This week Virtual Book Club is taking a break and, instead, I’m delighted to welcome Novel London founder, Safeena Chaudhry, to my blog.
Safeena completed a BA Writing at Middlesex University, having spent her last term organising the Literature Festival. She trained as a camera operator and editor but took a break to complete her debut novel, Companions of Clay, which was launched in paperback at Foyles’s Bookshop on the Southbank in June 2015. Feeling very apprehensive at the thought of reading in public, she was coached by Norma Cohen and found that she read her extract out with ease as a result. Perhaps she could help other authors achieve the same level of confidence – and help them find an audience.
Q: Safeena, please can you begin by explaining the concept of Novel London.
Novel London is a literary event where novelists read out their opening chapters in front of an audience. The readings are recorded and uploaded. It launched in August of last year at my local bookshop, the Big Green Bookshop, and there was a modest turnout. We showcased a range if novelists, who came through submissions from bulletins, writers groups and literary events I had attended.
I always wanted a Novel London to have a central base, day dreaming about holding events at Waterstones, so when I was venue hunting I was absolutely delighted that they agreed to be gracious hosts. Novel London has seen a massive increase in audiences who have attended the readings and this is due to the incredible support from the mangers at Waterstones in Covent Garden. They really have been champions for fresh fiction!
Q: The past few years has seen a revival in performance poetry and there are also plenty of venues where short stories can be heard. Why do you think there was a gap in the market for live events for novels?
There are many great literary events in London, which often showcase short fiction in their entirety, poetry and extracts from longer narratives. As far as I know there are no events that showcase complete opening chapters to live audiences. Novelists get to engage with their audience, in person and online. Having the readings recorded also allows those who would are unable to attend events to have access to opening chapters, which they can listen to. The beauty of the opening chapter is that the fun doesn’t have to stop there as there’s always more to follow.
Q: So far, you’ve showcased unpublished, independently published and traditionally published fiction. It does appear that it’s all about the book. Can you tell us a little about your selection process?
First and foremost, the chapter must be of a particular length. We aim to record chapters that are under fifteen minutes, which we try to work out from word count – approximately 2500-2800 words. There have been readings that have gone over this time but this has not been intentional.
Novels do not have to be published but they certainly have to be polished. It’s important that the novels are complete as opening chapter may change by the end chapter.
One of the aims of Novel London is to be a way to build up an author’s profile and if the submission is in its early stages it won’t do any favours for the novelists or the readers.
After the pilot at the Big Green Bookshop, we are trialing themed events, which are based on the month or venue. For February, we had a romance/ relationship theme to coincide with Valentine’s Day. As the bonkbuster isn’t trending anymore, I focused on quality fiction and was delighted with Yana Stajno, Lindy Henny and Philip Bowne’s readings. They were all well received. In March, novelists will be reading from novels with a motherhood/ family drama theme to coincide with Mother’s Day. In April, there will be an evening of mystery and magical realism at the St Pancras Tower.
Another factor is the publication status. In the earlier stages, there were a couple of novels that had been out for a while and to make it more contemporary, it was decided that novels released in the last year would be considered. In the beginning, there was a focus on debut novels but more and more submissions came from novelists who had written more than one book (and who’s to say that the first book you write is the first book you release?) so we widened the net a little there too. And as the event grows, it would be great if there were some well known names to read so audiences can connect with them. We are still in the early stages and hope to showcase more novelists that represent London in its diversity and depth.
Author Emeka Egbuono’s reading
Q: What do you see happening when you introduce authors to their readers? It would be great if you could describe a single moment that sums up the spirit of your events.
At the launch event in Wood Green, a young novelist – Emeka Egbuono – was visiting the bookshop to drop off his debut, Ambitions of the Deprived. He had spent the day going around to bookshops in London and doing a lot of legwork. Although we had a full lineup, I read his opening chapter and asked him to read. I was introduced to a new novelist and he was introduced to a wider audience. It was a great reading and really illustrated that Novel London can potentially be a place for discovery – not just for the novelists, but readers, agents and publishers too.
Q: The life of an author can be very solitary. We’re often introverts. There is no guarantee that we’ll make great speakers or presenters. I know that Novel London coaches authors before they deliver their work. What changes do you see after these sessions?
Norma Cohen, a professional coach, as well as a novelist and actress, has been instrumental in the rehearsals. She helps novelists with delivery, inflection and gives them techniques with which to engage the audience. An engaging novelist makes a much better reading and many of the novelists have reported feeling more confident after coaching. Public speaking can be terrifying as well as satisfying. As a big fan of coaching and increasing self esteem, I consider the coaching during rehearsals imperative to the process. It puts the novelists at ease and some have gone on to take further coaching sessions, which has helped with other areas of their lives.
I was coached by Norma for my book launch for Companions of Clay, for a reading at Foyles. She was incredible at pointing out where I needed to project more, change voices for the characters and engage with the audience. When it came to the reading, her coaching stuck with me and the reading was the highlight of the evening. Coaching is a way of dealing with nerves and fear and I can say, ‘It works!’
Q: Finally, what do you want readers to take away from a Novel London event?
More novels, and inspiration to explore their own narratives.
THE NEXT NOVEL LONDON WILL BE HELD AT
WATERSTONES IN COVENT GARDEN!
FRIDAY 4TH MARCH
6.00PM TO 7:45 PM
In March Amna K. Boheim will be reading from her novel The Silent Children. If you missed my interview with her, you can catch it here.
If you are an author and would like to submit your opening chapter (or know of any novelists who might), or if you’d like to attend a Novel London event, you can find all the details at http://www.novellondon.co.uk
If you would like to know about voice-coaching, visit http://vitalsparks.co.uk
Remember, if you enjoyed this post please share it.
To have future posts delivered directly to your in-box, visit the sidebar on the right and subscribe to my blog, or to find out about new releases, competitions and freebies, subscribe to my newsletter and grab your free copy of my novel, I Stopped Time.
And if you’re an author and would like to appear on Virtual Book Club, please fill in a contact form.