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.

Get into games writing

od of War written by Spanner SpencerThis week’s guest post comes from games writer extraordinaire Spanner Spencer.

In every other form of fiction writing, the writer is the only one who starts with nothing. It all begins with the writer, and everyone else involved builds on the foundations of a script, or story, or manuscript, or feature, or whatever kind of bricks the writer laid down.

Not so with games, and that’s a hard pill for writers to swallow. It’s a genre that doesn’t really care for the writer, and does its best to manage without one altogether. You’re not quickly welcomed onto the creative team, and even if you are, the invitation generally doesn’t arrive until the stone of the game has been cut. Continue reading

The devil in the detail for fiction writers

Mercado do Lavradores cr Judy DarleyAuthor Richard Francis has written nine published novels, including The Old Spring. In today’s guest post, he explains why he believes the true power in fiction writing lies in the details.

In the book I am currently writing one of my characters imagines having been dead for billions of years; then some random bubble in the tissue of space-time takes him back to the world again, to a village shop. There in front of him is a packet of Tide, a jar of marmite, a box of liquorice allsorts, and suddenly, long after the human race has ceased to exist, our world returns for a moment in all its particularity.

In Marcel Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu,  the smell of a madeleine dipped in tea takes the narrator all the way back to the lost time of his childhood, and the very title of the novel means to compare small things with great – or small things with greater small things.

The earth has been photographed turning majestically through space, but it is most poignantly relatable through its tiniest, apparently must mundane, components.

Use details to make fiction come alive

Classical tragedy focused on kings, queens and princes don’t because they gave their audience, who for the most part would not have been kings and princes themselves, access to a simplified world in which experiences could be presented in concentrated form, without anyone needing to go to the shops or the lavatory (kings, queens and princes don’t).

All that changed with the invention of the novel. Tristram Shandy, written by Laurence Sterne in the 18th century, begins with the hero’s conception: at the crucial moment his mother asks his father if he remembered to wind up the clock. Romeo and Juliet it isn’t but, as Tristram claims, the sudden intrusion of the petty can determine the course of much of life (and therefore in turn plays a vital part in making fiction come alive). Continue reading

How to boost your online presence

Cobweb at Victoria Park, Bristol cr Judy DarleyWhile books, magazines and newspapers are likely to be around in future, there’s no denying that the internet is increasing powerful when it comes to getting your message across. Writer, journalist and social networking addict Angeline Trevena offers her top tips for boosting your online presence.

Angeline TrevenaThe Internet is such a huge place it can be daunting to even get started. But you can actually carve out a niche for yourself. Try putting your own name into Google and see what comes up. You might see your social networking profiles, you might see your own website, you might see some sites about other people with the same name. You want control over the sites that show up, and the only way to do that is to create the information you want the search engines to pick up on.

Have your own website or blog

The best way to control information is to have your own website or blog. You don’t need an ology in web design, and you don’t need to spend a fortune either. There are many companies offering affordable web design, but you don’t even need that these days –Wordpress, MySpace or even Google Blogger are all easy to use.

There are also an entire range of different DIY website packages you can try. Some are better than others. But stick to this rule; if you’re not confident about designing your own site, keep it simple.

Update often

Regular updating is key. Search engines have a short attention span. If you don’t keep your site updated, it will slide down the results. Put latest news on your homepage, add your Twitter updates, announce new blog entries. And don’t be tempted to have a huge picture with a link saying ‘enter’ as your front page (known as a ‘splash page’): you need to feed the search engines with words, they can’t appreciate artwork!

Remember your readers

But the No 1 rule with your website is this: ALWAYS write for your readers. Google appreciates keywords, but Google is never going to buy your book or commission you for an article. Make your website attractive for humans and useful to search engines.

cr Angela TrevenaStart social networking

The Social Networking giants are Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and, increasingly, Pinterest. MySpace has largely become a domain for bands, but a lot of indie writers, designers, businesses etc still have profiles.

The ones that will work best for you depend greatly on your audience.

But when you do decide which ones to sign up to, don’t let the page languish; your social media pages are like your shop window, so keep them clear of cobwebs and dust!

Poring Hot Springs cobweb cr Judy DarleyLink things together

If you have social networking profiles, paste links to them from your website, and links to your website from your profiles. The web is so-called for a reason. It’s all about linking things together, networking and making connections. Don’t allow your website to simply drift away into space all alone.

Make friends on Facebook

If you’re not already on Facebook, go and put your email address in and you’ll be surprised how many people you know are on it. So right from the start, you’re not going to be alone.

You have to have a Facebook account, but once you’ve set that up, you can create your own Fan Page. Set up your page, invite all your friends and get them to invite all their friends too.

Again, always keep the page updated. Post interesting and useful links, links to new blog entries, links to your work published on the net, put up all your latest news, musings, thoughts and endeavours.

In the modern age people like the personal touch, they like to think they’re getting inside information and that they know you.

Tweet up!

Twitter updates are limited to 140 characters, so it’s not going to take up a lot of your time. Follow other writers for mutual support. Follow magazines and writing societies for news. Follow anyone posting competitions and opportunities. There is a wealth of information on Twitter, you just need to be following it!

Friday is ‘Follow Friday’ day (#FF). Do yours early and put in all the profiles you fancy stealing followers from. Then, when other people do their #FF listings, they’re likely to return the favour and post your profile. You can also do ‘Writer Wednesday’.

Hashtags are used for popular topics. Use them, you never know who’s watching.  #amwriting and #iamwriting are common ones.

Join forums

There are millions of forums out there for writers. Chat to other writers and put your website address(es) in your signature. Be friendly, supportive and interesting and people will check out your site.

But don’t don’t don’t spam. People don’t appreciate it and it won’t help your online presence at all.

Keep up to date

The Internet changes so fast and you need to keep your finger on the pulse.  There are many Internet magazines online and in print, and companies talking about all the latest developments via Twitter and Facebook.  What works today might not work tomorrow.

My three golden rules are:

1 – UPDATE: don’t let any of your sites or profiles get forgotten and out of date.

2 – NETWORK: get involved and get your name out there as often as you can.

3 – BE SAVVY: be aware of the constant ebb and flow of Internet trends.

4 – Have fun with it!

Find out more about Angeline at and

How to set up a home office

Writing room – home officeWhether you’re a creative writer or a freelance journalist, you need your own space. In an ideal world, as Virginia Woolf asserted in 1929, this would be a room of your own. But many of us don’t have that luxury, so it’s fortunate that a home office is effectively any space you can go to and feel business-like (even if you are wearing pyjamas!), productive and ready to work. Continue reading

How to conduct a successful interview

Reflection in Limerick RiverAs writers, we’re naturally interested in the lives of other people, and interviewing the people who inspire us can be one of the major perks. From Q & A sessions to in-depth features, there is definitely an art to carrying out a successful interview.

From expats in Spain to legendary authors, I’ve interviewed a large range of people through my work as a journalist. Here I’ll cover everything you need to know, from choosing and contacting your subject to preparation and implementation. Continue reading

The answers to all your writing questions!

This section of the website will gradually build up to provide the answer to all those difficult writing questions, such as: How do you set up a home office? How do you conduct a successful interview? How can you boost your online presence? How can you improve your chances of winning writing contests? How can you gain your first paid writing job?

The first of these posts goes live first thing tomorrow, so look out for it!