An Evening with an Expert Panel

Thursday 13 July 2017 @ Goring Methodist Church Hall, Worthing

An expert panel will answer questions from members and the audience on various writing issue.

Our Panel was

Steve Roberts, Linda McVeigh and Melanie Whipman


Review of the meeting

Our final meeting of the year was a highly informative and engaging discussion featuring three excellent guests – award-winning writers Melanie Whipman and Linda McVeigh and creative writing lecturer and English teacher Steve Roberts. Taking the form of a Q&A, hosted by Dave Simpson, we had a constant stream of questions from the floor on all things writing – from influential books and writers to discipline and word counts.

Q: Can you think of a writer you’ve learned the most from?
Melanie Whipman (MW) loved Alice Monroe, for a light, almost invisible touch. On the flipside, Janet Winterson, for her lyrical, different style.
Linda McVeigh (LM), as a contrast, admired Junot Diaz – her stories in Drown are like shouting.
Steve Roberts (SR) highlighted David Mitchell and Graham Swift. Swift’s “Last Orders” is a perfect example for teaching sharp and direct dialogue, and perfectly captures the South London vernacular.

Q: Is there much demand for short stories in the traditional market?
MW highlighted the need to publish short stories through an independent press, and noted the market is better in France, the US and Canada. LM noted that shorts do sell now, as they are fitting to modern life.

Q: Do you have agents for short stories and any advice for getting an agent?
The panel said agents don’t normally help with short stories – LM noted hers have been published through competitions. MW recommended using the Writers and Artist’s Yearbook to find publications and competitions to submit to – SR recommended approaching an agent in the same way you would a publisher.

Q: How do you deal with rejections?
LM said all her stories have faced rejections but she never considered them bad stories because of it. She said it is best to imagine it as a technical project to avoid taking offence. SR commented that feedback in writing can be very difficult emotionally, but remember the writer is the first reader, so it’s your own opinion that matters.

Q: Do you write in a disciplined fashion?
MW’s routine has to work around her household routine, and likewise LM said with a job and children writing has to come when there is time for it. She does sometimes housesit to give dedicated writing time, though. SR emphasised there is no right way to do it – and whatever rules you do have, you will likely break. At the question of setting word counts, SR made the important point to remember that all authors are liars!

Q: Do you know the ending when you start a story?
The panel said they prefer to start writing and see where a story takes them – often working with the ghost of an ending and nothing more.

Q: Is it difficult to change writing styles?
MW: At some stage you write what you’re exposed to, as what you’re reading influences it. That can change with tastes.
LM: Voice is highly debatable; at times we all have different things we like and different ways to do things.

Plenty more was said on the night, with some very detailed thoughts from all three members of the panel. Thanks to all three for joining us!

Liz Eastwood