Writing is a journey, both imaginary and physical. My first book took me to the Arctic to 'catch the colours' of the Northern Lights. Then I hunkered down to catch the wind-blown voices of polar explorers on Shackleton's 1914-17 Endurance expedition. More recently I'm obsessed by space: the race, the rockets, the final frontier.

Hear a BBC Radio Leicester interview about my space poetry at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wfpyp
Explore my digital narrrative PHILAE'S BOOK OF HOURS, published by the European Space Agency, at:

My prose-poetry collections FIREBRIDGE TO SKYSHORE
and MAD, HOPELESS & POSSIBLE are both published by Original Plus Press at:

Contact me for signed copies or bookings at:

Visit the writers' development service I co-run at: https://www.facebook.com/TheWritersShed/

About Me

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Leicester, East Midlands
As a storyteller, my work crosses boundaries of myth, science, history and spoken word. It has been presented in the British Science Museum, Ledbury Poetry Festival, National Space Centre and the European Space Agency website. In 2014 I ran a digital residency on WW1 for 14-18NOW and Writing East Midlands. I teach Creative Writing at De Montfort University and have experience of leading school events, workshop tuition and mentoring. In addition, I co-run The Writers' Shed, a service for writers, at: https://www.facebook.com/TheWritersShed/

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Kabatic Winds on the High Street

Deluged by a blizzard of reports and coursework drafts at the day-job, I've been taking solace in a sumptuous book I found in the library last week. Antarctica: Exploring a Fragile Eden by Jonathon & Angela Scott made me long all over again to head off for the poles. It has breath-taking photographs of glacier caves, katabatic winds blowing up storms and colonies of penguins stretched across the ice-bound horizons. A book to get lost in.

There is one image of a gentoo penguin being shaken to death by a leopard seal. I was thinking of this as I digested a talk by literary agent Elizabeth Cochrane of Greene & Heaton Agency last Thursday. Her visit was hosted by my writers' group Leicester Writers Club and offered many insights into the world of publishing today. It was undoubtedly a 'very tough industry'. The harsh truth is most books make losses - only a few make money for the publishers. And there are thousands of novelists out there. 'Many writers will write perfectly publishable books that never get sold.' With the crash of Borders bookstore chain last week, the industry is in the throes of the credit crunch. Writers too will feel the pinch. After maybe 3 years work on your first novel, you might be lucky to get a £1,000 advance. Try living on that.

So that was just some of the tough talk. However, Elizabeth Cochrane was there to throw us a few lifelines, not just beat us about the head with home truths. She worked through several hours of detailed, practical advice about what agents were looking for, how to present your pitches and how they would fight for your interests in this climate. The talk was supported by Creative Leicestershire so free. A large room was packed with maybe ninety-odd aspiring and professional writers.

I've been lucky enough to hear a few agents and editors speak at LWC events so a lot of it was familiar. But there are always little gems. Having mentioned the horror story of an unnamed leading agency that kept the 'slush-pile' in a cupboard till some intern could send out all the rejection slips (gasp!) - she explained the routine in her own agency. They refer to 'the unsoliciteds' - not the 'slush-pile' - and take turns each week to do the initial sifting. I liked the mention of 'a little place in the kitchen' where other agents make their tea and get a second look at some of the submissions. A lot of the sifting inevitably has to go on in the margins of a busy day representing existing clients. So the question is always: 'Can I put this down yet? I've got all these other things to read - is this unputdownable?' That's the challenge with sample chapters.

Some DOS and DON'TS:
  • don't say your friends loved it

  • don't ask them to sign a security clause before they can see your top-secret manuscript ...

  • don't mention your holidays

DO mention other writers that your book is 'in the vein of'. But Elizabeth doesn't take to Hollywood-style pitches along the lines of: 'It's Smiley's People crossed with Anna Karenina'. Her talk also reinforced the importance of networking and making full use of any opportunities to meet agents at courses, parties, writers' conferences etc. And indeed, she was generous in her time during and after the event, handing out a great wadge of business cards.

So we were lucky indeed to hear an agent who was both witty and dedicated to getting up-to-date info. out there to writers. She also works for a consultative agency, Cornerstones, that writers can make use of to get in-depth reports on their books. With the freezing winds of recession blowing in, we need all the help we can get. Above all, Elizabeth Cohrane revealed, you need 'to see the joy in it' to sell books, and that's the hallmark of the kind of agent or editor you want to find in this business.

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