Amateur authors and popular prose

Sarah Webb will lead workshop on penning commercial fiction at Waterford Writers Weekend, says Colette Sheridan.

THE Waterford Writers’ Weekend starts today and continues until Sunday. Popular fiction and children’s writer, Sarah Webb, will be chairing a session on how to write a bestseller, sharing her tips on how to tackle commercial fiction, along with writers, Sinéad Moriarty, Niamh Greene and Monica McInerney.

Webb, whose latest book, The Shoe String Club, has just been published, doesn’t like the term ‘chick lit.’ “It’s not really accurate. My latest book is about loss, grieving and addiction. It’s both dark and humorous, so I think popular fiction is a better description. Anyway, I’m not really a chick. I’m 42.”

It has been said that the market for popular women’s fiction is waning. Webb doesn’t agree, pointing to the dominance of writers such as Cathy Kelly and Sophie Kinsella in the bestseller lists. “I think people are moving towards a warmer way of writing, more Maeve Binchy style. Instead of the traditional novel about two girls in a flat and their boyfriends, there’s a move towards multi-generational family dramas rather than relationship stories. The genre is shifting a bit, but women’s fiction is still hugely popular, with people like Cecelia Ahern going from strength to strength.”

Webb says that while “traditional paper sales of books are down, e-books haven’t been factored in to publishing figures. I think sales are probably up if you include e-books.” Many writers, frustrated with publishing companies, are self-publishing these days. “I’ve self-published a few books. I’m all for it if the story is strong enough that it warrants being published. But it has to be professionally edited, type-set and designed. I don’t think people realise how time-consuming and how difficult that can be. It’s hard enough when you’re traditionally published to get a book noticed. Self-publishing means you don’t even have the backing of a publisher to promote you.”

Webb’s advice to aspiring writers of popular fiction is to read the work of established writers in this genre. “You need to enjoy what you’re doing, using your humour and your warmth. Also, don’t give up. A lot of people give up when their first book doesn’t get accepted by a publisher. You need to keep going and keep improving. We’re quite lucky in Ireland in that we seem to have a natural way with character, plot and words that people internationally connect with. Every year, there are new popular fiction writers coming out, such as Kathleen McMahon who got a six figure deal last year.”

For Webb, there is no desire to write literary fiction. “It’s just not me, no more than Ann Enright could try popular fiction. It’s about who you are. You can’t change the way you speak. I don’t think you can change the way you write.”

The old adage that everyone has a book in them is something Webb doesn’t necessarily agree with. “I think everyone has a story in them. Whether that will translate to paper, I don’t know. For some people, their story should stay as an orally told story rather than a written one. Some people are fantastic story tellers. I’m not very good at telling stories. I get jokes completely mixed up. But I can write stories.”

Webb started her career as a book buyer. She published her first book, which was for children, 15 years ago.

She has been writing full time for nine years and has 23 books under her belt, including the children’s Amy Green series.

At the Waterford Writers’ Weekend, she will be giving a workshop for children aged ten and over. “I’ll be doing an interactive theatre show with Judi Curtin and Oisin McGann which will cover the original idea for a child’s book to it being published and read and taking on a life of its own.”

The festival, which takes place in the central library in Waterford, the Book Centre, Garter Lane Theatre, the Granville Hotel and Christchurch Cathedral, includes workshops for writers of crime, history, memoir and short stories. Participating writers include Arlene Hunt, Martina Devlin, Niamh O’Connor, Donal McIntyre, Brian Keenan and John Lonergan. There will be poetry from Peter Sirr and Mark Roper. For history buffs, Martina Devlin and Hazel Gaynor will discuss the Titanic. Author and sea-farer, Tim Severin, will present an audio-visual presentation of his adventures.

Community involvement is important at the Waterford Writers’ Weekend. As well as the readings, talks and workshops, the Seán Dunne Young Writers’ Awards will be presented by Cllr Pat Hayes, Mayor of Waterford City.

* www.waterfordwritersweekend.ie

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