writing tips

Is there a new style book launch in town?

The idea of a book launch has always been very straightforward.

1- You find your favourite book shop.

2 – You ply people with cheap wine in the hopes that they’ll buy your books.

3 – You sign books and feel like a superstar.

4 – You read from your book and feel like you wanna vomit.

5 – You console yourself that you sold books and people love you, even though you have a sneaking suspicion a lot of them were there for the free wine.

Traditional book launches have the advantage of being very simple to organise, lots of fun, and they make the author feel important and supported. It’s almost a rite of passage as an author. That is what a launch looks like to most people.

But I wonder how many books get sold at these events, really? I know when I’ve had to stand in front of people I love and people I don’t know, reading from my novel and trying to convince them that I deserve to have such a fuss made, I don’t feel like I’m doing my work justice. Also, did I mention about the wanting to vomit?

So the answer? A modern twist on the book launch. After all, many of us are ebook authors, what is achieved by sitting in a bookshop when there aren’t physical copies? A lot of authors run online launches, which can be fun and I’ve seen them done really well, with prizes and giveaways, and they certainly make you pay attention. But getting twenty notifications every hour from other people who have ‘popped by’ the launch can be a bit frustrating, and  might drive away your readership.

Enter Sara Veal, from Huhbub Ltd, a creative company that believe books can be ‘the jumping off point’ for creative campaigns that promote your book, but also benefit the community.

Thing is, I love an event, and I was excited to see what Sara could do with my book, Goodbye Ruby Tuesday, a novel focused around the healing power of arts, noughties era nostalgia and some girl power. I wanted an event that placed my story in the centre, without making me the centre of attention: And that was exactly what I got.

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In the basement of one of my favourite spots in London, Drink Shop Do (a place actually used as a setting in one of my other novels!) Huhbub managed to create a night of comedy, music and burlesque, with cocktails, nostalgic noughties music and the chance to raise money for Core Arts, a charity that focuses on using creativity for mental health.

An event that does good for the community, promotes my story, allows me to have fun without having to talk about my work, and gets people talking about the themes in the novel.

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In my opinion, getting called out by a fabulous drag queen MC, dancing to Craig David and drinking sparkly Ruby-themed cocktails whilst people look at the postcards featuring a free copy of my book beats the tepid wine of yesteryear any day.

Ebook authors need to find a new way to celebrate and promote their new releases, a modern way to engage with readers and writers without making it about ego or the money. Here is your answer: build a huhbub around your book.

I think it was a roaring success and if I could do it for every book I write, I would!

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Big thanks to Sara at Huhbub for such a wonderful event, and thanks to all those who came on the night! Share your photos and favourite moments!

 

 

therapeutic writing

Is All Writing Therapeutic Writing?

Is all writing therapeutic? I’m pretty sure it isn’t. When talking to writer friends hacking away at their novel, or stressing over edits, or rewriting that same conversation four times because it just doesn’t flow correctly…well, no, that doesn’t sound therapeutic.

But maybe it is.

These last few days I worked at Larmertree Festival in Wiltshire, running creative writing workshops. This is something I have been lucky enough to do for the last five years now, and I love it. Last year, I introduced ‘Writing for Wellbeing’ workshops for the first time, and this year I ran two, which were quite popular. I also ran a few standard ‘Creative Writing Workshops’ and a Kid’s workshop. And what did I realise? All of them, in a way, are focused on wellbeing. They all include the principles of a Writing for Wellbeing workshop.

These included, group dynamics, feeling safe enough to share or not, using our own history and stories as ideas, being supportive of the other group members, being playful with your writing.

What else did I learn? Any prompt can be a trigger. You don’t know what people are going through. As I’ve been running wellbeing groups, I’ve been very careful to be a facilitator- I’m in the ‘therapeutic’ state of mind. But standard creative writing groups don’t deserve anything else- their prompts can also hurt or upset people. Just because we have made the distinction in our mind doesn’t mean that the effects aren’t the same. I chose an incorrect prompt, simply because I thought ‘standard creative writing’ workshops weren’t capable of the same power as wellbeing ones. And that’s not true.

There is something about responding in words that makes us feel certain things- lists make us feel certain, or determined, or sometimes more confused. Recipes make us feel guided, or perhaps a little rebellious, eager to make them our own. Reviews, rants, letters, complaining emails, twitter posts…all these little ways of expressing ourselves in words have an emotional reaction. If they didn’t, why would we do them?

So as a facilitator, my lesson here was to pick things that can be engaging without overwhelming- my context is not everyone else’s. Think carefully about what you bring into the room. But also, even when I’m slogging through writing a bit of a novel that seems rubbish, or writing a rambling blog post…I feel better. I feel expressed. And maybe that’s the point. Any writing can be powerful, as long as we let ourselves connect.

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Owning, not Moaning: How Writing Can Offer a Positive Perspective

You know that image of the moody teenager curled up in her room, writing poetry about how life is meaningless, or that boy she likes doesn’t notice her, or that nothing ever changes? Why do you think that’s become a cliche? Is it that creative people feel more deeply? Or it is that strong feelings are released through creativity?

Picking up a pen when life gets you down doesn’t have to be about losing yourself in your problems. You don’t have to write depressing poetry, or moan about your life in a journal. You can, if you think it will help, but some people don’t like to get too bogged down thinking about their issues, feeling like focusing on them will only make them feel more negative.

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There’s a place for this theory in writing for wellbeing. Yesterday, I woke up in a foul mood. The neighbours had been partying right through until I got up at 6am. I kept dropping things, losing things, and was pretty much a rain cloud for anyone I interacted with. And I didn’t want to stay that way. So I sat down with a cup of tea, and I wrote a list of things that made me happy. True little details that gave me joy. Listening to Belle and Sebastian on sunny days, singing in the car, walking barefoot on wet grass. I filled two pages with these random little details that make me happy, and when I stopped, I was able to realise I’d fixed my own mood. Sure, that morning had pissed me off, but it was behind me now.

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Writing acts as a perspective shift. Other ways of doing this are writing down your issue, then retelling it from a different person’s position. Even writing in third person (he/she) instead of first (I/me) gives you distance. And that’s what you want, in order to affect change, you need space. You need a moment to move away from what’s been bugging you, and to switch your focus.

 

We’ll be exploring more positive uses for writing in my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop in April, (April 26th 10am-4pm Barnet) more details HERE.

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Write What We Know, or Write to Discover?

It’s an old writing adage that we should write what we know. Some contest it, some live by it. I think it’s rather unavoidable. Even if you’re writing about a futuristic world war where robots made from old bean tins have started a mutiny, you’re writing about human emotions. Even when it’s robots.

We can’t help but write what we know…it’s just that sometimes we don’t know that we know it. My point here? Writing is revelatory. It’s all very well saying that if we’ve been a butcher for fifteen years, we should use our experience to influence our settings, lend authenticity to our creations, but often we find parts of ourselves embedding in our fiction anyway. 

I’ve often written things, and only found where their familiarity comes from when someone else points it out. Ah, that broken toaster that was a metaphor for how we love unconditionally, we actually had one of those in our first house, didn’t we? Huh.

These aren’t always major revelations, but with the right questions and tasks, they can be very powerful. As writers, people often think we spend a lot of time on self-reflection, but the truth is, if we’re dealing in fiction, we’re more interested in other people. Usually the ones who are having conversations in our heads! But we can use what we enjoy and find useful, to explore parts of our own lives!

Think about how you come up with a character’s name, or when you’re a reader, how do you identify with the character. What does their name signify? What possible meanings can come from it. Now think about your names. Not just your given name, but any nicknames, any affectionate words, or unwanted familiarities. How do they make you feel? How do they define you? We name characters and allow their names to shape them- are we given the same opportunity? What about titles? Wife, mother, husband, brother, teacher, agony aunt? Boss? How is who we are shaped by the names we are given.

These are just some small wonderings, but it’s an example of how we use writing to look inward, even when we’re creating outwardly, and it’s part of a task I’ll be doing at my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop in Barnet in April!

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For details and tickets, click HERE

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On Being Authentic (and how writing can help)

It’s hard to be ourselves, these days.

 

We are constantly seeking a place to validate our thoughts and feelings on paper, or on screen. To see those words, and have them responded to respectfully and emotively is often all we crave. To receive a few kind words of encouragement or understanding. But the power of social media today means that we misplace that intention into a great fizzing ball of everyone’s insecurities, hang-ups, stresses and day to day life.

We do not heal ourselves by writing about our dead cat on facebook. We open ourselves up to derision, insincerity and judgement. But to write in a private moment about how we feel about such things, about our day to day life, our losses- it is our moment of understanding in expressing these things that matters, not the reception.

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It is so expected that your realisations and thoughts should be public, to be related to or ignored, that people cannot even define what is important to them. The loss of self, of authentic voice is more prevalent on social media sites than anywhere else. I am sad today. Well, if I tell facebook, people will tell me to cheer up, if I use twitter I am limited to characters, perhaps I’ll text a friend and they will comfort me. Nowhere in this scenario is sitting down and using words to consider why you’re unhappy today. You are too busy trying to figure out if your feelings matter enough to be considered your ‘status’ or if they are appropriate for the medium you’re using. That is the power of private writing- or even of therapeutic writing that is shared- there is no inappropriate, as long as you are authentic.

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An Exercise in Connecting to the Authentic:

Take a moment to ‘check-in’ with yourself. How are you today? Do you feel good? What one word would sum up how you are right now? Say it aloud. Own it. It is surprising? Is there anything more to be said? Have you picked a word that gives little away, like ‘fine’ or ‘okay’? You don’t have to limit yourself, or be polite, you are just interacting with yourself. If you feel content, if you feel anxious, if you feel awful, all of these feelings are okay.

 

Take out a watch, or a timer on your phone. You’re going to do five minutes of ‘free-writing’. This means you will write whatever comes to mind, you won’t form it, you don’t have to worry about spelling or punctuation or sentences. Go with what feels right. Try and almost bypass the brain in this exercise, imagine your pen is connected to a delicate thread that goes up through your arm and into your centre. The pen connects with the subconscious, just let it do what it wants. Start with the word you used to define your state of being. Run with it. Write as much as you can, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t look back, just keep writing.

Okay, so you’ve done that. Look back. Was that check-in how you really felt? Did anything become apparent? How do you feel? Writing this way, writing for ourselves, not for any validation, recognition, or to fill a space, is a powerful thing. There might not be any writerly ‘merit’ in the thing you have written, but if it feels honest and true to you, then that is merit enough. You may also find a phrase or word that you really like in there, and can use that to jump onto a more structured piece of work.

 

Authenticity is important- we are surrounded by the noise and pressure and expectations of others, things to do, places to go, how we should be, that sometimes we just need to centre ourselves again.

That is just one small and simple exercise in how writing can be therapeutic. Why don’t you try it out and let me know what you created? If you’re interested in the therapeutic possibilities of writing, remember I’m doing a Writing for Wellbeing Workshop in Barnet on Saturday 26th April. Email andrealmichael@aol.com for more details!

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