Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2009 - 5

The Writing Workshops were sold out months before the Book Festival started. I was lucky to get a place in a few of the less popular workshops like Writing for Teenagers, Writing for Radio, Rejection and Ghost Writing.

Writing for Teenagers
A 37 year old writer
, passionate about his craft, recounted the path that led him to writing stories for teenagers. Coming from a poor working class background, he had not been encouraged to read books, and admits that his first book he read was when he was 12 years old. Prior to that he was an avid comic reader progressing on to graphic novels. That first book was an experience that opened up a whole new world for him, a world where fantasy could come alive. This writer does not believe that all stories in this genre should be mindless action and violence. He has taken the more challenging path to explore feelings that teenagers may experience like death, suicide and faith to name a few.

This genre has certain demands different from adult or children's books. He advocates the 'high concept' approach of movies - something that grabs the audience immediately. The pace has to be fast, themes that teenagers can relate to where the protagonist should be at least 2 years older than the target market, an anti-hero type and not a wimp! Using jargon/slang is not advised. From writing to print (which may take as long as 3 years) jargon would have morphed or become obsolete. Humour is a must.

A couple of exercises later, the group of 20 would-be writers were convinced that writing for teenagers is not an easy task as previously thought. Stretching the imagination is something that requires practice and regular tweaking.

The challenge for this genre is not competition from other writers but more like from Wii, the Internet, gaming consoles and DVD.

Ghost Writing

A rotund journalist, with a glass of wine, started off with a challenge. The group would have to do some work, after all it was a workshop, and the prize would be a book. Instructions: Interview your neighbour for 2 minutes and then write a piece in 5 minutes. The 5 minutes went by swiftly especially with the 'Boss' talking all the time, distracting purposefully, threatening that the editor was waiting for the piece etc. The pressure was on.

Ghost writing is in demand as more celebrities and politicians want their lives in print. They can't write or don't have the time so it is important to have an agent to look for commissions and prevent publishers ripping you off. I
f you get a good commission, it pays well. Niche areas like sports sell well.

The interview is an important part of the process of finding the voice. Same gender It is worth investing in a digital voice recorder and various other related software. For legal and financial purposes it is wise to record all meetings and expenditure incurred in the commission. A ghost writer must leave his ego at the door. It is THEIR story. Research is essential to make the story believable and to create the right human interest aspect.

Writing for Radio
This workshop was chosen because there was a place out of the 20 places. Not quite my genre, but it turned out to be an interesting take on writing. 'Paint with words' is the mantra to follow. 'Words count' and the power of dialogue is the way to capture your audience. The first 2 minutes of the play is important. If it doesn't work you will lose your audience. It helps if you can trust the actor to carry your character to the edge you are after. The BBC has 2 or 3 radio channels with radio plays at different times in the week. AS far as I know, Radio Malaysia has downsized this mode especially in the English medium. I remember in the 60's Radio Malaysia had such programs, mainly imported from the BBC - comedy hour and plays. Elizabeth Kirby, wife of Dr Derek Llewellyn-Jones, and also our neighbour, worked with Radio Malaysia at the time and was responsible for these programs.

It is important to learn, be emotionally prepared and re-frame after a rejection. It can be demotivating, but it is important to prepare the submission appropriately to reduce the risks. Sending submission in sets of five to publishers is a rule of thumb. A form rejection letter may just mean they did not have time to read it; any comments written (in hand) is a good sign as it means that there is something there worth commenting on; rewrite also means it has been read but need some changes and is free mentoring; and if they send a readers report take note of every word and reply with thanks.

It is not a done thing to call or write in for progress on submission, at least not before 8-12 weeks. Don't LIE about qualifications; don't resubmit to same publisher; and don't send in with hand-written letter. It's not more personalised, its just illegible.

When should you give up? That is a learning experience. The experienced say that if the rewrites become to distant from the original and starts to feel i like you don't own it any more , then it's time. Having said that Carrie by Stephen King was rejected 20 time before it was published. J K Rowling had more than a few rejections before her fame and fortune.

On the emotional level, don't focus on the rejection but move on. A writer should have several projects at any one time and work should carry on. Persistence and and luck are key.

No comments: