Today I had a blue pencil appointment with Diana Gabaldon at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. A blue pencil is 15 minutes of time in front of a professional author, who reads a very short selection of your work, and provides some general feedback.
I knew I’d be completely starstruck, so I asked her a month ago via Facebook if it’d be okay if I recorded the conversation, and she was fine with that.
I arrived into the empty seat in front of her desk in a flurry because I’d been in a line and lost track of the time, so I was nearly late for my appointment (and we’re not going to even discuss what a trauma that would have been after counting down, sometimes by the hour, for 135 days!). I pulled out my scene, which is a very early, poorly cobbled together start to Grace Beguiling, which is/will be a historical/fantasy novel set in 14th century France. The scene is 6 pages, which is way too long for a blue pencil, so I’d highlighted parts I particularly wanted her feedback on. She just smiled, said that she was a fast reader, and zipped through the whole thing, laughing out loud in places, and making corrections of typos. It is very cool to have your favourite author laughing out loud while reading your writing. It’s a little embarrassing to have your favourite author correcting your typos.
When she was finished reading, I turned my iPhone’s memo recorder on and recorded her observations, suggestions, and reminders.
The part I most wanted to know about (and had spent months researching) she dismissed with a wave as, “Fine.” We had some discussion about language choice in historical work and development and structuring of a ‘very beginning’ where there needs to be some action to grab the reader and the story must be established right away. I am so glad I have that recording to remind me of my focus. Grace Beguiling offers a number of stylistic challenges, and she’s helped me think about how I’m going to solve them. There was nothing earth shattering, just common sense reiteration of basic principles. It’s good to hear those words from someone whose knowledge you trust implicitly. “Remember that…” Oh right. I know that.
I wish the piece I’d brought wasn’t quite so rough, but it was a worthwhile endeavour. One quote is going to be artistically rendered and put above my writing desk.
My favourite author, Diana Gabaldon said to me, “You know how to tell a story.” That will keep me inspired for a very long time.