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!
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!
(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!
(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.
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!
(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.
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.
(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?