Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Highlights from the Triskele Lit Fest

When the Triskele Books' one day Lit Fest came to a close in September, we knew that the conversations generated across the five panels were far too good not to share with a wider audience.

Thanks to sponsorship from Matador Books and sound engineering expertise from Live Box (who overcame some significant challenges in the form of noise intrusion from dance classes in the room above) we were able to record the panels and upload the videos to our YouTube channel.

Here are some of the highlights from the day, which we hope will tempt you to delve into the videos to watch the discussions in full.

Sci Fi and Fantasy

We kicked off the day with a lively discussion with Sci Fi and Fantasy authors Felicia Yap, CS Wilde, Jeff Norton, Eliza Green and Yen Ooi, chaired by Jack Wedgbury from Matador.

The panel showcased the vast range of modern Sci Fi and Fantasy. Felicia's upcoming Yesterday is a thriller about a murder being investigated in a world where most people only remember yesterday. CS Wilde's A Courtroom of Ashes is a fantasy about a lawyer in hell. Jeff Norton's MetaWars explores what happens when humans retreat from the real world into a digital one. Eliza Green's Becoming Human imagines humans competing for resources with another race on a distant planet, while Yen Ooi's Sun; Queens of Earth harnesses the powers of dreams to provide energy.

Between them, they reveal their inspiration and discuss how SFF liberates them to explore big themes from what it means to be human to the destruction of the Earth, but to view them through a personal perspective.

What do an oyster card, an iPod, a set of Bose headphones, a paintbrush and a passport reveal about their writing processes?


In the second panel of the day, Triskele's Liza Perrat talked to Romance writers Isabel Wolff, Charlie Maclean, Sareeta Domingo and Carol Cooper.

Isabel is an accidental novelist who began her fiction career when a newspaper column about the singles scene was turned into a novel. She has since written ten more novels.  Charlie Maclean's Unforgettable is a 'Sliding Doors' type story that explores the consequences of asking someone on a date ... or not. Sareeta Domingo's The Nearness of You, about a young woman falling in love with her best friend's boyfriend, also examines themes of bereavement and depression. Carol Cooper's multi-stranded narratives follow an array of couples at different stages in their lives.

They explore how far a Romance novel can play with the RWA's definition of "a narrative centred around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make their relationship work." They consider the role of sex in a romance novel - does it have a place in moving the plot forward and revealing character, or should the author keep the bedroom door closed? When men write Romance, does it get 'elevated' into a different category? What happens when you try writing in the dark?

And a pocket watch, a photograph, some music and a bottle of bathroom cleaner reveal surprising secrets about their writing process.

(With apologies for the poor quality of sound in the audience segments on this video)

Crime and Thrillers

Next, Ben Cameron of Cameron PR talked to Crime and Thriller authors Kate Hamer, Adam Croft and Chris Longmuir.

Kate Hamer's The Girl in the Red Coat is a dual narrative about a mother and her lost child. Adam Croft's Her Last Tomorrow is also centres round a missing child, but in this case the father receives a ransom note with an impossible demand. Chris Longmuir's Devil's Porridge is a historical crime novel based around the first policewomen in Scotland, guarding a munitions factory during WWI.

They contrast the challenges of the different types of stories they tell, reveal the horrible secret of what Devil's Porridge really was, explore the new concept of Grip Lit, and explain how a bottle of perfume, a literary award and the scan of one's unborn child continue to inspire their writing.

The empty seat at the end of the row belongs to Nigerian author Leye Adenle, who was prevented from getting to the Lit Fest on the day. Catriona Troth caught up with him a few weeks later and you can read her interview with him here

Historical Fiction

In the last genre based panel of the day, four very different authors discuss Historical fiction with fellow author Jane Davis.

Orna Ross's Her Secret Rose is a fictional account of the real life lovers WB Yeats and Maud Gonne. Radhika Swarup's Where the River Parts looks at the largest displacement of people in human history, following the Partition of India, through the eyes of a young Hindu woman. JD Smith's Overlord series takes us all the way back to 3rd Century Syria and the life of Zenobia, the warrior queen who nearly toppled the Roman Empire. Alison Morton's Roma Nova series is an alternative history in which the Roman Empire survived into the 20th Century.

The four authors reveal why the chose their particular stories to tell, the different challenges and responsibilities of writing history from the recent and distant pasts, how to create a voice appropriate for a different time period , and the discovery that surprised them most in the course of writing their books

And an index card, a bracelet, 'the only book I have ever defaced' and a photograph of a Roman gladius reveal secrets about their writing process.

Preserving the Unicorn - conversations with literary authors and their editors.

The last panel of the day was a discussion with literary authors and their editors, chaired by Triskele's Catriona Troth. Sunny Singh discusses her novel, Hotel Arcadia, and the fascinating role her Dutch translator played in honing the manuscript. Alex Pheby and his editor from Galley Beggar Press, Sam Jordison, discuss his novel, Playthings, the fictionalised story of Daniel Schreber, of one of Freud's most celebrated case studies. And Rohan Quine and his editor Dan Holloway take the lid off the process of editing Rohan's latest novel, Beasts of Electra Drive.

In this wide-ranging conversation, Sunny reveals inspirations ranging from Dante's Inferno to Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. Alex  explains how his novel grew out of frustration with blinkered 20th C analysis of Scheber. Sam  describes how he absorbed the emotional impact of the book and imagined telling a reviewer, "I've got this book and it's going to destroy you," before deciding "of course we've got to publish it."  And Rohan describes his book  as a 'love bite to the world,'  while Dan calls it 'a beautiful spectacle compiled of horror.'

Part way through the conversation, Alex Pheby threw a provocation to the audience. "All forms of masculine activity are vile and pernicious and should be weeded out." Sadly, time ran out before the implications of this could be explored. After the event, though, Orna Ross came up with some great questions for Alex. We hope to get the chance to put those questions to him in the new year. If so, we will publish his responses in Words with Jam.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Christmas Gift Ideas for Writers

By Jane Dixon-Smith

You've bought gifts for your nan, the next door-but-one neighbour, and your ex-girlfriend's dog, but there's one missing: that crazy writer in your life. Here's my list of this year's hot Christmas gifts for your writery friends ...

1) The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide To Character Expression

I've bought this for myself. A book highlighting 75 emotions and listing the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each. Paperback £9.51

2. Writers' Tears Whisky

Admittedly you have to like whisky, and I'm sure it's not real writers' tears, but a great name. 

3. Paper Plates

Well, not really, but they look like paper. 

4. Writing Retreat

Set in beautiful Wales, Ty Newydd hosts a variety of writing classes and retreats throughout the year. How about Storytelling from the Start? £220 - £295 per person.

5. An Umbrella

I know, it sounds a bit odd, but there's a whole bunch of these available and they'll keep you dry in the winter weather. £14.99

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Writing Queer Fiction, by David C Dawson

Did you know that Bram Stoker’s Dracula has homoerotic aspects? Count Dracula, for example, warns off the female vampires and claims Jonathan Harker, saying, “This man belongs to me!” Stoker was influenced by Sheridan le Fanu, whose novella Carmilla invented lesbian vampires.

It was pretty tricky to write queer fiction in the 19th Century. In fact, right up to the 1950s, British authors could be prosecuted for writing openly about homosexuality. Queer references were written in a kind of code, using allusions and discreet subtext. Oscar Wilde was very daring when he wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray. Reviewers at the time said he merited prosecution for offending public morality.

Fortunately in the 20th century, public prudery steadily dissipated, and writers became bolder. From Thomas Mann’s delicious Death in Venice, and Proust’s complex A la recherche du temps perdu, through to Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series and Bret Easton Ellis’ amazing American Psycho, queer characters increasingly took centre stage.

Which brings us to this century. And my ventures into writing queer fiction.

As a commuter on the Metropolitan line into London for many years, I wrote short stories to amuse myself. I’m a life long fan of detective novels, and finally I plucked up the courage to write one for myself.

It was a form of therapy. I was late coming out, very late. Writing helped me come to terms with myself. I wanted to write a book where the central characters, plus the majority of supporting characters, just happened to be gay. The book would be the opposite of most detective fiction. I didn’t want the gay characters to be oddities. When I was immersing myself in queer fiction, I found too many novels had queer characters that were full of angst. Victims. I wanted my characters to be positive.

So that’s how Dominic Delingpole and his partner Jonathan McFadden were born, in the Dominic Delingpole Mystery series. Neither of them is modelled on a single individual. They are a rich mixture of gay men I have encountered over the years.

The writing process was long; a little over three years. After the first draft, I was lucky enough to go on a five-day Queer Fiction course run annually by the admirable writers’ education organisation called Arvon. There were nine of us, plus two tutors, in a beautiful old house in the wilds of Yorkshire. We had no internet connection and no mobile phone signal. But we had great company and spectacular views.

The tutors, very politely, ripped my book apart. So when I got home, I stuffed it in a drawer and got on with everyday life. It was my boyfriend who nudged me, cajoled me and nagged me into taking it out of the drawer, and having another go.

So I did.

I went through three redrafts, and I was still unhappy with it. But this time, it was my son who asked the question: “What’s the point if you never send it to a publisher?”

When I looked around for a publisher, I wanted one who actively promoted gay literature. I was very lucky to find an American house called DSP Publications, part of DreamSpinner Press. That’s when I found out just how rich the queer genre is.

There are thousands of books published each year with strong, queer characters at the heart of them. There are romances, thrillers, horror, science fiction, westerns. There are so many sub-genres to this wonderful genre.

DreamSpinner Press was set up ten years ago, just as eBooks and internet distribution was gaining in popularity. Its founder, Elizabeth North, saw a gap in the market for gay romances. A few years later, she set up DSP Publications to serve other queer genres.

The internet has revolutionised queer fiction. Historically, very few bookshops would stock queer books. It took a demonstration at Barnes & Noble in the 1980s to force them to devote a shelf to queer culture. In the UK, you would have to travel to London and the amazing Gay’s the Word bookshop near King’s Cross to buy a book on a gay or lesbian theme.

Today, there are thousands of queer fiction titles online. Not just on Amazon, but the Apple bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones and so many more.

My novel, The Necessary Deaths, is a gay mystery thriller. This is a rich sub-genre. There is a thriving Facebook group devoted to it, and I am honoured to be a member of the International Thriller Writers’ Association, where I have met several other writers of gay thrillers.

Just before The Necessary Deaths was published, I was a guest speaker at a queer writing conference and book festival called UK Meet, held in Southampton. I was fortunate to meet other novelists from around the world, who were all very welcoming. I was also able to meet a number of enthusiastic readers of queer fiction. That was a great privilege. Suddenly, my writing was no longer my personal therapy. I met people who felt a great sense of belonging, as a result of queer fiction, when in the past they had felt isolated.

I’m now part of a worldwide community of queer fiction writers and readers, who are giving me wonderful support as I work to complete the next book in the series.

You can read Catriona Troth's review of The Necessary Deaths on Book Muse UK here.