Saturday, 13 September 2008



London Metropolitan University

Litcamp happened yesterday – if you weren’t there you missed a very good day. If you were – wasn’t it great?

The day started frustratingly – I was meant to meet up with Sara Crowley from Fiction Workhouse at Hayward’s Heath station. I couldn’t find the car park, found one within sight of the train, which waits for at least five minutes at this stop…ran (I don’t DO running) got me ticket then rushed onto the platform as they locked the train doors, and had to watch the train pull out on its way to London. Hmph.

Nemmind. I was only 10 mins behind Sara and we met at the venue, near Holloway Tube station. Perfect. Easy.

The first session on self-publishing was under way, and had kicked off in the main hall, where the tea and coffee was on… so a growing band of us met in the corridor outside. Sara, Alison Woodhouse and Julia Bohanna also from Fiction Workhouse. Kelly who had flown down for the day from her home town of Edinburgh (and didn’t know my writing colleague Douglas…) Saw the other Kelly, who blogs at a window in Stokie, once we got into the hall, and fell on the coffee and croissants. I was not sorry to miss self-publishing. I am still old fashioned enough to think if your stuff is good it will get out there.

The first session I attended was a very interesting one indeed. Including disinformation from on high...

Getting inside the editor’s head
Rosalind Porter, senior editor with Granta Magazine, Laura Barber of Portobello Books, Tom Chalmers of Legend Press and agent Hannah Westland of Rogers Coleridge and White. A hugely informative session lasting an hour and a half - led by questions from a very interested audience…insights into every possible nook and cranny of the business. One sentence rang in my head all day:

“It’s the writing we love. If the writing is great, you can forgive glitches in structure…” (or words to that effect.) The message was that structure can be redone, edited. Great prose is great prose and no editor can do that only a writer.

Then. WOW!!! Someone in the audience asked about the short story, and the lady from Granta said there was “nowhere in the UK to publish short stories apart from her magazine and Prospect.” VERBATIM.

What a fib. What a disservice to writers, editors, publishers alike. Luckily there was a slight softening of the message when someone prompted a mention of… guess who - SALT PUBLISHING!!! I was still fuming, but felt I couldn’t say anything as I had my own session in the afternoon. BUT I scribbled a memo to self to let the writers know about London Magazine, Riptide, Transmission, Brand, Cadenza, Comma Press, Elastic press, Salt, Bluechrome, Honno… the list is endless. There's The Yellow Room, Random Acts of Writing, Stinging Fly Southword in Ireland... and those are just the ones I know about instantly, off the top of my head. And yea, some of them pay. And/or royalties.

There was then a buffet lunch

After lunch I went to a fab session that had been suggested by a writer … the very thing that makes Licamp so good. It explored in detail the possibilities for writers arising from the digital age. One brilliant panellist, Val Stephenson of nthposition. Seemed to me to be the sort of lady you want to listen to all day… funny, rude, ascerbic, clever. All that.

There was the usual blather about no £££ on the web, and when I chipped in about the net being a great stepping stone, a place to be read in some picky venues… then said the next step was a book… this bloke hopped up and down and said ‘SEE!! I said it was all about money!”. So I took great pleasure in saying I have made not a single bean out of my book. NOTHING. That shut him up.

Then I did my session, to a nicely full room, talking about my strategy for learning and moving on up the ladder. And I hope I got the message over that there is plenty you can do with short fiction. Told them to look at The Short Review to see how many collections are being published. The mags, online and print. About getting OUT of writing groups or courses if they were wrong for you. About NOT having to work f ace to face with writers who didn’t give you the right feedback. About sticking with hard work, recognising where you were getting good teaching from, choosing writers to teach you, either in reality or in your reading. Being bloody minded and stubborn. And not giving up without a fight. Competitions, publications, networking. Going to everything you can. Not being fooled into thinking it is not on to share, talk, broaden.

Lovely to meet so many people afterwards who wanted to natter, share and talk!!! Including one I am hoping to blog about next, but I’m waiting for her permission.

Lovely to meet Nick Hogg whose novel Show Me The Sky is out there, and go to his talk on the process, of getting the novel out, and how he works. He shared this platform with Farahad Zama, whose own novel is out very soon, based on a marriage bureau in India.

Saw the guys and gals from Willesden, including the indomitable Steve Moran, whose hair now looks like a halo – who read all short story submissions left for him during the day, giving careful and very straight feedback on every single piece of work. And Bilal Ghafoor, guiding light of the group and with whom I am threatening to have dinner v soon.

Bridget Whelan (also from our neck of the woods… another member of new Writing South)was doing a talk on making ££ as you write. Maggue Dutt (we had a natter in the loo) talked on how young poets can create a platform for their work.

So much.

And the day ended with an open mike session, poetry, story, memoir. Short snips, well choreographed by Katie. I read Wei Chi from Smokelong. Because I love that character.

I sold a few books, but that wasn’t the point… the point was to celebrate being a writer, and to meet other writers, learn, expand. (lunch helped, and so did the wine and crisps later…)

I have never BEEN so tired. And I had done very little. Lane Ashfeldt, the guru, muct be totally knackered.



Jo Horsman said...

sounds fab. glad you had a good day.
Quite mad that Granta think there's nowhere else for SHort Fiction - don't they do any research into who they're sharing the market with? or don't they think they're sharing the market?

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Oh believe me, I think they do know. It was a sideswipe that was saying 'we publish the only things worth reading', I think. Ungenerous unhelpful and not right.

Its one of these places that doont reply to perfectly polite queries. I asked if they would beinterested to see an interview with Andrew Miller three years ago and they didnt bother to reply. Manners maketh man, even in Cambridge.

SueG said...

I've always meant to go to something like this and have (to be honest) always been too shy about going. Who would I meet? What would I say? But I see that its a mistake and I'll be on the lookout for more of this kind of thing to attend. And Granta...well, they would say that, wouldn't they. Typical short-sighted snobbery. But glad you had such a good day!

Jo Horsman said...

but if they keep telling everyone that that is the case, will people not believe it?
how did other publications ad publishers react?

Vanessa Gebbie said...

The speaker soon changed her tune and mentioned Salt... and I made sure that people were made aware of the many many publications that exist in the UK.

Granta is great. I subscribed for a while. But it wasn't 'exciting'. I defected to Paris Review.

Lit Flood said...

Sounds grand, V. I'm disappointed not to have made it. (I missed my train because of work, grrr.)

Glad it all went well anywho.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

You were missed! I wondered what had happened to you. Just left a message on your blog too.

Douglas Bruton said...

Sounds like you had a great time... just what was needed.

One fine day I will make it down to one of these events and be a part of all this.


Elizabeth Baines said...

Sounds amazing!

Kerry said...

Hi V, Lovely to finally meet you properly. It was a really enjoyable and informative day. Hopefully the first of many litcamps I say!

Kerry x ;)

Farahad said...

It was great to meet you and the others at Litcamp yesterday. Writing is lonely but I've now realised that there is a real community of writers.

Jo Horsman said, 'but if they keep telling everyone that that is the case, will people not believe it?'

People do believe it. I believed it until yesterday too that there was no market for short stories in the UK.

Sara said...

Sara Crowley from Fiction Workhouse?
Not Sara Crowley from A Salted, or Sussex, or just Sara Crowley, or a writing person? Hmmm.

It was a big buzzy day. Lovely to see you again Vanessa, and to meet people I previously only knew online, and new faces too.

It was exhausting, but in a good way. Lane did a fabulous job.

Tania Hershman said...

It sounds like a very interesting day although what the Granta woman said, grrrrhhh, makes my hackles rise! Thanks for slipping in the Short Review, V! Wish I could have been there. Next year. Well done, Lane!

Vanessa Gebbie said...


Nice to 'see' you!

But unlike lots of writing events - Litcamp is completely FOR the participants. It isnt set up just to showcase the speakers. On the contrary - that's why it is billed as an 'unconference'. You'd have loved it!

If you have something you'd like to talk about, you ask, and do so. The session on digital publishing came about because a writer wanted to discuss that with people in the industry. And it was brilliant. All through the day there wrere opportunities forwriters to talk for ten minutes about anything they wanted to. One chap wanted to talk about his experiences as a novelist. Another talked about writers blogs... and many more.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi Farahad

welcome to the blogosphere!

It was great to meet you - I very much enjoyed you talk with Nick H - and will look forward hugely to the novel. let me know when it comes out?

it was great to hear that Nick is still writing short stories between novel blasts, and his agent deals with those too. So yep, there is such a lot of disinformation about regarding short fiction. maybe because the publishers doont make millions so they sideline any mention of them.

Bridget said...

Hi Vanessa

It was lovely to meet with you & Sara and so many other interesting people at Lit Camp. Like you, I felt it was great day - very rewarding. I hope the organisers think seriously about making it an annual event…after they catch up on their sleep. I gather Lane was at some kind of training session in Milton Keynes yesterday. Can't imagine how she did that.

This is a first for me – never posted a comment on a blog before. Fear that there may be some rules of etiquette that I haven’t quite understood. Let me know if I do something embarrassing/ inappropriate (but only on blogs. If I do it in the street, I probably meant to…)


Elizabeth Baines said...

Had to smile re the Granta stuff. I sent them a story some months ago and have heard nada since. And you know the feeling you sometimes get when this happens - you think, Oh god, my story was so crap they wouldn't even give it the dignity of a reply, and you even imagine them choking over coffee at your utter idiocy in thinking you were worthy of THEM etc etc - well, I guess you also know how it really is but it can be off-putting and unless you're really steely knock your confidence in your story or even your writing altogether...

Actually, having given up on them I sent it off to the Raymond Carver comp and it won third prize as is now published in Carve magazine. So which mag is that is in evidence and supporting the short story in this particular case then...?

Ossian said...

It's safest to assume that the people you submit things to are ignorant pigs who wouldn't know good writing if it was spelled out to them by a team of Nobel prizewinners. They assume the same about us.

Jessica said...

HI Vanessa

I went to your talk at Litcamp and I just wanted to say thanks, it was great!


Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hey Os, I can't agree. A couple of times I sent things to you, remember...(!)

Jessica, I am delighted to pass on a few bits and bobs. Glad you found the session useful. I love what I do, and if any of it is 'catching' then that's great! Happy writing.