The Art of Writing

A Writers Retreat in Tuscany

Tag: Creative Writing Workshop Tuscany (page 1 of 3)

Why every writer should join a writers group.

There are no excuses anymore. By joining my little writers group in Florence I must write, must edit and must listen to my fellow writer’s thoughts and advice. Why didn’t I do this earlier?

Thinking of joining a Writers Group? Here's why you should.My writers group lets me know what is not clicking. So often we think our readers will understand, that they will ‘get’ what we’ve written. But my writers group lets me know that, actually, they didn’t pick up the thread because I wasn’t clear enough, or didn’t explain enough. Yes, it’s a little daunting, scary, being picked apart but it’s so good for your work! Your writing group sees where you can extrapolate. They let you know whether your story is engaging or not. My last question to my fellow writers this week was ‘do you want to know more?’ and that, as a writer, is what we are aiming for, no? Are you hooking your readers? Are they bored? Overwhelmed? Disinterested?

Thinking of joining a Writers Group? Here's why you should.I must say, I had put off joining any kind of writers group for years. It’s my first time. Funny, huh, after four books and finally on my fifth that I now know I need fresh takes, readers, second opinions. Probably because this is my first Fiction book, while the others were all Creative Non-Fiction. I cannot recommend sharing with a writers group highly enough. Especially if you are embarking on a new form of writing, like I am.

Thinking of joining a Writers Group? Here's why you should.Am I being narcissistic also adding that the thought of plagiarism within writers groups also scared me? I had heard of writers sharing their work, only to have ideas copied, concepts imitated and phrases plagiarized. But I flattered myself. Their work is fantastic! Who did I think I was? They’re amazing! My work is paltry compared to theirs.

Check your library or local arts group for any writers that meet up. Start a Google Docs Sharing session so you can all post your work, and pick the month to upload your work.

Go on, do yourself a favor and force yourself to diarize, write, share and enjoy writing with other people. Regularly!

Thinking of joining a Writers Group? Here's why you should.

How to make strong, memorable characters your readers won’t forget.

Make strong, memorable characters your readers won't forget.When writing Death in the Mountains, I made sure to give each member of my 1907 poor Tuscan family a characteristic or quality that made each person memorable.

  • Bruna liked to touch things. She was so in sync with the land and farming environment around her that she was tactile with the things she grew, made and created.
  • Artemio had bandy legs, a leftover from soft bones due to a lack of Vitamin D and rickets in his youth. He was swaddled and left inside for months without the sun. A common disorder of Tuscan babies in the past.
  • Fiamma was a fire brand, like her name which means flame.
  • Mario was violent and exuded anger like a perfume. Because of this characteristic he ultimately beat up the farm’s overseer. You can imagine the problems that caused!
  • Maria was beautiful.
  • Silvio hated wearing shoes.
  • Pasquale was only ever mentioned as ‘baby Pasquale.’

Make strong, memorable characters your readers won't forget.And onwards for each character within the pages of Death in the Mountains.

Giving each character at least one mannerism is a process that many writers follow. It helps writers dig more deeply into a character, enlarge upon or extrapolate the person or the location. It also helps readers remember your characters, no matter how big or small their part in your story.

What mannerisms or habits have your protagonist’s history given him/her? What kind of impact does that have on your story or scene?

Make strong, memorable characters your readers won't forget.The Italians are fascinated by beautiful women, more so than other nationalities that I have encountered. They LOVE a beautiful woman; they venerate ‘bella.’ Making Maria absolutely drop dead gorgeous helped me examine the Italians attitude to beauty. It helped me form Maria’s character; it even helped me create the narrative and plot line for the book. Who could fall in love with her? What impact would that have on the family? How did Maria feel about being so beautiful? Did she see the impact that she had on people? How did it feel for her father, Artemio, to go into town or church with a daughter that everybody stared at and talked about? How would Mario, Maria’s aggressive, troubled brother feel about her beauty? Was he protective of her?

Make strong, memorable characters your readers won't forget.In the end, giving Maria that physical characteristic of beauty helped me write a much better book. Her beauty gave me ideas, outcomes, reactions, actions, scenes.

In my next Blog I’ll look at the difference between superficial and deep characterization.

Follow me on Facebook and Instagram too for my new #WriteTipWednesday! Every Wednesday I’ll give a writer’s tip and then examine the issue more deeply with my Friday Blog.

If you’re interested in reading more about the rural life of Tuscany’s past, check this post out on Nonna.
Make strong, memorable characters your readers won't forget.

5 writing lessons learned down the rabbit hole of information

5 writing lessons learned down the rabbit hole of informationMy trusty Art of Writing assistant, Gabriella Ienzi, has almost finished her manuscript. Ginormous congratulations to Gabriella! Writing a book is a huge task. However, Gabriella has realised that though the internet has a huge quantity of ‘help’ in regards to sharpening her text and getting her book ‘just right,’ mining for tips can take up too much of her time. Here are Gabriella’s top five writing lessons learned on what to avoid and what to do with cyberspace publishing assistance. 


5 writing lessons learned down the rabbit hole of information

1. Never lose the forest for the trees.

Specifically, don’t forget your book when stressing about your query. You’ll read QUERY so many times that your mind will start to glaze over it, like “a” or “the.” Yes, the query is important. It’s especially important if the agency asks for a query-only submission, with no writing to boost you. Your query (and pitch) speaks about your ability to articulate your story briefly and succinctly, cutting straight to the heart without any arterial ruptures along the way. But don’t forget your manuscript. Ultimately, not every agent will be right for your manuscript, just like not every genre appeals to every reader. Don’t get so caught up trying to snag an agent’s attention that you oversell your book, or sell it as something it’s not. This is why it’s so important to get someone to look at not just your query, but a sample chapter too.

5 writing lessons learned down the rabbit hole of information2. Take everything with a grain of salt, unless it’s advice about your work specifically. 

I’ll use myself as an example. My book is a multi-point of view story where the protagonist’s POV appears in chapter four. Now. I was told to handle my query both ways: include all three women or write it from the protagonist’s POV, whichever sounds more intriguing in the query. Except I just got my query critiqued, and the verdict? If the query focuses on the protagonist, and the opening chapter isn’t the protagonist, it’s confusing. Period. Full stop. The takeaway: always, always, always—no matter how much you read and think you know!—get someone to look at your work directly. Don’t rely solely on online tips, because writing is not math and there is no perfect formula that applies to every author and every book. 

5 writing lessons learned down the rabbit hole of information3. Partner up. 

Get a separate pair of eyes—a beta reader—to read your work, at whatever stage you’re comfortable sharing it. Some writers (me) would rather set the whole book on fire before letting anyone see the first raw draft. Others peck away at a rough draft so the result is a finished story that can be shown to at least close friends. If you have the time, buddy up with a critique partner, where you each read and critique each other’s work. 

4. Invest. 

Your book is your business. You won’t launch a successful business of any kind if you’re not willing to put any money into it. If you don’t have writerly friends who can critique your book, then pay for a beta reader—there are many who offer detailed reader reports on what worked and didn’t work in the story. Some book bloggers charge as low as a couple hundred. Take courses, attend a retreat, register for online conferences (which cost a lot less than most physical ones), pay for a critique or two. 

5 writing lessons learned down the rabbit hole of information5. Never be afraid to ask questions—but always try and ask them in person about your work personally. 

Getting my query critiqued was an eye-opener as to why agents often don’t offer criticism for rejected manuscripts. The critique just left me with more questions. If I fix X, will Y be okay? Or if I just fix Z, can I leave X and Y as is? It’s a slippery slope and hard to get out of. And I started imagining if the critique had actually come with a rejection. It’s hard to navigate the fine balance of “this is what went wrong” and “but even if you fix it, I still won’t be interested.” A weak point in your manuscript isn’t like a loose draft in the kitchen window and you just have to shut the window tighter; it’s a draft that could be coming from anywhere in the house, and you have to find it first. A solution could fix all, or make it worse, or leave it the same. That’s why speaking personally with an agent or author can be so invaluable—you get to bounce an idea back and forth.

Head of UK HarperCollins Women’s Fiction to join us from September 10-16!

Martha Ashby, the Director of UK HarperCollins Women’s Fiction will join The Art of Writing for one week from September 10-16! Martha will be with us all week but will meet with us formally on Friday, September 15 over a glass of wine to discuss anything you want! What holes does she see in first time manuscripts? What’s hot and what’s not? How can I get my work published?

This is your chance to ask a major publisher anything you’ve always wanted to know about publishing but never had the chance to ask. 

This is sensational news. So if you have…

* an idea

* a plot

* a half written manuscript – maybe your writing has stalled and your confidence has crashed.

* a dream – maybe your dream is to write part or full time. Would you like to know more about the reality of a ‘writing lifestyle?’

* had a series of agent rejections

* a trilogy idea or if you are inventing a genre idea (like me)

* doubts about whether what you’ve written could possibly sell to a reputable publishing house.

Then Martha Ashby’s one week with us from September 10-16, 2017, is an incredible opportunity to chat, one on one, with the Director of major, traditional publishing house HarperCollins.

If you have any inclination to join us, or any questions, just let me know. This is an amazing chance to show your work to the people who might actually buy it, so don’t be shy – let me know asap.

All my very best wishes for a fantastically creative 2017!

On being published: an interview with Martyn Bedford

On being published: an interview with Martyn BedfordMartyn Bedford will take our writers retreat from September 10-16, 2017, as we focus on nurturing and replenishing your writing skills. Martyn’s five morning classes will teach everything from dialogue to character to voice.

Martyn has written several novels for adults and young adults. His debut novel Acts of Revision was the winner of the Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award. His third MG and YA novel, Twenty Questions for Gloria, received wide acclaim. He has also published numerous short stories in anthologies, newspapers and magazines and his first solo collection is being published by Comma Press in 2017. 

For this week’s blog, I spoke with Martyn about publishing, success, and ‘making it’ as a writer. 

On being published: an interview with Martyn BedfordWhat is something that you still struggle with as a published writer today?

The same things I struggled with when I started out! Each new work of fiction poses its own set of creative and technical challenges: new characters to create, a different story to tell, the search for an appropriate structure and narrative approach, a new voice to strike, different themes to explore, and so on. Just because you’ve written stories and novels before doesn’t mean you’ve cracked the art and craft of writing or discovered some kind of formula that enables you to reel off the next one without difficulty.

With every piece I’ve written, there has always come a point during drafting or redrafting when one or more of those elements I’ve just listed isn’t working and I start to doubt whether I can fix things this time round. What experience gives you, though, is the degree of self-confidence that comes from knowing you’ve somehow found a way through previous crises. And an awareness that struggle is part and parcel of the creative process.

On being published: an interview with Martyn BedfordIf you could tell your debut self one thing about being published, what would it be?

Don’t assume that being published means you’ve ‘made it’ or that all will be sweetness and light from now on.

I was thirty-six when I signed the deal for Acts of Revision and, having spent nearly a decade trying and failing to get two previous novels published, I allowed myself to believe that I’d finally entered a kind of writers’ nirvana. What I’ve come to realise in the twenty years since that debut novel came out is that the publishing world is a welcoming place when things are going well for you but can leave you feeling isolated and forgotten when you have the inevitable professional or creative dips. So, I’ve had to learn to enjoy the good times when they come along and hang on in there during the bad times. In the end, all you can do is try to stay focused on your writing and not on the distractions of ‘being a writer’.

On being published: an interview with Martyn BedfordYou published several adult novels before switching to YA. What are some aspects of YA fiction that you think writers across all genres can learn/benefit from?

The distinctions between fiction for adults and young adults aren’t as great as you might think. I certainly don’t feel I write all that differently when I’m working on a YA novel to when I write for an adult readership. It’s still about getting your characters right and telling their story in the best way that you can.

But there are some key characteristics in YA that are worth noting. For example, younger readers tend to prefer stories that keep the plot ticking along more quickly and more obviously than is the case in ‘literary’ fiction for adults (although, of course, plot-driven narratives are also a feature of genre adult fiction, such as crime, thrillers and science fiction.) And while YA, these days, often explores serious and sometimes quite dark themes, this is done through character and story, without slowing the narrative pace. You don’t tend to find the long passages of reflective interiority or thematic exposition in young-adult novels that you often see in literary fiction for adults.

So, I do think there’s something to be said for writers of all kinds of fiction bearing in mind that we are storytellers not message-givers. I’ve read so much YA fiction over the past few years that when I’m reading a literary novel for adults I often catch myself thinking, “Oh, for crying out loud, just get on with it!”

For next week’s blog, I will be asking Martyn to share his favourite creative writing exercises, lessons, and tips for his students, as well as the most common errors he sees his students make.

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Marriages Are Made in Bond Street; Penrose Halson and her fascinating book about a 1940s Marriage Bureau.

Marriages Are Made in Bond StreetPenrose Halson is the author of Marriages Are Made in Bond Street and this year, Penrose and her husband Bill joined us for a week in Tuscany for The Art of Writing. I was intrigued by Penrose’s story, the fascinating purchase of a Marriage Bureau and the subsequent stories and ultimately a book that she wrote from its archives. The stories in her book Marriages Are Made in Bond Street reveal the lives, expectations, yearnings and loves of the men returning home from the Second World War and the women who remained at home, searching for a partner in life that in those years were difficult to find.

It’s a beautiful book and its rise and rise in popularity has Penrose busy with Writers and Literary Festivals all over the UK. Not only has Penrose found herself to be a successful writer within the world of publishing long after retirement, but she’s also found herself the owner of a series of stories that are very likely to become a major TV series.

Here is a peek at the Marriages Are Made in Bond Street precis:

Marriages Are Made in Bond StreetIn the spring of 1939, with the Second World War looming, two determined twenty-four-year-olds, Heather Jenner and Mary Oliver, decided to open a marriage bureau. They found a tiny office on London’s Bond Street and set about the delicate business of match-making. Drawing on the bureau’s extensive archives, Penrose Halson – who many years later found herself the proprietor of the bureau – tells their story, and those of their clients. We meet a remarkable cross-section of British society in the 1940s: gents with a ‘merry twinkle’, potential fifth-columnists, nervous spinsters, isolated farmers seeking ‘a nice quiet affekshunate girl’ and girls looking ‘exactly’ like Greta Garbo and Vivien Leigh, all desperately longing to find ‘The One’. And thanks to Heather and Mary, they almost always did just that. A riveting glimpse of life and love during and after the war, Marriages Are Made in Bond Street is a heart-warming, touching and thoroughly absorbing account of a world gone by.

Marriages Are Made in Bond Street

Gorgeous, just gorgeous. I love everything about this book and the story behind the author so I couldn’t help but ask Penrose to be a part of my Blog on writing. Here’s how Penrose’s life changed:

In 1986 Bill and I bought the Katharine Allen Marriage & Advice Bureau, established in 1960 by Betty Allen-Andrews, a formidable Irish-American woman who conducted her business by personal interview and letter. She wrote long, detailed, graphic letters, which I read with amazement as I tried to understand how the Marriage & Advice Bureau worked. Betty’s letters were full of stories.

In 1992 the daughter of Heather Jenner, who was then running the Marriage Bureau founded by her mother in 1939, faced with a 700% rent increase, was forced to close the bureau. She asked me to take over her clients, which I did. Later she gave me the bureau’s archives.

In 2014 the speaker at a meeting of the Freelance Media Group, run by a dear friend, novelist Jane Corry, was television development producer Tara Cook. She asked if anyone had ideas for television; I said I had a lot of marriage bureau stuff. Intrigued, Tara came to see the archive – ledgers, press cuttings books, photographs, documents, letters, which smelled mustily of the old barn where they had been stored for years. She read some of the Marriage & Advice Bureau stories that I’d written up fourteen years earlier; and eventually, to my bemusement, Carnival bought an option.

At the same time I dusted off those stories, which had been sitting in a drawer for 14 years while I was otherwise busy (mother with dementia; becoming Master of a City Livery Company) and sent them to an old friend, Katie James. Katie had always been interested since she was the step grand-daughter of Heather Jenner who founded the business. She also happened to work at Pan Macmillan; and unbeknown to me, she showed the stories to the Non-fiction Publishing Director, who called me in and said that she wanted to publish the book.

Marriages Are Made in Bond Street

Having imagined that I would have to try to persuade her to consider a book, and that I would probably fail, I was fairly taken aback, but got on with it, beavering away for about a year. It was totally absorbing and I was gripped. Originally I had imagined a book covering the entire life of the two marriage bureaux, 1939 – 2000. However, there was so much fascinating material that Marriages Are made in Bond Street covers only 1939-49.

There is enough to fill more books, so if Marriages is successful enough to warrant sequels (which may of course depend on whether a television series materialises) I could still be writing when I’m pushing 90! I have always loved writing, and did a great deal early in my so-called career (innumerable educational language magazines, readers, courses for children learning languages, and children’s books, as Penrose Colyer). But a grown-up book such as Marriages is a far more complex and engrossing activity than Parlez Français avec Dougal

Such a lovely story. And I hope it inspires you all to keep writing and to keep believing in your ideas. You never know what can happen!

I also couldn’t resist this week adding some lovely comments I received today from an alumni member of The Art of Writing, Rose. “It’s incredible how the strength of connection that we all gained two years ago in those Casentino mountains still holds firm and true. Well done on creating something so special – it remains one of the most significant weeks of my life.” Rose’s comments, along with Penrose’s magical story inspire me to keep going!

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When friends create their own writers retreat.

When friends create their own writers retreat.Gathering creative spirits, escaping to a beautiful, isolated village in Scotland to share writing, discuss plot and workshop ideas – that’s what I did last week with four writer friends. We created our own writers retreat. Our own circle of like-minded, kindred creative spirits and bowed out of society for 6 days to concentrate on our pages.

And I cannot recommend it highly enough.

When friends create their own writers retreat.There are times when you need to surround yourself with other writers. Why wait for an official retreat, organised by someone else? Rent a lovely home as soon as finances allow and share the expense with friends so that you can think and dream and try. Target an area in the country that you’d like to hike through too. Because nothing is better after a morning of writing than a few hours walk.

When friends create their own writers retreat.The best aspect of organising our own writers retreat was the aperitivo hour. Every night each one of us would read our work and we would discuss together the manuscript’s problems or what we called ‘its dilemmas.’ The sacred time of sharing our work each night gave me several epiphanies. My new book sharpened, as my friends pointed out flaws or suggested improvements. Its focus, flow and ‘what’s at stake’ has improved enormously thanks to them.

We shared the cooking too! Each night a different cook. Oh, the joys of being cooked for!

Don’t wait for the Art of Writing – organise your own, private, personal retreat with writer friends. Your writing will benefit and so will your soul.

When friends create their own writers retreat.

Happy thanksgiving to you from the Art of Writing team in Tuscany!

I hope this note finds you in a contented space, in a peaceful frame of mind with moments of quiet so your mind and heart can roam freely. That would be my thanksgiving wish for you – inner peace for calm thought, tranquillity and stillness. 

This holiday note is to send you my best for Thanksgiving and also to let you know our plans for our 2017 June and September retreats. 

Ready submitJune 4-10, 2017

The Art of Suspense

Following this year’s interviews and discussions with global agents and publishers, it is beyond doubt that the most frequent request from those working in the world of literature is for gripping text. Strong story lines that hook readers from the first chapter are more essential than ever. Every commissioning agent and associate editor requested engaging stories, with deeper characters, more compelling dialogue and thrilling plot-lines. It is with this demand in mind that we’ve decided to run a retreat focusing on pace, build-up and how to write unputtowndable text — in all genres. Whether you’re writing historical non-fiction, your own family history, romance, a memoir or literary fiction our 2017 Tuscan workshop aims to tighten your words and sharpen your story-telling. 

imageSeptember 10-16, 2017

Nurture and Replenish Your Writing Skills

We feel more than ever that creatives need time away from their day to day environments to write effectively. Sometimes our routines, together with the demands of our families and the distractions of technology can entirely disconnect us from our writing goals, dreams and deadlines. Completely immersing yourself in a community and environment that nurtures your writing skills always stimulates your best work. Learning, practising, sharing, and listening to new ideas and fresh thinking inspires your finest writing. That’s our aim for you in the second week of September – to nurture and replenish you and your written work so that you produce your best work ever.

I look forward to meeting you.

All the best from Florence,

Lisa Clifford

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When destiny sends you a teacher, colleague and friend.

When destiny sends you a teacher, colleague and friend.If you are lucky in life, you’ll meet a teacher. Someone who fate presents to you on your life’s journey. If you’re extremely fortunate this person will not only become a lifelong friend but also someone who will educate and expand you, as well as help you evolve personally and professionally. So I have to thank fate for introducing me to Australian born and Paris based photographer Carla Coulson.

When destiny sends you a teacher, colleague and friend.In Naples, A Way of Love, a book we jointly produced for Penguin, I wrote this dedication:

Thanks to Carla from Lisa, for teaching me how to see. After all these years in Italy I had become blind to so much. She opened my eyes with her camera. Carla has a gift and a generosity which is endless.

So it is with enormous gratitude that I write this Blog during Carla’s birthday month to share my appreciation for such a wonderful friend and teacher.

When destiny sends you a teacher, colleague and friend.Last July, Carla and I went to Puglia and scoured places like Bari, Martina Franca, Matera, Terilizzi and Monopoli. We wanted to find Puglia’s elderly and record their stories. It was a privilege to once again join forces with a woman who truly knows how to reveal Italy. Working with a photographer like Carla Coulson in Naples and Puglia helped me see with fresh eyes the spirit and love within everyday Italian life. Exploring these areas with this amazing woman gave me a sharper lens and a tighter focus on the beauty of life’s simple details. They are the minutiae that I pass every day of my life.

When destiny sends you a teacher, colleague and friend.However, after 38 years in Italy I was becoming blind to the country’s wonder, surprise and beauty. Stalking the streets of southern Italy with Carla was like a rebirth. She taught me how to catch an image, love an image and be inspired by the image. This is a woman who understands the power of a picture. She knows how to capture the picture so that it makes you feel.

When destiny sends you a teacher, colleague and friend.I am a person who works with words and I can be pretty intense. I reflect, mull, scrutinize, then try and give the image words, expressions and a language to fit the secret behind the photo.

But it’s Carla who sees so much, transmits the inspiration and captures the essence of the moment.

When destiny sends you a teacher, colleague and friend.So it is to friends like Carla that I devote this Blog. We owe so much to creatives like Carla. They are colleagues who are teachers and who we are lucky enough to ultimately call friends. Happy birthday Carla, and thanks for being a wonderful teacher and image diviner.

When destiny sends you a teacher, colleague and friend.

Don’t be afraid to gather ideas from other writers.

Don't be afraid to gather ideas from other writers.Marking up your books in pen may upset you but when I read, I have a pen in my hand (absently held, it’s not as if I’m studying) and mark pages. I underline, highlight and write in the margins of my books all the time to gather ideas from other writers. I may never go back to that spot again but somehow marking the part of the text that moved me, helps me to learn. What did the writer do that was so different or clever? Acquire their knowledge – try to understand their trick. Live in that writer’s word world for a while.

Noting these pages is not copying, it’s not plagiarism. Don't be afraid to gather ideas from other writers.It’s about learning how another writer characterised an old man or articulated the agony of a car crash. This is how we grow as writers. YOU ARE NOT COPYING WORD FOR WORD WHAT THAT WRITER WROTE. Neither are you copying their ideas, you are only studying their technique, so that your writing and storytelling toolbox can continue to grow. You are gleaning an essence of great communication. As readers, we are learning all the time. Personally, as a writer, if someone marked up one of my books it would be the ultimate compliment.

Don't be afraid to gather ideas from other writers.

When you read something that triggers a feeling in you – either a feeling that inspires you to write or a feeling that reminds you of something you want to put in your own story – bookmark it. If you see a word you like, a sentence that resonates, a phrase that perfectly denotes – MARK IT!

One last thing, before I head off to Holland for a week tomorrow, look out for Don't be afraid to gather ideas from other writers.words you like. Keep a vocabulary of words in your head or on notebooks. Collect words, gather them like flowers in a field. You may need those words later. There are no copyrights on words. There are copyrights on how words are strung together. Be inspired by the words and you’ll find that reading will never be the same again.

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