Mslexia Novel School . . . the first of many I hope

‘On Monday I had more or less decided I was not a novelist, by last night I had changed my mind. Didn’t expect that!’ This is a quote from ME on the last day of the course.

Before I wrote and published Dear Tosh I began writing in other genres, specifically poetry, short stories and flash fiction. Simultaneously, I drafted two novels, neither of which I actually finished. Well, that’s not strictly true, I finished one then decided it was garbage so put it in a drawer to be forgotten. The other one was unfinished and lay dormant on my computer. There was something not quite right about the premise. I signed up to the Mslexia Novel School, decided to wake up this work in progress and make one last effort at completing it.

From the 11th until the 15th July, I was one of forty odd women who signed up for the online Mslexia Novel School. Every morning for the first half-hour, all the attendees appeared on screen. Rosie Garland talked us through a warm up of writing exercises and ‘chat’. Again in the evening for the last hour, either Rosie or Bec Evans took us through a winding down session. During the rest of the day we were divided into groups of 10 or 12. It was a full on week from 9.30 until 18.00 each day. Four different tutors for workshops covering a variety of novel writing topics.

It was a brilliant week. My group bonded and encouraged each other with constructive feedback on the work that we produced throughout the week — and there was plenty of that — and ideas we all had for new novels or suggestions about our work in progress. It is truly wonderful how supportive other women writers can be. My group are still in contact via WhatsApp and plan regular Zoom meet-ups. How good is that?

Each tutor had put together interesting and informative workshops. They used examples of work from well known books and authors and crafted some clever exercises to expand our ever hungry desire for knowledge. I’ve given a quick list of the tutors and if you want to know more about them you can click on the links.

Voice and POV was run by Margaret Wilkinson a quietly spoken women who taught me not to be afraid to play around with viewpoint and voice until I hit on the one best suited to the piece of work I was writing.

Creating Character was Lesley Glaister who struggled with a sore throat but that didn’t stop her from imparting some great tips re character building including making a connection with an object and a character. I chose a bag of old soap slivers, and invented a troubled young man. Can’t share it because I’m editing it with a view to entering it somewhere.

Pace, Page Turning and Plot fell to Livi Michael. I have to thank Livi for my lightbulb moment of the week when she made me see the weakness in my plot and also turned the few sentences of my ‘pitch to an agent’ into something far more interesting and exciting.

World Building was led by the effervescent Leone Ross was both scary and incredibly enthusiastic. She made us step right out of our comfort zones, stretching our imaginations, in order to create some amazing new and quite different worlds.

I gained something from every tutor during the week and from the hosted discussions held with Rosie and Bec for the whole school on the last day. Rosie shared her journey to publication telling us about her multiple rejections before eventual acceptance. She was the winner of the first Mslexia Novel Competition. What an inspiration she was. We were all in awe. Thank you Rosie.

If you are a woman and considering joining a novel writing course next year, I can recommend Mslexia. Check out what else they have to offer here

Mslexia Novel School

Flash Fiction Festival . . .

Last Thursday, rather late to the party, I signed up to attend the Flash Fiction Festival for just one day – it was absolutely brilliant and I wished I had realised earlier that it was on. I would have attend the whole weekend, from Friday 7th July until Sunday 10th, but as you know, if you read my last post, I’m already committed to a week long online course with Mslexia Novel School starting tomorrow (11th July) and I thought I would not be able to cope with a full weekend ahead of that.

Trinity College Bristol – Venue for the Flash Fiction Festival 2022

The Flash Fiction Festival was full on with some terrific workshops, readings, panel discussions and other activities (I missed out on the karaoke on Friday night but I’ll be there next year!) The house was a perfect venue with beautiful grounds in which to relax or explore. Lots of trees for shade which was needed this year.

The first workshop I did was with Kathy Hoyle from WritersHQ She ran a fast and furious session when participants had to pick a genre out of a hat — hopefully one they didn’t normally write in — two opposing prompts given: ACCIDENTALLY v ON PURPOSE. We were then given twenty minutes to write a story of up to 500 words. By the way, a ‘Flash Face Off’ is run each week on their website. Kathy Hoyle was an enthusiastic and energetic workshop leader and brought out the very best in us…I even ‘won’ a book because I stood up and read out my short piece, which was okay but will benefit from some editing and a better ending! I picked Magic and Myth from the bowl, definitely not my usual choice of genre!

After a coffee break everyone took part in a ‘Word Cricket’ session with Vannessa Gebbie. She started us off with a sentence and we began, with instruction to write quickly and continuously. Every now and then she threw us a random word and we had to immediately insert it into our writing. I had done this before and it’s great fun. It’s amazing the variety of stories that can be created in a very short time.

I absolutely loved the second workshop I attended with Carrie Etter she was a brilliant facilitator. The title of the workshop was ‘Writing the Prose Poetry Sequence or Series’. It was an hour and a half long and it flew by. I could have done a whole day without any problem. She introduced us to a couple of prose series, the first was from Nina Andrews’ The Book of Orgasms (Bloodaxe, 2003) I thought I might feel uncomfortable with this subject, but no, they are light hearted and very clever. I laughed a lot and even read one out loud when asked. Great fun. Sorry I can’t find a link to share these poems. The second example Carrie gave us was from Hilda Sheehan’s debut pamphlet, Frances and Martine (Dancing Girl, 2014). Another series of amusing prose poetry with anecdotes about two middle aged friends. You can get a glimpse here .

We were given the chance to think about and create our own series of prose poems. The idea was to create say three prose poems using one of the following prompts: The Gaze, The Kiss or The Whisper. For example if you chose the kiss you might think of writing the following poems: The Kiss at the Barrier, The Kiss of the Reptile and the Kiss of Death. Get it? The option to expand is endless.

We then went on to talk about Prose Poetry Series, which differ from the above because each poem continues from the poem that comes before it. The example we worked from was Rosmarie Waldrop’s White Is a Color (Guillemot, 2017. It’s 19 short prose poems that tell the story of the speaker’s husband’s fall and recovery. It’s very good.

I am enthused to create some of my own prose poetry series or sequence…watch this space.

During the afternoon I attended a panel on Writing Historical Novellas-in-flash. A very interesting discussion and informative. I was never quite sure what constitutes a novella-in-flash. I thought it had to be a series of flash fiction stories that stood alone but with a story arc. I learnt that each flash-fiction should not exceed 1000 words —but they sometimes do — they don’t ALL have to stand alone but usually a good percentage of them do. There doesn’t have to be a story arc but there should be some connection between them. This is what I now understand, but I’m sure others will say something different. It seemed to me that the ‘rules’ are there to be broken.

My last workshop of the day was with Michael Loveday, ‘Writing the Novella-in-flash: Developing your characters’. I have to admit to being pretty exhausted by this point and could not really focus as well as I had earlier in the day. But, it was a good workshop and Michael gave us all several handouts to take way and use at home. Thank goodness ….I’m going to use his many tips for getting deep into my fictional characters. I think the worksheets might come in handy for my novel school next week!

I’m going to leave you with this photograph… how and why do you think that little yellow duck ended up on the top of the dresser? I have no idea but my eyes kept being drawn to it during one workshop.

Writing Courses. . . Yes or No?

It is now well over twelve months since I published my memoir Dear Tosh and during that time I have not finished any other work in progress. I have two novels on the go — actually three — but none are anywhere near finished. I also began, in earnest, to write a memoir about my life in Italy but this fell by the wayside when I realised that it was probably not going to be of interest to anyone. It’s been done too many times before. I have to think of a different angle for it rather than a series of anecdotes about being an expat abroad. Quite a few poems were created or edited over the last few months but nothing good enough to put into a pamphlet, at least not yet. Also, a radio play which has been put in a drawer then pulled out and edited several times over the last ten years! I am, if you like, in a state of ‘half-dressed’ with everything I do, and I find it a lot easier to choose clothing and complete my outfit than to bring any of my WIP to a satisfactory conclusion.

In an attempt to actually finish something, I’ve signed up to the Mslexia Novel School next week. It’s an online course from Monday to Friday aimed at those of us who want to — but don’t seem to be able to — begin or finish a work of fiction. I’m a believer in courses, any courses; online, in person or a hybrid of both. On the whole I find them inspiring and I need the interaction with tutors and other writers to keep me motivated. I know that sometimes feedback can be harsh and often full of words you don’t want to read or hear but you have to learn to pick out the more objective notes and take them on board.

I have an MA in Creative Writing and I facilitate creative writing sessions on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need to attend writing courses myself. I believe that you can ever stop learning.

I’m full of enthusiasm and can’t wait to get going. . . I’ll update you at the end of next week as to how the novel writing course went.