Friday, 30 September 2016

Interview with Laurie Garrison of #Women_Writers

Interview by JJ Marsh

Laurie Garrison is the author of Women Writers in the 21st century; Science, Sexuality and Sensation Novels and much more. An academic for many years, she is now a digital marketer and runs the Twitter project, #Women_Writers, a monthly chat aimed at sharing information and experiences for women who write and Looking for Xanadu, an online resource for writers.

You state your mission as building an international network of women writers. How did this start and what is the aim?

Having come from the PC world of universities into working for myself as a provider of online courses and networking opportunities for women writers, I’ve been shocked to find just how much of a bias there is against women in the publishing industry. If women are going to overturn this bias against them (and other marginalized writers), we need to be organized about it. Raising awareness in itself could go a long way toward improving the situation. There are lots of small presses who write this into their mission and there are a lot of options in addition to traditional publishing now, but I’m not convinced these are widely known enough. They’re also scattered across multiple countries.

What I’d like to do is set up a network of international contacts so we can make sure the news gets out about any developments that might help women reach their writing goals or publicize any big successes of writers who might not have the backing of a big publishing house. I also want to act as an educator who empowers women to manage their own online platforms and make informed decisions about how they publish their work. #women_writers chat and my new course on online self promotion are the primary ways I’m doing this at the moment, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be expanding this in the next few months.

One of the way you’re attracting people to join the network is via your monthly twitchat #Women_Writers. What kind of topics do you discuss?

Some of our sessions are intended to discuss our favorite books and get lots of recommendations for new authors to read. Others are practical like our DIY Online Marketing session, which was geared toward the needs of women writers in particular. We also like to support other marginalized writers as in our session for Women in Translation Month. We just had Women Writing about Women for our September chat with Lesley McDowell, author of Between the Sheets: The Literary Liaisons of Nine Twentieth Century Women Writers. We like to have guest hosts as it brings in a different crowd and we’ve very open to suggestions for topics too. Above all, we make sure the atmosphere is fun and friendly - one that is conducive to meeting people and making some of those contacts that can be so important for writers when they need readers, editors, etc.

Looking for Xanadu is an incredibly generous resource for women writers. How do you find the time to keep such useful content up to date?

Glad to hear that it seems generous - I still feel like I’m just getting started with it! I always have far more ideas than I can accommodate. In terms of managing my marketing including the website, I think it’s taking up about 15 hours of my time each week. I’ve got a rough marketing schedule I follow each month and now that I see lots of results from my marketing work, it doesn’t feel like work anymore.

Can you talk about your focus in Science, Sexuality and Sensation Novels: Pleasures of the Senses? Did you set out to look at the writers, the readers or the scientific studies on female sensibilities and fiction in the Victorian age?

Basically, I looked at all of those things. Previous studies had documented the influence of psychology and medicine in the discourses of the sensation novel of the 1860s, which was an incredibly popular genre with some of the women outselling Dickens (who was also reviewed as a sensation novelist in the 1860s and makes an appearance in my book). I looked at the influence of several other sciences, starting with the interest in physiology in the reviewers’ reception of the novels, where they argued that sensation novels were far too physically stimulating for young women and might lead to reckless flirtation or worse. The less stuffy members of the Victorian press satirized this with a great deal of comedy, including a poem that deemed celibacy satisfactory as long as there was a good supply of sensation novels to enjoy. I also looked at mesmerism in The Woman in White, which was worked into a way of representing female same-sex desire by Wilkie Collins, and evolutionary theory in a novel by Mary Braddon, where her presumably mixed-race heroine succeeds in training the men around her to accept her sensational behaviour.

You seem to see the digital age as a great leveller regarding traditional gender imbalances. How do you think women can harness the opportunities available online?

There are so many opportunities for meeting people, promoting work, finding the services needed for self-publishing or self-promotion, but everything seems a bit scattered far and wide. The web is such a big place that there’s no telling whether you’re going to miss some really good resources. This is why we need central places like #women_writers chat and the hashtag to get the word out there and share our knowledge. Also, all of us as women writers need to get out there and start talking to each other.

What was your take on Kamila Shamsie’s call for A Year of Publishing Only Women? A realistic proposal or a way of opening debate?

I would love to see it happen, but I’m not holding my breath! What I like about her argument is that she addresses the fact that the bias against women is embedded in our culture in such complex ways that it can’t be simplified into a problem of decision makers deliberately choosing men’s writing over women’s or as Shamsie puts it ‘fair minded women vs. bigoted men’. I’ve spent a lot of years studying, teaching and writing about feminist theory.

Men and women are both trapped in the power structures of patriarchy and this argument goes right back to our first feminist theorist, Mary Wollstonecraft who pointed out that women were just as likely to adhere to patriarchal structures as men were. The only way to change this is for a large number of people to accept that there is a problem that needs to be addressed and then work together and work hard to change our culturally determined behaviours - in both genders. In the publishing industry, I’d imagine this to take the form of those in the industry working harder to get good submissions from women and women writers developing resilience in the face of rejection and learning to promote themselves and their achievements more. I’d see this as a much longer term solution than a year of publishing women though a year of publishing women would be a fantastic starting point!

Do you think women could learn more effectively in a female-only environment, such a Creative Writing MA geared to female learning styles, for example?

Well, we’d never find a Creative Writing MA openly stated to be geared toward female learning styles in the UK. That sort of thing would never make it through accreditation and other bureaucracy as it would be seen to be exclusionary. This is part of the reason I’m working for myself now: I simply could not be as innovative as I wanted in my teaching when I was a lecturer. What I’m setting up now are courses with a noncompetitive atmosphere where we can openly discuss the number of rejections writers are likely to get as well as the extent of criticism and revision involved in publishing and to have these discussions in an environment where they won’t be judged as signs of weakness. I want to see women writers build up resilience, meet their writing goals and think creatively about how to promote themselves, especially online. I’m marketing these courses to women mainly but any men who like the sound of this are very welcome to join as well.

What milestones do you hope to achieve in 2017, both personally and as a champion of women writers?

In 2017, I’d like to see a significant number of women on my online self-promotion course in autumn 2016 getting out there and succeeding with their online marketing and publishing goals. I’d also like to see our currently monthly #women_writers chat grow enough in attendance and collaborating partners that we can become a weekly chat. Personally, I’m hoping to get my business into a position where I can take a bit of a sabbatical in the summer to do some of my own creative writing.

Laurie is running a FREE webinar for Triskele subscribers on Tues 11 October 2016 at 6pm BST.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

#TLF16 Highlights

Our first Triskele Lit Fest TLF16 took place last Saturday, 17th September at Lift in Islington. A great success! A free-entry festival, it attracted readers, writers, bookclubs and booksellers: all those who love the adventure of reading.

Triskele Books' Gillian Hamer and Jane Dixon-Smith on the till

JJ Marsh and the Triskele books

We offered a whole afternoon of exciting author panels focusing on Crime and Thrillers, Sci Fi and Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance, and Literary Fiction, where trade, indie and small press shared the same platform.

Historical Fiction Panel
Crime and Thrillers Panel
Romance Panel
Sci Fi and Fantasy Panel
Preserving the Unicorn Literary Fiction Panel

Alongside the panels, in the pop-up bookshop, 40 authors showcased a diverse range of books where attendees mingled and chatted with authors, and discovered new books.

Over 40 authors participated in the festival, so we asked them the best thing about TLF16. 
Here are some of their answers…

A.E. Rycart: Meeting other authors. The event was very friendly.

Jon Stenhugg: Chance to speak to other authors.

Lynda Young Spiro: Meet interesting, lovely and helpful people.

Katharine D’Souza: Lovely atmosphere, good to meet people.

Elizabeth Woodcraft: Meeting other authors. Discussing their experiences as indie authors, being able to Tweet, Blog and Facebook about the event.

Helene Halme: Interesting talks; networking.

Anoushka Beazley: The opportunity and idea of it.

Kevin Booth: Networking with other authors; seeing what they are doing; innovation…

 And of course, a Triskele Books' event wouldn’t be the same without an après-fest party…

Gin cupcakes
 If you’d like to hear more about the Lit Fest and Triskele Books, listen to Triskele co-founder, member, JJ Marsh live on BBC radio at 22.51 minutes here.

Also at the festival,we asked the authors to recommend one book, and next Friday we’ll be posting some of their answers … watch this space!

Photos courtesy of Julie Lewis.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Novel London - a rare opportunity for novelists

The literary scene is rich with opportunities for poets and short story writers to read or perform their work in front of a live audience. Less common is the chance to hear anyone other than major established authors read from their novels.

This was the hole that Safeena Chaudhry sought to fill when she set up Novel London, a unique opportunity for newly publishing and unpublished novelists to read their opening chapter to an intimate audience in bookshops and other venues in central London.

Readings are also videoed and uploaded on the Novel London website - a valuable tool for promotion in this social-multi-media age.

Novel London takes place on the first Friday of every month. I attended my first one at Waterstones Covent Garden last February, when the theme was Love – though not necessarily the conventional hearts and flowers love associated with Valentine’s Day.

Since then I have talked to Chaudhry about why she set up Novel London.

“I like to capture moments and create narratives through writing, photography and video. There’s something about documenting that can transport us. Sometimes, we forget what we have achieved, who we once were, and some moments in time, captured digitally, can provide us with evidence. Reading in public is an act of courage and having a record of it can remind us of a moment that I hope the novelists will treasure.

When I completed my debut novel, Companions of Clay, I was very lucky to have a book launch at Foyles on the Southbank. The staff – Emelie, Celise, Frazier and Shane – were so generous and helpful, it gifted me an extraordinary day of my life. I didn’t get a recording of the event and all I have are my memories.

I had applied to the Arts Council for funding and been unsuccessful twice (more since), but I decided to go ahead anyway: I knew novelists, I had a venue (I’d hired the Big Green Bookshop) and I had recording and editing skills. I also knew a fantastic coach, Norma Cohen from Vital Sparks, who helped me immensely when I read at Foyles and she has worked with some of the novelists before their performances.

Since then, Charlie and David from Covent Garden in Waterstones have really championed Novel London and I could not have done it without their help. What began as a book reading event in my local bookshop came right to the heart of London and their support has been amazing. Novel London also takes place in different venues, independent bookshops (such as Travelling Through and the Big Green Bookshop). I’ve also met some talented, generous and amazing people on the Indie Author scene from the London Book Fair, ALLI and Meetup, some of whom have given valuable feedback and encouragement

Novel London for me is a platform for novelists and the novels that we might not otherwise have a chance to be aware of. It’s showcased yet-to-be published, independently published and traditionally published novelists. It’s a place of discovery and diversity. I want more people to go into bookshops and buy books and I also want them to connect with novelists in person and online. I want the guests to be inspired by the writing. Some novelists have written one novel and others have written half a dozen. Either way, sometimes we need to see the results of what happens when people just.keep.going."

ALLi member and literary novelist, Jane Davis, took the plunge in May to read from her novel My Counterfeit Self. She talks here about one of the bonuses of taking part in a Novel London evening – the services of professional voice coach, Norma Cohen.

“Tackling the escalators in an underground station while carrying a laptop bag and a suitcase full of books in rush hour is not recommended under ordinary circumstance. But ordinary circumstances these were not. On one of the hottest evenings of the year to date, I left my day-job behind and wove my way through London’s city commuters, to take part in Novel London’s Contemporary Fiction evening.

When I arrived at Waterstones, Covent Garden, Norma was putting Young Adult author Fiona Linday through her paces. Fiona was clearly at ease. She explained to me later how, working with children, she knows exactly what is required to keep a tricky audience engaged. In my book, my main character Lucy, a bohemian poet activist, expresses her concerns about precisely that:

‘Lucy had only ever imagined that single misfit she wanted to reach out to. The sheaf of poems trembled in her hand as she realised she had only small things – her voice, her words – to stop the audience wandering off to the bar.’

Norma encouraged us to engage with every member of the audience – and since the audience would be sitting in a semicircle this meant moving about and making eye contact. She was very encouraging. When it came to my turn, she suggested places where I should pause to give the words time to sink in, and words where greater inflection was required. In fact, she wanted me to start the chapter with a shout!

As it progressed, the practice session became interactive. Norma had us read lines from our first chapters in turn, giving the opportunity to compare delivery techniques and making us match rather than compete with one another. Finally, before the audience arrived, she put us through some relaxation exercises – to which I added a glass of white wine, for good measure.

Whilst I didn’t remember every suggestion, I did notice a marked difference in my delivery, and focusing on the audience, I was barely aware of the camera I had been so worried about. I didn’t even notice there was a second!”

If you have completed your novel, please feel free to send in the opening chapter, biography, and blurb to

Friday, 9 September 2016

Bookclub Discussion: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

After a summer break, Triskele Bookclub is back!
September book under discussion is The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. If you've read the book, please comment with your thoughts - if not, we may well tempt you!

About the author: Born in 1969, David Mitchell grew up in Worcestershire. After graduating from Kent University, he taught English in Japan, where he wrote his first novel, GHOSTWRITTEN in 1999. His second novel, NUMBER9DREAM, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. His third novel, CLOUD ATLAS, was shortlisted for six awards including the Man Booker Prize, and adapted for film in 2012. It was followed by BLACK SWAN GREEN, shortlisted for the Costa Novel of the Year Award, and THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET, which was a No. 1 Sunday Times bestseller and finally, THE BONE CLOCKS. All three were longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

The Bone Clocks
One drowsy summer's day in 1984, teenage runaway Holly Sykes encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for 'asylum'. Decades will pass before Holly understands exactly what sort of asylum the woman was seeking . .T

The Bone Clocks follows the twists and turns of Holly's life from a scarred adolescence in Gravesend to old age on Ireland's Atlantic coast as Europe's oil supply dries up - a life not so far out of the ordinary, yet punctuated by flashes of precognition, visits from people who emerge from thin air and brief lapses in the laws of reality. For Holly Sykes - daughter, sister, mother, guardian - is also an unwitting player in a murderous feud played out in the shadows and margins of our world, and may prove to be its decisive weapon.

Metaphysical thriller, meditation on mortality and chronicle of our self-devouring times, this kaleidoscopic novel crackles with the invention and wit that have made David Mitchell one of the most celebrated writers of his generation. Here is fiction at its most spellbinding and memorable best.

Okay, ladies, time for your feedback.

This is a book that takes time to settle in your brain and demands further contemplation. What were your initial thoughts when you came to the end?

JJ: Epic, clever, over-arching, complex and most of all, a Mitchell-fan goody-bag. Some sections worked better than others but each element made for a satisfying whole.
GEH: In a word - shaken. I found the final section of the book moving in a lot of different ways. For a fantasy novel, the author has a real talent for making every word he writes feel utterly believable.
CT: As usual with a David Mitchell book, you feel as if your brain has been delicately turned inside out and your perceptions flipped upside down.

And after ‘thinking time’ – what legacy did it leave?

JJ: The lasting impression is of another well-woven episode in Mitchell’s ‘über-novel’, showcasing his brilliance at voice, spreadsheet mind and sly sense of humour.
GEH: I think the sense of doom and loss I felt at the end of the book lingered. In particular the connection with the storyline and how it felt that the author had looked into his version of the future with startling clarity .... it really made me analyse the book in a way that I don't often do. Also, as a writer, I find increasingly I have to admire Mitchell's style which appears totally effortless - but obviously is not!
CT: Fantasies and dystopias often work best when firmly grounded in recognisable reality. Mitchell creates worlds so believable that we trust him when he pushes us over the edge into the incredible.

The POV and time-frame winds back and forth in a unique style, almost like a collection of short stories that form one whole at the end - what did you learn from the way the author handled structure here?

JJ: Yes, like a series of novellas but with a stronger ‘red-line’ than Cloud Atlas. Each episode has its own voice and strengths with the undertone of the fantasy element. Oddly, when the fantasy came to the fore, I engaged less. As for structure, this connects and combines superbly, distracting the reader from the links by dint of individual, engaging stories.
GEH: I really enjoy these type of multi-layered complex stories, where, because you become engaged with each character, you're so eager to see how the individual plots will merge at the end. There's a talent to character-led, rather than plot-led narratives, which I very much admire. I think we have a real genius at work here. So, in a word - respect!
CT: It’s a classic David Mitchell structure, isn’t it? He weaves a strong rope from different strands, each of which can be seen throughout the narrative, even while one takes the lead. I think the trick in his style of writing is to keep each thread distinct, so they don’t merge, one with the other, and yet to have enough points of contact between them that they bind together. A difficult balancing act!

Was there one image that stuck with you long after reading the book?

JJ: Yes, one shocking moment in the first section, but can’t do spoilers.
GEH: The whole of the final section and the future implications for man-kind. Sounds pretty serious for a fantasy-type novel but it really did stay with me.
CT: Without giving too much away, the brutal simplicity of Mitchell’s heading-for-disaster vision of the future shook me - all too probable.

Why did Holly Sykes work as the main protagonist?

 JJ: Loyalty is engendered from the start, then we see her through other, jaded eyes, such as Hershey’s and our sympathy remains.
GEH: It is the age old story of a journey, isn't it? Find the right character to accompany the reader on that journey and anything is believable. It was the believability factor that worked for me, the introduction to Holly in a run-of-the-mill lifestyle and landscape which then transformed in front of our eyes.
CT: I think for me it was the process of seeing Holly move from teenager into late age. The fact that it is done as a series of vignettes mean that each stage of her life is distinct and we notice the changes, the way we do with a friend whom we only see at long intervals. It felt as if I had lived her life at high speed. At the end, I did’t want to lose her.

We have a multi-narrated novel here. Which voice stood out most to you and why?
JJ: Probably Hugo Lamb. Again, don’t want to spoil, but the rarefied air of privilege and cynical manipulation of others is repulsively fascinating. Crispin Hershey is a little ‘meta’ referential but fabulous fun.
GEH: I was going to say Hugo too! But I keep going back to Holly - and her 'normality' in the face of adversity. So, I'll say Holly Sykes.
CT I fell in love with that opening voice of young Holly. But I found the voice of Holly’s husband, carrying the unseen scars being a war correspondent, deeply affecting. For me, possibly the character I most empathised with.

This is far from a love story – and yet we meet three men who all fall in love with the same character. How did the emotional layers of the story work for you?

JJ: The love story for me was not so much the character interaction, but human beings as a species. In a fundamental sense, this is about how we deal with the duality of immediate gratification and self(ish)-propagation versus long-term care of our planet and people. That was the element that hit me hardest.
GEH: I think the message here was much deeper than that of a traditional love story. There was emotion, true, but in a tortured and brutal manner - not that much in the way of romance and beating hearts. There were more tears than laughter for sure. And I think the introduction of a love interest was a very clever way in making the reader connect with the characters and examine the bigger picture.
CT: I fall back on the gradual maturing of Holly Sykes as being the emotional thread that pulled me through the story.

One quote from the character of Crispin Hershey which really connected with me and felt as if Mitchell were reviewing the novel from within: ‘[the author] is so bent on avoiding cliche that each sentence is as tortured as an American whistleblower.’ What do you think he meant by this?

JJ: I think Amis Senior is chuckling in his grave and Amis Junior is grinding his teeth.
GEH: I did think a lot of Hershey's dialogue sounded like the bitchier side of the author coming through - and I loved that. I felt it was a two-fingered salute to some of the more literary writers who look down on genre fiction - and are so uptight with their own intensity they're almost caricatures. I'm too polite to name names, of course!
CT: Yes, surely a dig at those who forget that the most powerful of concepts can be expressed, beautifully, in the simplest of language.

It’s hard to name a similar novel to THE BONE CLOCKS, but if forced to try which author or book comes close?

JJ: Magical realism such as Louis de Bernières or Gabriel Garcia Marquez with an oddly British dose of Margaret Atwood and Scarlett Thomas.
GEH: I would have to go with Margaret Atwood too. The Handmaid's Tale had this sense of fore-shadowing an idea of a macabre future. Maybe also elements of some of Sarah Waters's novels too, more for style than content. And also, some of the atmospheric ideas reminded me of Stephen King's Dark Tower series. 
CT: In terms of brilliant conceptualisation of an alternative reality – probably Philip K Dick. In terms of scope combined with richness of prose, perhaps Michel Faber or Kate Atkinson.

For fans of David Mitchell who haven’t read this book yet – why should they?

JJ: For the voices and characters and the concept. Fans will whoop and go geeky on all the connections, but for a first-timer, this is an extraordinary adventure with an atmosphere of its own.
GEH: I would urge anyone who has never opened a David Mitchell novel to make this the very next book on their reading list. For fans of his, I doubt they need encouragement from me, because this is Mr Mitchell at his very best!
CT: To be led by the hand through a series of fascinating rooms, walking in the shoes of fresh sequence of richly complex characters - what else does one read David Mitchell for?

Friday, 2 September 2016

Creative Spark Week 10 - Sense of Place

One of the most important things to remember about creating a sense of place is that the same location will appear very different depending on whose eyes we are seeing it through.


Parallax is a way of describing the shift in viewpoint that is needed when you step into someone else’s head.

A couple walk down the street holding hands.

If that couple are a white man and a white woman, then in most places in the Western world, that walk down the street is an unremarkable act. But what if that couple were a white man and a black woman? Or two men? Depending on the location, their experience of walking down that street could be completely different from the first couple’s.

Even if all three couples pass along the street unmolested, the way they perceive their surrounding will not be the same. What does each couple think as they approach a group of teenagers drinking lager outside a pub? A policeman talking on his radio?

Allow your characters their own biases, grounded in their experiences of the world.
(Here's a great real life example of parallax from a recent edition of the Guardian.)


Exercise 1: Going for a stroll:

Take your character for a walk through a landscape (or a townscape). Is it one that is familiar to them, or alien? How does a lifelong townie cope with a muddy field full of sheep? Or someone from a small village with noise and the traffic of a big city? What does a person notice on a walk they take every day of their life? What scares them? Surprises them? What do they wish they could change?

Mood Music

Even if character and place remain the same, how they perceive their surrounding will depend on their mood.

Exercise 2: What a difference a day makes:

Select a place where your character spends a lot of time (kitchen, office, favourite park). Describe that place as it seems to them at different key moments in their life. How does their office appear on the first day of a new job? Or just after they close the deal of the decade? As they await the arrival of administrators following bankruptcy?

Ref 1: Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward Writing the Other
Ref 2: Rebecca McClanahan: Word Painting

Exercise 3: Application of sensory detail

Take another place more than one of your characters might frequent in your writing. It could be a pub, playground, bedroom. Take your first character, Joe, for example, who spends all his time in his bedroom. Describe that place ensuring you include all five senses. Now take another character, Susan say. She's Joe's mother and is constantly asking him to clean his bedroom. Describe the place from her point of view including all five senses. How do the characters differ and why?

Exercise 4: Sensory interpretation

Look around you. Choose an object. Something innocuous, nothing with a particular meaning. Look up. Right now. What do you see?

Brainstorm associated words: eg, sash, pane, glass, latch, smudge, reflection, sill, open, freedom, prism, light, draught, escape, bluebottle.

Choose an emotion: eg, contentment, frustration, panic, infatuation, boredom, joy, grief, reconciliation, disillusion.

Write 500 words on the object without naming it, selecting the senses which attach that emotion to that object. Don't say why. Leave us curious.

Exercises by Triskele Books.
Images courtesy of Julie Lewis