Far be it from me to boast … But I’m going to. WriteStars received this write up of the workshop I led for them, and have given me permission to reproduce it. So here it is …
Writing a novel seems to be a global ambition. From the outpourings on forums, blogs and social media – not to mention the boom in digital self-publishing – it’s something we all dream of.
And if we don’t dream of it, it’s because we know we could do it. Right? It’s just that we don’t have the time.
Cue Sue Moorcroft, best-selling novelist and inspiring creative writing tutor. That’s why we’re at the George Hotel in Stamford, Lincs on a course organised by WriteStars: isn’t it appropriate that someone who shares the secrets of writing fiction has written a novel called Dream A Little Dream?
We’re a mixed bunch. Some want to write romantic fiction, others are planning children’s books, historical sagas and young adult titles. One or two think writing fiction might be good fun and have come to find out more.
Someone asks why I’m here, as I’ve written lots of non-fiction books and had a children’s novel published. There are two simple answers.
The first is that my novel got good reviews but sank without trace and I want the next one to stay afloat. I also know that writing one kind of book isn’t the same as writing another, any more than a tiger is the same as a leopard.
The second is that I heard about WriteStars through my niece, Claire, who works for Hopwood PR and is handling the company’s publicity. Claire knows I want to flex my fiction muscle again and gave me a kindly and encouraging kick up the backside when I moaned that I’d missed the fiction boat.
On the workshop, we’re straight off the starting blocks as Sue shows that writing isn’t all down to inspiration. There’s also a lot of perspiration and plenty of frustration. The joy of her workshop is that she shows how to maximise your chances of getting it right and minimises the risk of falling down all those nasty traps which line the route.
Five minutes into the course, she gives each of us a slip of paper on which is written the gender, age and mood of a character. Mine’s a 12-year-old boy who hates PE and is feeling grumpy.
We have ten minutes to create a pen portrait, which we read out in turn. Sue then asks questions – where does your character live, what does he wear, does he have a girlfriend? As we join in, we learn how to create characters through dialogue, how to avoid stilted descriptions and how to flesh out a skeleton.
It’s fascinating. It’s also fun, so even the shyest participants enjoy themselves. The room’s buzzing with ideas and laughter, which sets the tone for the day.
We look at creating first pages which hook the reader, avoiding soggy middles, the importance of conflict and how to resolve it. We learn about research and about the discipline of writing. If you watch Coronation Street/East Enders/whatever, spend an hour writing instead.
A workshop can’t work miracles. Or who knows? There was some obvious writing talent in that room and I’d love to find out, a year from now, what everyone has achieved.
As for me, the Moorcroft magic is irresistible. The WriteStars short story workshop with Sue that’s planned in Cambridge next January? Put my name down now, please.
Carolyn Henderson is a freelance journalist and author. My thanks to her.