Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Sunday, 1 July 2012

Vive la France!

 We all have high points and low points in our writing. At the beginning of the year, I was on a low. Well, it was hardly surprising, was it? January, short days, long nights, poor weather. It seemed as though I couldn't get anywhere. Everything felt flat and dreich, including my writing.

I decided to take some radical steps. I chatted to my agent, who had been fantastic at mentoring me through three years of writing, improving, learning, polishing, submitting – and, despite some lovely comments from publishers, getting no offers. We agreed that our relationship had run its course and parted amicably. I took a long hard look at my most recent book, honed it, added another layer, pruned it, sent it out to three new agents. One responded immediately and sent the book out within the week!

Very good. Great. But the market is – as everyone knows – very depressed right now. A combination of economic recession and the advent of e-publishing has got publishers running scared. They're looking for best-sellers, the blockbuster novel and although I'm proud of my writing, I wouldn't make any claim that it's going to catapult into the Joan Collins or Barbara Taylor Bradford league. My book is out there looking for a home and I'm keeping my fingers tightly crossed that it will exactly fit what one editor in one publishing house is looking for.

Nevertheless, it's really hard keeping upbeat and motivated and believing in yourself in the face of rejection. So after a brief period of elation, it was back to thinking about the next book. What are 'they' looking for? What's the next thing that will catch the reading public's imagination? What should I be writing?

My friend Jo, with whom I share the peaks and troughs, persuaded me to take a trip to Castillon, in the Bordeaux region of France, to do a week's course with best-selling writer Veronica Henry. I didn't think I needed a course. After all, I've got an agent, and very nearly a publisher, so what else is there to learn? But I agreed, partly because I have been to Castillon a couple of times and Mickey and Janie Wilson are great friends of ours and the best hosts in the world – and partly because I thought well, it's always stimulating being in the company of other writers.

Well. Not only did I have a ball and come back really excited about my next book, but I couldn't believe how much I learned in a few short days. Veronica 'deconstructed' her forthcoming book The Long Weekend, published on 5 July by Orion, so that we could see how she had set about plotting it. In an hour I felt I had learned more than I had in four years of writing. Then there were her 'Ten Questions'. I'd seen these before, but under her guidance I began to understand how I could really use them to my advantage in both plotting and character work. And in a one-to-one session we looked at my current book and identified its weak spots and areas I could develop. Plus, of course, I had a great time with the other course delegates and Veronica, Janie and Mickey and my husband Robin, who joined us on outings and meals.

I can thoroughly recommend Chez Castillon, either for courses or for writing retreats, which can be arranged for small groups at http://chez-castillon.com/

I've certainly come back inspired.

PS My liver is also recovering...


16 comments:

  1. Sounds just the writing ticket, Have just delivered a novel about six writers meeting at a retreat in the Languedoc. They are dynamite life enhancing events. I've had inspirational times working with writers in Ireland Greece and France. Meeting of minds and pens...wx

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    1. Yes, life-saving. I can imagine some great stories about a retreat! Good luck with the book.

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  2. Great post, Jenny....and, of course, one can never underestimate the joy that comes from friends made on such holidays - as good as stuff learned, I'd say!

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    1. And I would never have met you, Linda, if it weren't for one such holiday...!

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  3. You make the whole experience sound so inviting, Jenny. Great to see you inspired once again!

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    1. It's always good being with writer friends. This break had extra bonuses!

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  4. Jenny, it sounds fantastic. I've often wondered about those courses in France and other countries in Europe and you certainly make it sound like it would be well worth going on one. It sounds like you got so much more out of the experience than you expected and it's great to hear you sound so bursting with enthusiasm again.

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    1. Thanks Mary. It's now about capitalising on it before the feeling fades.

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  5. That sounds wonderful, Jenny - the setting, the company, the inspiration. When can WS members go?! Seriously, I do hope you hear good news about your book very soon.

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    1. I'm sure they'd consider an approach! Thanks for your good wishes, Joan.

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  6. Sounds like you had a great time, Jenny. I'm intrigued about the 10 Questions. Fancy doing a post on them next time?

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    1. I will, Michael, I promise. In the meantime, Veronica Henry has promised to blog for us on Thursday, the day her book is published. I'm looking forward to it - and even more to reading The Long Weekend, as I feel I know the characters already.

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  7. Also intrigued about the 10 questions. Maybe Veronica herself might enlighten us? Like you, I often wonder what I can learn from a writers' gathering, and then find I learn loads. But it's so hard to remember we need to keep on learning, not just through the hard work of writing but also through listening to others.

    Thanks for the reminder, Jenny.

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    1. Listening is a key skill for a writer. I often feel I just want to hide away and write, then realise I wouldn't have any experiences to write about! I've promised Michael I'll blog about the Ten Questions shortly - I'll let Veronica do her launch blog first though.

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  8. It sounds a fantastic place Jenny as well as inspiring.
    I hope you have lots of success with the book which comes out of this experience. I am also intrigued by the ten questions. We must all keep on learning.

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  9. OK, OK, I get the hint! Ten Questions very soon!!

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