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Author, Avid Tweeter & Blogger, Lover of books, Teacher of Maths & Swimming, Mother, Speaks Spanish, Friend to many...

Monday, 22 October 2012


My first one to one session was with Caroline Harman, and I have to say I was really impressed.  She must be a great agent.

Considering this was only 10 minutes... you did not have a lot of time to gush over writing... and she only read the first 3000 words.

Overall, I was very happy.  She thought my writing had real potential.  She gave me a few tips and thought I should tweak my dialogue slightly... other than that no bad views. 


In a way, I wish I had more to say but I don't I was stumped...

Vanessa :) xx

CAROLINE HARDMAN has now founded...

Hardman & Swainson

Nice website... http://www.hardmanswainson.com/about.html

Before founding Hardman & Swainson I was an agent at the Christopher Little Literary Agency and The Marsh Agency, where I also specialized in translation rights. I have an excellent understanding of global trade publishing and have had the honour of selling rights on behalf of bestselling and prize-winning authors such as Kate Atkinson, Iain Banks, Bill Bryson, Linwood Barclay, Meg Cabot, Vikram Seth, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Jonathan Lethem.  Before The Marsh Agency, I was a bookseller for Waterstones for a short time following university. I have a 1st class BA and an MA in English Literature from the University of Leeds.

Nothing excites me more than discovering new talent. I'm interested in accessible literary fiction, from dark, moving and emotional novels to warm and cozy – great writing in all its guises, but nothing too rarefied. I'm also interested in quality commercial fiction, particularly the elusive book group novel, upmarket women's fiction and I'm on the lookout for crime and thrillers – I'd love to find the next Sophie Hannah. Whether it's literary or genre fiction, I look for strong writing, great characterization and originality. I like to be challenged, surprised, moved to tears or on the edge of my seat by the novels I read.

As I grew up reading Sweet Valley High, Judy Blume, and the Point Horror books (not to mention adult novels with mass-market appeal like Virginia Andrews and Maeve Binchy), I enjoy YA and crossover fiction and would like to add more authors in that area to my list.

In non-fiction, I enjoy memoirs (particularly confessional memoirs by women), and well-written, subject-driven, narrative non-fiction in general. I'm always looking for popular science, philosophy and psychology, particularly when written by experts in their field. As a health and yoga fanatic, I'm also interested in any books with an emphasis on food, health, the mind and the body.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Creating Tension with Claire McGowan

AN EXCELLENT LECTURE/ WORKSHOP ON CREATING TENSION... hope you find these notes helpful.  I certainly did...

Vanessa :)

The Art of Suspense...
  • to hang
  • to be in abeyance
  • a state of mental instability

Suspense is about waiting...

* The Secret Keeper - the character, not the reader, knows...
* The locked room puzzle


  • traumatised narrators
  • Unreliable narrators (The taming of the shrew)
  • young narrators (The Curious incident of the dog in the night time)

Consider... Tokyo, Room, Every vow you break...

Also, take into account 1st/ 3rd person variants

The "There or Not?" & "When and Where?"
b) Hercule Poirot's Christmas


  • Jeopardy
  • Loss
  • High stakes
  • Posing big questions

E.g. Jurassic Park, One Day
  • Reader knows, character doesn't 
  • race against time
  • race over distance
  • the killer speaks

  • Start with the setting (opening scene, chracter introductions)
  • Set up (initiating event)
  • Rising Action (Conflict, sub-climaxes, turning points, attempt)
  • Falling action
  • Resolution
  • USE KEY WORDS - "Blood", "death", "body"
  • ESCALATION (layers ... think Jurassic Park)
  • ACTION/ SITUATION - Is it necessary?
  • CHARACTERISATION - Give them something to lose...

The Art of withholding something forever...

E.g. The Little Friend, Something Might happen, Int the woods, The Little Stranger

  • A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • Every Vow You Break by Julie Crouch
  • Relentless by Simon Kernick
  • Killing Floor by Lee Child

The story starts with...

It was a Monday when I decided to kill Mary...

...continue - you have 1 minute!

This is what I wrote...

It was a Monday when I decided to kill Mary because I was tired.  I was tired of Mary. I don't feel bad about it. She deserved it. What I did wonder was whether I could have dealt with the body another way.  I was foolish and naive.  It should have been another way.

Women's Fiction

On Saturday I attended a workshop on women's fiction, chaired by Julia Crouch, Talli Roland (a very nice author I have met the previous day who moved from traditional publishing to self publishing...) and Julie Cohen.

It was lovely to meet all of them and we generally discussed the genre and they gave their perspective on the market trends.

Talli laughed at the fact some readers complain her books always have happy endings... "I like happy endings" is her reply.

Unfortunately, I had my first one to one so I have to shoot off... You can imagine that I was nervous...

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Saturday - Jojo Moyes Key address

I have to say that I was very excited about meeting Jojo Moyes.  I had just read Me Before You and thought it was amazing...if extremely sad at the end.

Jojo was an incredible speaker... inspiring really. 

She told us how she had toiled over the years to find a publisher.  She wrote four books that were not up to the right standard (when asked she said she would not publish them now anyway...they weren't good enough - I am on the fence about this, I bet they were).  She had an agent and they did push for publication but it was only with the fifth they got lucky.

Eight books later things did not seem to be going so well... so she wrote Me Before You and moved with Penguin books.  No-one thought the book would be a hit, but it was a HUGE success and she was back in the game.  Apparently, if supermarkets agree to have your books you are back in the running.  The Richard & Judy show also selected it, so again it all helps.

She explained how difficult it is to get motivated when you are convinced your book is no good, she talked of the dip moment... we all know this as writers, right? The this is rubbish moment... lol and how you have to see through the hump, perservere and finish.  How many of you start to write a book but don't finish? You got to see it through to the end.

Another tip was something called "The Kick the Dog Test"

If you saw someone kicking a dog what would you do? Visualise different characters, give them a reaction, build a picture of them in your heads.  Its a start.

What do your characters do when put in extreme circumstances?

What? Who? Tastes?  Use all the senses... BRAINSTORM

Also, don't describe something that can be kept simple... (give readers some credit...lol)

After the talk there were a few questions and then we had a break.

I managed to catch Jojo later on and bought her new book, The girl who was left behind, which she signed - so chuffed! I loved this and have reviewed it on my blog, A Readers Perspective (http://vanessawester.blogspot.com)

She also took the time to explain the ending to Me Before You which had left me slightly unsatisfied.  I won't say what she said... I still have to review it... but it was great to understand.

A brilliant author that made the weekend extra special...

Friday - Literary Night Live

Sorry for the delay with the next posts but I have been exceptionally busy recently editing my second book.  It is now away with readers so time will tell what the intial feedback will be like.

Anyway, Friday was "Literary Night Live" - I managed to sit with a group of lovely people and was very lucky to be in great company.

The premise of the evening was to hear 500 words from each selected entrants.  Then a panel of three judges gave their opinion and at the end the audience voted by a show of hands.

I met Anne Corlett that night, a fantastic writer and great friend on the entire weekend.  I hope we keep in touch.  She was one of the lucky few to get her writing selected.  She had to read it out loud in front of the entire gathering.  She was very brave and did a great job.  She did not win but it was a very tight contest and she did herself proud.  I am keeping my fingers crossed for her to find an agent...

It was an enjoyable night but I do admit that the agents and publishers were not all around.  Perhaps they'd had enough already!  I did get chatting to a very nice publisher and an agent Sallyanne Sweeney (Watson, Little Ltd.), whose picture I had seen before.

I did not get drunk - sorry! No stories of debauchery I'm afraid... lol!

I went back to my room and felt like a student again... four lonely walls!  Strange but, because I could, I read a book until past midnight... no kids! Freedom...