Tuesday 27 September 2016

Tenby Book Fair - What the Publishers Have to Say

On Saturday, I went to one of my favourite towns for Tenby Book Fair. This year I was accompanied by my writing buddy, Helen. It was lovely to have company, not least for all the calories we consumed over the day! We got there early and had coffee and tea cakes before going in. We slipped out when there was a break in between the talks to have a delicious lunch and finally topped the day off with another coffee and more cakes before the journey home. :-)

Photo courtesy of Juliet Greenwood
When we got to the hall, it was good to see lots of people already browsing at the authors' tables and chatting about their books. Please click HERE for a full list of the authors who were present. It was good to meet up with authors I already knew and to meet new writers, too. 

Photo courtesy of Wendy White

Photo courtesy of Wendy 

I'd blogged about the fair a few weeks ago so I thought you may be interested in the talks Helen and I went to. We'd had to pre-book them and the two I found particularly interesting were the ones given by the editors of two Welsh publishers.

The first was given by Janet Thomas, editor at Firefly Press. Set up in 2013, Firefly is an independent children's and YA publisher based in Wales. It publishes quality fiction for 5-19 year olds. Janet advised on the submission process and gave us an insight into what writing she was looking for. She stressed how important it was that the sample sent in reflects the quality of the book. What is special about the story must be in that extract. Perhaps the story takes a new look at a subject that's already popular with the young readers. It's often the subject matter that makes a connection with the child. They may not know the author but they like what the book is about. Janet stressed the importance of keeping to the publishers' guidelines and making sure the synopsis includes the ending. She provided us with a very helpful pack of information about writing for children, including the specific requirements for each age group from Picture Books to Teen/Young Adult.
Photo courtesy of Juliet 
Here is Janet manning the Firefly table with two of her authors, Sharon Marie Jones and Eloise Williams.

Caroline Oakley, Commissioning Editor at Honno, opened her talk by giving us the background to the independent co-operative press based in Aberystwyth. Run by women, it is committed to publishing the best in Welsh women's writing. It was established in 1986 by four feminist women at a meeting in a flat in Cardiff. They wanted to increase the opportunities for Welsh women in publishing and bring Welsh women's writing to a wider public. They established a co-operative and sold shares in the company. Honno celebrated its 30th birthday at party In Aber on September 17th, the press having gone from strength to strength and becoming well established. It publishes a full range of genres and over the years both the press and its titles have won many awards.

Even though all the details for submission are found on the Honno website, Caroline gave some helpful pointers for submitting in general:

  • ensure you do your research, identifying your target audience, your novel's genre and other writers in that genre and who they are published by
  • find the name of the editor/literary agent
  • send the publisher/agent what s/he has asked for, keeping strictly to the guidelines
  • Honno asks for a 50 page sample
  • the covering letter needs to be short, simple and matter of fact with no life story, no saying you've written the next best seller
  • a brief description of why you've chosen to submit to that particular publisher
  • only relevant writing experience
  • synopsis - the plot and the role the characters play in it, where the story is going and what happens in the end. It should be clear what genre the novel belongs to from the synopsis which should be short and no longer than two sides. 
What is Caroline looking for?
  • readability, an interesting compelling voice
  • something new or new facets/twists on a theme
  • a gripping plot or narrative, intriguing characters
Photo courtesy of Juliet
One such book is Juliet Greenwood's third novel, 'The White Camellia', published recently by Honno on September 15th. The cover is stunning and from the pages I've read so far, it promises to be another excellent read from Juliet.
Helen and I returned from the fair enthused. It was an excellent day and huge thanks are due to Judith Barrow and Thorne Moore whose hard work ensured it was such a success.

Thank you for reading. Have you been to an literary event where publishers gave advice on submissions and explained what they are currently looking for? If so, I'd love it if you could leave a comment and share what they had to say. Thanks. :-)

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

Monday 19 September 2016

Crete - the island
This week we returned from a wonderful two week holiday in Crete. It's the first time we've ever returned to the same resort, never mind the same hotel, and everything was just as good. When I was there two years ago, I was introduced to the writing of Victoria Hislop and read 'The Island' which she set in Crete and I mentioned it in my blog when I returned. The story is set both in the present day  and in the 1930s and is about the leper colony on the island of Spinalonga where all Greek lepers were housed until it closed in 1957. It's a tragic tale of four generations of Petrakis women whose lives are affected by leprosy. I can remember how the book came alive as I was actually on the island when I was reading it. The landscape, the food and drink in the tavernas and observing the local people all added to my experience when reading it.

This time, we visited Spinalonga and learned more about the leper community that lived there. The first view we had of the island with its Venetian fort was from the boat after leaving Elounda. Its pale stone walls stood in stark contrast to the vivid turquoise of the sea. 

What occurred to me was how close it seemed to the village of Plaka where the Petrakis family lived in Victoria Hislop's novel. As we walked up from the jetty, I was struck by the solemnity of the place as we entered the tunnel described in 'The Island'. 'Just about head height...it was a tiny opening in the pale expanse of stonework...the way into a long tunnel which curved away to block the view of what lay ahead at its far end.' 

The scene confronting us when we came out the other side was just how Hislop had described the now semi-derelict streets and buildings, once typical of any Cretan village. As we walked around Spinalonga, it was as if we were re-reading the pages of the novel. 

Our guide, Johanna, was very knowledgeable and gave us so much information about the island. She did mention the novel but almost dismissed it as 'just a romance', what ever that meant. But for me, the setting of the book is an essential part of the story and as I was listening to Johanna telling us the facts it was obvious that the author had done her research thoroughly before writing 'The Island'.

Another place we visited was the Chromonastiri Military Museum, up in the hills above Rethymnon. The interesting exhibits chart the whole range of the island's military history, especially the World War II Battle of Crete. I was struck by the sense of calm there and the way the horrors suffered by the brave Cretan people were depicted in a non-sensational manner. 

As I read about the strong resistance movement in Crete, I was reminded of Leah Fleming's excellent book, 'The Girl Under the Olive Tree'. Although a work of fiction, she has captured so well Crete in 1941, its landscape and why the Cretans fought for their land the way they did. We travelled to the museum through stunning scenery and I was conscious of how those hills hold so much history. The Cretan people would rather have hidden in freezing caves and risk death by cold and starvation than surrender. When Penelope, the main character, returns to the island for the sixtieth anniversary of the battle, she knows she will have to face her past and the extraordinary life she led on the island during that time.

The setting in both these books plays a very important part and visiting the places mentioned has added an extra dimension to my reading.

Have you enjoyed a book recently where the setting has played a vital role and enhanced your enjoyment? I'd love it if you left a comment and recommend some good reads. :-)

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