I’ve just come back from a great weekend at the Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard. I confess I am something of a junkie when it comes to writing conferences and festivals. Why? Because they are FUN! They may provide an excellent learning experience, the opportunity to network with other writers even agents and to rub shoulders with favourite authors and some of the big names in the literary world, but I love them because I always have such a great time.
Over the years, I have attended writers’ get-togethers at the Winchester Conference and the Writers’ Holiday plus a couple of Avon courses. I’m lucky that my home town of Swindon runs what has now become a two week literature festival, and the Cheltenham Festival is also within easy reach.
Fire your enthusiasm
I first went to Winchester some fifteen years ago and when I got back home, I told my non-writing husband what a great time I’d had. When I eventually stopped gushing and he managed to get a word in, he asked if I planned to go again the following year. I thought for a second or two and then replied only if I could earn the money to pay from it by selling my writing. That was the beginning of my determination to be a real writer. To produce something that people who didn’t know me would be prepared to actually pay for.
A chance to learn your craft
I have followed some great courses over the years. Inevitably, some have been much better than others. One excellent tutor who comes readily to mind is Lesley Horton. I have done two workshops on the crime scene, plus courses on creating characters, the crime novel and an advanced novel course with her. I love Lesley’s gritty police procedural novels and, like so many of the wonderful novelists I’ve met over the years, she has been so helpful.
Every conference I go to, it always strikes me anew as we all sit chatting over dinner or coffee, how so many of these well-established authors are willing to share their tips and offer advice and support to up-and-coming writers offering to look at their work and comment and give up their time outside the classroom.
Conferences and festivals have given me the opportunity to meet and talk with some acclaimed novelists. I had dinner one year at Winchester sitting opposite Colin Dexter and sat at the breakfast table the following day next to Robert Goddard – one of my favourite authors! I remember the conversation we had. I was writing my first novel at the time set in an FE college and, given the unpleasant individuals I had created as my faculty directors, was concerned to locate them in a real place that could be easily identified. I asked him about the wisdom of setting a crime novel in a real versus an imaginary town. His reply was that he thought Colin Dexter’s books sell well abroad because of the Oxford location while R. D. Wingfield’s Inspector Frost novels miss out from being set in the imaginary town of Denton. Two other crime novelists sitting at the same table were not so sure and I know that they were still arguing about it at the Midnight Read sixteen hours later!
I have done some great courses with esteemed writers such as Simon Brett, Jonathan Gash and Louise Doughty and, though I can’t claim to have had lengthy conversations with them, I have been lucky enough to meet and speak to P D James, Terry Pratchett, Felix Francis and Elizabeth George to name but a few. All of which goes to prove how lucky we are in the UK where none of us are that far from a course venue that allows us humble wannabes to rub shoulders with the great and the good.
Get professional feedback
At the Winchester Writers Conference, it’s possible to have several 15 minute one-to-one sessions with an agent, editor, novelist, poet or short story writer etc. At other venues too, the course provider may give you feedback on your work. Such expert help is invaluable and is often a major reason why people attend these events.
Join the buzz
Writing can be a solitary experience and the chance to talk writing for a whole weekend or even a week with people who understand your passion to write – who have experienced the same frustrations – with whom you can discuss your craft – exchange ideas and help fire you up is what keeps people coming back.
You won’t be alone
Writers’ events are like a great family. Everyone is welcomed into the fold.
On the Friday night dinner at Fishguard, I sat next to a shy, young man and straight away, I saw the familiar apprehension in his eyes. He admitted it was his first time at any such event. ‘You’ll love it,’ I assured him. I saw him several times throughout the weekend and he was on my table at breakfast on the last day. When I asked him if he’d enjoyed the weekend, his eyes lit up. ‘Everyone is so friendly,’ he said. He obviously had a great time because he’d already put down a deposit for next year’s event!
If you’ve never been to a writing conference, you are missing out.
If like me, you’re a conference junkie, do you have a favourite event? What is the best course you have ever attended? Do share your experiences.