Friday, March 25, 2016

Writing first past the post!

My agent, the wondrous Jane Gregory says that crime writers can’t be trusted.  Not that they are dishonest in any way but if left unattended they will wander towards the bar where they will probably misbehave but they are generally direct and quite organised people who like plotting death.

I am not a poet,  or a writer by any other means and I have always noticed a certain, (how shall I put it??)  airy fairiness in other writers, the faffing around rather than 'why don’t you just sit down and get it typed out' school of thought.

I was at the Scottish Association of Writers conference at the weekend.  I was invited to be the keynote speaker while my  and my heart went out to them because they have full time jobs, they all have commitments and it can’t be easy organising any three day conference but I had my concerns. The 'counterpointing of the surrealism' brigade were in full flow. 

But the huge thing that I noticed, and that I don’t understand, is their total belief that winning a competition means that you are a good writer.  So if we distil that down to MIE we would have the Jeff Siger award for Best Novel with Five Puns per Page,  Caro Ramsay would then be introduced as adjudicator and would probably start off a thirty minute speech by saying 'the standard this year was very low, some of the entrants only had four puns per page where five was the minimum allowed.  I deducted marks for the incorrect use of the apostrophe, bad grammar and typing whilst sitting on the wrong buttock.' After twenty seven minutes, we had to go through the commended, highly commended, first, second and third place. Multiply by thirty and that’s a very long time to sit and also kind of missed the point.... and I find it hard to define what point they are missing.

The SAW aids support to writers’ groups around Scotland and of that I have no doubt.  Our writers’ group (the Johnstone Writers’ Group), is probably the most successful in commercial publishing and is that because we are not affiliated to anybody – we have no AGM, we have no bank account, we have no treasurer, anybody can turn up and read. They will get good quality criticism from three published writers.  But the criticism is aimed at getting published.  I know that a lot of people write for their own experience and because they love the process and I do not have an issue with that. But I think the two types of writer are paddling a very different canoe and they should be aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  The president of SAW said to me at the gala dinner that he would happily come out and speak to our writers’ group and show us how SAW can support us and my brain sort of folded up because we really don’t need any support, we paddle our own canoe very well, thank you very much.

The trophies were an award for a good piece of writing, there was no agent representation to be won or publishing deal to be won, or appearance in a magazine to be won. It was just the trophy. So a writer pays five pounds to enter a competition and then pays to go to the conference and probably pays to go to the writers’ group in between (am I being very Scottish here that this is costing the writer money?). And then they win a small trophy that they then hand back next year.  Speaking later to somebody who knows a lot more about the publishing industry than I do said that they are very far away from reality; the writing on average lags far behind published standard.  But having said that everybody who attended my workshops had their ears open to what I had to say. Like the small fact it’s just not a case of being good. You  have to be better than the other two thousand submissions that are going to land on that desk that year.

My own pet moan was that the president was quite pleased that the main ballroom for the dinner was dark with the tables being candlelit.  I did say that as the notes for my forty minute speech were typed on paper it might be useful to turn the lectern light on for my speech.  He didn’t.  Even as I stood there to start off, he didn’t move.  Even when I started my speech with ‘it shows how old I am that I use pen and paper not like these technofiles with their backlit I-pads that they can see in the dark’ but he still didn’t move and I had to do most of the speech winging it.  A writer friend had warned me what the conference might be like, ” Caro you will be SOP all the time – Seat Of Pants.” 

My last event was to be a dragon on the Dragon’s Pen and this girl pitched a young adult model that was just so searingly beautiful and you could tell from her language that she had an insight into good writing.  I really hope she writes that novel and gets it out there to some agents and I hope preparing things for competitions doesn’t get in her way.

However, I had carefully structured my talk around three specific jokes; How many crime writers does it take to change a light bulb? Answer three.  Two to do the writing and one to put in the final twist.  

Second one, how many publishers does it take to change a light bulb?  Answer – three.  One to do the deal and two to hold the author down.  

And thirdly how many osteopaths does it take to change a light bulb?  Answer two.  One to turn the bulb and one to hear the final click.  

Two slightly rude ones that I read out on the night and I wouldn’t have if I had had the light on but if you annoy a lassie from Govan, the lassie from Govan hits right back.  Doctor, doctor I seem to have a lettuce stuck up my bottom.  Doctor replies you think you’ve got problems, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. 

What wears glasses and has a wet nose? A short sighted gynaecologist.

Caro Ramsay 25/03/2016


  1. In my book, your five novel jokes should win the five-pun prize if only because four made me smile and one gave me a runny nose. [Ed Note: I chose that adjective carefully. Perhaps I should more properly call it an "Evka Note."].

    I'd love to hear your presentation to the SAW crew next year, though I have this nagging suspicion they'll choose to lumber along without you. Said choice on their part, as I'm sure next year's crowd will be bored to dearth.

    I'll stop now.

  2. FYI:

  3. There once was a lassie from Govan,
    Who wanted, for all punsters, a ban.
    Many factions arose.
    Jeff won by a nose,
    And was runny and ran for the can.

    You should have asked if anyone had a small mag-lite you could borrow, then hold it pointed at the president throughout your speech.

  4. I have never gotten over the contradiction inherent in contests for the best work of art. Publication is a prize worth working toward. Maybe one day you will write a blog about the best tips toward that goal. That said: Your jokes are ALWAYS the BEST!

  5. When you mentioned squeezing five pounds out of a Scot I thought I heard bagpipes playing.

  6. I award the trophy for best laugh of the day to JONO!!!

  7. I am now in smirk mode. I am very grateful to have friends who are totally bonkers.

  8. I don't think they're going to ask you back, unless it's a Ricky Gervais/ Golden Globes scenario. My question is: what did they hope to achieve by asking an author, known to be from a successful non-affiliated group, to give a keynote speech at their conference? Controversy and publicity? You paint a pretty damning account (and I don't just of the financial model, ahem, said the fellow Scot).
    Maybe SAW like to pat themselves on the back to motivate and ego boost their members into carrying on and continue paying up. Like a church. "Blessed are the meek who pay into our coffers. They truly are going to the great Kindle in the Sky."

    Anyway, love the blog and look forward to hearing more juicy details at the JWG (free to attend and more fun than a wet evening in Paisley - oh wait...)

    PS who's our third published writer? Lilias?