Tag Archives: festival of writing

thoughts on The Festival of Writing – #FOW16

festival-of-writing-programmeYesterday I attended the Festival of Writing in York for the second year in a row. Last year I went for two days, I had a fabulous time and left with a head bursting with so many thoughts and ideas I could barely walk in a straight line. This year I decided one day would be enough and just went along for the Sunday. Once again it was amazing and I kind of wished I could have stayed for longer!

What was so great about it? Well…

  • It’s a festival all about the craft of writing and publishing. The days are packed with lectures and seminars on a wide range of subjects in these areas. Many of these are interactive too, with opportunities to practice your own writing. The sessions are lead by industry professionals (agents, authors, publishers etc.) and there are always opportunities to ask questions so you get a real insight into the world of publishing. Even just going for one day, I learned masses.
  • Lots of literary agents and publishers attend the festival alongside writers at various stages in their careers. You all get to mingle during coffee breaks and mealtimes, and, if you stay for the evening, in the bar as well. Everyone’s really friendly so it’s a great opportunity to make connections, whether you’re a networking pro and schmooze with all the publishers or simply find some likeminded fellow writers to hang out with. (In case you’re wondering, I fall into the second category).
  • It takes place at the University of York campus which is set in buildings and walkways around (and across) a lake. There’s a fountain, willow trees and gliding ducks so it’s all rather lovely. Within the buildings, of course, there are lots of people and a huge buzz, but step outside the doors and peace descends. This strikes me as the perfect setting for a writing conference – activity and stimulation within arm’s reach of peace and tranquility.festival-of-writing-lake
  • Everywhere you go at the festival, people are talking about writing and ideas and stories and literature. You sit down next to strangers and find yourself talking books in seconds… where else can you go where the standard conversation opener is “What genre do you write?”. Being around these sorts of people, and part of these types of conversations made me, just, happy.
  • Having said that, making conversation constantly isn’t a requirement. I’ve been to business conferences where networking is absolutely the name of the game and you feel like you have to be on point all the time and ‘working the room’. Exhausting. This lovely festival isn’t like that at all. I mean obviously you want to get the most out of it and chat to different people but I didn’t feel pressured to. Everywhere you go there are people sitting on their own quietly reading or writing… or putting pictures of the lake on instagram (I *may* have been one of those). It’s as introvert-friendly a conference as you can get.
  • You hear the inspirational stories of successful authors. I absolutely loved the keynote speech by Joanna Cannon at the end of this year’s festival. Jo wrote her debut novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, hunched over the steering wheel in the car park outside the hospital where she worked as a psychiatrist. She attended the Festival of Writing two years ago because some Twitter friends recommended it, read out an extract of her novel as part of Friday Night Live (where writers read to an audience on the festival’s opening night) and won. Within forty-eight hours she’d had offers of representation from seven agents. Her novel was published by Harper Collins in January this year and for its launch party, to reflect the colour of the book’s cover, the entire Harper Collins Building was lit up blue! From car park scribblings to lighting up the London skyline in a matter of months – I mean, wow. Her personal story proves that it’s worth taking risks in life, to dare to be your true self (a goat not a sheep) and that the familiar internal narrative “things like that don’t happen to people like me.” simply isn’t true. Needless to say, I’ve bought her book.
  • A final major bonus of the festival (at least the final one I’ll mention in this post) is that, with the price of the ticket come two one-on-one’s with agents, publishers or book doctors. You pick suitable people in advance (there are plenty to chose from), submit an extract of your manuscript (or in my case, two entire picture book manuscripts) to them in advance and then, on the day get to chat with them about your work. It’s an opportunity for really useful, genuine feedback, and to connect with industry professionals in a way you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to. Agents receive scores of manuscripts to consider every day so to move to the front of the queue in this way is invaluable.

Personally, I came away with some new writing contacts (having met some lovely fellow writers) a stash of useful industry insights (the rise of independent presses over the last few years is really impressive!) and a notebook full of writing tips and ideas. I also got a huge confidence boost from my one-on-one’s which were with agents and both really positive. They liked my manuscripts, said I could write well and advised me to keep at it and just submit, submit submit. One agent said “keep writing and keep sending me your work.” which I was hugely chuffed by and will certainly follow through on.

As you can probably tell, I thoroughly recommend the Festival of Writing and I certainly hope to attend it again in the future – maybe I’ll see you there?

Writing Bubble

Festival of Writing – advice for newbies

Last weekend I went to the Festival of Writing in York. The festival is a wonderful weekend of writing seminars, discussion panels, social events and networking with writers and industry peeps. You also get to have one-on-ones with literary agents and publishers! It was fab – I’m in the process of putting together a post with some of the things I learned.

Will I go again? Almost certainly. But if you’ve never been before and are thinking about going next year, here are a few things I wish I’d known beforehand. If you’re a confident type who who finds social events effortless, most of these might be a bit ‘well, dur!’ but for the slightly angsty introverts – read on!

writing together

Book early.

Two one-on-ones are included with the price of your ticket – this is a great opportunity to have your work professionally assessed and to receive feedback directly. However, you chose who you want to have these sessions with when you book your ticket and as each agent/publisher/book doctor only has a certain number of slots, they can fill up fast! I booked in mid-July and couldn’t get any slots with relevant agents which felt like a missed opportunity. I think bookings open in April so jump in early!

Don’t go for too many days (or too few).

The festival lasts three days but you can pick and chose which days to attend. Some people do the whole weekend  – Friday lunchtime to Sunday teatime –  others (like I did) do Saturday and Sunday while lots just pop in for the day. It’s held at the University of York and accommodation is on-site so it’s very easy to stay over.

BUT when you’re booking I’d say it’s a good idea to think how much new information you can take in and how tiring you find networking. Many writers are introverts (I know I am!) which, although doesn’t make us unfriendly (AT ALL) or stop us from networking like badassess, can mean that after a whole day of seminars, conversations with new people and putting ourselves out there we can feel exhausted. Honestly, by the end of Saturday (which ended with a gala dinner, awards ceremony and dancing into the night for those who fancied it) I was worn out and ready to go home. I still enjoyed the Sunday but I know I didn’t get as much out of it as I could have, because I really just needed to step away and process it all. So before you excitedly book a whole weekend because there’s so much interesting stuff going on, its worth considering this.

HOWEVER, if you love new situations, meeting new people and lots of information and insights into the publishing world then book the whole weekend – you’ll get SO much out of it!

Don’t over-think when choosing which seminars/workshops to book – you can always change your mind at the festival.

One of the reasons I booked late is that part of the process of buying your ticket involves choosing which seminars you’d like to attend. There are so many good ones and when I first looked down the list and read the descriptions I just couldn’t make up my mind and completely stalled! When I was at the festival though, I found that there was a lot of flexibility surrounding which sessions people attended – many people went to different seminars from the ones they had chosen when booking and I got the impression that as long as there was space in the room, that was fine. So book what appeals to you and don’t worry if you change your mind later!

Yes, one-on-ones clash with other sessions… but that’s ok.

I noticed when I was booking that all the one-on-one slots were at the same time as various seminars. Does this mean you have to miss a whole hour of seminar for the sake of a ten minute meeting? No, you’re fine to go in and out of seminars. But isn’t it rude to get up and leave mid-session? No, everyone does it, it’s one of those unavoidable things. Everyone understands. It’s a bit of a pain when you’re really enjoying the session you’re in (as I was) but don’t let it put you off booking one-to-ones – I think they’re always worth it.

Wear what you like – even to the gala dinner.

It seems so shallow to discuss clothes doesn’t it? I mean, we’re writers – we shouldn’t worry about such things. Oh, but I did! Especially when I realised the dress-code for the gala dinner suggested cocktail dresses! I’m a pretty casual sort of a person and wear a dress about once a year (if that) so the idea of dressing up in a frock and heels, for an event I was attending on my own, made me anxious. The festival guide does say ‘no one will be turned away for looking too scruffy’ though and I’d say concentrate on this bit if you’re not a dressing-up type. A lot of people do look glam but I saw enough casual footwear to put me at ease. I wore nice trousers, a floaty top and a sparkly necklace and fitted in fine. There was one guy dressed as a vampire too, so clearly anything goes.

Enter the competitions.

There were five this year – Best Opening Chapter, Children’s Book Star, Perfect Pitch, Superb Blurb and (for the brave) Friday Night Live – which, if you make the shortlist, involves reading an excerpt of your book out to everyone on Friday night. They’re only open to festival attendees and it’s a chance to get your work read by the agents and publishers who will be at the festival.

Network as much or little as you want.

There are lots of coffee breaks, meals and times to hang out in the bar. This is great – you can mingle with other writers and maybe (if you’re brave enough) approach agents or publishers for a casual chat (go on, they’re a lovely bunch!)

BUT don’t feel you have to. The second morning I wasn’t in a chatting mood so during the coffee break I wandered off in the sunshine for a walk around the lake (yes there’s a lake! With ducks and canada geese – lovely). On my stroll I noticed plenty of other people doing the same, or sitting at picnic tables/on benches etc. writing notes, tweeting or staring into the middle distance.

So, do what works for you. This may seem like obvious advice, but if you’re a bit of a conformist like me you might worry about what the ‘done thing’ is. Plus you might feel you should be maximising every opportunity the festival gives you. Well yes. But no. Don’t pressure yourself.

Writers are lovely and not remotely intimidating.

I arrived at the conference slightly late (my sat nav had been intent on showing me the delights of every back road in the York area) and blundered into the keynote speech. I’ve been to keynote speeches at business conferences in the past and they were rather flashy affairs. This felt laid back. Nicci Gerrard and Sean French were on the stage talking about the process of writing novels together (they write crime fiction under the pseudonym of Nicci French) and the audience were asking questions. I looked around the room and saw a whole mix of people – men and women of all ages, various nationalities and with a wide range of sartorial styles. And all of them passionate about writing and reading and books. These are my people I thought.

Go there next year. Attend #FOW16. Meet your people.

Linking with #WhatImWriting which Chrissie is hosting this week (click the badge below and you’ll travel there by magic).

catch up – #WhatImWriting

September is here, the kids have gone back to school and – woo hoo! – #WhatImWriting is back!

After a summer without any of these sorts of writing posts I think a good catch-up post is in order… the problem is, my head is all over the place at the moment. Not in a bad way, but the summer was really full-on with all three boys at home, then the older two went back to school in the middle of last week and before I’d really had time to breathe I was off to York for a (fabulous) weekend at the Festival of Writing. I’m freshly returned from that and my head feels like it’s full to bursting with everything I’ve heard and learnt and with all the conversations I had with so many lovely people. I feel like I haven’t had proper time to think since July!

book spiral

So. This post is likely to be less of a perfectly-honed, shiny gem of a post and more of a roughly-hewn, chunk-out-of-a-limestone-cliff, sort of a thing. But maybe if I write it it will get me closer to working out where I am with my writing and what is next.



Ok, I’ll start with my limericks… in fact, wait a sec…. I’ll do this in an organised manner:

1) Limericks

I’ve been writing limericks for my blog for a couple of years, and have been wondering for a while now about publishing some in a book of some sort. I did have some published by Iron Press last year but I’m itching to do something a bit more substantial. Over the last few months a plan has started to take shape and I’ve been working on creating a limerick anthology for kids which I intend to have illustrated and then self-publish.

This summer I’ve been working towards this goal and have snatched every chance I can to write and edit limericks. I’m pleased to say I’ve nearly completed the collection. My plan is (or was) to request some beta readers this autumn and then start seriously looking for an illustrator and hopefully edit and hone and create a book that I can publish next year.

But then I went to the Festival of Writing which, although wonderful and inspiring, was also a bit of a reality check. Because I found myself in a room (multiple rooms in fact) surrounded by clever, talented people who share the same dream I do. Well, not exactly the same dream – I don’t think they’re all avid limerick-writers – but we were all there hoping to get published at some point and not only that, to ensure sales of those future books. I suddenly felt really aware of how stiff the competition was.

This very fact was also made very clear to us by the agents and publishers there. As the very funny (and sweary) David Maybury from Scholastic books said in a seminar (forgive the paraphrasing):

“All you lovely writers sitting there: you’re NOT going to get published. Oh f**k, I had that written down here and then ‘DO NOT SAY THIS’ written above it and now I’ve said it. It’s not true. Honestly. BUT it is really, really hard to get published.”

And he then went on to tell us about how, even if you did get published you might not sell many books and how it was all a gamble and people can get dropped by their publishers for not selling enough and… well… the reality of the marketplace did hit home.

But I then had a very positive one to one meeting with Jennifer Parker from Matador books (a huge boon of the festival is that you get one-on-ones with agents and publishers). Matador are a self-publishing company who I’ve heard good things about. They offer marketing and distribution along side other services and have various freelance illustrators they work with so lots to offer someone like me. They don’t automatically agree to you self-publishing with them so I was pleased to hear they’d be happy to work with me. Jennifer also had an illustrator she thought would fit with my limericks and encouraged me to submit my full set of limericks to them for a quote. If I choose to run with my self-publishing plan, this option clearly has potential.

But… I don’t know. It’s going to be expensive. Hiring an illustrator costs a lot. And the whole ‘crowded marketplace’ thing is really living with me. Do I want to do it this way? Do I want to do it at all? And most of all, do I have it in me to properly promote and market myself? Is it worth the risk and the pressure? I’m suddenly feeling completely unsure.

2) Picture books

I’ve been working on all three of my manuscripts over the summer. Millie Tweed (my first book) is now at a point where I plan on submitting her (her? definitely time to let go of that manuscript – she’s become real!), and Pete and the Aliens (my third book) is very nearly there too. Mr Magic (book no. two) however, has taken a turn for the worse and now needs to be ignored for a few weeks/months before being re-built.

Before the Writing Festival I was planning on submitting to publishers and agents but now I’m thinking I’ll try agents as a first port of call. Having heard more about how the publishing industry works, I understand far more now about how incredibly useful an agent could be. The right agent can help you shape your writing career, edit and hone your work and point you in the right direction for future endeavours. Of course they can’t guarantee publication but they make it a lot more likely and a smoother process too. So my aim is to send Millie and maybe Pete out to them soon and see where we go from there. Having spoken to other writers I expect this to be a lengthy process but I have to start somewhere.

3) Novel no. 1

Remember that middle-grade manuscript I was writing? No? Well I hardly do either but I’d love to get back to it! I have 7000 words written and masses of notes. It’s calling to me.

4) Novel no. 2

I wrote 55,000 words of a psychological thriller last year. I’d love to finish it although having been to the festival I’m now even more aware of how crap what I’ve written is!

5) This blog

I love blogging but it takes up a lot of valuable writing time. My toddler has just dropped his nap so that time is now even more limited. Obviously I’m not going to stop blogging completely but I feel like I need to re-think things.
So that’s me now. Not remotely clear headed and, as I warned, this was a bit of a roughly-hewn post! I will attempt to write something clearer for next week. Hopefully a proper post about the Writing Festival – I learnt a lot and would love to share it.

I’m looking forward to reading about how your summers have gone!

Writing Bubble