5 writing tips we learned at our May meet up
(The circus troupe was a joke, but only because we didn't have the budget).
Our anniversary meant that our May meet up was always going to be special: we had balloons and cake and everything. And if a birthday wasn’t enough, we recorded the whole event to put it out on the mighty Riff Raff Podcast. We’ll be bringing it to your ears very soon, but check out our 31 previous episodes in the meantime.
But, as always, it was our authors that truly made the night. We struck gold with our May line up: we had everything from non-fiction to London lingo, stricken observers to haunted parents and a book that tells its own story.
It would be quicker to tell you what we didn’t learn, but here are the five top takeaways.
Smell your setting
Zelda Rhiando kicked off the night, reading from her book Fukushima Dreams. The story is set in Japan in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami and we were soon discussing the importance of knowing your setting. Zelda spent a long stretch in Fukushima to research; could she have written the book without going?
No way, came the unequivocal answer. Zelda told us that writers need to see the sights, smell the smells and hear the sounds of their book's location to truly understand where you writing about; it's just as important as ‘what’.
The central plot is inspired by something that happened to a friend of her father’s – if you want to know what, you’ll have to buy it.
But her perseverance and her memory just go to show that no idea is wasted and that if you can’t shake it, you should write about it. ‘At the time, my protagonist was 50, which I thought was very old. Now I’ve caught up with her,’ said Anne. We fell in love with her, and Yes will warm your heart.
Write a (bonkers) story well
There’s no denying that The Chameleon, by our third author Samuel Fisher, is a quirky, genre-defying novel. Yet we loved it, and if the reviews are anything to go by, we’re not the only ones.
We were desperate to know: what’s the secret to writing a bonkers book that still has commercial appeal?
The story, said Sam. The key is to tell the story, and tell it well – sounds simple enough but it’s what marks out mediocre writers from great ones. The more innovative the narrative, the more important it is to create a gripping, relatable story.
Suffer for your art
Questions for Kate came thick and fast but we were all keen to know about her research – how she did it, and how did she made it accessible and interesting?
Kate’s solution was to mix in her own experience in with the facts, figures and expert opinion. ‘I figured that if it was relevant to my life it would be to other people'.
To offer this personal insight, ‘I felt like I should suffer for my art.’ Kate was prompted to seek out an old friend and explore the romantic connection they once had. No easy feat, but Kate is an author who is so clearly committed to connecting with her readers and offering practical tools and advice to navigate the choppy waters of friendship.
'You’re not supposed to identify with the monster' (...right?)
From the moment Guy Gunaratne took to the stage, we were engrossed. The idea for his debut novel, In Our Mad and Furious City, came loosely from the tragic murder of Lee Rigby and Guy articulated how he identified, in part, with one of the perpetrators. ‘You’re not "supposed" to identify with the monster,’ he mused, which led to an astute discussion on the complexity of identity and difference; the communities in which we grow up and the impact that has on writing.
Identity is one of several themes covered in Guy's novel but for those looking to write an issue-based book, Guy’s tip was to simply write and see what emerges. ‘You figure out what you’re writing as you’re writing it. It was a surprise even to me.’