On 1st December, it was my great joy to travel to London once again to meet up with fellow Bridge House Publishing/Cafelit/Chapeltown Books authors at the annual celebration event. On the way up by train, I enjoyed my usual routine of writing stories on my phone app and getting quite a bit of work done by the time I got into Waterloo.
It was a change of venue for the Bridge House event this time – from Camden Town to Southwark – but St. Andrew’s church where the event was held was a lovely, airy building and people from the church laid on free tea, coffee, soft drinks, and even wine for us all. This went down very well with everyone! It was also very easy to find from Southwark Tube Station, which was also appreciated by those of us who used train and tube (which frankly is the best way to get into London. No parking worries, no struggling through traffic, no congestion charge etc).
My thanks must go to Dawn Kentish Knox, author of the wonderful The Great War for taking some of the photos included in this piece and for kind permission to use them. Her book is 100 stories of 100 words each, all with World War One as its theme. If you like character study and/or historical fiction, I highly recommend this book. And if you are looking for gift books for lovers of quirky fiction, do check out the Chapeltown flash fiction books. I’m not on commission for saying this, by the way!
Why have such an event?
The purpose of this annual event is to celebrate the launch of the new Cafelit book (Best of Cafelit 7) and the new Bridge House Publishing anthology, Crackers. I’m not in either this year though I have been in previous ones. And I did have a story in To Be…To Become, which is an ebook produced by Bridge House earlier this year in connection with the Waterloo Arts Festival and their writing competition. The Arts Festival has been running for a while but this was the first year they’d run a writing competition and I was thrilled to be one of the 16 authors included in the collection.
Bridge House also bring attendees up to date with the latest news, set the themes for next year’s anthologies, and those who like to do so have the opportunity to read works out to their fellow writers. More on that shortly.
The Joy of Speed Dating
As before, we also got to “speed date” where we had five minutes to talk to another writer or reader and they chat with us, before we moved on to the next person. It may sound odd but it does break the ice quickly! It is also very useful practice in being able to sum up what your story or book is about in a few words. This is generally known as the “elevator pitch” where you imagine you are stuck in a lift with an agent or publisher and as you go up or down, you only have the time it takes for your lift to reach the top or ground floor to sell them your book idea. Also a great many useful hints and tips are swapped between writers and readers here. It can be useful to hear what readers like and indeed to introduce them to the delights of flash fiction and short stories. “Proper” books aren’t just novels, wonderful though they are!
The Joy of Meeting Your Fellow Writers
The lovely thing with this annual day is that, for the rest of the year, a number of my fellow authors and I chat with each other via Facebook and Twitter, but here we actually meet. It was a great joy to finally meet Amanda Huggins, who I discussed networking with in a Chandler’s Ford Today post earlier this year.
We also get to chat about what we’re working on and hopes for the coming year of course. Writing in itself is a solitary thing as it is you and the PC and away you go. Meeting other writers like this is a good way of reminding yourself that you are not alone, the struggles you have with coming up with the right words for the right piece are shared with others, and it can be enormously encouraging to know that.
I had an additional but very pleasant duty to perform this year too. I have recently reviewed a beautiful collection of stories called Magical Christmas which Chapeltown Books has produced. The tales are a collection of stories based on love, some on the Christian Nativity, and all from different parts of the world, including Japan and Russia amongst many others. Some of the tales I knew, others I didn’t, but all were a joy to read and review. There was a prize draw to win a copy of this book so it fell to me to give a brief description of what I liked about the book and then pick the winning ticket.
The ticket went to the last person I had chatted with as part of the speed dating exercise and who has had his first ever story published in Crackers. My first published story was A Helping Hand in the Bridge House anthology Alternative Renditions published back in 2009 and that glow of having your work accepted by a professional is a wonderful moment in the life of any author. I hope this writer goes on to have many more wonderful “yes I’m being published” moments”! They are all special, of course, but that very first acceptance is the most special. You have finally had others like your work! I also hope Magical Christmas does well. I always did like storybooks with lots of pictures when I was a child (and I still quite like them now!).
Incidentally, please ignore the “delivery time” on the Amazon link. The book is print on demand, as all are which are produced by Chapeltown Books, and the books can be in a lot quicker than Amazon UK seem to think. It is felt that there is a certain amount of “over caution” on delivery dates here (i.e. it looks better to give a long lead time and then get the book to you sooner than that but it is frustrating from the publisher’s point of view!).
The Joy of Reading and Being Read To
The highlight though is when writers read some of their stories out. I read Circle of LIfe from From Light to Dark and Back Again and Moving On and Time for a Change which are on Cafelit. All three of these are humorous tales and it was lovely hearing people laugh in the right places. It was a relief too! But it is also a great joy to be read to and I loved hearing my colleagues’ stories. Great mix of stories but let’s just say there were plenty of characters here I’m glad I can’t meet “for real”.
I often recommend reading your work out loud to other writers so you can hear how your work sounds. It is a good way of seeing if your prose flows as nicely as you think it does. If you stumble over words, your readers will too. In speaking words out, you will hear if your dialogue sounds natural to your own ears, yet alone those of a reader. No “bookese” here. The story has to sound right to work.
In listening to other writers reading their work out, you can hear the ebb and flow of their story and use what you pick up here to improve your own work. A good story has a natural pattern to it, finishing with the resolution. You should be able to hear the “build up” to that finishing point. The tension should build up until resolution. And that’s to say nothing about the entertainment value of being read to!
Also, how do writers start on their journey to writing their own stories and books? We all start with a love of stories. How did we get that love? Almost certainly by being introduced to books thanks to being read to as a child, which is why children’s fiction should never be underestimated. It is THE foundation of a lifelong love of reading. And I know every author I had the joy to meet up with in St. Andrew’s Church would agree with me there. Besides I’ve had so much joy from stories and books over the years, there is almost a need to give something back to the big “pool of tales” out there.
All too soon the afternoon was over and we were all on our way home again though what was nice was a group of us got together for a pub lunch before the event and that went down well with all.
From my viewpoint, it is always nice to see Gill James and Debz Hobbs-Wyatt again. Gill and Debz are very much the driving forces behind Bridge House. I used to meet Gill for cake and tea and bookish conversation at Winchester Cathedral’s Refectory before her move north. Bridge House is named after Old Bridge House Road in Bursledon, where Gill used to live and which I used to drive past a lot when I used the A27 to get to and from my parents’ home in Gosport. Lots of nice memories here.
And will I be having a go at writing to the themes for next year’s anthologies for Cafelit, the Waterloo Festival, and Bridge House? Of course I will!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.