Via Urban Writers I discovered Suzy Greaves of Big Leap and
Storyville and this week I went to one of their events (at Adam St, a
private members club – would love to be a member, if not at The Hospital.)
Jo Parfitt published her first book at twenty-two with a
completely ulterior motive. She was working in a small town in northern France and she was lonely: "I had no social life. So I asked the man
at the bike shop and the teachers from the school, and anyone I could
think of to invite me to dinner and I'd put them in my book." Literary
immortality has secured more lucrative prizes than supper in the past;
but it provided Parfitt not only with a diverse range of dining
partners but also the content for French Tarts. The title had come to
her when she'd passed the local patisserie. As she explained, a non-fiction
book needs a great title as much as the frequently evoked great cover
(besides that's what the talent in the art department does) and it
should be catchy, memorable and short. The actual subject matter can be
clarified with an explanatory subtitle. Interestingly she couldn't remember her subtitle!
Her French hosts provided
her with their recipes which formed the main part of her book, a
collection of tart recipes, and also conferred Authencity and Authority
by using family recipes from Normandy, the home of that particular
dish. Despite being a self-confessed non-cook, she was able to put
together an Attention-grabbing collection which was bought by the first
publisher she sent it to, which was subsequently translated into French
and won an award. Quelle suprise? Well, yes and no. Although she
doesn't believe it's the most important element of a successful book, I
have a feeling that Parfitt wrote with flair even at an early age. She
also did her research – she sat in front of bookshop shelves and pored
over other books until she found the one that most resembled what she
had in her mind – and as she fitted their list she had a much better
chance of being accepted by that publishing house. She did the work and it paid off.
She shared her
list of "Eight A" characteristics which she recommends each non-fiction
idea should have, some of which I've listed. What I found most
impressive was her utter sense of self-belief: "I never once thought I
couldn't do it.". That's a lesson most aspiring writers need to learn
first before ever aproaching a keyboard or blank page.
She also gave us great constructive advice on how to request and give feedback.
– tell me what you liked
– tell me where you wanted to know more
– do you have any suggestions for areas I could improve
We immediately put that into practice with fellow attendees and it was really useful.
and her Book Cooks provide a full range of editorial services, more
details are available on her website. She also shared much more
information so go and check it out. It was time well spent – though it didn't directly relate to my own writing, there were lots of points to remember which will be useful for my freelance work. A different aspect of book cooking, but one I am doing more of!