The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate is in its 15th year, and this July you can join me and top editor Sam Eades for a Thriller Writing Masterclass – a free event to be held in the Orion Crime Incident Room. Numbers are limited so book soon to guarantee your place!
This month I’ve had the pleasure of chatting to Elaine Aldred over on Strange Alliances, on the intricacies of writing about people and place. Here’s a short extract from the interview – please click the link to read on:
“Isabel Ashdown is a writer who can make the ordinary extraordinary. Her perceptive stories create characters you care about, and Isabel’s attention to detail is so seamlessly applied to the narrative that the reader becomes easily immersed in their worlds. These are the skills that make Isabel’s books invaluable reads for any writer struggling with characterisation and the way to create a credible world around them.
How do you go about writing? Do you have the plot worked out ahead of time or do you just sit down and write?
My writing always begins with a seed of an idea – a what if? – and a strong sense of a character. Once I have these two things I can throw myself into getting words down, into finding and refining the voice, and it’s not until that’s firmly located and flowing that I can even start to think about plot.
In Summer of ’76 my what if? was: ‘What if adults were misbehaving in a small community – and what if their teenaged kids found out? Imagine the shame. How would that unfold?’ Whether I’m reading or writing, character is king – above any amount of genius plotting and lyrical prose. I have to feel something for the character, care about them, be intrigued enough to follow them on their journey and turn the page.” Read more …
Early in 2011 I was invited to be a speaker at an event in Brighton, which brought together individuals from the creative industries, to discuss networking and support in our community. Attendees included writers, musicians, artists, acrobats – and a whole host of associated creative workers.
One of the questions that came up again and again was this: “Why are creative individuals so often expected to give their time and efforts for free?” It’s a good question. You’d never invite a technical expert to speak at a ticket-paying seminar and not expect to pay them. Then why are writers and artists regularly invited to appear at ticket-paying festivals and talks with no offer of remuneration at all?
In my first year as a published author, I consciously made the decision to accept every literary event offered to me. I’m glad I did, as I’m now much clearer on what’s worth doing and what’s not. Today, I’m comfortable turning down an unpaid gig if I can’t see evidence that the event will be a) well attended, b) lead to book sales, or c) offer something of value within my local community.
The Society of Authors recently issued a report on ‘Authors’ Appearances’, to provide members with some basic guidelines to refer to in terms of what to charge and when.
The SoA report gave some examples of authors regretting giving their time for free. One member is quoted: “I do get cross when you take in, say, 500 people paying £8 each, and are paid not a penny out of the £3,500+. No rock group or comedian would dream of accepting such a deal.” Another said: “Bearing in mind that some festivals are now big business, they should pay speakers commensurate fees. £250-500 should be the norm.”
However, the report also talked about reasons its members gave for being willing to accept a low/no fee. They included: Feeling confident of being treated well and having fun; supporting a charity or under-funded cause; seeing clear opportunities for raising their profile; having the chance to network with others; supporting a local event which is nearby and incurs no expenses.
Local events: If it’s an organisation with low-funding, and I feel my presence will add something I am happy to give my time for free. But only if there is also a clear opportunity to sell books and gain exposure through press/radio etc.
Festivals & Conferences: I expect to be paid – but of course that’s not always the reality. Early on in my career I was a speaker at a small festival for which my publishers were told there was no budget for fees. It was a lovely event, reasonably well attended and I sold a good number of books. The 50 or so attendees each paid £6 of which I received no fee at all. On the one hand, this might be acceptable – I was a relatively new writer, and it helped me to gain exposure. On the other hand, the bigger name writers were all paid large fees, and of course my non-payment effectively helped to subsidise those. Now I’m a little more seasoned, I do expect some kind of payment for my time and efforts, whether it be an actual fee, being put up in a nice hotel or free tickets for the weekend’s events.
The Society of Authors recommends £350 for a full day and £250 for a half-day engagement at a literary festival, plus expenses.
Schools & Universities: If I’m invited to run a teaching workshop, give a talk etc I will always charge a fee. Contrary to common belief, schools often do have budgets for this kind of event, and it’s only right that they pay you, just as they would if you were a visiting TV or sports’ personality. If it’s clear they can’t afford it, I sometimes offer other options eg “OK, if you buy 20 copies of my book for your library or to sell on, I’ll come in to talk for an hour.” In order to get your book out there, you have to be creative! I’ll also give up my time to judge a poetry competition or meet with a small group of local high school kids at their book club – it’s my community, and I’m glad to help encourage literacy and creativity where I can.
The Society of Authors recommends £350 for a full day and £250 for a half-day engagement at a school, plus expenses, or £150 for a single session not exceeding one hour.
TV & Radio: Unless you’re a mega-star, TV and radio just never pays a fee, so be grateful if they invite you to appear, and make the most of the free publicity!
Libraries: The SoA report states that some libraries will pay for author appearances. I have to say, I’ve never received a payment and in the current climate of library closures and cutbacks, I wouldn’t dream of requesting a fee. Just view it as a chance to engage with your readers whilst supporting your local community.
The debate over payments for authors’ appearances will, I’ve no doubt, roll on. My advice to anyone starting out would be this: Initially, do everything that you’re comfortable with in terms of promoting yourself and your book. Use it as a time to make friends and contacts in the literary world, and enjoy it. Then, take time to reflect on what has worked and what has not before deciding on a plan for the future promotion of your efforts. Finally, join the Society of Authors, as their quarterly magazine, advice and support is worth every penny of the £90 annual fee.
Many thanks to the Society of Authors for their characteristically clear information and advice on ‘Authors’ Appearances’ sent with a 2011 issue of The Author magazine.
Last week I was pleased to visit Hove library to talk about my debut novel Glasshopper in an interview with literary agent Adrian Weston. Louise Halvardsson, Events Coordinator at Hove Library arranged the evening which which saw a good turnout of interesting readers and writers from the local area. As well as working for the library service, Swedish born Louise is a writer, and you can read more about her here.
Hove library is a fabulous community hub which supports and promotes literacy and learning in the South East. It’s an invaluable public resource and testament to the importance of libraries in our society.
As always, it was delightful to chat to several people who are in the early stages of writing, or who want to start writing. I clearly remember that stage before I embarked on my own writing journey, and I remember just how important it was for me to gain encouragement from other writers. Libraries provide an informal forum for this kind of event, and we must acknowledge the importance of libraries like Hove in supporting readers and writers in this way.
We ended the evening with a sneak-preview from my forthcoming novel Hurry Up and Wait, which releases in June 2011. The passage I chose to read featured white leggings, L’Air du Temps and saveloy sausages … you’ll have to wait to read it to find out more!
You can see a short film from the evening below, along with a message from Louise Halvardsson of Hove Library: