This been a fun, informative and surprisingly exhausting couple of days for me. I honestly think I’ve met more writers at the Winchester Writers’ Festival than I have outside of it. I gave out a bunch of business cards and almost all my CDs, so hopefully I’ll be able to stay in touch with at least some of them. Since finishing university I haven’t really talked to a lot of other writers, so it was amazing to find so many in one place.
Though the University of Winchester were kind enough to give me a bursary to cover some of the cost, I didn’t really have the money to pay for the whole weekend. Instead, I opted for a Saturday ticket (which included some excellent speeches and two one-to-one meetings) and just turned up for the free events the day before. As great as it would have been to get involved with the paid classes and workshops running on the other two days, I don’t feel like I missed out: there was always just so much going on.
The keynote speaker this year was Joanne Harris, who gave an excellent speech covering everything from speed-reading books in the library as a young girl to publishing Chocolat and seeing it turned into a film. She also told an amazing story about how she got the same book of Norse myths out of the library every month for years, then much later tried to track down a copy for her daughter. Finding that the library had closed down, she ordered one off Amazon. Opening the box, she discovered it was the very same book she’d read as a child: her library tickets were still stuck in the front. She argued that myths and legends have just as much to say about who we are as human beings as any sociological or anthropological study. Having blasted through (an admittedly abridged) Beowulf in a single day/night while at primary school, I completely agree. That legend in particular has stayed with me ever since, and was a bit of an influence on the character of SutaKe in Face of Glass: a hero who faces three similar trials.
The speeches in general were well worth hearing, but I mostly chose to go to ones focusing on publishers and agents, so there’s not much to pass on in terms of interesting literary things. The main point I picked up on is that it’s well worth trying to find an agent, whether or not you’ve actually got a book to pitch right now. I actually got to talk to one agent as one of my one-to-ones: Ian Drury, of Sheil Land Associates. He gave me some great advice both about pitching work in general, and on one particular novel that I’m having trouble with (don’t worry, it’s not Inhuman Resources!).
I promise this isn’t a small quote taken out of context: it pretty well sums things up! I’m actually really chuffed. This was definitely the high point of the festival for me. I’ve always been happy with the response my flash fiction has generated online, but when something is at least a little bit funny, it’s hard not to like. And that makes it difficult to judge where you are as a writer, because when most people at least like something, it’s hard to know whether or not you’re capable of producing something they’ll love. This was my first time talking to an estabished author who writes anything similar, so it was a real boost to hear that it’s working. Reinforcing what I’d heard from other people already, he highly recommended trying to find an agent: which I fully intend to.
I gave both my one-to-one appointments copies of my books to say thanks, but it also seems worth just mentioning that Ian Drury really seemed to know his stuff, so if you’re looking into agencies at all, definitely consider Sheil Land Associates. Also, if you’re reading this, chances are you’ll love Jasper Fforde’s work. I really enjoyed The Well of Lost Plots, but since that’s actually the third in the Thursday Next series, you might like to have a look at The Eyre Affair instead.
The open mic night–one of the things I was most looking forward to–was fantastic. I heard a lot of great work, but I think the best thing was Cat Randle’s “Merciful Grace the Mechanical Maid” explaining why nobody wants the tea that she makes (except sometimes they do).
This was steampunk poetry. Having heard it, I’m amazed there isn’t more of it. I chose to read The Ritual and it got a pretty big laugh, which was great. I think it helped that it was such a hot day: it’s always good to be able to tell a story that’s relevant in some way.
And that’s about it. I feel like this event has opened up a lot of opportunities for me, but I don’t think they’re worth mentioning at this point: there’s still lots more to do. If you’re thinking of going to something like this–and even if you’re not–my advice is to just do it. Winchester in particular is great, but there are plenty of writing conferences, conventions and festivals out there. Have a look: you won’t regret it!