Competitions · Writing conferences

Things I learned at the Winchester Writers’ Conference 2013

So I’m back from the Winchester Writers’ Conference – and I have so much to tell you!  But instead of getting bogged down in notes like I normally do, I’m going to distill the essence of what I brought away with me into some handy bite-size – or write-size – tips.  So here’s what I learned.

  • Julian Fellowes is a very funny man.
  • Agents, editors and publishers are still actively looking for good writers.
  • It’s about the writer, not the book.
  • Jasper Fforde doesn’t plan his books – hurrah.
  • Barbara Large created the conference 33 years ago and this is her last year at the helm.  What a woman.
  • A very large goodbye card takes two people to carry it.
  • Humorous writing for TV has a number of elements including surprise and rudeness.
  • Fast Show clips are always worth re-watching.
  • Make your book your own, not anybody else’s (Jasper Fforde).
  • Writers love to make up bizarre pseudonyms.
  • Climb into your character’s body and see the world through their eyes and from their height (Ben Illis).
  • St Alphege and St Edburga are actually the same building.
  • You can trip over many times in one day when you’re over-excited.
  • Everyone loves a free mini muffin.
  • Concentrate on one major aspect per draft to stop yourself getting distracted (Ben Ellis).
  • Anyone can be a freelance features writer – just start (Emma Scattergood).
  • Just because you haven’t made it yet doesn’t mean you aren’t going to (Julian Fellowes).

I’m sure you’ll agree there’s some invaluable nuggets of advice in there.  But my favourite was, again, from Julian Fellowes.  When he was working hard trying to make his dream of being a writer come true, he said he never let 24 hours go by without doing something to further his cause, whether it was writing, editing, sending an email or anything that he felt was helping him achieve his dream.  And he kept this up for 10 years.  Think I’ll do the same.

PS  I won the Writing for Children Aged 12+ competition and now have some lovely book tokens to spend.  What a fabulous day.

books · Reading · review

I want to live in a Ffordian world!

Jasper Fforde is a true original, and luckily for his fans a prolific one too.  He has been compared to Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and Monty Python.  He is fiendishly clever with a wicked sense of humour and a love of puns, slapstick and absurdities.  His books are laugh-out-loud funny but with characters you can really fall for (who doesn’t adore Thursday’s lovely husband Landen, want to be friends with Spike the relaxed vampire killer, or covert a clockwork butler called Sprockett?).  Inventions and crazy ideas just spill off the pages and every book is an absolute delight.  I won’t beat about the bush any longer – I’m a fan!  Or should I say, Ffan.

In case you are new to Fforde, he writes in four different strands.  The Thursday Next novels – drama and crime in and out of a world of books and an alternative Swindon; the Nursery Crime series – a spin off from Thursday Next concentrating on the nursery rhyme area of the BookWorld; the Last DragonSlayer books (junior Fforde fantasy) and, strangest and most wonderful of all, Shades of Grey, which I can’t even begin to attempt to describe and need to read again at least three times.  To get a flavour of this bizzarre universe, visit the author’s website at

I have just finished reading One of Our Thursdays is Missing, the latest adventure of Thursday Next.  In this episode, the real Thursday is missing.  However there are several more.  A series of books based on Thursday’s adventures means that there is also a written Thursday who lives in the BookWorld.   Unlike her namesake, this Thursday is meek and peaceful and only wants to live in her book and entertain the few readers that still bother to drop in.  But events force her into action.  Together with the clockwork Butler and expert cocktail maker Sprockett, the treehugging Thursday must search the Bookworld and the Realworld to find Thursday in time to attend the Council of Genres’ peacetalks with Racy Novel.   A great delight for me in this novel was the remaking of the BookWorld into an island, as you can see in the picture below (click on it to enlarge).  Thursday’s trip up the Metaphoric River on a paddle steamer was a highlight.  I love the Blyton island, Mervyn Peake and Clowns, which is on the border of comedy and horror.  And if you look carefully you can see NaNoWriMo just above the Un-Genred Zone.  Thanks to Jasper for allowing the map to be freely reproduced.  If you want to explore Fiction Island, just jump into the Thursday Next books.  I’ll see you in Speculative Fantasy, North of SF, East of Dickens.

Fiction Island
Fforde's Fiction Island