The Winchester Writers’ Festival is always a big event. I always meet a whole bunch of interesting people, and I always learn a whole lot of new things. Because a lot of elements of the event are the same every year, I think it’s probably not worth trying to write out an introduction to it every time. If you want an introduction, you might like to take a look at my writeup of the Festival in 2014, which covered my first impressions about it (though I only had a one-day ticket), and/or my writeup of the Festival in 2015, when I was chosen for a scholarship and so could afford to turn up for the whole three days.
This year, in terms of a ticket, I went for something of a middle ground. Having had a bursary the first year I went and a scholarship the second (and having got a steady job after that), I felt as though I’d had as much financial help as I could justify. As great as it would have been to turn up for the whole three days, I decided to just go for a Saturday and Sunday ticket, and turn up for the free evening events on the Friday.
I’ve read at the Friday open mic three years in a row now, but this is the first time I’ve got a recording of it. I pretty much just handed my phone to a friend (thanks for that!) so the audio quality isn’t great, but thanks to the university’s microphone and speaker setup I think it’s at least comprehensible. I had prepared to read Osiris Likes This, but since the length of each open mic slot was dropped from five to four minutes, there wasn’t quite long enough and I went for The Three Idols instead. Continue reading
Booking for the 2016 Winchester Writers’ Festival is now open, and so are applications for bursaries and scholarships. Since these schemes helped me get to the festival twice–in 2014 with a bursary and in 2015 with a scholarship–it seems well worthwhile passing on the message and making sure that the event is open to everyone who wants to go.
- Are limited to writers aged 18-25.
- Cover the entire cost of a full weekend ticket to the festival.
- Are extremely competitive: there are only 10 places available.
- Close on April 7th, 2016.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be a student to apply for a scholarship. If you are, it’s probably to your advantage because that demonstrates a commitment to writing, but you can demonstrate that commitment in any number of other ways. Full details of the application process can be found here, but it ultimately boils down to showing that you’re already working hard at becoming a better writer and that a ticket to the festival would further your goals.
- Are open to anyone.
- Cover £50 of the cost of any festival ticket.
- Are far less competitive than scholarships.
- Close on April 15th, 2016.
A bursary will only cover a bit more than a tenth of the cost of a full weekend ticket, so probably won’t make for an opportunity to stick around for the whole thing. However, every little helps, so if you aren’t eligible for (or don’t manage to get) a scholarship then applying for a bursary would still be well worthwhile. It would, for example, nearly halve the price of a Sunday ticket (though I’d highly recommend choosing a day that includes some one-to-one appointments as these are extremely helpful). Full details are available on the same page as the scholarship information (but you have to scroll down a bit). Continue reading
Last weekend wasn’t my first time at the Winchester Writers’ Festival, but thanks to a scholarship from the University of Winchester, it was the first year I managed to attend the entire event. That really made quite a difference, since the full range of day courses, talks and workshops offered far more variety than I could have got from any individual day. It was particularly useful to be able to get advice on both writing and publishing. Here’s how the weekend went:
Each day of the festival starts (if you get up early enough!) with coffee and an opportunity to chat to other delegates. For the first two days, this was also an opportunity to wander around the Book Fair. I was really keen to make the absolute most of the weekend, though most people didn’t turn up until a little later.
Being there at quieter times was pretty handy, because when it got busy (such as immediately after Sebastian Faulks’ keynote speech) it actually got a little difficult to move about the place. I got talking to Matador (on the far left) who were kind enough to spread the word on Twitter. Continue reading
Pretty much as soon as last year’s Winchester Writers’ Festival wrapped up, I was determined to go to the next one as well. The events were fun, the speakers were helpful, and the fact I knew I’d be a Winchester MA student this time around was also quite a factor. It’s not a cheap event to go to, but having made the most of a one-day ticket in 2014, I figured it would be well worth doing the same again. Coming up to this year’s festival, things are going even better than I expected.
First and most importantly, I’ve managed to get a scholarship!
Thanks to the University of Winchester, I’ll be able to attend all three days of the festival. That means even more opportunities to meet one-to-one with agents and authors, which this time around will be a huge help to my academic work as well as my writing in general.
Second, and also pretty cool, I won the festival’s #140filmpitch competition!
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!
Well, it’s been a month (almost to the day) since I mentioned that I’d be attending the Winchester Writers’ Festival this year. With just under a week left before the event, I’m pleased to say that that month has been spent productively. Behold:
Brand spanking new Flash Fiction Month paperbacks with brand spanking new covers designed by the amazing JD McDonnel. The one on the right is particularly noteworthy because until just now Red Herring didn’t even have a paperback. Even though it’s been out for the best part of a year. Yeeeeeeah. I’ll admit, I kind of dropped the ball on that one. But since the ebook is plastered all over the internet for free, the paperback just wasn’t a priority. That said, if you do fancy getting one, they’re priced extremely low and the wraparound covers will look lovely on your shelf.
You can tell I’m a pretty big Walter Moers fan. You can also tell which book is OCR is Not the Only Font and which is Red Herring since the new cover design offers something other than a blank white spine. I’ve got plans to use the same design for subsequent instalments in the Flash Fiction Month series (not that you have to read them in order), and they’ll eventually form a pretty little reverse rainbow on the shelf. Apologies if you already have a copy of the original OCR, but on the bright side those are no longer being printed and therefore comparatively rare.
The cover image continues over to the back of the books, adding a colourful accent to the blurb. Though you’ll probably notice that I try to make my blurbs colourful even without the image.
But wait, there’s more Writers’ Festival swag to come!
Using my vast knowledge of fiddling with computers for several days until they eventually to do the thing I want them to do, I have produced a CD. This disc features a whole host of goodies! As well as some choice pieces from my steadily growing range of readily available work–that is to say, stuff anyone could get on the internet for free anyway–it includes the complete text of Face of Glass.
As the case insert might suggest, however, it doesn’t end there. The disc will also work as a regular audio CD, playing The Three Tales from Face of Glass. With a 40 minute total runtime, this is perhaps the main feature of the disc. This audio version of the three tales was originally planned as a nod towards the storytelling theme running through the novel, but the actual process of recording them made me realise that they form a substantial work in their own right. Though I will almost certainly make this audio version available online at some point, I think it’s really best listened to away from the computer, somewhere comfy. The CD is handy for this, though obviously sticking the files on an MP3 player would be just as good.
I’ll be handing out a limited number of these discs at the festival, so if you’re reading this and you’ll be there, let me know (in the comments, on Twitter, anywhere really) so I can save one for you. Otherwise, your best chance to grab one is probably at the open mic night on Friday: I’ll definitely be there, and there’s (almost) no chance I’ll have blown through my whole supply by that point.
The University of Winchester Writers’ Festival is running from the 20th to the 22nd of June this year, and I will be there! Despite putting in a hefty chunk of time writing over the last couple of years and getting involved with a whole bunch of literature communities online, I’ve so far managed to completely avoid turning up to any actual, in-person events since leaving university. Which sucks, really, because I met a whole lot of interesting people that way (at least one of whom will also be at the Winchester festival).
Anyway, if you’re planning to go or just in the area, I’ll be there on the Friday and Saturday. It would have been nice to stick around on Sunday as well, but that mostly seems to be when things are winding down and to be honest my ticket only covers Saturday anyway. I don’t have a whole lot of money to blow on this, so I’ll just be there for the free stuff on Friday. Said free stuff, by the way, is open to the public and includes an open mic night hosted by Jasper Fforde that I fully intend to take advantage of. I’ll also be entering the writing competitions, though to be honest I’ve been doing that for the last two or three years even though this’ll be the first time I’ve actually attended the festival. If you’re interested in booking a place yourself, you’ve got until the 13th of June.
But while the festival only lasts two days, it turns out that I’ll actually be around for quite a while longer. I applied for an Master’s course in Creative Writing a few weeks ago and I’ve just found out I’ve been given an unconditional offer, which I’ve unconditionally accepted. I wasn’t originally sure this was something I wanted to do–it’s a whole year I can’t spend doing other things, it costs a bunch of money and there are no clear career prospects at the end of it–but fundamentally I think I’d just really regret not taking this opportunity. The whole time I was studying for my Bachelor’s degree, I’d be spending all day sitting through lectures on literary criticism or writing essays on obscure Renaissance pamphlets, and then running off in the evening to go to book launches or writers’ groups. It’s not that the really academic stuff wasn’t useful–given another chance, I’d still do it all over again–but what I personally went out of my way to get involved with was what was being written now, and what I could produce myself. Now that I’ve got the opportunity to go for a Master’s degree, that’s what I want to focus on.
Plus, while I don’t want to sound like one of those people who just uses a course to put off their real problems, the total lack of any promising career options right now is also quite a factor. In the short term I’d be quite happy with a dead-end job if it meant just being able to support myself, but in practice I live in a ghost town, it probably wouldn’t and “Maybe I’ll just flip burgers for the next fifty years” doesn’t strike me as being a particularly auspicious life choice. A Creative Writing qualification may not immediately lend itself to an easily attainable job, but it’ll at least make it less likely that I get locked out of a career that would actually make use of the skills I’ve been building for the last several years. I guess what I’m trying to say is: if reality isn’t working out for you, why not follow your dreams?