What I Learned from Famous Writers at London Book Fair

Good stuff right from the coal-face of writing, from Jaq Hazell.


IMG_4276 (1)London Book Fair always buzzes with big names and LBF16 was no exception. Meg Rosoff, Deborah Levy and Judith Kerr were all interviewed at the English PEN Literary Salon (a designated area away from the publishers’ stands). Sadly, I missed all of the above but I did manage to catch appearances from other successful writers: Jeffrey, Peter and Jeanette. But can you learn anything useful by listening to a half-hour slot from an established name?

First up, I happened to be sitting in the PEN Literary Salon area (meeting a friend) when who should show up behind a wall of press photographers than Jeffrey Archer in a novelty tie (it may have had books on it, but I wasn’t close enough to see).

Archer is brash (often dismissive of press and underlings) and irrepressible. He talked about book promotion rather than writing, and declared himself a “storyteller” rather than a…

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Writing is re-writing

Writing is re-writing, you know that, yes? You’ve got to keep on keeping on to get it just right. Without beating yourself up. Will devote more time to that when I am actually in the throes of writing. Meanwhile I am in throes of book promoting and here I am below with local-author-buddy — the power of two.  Also websites are re-websites too. I found this new theme and like its clean calm look. Hope you do too. So, gone is the header with my newly installed office bookshelves. That’s another reason for posting this photo showing lots of books…


Susan Lee Kerr & Diane Chandler at The Chiswick Bookshop



Writing from Life

Fascinating ancestor? Fantastic life experience? In a convivial evening, two local authors in conversation reveal decision paths, sources and insights into weaving together fact, memories and imagination.

That’s me for fascinating family story into gripping novel. And buddy local author Diane Chandler for fantastic life experience, the journey of an overseas aid worker from idealism to realism. A friendly new bookshop is kindly hosting this evening next week, 15 March — a new angle, new double act. Now we are calculating how much wine to supply… click here for where and when

Aids to refreshing creativity? See my new page here on Sculptural Papiermache… I’m so glad to be a member of the wild and wonderful PapierMachistas.

Writing How-to books giveaway

There it is above, my new sleek shaped-up office book shelves — my insides feel all glad seeing books and binders-ful of notes stand up straight. That row of neat white on the left is haiku journals (and another half-shelf below). When feeling at a loss, I just pluck one at random and browse: space, uplift, senses, escape. For the season now between winter and spring click here for a new haiku on the ‘so still’ page.

Such a weeding out of books and papers! Honestly, several trees’ worth of weight went out to the paper recycle. And boxes of books await trips to the charity bookshop. If anyone reading here would like giveaways of How to Write books collected over the years to aid teaching creative writing AND my own creative writing, contact me via Comments below. Of course I’ve kept my favs, but I’d love the others to find homes among those who want to write (for the price of postage).

The project also provided a review of my last ten working years, both sobering (how time flies!) and heartening (I’ve done more than I give myself credit for). And look, there’s even shelf-space for… more books.

Oooo, notice the pink. I have discovered the text colour facility on WordPress. Cue to reveal that the repainted walls of my renewed office are very pale pink. Now: on with the self-publishing adventure, a new ISBN on an IngramSpark p-o-d. If that’s gobbledygook to you it shows me that I have learned a lot in the last year…


Writer interrupted

Clearing and sorting still underway. But my space is now painted and in process of becoming itself again — only renewed.

Meanwhile, a writer must continue to promote her published book whilst brewing on her next one. So it’s a joy and privilege to be on a panel on the subject: How to Publish Your Book with three other authors at the college where I was creative writing team leader for twelve years. Here’s what it’s all about.


Writing as clearing

Really I should say clearing as writing. Or even better, clearing as pre-writing. It’s not easy, coming off the five or even ten years of writing the novel of my great grandfather’s life. It’s like he’s been riding me, on my back all that time. And now — whooph! Loose ends. Shouldn’t I be plunging into the next idea? Turns out, no. Well, yes-and-no. Love the idea, have done bits of writing, some research, but I feel, I KNOW it is too soon. I find I am at this stage, described by Eric Maisel,

When you choose an idea to work on, what is appropriate to know is that you largely do not know what is about to happen… the artist who is more interested in creating deeply than in ridding herself of anxiety will refuse to know too soon. She will remain with doubts, worries, questions, and the burning desire to realize herself… This is the chaos working, the necessary chaos…

I found that quote in the Mslexia magazine diary of 2006 (how loyal I am, a subscriber from the start! And the diary is a great aid, every year.)

Instead of writing I am clearing my bookshelves. It is a psychological and mythological truth that sorting is a psychic task. So, my physical urge and my inner state are definitely together in this. Out they go, years and years of teaching materials, winnowing them down to one or two… maybe three binders. Many of the how-to-write books that helped me write and teach, clear out! Clippings and Good Ideas (from ten years ago?!), gone! Goodness knows the quantity of trees the paper represents. All I do know is that my heart is delighted, satisfied, with the empty plastic pages and the binders, and it loves sticking blank labels over the written ones. What does it want? What do I want? Space.

Time for a tiny bit of the constructive to balance this: I’ve added an autumn haiku to so still, my haiku page.

Writing festival rewards

The writing world, cold and lonely? Or fun and friendly? A local festival made it fun and friendly for me last week. I went to one Famous Author talk (Max Hastings) and bumped into local friends. Next day went to two ‘inside the writing-and-publishing business’ talks which included, in total, four local authors, three of whom selling in mega-quantities even though not yet household names. More friendliness encountering two former Writers at Work students of mine, including the recently published Diane Chandler. Following that I went to an evening of another Writers at Work student, the now very published Louise Voss sharing the discussion of writing modus operandi with SJI Holliday otherwise known as Susi. They are both ‘killer women’ and that’s a whole organisation of criminally inclined (so to speak) writers, friends and supporters to each other. I’m interested in aspects of the genre for an idea I’ve been noodling with for a while.

As for my part as a local author in the local festival, The Chiswick Calendar interviewed me for The Extraordinary Dr Epstein along with two other authors at Waterstones bookstore. That was friendly too, including friends in the audience.

But there was a spillover reward I have to share with you. The next afternoon after the Joy of Crime Writing event I was taking a local train. I glanced as I headed along the platform and saw a young woman deeply engaged in a paperback book, a good quarter-way in. Glanced closer and saw it was Black Wood, the SJI Holliday book. Surprise! Glanced even closer and recognised the young woman as one across the aisle from me who asked about how the authors researched police stuff. And so I spoke to her (saying she had asked the question I wanted to ask). We had a good crime writing chat, trading authors for three stops until she got off the train. Esther is a philosophy student at Bristol and a mad keen crime writing fan. A reward to warm the heart cockles of any writer who gives talks at festivals and a friendly titbit I passed on to Susi. The reward I liked most of all was the wider friendliness of reading-passion.

Confessions of a creative writer

How did I manage to write and publish two books in one year? Errmm, I didn’t. My ebook of creative writing exercises and tips for tutors out just now this week took 15 years of teaching in adult education, and the writing and creation of the paperback a few years ago. Then came a month or so this summer of selective editing and formatting — my brilliant idea to make said teaching tips more available.

Meanwhile The Extraordinary Dr Epstein, launched in March this year, took oh, about ten years or a lifetime of getting up the nerve to write about this astonishing ancestor. And then to research, find the voice and write the 389 page biographical novel. (I didn’t even know there was a category called that; the other category name of course is historical novel.) So 2015 is the year that both happened into being.

Kerr Book cover.cdrAmazingly people ask ‘what are you doing next?’ They are not writers. I am re-gathering my wits, my office, my self. Figuring out blogsites and Goodreads and Amazon Author Central and Ephraim’s own Facebook page, and no, I am not putting the links in here. ‘Scuse me, I am having a post-partum rest.

I am also weeding out my shelf of How to Write and How to Teach Writing books. Saving some of my absolute favourites, but otherwise I have made the most of the others. Ink marked and dog-eared, I guess I’ll give them to the Oxfam Bookshop, unless someone knows a way I can offer them to writers who are at that stage of the adventure of writing.

And this will make some blissfully empty shelf space for… the next writing project.

A writer grows

So, nearly the length of a pregnancy since I started this site and began to figure out WordPress. In the meanwhile I have finished, formatted, self-published and launched my novel under the book-and-blog guidance of the wonderful Catherine Ryan Howard. And I’ve wordpressed and facebooked my protagonist (and great grandfather) as a being in his own right. Now it’s time to turn this blog into something more useful, especially useful for writers. Yes I mean authors, creators.

So I’ve moved the moments of peace to their own pages — haiku to ‘so still’ and photographs to ‘green slash’. I couldn’t bear to give up the gorgeous Turkish twilight, the allium seedhead and my own-grown roses (called Birthday Girl) which I’d had as headers, so I moved them to ‘natura naturans’ in the green slash department. Read the haiku and you’ll grasp that title. I will add haiku and photos season by season.

But! The front page post position is for writing about writing. And especially at the moment for judethomasnz who commented on my comment on CRH’s recent blog on how many drafts it takes to make a novel.

Jude got attention from an editor for her historical novel, which she had told in two voices, from two time points. Great going to get feedback from an editor! But ed suggested a rewrite, into a straight chronological narrative. Should she do it?

My experience: after trying for years to find the voice for my historical-novel-based-on-a-true-story in various creative ways, I finally bit the bullet. Decided to stop being clever and just Tell the Story, chronologically. Writing flowed more easily and naturally. I tried to make the most of the natural ups and downs as events rolled on.

If you’re in how-to-tell-it anguish, don’t be afraid to try the straightforward way… but changing your head around after the long slog of writing can be painful. On the other hand, should this anguished writer try another editor?