Friday, June 30, 2017

Festivals and Workshops: Ways With Words

This month Elaine Roberts interviews Philip John from the Ways With Words Festival. Welcome to the RNA blog Philip.
Can you tell us something about your festival, how it came about and how long its been running?
Ways With Words have been running festivals for twenty-six years. At the beginning of March we

visit Keswick using the fantastic Theatre by the Lake for ten days.  July sees us at Dartington Hall in bucolic South Devon; also a ten day festival of Words and Ideas and finally we have a more intimate five day festival in the Suffolk seaside town of Southwold.

Who are your main speakers this year?
There has been a political vein this year perhaps unsurprisingly with speakers including Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Harriet Harman, Polly Toynbee and Sayeeda Warsi. We also have Richard Coles appearing as well as Marie-Elsa Bragg and Tracy Chevalier.

As our blog is for writers can you tell me how your festival would benefit our members?
I think the diversity of speakers at the festival is a big draw, I mentioned some of the political figures above as main speakers but we have over one hundred authors at Dartington and Keswick. The speakers are drawn from academics, philosophers, comedians, and historians. One event may explore the history of the human uses of Spider Silk another could be exploring the perils of being a Modern Dad. We broadly deal in non-fiction though there are exceptions to every rule. Salley Vickers is always a popular author at all our festivals. We also have an eclectic range of poetry events and writing workshops.

Is there anything to enter (maybe a writing competition), if so could details be provided?
 For our Words by the Water festival in Keswick (9-18 March 2018) we run the bi-annual Mirehouse Poetry Competition.  Submission dates, and prizes are being confirmed at the moment for 2018. Please check back on our Website or our social media channels for updates on this prestigious poetry prize. The winning poems are read at the famous Mirehouse location.

How about staying over for the whole event. Where can people stay?
In Keswick for Words by the Water there are many reputable B&B spots, close to the Theatre by the Lake, including Lakeside House that is literally a minute from the Theatre and comes highly recommended by many festivalgoers serving great breakfasts and representing the warm friendly nature of Keswick
At Dartington we sell accommodation packages in the historic courtyard at Dartington Hall. We also have B&B available in residential blocks no more than five mins away from the venues on the Dartington Estate.
At Southwold we work with the wonderful Adnams hotels to offer accommodation in their Swan and Crown hotels and we provide a set ticket packages to go with these residential deals.

What does it cost to attend?
We work hard to keep our events affordable and pricing for events is usually around the £10 mark. We have a variety of day tickets that offer great value. We also sell whole festival rover passes for those with the stamina!

Do workshops/talks fill up quickly?
Workshops sell out very quickly. Our audiences have been increasing the last couple of years so yes it pays to book early.

How much time does it take to organise the festival?
Each festival is a little different but in general I would say three months of intensive pre production.

Dates for this year and possibly next?

Dartington Hall, Devon Ways With Words is on 7-17 July
Southwold, Suffolk Literature Festival is 9-13 November
Words by the Water, Keswick is 9-18 March 2018
And back to Dartington Hall from 6-16 July 2018


Email for queries (press and customer relations manager)

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us, Phillip and we wish the festival every success.

About Elaine:
Elaine Roberts is a member of the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme and is currently working on a family saga. She has sold short stories worldwide and enjoys attending RNA events such as the London chapter and our annual conference. Elaine is a great fan of writing retreats either week long by the sea with friends or one-day retreats with fellow writers in her hometown of Dartford. Elaine runs a writing blog along with writer, Francesca Capaldi Burgess called WriteMindWritePlace.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Natalie Kleinman: Escape to the Cotswolds

Today Natalie Kleinman talks to Helena Fairfax on the release of her new novel, Escape to the Cotswolds.

Lovely to have you in the spotlight, Natalie!

Natalie: Thank you for inviting me.

Please could you tell us a bit more about yourself, how you got into writing, and your published books?
Strangely enough, I came to writing quite by accident. At a point in my life when I needed something new, something different, I enrolled in a ten week creative writing course. That was about fifteen years ago. I was like a child with a new toy but I decided very quickly that this was not something to play with or at. This was something I was serious about. I joined writing groups and progressed through hobby writing to others where members were as hooked as I was. I can’t stress enough how important I think it is to interact with other writers. Five years ago I was lucky enough to find a creative writing school, The Write Place, only fifteen minutes’ drive from home. No longer stumbling with no-one to guide me, I set about learning my craft, a sponge trying to absorb ever more water. Following publication of more than thirty short stories I turned to novel writing and joined the wonderful RNA New Writers Scheme. My first book, Safe Harbour, was picked up that same year and seven weeks after publication I saw my pocket novel, Honey Bun, on supermarket shelves. It was a heady feeling, I can tell you. That was in 2014. It’s taken another three years but I’m delighted that HQ Digital are publishing Escape to the Cotswolds and I love the cover they’ve put out. It even makes ME want to read it!

Your latest novel is set in a small village in the Cotswolds – the sort of place everyone knows everyone. Is this setting based on your own experience?
Only as a visitor. I’ve spent my life living in the suburbs of our wonderful capital city but I’m a frequent visitor to the area. Its peace and tranquillity (perhaps not so much in the towns during the tourist season) and its beauty draw me back time and again. And everybody smiles! If I could afford a holiday home, that’s where it would be.

Your heroine, Holly, is an artist. Do you have any experience in the art world, and are you good at painting yourself?
It’s funny you should ask me that. About six years ago I joined another council run course, this time art, to support a friend who was going through a bad patch and needed an outlet. I loved it and made more progress than I could possibly have imagined but…the thing is, painting is very time consuming. Writing is very time consuming. One had to go. I still have some of my paintings to remind me though.

Holly takes a trip to Pennsylvania. Is this a part of the US you've visited?
I’ve only ever been to Florida and California. I have Google, Google Maps and Google Earth to thank for providing me with so much information.

Are any of your characters based on anyone you know? (No need to reveal names!)
I think you always put a little bit of yourself into some of your characters but otherwise no, they are entirely fictitious.

How do you pick your characters' names?
This isn’t a question I can sensibly answer. Sometimes a name will just come to me and seem to fit. And sometimes that name continues to fit, but just as often a character will demand a change of identity and you know what, they’re usually right.

What's your favourite romance novel of all time?
I don’t have one. There are far too many to choose from and I do so like a good romance. I suppose it’s usually the one I’m currently reading. I’ve just finished Georgette Heyer’s Frederica for the umpteenth and she would definitely be a contender.

What is your next project?
Another romance set in the Cotswolds but this time actually two romances. It’s a dual time line and I have two heroines. And I love them both. Neither has yet demanded a change of name.

Nowadays authors have to spend almost as much time promoting their books as writing. Have you found this to be the case? Is there any particular promotion/marketing strategy that you think has worked well for you?
I joined Facebook in 2012 and it’s a medium I enjoy very much, both professionally and as a way of communicating with friends. Like many others, I was dragged kicking and screaming into Twitter. There are many of its nuances I don’t understand but I am booked to take a social media course in a few months and in the meantime – and especially of necessity now with promotion of Escape to the Cotswolds – I’m finding I enjoy it more and more.

If you weren't a writer, what would be your ideal career, and why?
I’d probably opt for painting and drawing. Like writing, it’s creative and a great way to express oneself. Unfortunately it’s not easy to make a living that way. But I can picture myself back in the Cotswolds or possibly the beautiful Lake District with my easel set up in the shade of a tree, committing memories of a wonderful landscape to something I can carry home and keep with me forever.

What do you generally do to celebrate on publication day?
Wine. Red wine. By way of a coincidence publication day coincided with classes at The Write Place. It has become a tradition to take cakes when there is something to celebrate. No alcohol because most of us drive to get there but if you’d looked for me on the evening of 21st June that’s where you’d have found me. What better place could there be!

Can love blossom in the countryside?
Artist Holly Hunter is turning her life upside-down! She’s leaving the bright lights of London (and a cheating husband) behind her and hoping for a fresh start as she escapes to the peaceful Cotswolds countryside.

Men are off the cards for Holly. Instead, she’s focusing on her little gallery and adopting an adorable Border Collie puppy named Tubs. Or so she thought…

Because no matter how hard she tries to resist him, local vet Adam Whitney is utterly gorgeous. And in a village as small as this one, Holly can only avoid Adam for so long!

Buy linkAmazon

Social Links:

Thank you so much for interviewing me today. I’ve enjoyed it immensely.

Thanks so much for dropping in on your day off, Natalie :) It's been lovely getting to know a bit more about you. Wishing you all the best with Escape to the Cotswolds.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Julie Cohen: Mapping the Journey

We are thrilled to have Julie Cohen as our guest today. Pantser or Plotter we can all earn from this informative piece.

When I started out my writing career, I would have considered myself a ‘pantser’: someone who
started writing a story and flew by the seat of her pants as she wrote, not knowing where she was going. I liked to discover the story as I went; part of the pleasure for me was being surprised. The idea of writing a synopsis before I started to actually write the novel would have brought me out in hives. I had some characters, I had a general set-up, I had some vague idea of where I was shooting for…other than that, I just went for it and lived the journey with my characters as it happened.

Somewhere around my eighth novel, things changed. I was writing a story about an artist who was drawing a comic strip that echoed her real life (except with added giant space ants), and I discovered that I couldn’t just make stuff up as I went: I had to plan the events of both stories. I didn’t plan out the whole thing before I started; I just paused, every now and then, as I wrote, to work out what was going to happen a couple of steps down the line.

As the years and the novels have gone by, I’ve become more and more of a planner and less of a pantser. This is partly because my novels are getting more complicated, and maybe also partly because my brain is getting older and less flexible. Now, before I write, I usually make a plan on Post-its for the general story. Sometimes I try to write a synopsis, too.

My latest novel, TOGETHER, is the most complicated one I’ve written yet. It starts in 2016, and goes backwards, following a couple’s life from their 43rd wedding anniversary all the way back to the day they first met in 1962. Because it starts at the ending, I absolutely had to know the ending before I started to write. Because it’s told backwards, I had to plan out each part of the novel in incredible detail, so that everything made sense, and yet no twists were given away beforehand.

It was a novel that was even difficult to talk about. “At the beginning, in 2016, which is actually the end of the story, but you read it first…”

I used to think that planning my story this way would ruin my enjoyment in writing it. Why even bother when you know the ending already? But it doesn’t at all. A neat plan is very different from a living, breathing world of a novel. I still discover plenty about my characters and my story as I write. And there’s a whole different kind of satisfaction in travelling with a map.

From starting out my career as a ‘pantser’, I’ve now gone in the other direction, so much so that today I need to start writing a new novel, but I’m panicking a bit because I only have a plan for the first 25,000 words. 

What I’ve learned above all, though, is that every novel is different. What works for one story, and at one stage in your career, may not work for another story, or another stage. Every novel, whether planned or not, is its own journey.

About Julie
Julie Cohen’s new novel, TOGETHER (Orion), was chosen by the Independent as one of their Ten Best Book Club Books, and her two previous novels, FALLING and WHERE LOVE LIES, were shortlisted for the Romantic Novel Awards. DEAR THING was a Richard and Judy pick. She’s a popular teacher of creative writing and runs her own literary consultancy. She joined the RNA New Writers’ Scheme in 2002 and since then has published twenty-one books. Her website is and she is on Twitter as @julie_cohen

Thank you Julie!

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Monday, June 26, 2017

RNA Conference: Chatting with Alex Hammond

We’re delighted to welcome Cornerstones’ Alex Hammond today in advance of the RNA Conference where he will be conducting industry appointments with some of our members.

Can you tell us something about your work and your journey to your present job?
Our ethos at Cornerstones is this: if we can help an author in 5 minutes what may take them a year to find out we consider that a good thing. This is why we offer a free advisory assessment of an author’s synopsis and first ten pages when they first approach us. This, and our packages, are focussed on self-editing techniques, be they about working on your structure, characterisation, pace, plot, narrative voice – anything which can make a good story into a great novel. Working with authors on their manuscripts, and helping them develop their potential, is something I’m passionate about. I found it far more enjoyable and productive working with my coursemates on their books during my MA at Lancaster, rather than working on my own writing! The MA led to my first job in publishing, first as the submissions reader at the Literary Agency, Rogers Coleridge & White Ltd, and then as Georgia Garrett’s assistant, working with authors such as Zadie Smith, Hisham Matar, Philip Hensher, Nick Hornby, David Baddiel, Caitlin Moran, India Knight and Ben Masters.

However, my true interests lay in editing, in working with the authors – a lot of working at an agency is in negotiating and redrafting contracts, not helping authors with their redrafts! After a brief stint working at a tech start-up, focussing on books and music promotion, I decided to go back to school, beginning a PhD in Creative Writing through Southampton University. At almost the same time, a serendipitous meeting on a train led me to apply for a role at Cornerstones, and on meeting Helen, Ayisha and Kathryn, I realised I had met kindred spirits - Helen and I have very similar stories about wanting to spend more time with unsolicited submissions (we won’t call them the slush pile, ever); more time than the pace of the industry can allow for!

What is a typical day like for a busy editor – if there is such a thing as a typical day?
That’s a tough one! It’s such a varied and interesting role. There is, of course, plenty of admin to do every day: you need to make sure every stage of the author’s journey with us is smooth. I also tend to take the office phone a lot (we all work remotely so it’s diverted to me), and that’s a real pleasure and one of my favourite roles, talking to new and established authors about their work-in-progress, chatting to them about the feedback they’ve received either on their initial sample material either by myself or from one of our New Author Enquiries reader, Dionne and Natalie, and working to match them with the right editor (though this is mainly my colleague Julie’s responsibility, but we work closely together to ensure the best editorial fit). But as well as this, there are meetings with agents and editors (we always try to forge and maintain relationships across the industry – we’re dedicated to keeping our advice to authors up-to-date!); this week for example I’m writing a report for an author, finishing a manuscript I’m considering scouting to agents, calling another manuscript in that’s been through our process too, and of course Helen and I are chatting about teaching techniques all the time: she and Dionne are off to France to teach at A Chapter Away later this month. I was there in July, and we’re chatting through presentation formats to make sure the authors get the most out of our being there!

You came to the Conference last year. What were the high points for you?
Without a doubt my one-to-one sessions: I just love sitting down with an author, talking to them about their book, seeing ideas come alive and in a small way helping to facilitate that process. Though I tend to get a bit too excited, and my one-to-one sessions have been known to run over-time (sorry!).

How do you anticipate being able to help people this year?
With one-to-one sessions – having someone look over your synopsis and first pages and then brainstorm things with you can really help you avoid writing yourself into a dead-end. Of course, dead-ends are a necessary part of drafting, but if you can get some guidance you’ll find that the way back from the dead-ends isn’t as intimidating! And of course, authors I’ve met with are always welcome to follow up with me afterwards, and if there’s anything Cornerstones can do to help them from that point, all they have to do is call.

We’d like to hear more about Cornerstones. What can you tell us?
Oh I might have answered a lot of this earlier! What I haven’t said is that Cornerstones was founded in 1998, one of the first Literary Consultancies in the UK. Since then, Cornerstones has grown from being Helen and five freelance editors, to a team of five with over 60 editors on our books. And 18 months ago we expanded into the US, making us the first and only transatlantic Literary Consultancy. The US arm is headed up by the wonderful Michele Rubin, who was an agent at Writers’ House in NY for 25 years, and is a fantastic editor herself too!
We work with writers of all abilities, and on MS at varying stages, from brainstorming the plot of an idea, through to structural editing, market reads, copy-editing, and proofing.

Have you ever wanted to write a book?
I have! My PhD novel is still the same novel I was working on for my MA, though it’s advanced considerably. I was struggling with the academic tone of it, the purpose of it being about exploring themes and expanding on scholarly research. And I could not, for the life of me, get past 52,000 words. Eventually, Helen and Dionne had had enough of listening to me moan about it, so they read over my synopsis and spent a lunchtime on Skype with me, brainstorming the plot. Since then, the novel is nearly complete (well, nearly complete in draft form, anyway), and now stands at a little over 76,000 words. In one year, thanks to twenty minutes with Helen and Dionne, I wrote more than I had done in the previous 6 years combined.

When not surrounded by books in your job what do you like to read for leisure?
I am a huge historical fiction reader – particularly anything military. But really, I want to learn about the past, and be entertained at the same time. I’m also a big reader of Vietnam War-era American fiction: partly because that’s the focus of my PhD, but also because there is a very interesting literary voice in soldier’s narratives that just hooks me. I’m also a big reader of non-fiction history books. And it’s rare I’ll go a year without rereading a Terry Pratchett novel, and I reread Hemingway’s THE SUN ALSO RISES every January…

What does the future hold for you as an editor?
Who knows? One of the most exciting things about working for Cornerstones is that I never know when I’m going to read a book that will change my life! I have been, over the last year, increasingly on the lookout for novels that speak to me so irresistibly that I have to help it succeed, so I’ve been doing a lot more scouting alongside Helen. Long may it continue!

If you have one piece of advice to give to anyone submitting a manuscript, what would it be?
Do your research: if you’re submitting to an agent, read as much as you can about that agent, and tailor your submission to be personal. And check the spelling! Nothing sends a submission straight into the bin quicker than misspelling an agent’s name – or addressing them by the wrong gender!

So much useful information for our readers, Alex. I’m sure we are all looking forward to meeting you at Harper Adams. Thank you.

Questions compiled by Natalie Kleinman

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Festivals and Workshops: Festival of Writing

Welcome to Elaine Roberts with another in her interesting series about literary festivals and workshops.

This month I have interviewed Laura Burson from the Festival of Writing. Welcome to the RNA blog, Laura. Can you tell us something about your festival, how it came about and how long its been running?
The Festival of Writing takes place annually in York. Now in its seventh year the festival has gained
an outstanding reputation for helping unpublished authors on their writing careers. Its many notable success stories including Joanna Cannon, Tor Udall, Deborah Install and Shelley Harris. It is the biggest creative writing weekend in the UK.

Who are your main speakers this year?
This year we have two hugely successful self-published authors to join traditionally published names in speaking at the festival. Mark Edwards and Rachel Abbot, who have each sold more than two million copies of their books and are now published by Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint, will address hundreds of aspiring writers about the different routes to publication, sharing their experiences.

As our blog is for writers can you tell me how your festival would benefit our members?
The Festival of Writing is one of the most influential and highly regarded creative gatherings in the publishing calendar. It attracts hundreds of aspiring authors from across the UK who gather each year to meet agents and publishers to pitch their ideas, attend creative workshop and benefit from one-to-one tutorials with editors and industry experts, honing their craft and helping them on the path to publication.

Is there anything to enter (maybe a writing competition), if so could details be provided?
Yes, one of the highlights of the weekend is the now famous ‘Friday Night Live’ competition (often described as the literary X Factor) when delegates read 500 words of their manuscript to be critiqued by a panel of experts. Previous winners have gone on to great success with bestselling novels and six-figure book deals. The 2014 winner Joanna Cannon read from her future bestseller THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP. Within 48 hours of leaving York she had seven offers from book agents and went on to become a Sunday Times bestseller in hardback and paperback.
We have a host of other exciting comps too, with great agent judges on the panel.

How about staying over for the whole event. Where can people stay?
Those booking weekend tickets get accommodation included. It's on campus so close to all the workshops, talks, all the meals and all the other evening events. Everybody stays on campus, so you'll be sharing food, drink & accommodation with the editors, agents and authors present.

What does it cost to attend?
Day tickets start at £185 (including two agent one-to-one meetings).
Weekend tickets start at £395. With these weekend options you get accommodation included. All meals, inc gala dinner. Refreshments. All talks & workshops. Plus 2 one-to-one sessions (with agents / publishers / book doctors).
Although day tickets are available to the event, we do urge people to stay the Friday and (especially) the Saturday night, as many of the most important connections will take place 'out of hours'.

Do workshops/talks fill up quickly?
We still have tickets left for 2017 but encourage folk to book soon to get choice agent slots.

How much time does it take to organise the festival?
It takes a year in the making, with planning for the next usually starting just as we've tidied up that year's event.

Dates for this year and possibly next.
The Festival of Writing takes place 8-10 September 2017 in York.

For more information and the full programme visit:

Email for queries:

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, Laura,  and we wish the festival every success.

***STOP PRESS: RNA members who wish to attend can type RNA into the relevant box to receive 15% off any ticket option***