven world nowadays. Any small business owner will tell you how crucial reviews are. Once upon a time, they used to be about the testimonials you got customers to write for you. These were then displayed on your walls (pre-internet, kids!) or in your annual report.

Now? Who buys anything before reading the reviews first? From TripAdvisor to Yelp, Amazon to eBay, reviews help customers decide what they will spend their precious pennies on.

Recently, I wrote a piece we hope to include in a new Comely Bank Publishing (CBP) book. As there might be a spare page or two, CBP’s founder Gordon Lawrie and I thought, “waste not, want not. Let’s use the space to beg for reviews”. Here’s the piece…

Did you like this book? Why not review it?

Reviews are important for books, especially books published by small, independent publishers such as Comely Bank Publishing. Why? They help our books get found.

How do you choose a book to read? You might choose it because it’s prominently displayed, you’ve seen an advertisement for it, you know the author’s work or you’ve read a good review.

Small, independent publishers do not have the same market for budgeting as traditional publishing houses do. We can’t afford posters in railway stations or pages in magazines and we don’t get access to the same number of book stores.

However, sites such as Amazon, Kobo and GoodReads can level the playing field for independently-published novels. Book reviews act as “word of mouth” for shoppers online. They provide social proof that something is good – well, at least if your reviews are positive!

The more reviews a book has, the further up the rankings it moves. A book with a lot of reviews will come up quickly if a reader types in ‘Scottish novels’ or whatever genre to the search engine.

You don’t need to write a long or detailed review – just a couple of sentences will do.

Thank you!

 

35 Questions to Ask When Critiquing a Novel

Great advice here…

Rachel Poli

Are you beginning the editing stage of your novel? Did someone ask you to critique their novel or are you asking someone else to critique yours?

Here are 35 questions to ask yourself to dig deeper into that story.

Editing Checklist: 35 Questions to ask when Critiquing a Novel

1. Does the opening of the story hook you? Do you want to read more? Why or why not?
2. What are the conflicts (internal and external) in the story? Is a conflict known right away? What do you see as the central conflict of the story? (Thanks, Thomas Weaver!)
3. Are there too many conflicts happening in the book at once? Or is there not enough?
4. Are all the conflicts important to the story and help drive the plot forward?
5. Is the plot clear and believable from the beginning?
6. Is the plot interesting? Will the readers be able to relate to points in the book?
7. Is…

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Writing Resolutions 2017

RockyWriting-wise, 2016 was a productive year for me. I finished three books, re-wrote one and started two more.

When I finished my first book three years ago, I vowed I’d never write another one. It had been a long, drawn-out process. The second one was easier and the third easier than that. I hit upon a formula. You might argue it’s not good to be formulaic, but if it helps you write who cares?

It would be nice to sell books… I accepted a long time ago that writing books was never going to make me money, but supplementing my income would be terrific. There are plenty of self-published authors out there who give out free advice on how to make money from writing – Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn and the likes. Perhaps 2017 should be the year when I start taking and following their advice?

Another resolution is to stop abandoning books when I’ve finished them. When I eventually got round to revising book number three, I ended up enjoying the exercise. I got plenty of feedback from people and it proved very useful. It improved my writing too. I got rid of the long sentences, the too-frequent use of parentheses and I cut down on modifiers. Another basic I was getting wrong was repetition. Once that’s been pointed out, however, you become almost paranoid about it. I use the online thesaurus more too.

I’d like to finish those two books I started last year. I’m a third of the way through one, but the other one needs more thought. I know what happens at the beginning and the end. The middle’s a bit tricky. Most writers probably recognise that issue. You know where you’re going – getting there is the tricky bit.

Anyway, Happy New Year! Here’s to your health and happiness in 2017.