Friday, June 08, 2007

Melissa Nathan Award Comedy Romance Master Class

I was so pleased I made the effort to go Borders Oxford St. last night for the Melissa Nathan Award Comedy Romance Master Class. I don't write comedy romance but I do read it and I feel the humour is so important in even the most serious of books.

The panel consisted of Sophie Kinsella, Matt Dunn, Gemma Fox, Kate Elton and Maggie Philips. Melissa's husband Andrew Saffron and his son opened the evening with and introduction of the panel of three best selling authors, Melissa's editor from Kate Elton who is publishing director at Arrow and Melissa's agent Maggie Philips of Ed Victor Literary Agency. He spoke a bit about the upcoming Melissa Nathan Comedy Romance Award. To keep things exact I've copy the report of the award from the Society of Authors . (photo above l-r Gemma Fox, Maggie Philips, and Sophie Kinsella)

"The Meilssa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance

Melissa Nathan's novels are both heart-warmingly romantic and very, very funny. The Nanny and The Waitress were also in the Top Ten bestseller lists. So, it's appropriate that following her death from cancer at the age of just 37 in April 2006, a new literary award is being established in her memory.

The Melissa Nathan Award For Comedy Romance has been set up by Melissa's husband, Andrew Saffron, honouring the criteria that Melissa drew up herself very shortly before she died. She wanted to encourage and reward writers who can combine in a novel the magical, life-enhancing elements of humour and love.

The Award Committee is delighted that the following have agreed to be judges of the very first award: comedian Jo Brand, author Joanna Trollope, actress Jessica Stevenson, author Sophie Kinsella and Gaynor Allen, Head Book Buyer for Tesco.

The winner will be announced at an Awards Ceremony in London on 13th June - Melissa's birthday. The winner will receive a trophy and a cheque for £5,000. "

Two of the authors on the panels are shortlisted for the award - Matt Dunn for the Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook and Gemma Fox for the Cinderella Moment. The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook was also short listed for the Romantic Novel of the Year.

The panel opened with Sophie Kinsella, one of this year's judges. She began by saying the comedy romance must be funny, true and sexy. One must be entertained and when well done it seems effortless which is why she was so pleased that award would acknowledge the hard work that goes into the making it seem effortless. With comedy you are putting yourself on the line because others may not find your humour funny. She is still learning.

The most important things to her were:

1. finding a voice: it doesn't have to be likable but interesting or charming or fun - a voice that readers want to stay with.

2. hook the readers in
3. it needs a story to keep it all together

4. needs humour

5. an exciting initial idea because you need to be excited about it the whole way through from the initial spark to the many rewrites. It must be HUGE to carry you through the writing process.

6. don't second guess the market; write from your heart

She had us all laughing with her health warning! When writing romance you could damage your own relationship! You spend hours writing the perfect witty flawless hero and its sets the bar quite high - warn the hero at home!

Next up was Kate Elton. She spoke of the excellent relationship she had with Melissa Nathan and part of that was because she was a writer who loved to be edited. She went onto add that an editor can fix, plot, the odd off character but THE Voice couldn't be fixed. Books need strong narrative pace, life like characters which engage the readers. She ended with a lovely quote from another one of her authors the wonderful Katie Fforde who she had lunch with yesterday:

Romantic comedy won't save someone's life but it will make it more enjoyable!

Matt Dunn began with a wonderful excerpt from The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook (which has been sitting in my TBR pile since March) which had us laughing out loud. He knows he is unusual in the market as he writes from the male perspective. He takes an idea and twists it. His book due out in September, From Here to Paternity, which twist the idea of women looking for a mate to have child to a man as most men just don't think about it. He asks the question 'what if?' If its cringe worthy then he knows he's onto something. He calls it the 'you've been framed theory' in which its a great laugh and no one really gets hurt. The most important advise he gave was to build your story around one clear and simple premise (a one sentence idea). Be precise about what you are trying to say. Don't try to be too clever but be true. The reader must give a sh-t. They must want to go on the journey. Finally he advised to read, read, read. (photo above l-r Matt Dunn and Kate Elton)

Maggie Philips opened with get an agent first. When an editor sees a script through an agent they know it has been through part of the process already. They she said write a one page letter, a one page synopsis, and finally two or three continuous chapters. Do not call an agency but if you must do it after six and you might just reach an agent and not the receptionist! Finally if possible when the day comes push for the two book deal as the publish will be more motivated to help that second book if you are struggling.

Gemma Fox told us you must:

1. genuinely care about people and have an avid curiosity in them.

2. always have a note book to hand to draw verbal sketches.

3. it's normally an exciting little things that drives the book

4. plan meticulously: what if this? what if that?
5. write from the heart

6. the last thing you should do is write; think, plan and plot

7. love what you do
(photo above l-r Matt Dunn, Kate Elton, Gemma Fox and Maggie Philips)

She wonderfully described her books as cellulite lit as it deals with the post 30 group. She said you don't need to get it write first time just get it written! She uses film techniques with her work and constantly asks 'how does this move the story forward?' and 'What if?'. She warps reality until is grows bigger and bigger. She pointed out that when you write your first draft you may not know what is the center or theme of your novel and that's fine. In each rewrite you can develop it further.

Matt Dunn chimed in that he writes organically and it grows. He said as he read the extract aloud he saw just then how he could have made it better. He then quoted:
You never finish writing a novel you stop writing.

It was a wonderful evening and I took away so much from the light hearted advice. If I have misquoted or have a point wrong I send my apologies - it is not meant to be verbatim. All of the above was regurgitated from my hastily written notes. I am deeply grateful for all the advice and insights they shared.
The award is present on 13th June which was Melissa's birthday. For the rest of the short list go to
Quick move update : nothing. Writing update: nothing. Stress update: high.


leatherdykeuk said...

Super write-up Liz. I think you just kick started my next novel for me.

liz fenwick said...

Excellant!!! It was so great I wanted to share and if it provides inspiration even better :-)

Rowan Coleman said...

Great write up liz. Kate Elton is my editor too and am now reminded I should get a move on and stop reading blogs!

NoviceNovelist said...

Thanks Liz for posting this - what a great way to start a writing session - I feel focussed and have asked myself some of the questions you posted (I am writing in this genre) to see if I am adhering to the good advice - thanks for taking the time to post this. Really appreciate it!
Hope you get some writing time for yourself in amongst the packing!

ChrisH said...

Thanks Liz, that's a great write-up with lots of really helpful advice. Okay... time to put it into practice!

JJ said...

That sounds like a fantastic evening Liz. Thanks for reporting back with all the info.

I'm sorry you're feeling stressed about life. Having other people make decisions for you is horrible. We don't actually know we've got a third year here. We could be told it's back to blightly in July! Ouch.

Hope you hear soon.

Jan said...

Juicy stuff here, lots of helpful advice.
And I enjoyed the snaps too!
Own Voice DOES seem an essential ingredient, doesn't it...
It's lovely reading the new book of a writer you like, settling down with their book, RECOGNISING them, their tone, their VOICE...

liz fenwick said...

It was such a great evening with so much to take away.......VOICE came through as one of the most vital things :-)

Jen said...

I am living my writerly life vicariously through you Liz!

You do such amazing things, I'm soooooooooooooo jealous!


liz fenwick said...

I'm lucky enough to be a member of the Romantic Novelist Association :-)

Nell Dixon said...

I'm so jealous. I would have loved to have been there. Thank you for reporting, it's been very reassuring for me.

liz fenwick said...

Thanks Nell, it's been a pleasure to share :-)

Lucy Diamond said...

Sounds a brilliant evening, Liz, thanks for making such great notes to share with us.

Your writing/moving/stress update sounds horribly familiar - it's a nightmare, isn't it?!

liz fenwick said...

Hi Lucy. Moving stinks :-( Right now its 4 am and I have been awake since 2:30 when some thugs on the street woke. Haven't been able to shut my brain off since.....

Amanda Mann said...

Thank you so much for writing up your notes and sharing, moving, fascinating...

liz fenwick said...

Thanks Amanda. Also thanks for visiting :-)

Nichola said...

I love reading about events happening in the writing world. It makes me realise even more strongly, "I want to be a part of that!"

So you just kicked me up the arse. Metaphorically speaking, of course! ;)

A. Writer said...

Fantastic! Thanks for sharing this with us!

Susie Vereker said...

Great write-up, Liz. We shall miss you when you go, but that's the great thing about the net, you'll still be in touch, I hope.

liz fenwick said...

Nichola, I'm happy it got you moving!

A pleasure A. Writer!

Thanks Susie :-) Yes, the net makes keeping connected much easier!

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Thanks so much for such a detailed report, it's really interesting and useful. Hope the stress levels sink soon.

liz fenwick said...

Zinnia, one can but hope!!!

Phillipa said...

Liz - thank you so much for this write-up. I wish I could've been there but your report was the enxt best thing.

P x

Lida said...

Interesting to know.