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Pitch Perfect: Dragon’s Pen – 28 November 2018

It takes a wee bit of courage for a writer to stand up in front of a panel of three ‘Dragons’ and an attentive audience of fellow writers, to pitch their novel; laying bare the intricacies of their plot and the complexities of their characters – and all in precisely three minutes.

But that’s exactly what eight brave Ayr writers did at our Dragon’s Pen competition on a wild, rainy November night. A scary prospect indeed.

Not that our Dragons were frightening or intimidating. Far from it. Our three Dragons – quick witted crime novelists Caro Ramsay and Douglas Skelton and AWC’s own, very experienced book reviewer, Sheila Grant were friendly and funny, but also frank and honest.

A panel of benign and friendly dragons

Gill kept time as each entrant performed their pitch, bringing down the gavel with a firm bang when their three minutes had expired – although some entrants managed to finish before their time was up. Then our expert panel gave constructive, fair feedback – asking a few questions about each novel, allowing the entrant to elaborate on their pitch.

Our pitchers all performed marvellously under the pressure – obviously the hard work perfecting and rehearsing their pitch paid off – and the Dragons and audience were suitably impressed.

We heard a variety of genres – sci-fi, Young Adult, autofiction, underworld crime, mystery thriller and political thriller. We were treated to tales of crime, drink, drugs, unexplained deaths, blackmail, sex rings, violence, chaos and aliens – (just a normal night in Ayr then?) We learned of fractured families, fraternal battles, parental tensions, teenage temptations, online grooming, the dark web, conspiracies and worst of all….writer’s block.

Advice and comments from our Dragons included:

  • Intriguing storyline. But don’t pin your story on current events. By the time your novel is published – it’s history.
  • Enjoyed the use of dry humour. But (referring to autobiographical fiction) don’t hem yourself in with too much real life stuff.
  • A very visual opening –written in a screen-writing style.
  • So much happening in the pitch it sounded like there could be more than one book in there.
  • Your characterisation is spot on.
  • Juggle your character’s conflicts – (Young Adult fiction) She must experience high points to counterbalance the low points.
  • Paedophile rings are a theme common to lots of published books right now – yours would need to have a different approach.
  • Several themes going on in your novel – you need to pick the main theme and focus on it. Readers need to be able to empathise with a character’s bad decision.
  • Sounded like one of your minor characters wanted to be the main character. Try writing the novel from their point-of view.
  • Hook the listener by grabbing their attention right at the start of your pitch.

It was dead on tea break time when our final pitcher took their applause. Then, our Dragons, armed with their notes, left the room to refresh themselves with a cuppa while discussing the pieces and deliberating on the evening’s winner in private. Caro told me later, it was a close competition as each entrant and their novel had impressed and interested the panel in some way.

However, there could only be one overall winner and when we all reconvened after the break Douglas made the announcement. Well done, Kirsty Hammond – AWC’s Dragon Slayer.

And well done too to the magnificent seven, all worthy runners-up: Chris Palmer, Jan Braysher, Nicola Prigg, Carey McCabe, Graeme St. Clair, Eddie Phillips and Caroline Dempsey.

Our evening concluded with a short Q and A session, with questions from the audience to the Dragons on subjects which varied from viewpoints to ideal number of characters in a novel to good, bad and indifferent Amazon book reviews.

Thanks to all our pitchers and our three Dragons for keeping the audience engrossed and entertained. I think everyone in the room could apply something from the feedback to their own writing projects. Thanks too to the audience for supporting their fellow writers.
So, I wonder if we’ll ever see Dragons in Ayr again? And if we do, who will be pitching next? We could always find out from Puff, the Magic Dragon… after all…. he lives by the sea.

Linda Brown

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