“Through fiction you can talk about your observations in life in a way that resonates with other people,” said Peter Wells in yesterday’s talk on publishing success to the members of the Surbiton Writers Group.
Although he has always been passionate about literature and writing, Peter’s publishing success started one morning in 2011 when he had an inspiration for a new story.
The inspiration itself was not unusual: since the early days when he took a degree in English Literature at Manchester University his imagination was full, but this story was different – it made him start a blog.
His blog Counting Ducks was born from a desire to write in a way that others can find and read.
Reading ‘Ghost Of A Love Affair’ and ‘A New Bard Strides Forth’ from Counting Ducks prompted some to sit back and shut their eyes to fully enjoy his prose and from both pieces Peter’s signature style was clear.
Whether bitter-sweet, he prefers the word ‘melancholy’, or laugh-out-loud funny, his writing style is wordsmithery and imagination mixed with universal truths.
Peter divides up his writing into 2 types; humorous and not-humorous, but his advice about writing both is clear: “always be real, tell the truth, read, read, read, write every day and be serious about your writing.”
“People want to read things that are real because it connects them to your writing,” he advised.
The work and objective of writing a blog was not to be underestimated to the world of publishing.
Garnering over 5000 followers in the years since that first post in 2011, it was this following coupled with the quality of his writing that attracted the attention of his publisher.
Now writing his 3rd book, he’s learned a lot along the way. He says he is “fanatically interested” in developing characters and for him it is one of the most important aspects of getting his writing right.
But writing is a business and without a following and a market, a term called ‘audience’, publishers may think twice about investing in your work no matter how original and good it is.
“How do you build your audience?” asked one SWG member.
“Get to know people who read your writing,” he said, “look at your website stats, your blog will tell you what is working.”
“Be polite, treat social media as you would if you were saying ‘hello’ in real life and like and comment on other writers blogs,” he added.
His final words come down to attitude and polish.
“For every finished piece of writing there are hours of editing and honing it until it’s complete,” he said. “Never ever ever publish something until it’s perfect,” he added.
He tells himself: “nobody is interested, you have to get them interested.”
Success has come quickly for Peter and is well deserved. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter and like Counting Ducks here.
Follow our blog to keep up to date with our news and events and join us by emailing email@example.com
© Carrie Henderson 2015
Challenge Yourself To Open Doors With Your Writing – A Talk With Peter Wells, Author.
Saturday 6th February, 12:30 -2:00.
In the 4 years since he started writing professionally, he’s gone from strength to strength. He has learned a lot along the way which he likes to pass on to other writers, mentoring them and helping them achieve the same.
“It wouldn’t have happened had I not written Counting Ducks,” he said. “I’m passionate about writing, and I want everyone to achieve excellence,” he adds.
Peter is a humorous and enjoyable speaker who has run popular talks in the past. He will be telling his story – which he calls his ‘route map’ – as well as pass on those crucial snippets of information that all serious writers need to know.
The power of social media and how vital blogging is to building an audience will be an important focus of his talk.
Ask Peter – Q and A time
There will be time at the end for a Q&A with SWG members to pick his brains and learn more about the secrets of his success.
This talk is open to Surbiton Writers Group only.
Numbers are limited and it will be popular, so please ensure you RSVP via the main email address to ensure your place in the session.
Attendees need to arrive on time as the talk will start at 12:30.
Attendance is free. If you haven’t already joined the SWG and would like to attend, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Surbiton Writers Group 2015
What’s the most memorable piece of writing you watched, read, or listened to in 2015?
The new year is a few days old and thoughts have already turned to what delights this year will offer, but the Surbiton Writers took no time at all to reveal what writing has stuck in their thinking from last year to this.
Films, books and newspaper columns all figured in our list, showing the diversity of writing out there to choose from and the enormously wide range of taste within our writers group.
What, no Star Wars!!
We’ll give you a spoiler. Our list doesn’t include the screenplay of the long anticipated film release of the year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Carrie said: “as a film fan, I’d have loved to say this was the most memorable writing of 2015, after all, it was THE go-to film event of the year, but it came quite far down my list and so did Netflix’s House Of Cards Series 3, another must-see.”
Read what Carrie did choose further down the page…
Will your picks be the same as ours…
If you were at a party and someone asked you the same question, what would you say?
Each piece of writing the Surbiton Writers chose wasn’t necessarily first available last year, many being published or released long beforehand.
Regardless of whether our choices ride the curve, they show that good writing has longevity, changes one’s perspective and moves us, altering our inner, imaginative worlds for months after that first watch, listen or read.
Here’s our list. Ta daa!
Janine writes playful and imaginative picture books for the under 5s age group
Her choice was Twan Tan Eng’s ‘The Garden of Evening Mists,’ adding that what stuck with her was the “simply beautiful prose.”
Published in 2012, it was the Malaysian writer’s second novel. Telling the story of Yun Ling Teoh making sense of her experience during WW2, it was short listed for the Man Booker Prize and won the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.
Peter Wells publishes novels and writes a hugely popular blog Counting Ducks
He chose the film Searching For Sugar Man (warning spoilers included):
“..the most striking thing I watched was the film “Searching For Sugar Man” which, as everyone may know, tells the true story of Sixto Rodriguez who, after a period trying to make it in the music industry faded into obscurity and spent the majority of his working life in the construction industry unaware of the fact that he had achieved legendary success in South Africa.
The film tells the story of his rediscovery, and illuminates his supreme modesty and dignity in the face of his growing fame: heart warming on so many levels.”
He reminds me of another man I came across last year, Nick Drake, who took his own life at the age of twenty-six after a shortish period in the music industry were he met with very limited recognition, despair over which may have played a part in his tragic decision.”
Once again, after his death there was a slow discovery of his work which I discovered as part of the soundtrack on a Hollywood film called ” A Perfect Man” which was released in September 2015.”
If you look up the name “Nick Drake” on IMDP you will see his music has featured on many well recognised films in the following twenty years.”
In both cases, as a hopefully creative man, who speaks so much through his writing, both films inspire me with the message that the worth of what you do may not be immediately recognised, and that to persevere is a key ingredient in making your mark. “
She selected another non-fiction book for her memorable read: ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain.
A study of the difference between introversion and extraversion, it explains how the introverted amongst us have unique qualities which are embedded at the level of our brain chemistry.
You could argue that all writers have an introverted side, writing alone and living in a strong inner world is essential.
Accessible and fascinating, Anu described it as: “quite memorable.”
Darren is known for his witty and humorous writing style.
He chose 2 writers who have changed the writing landscape in Britain: Harold Jacobson and Will Self.
However, it was a piece about global warming that changed his attitude towards the race to save the planet.
As for story that I read this year. Well too many to choose from.”
But if I had to choose one. It would be learning that within 15 years all gas cookers and boilers must be fazed out. This is supposed to help with climate change! !!!. This can only happen if we are all singing from the same sheet.”
and what did Carrie choose?
“It’s not an easy choice,” she said, “but I’d have to say the most personally changing thing I read last year was an article in the Hull Daily Mail from 1931.
Having spent a year or so researching a married couple for a book I’m writing, who have sadly now long died and their family with them, this has been a far more complicated process than programmes like Who Do You Think You Are suggest it is. I’d exhausted all the obvious and not-so-obvious channels so the research had stalled completely.”
Then by accident I found an article in the Daily Mail. It was a feature about a society wedding – their wedding – and there was a beautiful black and white photo of them as well, looking straight at me from the page.”
After reading so much about them, it was the first time I’d seen them in person and I stared back into their faces wanting so much to reach out through the years and talk to them.”
It changed everything and immediately brought them to life. This article reinforced to me how important journalism is to recording events that even on a local level preserve history for generations to come.”
There are our most memorable pieces of writing – what would your choices be?
Tell us whether our list has inspired you to read or watch more.
In the meanwhile we’ve added all of these examples to our growing list of must-read’s for 2016.
If you are interested in joining the Surbiton Writers Group, email email@example.com
© The Surbiton Writers Group 2016
The Surbiton Writer’s Group is a group for people who write in any genre; journalism, creative writing, blogging, rapping – anything that involves wanting to put words down on paper or a screen, whether it’s writing for a job, with an intention to be published or for fun.
While I’ve been chatting with people about the Group we’ve discussed the differences between creative writing and Journalism.
“Surely,” said one person, “Journalism is creative? I really like Polly Toynbee’s writing in The Guardian. That’s very creative!”
Listening to 3 writers of Fantasy Fiction talk so eloquently and expressively about creative fiction writing at an author talk at Waterstone’s book shop in Kingston caused me to think about it again.
Isn’t everything that is newly created and written down creative, whether it’s online, for a newspaper, a business or a blog?
Isn’t it all the same process, the same ideas – including the books Baroness Rebuck publishes at Penguin Random House?
What exactly are the differences?
The most obvious difference is that in Journalism, you are collecting together facts and then writing about those facts. You choose words that are easy to understand for the target audience you are writing for.
Most importantly, you don’t make things up.
The facts must be well researched and well supported. You also need quotes to support your story. You stay in the background and remain objective.
When I am writing a factual piece the facts lead the words, not the other way around.
Journalism is non-fiction, not fiction.
When I am doing creative writing the ideas lead the words
In creative writing, ideas do not have to be factual. Unless the veracity and detail of the facts are important to the story I’m writing, I don’t necessarily have to research them as deeply as I would do when writing a journalistic piece.
I can take liberties and chances. I am in control of what I write. I can choose which words to use from the ground up.
But does that mean journalism isn’t as creative as creative writing…
Here’s a ‘for instance.’
Amy McCulloch at the writer’s talk at Waterstones book shop, said she chose to research the history of China in depth because she felt it was important to setting the scene in a way that was authentic to her as a writer. But she didn’t need to – it was her choice.
At the same talk, Tom Pollack said that his London locations are real, but they don’t have to be 100% factually correct. That’s all part of the creativity of writing the setting in fiction.
Journalism expects factual accuracy. It also expects that a pattern of writing is adhered to.
The first paragraph of an article needs to sum up for the reader what the rest of the article is about. Ideally if a reader reads nothing more before they put their IPAD down or throw the paper onto the seat on the train, they should have the salient facts of the entire article.
But if you are reading a column by Polly Toynbee it seems to be more creative because it allows her freedom to write in a way she chooses, a point the member of the Surbiton Writer’s Group made.
Is that sort of journalism Creative Non-Fiction?
“Well no,” I said in reply, “that’s a feature, or an opinion piece,” I added, confusing things further. “What isn’t seen is the editor at their desk deciding which of those words make it into the published edition.”
“That’s the same as fiction writing!” they said.
Word counts are crucial to journalism. There is an art in being given 250 or 500 words in which to sum up and explain what the article is about, including quotes.
It focuses my mind on what words are important, which words are superfluous. Flowery language is a luxury, not a necessity. Your word budget has to do the job and your first para’ has to sum that up exactly.
So is journalism as creative as creative writing?
I’ll finish by saying something that I read in a blog recently. It was in a post about different types of writing that journalists do.
The journalist was asked what type of writing was most ‘them’; writing for online articles in a popular daily online magazine, writing long feature pieces in a broadsheet newspaper or writing a book.
“All of them,” was their reply. “Each voice is my writing and I have to be able to do each equally well.”
The jury may be out for people reading between the two genres but there’s still plenty of creativity in journalism – they are simply different sides to the writing coin.
© Carrie Henderson 2015
The first ever writers’ circle of the Surbiton Writers Group met on Saturday 18th April, launching with a lively discussion about what makes interesting and good writing.
Around the table are those writing fiction, online writing, journalism, short stories, are in the business of writing, produce writing and performance, write plays, edit screenplays and are writing longer works like books.
Starting off with a practice critique from an excerpt by a published author, the mix of writing backgrounds worked well with everyone offering an opinion about what worked and what didn’t work in the chosen piece.
Not everyone agreed with eachother but that’s OK! Disagreements were not important, the objective was saying what worked and what didn’t work in the piece and what adjustments could be made.
A writers’ circle can help be helpful for writers who want to hone their work through sharing it with a critical audience.
Traditionally made up of people who write and are interested in developing writing towards publication, it can be an essential part of the writing process.
They develop a writer’s critical skills and indicate what the reader may find enjoyable or not, about your work.
Writing circles are trusted to be honest in a way that develops work rather than detracts from the confidence of the writer.
The Surbiton Writers Group is a closed writers circle – which means members have to book in to join – and meets monthly. From the next circle SWG members will have their own work critiqued by the members.
We consist of a broad group of writers from lots of different genres; including those who have taken courses, are hobby writers, write in their spare time, and / or have writing qualifications.
All are welcome, we are friendly and down to earth. The more variety of writing ‘voices’, the better.
If you are interested in joining email firstname.lastname@example.org
© The Surbiton Writers Group 2015.
Writing is about forming ideas into words.
But where do the ideas come from?
Writers often say they are about writing from experience, from the things that inspire them.
Publishers, readers, teachers and advisors say that this is essential as it gives an authentic tone to the writing.
Practicing writing in many different ways is also important to developing skills. It’s akin to an artist using a sketch book.
Can art and writing combine?
Whether you are doing a big piece of writing or practicing, visual prompts can help words flow.
You can use visual prompts to flex your imagination and run wild and free with new ideas.
What you write doesn’t have to originate from personal experience. Because of this, you can explore imaginary situations, characters and realms that your day-to-day writing or your big writing project doesn’t accommodate.
Here’s an image to practice writing from:
..and some questions to ask yourself:
- Where is the setting
- How does this scene fit into a plot
- What characters are present
- Who is absent from the scene
- What happened just before this picture was taken
- What happened just after this picture was taken
Get your notepad ready…
Write as much as you can about this picture. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, all you have to do is write until you want to stop.
Great! You’ve exercised your creative brain by giving it new inspiration to work with.
Does what you read surprise you?
Writing from a new visual prompt cuts through the inner critic, the voice inside us that acts as our writing editor.
It also combats our fear of choosing the wrong words.
By trying something fun and new, it can turn your writing on it’s head.
You can produce work that is original and breaks through your writing patterns – a trap that all writers fall into.
Try it and see
We’d love to see what you’ve written. Go ahead and post it in a comment below..
© The Surbiton Writers Group 2015.
The screen flickers back at you blankly, goading you to write something. Your fingers twitch with half formed thoughts, but nothing comes.
All you want to do is write something, but your mind is a wasteland. You tell yourself: “write something, Goddammit!”
We’ve all been there with the dreaded creative block – the feeling you get when the flow of ideas dries up completely.
When it strikes fiction or creative writers it can stall progress because the words are all their own.
Non-fiction writers find the creative block can happen because they struggle with organising factual information in the right way.
But The Block can strike anyone while they are writing no matter what genre it is!
What can you do about it?
One idea is to try The Hat Game. You don’t need a hat or a even a cat, but you can use a bowl or a table.
How to play The Hat Game:
Get 3 pieces of paper:
Paper 1 is for nouns.
Paper 2 is for verbs.
Paper 3 is for situations or settings.
Now use paper 1,2 and 3 to type out, or write down, examples of each thing.
For instance. A noun could be “table.” A verb could be “running,” and a situation or setting could be “trapped in a locked railway station.”
Write as many examples as you like.
When you’ve finished, cut out each example noun, verb and situation or setting so that they are on one strip of paper each.
Put them into piles of nouns, verbs and situations or settings.
Fold them over so you can’t see them. No peeking!
Here’s where the fun begins.
Pick one example from each pile.
Open them up and look. Then write as much as you can using each noun, verb and situation or setting.
You can write anything you like, but you must use each example.
Doing The Hat game is a really good way of getting words to flow, when you think the river has dried up.
It distracts the mind from The Block and frees up your creative juices to flow again.
Having fun is essential when you are writing – your readers sense it when words are dry and forced.
The Hat Game is great for reinstating that creative flow!
Let us know what tips you have for breaking The Block too!
© The Surbiton Writers Group 2015.
Baroness Gail Rebuck, pioneering chair of Penguin Random House and House of Lords peer talked about her career at Kingston University this afternoon.
The publisher, who counts titles such as Susie Orbach’s ‘Fat Is A Feminist Issue’ and the erotic novel ‘50 Shades of Grey’ on her list of successes, shared stories from the start of her career in the 1970s into the digital age.
From her humble beginnings in the “dark ages – I couldn’t type” and a pivotal job at Robert Nicholson Publications she was certain she wanted to be an editor.
From then onwards she carved out her niche. It was an error with the London map book Streetfinder that imposed the importance of making mistakes and also of “creating a culture of openness” to learn from them.
You are getting it right if “you make more right decisions than wrong ones,” she said.
In 1982 at a time when women were under-represented in the boardroom, Rebuck established Century Publishing with Anthony Cheetham. From an base with 1 phone to share they “were determined we’d publish a list that September and we did.”
Throughout the changes in the publishing industry she notes that a major shift happened “because of Waterstones. Their chain of over 100 meant that publishers had to get books out there in a different way.”
More recently social media has influenced the success of ” ‘50 Shades Of Grey’ as well as Dan Brown – ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and John Green with ‘The Fault In Our Stars’”, she said.
Asked about breaking the glass ceiling and maintaining work life balance she said: “know about it, but don’t worry about it.”
“Express yourself – say what you think, don’t wait to be spoken to. If someone asks you a question, answer – make sure it’s a good answer. Don’t try and think about what that person wants to hear or you’ll never be noticed.”
Apt advice from the winner of the 2009 award for Business Woman of the Year.
When asked how to approach someone to publish work she offered this advice:
“You have to figure out who is the audience, what it’s like, why it is different, who you are, why you are the person to deliver it. “
“I think the best way to do it is via an agent,” she said, “they give lots of advice, pre-editing etcetera,” but if you are sending an unsolicited script “don’t do an email.”
“You have to get someone’s attention in the hundreds of submissions. Be professional, don’t send a script with marks on it, send a photo and a leader that will make you stand out.”
“Ultimately it’s down to the quality of the writing,” she said.
What of her future.
She was made a peer in October 2014 in and sits in the House of Lords. An experience she describes as “a maelstrom of ideas” and “bizarrely it works.”
She would like “more people representing the creative industries” there, she said.
She is also passionate about literacy and inspired by neurological research about reading. She is particularly engaged with promoting literacy for woman because of it’s empowering nature – it mediates against social exclusion in disadvantaged groups.
These interests were secured in her House of Lords maiden speech which centered on women, violence and social exclusion.
Perhaps her most personal comment of the talk was in answer to a question about strategies to keep calm:
“Look as if you aren’t panicking. Look as if you know what you are doing. Always come up with a solution,” she said.
Speaking with an ease, friendliness and equanimity, she personified her advice.
© Carrie Henderson / The Subiton Writer’s Group 2015
You can find the details of public lectures about creative writing at Kingston University here.