I wanted to start this blog with something witty about the Festival of Writing 2011 but I found this statement so touching that it had to come first. This gives you an idea of the type of people with whom you are dealing and the kind of support that you can receive through The Writers’ Workshop.

“The Promise that Never Dies”

From Harry Bingham, author and WW boss
“If you come to our Festival and an agent is seriously interested in your work, then we will be as helpful as we can in making sure that interest turns into a signed offer of representation … followed ideally by a book deal.

Harry Bingham

Because these things can take time, please rest assured that we will ALWAYS be on hand to help in any way we can. Unless we start to do hands-on editorial work, we won’t even charge for our help. There is no expiry date for this offer. If your work is strong, we’ll do what we can to help with agents, period.

We’ve helped countless writers hook up with countless agents. Last year’s Festival produced book deals, and 2011 promises to do better yet. We very much hope to do the same for you one of these days.”

Harry gave this speech at the event. To offer such a commitment to so many was both brave and beautiful.

There are two people in addition to Harry that stand out for me, they are always going out of their way to help others; Debi Alper and Emma Darwin. A fellow writer friend and myself informed Debi that another talented, aspiring author and Word Cloud member had had a particularly disappointing one-to-one; she was upset and hurt. Debi went out of her way to help this person; to talk to them and reassure them. She sat them down and gave them her time and her shoulder to cry on. These are amazing individuals and kind-hearted humans. Writing is so personal and needs to be nurtured like a child. The Writers’ Workshop staff offer an almost parental guidance so that we may grow as individuals.

The Event itself and how the conference has helped me

I won’t go into detail about all of the workshops that were on offer over the weekend as by the time you get to the end of this blog you will feel exhausted. Instead, i’ll talk about the sessions that I attended and the useful information that I have taken away with me and can pass on to you.

(For more information about the conference itself and all of the workshops that were on offer see this link: http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/festivals/wshop.shtml )

The welcome speech and keynote address for the event was given by David Nobbs, author of 27 novels and creator of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin which later became a successful British sitcom starring Leonard Rossiter. Though this sitcom was before my time (teehee) I knew of the authors work. This humorous and honest address set the mood for the whole event; he has a new fan.

My first session, The Toolbox, was with the wonderful Philippa Pride (UK agent for Stephen King, Hodder). Philippa drew upon words by Stephen King from his memoir of the craft, On Writing, as well as using methods of her own. I found the section on using music and mind maps particularly useful. In the Sample of my Writing section, you will see what I wrote to the piece of classical music played; we had around two minutes to write whatever came to mind.

After the speech I attended the Children’s Fiction Panel Q & A session which I found most enlightening. This panel consisted of a mix of agents, publishers, writing consultants and authors. All agreed that we must not underestimate the integrity of our readership, or their technical abilities. More and more children are enjoying the immediacy and ease of downloading an Ebook.

Session two was Making Bestsellers hosted by the witty and vastly experienced Patrick Janson-Smith (Harper-Collins). Patrick was responsible for discovering such talent as Bill Bryson and Terry Pratchett amongst others. What Patrick looks for is originality, voice, tension and story. Patrick does not take unsolicited submissions.

Before session two began, there was a panel Q & A session held in the main hall. The panel consisted of Carole Blake (Blake Friedman. Agent) and Patrick Janson-Smith (Harper-Collins. Publisher). What I gained from this was an overview of an authors rights and opportunities and confirmation that we do indeed need an agent; a bloody good one! I would love to work with someone like Carole (eventually), she really appears to fight the corner of those she represents.

Session three was MS to Publication with Vicky Blunden (Publisher) and Elizabeth Haynes (Author). This session showed that there can be advantages to working with a small publisher!

On Saturday evening there was a Gala Dinner where all aspiring writers, agents, publishers and published authors got the opportunity to mingle and network. The fantastic Kate Allan was kind enough to introduce me to one of my hero’s, John Jarrold! We chatted for a while and he invited me to submit my “best possible” work to him whenever I was ready. How exciting.

Sunday – Session four was with another of my writing hero’s; Nicola Morgan ( http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/ Author of ninety books!). This session was by far my favourite. The advice priceless. One of my one-to-one sessions was with Nicola and I found her to be warm and honest. I did not realise how much work I still had to do until this session.

There were two further sessions that I attended: Laughing Till you Cry with Julie Cohen & Jane Lovering and Creating Worlds with Toby Frost. Both of these sessions were amazing. I came away with a notebook full of tips and advice. What came across strongly in both sessions was believability. Our readers must believe what we write no matter how far-fetched or distorted.

The keynote speech for the event was given by Kate Williams (Historian and author of Becoming Queen/Young Victoria).

On Monday morning after going through all of my notes and one-to-one reports, I have to admit I felt somewhat confused and deflated. I wrote about this on The Word Cloud writers’ forum. There was a vast amount of information to take in and most of it conflicting. What I came to realise later was that, of course it would be conflicting! Agents and publishers views are as subjective as an authors or readers. Not everyone thinks the same. I suppose a clear example of this would be one agent saying;

“No more vampires!”

I disagree with this statement but if this particular agent doesn’t want anymore vampires then I won’t go to them. However, I will always want to write and read vampire stories. Vampires are still hugely popular and always will be. This is just one persons view.

Another agent told me that they did not like fantasy. On checking out their website later I found that they had a fantasy author on their list. Perhaps they just didn’t want to talk to me 😦 You can’t please everybody.

What have I gained from attending the conference?

A new set of skills. Fresh and current advice. New friends and memories that will stay with me forever. Most of all, I have gained the knowledge that we are not alone in this. In our moments of frustration, sadness and insecurity there will always be someone we can turn to; other writers.

I wish you luck in your chosen career and hope to see you at the conference next year!

  1. Ian Bontems says:

    It was a great conference (and my first, too). I also found Saturday to be a bit of a headscratcher, trying to consolidate all of the conflicting opinions from agents and publishers to get some kind of view of the market. You’re absolutely right, it looks like it’s all subjective.

    I think the popularity of vampires will wane and wax, but will never completely disappear. They’re like that other horror classic, Frankenstein and his monster – constantly being reinvented for each new generation and their concerns.

    Anyway, enough of my rambling. It was good to meet you (I also loved Nicola and Toby’s talks plus the Children’s Q&A) and I thought Harry’s speech was brave and passionate.

  2. This made me laugh – you’re right, it is subjective stuff. I was planning to use the prologue & first chaper of my YA sci-fi/fantasy novel as my final exam piece for my Diploma. Then my uni tutor (novelist Caron Freeborn) said at the tutorial:

    1. Be very wary of sub’ing a novel beginning. Novel-writing isn’t specifically taught on the course, other students on the Advanced Course have not done well with the novel option, and you need to be uber-confident and have a water-tight compelling synopsis to go with it. (Great…)
    2. The genres you are ‘strongly advised against’ in the assessment booklet should be taken more as ‘forbidden’. You guessed it – children’s fiction is one of those, as it’s not taught on the course, unless you can ‘achieve the kind of crossover established in novels such as HP and The Curious Incident’. (er, yeah, I’m confident…kind of…)
    3. She hates fantasy. When someone on the lower course sub’d a fantasy chapter last year, she needed a bottle of whisky afterwards and had to go and lay down for the day (Bum bum BUM. Not entirely sure she’s exaggerating, either…)

    Then I got home and read the assessment book again, and it said YOU MUST NOT SUBMIT A PROLOGUE. (Er..quadruple BUM?)

    But guess what? Doing it anyway. And have already promised to buy Caron a bottle of whisky… 😉 #shootingmyselfinthefoot!

  3. Tony Slater says:

    Good stuff Kiki!
    I think you summed up the confusion a lot of us felt – there was a definite element of Catch 22 in most of the advice I received. What’s a poor writer to do? Well, become famous in my case. Simples! I guess what it really says though, is that they didn’t like our work enough. Perhaps we all still have some ways to go before we’re ready for publication. I get the impression that if an agent had loved my writing so much it blew his mind, he probably wouldn’t have told me there wasn’t a market for it – he’d have made a market for it! So back to the grindstone and keep on keeping on I think. Or else just bollocks to the lot of ’em, and self publish… tempted? You bet I am!

  4. […] https://persistentwriter.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/conference-come-down-fow11/ I will recommend that you read a Word Clouder’s fantastic blog on the event and her thoughts with regards to her 1-2-1s and the workshops she attended. PS: I don’t mind if she writes a vampire novel. […]

  5. Hi guys, thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m so glad (those that came) that you enjoyed it. Tony, as always, your comment made me laugh. I hope you find a publisher for your work, you’re a talented writer.
    Alison, I’m glad I’m not the only one to have these sorts of experiences. Good luck with your endeavours; yet another talented writer!! Keep in touch and let me know how you get on 🙂

  6. […] fun, as promised by the organizers. Now I only have to put what I have learned into practice. (See Persistent Writer‘s blog for good […]

  7. Gerry says:

    Hi Keeks, great to see you at the YorkFest. Looking forward to you being back in circulation!

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