August, 2021, Prizes and Publications

I’m afraid that in the current flurry of online workshops, I haven’t been tracking news of Freefall participants’ recent publications as I should, and I welcome all reminders.

But I do know that my friend and former student, Patricia Moffat, has published the memoir about adoption that was begun in a Freefall workshop more than twenty years ago, with Crowsnest Books, entitled She Turned Her Head Away. It is the thoughtful and well-written story of what can happen when an adopted child decides to look for – and finds – her birth mother. It’s an absorbing book that I hope will also serve as an inspiration to everyone who has a manuscript tucked away somewhere, along with a thousand reasons not to send it out.

In England, Charlie Morris, a former Financial Times sports editor, has published a football memoir, Generation Game, last year to good reviews, after attending a Freefall Writing Workshop at Poulstone Court in 2013.

And Australia’s Deborah Huff-Horwood reports “a small but joyful success”: having had her story, The Suitcase”, cited as Highly Commended among entries for the AAWP—Ubud Writers and Readers Emerging Writers’ Prize.

The Regency Effect

The ease with which your writing flows at a residential FreefallWriting™ workshop is due at least in part to the phenomenon known as “the recency effect” – the fact that whatever we have experienced most recently will tend to be uppermost in our thoughts. When there are no interruptions between sleep, in which your subconscious predominates, and writing (except maybe breakfast), the writing comes so much more easily. The good news is that you can re-create that situation at home by taking care to not to interrupt the time between waking and writing. Let your writing derive full benefit from the recency effect.

Open Out those Pivotal Moments


All too often, in autobiographical writing, I see writers dodge the knotty, meaningful moments when they changed their minds about something significant. Yes, those moments often feel hard to write about. But if you open out those pivotal moments, you’ll find they’re the places that most clearly show your reader who their subject is..

What made that moment meaningful? (This will show your values) What did you decide to do as a result?  (This will show how you lived your life). And don’t just open out these moments, but also remember what you learned by doing that. Moments like these will instantly show your readers what has value for your fictional characters. And why they live their lives in the way they do.

Prizes and Pubs, Feb 2018

Louise Allan’s first novel, The Sisters’ Song, has become a bestseller for Allen & Unwin, Australia’s leading independent publisher.  Marie-Elsa Bragg’s novel, Towards Mellbreak (Chatto & Windus, Penguin) has been shortlisted for the Writers’ Guild Best First Novel Award and selected as a 2017 Book of the Year in The New Statesman. Both Marie-Elsa and Zillah Bowes will be reading at this year’s Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival in May – one festival, two Freefallers!

Meanwhile, Demelza Carlton’s fortieth novel, Blow: Three Little Pigs Retold, has garnered over 150 reviews on Amazon, in 97% of which it was given more than 3 stars. David Harrison’s “Jenny Parker” thriller series, begun at Poulstone Court, has been picked up by Endeavour Press, the UK’s “youngest, most dynamic and innovative publishing company”.

Elisabeth Hanscombe’s memoir, The Art of Disappearing (Glass House Books) was recently launched in Melbourne, to acclaim. Geoff Mead’s memoir, Gone in the Morning (Jessica Kingsley) is subtitled “A Writer’s Journey of Bereavement” and chronicles his life after the death of his wife, Chris Seeley. His story, Bear Child, created for Chris when she was dying, is about to be released by Floris as a children’s book, beautifully illustrated by Sanne Dufft. (Chris, who introduced Geoff to Freefall, is sorely missed by everyone who knew her, and it is a comfort to have her commemorated in these inspired and inspiring ways.)

Fran Turner’s short story, “Rotten Tomato”, started two years ago at Maryholme, has been published by the Irish online journal, Dodging the Rain  . And Kelly Watt has signed on with Megan Beadle, of the Beadle Literary Agency, to agent her absorbing new young adult novel, set in India.

Writing is a Process

Writing Is a Process (that Your Inner Critic Treats as a Product)

Do you ever feel suddenly convinced that you can’t write one more word (of your novel, memoir, Ph.D. thesis, etc.) without going back to revise what you’ve already written? Suddenly you’re walking in cement boots, dragging your way forward. “Go back!” your inner critic cries. ”Get it right and then you can keep going.”

What’s just happened is this: you were engaged in a process, which by definition means that you can’t know where it will end up until you get there. But your Inner Critic wants to stop that process in its tracks. ”What have you got here?” (product). “This is no good.” (product). “Go back over it and make it better.” (product).  Pay no attention. Keep going, whatever happens, by reminding yourself: writing is a process. There will be plenty of time to revise once that process is complete.

She Turned Her Head Away by Patricia Moffat.

She Turned Her Head Away by Patricia Moffat.  Subtitled “An Adoption Memoir”, this book is in fact so much more than that. Sometimes it reads like an intelligent whodunit (as the author pursues the trail of her birth-mother), sometimes like an insightful psychological novel. And on every page, it provides what I think I primarily read for: a fully engrossing immersion in another person’s life.

But adoption is, after all, the book’s raison d’etre, and I often thought as I read it, “This book should be provided as a case study in how to stay ‘on topic’.” I don’t think Moffat gives single detail that doesn’t pertain directly to her subject, which in her hands becomes an absolutely fascinating one.

In her Acknowledgements, Moffat mentions that “Taking a Freefall writing course in 1991 from Barbara Turner-Vesselago spurred my interest in returning to this manuscript after almost two decades of neglect.”  I am delighted to think that Freefall played a part in the creation of this excellent book.

Welcome Discouragement

To be open to writing is to be open to all the familiar parts of the writing process: the elation, the discouragement, and all that lies between.  Welcome discouragement.  Without it, you’ll get nowhere, even though it can be the hardest of your old friends to love.

Poem: A Center

You must hold your quiet center,
where you do what only you can do.
If others call you a maniac or a fool,
just let them wag their tongues. 
If some praise your perseverance, 
don't feel too happy about it —
only solitude is a lasting friend.
You must hold your distant center.
Don't move even if earth and heaven quake. 
If others think you are insignificant,
that's because you haven't held on long enough.
As long as you stay put year after year,
eventually you will find a world
beginning to revolve around you. 
                                                             Ha Jin

March, 2020, Prizes and Publications

Zillah Bowes was one of four poets shortlisted for the £10,000 Manchester Poetry Prize (2018). Her poems, and those of the other finalists, can be read on The Manchester Poetry Prize Website. (No prize for guessing whose poems I think should have won!).

Marie-Elsa Bragg has had a second book, Sleeping Letters, begun at Freefall, accepted by Chatto & Windus. It’s an innovative prose-poem of unique and memorable beauty. 

Susan Smith’s poem “African Drum”, won third prize in The Banister Competition of the Niagara Poetry Group, which included a cash prize, a reading, and inclusion on the 2018 edition of The Banister.  Marie Lauzier’s poem,“Not Again” was published in Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem Anthology, from Mansfield Press. 

Heidi Croot’s flash fiction piece, “The House Fire” (written at a Freefall workshop in Portugal) has been accepted by LINEA, a journal of previously unpublished paragraphs of fiction (Simian Press).

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. I think I’ve written before about this jewel of a novel, written in the 1950s, when the novel had aspirations for itself that are only a distant memory now. It’s as intimate as it is rich in metaphor:  a beautifully written book that no amount of time or the making of a film version should obscure. I’m reading it now for the third time in about 30 years, with pleasure.