How to run a literary salon

Novel Nights cr Grace PalmerThis week’s guest post comes from Grace Palmer, co-founder of Bristol literary evening Novel Nights, and answers the question, what does it take to organise and launch a successful literary event?

I’ve been running monthly Novel Nights in Bristol since 2013, and I think you need qualities of courage, energy and commitment to run a literary event.

At the start you need courage and self-belief to launch a new event, and this is almost more important than having a good idea.

Like a lot of people I’m full of good ideas; mine was to create an event where guest speakers share their writing knowledge or expertise and where writers’ work could be showcased. The idea lay dormant for a long time – organising a public event was too daunting. I decided to ‘trial’ out the event, with no expectation of success, just to see if I could. The beauty of this approach is that you can see what works and what can be improved. The first one was great fun; people loved it and I made brilliant writing contacts. It’s now a well-established Bristol literary event.

Courage, energy and organisation skills

Courage will help you continue with the event in the early days when you don’t know if you’ll even cover the cost of the speakers or venue hire, whether your audience will like it, or turn up.

You need energy, or a group of trusted friends to help you, to sustain you and the event. Running events is hard work. You need to be well organised, look after your audience, create publicity, promote the event, chat on twitter and facebook, maintain a website, book speakers and so on. Phew! It helped that I’ve got a marketing background, but I’ve also made loads of mistakes along the way.

For me, Novel Nights  is a hobby I fit in around a full-time day job and my own writing, and it can be stressful. I think you have to love what you’re doing – even if you’re running an event as a business – as your integrity will shine through. I am keener on the end result than organising but you need to do both to be successful.

Ken Elkes reading at Novel Nights in March 2015

Ken Elkes reading at Novel Nights in March 2015

Commitment to your audience

Many times I’ve thought of giving up and this is where commitment comes in, to carry on going. You also need to keep the audience at the heart of what you do, and my philosophy is to keep improving everything. Having a good venue which supports you is key, and I’d recommend that you connect on-line with your audience – if they can tweet or blog about your event they will help to build excitement and a sense of community. Eventually the event becomes bigger than the organisers.

At Novel Nights we’ve had some fantastic nights with Jane Shemilt, Alan Snow, Sarah Hilary, Anna Freeman, Nathan Filer, Cally Taylor, Sanjida O’Connell, literary agent, Juliet Pickering and, most recently, a wonderful Short Story Evening with some superb writers.

Getting good quality writers who are good in front of an audience is key to any literary event I think. Likewise with readings, it’s good to keep things tight and the quality high, to create a buzz in the room.

Good luck. Hope to see you at Novel Nights.

The next Novel Nights is Comic Writing and Social Media for writers with Nikesh Shukla, and will be at the Lansdown, Bristol, on April 16th 2015.

Grace PalmerAbout the author

Grace Palmer recently sent her first novel, The Wish Bone, off to literary agents. Meanwhile the day-job as a press officer continues; writing stories about scientific research which have been published in national media. Grace studied journalism and has a BA in literature and creative writing. She organises Novel Nights in Bristol, which supports emerging writers and showcases the work of experienced novelists.

Visual impressions with Midge Naylor

Selm Muir by Midge Naylor

Selm Muir by Midge Naylor

Looking at Midge Naylor’s paintings, monoprints and photographs, I’m struck by a sense of Britain’s coastal landscapes, places of wildness, wind, rain and brief glorious moments of sunshine when the light catches on drenched edges and makes them suddenly sublime. Her work offers up shapes and shades that shortcut you to the feel of a place.

“Painting,” she says, “is my preferred medium and I use lots of different materials, reworking by removing or layering until it feels ‘right’.  And then there’s colour…  that’s why it’s the medium I use most often. The materiality of a painting seems to increase its imaginary potential and feeling of presence.”

Painting by Midge NaylorThe same impressions feed through to her monoprints, a process she came to almost by accident. “I started monoprinting when on an etching course a few years ago,” she explains. “Soon realising that the long process involved in etching didn’t suit the way I like to work, I used the equipment to produce monoprints. Most are really monotypes – I don’t use the plate for more than one print and there’s no going back – probably fewer than one in four is a success.”


Midge’s photographs are equally abstract, capturing details most of us would overlook. “The unexpected and the usually unnoticed attract me, together with fine textures, patterns and colour,” she says. “Editing of photographs is kept to an absolute minimum.”

Photo by Midge Naylor

The way Midge works is enticingly exploratory: “I think of the work as experimental – it refers to landscape but it’s a psychological landscape,” she says. “I’m a studio painter and I draw a lot, but don’t gather material for specific paintings from observational drawing outside. I have no idea what will happen when I start a work and the excitement is in making visual a kind of reverie. ‘Selm Muir’ (at the top of this post) is an example of this.  It’s an ‘inscape’ created spontaneously, driven by memory and emotion.”

Many of her pieces don’t have titles or have non-specific ones “because I don’t really like putting ideas about subject matter into the mind of the viewer, particularly in the more abstract works.” It means we’re left to read into the pieces and make sense of them however we wish or are able to, creating an unspoken collusion between artist and audience.

Midge’s landscape piece March 15 #2 (it’s the second she drew on that date) is currently on show in the RWA’s Drawn exhibition. It’s already been sold, so take a look while you can!

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Midweek writing prompt – creating worlds

Hidden world-JudyDarleyAs a child I spent a lot of time peering into ponds, or lying in long grass watching the tiny creatures bustling through their jungle. I was reminded of this when I took some dead flowers from a vase and found my attention snared by the beauty of the pebbles and marbles they’d been resting on.

I invite you to create your own underwater world. Fill a glass, vase or jar from the tap, then add in a handful of miscellaneous objects – such as shells, cracker charms, buttons or toys. You can have some fun searching for these in the street.

Then take a photo of the scene, or simply spend some time gazing at in, using your imagination to change the scale to create a whole world. And just see what rises to the surface…

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket With your permission, I’d love to share it on

For the love of flash fiction

Windmill Hill City Farm textures cr Judy DarleyFlash fiction aficionado and writer Jude Higgins tells us what prompted her to launch the Bath Flash Fiction award, and how you can get involved.

I launched the Bath Flash Fiction Award in February this year, specifically for writers who, like myself, love reading and writing micro fiction and enjoy entering competitions as a spur to finishing stories. I’ve been hooked on the form since 2012, when my colleague Alex, at Writing Events Bath, and I organised a flash fiction workshop with Tania Hershman.

The Bath Short Story Award, which I have been co-running for a few years with my writing group colleagues Jane Riekemann and Anna Schlesinger, has no lower word limit, but the stories writers submit are usually near the upper limit of 2200 words. Flash fiction is flourishing worldwide and I thought it would be good to have another international award, specifically for very short stories.

A different kind of writing contest

I also wanted to try something different. Most entries for big prize competitions, which are open for around six months, pour in during the final month. Last year, in the Bath Short Story Award, more entries came in during the final two weeks than in the first four months put together! In this competition, I aim to avoid this deadline effect by doing away with the deadline altogether. Instead, the award will close at 1000 entries – no fewer, no more. This means that writers have ownership of the end date and know they must submit as soon as they are ready instead of waiting until the last minute, or they might miss the chance to submit at all. It is an interesting process from my end. Like the writers, I have no idea when the competition is going to close.

The pleasure of unpredictability

It’s been six weeks since the award opened and entries are coming in steadily from around the globe. Who knows if it will end in a great rush of entries in the next few weeks, or continue for much longer? It’s entirely unpredictable. We don’t disclose the running total on the website due to the risk that could immediately infer a deadline and encourage writers to procrastinate, which is exactly what we’re aiming to prevent. It’s exciting to be receiving such a diverse mix of stories from countries so far including, UK, US, Eire, South Africa, Australia, Mexico, Israel, Brazil, New Zealand, Singapore. I am working hard on twitter to spread the word. All genres and styles are welcomed, traditional and experimental.

The prizes and fees

The money for the first prize of £1000, the second prize of £300 and the third of £100 is here waiting and I am delighted that Annemarie Neary, an award-winning short story writer and anovelist who has recently secured a two-book deal with Hutchinson, is judging the short list. She has judged other flash fiction competitions previously and has interesting things to say about writing to a small word count in my interview with her on the website.

There are other innovations in the competition. Writers can choose from three different entry options. Standard entry is £9, but Membership at £5, payable via Paypal or credit card, gives unlimited entries for just £4. Group entry means that five or more writers from a group, a creative writing class or a band of friends can, via one person, send in entries for £6 each. All the maths is worked out on the website.

The award is constantly evolving and the website team are working on another innovation for writers, coming  soon. I’ll keep you posted on that one.

Thank you to Judy for asking me to say more about the award. If you have any queries please get in touch through the help desk on the site and we would love you to follow us on twitter @bathflashaward.

About the author

Jude Higgins has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and has won prizes and achieved success in several writing competitions, including the Frome International Writing Competition. Most recently, she was long listed in the Fish short story competition 2013 and the Fish Flash Fiction competition 2013 and in 2014; her flash fiction ‘The Lottery’, received an Honourable Mention and is now published in the Fish 2014 Winners’ Anthology. Her short story ‘The Caravan’ is in ‘Reaching Out’ an anthology published by Cinnamon Press, 2013. With her friend Alex Wilson, Jude co-founded Writing Events Bath in 2009 and organises events with authors, agents and publishers in cafes, bookshops and other venues in Bath. Jude and Alex also lead popular writing groups for beginners and experienced writers. In 2012, Jude co-founded the Bath Short Story Award with Jane Riekemann, Anna Schlesinger and Caroline Ambrose and continues to work with Jane and Anna in organising this rapidly growing yearly competition. In February this year, Jude launched The Bath Flash Fiction Award.

A literary radio recording

Judy Darley performing for Speech Bubble cr BBCA couple of weeks ago I was invited to perform one of my short stories for a BBC Radio Bristol show called Speech Bubble. The event was designed by lovely Mark Olver to showcase local writing talent, but then the BBC, deciding we need more humour in our lives, asked him to focus on burgeoning comedy writers.

This is a bit of a weird one for me because, um, I’m not that funny. A lot of life amuses me, and I’m drawn to the absurd, but much of my short fiction dwells in the darker side of the human psyche. While it’s often uplifting, it’s probably as likely to make you shed a tear as crack a grin.

However, I did my best, wrote a whimsical short tale (just a couple of minutes reading time) called The Notes, and you know what? They liked it! On a Wednesday evening in March we recorded the episode at Smoke and Mirrors (apparently the UK’s only ‘magic bar’) and I became the “and now a change of pace” provider – a key role, I’m sure you’ll agree, in any ensemble show.

For the next 20-something days, you can listen to the show here:

The monthly six-part series has three more episodes to air and is hoping to return soon, so if you fancy your chances of making the ex-housemate of Russell Howard and Jon Richardson (what must that have been like?) chuckle, send your comedic ramblings to – you could end up performing your work!

Midweek writing prompt – the egg

Egg cr Judy DarleyA couple are woken by a strange sound, and emerge from their house to discover a large, strange egg on their patio – just sitting there, glowing softly in the early morning light.

What happens next?

If you create something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket With your permission, I’d love to share it on