Tuesday, 9 April 2013

A Book to Read During Book Camp in the Country

Posted by Daisy


ON a muddy walk through the Berkshire countryside, three deer with white bottoms stand perfectly still in the middle of a field and stare at us, long-eared hares bob up and down in the distance, and pheasants fly out of the underbrush as pink-wellied Cesca, CEO of Book Camp tells me that Kate Middleton attended her school for a term, and that her cousin is Coldplay’s Chris Martin.
It’s afternoon break at Book Camp – I’ve already had a two-hour morning session with women’s fiction author Rowan Coleman, written over 1000 words in a word race session, scanned through a book on plotting, and begun planning my novel.
Last year, I decided to embrace my inner geek. In ‘The Happiness Project’, Gretchen Rubin urges people to just be themselves. So in a bid to ‘Be Daisy, I joined a writing group and set up a blog with two other girls. Irish author Roisin Meaney has said that a weekend writing retreat gave her the impetus to quit her day job and finally kick-start her writing career. So when I spotted a four-day bookcamp in Berkshire on Twitter over the Christmas holidays, I immediately signed up.
Each morning began with a two-hour writing session around the huge kitchen table with Rowan. We did writing exercises and listened to each other’s plot descriptions, and by day three I was no longer embarrassed about reading out my paltry word count or over-descriptive text in front of the others.
Five of us stayed in the converted country barn, with new students joining us for daily sessions. One girl wrote a short story, another re-worked her chick-lit novel (it was fascinating to have read her first chapters and then listen to Rowan edit it), and I started a story about my grandmother and her sisters in 1950’s Ireland. And for anyone with writer’s block, there was a never ending supply of tea, rosewater cupcakes, apple crumble and jam roly poly as well as a pile of shiny ‘How to Write’ books on the antique writing desk to peruse.
It was lovely to be embroiled in a literary world, listening to Cesca and Rowan talking about authors and reviewers by their first names (‘Kirsty’ and ‘Katy’ and ‘Cressida’) over a roast chicken dinner, or having Rowan critique my short story over an evening glass of wine. And it was strange to sit in a tiny bedroom with Caroline Hogg, senior commissioning editor at Pan Macmillan, listening to her feedback on my (fledgling) book plot and reeling off a list of similar-themed book titles to study.
The main thing I learned from Book Camp is to stop being so precious about writing and just write. Seeing Rowan write and edit daily, while showing us iPhone pictures of her children at home also made me realise how much dedication and hard work it takes to write a book.
  • Do hour-long word races and just vomit the words onto the page. They can be cleaned up and polished later.
  • Do a plot outline on which to hang all the beautiful descriptions.
  • Use less description – anyone can write description.
  • Write for at least 30 minutes per day.
  • Aim for at least 1000 words per week.
  • There is no muse involved in writing. It takes lots of plotting and planning, and at least 3 edits.
  • Do proper planning and a complete plot outline before you begin, or otherwise you might end up having to delete 60,000 words.
  • Spend time formulating an Elevator Pitch - a two-sentence synopsis of your book.
  • Editors and agents love when authors describe their books in terms of films/other books e.g. My book is 'Bridget Jones meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'.
  • The term ‘Chick-lit’ is frowned upon. It’s called ‘Women’s Fiction’.
  • Women’s fiction may be easy to read but it is very difficult to write.
Check out Cesca's 'Beat the Block' videos at www.novelicious.com
Elevator Pitch: A group of college students loose their best friend in a terrible accident on holidays in Ibiza. The story follows the lives of the gang as they each struggle with a secret sadness and guilt over the death of their friend.
The best I can come up with today is: It's 'One Day' the book meets 'One Day' the film. Maybe this is because we hear the thoughts of a male and female protagonist - and hearing a male point of view is unusual in the women's fiction genre.
I read this book in two days and loved its intelligent grittiness with a happy ending.
Next Monday: A Book to Read after a city break in Amsterdam.

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