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What we learnt at July's Riff Raff

Yet another Riff Raff event has passed us by – and oh, what a night. This month we emigrated from our usual cosy lounge room to a spot with a sight more windows. We like to consider the needs of our audience at every twist and turn. Also, the lights were broken in the front room and a game of murder in the dark wasn't what any of us were there for...although...maybe come Halloween...

Anyway, I digress!

This month we had a sensational line-up of female authors, and there was so much insight and inspiration that I one point I nearly cried. Yes, I had had three glasses of rosé and no dinner, but still.

The event will soon be available for your listening pleasure over on The Riff Raff podcast, but until then let's take a look at some of our key takeaways from the night....

"Stick with your weirdness"

We kicked things off with Amy Lilwall, author of The Biggerers. Amy told us the idea for her book was sparked by her cat, which is a first for The Riff Raff!

One evening, while giving it a friendly scratch behind the ear, Amy realised that humans are cats only source of affection...she considered that power dynamic and the imbalance it creates, and hey...a couple of years later, The Biggerers was born.

Amy also told us that a number of potential publishers rejected her debut on the grounds that it was "quite strange". Amy urged us not to give up on our visions for our books, or to capitulate to publishers demands. Instead, 'stick with your weirdness'.

We also asked Amy's advice on writing a funny book, to which she responded she didn't know she was. Maybe that's the trick!

Anyway, I'm off to stare into my friend's cats eyes until they miaow me a golden idea.

"Keep your dramatic peaks frequent"

Next up we had Emily Thomas, author of Mud. Emily's book follows a 13 year old narrator as she's forced to live with her new family aboard a boat. The novel is based on Emily's life, so we asked what advice she might have for people dipping their toes into the land of auto fiction...

"Keep your dramatic peaks frequent". She encouraged us to not shy away from switching up details, especially when it proves too emotional to write everything down verbatim.

Emily decided to write her own story as redemption, but wearing her Editor's hat (she works in publishing), she opted to switch up details to keep things moving and to give a good narrative arc. After all, real life isn't always full of exciting plot points.

"Shut up that bastard voice saying you're rubbish and just try"

Next up was Holly Ringland, author of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart. Personally, I could have listened to Holly talk about writing all day – fortunately for you, Holly will be making an appearance on our podcast in coming months. Watch this space.

Holly revealed she's been a victim of male perpetrated violence, and said that when she sat down to write, she did so from her "sore place". Aside from getting herself a moleskine and a fountain pen, she's had to teach herself to shut out the inner voice telling her she doesn't know what she's doing. Holly explained that her grief helped her to produce what she calls 'dangerous writing' – the act of using fiction as a lie to tell the truth truer.

As someone who's tapped into her personal experience to write something raw and fantastic, we were keen to hear her tips for those hoping to do the same. At this, Holly stressed the importance of "reflecting but not reliving".

She also divulged how she gets into the mindset of her characters at different ages via the medium of music she listened to at the time. Teenage Alice? Whisky and Wonderwall...sounds familiar.

"Not everyone will like your okay with that"

Kicking off the second half in style was Jenny Zhang...eek! Jenny's debut Sour Heart was the book chosen by Lena Dunham to launch her Lenny publishing imprint, and it's been on 'Best Book' lists across the globe for the last year, so we were delighted she could join us in Brixton. Jenny will also be on The Riff Raff podcast in coming weeks so stay tuned.

Jenny revealed that she writes as "a way of answering questions I've been trying to answer my whole life".

Seeing as so many authors are preoccupied with finding their 'voice', we thought we'd ask Jenny how she found hers. She revealed that voice is vital - it's the 'heart and soul' of your book, but finding it takes hard work. Jenny urged the audience to realise that 'not everyone will like your voice, but be okay with that. And be okay with being misunderstood'.

"I knew the first scene and the last: the rest was grey"

Next up we had the evening's 'token crime novel' (her words), courtesy of Claire Askew, author of All The Hidden Truths...which has been keeping me awake for the last week as it's so damn un-put-downable.

Her debut, which follows three female characters as they deal with the aftermath of a college shooting, was influenced by a series of school shootings in the US. Claire noticed that 'toxic masculinity was like a tinder box waiting to spark something', and wanted to write about how women are often left to deal with the aftermath of violence.

Claire's novel features a lot of police activity, and notably a female police inspector who is new to the job. When asked how she kept police procedure accurate, Claire revealed, 'having a character that doesn't know much can be a useful device if you don't know much yourself.'

"Writing gives me a sense of being alive"

Finally, we were joined by Rachel Heng, author of Suicide Club. Rachel revealed that she took to writing after being encouraged to follow her dreams by her partner. What a gem! And take to it she did...Rachel signed up to The Faber Academy as it fit nicely around her day job. She also tackled NaNoWriMo – an initiative that takes place every November, where writers aspire to bash out 50,000 in the course of a month. This is how I got a large amount of my debut written too...might be worth a punt come November time people!

Rachel spoke so wonderfully about falling in love with writing. Even when faced with hundreds of rejections, Rachel found she was addicted to writing - as it gave her 'a sense of being alive'.

Rachel also shared a quote from Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor. "I write because writing gives shape to my world. And now I write because I want to give shape to my death".

If that doesn't bring a tear to a writers eye, I don't know what will. See...I told you it wasn't the rosé talking.

Guess what? Tickets are now on sale for our next event on August 9th, featuring Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (Swan Song), Molly Flatt (The Charmed Life of Alex Moore), Luke Tredget (Kismet), Anbara Salam (Things Bright and Beautiful) and Ellen Wiles (The Invisible Crowd). We can't wait. Hope to see all your gorgeous faces there.


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