If you are looking for inspiration (see my post Keeping your mojo), a great way to get you kick started is to attend a writing conference.
The Winchester Writers’ Conference is a huge enterprise, with workshops that last all week, a big ‘standalone’ day on Saturday, top quality speakers, inspiring seminars, and most importantly real opportunities to meet editors, publishers and agents. Several writers have been ‘discovered’ at Winchester through their one-to-one sessions (fifteen minutes of time with your chosen professional, discussing your work) and it’s a great way to bypass the slushpile. It’s also useful (and important) to see that people in the publishing industry are real people. And (whisper it) they are actually quite… well, nice! They don’t just exist to poor scorn on our pathetic work but are engaging, enthusiastic people with a thirst for discovering new work.
Apart from the opportunities offered, it’s also great to meet other like-minded people and soak up the atmosphere. You’ll find everyone friendly and supportive, and there’s something about standing in a queue waiting for a meeting with the editor of your dreams while your knees knock with terror that invites you to confide in your neighbour, who is feeling exactly the same.
There are counsellors at Winchester, and that’s because hopes can sometimes be a little bit dashed. You have to develop a thick skin and learn that you will get lots of advice, some of which will be contradictory. For example, last year one agent advised me to take the humour out of my book as she thought it didn’t mix well with the horror content, while another publisher praised my combination of humour and horror! You have to decide what is going to work for you.
On the other hand, there are lots of opportunities for celebration. Getting a publisher interested in your work, perhaps winning or being placed in a competition, or coming away from a workshop full of ideas. This year I was highly commended for two categories in the children’s writing competition, the 4-7 year olds and the 7-11 year olds. Two of my friends were winners and I felt very proud as I watched them go up on to the stage. Congratulations Shirley and Emma!
I thoroughly enjoyed my workshops with Sarah Mussi, Sam Hawksmoor, Beverley Birch and Elizabeth Arnold. But the most useful session for me was on Redrafting Your Work, led by Jude Evans of Little Tiger Press. I will be posting notes on her talk on this site soon. As my friend commented, it was like doing an MA in a day!
A few points just to mention that really stood out for me.
- Barry Cunningham (Chicken House) saying it’s a really exciting time to be a writer (referring to e-publishing and all the changes it may bring).
- Beverley Birch (Hodder) saying the material she sees through her Winchester one-to-ones are far more interesting that what she’s getting from agents at the moment.
- A competition pen name (all entries must have pseudonyms) of ‘Professor Moriarty’s Big Toe’.
- The judge of the Haiku competition being overjoyed to announce that this year he had received haikus that actually fulfilled all the criteria (sometimes he doesn’t award a first prize at all!).
- Barbara Large revealing that after the midnight read the night before, all the attendees were locked in and they had to call security.
- My friends winning two of the biggest competitions. Hurrah!
- Free books and writing magazines on the tables at lunch.
- Boxes of books labelled ‘help yourself’ on the way out!
- And did I mention free books?
- Getting to know Winchester intimately on the way home (speak to me, sat nav! Just say something – anything!).
- Feeling like a real writer. See you next year, everyone!