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Radio show

Conversations about writing, reading and bookish life with me (yours truly) and independent bookseller Peter Snell (Barton’s Bookshop, Surrey, UK).

tim fran and bookshop recording sept 034smlIf you follow me on Facebook you’ll have seen the various pictures of us goofing with a fuzzy microphone, recording in the bookshop while customers slink past with bemused expressions. (Yes, that tiny gizmo is the complete mobile recording kit. It’s adorable.)

The shows were broadcast on Surrey Hills Radio in 2014 to 2016. The run has finished now but we made 52 episodes and the studio guys have made podcasts so you can listen whenever you want.

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‘Janys in Venice, Tina in Canada, EJ in New Mexico…’ – global audience for our writing radio show

adam21Our show on Surrey Hills Radio just got this lovely write-up on a new website, This Is Wild. I’m not sure how we fit the wild agenda, but the interviewer has cited our enthusiasm for all things of publishing, our robust arguments about how you pronounce the Norrell of Jonathan Strange and our music collection. (Okay; my music collection.)

We talk about how the show began, and how the fans made our early adam1episodes into a party on Facebook. (Chriss from Whoknowswhere and Henry in Hyding should also be on that list.) There are a few useful writing tips in among all that, as well as pointers for making friends with local bookshops. And if you prefer audio, you can listen to the whole interview on Soundcloud from the This is Wild site.

Library Journal 1coverLF3In other terribly exciting news, Lifeform Three has just been selected as one of just 200 self-published books to be promoted nationally in libraries across the US. It’s part of an initiative called Library Journal Self-e, and you still have time to enter their awards. And Lifeform Three brings us neatly back to the Surrey Hills, because this haunting landscape was one of my inspirations.

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So You Want To Be A Writer? New radio show to get you started

tim fran and bookshop recording sept 034smlEvery week, my bookseller friend Peter Snell gets customers who ask him nervously: ‘how do I write’ and ‘how do I get published’? Sometimes they give him manuscripts or book proposals. I get emails with the same questions.

So we decided to team up for a series of shows for Surrey Hills Radio. If you’re a regular on this blog, you’re probably beyond starter-level advice, but if you’re feeling your way, or your friends or family have always hankered to do what you do, this might be just the ticket.

If you follow me on Facebook you’ll have seen the various pictures of us goofing with a fuzzy microphone, recording in the bookshop while customers slink past with bemused expressions. (Yes, that tiny gizmo is the complete mobile recording kit. It’s adorable.) So far the shows have been available only at the time of broadcast on Surrey Hills Radio (Saturday afternoons at 2pm BST), but the studio guys have now made podcasts so you can listen whenever you want. Shows in the back catalogue have covered

  • giving yourself permission to write
  • establishing a writing habit
  • thinking like a writer
  • getting published 101
  • how to self-publish.

This week’s show will be on planning a non-fiction book and the show after that will be outlining a novel – and will also include sneak peeks of the advice I’ve been cooking up for my third Nail Your Novel, on plot. So you want to be a writer? We have the inside knowledge. Do drop by.

 

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2 interviews about teaching and writing – Venice, BBC Radio London

venice postThe organisers of my Venice masterclass, Henry and Janys Hyde, have just published this interview about the course. If you’d like to know a little more about my teaching approach, or indeed how I came to be doing this at all, this is the place to go. And if you’d like to come to another, let them know!

BBC LondonAlso, I’ve been on BBC Radio London this week, on Jo Good’s afternoon show. The day before I’d listened to Jo interview Candace Bushnell, so I made sure to wear feisty boots. Jo asked me about ghostwriting, tips for writers etc – some of which may be familiar to those of you who have hung around here for a while. Anyway, if you’re curious it’s here for the next 30 days. My section begins at 1 hour 10 minutes.

Oh, and these were my interview boots. Roberto Cavalli. I hope Carrie Bradshaw would approve.

boots

 

 

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So You Want To Be A Writer – musical taster of past shows

I just discovered that Mixcloud, where Surrey Hills Radio archive the show I present with bookseller Peter Snell, has a function to share episodes on WordPress. Now you might be thinking I’ve posted a lot of audio and video recently, so let me reassure you I haven’t abandoned text. That would be somewhat absurd for a blog by a writer anyway, as prose is our instrument. Prose posts will be resumed, fear not.

But Mixcloud has these twinkling buttons, so here goes. The episode I’ve chosen is the special we recorded at Easter, where we ran through highlights of previous shows with the music we played at the time. For lo, one of the joys of working with a radio station is that they are licensed to broadcast music. (So you get the bliss of my music collection, for better or worse.)

We usually stick to two carefully chosen tracks that illustrate the topic under discussion, more or less. All right, sometimes it’s tenuous when I want an excuse to play something. Think of it as a ‘back to mine’ evening, with writing talk. But this episode we collected a few of our favourites together, so you get Symphony of Science, Grace Jones, Christopher Cross, The Eagles, Avalanches, Paul Weller, Nick Cave and a few other surprises which we’ll keep for you to discover. Hope you enjoy the trip.

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How to choose an excerpt to showcase your novel

If you have to showcase your novel – perhaps for a reading, a book trailer or as an excerpt on a blog or website, how do you choose a piece to do it justice? I recently gave a reading at a book event in London – a landmark as it was my first – and choosing an excerpt was a little more tricky than I anticipated.

Not the beginning

I’d assumed I’d read from the beginning. Surely that was a no-brainer. There would be no need to explain anything. It introduces the narrator, charms you into the story world.

But then I was listening to Radio 4’s Film Programme and noticing how they teased  a movie they were about to feature. There would be a short spiel about the premise and then a clip. It wasn’t the beginning, but the first plot point, the first irrevocable step into a new and perilous situation.

So although we hone our beginning so that it grabs, it’s perhaps not for a live situation. It’s for settling down with, not standing up.

Waiting to go on. I remembered to put my handbag down

So I looked at my first plot point. Out of context, it was too baffling. I tried my narrator’s first hypnosis session when she goes to the future. It was spooky, but much of its power came from the interplay with the two characters. It was as much about them as it was about what they were doing, but if you hadn’t got involved with them I feared it wouldn’t sizzle.

A grounding scene

But not long before that was a scene where my narrator’s best friend is hypnotised back to the time of Jack the Ripper. This is the way hypnotic regression conventionally works, and I’d written it partly to ground the reader, to present them with the idea in familiar guise before I started to warp it. This excerpt is easy to understand if you come to it cold, it has plenty of drama and it’s narrated by a horrified friend. It’s self-contained. Perfect.

Time yourself

I had to fit into a strict five-minute slot. Reading at a pace listeners can keep with, that’s less text than you might think – though it seemed for ever with all those faces watching me. Five minutes gave me two sides of text from my print edition.

Abridge

I didn’t use the excerpt exactly as it appears. I removed sections that you could only understand if you’d read the earlier scenes. An audience’s attention will wander easily and if you confuse them, you lose them. I also trimmed the description of what the hypnotised Jerry sees in the regression. In the book, it’s part of the veracity of the experience and the details are significant later, but in radio drama descriptions tend to be shorter. Writing that works for the eye doesn’t always hold the attention of a listener. But even if your excerpt will appear in print, consider whether you need the extra details that only make sense in the full work.

Write an introduction

I had to allow for an introduction in my five minutes as well. My usual back cover blurb was too sweeping so I simplified to give my excerpt maximum impact: The narrator is Carol, a classical pianist, who is forced to stop playing because of a mysterious pain in her hands – and fears she may never play again. Her closest friend, Jerry, also has a secret burden – he has crippling panic attacks and is convinced they are caused by a trauma in a past life. In this scene Carol accompanies him to a secret theatre under a house in London, and a stage hypnotist. (If you’ve read the story you might spot I’ve taken liberties with my own ‘facts’. In the novel, Jerry’s curiosity about past lives isn’t as straightforward as this introduction suggests. But it’s all a listener needs to know for these purposes.)

Dammit, be a storyteller

As I said, I’d never read my work out loud before, even in the writer-friendly confines of a bookshop. This event was taking place in a pub. Not a place where people go to read. We had a stage and a microphone, but the crowd had their cronies and beer. They were too nice to heckle, but we had to win them over.

Delivery made a huge difference. Some readers kept their noses in their novels and never looked up. Their excerpts might have been great, but they were reading to themselves and after the first sentences the general rustle of conversation rose. The readers who commanded attentive silence looked frequently into the crowd and told their stories with a bit of swagger.

Dammit, we’re storytellers. We hold our reader with our conviction on the page, and stand-up reading needs that confidence too. (You can guess which option I favoured. It worked.) Afterwards I talked to a seasoned pro who had roared and waved through his piece and he confirmed that you could never overdo the drama.

Copies, flyers and stuff

Of course, take copies of your books. But those of us who were new to the crowd didn’t sell many copies, because people don’t usually buy the first time they hear about you. Or they might want ebooks. But they will take other souvenirs and it’s worth cramming in as much as you can – bookmarks, catalogues, flyers. I had dinky Moo cards, beautifully printed slivers the size of a French train ticket. All of them disappeared.

If you’re doing a reading, here are my tips for success

  • Choose an excerpt that shows off your hook
  • Re-edit your original text
  • Take ‘souvenirs’
  • Tap your inner show-off. There’s no such thing as too much drama

Thanks for the bookshop pic, katclay

Such was my experience. Have you got any tips to share, either as an audience member or from reading your own work at events? Share in the comments!

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Roz, you broke BlogTalkRadio

I did live radio last night! I was guest on Page Turners, an internet radio show on BlogTalkRadio hosted by Meg Collins, Antoinette Dickson and Nancy Denofio. These ladies live to write. Meg is a poet, scriptwriter and the author of scores of children’s books and resides at the delightfully named blog The Diary of a Starfish. Nancy is a debut poet and the author of the hauntingly titled What Brought You Here? and Antoinette is taking her first steps to becoming a published author and has a blog A Serendipitous Sojourn.

As I said, we all live to write – so of course were quite challenged to get a hook-up across the Atlantic without using Skype. Just don’t ask why we didn’t use Skype – you won’t get a civilised answer, not least because none of us know. So the first part of the show, Antoinette and I had the airwaves to ourselves while Nancy was shouting into a dead line and Meg was marooned in another pocket of communications limbo.

While Antoinette and I made writerly chit-chat we were all conducting a fraught conversation on email and Facebook: ‘Where are you?’ ‘You have to log in’  ‘I am logged in’ ‘I can see you on my desk but can’t hear you’. ‘Roz you broke BlogTalkRadio’. And so on.

But the airwave fairies released Nancy and Meg in the end, and they grilled me about how many books I’ve sold ghostwriting, my film with Matt Damon, the Morris writing household … and got me to talk quite a lot about the novel I have on submission, My Memories of a Future Life.

You can listen to it again here… and a proper post is coming tomorrow – on stories within stories, and fantasies within story worlds.

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How to write a memoir about difficult times

I’ve had this question from Julia.

I would like to write a nonfictional account of my experience as a caregiver of my 80-year-old mum during lockdown. I’ve never done any creative writing. Where do I start? A diary, a memoir? I’ve been through a lot of struggle and want to put that on paper. Maybe someday I will publish it to share my experience with people facing the same difficulties.

First, Julia, capture the raw material. Start with a diary. Write it as often as possible, before you make any decisions about what to do with it.

How to write the diary

You might be self-conscious to begin with. You might worry about who will read it and what they’ll get from it. Forget that for now.

You won’t publish this diary. It’s notes that you will eventually use to create a book. So for now, it’s you and your thoughts, talking privately to a page or a recording app – whatever is comfortable.

Keep it simple. Just write what you did today. Then write whether that was usual or unusual, and how. If it’s usual, for how long has it been usual? Write how that made you feel, what was difficult and what was a pleasure, and why. Write what you think tomorrow will be like. Or next week. Write your hopes and pleasures and fears.

Do this every day, or as often as you can.

Don’t edit

Don’t worry about repeating yourself. Don’t try to edit as you go. You’re not trying to write the proper book yet. That’s a separate job for later. Just capture vivid moments, hours, days, weeks, in all their honesty. But you probably won’t repeat yourself as much as you think. Even if the events are largely the same, your thoughts and insight will evolve. You will also become better at sharing deeply.

Add context

When you’re comfortable with this, start to include other material that will be meaningful for a reader. Context that lets us know who you are, where you’re coming from, how this is changing your life and changing you. At some point, write what you were doing five years ago, 10 years ago, one year ago. Anything that feels significant.

Don’t delete

This will be an emotional document. You might regret things you wrote in earlier pages. If so, do not delete them.

This is an essential part of your growth. It is the truth of the situation you seek to share. You’re not trying to be a perfect person; you’re aiming to be an honest human who is sometimes angry or self-indulgent or wrong or foolish. So if you find yourself disappointed about earlier writings, examine that disappointment, and what you would now do or think differently. Recognise also that you are likely to change your mind again.

Start planning the book

After a while, you’ll notice patterns and themes. Continue to write your daily accounts, but start a separate textfile or notebook. You’re now ready to think about the big picture. How you’ll use your diaries to create a book that can connect with others.

Certain material in the diary won’t be relevant. Also, you’ll need to add. But remember, a memoir isn’t your whole life; it’s usually the story of a specific struggle. You might have many memoirs in you. What is the focus of this one?

We are made of many memoirs

At the same time, this focus might be more complex and far-reaching than you initially thought – this situation might force you to grapple with other problems and issues. Or you might want to include material about other significant people – perhaps your mother herself. Write notes to experiment with these ideas. See what seems a natural fit.

Also, look for what makes your story unique. Although you are writing about a situation that others also find themselves in, yours will have a unique impact on you, and you will have a unique way of handling it.

From my interview with Peter Selgin, author of The Inventors

Other aspects to consider

You need to be objective, honest and fair, which is hard – see this interview with Peter Selgin.

Two more links on gathering material and shaping it for others to read. My radio show with Peter Snell. Also this post about the writing of Not Quite Lost (a much happier subject, but it started with private diaries).

More on choosing what to focus on, the idea that our lives contain many stories – how fiction writers adapt to memoir.

If you’d like more concentrated writing advice, my Nail Your Novel books are full of tips like this. If you’re curious about my own creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. If you’d like to support bricks-and-mortar bookstores use Bookshop.org. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, find my latest newsletter here and subscribe to future updates here.

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Writing resolutions – making them and keeping them – Ep 14 FREE podcast for writers

Welcome back to the rerun of my radio show, So You Want To Be A Writer. In today’s episode you’ll see one glaring hazard of the seasonal show – the new year issue that’s no longer at new year. But today’s a new week! And, more seriously, we’re all getting used to new normals, so perhaps the material in this show is timely after all.

We’re covering everything you need to harness your creative zeal, get your projects moving, set good habits, keep going when hurdles get in your way.

You might have noticed our inspirational music choices. Obviously you fast-forward through them if they’re not your bag, but I have to give a warning about one of today’s. It’s the Portsmouth Sinfonia. If you don’t know the Portsmouth Sinfonia, make sure you’re not operating heavy machinery. I first heard them while driving and I nearly crashed.

Asking the questions (or most of them) is independent bookseller Peter Snell. Answering them is me!

Stream from the widget below or go to our Mixcloud page and binge the whole lot.

PS If you’d like more concentrated writing advice, try my Nail Your Novel books. If you’re curious about my own creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk and how I’m adapting to these strange times, find my latest newsletter here and subscribe to future updates here.

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Feel the fear and put yourself out there – advice for shy authors

A while ago I was at an author event about book publicity. Finding magazines, blogs and broadcast media that will review our book or interview us. How do we do that? The first thing to do, said my friend Ben Cameron of Cameron PR, is to get the right mindset. Think of it as creative. And fun.

Afterwards, I fell into conversation with Tina, who didn’t see it as fun. She said: ‘I don’t feel comfortable putting myself out there. Asking people if they’ll interview me or feature my book. I just can’t. How do you do that?’

I’d just been conducting my own campaign for Not Quite Lost. It went better than I expected. I managed to pitch successfully to bloggers, mainstream print magazines and BBC radio stations. The first time I pressed Send I had to gird my courage, but after that it didn’t feel embarrassing.

I told Tina that. She wasn’t convinced.

This interested me because Tina wasn’t exactly a mouse. She taught workshops. She controlled groups of creative people and made them do stuff. She was also a playwright, and accustomed to plain-speaking feedback from actors and directors. Yet she was saying: ‘Asking for publicity … it’s like walking into a roomful of strangers and trying to talk to them. Don’t tell me you find that easy?’

I agreed I didn’t. Not remotely.  ‘But that other stuff is different.’

‘Why?’ asked Tina, which made me think.

Obviously, you get used to pitching. You learn that magazines, newspapers and radio shows are looking for material. They don’t open your email and cackle at your ridiculous hubris. You’re all in a day’s work. They actually hope you’ll match their requirements.

But the biggest realisation – the one that let me pitch without a qualm – was the realisation that none of it, actually, was about me. I was not seeking attention for me. It was for my books.

So it’s not about you, tiny naked vulnerable mind being dragged into a big bright light to explain yourself. It’s not even about personal confidence, whatever that is. It’s about confidence in your work.

This week I had a book club event for My Memories of a Future Life. It went well, but last night, I had the anxiety dream. In it, I was talking to a presenter from BBC radio who said: ‘I think I’ll cancel this interview. I don’t like you very much.’

And this is the thing. Whether we’re seeking publicity or releasing a book, it will always take a little of our skin. But I think this is like the anxiety that puts a performer on their mettle, or makes a doctor careful with their responsibility for a human life. It’s unavoidable, so we might as use it as a strength.

Though I still have problems walking into a roomful of strangers – and had reason to consider this in my latest newsletter.

Give me your thoughts!

PS I had a nice surprise this week when Feedspot nominated me as one of their top 3 UK blogs for selfpublishers. If I should thank any of you guys for this – then thank you!

 

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