Travels inspired by the Wombles

Sunday, 30 October 2011

It's Christmas!

No, not yet. But the annual battle for 'Christmas No. 1' - which normally leaves me and, perhaps, many other people, cold - has a different flavour this year.
Everyone's favourite Wimbledon residents are bringing out 'The W Factor', a compilation of 20 remastered tracks. For those who didn't know, or have forgotten, the Wombles' musical oeuvre covers much more than Wombling Merry Christmas. The new album covers classical (Minuetto Allegretto), Bond themes (To Wimbledon with Love) and country and western (Nashville Wombles). It's all very entertaining, and a reminder of what a clever man that Mike Batt is.
I look forward to saying on Christmas Day, in the style of a certain Norwegian football commentator:
'Simon Cowell! Louis Walsh! Dermot O'Leary! Your boys took a HELL of a beating!'

Thursday, 6 October 2011

How to get a book published...?

This was the optimistic title of a panel of experts assembled at UCL last night, 5 October, at UCL, for the benefit of that university's alumni. The panel members themselves included at least three UCL alumni: Ken Follett and Joanna Briscoe, giving authors' perspectives, and Luigi Bonomi, a literary agent. Alexandra Pringle, editor-in-chief at Bloomsbury, completed the line-up. Each gave a brief talk and then there was a Q&A session.
So what wisdom did the panellists have to impart? In no particular order, here are some of the points made:
  • Write a good book - make the reader care about the characters
  • Many publishers don't read unsolicited manuscripts and it is essential to get a literary agent
  • When approaching agents, make it clear you have ideas for other books
  • Approach the agents which your research shows will be a good fit for your book(s)
  • Be ready to promote your book over the long-term
  • Write what you want to write, but don't bore the reader - cut, edit, redraft
  • Plotting needs discipline - a plot idea is not a plot
  • A flawed but engaging novel may be more popular than a well-worked-out novel which doesn't engage the reader
  • Don't give up the day job
  • Small numbers of people work in agencies and receive up to 5,000 manuscripts a year, from which they may select 10 authors with whom to work
  • Write short chapters
  • Agents may make their minds up about a manuscript within 2-3 pages, or a chapter at most
  • For non-fiction, the synopsis you send in is crucial - not so much for fiction
  • A book is launched a year before it is published, or sometimes more than a year before

The event was billed as offering 'all the tips you will need to achieve your dream'. It's hard for me to assess whether it really did that, as I have heard and read much of this advice before (and will go to more such events, no doubt, in future). And I'm not a subscriber to the post-modern ideology that everybody can do anything - clearly that's a ludicrous notion. Nonetheless I found this event a little less than encouraging. Ken Follett claimed that you had the best chance to become a writer if you had started writing around the age of 4; which seems less than realistic - although his other comment, that those who show imagination from an early age are better-placed to succeed in writing, is surely nearer the mark.

After the formal event, I drew a blank with a couple of personal approaches. As Bloomsbury have recently republished the Wombles books I wanted to ask Alexandra Pringle who in Bloomsbury might be the appropriate contact for me. But - albeit politely - she just blanked the question with a standard response: 'You must get a literary agent.' I also asked Luigi Bonomi if his agency is considering travel books at present. His reply (again, polite but to the point): 'No... sorry. It is tough out there. Good luck.'

Overall the brief talks and Q&A were heavily biased towards novels, which may be part of the problem. More and more agents and publishers are hunting a smaller and smaller target - the blockbuster best-selling novel. For those of us writing anything else - and I had an interesting chat with an alumna who has written a series of three SF novels - it seems it is going to be harder and harder to attract the attention of the mainstream industry. Predictably, the literary agent was very sniffy when asked about self-publishing - although, perhaps surprisingly, the publisher acknowledged it might be a good route for some.

Good thing Robert the Bruce didn't want to be a published writer...

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Wombles out West

Having starred at Glastonbury, the Wombles are guesting at another major event in the West - the Cheltenham Literary Festival on 8 October. The event sounds like the equivalent of something I visited on Wimbledon Common last year. It was great fun and there was a Wombles cake! Mmm. Also, Great Uncle Bulgaria turned up, to much acclaim. So, if you're in or around Cheltenham on 8 October, I'd recommend booking this event for a Womble-tastic time.