Forget film noir. What about chocolat noir? I couldn’t resist pinching the Guilty Pleasures logo. What a fabulous day it was. What a wonderful indulgence after a couple of weeks not being able to write because I was dealing with boring family legal stuff. And I’m not a lawyer so it hurt to use that part of my brain on several levels. It was Saturday 20 November and I took an early high speed train into London, very excited because this was not about poetry at all. It was all about prose, novels to be exact, page-turning best sellers, the kind of thing you keep quiet about when hanging with intellectual friends. It was the breath of fresh air I needed as I’d reached a bit of a slump with the writing, taking it a bit too seriously and in danger of getting blocked.
I had to arrive early to make sure I could put my name down for my two favourite workshops: Recipe for a Thriller with Nicci Gerrard who’s one half of the Nicci French thriller writing couple and Create Your Perfect Rom-Com Heroine with Allie Spencer who, it turns out, is also a medievalist! Some things were meant to be.
The day kicked off with a dynamic panel discussion chaired by Danuta Kean where everyone began agreeing with everyone else and ended up agreeing to differ. I could have listened all day to Nicci Gerrard, Stephen Jones, Catherine King, Duncan Proudfoot and Tim Waterstone. It was stimulating to hear the opposing views: there shouldn’t be such a category as genre fiction, just fiction/it’s essential readers can find the books they want; you can from the outset decide which genre turns you on and write in that genre and build up a readership/you should write the novel that’s inside you and it’s up to editors and publicists to categorise it. I sympathised with both sides but found it refreshing to hear about people going for the commercial side of writing. You never hear that as a poet.
The thriller workshop was the most popular and with 20 partipants it took about an hour to go round the table discussing our favourite suspense novels and by implication, the kind of book we want to write. A useful excercise and great to hear other people’s choices (especially for a novice like me) but I wanted it to be more hands on with the writing. Listening to the first lines of the Nicci French competition then writing our own was more up my street. I found it very difficult and it brough it home to me how, as a poet, using even fewer words, how important the very first line is.
The secret guest turned out to be less of a secret when I saw poet Malika Booker arrive and quizzed her being there. She revealed that she was really really really into romance novels and gave a detailed and sassy presentation of her genre. It went down really really well.
The Rom Com workshop had the ideal number of ten participants. As I tend to deal with the dark and dangerous, this was new territory for me. What fun! Reminded me that happy ever after isn’t a cop out. It’s enjoyable and what makes it more enjoyable is making it seem impossible the couple will ever get together. About 4/5 of the way through you have to create a scenario that makes your reader wonder how on earth you’re going to resolve it. Then you absolutely make sure that the couple DO get together. Lots of plot machinations. I went because the Knight’s Tale is all about courtly love, and though much of it is heart-wrenching gloom and doom, which I relate to, the true lovers find each other in the end. I need to focus on the relationships much much more. So it was really helpful. And trying to create the perfect romcom heroine, a strong, modern woman, an individual, a rounded character with a flaw, helped me get more inside Emily. My original idea was to call the tale Emily and I now wish I’d stuck with that original idea. Anyway, it opened my mind up to all sorts of new possibilities for her. She could be an academic studying bingo, she could be almost aristocratic. I could ditch the bingo idea altogether and not be so wedded to the Old Kent Road location. (Having said that, Bingo Palace is too fun a venue to ditch so will probably keep it. Just need to work on character, plot and voice!)
The whole day has really rejuvenated my writing: now I need the snow to melt so I can get on with writing withouth the snakes and ladders, Thomas the Tank Engine and popping balloons backing track. Watch this space…