Once a week since last autumn, I make the three-hour return trip into Paris to go to the Write In at WICE.
What is a Write In? I can hear you asking.
When I saw this workshop in the WICE catalogue, I asked myself the same question. Kate Kemp Griffin (below), director of the Creative Writing Program at WICE, came up with the idea as an extension of the informal writing group she enjoys at home with her writing friends.
Her idea was to collect a small group of writers at the WICE offices, in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, to sit and write more or less in silence for two hours. There is no obligation to share what we are doing or read other people’s work, which sounds pretty bizarre. Why pay to go to a room and write? Well, it turns out that there is a surprising, but tangible creative energy in the room and I am motivated to write by the scribbling or typing of my fellow writers. There is also the invaluable bonus of having guest authors, who come to the sessions every other week. The writers invariably live in or near Paris and talk with us about their work, writing process and the realities of publishing today.
This week I was delighted to meet Lucy Wadham, who has written and published three novels, one pseudo autobiography about living in France and will shortly be publishing a memoir about her five sisters.
At the beginning of her career Lucy was a journalist specialised in terrorism and as such, had to report from war zones. She told as a little about her experiences in Sarajevo during the Serb-Croat war.
Sarajevo was a liberal and cosmopolitan city with tremendous creative energy and mini cultural events being there was like being in a prison camp and being bombed and shot at every day. But despite this, the people still managed to play chess or music and try to maintain their cultural identity. Many of the people she met there have since left.
Like all of the authors we have met at WICE, before publishing her ‘first’ novel, Lucy had already written a couple of bottom drawer novels, which is all part of the learning process. She has been working on a sixth novel, off and on, for several years and as it is inspired by her own family life, it is proving to be quite a challenge.
It was inspired by a short story I wrote many years ago and has gone through several changes, such as the number of point of view characters, the no outline tactic and the after a good night’s sleep, the “this is bollocks” outline.
Lucy used to be reluctant to write outlines, as she finds this a laborious and boring part of the preparation, a point of view with which I sympathise.
In previous work I preferred to go with the flow, but that led to a middle of the book slump,where writers often get stuck.
Despite eighteen years experience as a writer, Lucy told us that the mean little voice in your head, which loves to make you doubt and want to give up, never goes away. She told us that for publishers, you’re only as good as your last book sales, so you won’t always get much nurturing from them and we all agreed that we don’t always get much support from family and friends, who tend to think if we’re not earning from our scribbling, we’re not a real writers.
One of the pleasures of the Write In, is that the guest authors give us insider information. Lucy told us about her experiences with publishing houses, such as the lack of marketing support, as most publishers leave the grind of promotion to the author. She also warned us that the exciting advance a traditional publisher might give you, will be balanced against your sales numbers and if these are not high enough, you can forget the royalty checks.
Self publishing with sites such as Amazon, can be a good alternative and small presses put much more effort into selling your book.
Another pit fall to be avoided is the phone interview. She gave an interview to a popular British newspaper and realised, when it was published, that the finished copy of the interview was poor writing and being attributed to her .
The next event on Lucy’s calender is the celebrations to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the London Underground.
Lucy will be one of the twelve guest authors present at the London Transport Museum, on 15th February, for the launch of Penguin Books‘ forthcoming Line Series, to be published in March. Her new book, Heads and Straights, is an autobiographical story and part of a series of twelve books tied to the twelve lines of the London Underground. The book description on Amazon.co.uk says,
Lucy is a Chelsea girl, brought up off the King’s Road in the seventies when punk was in full bloom. Her family comes in the wonderful tradition of English eccentrics. In Heads and Straights , she creates a funny, moving account of a family eager to escape the confines of class. Through interlocking tales of their extravagant and often self-destructive journeys away from the Circle line stops of Sloane Square, South Kensington and Gloucester Road, Lucy evokes the collision between conformism and bohemian excess and the complicated class antipathies that flourished in that particular time and place. In the end we are left wondering – is it ever possible to escape, or do we, in our travels, simply loop back on ourselves?
I know that trying to carve out a career in any creative arena is hard, a long slog and not worth the money I might eventually earn, so it is such a joy to meet generous people like Lucy, who are happy to share their time and experience. The session came to a close too soon, but I look forward to seeing Lucy again, when she comes back to Paris for a book reading.
Lucy Wadham’s Books.
During the 90s she freelanced, specialising in subjects relating to terrorism and organised crime for UK current affairs programmes (BBC, Channel 4). In 1994 she moved to print journalism, reporting regularly on French politics and society for The Sunday Telegraph, for whom she also covered the Muslim-Croat war in Bosnia. Since 1996, Lucy has written about France and terrorism for The New Statesman, The Spectator, The Sunday Times, The Guardian and The Observer.
Lucy’s experiences as a journalist and her contacts within the French judiciary, Police and Intelligence gave rise to Lost, a thriller set on Corsica, published by Faber in 2000 and short listed for the Golden Dagger Award for crime fiction. Her second novel, Castro’s Dream, a love triangle set against the backdrop of the Basque terrorist organisation, ETA , was published by Faber in 2003. Set in Portugal, Morocco and a largely Muslim ghetto in the suburbs of Paris, Lucy’s third novel, Greater Love, was published by Faber in 2006. In 2009 Lucy published the best selling The Secret Life of France, a sharp and funny study of the French world view woven into a personal narrative that is currently being discussed as a TV series.
Lucy’s latest book, Heads and Straights, a short memoir about her childhood, will be published by Penguin in March 2013.
Lucy is currently writing Bomb Damage, a coming of age tale, set between the 1970s and the present day, about the ravages wrought on a family by silence and secrets.