Monday, 16 September 2019

RNA York Tea 2019

It's many years since I'd visited York and on Saturday, accompanied by my daughter, Jo, I returned to attend the annual RNA York Tea. Memories came flooding back as we walked from the station in brilliant sunshine. The event was held in the beautiful Merchant Taylors' Hall, a medieval guildhall near the city wall in the Aldwark area of the city. 

Walking in, it was good to be greeted by many faces I already knew from previous RNA events but by the end of the afternoon I'd been able to meet in person many more writers I follow social media. We were seated at circular tables and served a wonderful afternoon tea with a wide range of delicious sandwiches, cakes and scones. And there was Prosecco!

This year for the first time, the Joan Hessayon Award was presented at the tea. If you are not a member of the RNA and not familiar with the award, it's one given to members of the RNA's New Writers' Scheme whose manuscripts have subsequently gone on to be published as debut novels. The award is sponsored by Dr David Hessayon in honour of his late wife who was a member of the RNA for many years and a great supporter of the scheme. This year there were fifteen contenders and the winner was Lorna Cook for her novel, The Forgotten Village
Lorna receiving her award

The novel '. . . is set in the real village of Tyneham in Dorset, requisitioned in its entirety in World War II and never returned. The story moves between 1943 and present day as secrets about what happened on requisition day are finally revealed.' I'm looking forward to reading it on my holiday next week. Huge congratulations to Lorna!

Before leaving, I had a photo taken with all the Choc Lit and Ruby Fiction authors present. It was so good to meet Marie Laval, Sharon Ibbotson and Angela Barton for the first time.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day - it has a definite date on my calendar now. Thank you to everyone for making Jo welcome, too. Congratulations to John Jackson for his efficient organisation to make the York Tea a very successful event. 

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed my account about attending my first York Tea. What event have you attended lately where you got together with fellow writers? Did you get to talk to any you'd only 'met' on social media?

You may also follow me on @JanBayLit and on Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Location, Location, Location
If you read my July blog post Reading 'in Situ', you will know that a sense of place is very important to me when I'm reading and I especially like reading a novel in the place where it's set. But what about my own writing? There is always a decision to be made whether to choose a fictional or a real location. For me, I prefer to imagine a fictional place based on a real or an amalgamation of real settings. This allows me to use my imagination and create a location where my characters and their stories take place. I try to make it vivid enough that readers will be transported there with the characters. Because it's fictional, they will not bring any preconceived ideas of what the place is like and I will be introducing them to the location for the first time. They may have been somewhere similar and they may have visited a place it reminds them of especially if real main towns, rivers or landmarks surrounding the fictional place are mentioned. Beforehand I like to collect images and collate my own photographs to help me imagine the places I shall be describing.

In Whispering Olive Trees, most of the novel is set on a fictional island in the Peloponnese, Southern Greece. It's very roughly based on the island of Spetses where my aunt and Greek uncle had a summer house and where I visited a number of times. You will find the solitary olive tree that plays an important part in the novel growing in the sand outside my cousin's house on the mainland opposite the island. However, it's a long time since I've been to that particular island and I'm sure things have changed so my island of Péfka is a mixture of the islands I've visited more recently. The Guikas taverna and Yiannis's wood turners workshop are based on ones we visited in a Cretan village, for example. Apart from Athens, Kranidi and Ermione, all the place names are fictional. Location is more than place names, of course, and the climate, landscape, cuisine, the character traits of the local people all can add authenticity. By setting a fictional island in a real area, readers will hopefully get a sense of place. 

From the  'White Almond Sicily' blog
Because I've been to the area where Whispering Olive Trees is set and have collected many photographs on the holidays spent in there, it was relatively straightforward to create a believable setting. But is it possible to set your novel in a place you haven't visited and achieve the same sense of authenticity? The novel I've recently been editing, Keeping Her Secret, involves the main character, Jen, traveling to Sicily in search of an Italian PoW who was imprisoned in a camp near her home during WWII. Not having been to Sicily (yet!), I have had to rely on researching places on Google, looking at maps and talking to my lovely neighbour who is from Sicily. I am grateful to author Jo Thomas, whose latest book My Lemon Grove Summer is set on the island, for recommending an amazing blog White Almond Sicily  In my novel, Jen concentrates her search around the area of Cefalu on the North East coast. Imagine how pleased I was to find a whole blog post about visiting the resort together with lots of photos just a few weeks ago. By the time editing is finished, the location will have a fictional name and be an invented area near Cefalu but based on a real area in Sicily.

Thank you for reading. Do you set your novels in real or fictional locations? Maybe you combine the two? I'd love to hear how you choose settings for your stories and how you go about researching them.

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

RNA Conference 2019

This was my fourth conference and it was good to return to Lancaster University where the 2016 one was held and where I met so many writer friends for the first time. What made it very special this year was that I shared a flat with the friends I'd got to know over the four years and it felt a bit like a reunion. It was lovely to look back and consider how much has changed in four years. Individual writing journeys have moved on with a pace - some friends have a number of novels published now, others have acquired an agent, others are writing subsequent novels and others are anticipating the publication of a first novel. It was so good to celebrate the successes. By pooling our provisions of Prosecco, gin and wine, chocolate, biscuits, crisps and snacks, the kitchen became the centre of our social scene once dinner was over each night! Thanks to Jane who drove to the conference for shopping beforehand. 

Sue McDonagh, Lynn Forth and me

Friday morning was spent helping to fill the goody bags. Every year it's well planned with everyone moving around quickly so that the job was again soon done. It allowed time to spend time catching up with, Lynn, a friend we met at the first conference.

Carol Thomas, Sue McDonagh, Evonne Wareham,
Me, Lynda Stacey

Before dinner on Friday, I was very pleased to meet with members of the Choc Lit/Ruby Fiction  team of which I am now proud to be a part. On Saturday, I met Sadie Ryan for the first time, too.

As well as all the socialising, there was a wide range of workshops, talks and interviews to attend. It was difficult to choose as ever but here are some I enjoyed this year:

- Keep That Sexy Momentum Going Sue Merrett and Liam Livings
- The Art of Revisiting the Past Jo Baker, interviewed by Janet Gover 
- The Heroine's Journey  Fiona Harper
- An Introduction to Blog Tours Kim Nash
- Convincing Crime. Getting characters in and out of jeopardy Stuart Gibbon and Stephen Wade

Over the last four years, I have learned so much and value the opportunity to listen to experienced authors share their expertise and experiences. I came home with a notebook packed with information, advice and tips to refer to as I edit my second novel.

Dressing up for the Gala Dinner on the Saturday night is always fun. This is the event when the Elizabeth Goudge Trophy is presented. The 2019 competition was to write an opening to a novel entitled 'The Thrill of the Chase' and the winner was Jan Jones. Congratulations to her! I was especially thrilled that second place went to my lovely writing friend, Catherine Burrows.

And then it was all over for another year.  My thanks go to Jan Jones and everyone who works so hard to make each Conference such a success. You are all stars!

Thank you for reading. If you went to Lancaster, what was the highlight for you? Did you meet writers you 'knew' on social media in person for the first time? I'd love to read your comments. Thank you.

You may also follow me on @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page. 

Monday, 8 July 2019

Reading 'In Situ'
While holidaying on the beautiful Greek island of Kefalonia recently, I read Captain Corelli's Mandolin, the much acclaimed novel by Louis de Bernieres. I enjoy reading a book in the place where it's set and had kept the novel to read whilst I was there. At times, the book was not an easy read but I loved the story. The novel explores the developing relationship and love between Antonio and Pelagia, the local daughter's daughter, trust and betrayal and the futility of war. Set in 1941, Captain Antonio Corelli, a young Italian officer, is posted to Kefalonia as part of the occupying forces. He is an accomplished musician and his beloved mandolin is his most precious possession. The characters stayed with me long after I finished reading it.

As we familiarised ourselves with the island, I was fascinated to visit actual places mentioned in the book. We were staying a few miles outside the capital of Argostoli where much of the action in the novel took place. Argostoli today looks very different from the one in 1941. The 1953 earthquake razed much of the island to the ground and whole towns and villages had to be rebuilt. It was here in Argostoli that the Italians were based whereas across the strait the Germans were stationed in Lixouri. 

Fiskardo Harbour
Myrtos Beach

Although I much preferred the book, the island has become more famous because of the film  and tour guides like to show you where scenes were filmed. When Captain Corelli explodes the mine, the 'great spiky rustball', found by the little girl Lemoni, the stunningly beautiful Myrtos Beach was chosen as the location in the film. On a tour of the island, we arrived at Sami, a fishing village that was transformed it into 1940s Argostoli by the film crew and where Nicholas Cage fell in love with Penelope Cruz. From here we sailed by boat to Fiskardo stopping at a deserted beach on the way. Unlike most of Kefalonia, Fiskardo escaped destruction in 1953 and has kept its original architecture. By the evidence of the yachts moored in the harbour, it is now popular with the rich and famous. Nearby is the pretty village of Assos.

Travelling away from the coast, we saw hillsides covered in cypress trees and travelled through vineyards famous for the Rombola wine made from the grapes growing in the rocky soil and mentioned in the novel. Wild goats roamed the mountainous terrain and the scenes set on Mt. Aenos  in the book became very real for me. 

I'm sure we'll return to this beautiful island. The stunning scenery, the Greek music and dancing, the food and welcoming people all made for a wonderful holiday. I'm so glad I waited to read Captain Corelli's Mandolin until I was 'in situ'. 

Thank you for reading. What book have you read when visiting the place where the novel's set? I'd love to have some recommendations from you. Thanks!

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Worcestershire LitFest and Fringe 
Since 2014, I have been submitting to Worcestershire LitFest's Flash Fiction competition and each year I have been fortunate to have pieces published in the annual anthology launched every November. This year was the first time I'd been to the opening of the festival because one of my entries had been placed second. I was delighted and went along to read it out. The official launch took place in The Angel Centre in Worcester. The results of the Young Writers' competition were given first and it was lovely to hear three talented winners from each category stand on the stage to read out their stories. 

It was the turn of the flash fiction winners next. I went up to receive my cash prize and read out 'The Girl in the Looking Glass'. Although speaking in public and reading aloud had been a large part of my job, I always feel apprehensive when speaking into a mike. It was soon over and the audience was generous in its applause at the end.

At last I could relax and very much enjoyed the main part of the afternoon which was to find the 2019-20 Worcestershire Poet Laureate. We heard poems from the three finalists and then in turn they were asked what they would do over the coming year if chosen. The winner was Dr Charley Barnes. Her role will be to act as an ambassador for poetry in Worcestershire and promote poetry as an art form and genre of writing. She is quoted as saying she's "looking forward to working with schools and universities alike to see what exciting projects we can conjure up." Congratulations to her!

I've been following festival events taking place in Worcester throughout the week on social media and wish I lived closer to have been able to attend them. Does your area hold its own literary festival? I'd love to hear about the events you have attended. 

I shall be missing an event organised by Griffin Books as part of the Penarth Literature Festival. There is a Literary Lunch with Victoria Hislop who will be talking about her latest novel, 'Those Who are Loved' and as a fan of hers and of books set in Greece, I would definitely have booked to go. I'm off on holiday to Kefalonia on Tuesday and am looking forward to finding out more about the island where 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' was set. I apologise in advance if I'm not able to respond to your comments as quickly as I'd like as I'm not sure what the wi-fi will be like.

Thank you for reading. You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

To Write a Prologue or Not
When I first started novel writing, I remember being told that prologues are not popular with editors and publishing industry professionals and yet some of my favourite authors have started their novels with prologues. 
Here are a two definitions of a prologue:
 - a preliminary discourse; a preface or introductory part of a poem or novel (
- a literary device that functions much like an 'amuse bouche' - it arouses the reader's interest and provides a hint of what's to come (

Prologues are a bit like marmite, I suppose; you either love them or loathe them. The main thing I've found when reading opinions about a prologue is to make sure it:
- is not too long (Readers often report skipping the prologues to get to Chapter 1!)
- does not act as an info-dump
- doesn't only create atmosphere without having much to do with the story.

A good prologue, however, may:
- foreshadow events to come
- provide background information to the central plot and its conflict
- establish a point of view. This may be the central character's or another character who is witness to the event 
- set the tone of the story.

A decision has to be made whether you need a prologue or can go straight to Chapter 1. These are some questions you may have to ask yourself:
-  What information is provided in the prologue? Can it be revealed in smaller amounts later on and have the same impact?
- Does this character's POV come up again? Perhaps it would work better as a first chapter instead?

At the moment my novels all start with a very short cameo scene unrelated to the opening of the novel. I'm happy with the one in 'Whispering Olive Trees' which opens with Sophia Simonides finding a body on the beach near her home. I felt it was important to write a short piece from her POV as, although she is an important character, the rest of the novel is written from Elin and Lexi's viewpoints. When editing 'A Secret Daughter', though, I could see that the prologue wasn't working. I was able, with a few adjustments, to add that scene to another chapter. I have now written a very short prologue to replace it. A crucial character in the novel is Joe Jenkins, but this will be the only occasion where a scene is written from his point of view. We see his reaction at receiving a telegram which will be a vital part of the story later in the novel. I hope it works and at the moment it is staying!
So what am I trying to do here? I suppose that I have given readers a hook, hopefully to intrigue them. I hope that questions will be raised in the readers' minds and they will want to read on to have them answered.

I know this is the effect that prologues have on me as a reader. I feel satisfied when the questions raised in the prologue are answered as I read the book. Last night, I finished an excellent psychological thriller by Linda Huber, 'The Cold, Cold Sea'. The prologue here was disturbing as I read it and played an important part in the story. The novel was a real page turner and I read it in a matter of days. I highly recommend the book.

As a writer, do you include a prologue? Perhaps an editor has suggested that the prologue is not necessary and your novel would be better starting at Chapter 1. As a reader, what do you think of prologues? 

Thank you for reading. I'd love it if you left a comment telling us what you think.

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer page.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

A Writing Workshop for the Chapter and a bit of News
It was the first of May and a first for Sandra Mackness and me since we took over the running of the RNA South and West Wales Chapter. Author Jenny Kane joined ten of us to deliver an excellent writing workshop on our chosen topic of 'Developing Characters in Fiction'. She is one half of the Imagine Creative Writing she runs with her good friend, Alison Knight.

We were fortunate again to be able to use a training room at John Lewis Department store. Thank you to one of our Chapter members, Stacey, for arranging that.

All characters are unique and rounded individuals. If we want to create believable characters, they have to be ones to whom readers can relate and connect. They need to be intriguing and flawed. Everyone has flaws but it's how they choose to deal with them that determines their character. It was Oscar Wilde who said, 'Beauty catches the attention but character catches the heart.' This is so true of people once you get to know them better, isn't it?

Other aspects of our characters to consider included:
- their hopes and dreams
- how appealing are they, not just their appearance
- their physical features: height, weight, colouring. Jenny advised keeping continuity notes, here. 
- style
- mannerisms, gestures, tics, catchphrases
- how they walk and talk, accent
- where they live and work, study, daily routine
- their friends, relatives, contacts, relationships 
- personality: are they friendly, open, mean hostile?

Jenny interspersed the workshop with useful activities. One that particularly inspired me, and I know I will use when editing and layering the character of Joe in my second novel, was entitled 'Who Do You Know?' We had to pick one character and pick 6 words that best describe that person, narrowing the list down further to two words. We then had to 'show' that trait rather than use the word directly. One adjective for Joe was 'shy'. I tried to show that by writing 'He was always be found in a corner where he could stay outside the circle of friends. Watching.'

As we listened to all the points Jenny made, it was good to reflect on characters in our own writing as well as characters in books that have had an effect on us. Everyone's opinion will be different and characters have more that one side to them. We find inspiration for our characters all around us. People, past and present. Influential figures in history, your own ancestors, people who have influenced you in the past, teachers, doctors, bullies. In 'Whispering Olive Trees', Iannis who has his own wood turning workshop was directly inspired by a wood turner of the same name, working on a lathe in beautiful olive wood and making wooden fruit bowls and honey twizzlers you will read about in the book. We visited his workshop on our first ever visit to Crete and I hope I've captured the subtle colours and the smell of the curls of olive wood as a bowl is turned into shape on the lathe.

Another useful exercise was to think of an occupation your character wants and to choose three positive traits the character has regards suitability for thew occupation and three negative characteristics. When writing scenes in my third novel, this is what I did for Annie who desperately wants to become a stable girl, a groom for Mr Edmund's chestnut mare. 

3 things in her favour:
  1. She loves horses and treats them like friends.
  2. She knows the job well, having shadowed her older brother since she  was a little girl.
  3. She's very loyal. She would never let the owner or the horses down.
3 things she wouldn't want her interviewer to know about her:
  1. She's in love with Edmund, whose horse she would be looking after, and the owner's son
  2. She's a girl. There are no female grooms at that time.
  3. Her father vehemently disapproves. 
We also looked at how expressing emotions has changed with the passage of time. Fifty years ago, it was not seemly to show emotion perhaps. Characters, especially male characters, had to display a stiff upper lip. Even today some people cannot cope with other people's emotions. We talked about the choice of names and what they tell us about the characters. When teaching, I taught a Chardonnay, a Mercedes and a Porche. How different from the child with the same pronunciation as the last name, but she was a Portia, spelled the Shakespearean way! I'm sure you can envisage how the schools' catchment areas differed. 

The three hours flew by as we looked at so many ways of creating unique, memorable characters. This is just a taste of what Jenny covered with us. In our Chapter, we are all at very different stages on our writing journey but we all came away enthused to get back to our characters. Thank you, Jenny! 

Thank you for reading. What writing workshop have you attended with your RNA Chapter? How did it help you with your writing? I'd love it if you left a comment. Thank you.

Jenny's details
Website: The Perfect Blend of Coffee and Kane 
Twitter: @JennyKaneAuthor
Imagine Creative Writing:

****My bit of news****
In case you haven't heard, this week I accepted and signed a contract with RUBY FICTION!
It's for three books and the first, 'Whispering Olive Trees', will be published in digital and audio in 2020. I can't tell you how pleased I am and it's still sinking in! On its website, Ruby Fiction says that its stories 'inspire emotions'. They are the ones I enjoy reading and I hope that mine will do the same for my readers next year. 

You may follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.