This post continues from yesterday’s article where Gill James shared some of her thoughts on life as a creative writing lecturer and author.
Gill gave me my first publishing credit via Alternative Renditions, a Bridge House anthology, and I have since had other work published online and in Limerick Nation and The Shamblelurklers Return. I’m currently working on a short story collection.
Gill has produced some wonderful novels including The Babel Trilogy, Spooking and A Gallery For Nick.
What we share is a love of story and the written word. We hope some of that comes across in this post (and indeed the other interviews with Gill and fellow writers, Richard Hardie, and Felicity Fair Thompson).
I would say love of story and the written word is the single driving force that keeps a writer going in the face of rejections, bad reviews and so on. Going much further back our tradition of written stories preserves the original oral storytellers’ work.
Allison: It was huge fun to meet Gill again and Debz Hobbs-Wyatt at the Bridge House Publishing reunion in December. This was held in the meeting room of a convivial pub near Trafalgar Square.
As well as giving an overview of what Bridge House is up to, authors had an opportunity to read from their works and discuss future plans over lunch and drinks.
The “speed dating” idea of being allowed to spend a few minutes talking to another writer before moving on to another was good fun. My problem was I found I had just got into my stride talking about someone’s work and mentioning my own before it was time to move on. I need to edit my speaking! I strongly suspect I was not the only one…
I enjoy networking more than I used to once I realised asking what someone is writing is the perfect way to break the ice. Writers do want to share what they’re up to (and get some feedback – the “that sounds interesting” which hopefully, and usually does, lead on to questions about your piece).
Equally hearing about what others are doing is fascinating, especially if it is a genre you don’t work in yourself as you then find out the problems a crime writer has (to name one example) compared with what I work in (fantasy and fairytales). I love comparing and contrasting. I’ve found insights into how another writer works are of enormous help as I seek to improve my stories and posts.
Finding out how other fantasy/fairytale writers overcame their writing difficulties can also help me work out ways to overcome my own writing problems in ways that are appropriate to my work.
Allison: I also find the Winchester Writers’ Festival useful for this as authors chat between talks and over teas, coffees and lunch and well into the evening if you stay for the Writers’ Dinner!
Allison: Gill, what is your most useful networking method? What writing festivals are on your “must do” list?
Gill: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators also holds its conference at Winchester. This is so important for me. They also hold very useful and encouraging events in Manchester. In fact there is a group of networks across the country. They support published and unpublished authors. In fact, I’m the Network News editor for their daily e-zine, Words and Pictures which anyone can read. However, you must be a member to benefit from the network activities.
Similar is the National Association of Writers in Education. They also have an annual conference. If you become a professional member you get £10,000,000 public liability insurance. They run some good courses, have a web site where you can advertise yourself, and they’ll help you with a DSB check. Really great for writers who do school visits.
I’m a member of the Society of Authors and am on the committee of the Society of Authors North. They organise one day conferences three times a year. This is perhaps more about networking with peers and giving each other tips.
Another important one for me is Great Writing, an international conference held in London in the summer each year. This is aimed at the Creative Writing academic.
In addition, I love going to book launches and festivals. However, you’ve always got to weigh the usefulness and joy that these events bring against the time and money they cost. You have to leave yourself some space.
Perhaps most useful to me has been social networking, especially Facebook, (Gill’s writer page), Linked-in, Streetlife and Twitter.
Gill: Through them I’ve found:
- two publishers
- delegates for a conference I ran
- writing friends
- reviewers for my books
- beta readers
- lots of ideas
How to get the most out of networking?
Allison: What is the best thing anyone can do to get the most out of networking and enjoy it? For extrovert writers, this is not a problem but for those of us who are shyer about the whole business, tips here could be useful.
Gill: I think we’re all fundamentally shy. I am, though this may surprise a lot of people. Some people just overcome it more easily. Without getting too obsessed you need to be focussed.
- Take business cards
- Collect the same.
- Have a notebook and take notes on any talks you listen to and use it also to jot down other contact details.
- Try to get other people to talk about themselves and what they do. You don’t need to talk about yourself – you know that already.(;-) However, you will be asked if you’ve shown an interest in them.
- Pick up brochures, leaflets and postcards.
- When you get home process all of the information. It’s useful to look up people you’ve met on Linkedin and hook up with them there.
Allison: How important is social media for writers and to aid networking?
Gill: Very. You need to be out there. However, you shouldn’t always be promoting yourself. Just be yourself. Not someone who needs to make twenty sales a day and therefore needs to canvas 100 prospects. And you need to know when to stop.
When I’ve completed a task I’ll dabble on one of the sites for a while. I actually have a highly organised system of what sort of post I’ll put on which site when.
Blogging is also useful. I maintain several blogs. My most successful one is about the writing life. It’s a way of practising your writing and networking at the same time.
Resources and Recommendations
Allison: I can’t recommend On Writing by Stephen King highly enough and I also love the hilarious Jane Wenham-Jones books, So You Wanna be a Writer? and So You Wanna be a Writer We’ve Heard Of? Gill, what resources have you found useful when starting up Bridge House and, more importantly, keeping it going?
Gill: Lightning Source, our printer, ran a free course for people who wanted to set up accounts with them. Debz and also attended various courses run by banks etc. Then there were free courses aimed at publishers offered in Manchester. I can’t remember any of the names but remember I found them via social networking and sometimes by people approaching me at the university.
We’re members of the Independent Publishers Guild and they offer a lot of advice and courses.
Allison: What resources have you found useful as a writer yourself?
Gill: The year books published by Bloomsbury are essential, I think. They not only contain listings of agents and publishers but also lots of really useful articles.
(Allison: I also find the Writers and Artists website useful. See link).
Gill: I’m also a great fan of Mslexia as it’s a serious publication for female writers though much of the advice would be useful for men as well. It has really rich content.
Many thanks, Gill, for sharing your thoughts over this mini-series of interviews. I love reading writer interviews and always learn something new or am encouraged to keep going.
Allison: I also highly recommend Spooking, a Young Adult novel by Gill. This is a moving tale about grief and loss without being overly sentimental, which is not an easy balance to get right. I am currently reading and enjoying Gill’s Babel Trilogy.
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