Winchester Writer’s Festival 2016

First of all, I am unforgivably late with this.  My excuse is that I was ill (and then I was slightly better, and then I was ill again).  Sorry!

I spent the weekend over 17th-19th of June at Winchester Writer’s Festival.  It’s the second time I’ve been, but (thanks to the scholarship programme) the first time I’ve attended as a guest.

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The weekend was packed, and I did it a serious disservice by catching some evil bug on Thursday evening.  I suffered the next few days with something hideously like seasickness on dry land.  But I’m glad I didn’t let the queasiness defeat me–the festival was well worth attending, even if I didn’t feel 100%.

Each day there were several talks on, and choosing what to do was agony!  Everything looked so good!  From picture books to script writing to advice on getting published, there was something for anyone who wrote anything.

I spent Friday morning with Kate Firth, learning how to do public speaking.  It felt like taking a drama class, and there was a lot of laughter in the room as we all made silly noises and stretched our faces around.  Friday afternoon was a talk with Ali Sparkes about marketing your work, sending out press releases, and generally getting your name Out There.  Her advice on being photographed was also really interesting.  I came to terms with being unphotogenic long ago, but I found it really fun to play around with photos that make me look like a smiling human being, instead of an awkward potato!

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(Ali didn’t send us the photos she took of us, but I feel her own portrait is evidence she knows what she’s talking about!)

Thanks to my friend David from P&G Wells Bookshop, I was first in line for a signed book after Ali’s talk.  Gotta love having friends in the right places!

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(I already mentioned it on Twitter, but I love that pun!)

Saturday was exceptionally busy, with four talks in one day, plus the keynotes speech, and one-to-one meetings with agents and professionals.  The keynotes speech this year was by Meg Rosoff, author of How I Live Now, who was equal parts hilarious and fascinating.  I found one part of her speech particularly interesting, when she talked about plot:

‘I love it when people say my books don’t have enough plot, because my goal is actually to eliminate plot altogether.  The characters and their emotions should drive the story instead.’

As someone who can’t cope with a story that doesn’t have a cosy, well-organised plot to drive it, I found that perspective oddly discomforting, but also incredibly funny.

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My next four talks were something of a blur, which I’ll mostly put down to my still being ill.  I focused my choices on what to do after writing a book, since my steampunk story is pretty much finished.  I must admit, I winced during the So You Think You’re Ready to Submit? talk, when Jenny Saville pointed out: ‘Just because you’re sick of the sight of your manuscript doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ready!’  Hehe … guilty.

 

Sunday was a day-long talk, and I chose Fantasy: Magic You Can Believe In, with Rebecca Alexander.  She spooked us fantastically with her ghost stories, and we all agreed we were glad to be in a well-lit in the middle of the day!  On our lunch break, I raced to the P&G Wells bookstall to buy a copy of her book, The Secrets of Life and Death.  Her talk was brilliant, much more laid-back than Saturday’s rush, and a chance for me to set down my steampunk story and think about the next thing I want to write!

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(She was also kind enough to sign her book for me!)

Every talk over the weekend was fun and interesting, but undoubtedly the best thing about both Friday and Saturday was the chance to have one-to-one meetings with writers, agents, and other professionals in the writing industry.

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If you ever get a chance to go to Winchester Writer’s Festival, I seriously recommend booking at least one meeting.  Each of the four agents I saw had different and interesting advice for me.  Although each meeting was only fifteen minutes long, I often left them feeling like I’d learned more in that short time than in the rest of the day!  It was well worth going just for those meetings alone.

All in all, Winchester Writer’s Festival was exhausting, but brilliant.  I’m so grateful to the University of Winchester for running the scholarship scheme, which allowed me to attend the festival in the first place.  It also gave me a chance to meet other young writers in a similar position to me, which was so fun.

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(I’m second from the left at the bottom, wearing sunglasses and a grin like today is Christmas, and tomorrow is Christmas, and every day for the rest of the year is also Christmas.)

I definitely hope to return to the festival in future, even just for one day.  I highly recommend looking into the scholarship if you’re 18-25, and if you’re not, there’s a bursary available to anyone.  Many of the patrons this year commented on my age, saying it used to be very unusual for young people to attend.  I suspect the scholarship and bursary are the reason more of us are showing up; they make funding the weekend much easier on our empty, post-graduate wallets!

If anyone else attended, I’d love to hear from you.  How’d your weekend go?  And can anyone recommend similar events around the UK?

Ciao, amici!

The Tale of the Phantom Fish Flinger

I’d never thought anyone could be violently, malevontly opposed to something as inoffensive as a small-town public library.  Since I started work as a library assistant, however, I’ve learned that they really, definitely can.

We have quite a few odd customers in my library.  In my first week, a man spent fifteen minutes cheerfully chatting with our DVD rack, before it apparently offended him, and he attacked.  (He was gently escorted out of the library by a coworker, because I am much too cowardly to come between a man and his epic battle with five copies of Lost.)  More recently, a man walked into the library with a sleeping back on his head.  Not rolled up or stuffed in one of those waterproof, drawstring sock things.  It was one of those mummy-bags, and he’d just hooked over it his forehead, letting the rest trail down his back like a cloak, dragging the end on the floor behind him like King Sleeping Bag in his regal robes.

But no customer so far has been as bizarre as the Phantom Fish Flinger.

We first discovered the Flinger when customers complained about a bad smell in the stairway.  I’d been playing Five Nights at Freddy’s recently, so at the first mention of ‘foul odour’ I legged it over to the Biographies section and refused to come out.

Fortunately, my coworkers are not ridiculous, overimaginative cowards.  So, after a heavy spritz of air freshener failed to solve the problem, they got to work investigating.  Meanwhile, I ducked behind the customer help desk, silently praying they wouldn’t find a) dead children, b) a monstrous, rotting animatronic, or c) a satanic combination of the two.

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Five Nights at Freddy’s really messed me up, you know?

What they did find, after dragging some old filing cabinets out of the way, was a fish.

An entire fish, wrapped in newspaper, days old and stinking.

We were baffled.  Who ditched an entire, uneaten fish in the libray?  Did they accidentally drop it while climbing the stairs?  Were they too ashamed to come to the front desk and admit the entire fish they’d bought for lunch was now stuck behind our filing cabinets?

The stairs stank for days, even after we threw the fish away and clouded the air with freshener.  It wasn’t until the next bank holiday weekend that we discovered the Phantom Fish Flinger was not just some random mistake.  They were malicious.

When the library closes, customers can still return books by dropping them in a post box by the door.  We backdate everything in there, so our customers avoid late fees even if they can’t get their books to us personally.  When we opened it on Tuesday morning after the bank holiday, we did expect to find it more full than usual.

We didn’t expect to find a fish staring up at us, glassy eyes mocking and victorious.

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It had been in there, unrefrigerated, for days.  The smell was appalling.  The fish stank; the post box stank; the books, left innocently by other customers, stank.  Worse, this time the Phantom Fish Flinger had neglected to wrap their piscine parcel in newspaper, meaning oil had seeped from the fish into all the books.  They were ruined.

Obviously this wasn’t an accident, but we were still scratching our heads.  Who gets so angry with a library, they decide to sabotage it … using fish?  I’m not saying their attack was ineffective.  It was infuriatingly effective.  All those books had to be thrown away.  But still, who marches into the supermarket, buys an entire fish, then makes the ten-to-fifteen minute trip to the library to dump the fish–all for some undisclosed revenge?

We all agreed to be more vigilant about the Phantom Fish Flinger.  We’d catch him (or her) in the act, somehow.  And yet, only a little later, I overheard a customer complaining about our lift.  ‘It smells like something died in there!’ they said.

No, I thought.  No way.

Our lift is barely more than a meter squared in floor space.  There are no shelves or cupboards.  There’s nowhere to put a fish.  It was impossible.

We had to call in a lift technician to find it.  The fish had been shoved through a small gap between the lift door and the door to the hallway, crammed into the lift shaft.  It’d fallen underneath the lift itself and lay nestled on the dusty floor, where it couldn’t be seen–but could definitely be smelled.

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Please enjoy this beautiful MS Paint diagram.

The technician removed the fish, but the smell lingers.

I wish I could say that was the end of the Phantom Fish Flinger, but alas.  It seems, rather than being satisfied, the Flinger’s modus operandi is evolving.  (Which is a multi-syllabic way of saying I watch too much Criminal Minds.)  We had another bank holiday last weekend, and lo and behold, what did we find in the post box on Tuesday morning?

Pig trotters.

Are fish not enough for you anymore, Phantom Fish Flinger?  Do we now also have to keep our eyes open for rotting meats of all varieties?  Or is this just another step on your ladder to insanity, which will culminate in me discovering a severed human hand stuffed behind the radiator?  Because honestly, I’d rather not have to pay for the therapy.

I realise this has been an odd post on what is, usually, a book blog.  But since it all took place in a library, I think that it’s at least tangentially related to books.  I’ll keep you all updated as further news on the Phantom Fish Flinger develops …