Last night I was lucky enough to be allocated a place at the author event ‘A Flaming Good Evening’ at Barnsley Central Library; a two-hour chat, discussion, book signing and cake filled gathering of merriment headed up by local Barnsley author Milly Johnson.
The evening was so called after Milly’s latest book, A Winter Flame, (reviewed two weeks ago here on RWN!) and involved an in-depth explanation of the inspiration behind this and Milly’s seven other books, a hilariously funny set of anecdotes about the life of a fiction author, a brilliantly non-PC take on Clement Clarke Moore’s A Night Before Christmas poem, and some ideas on where budding authors can gather material from (the Barnsley Chronicle, as it turns out, is pretty good for sourcing plot lines!)
It was amazing to hear what had inspired Milly to begin writing, and how she kept her stories fresh – she talked of the importance of having a unique selling point, identifying a target market, and, once you’d built up a following, not alienating those fans by swerving too drastically from your decided formula. All this might sound obvious, but when put into context of a series of books that you already know and love, it becomes interesting trivia, a way of identifying why it is that you liked something so much, a way of experiencing an author mindset in addition to a reader one.
Milly went on to talk about the importance of noticing everyday life when you’re a writer, and not just blindly ‘seeing’ it – if you’ll excuse the oxymoron! For example, reading the paper, overhearing a conversation in a pub, jotting down a few unusual place names written on bus stops as you pass them – all these little things can be added to your story web, and any one of them can provide the EXPLOSION moment when an idea finally takes root in your mind. Again, a simple bit of advice, yet invaluable, and advice always worth reminding budding writers of. The best books, after all, are the ones that start of with a simple premise and grow with time. Milly also reminded us of the fairly well known writer adage that ‘all fictions are 10 or 15 plots, in different orders and with different titles’. There are, after all, a limited amount of stories you can tell; what matters and what makes you successful is how you tell that story, how you flesh it out. And you won’t get to the how without remembering all the simple things that hold true time after time, century after century. To borrow another old adage, life is often stranger than fiction – and so life should be the starting point when fantasizing about your fiction.
Milly’s talk was warm, funny, down to earth and engaging, with a few lovely additional extras organised by herself and Barnsley Library that made the whole event an inspiring and delightful way to spend a cold and rainy evening. There was a raffle, a chance to have a personal chat with Milly and get your books signed, biscuits, cake, mince pies and plentiful cups of Yorkshire tea. I think, as a reader and aspiring editor, that it’s really, really important for authors to reach out to their fans and venture into the public eye – not necessarily just to promote their books, but to promote themselves as individuals, to help encourage the readers among us to maybe pick up a pen and become writers too. I love meeting authors and hearing them speak with such dedication and passion for their creations, this itself is possibly the most inspiring thing of all to listen to – when you’re reminded that everyone starts off the same way, those few crushing barriers that tell you you’re no different, that you’ve never traveled to far and exotic lands, that due to this you’ll never get a unique selling point and therefore you’ll never make it, well they all disappear and you’re forced to remember that every single person has a story, and it’s completely up to them how and when and whether they tell it.
As such, I’d like to thank Barnsley Library and Milly Johnson for giving me and all the other attendees a chance to wax lyrical about the beauty of fiction and the brilliance of Barnsley for a couple of hours, and for giving me a boost to get stuck back into my own occasional scribblings!
Have you ever met any of your favourite authors? What do you think are the most important tips for writing? How do you gather your ideas? I’d love to hear from you below!