Tag Archives: tips

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).

finding time to write in the school holidays – #WhatImWriting

This Tuesday has snuck up on me and I’ve suddenly realised it’s time for #WhatImWriting! School broke up for Easter here last Friday and, since then, life has been a bit of a whirl of swimming lessons, day trips and play dates. I’m actually a firm believer in plenty of unscheduled time for kids to just romp around in (for want of a better phrase) but somehow this holiday seems to be full to the brim with activities. Not sure quite how it happened but it’s certainly making it hard to find any time to write.


Wondering when to write? Just look for the gaps.

However, if you’re determined, I’ve found there are ways to squeeze in bits of writing time here there and everywhere… I’ve even found time to write a list:

Seven of the best times to write/blog in the school holidays:

1) When the kids are asleep.

Some people favour the early mornings but, since I have to be forcibly dragged from my slumbers most days and can’t form a sensible sentence before my first cup of tea, getting up before the kids is not an option for me. So I write in the evenings. Mind you, after a day of entertaining small people I often feel too shattered to get much done so have to rely on the following points as well…

2) During toilet trips.

Not very dignified but it’s amazing how much you can type on a smart phone while on an ‘essential’ loo break. Invent an exhausting bout of explosive diarrhoea if you like – anything to keep the small people away for those crucial few extra minutes.

3) While the kids are otherwise engaged with an activity that doesn’t require your input. 

I armed my three with wellies and spades and pointed them in the direction of a rather unloved corner of the garden with the instruction, “See what you can make there kids!” . They spent an hour and half building a ‘water feature’ (AKA a muddy hole). When they came back inside they were up to their eyeballs in mud but at least I’d had a bit of time to myself (I wish I’d spent more of it writing rather than cleaning the kitchen and putting the washing on but hey.)

4) In your head while vacuuming.

The noise of the hoover drowns out any nearby yelling, leaving you free to concentrate.

5) With your children’s help.

My ‘limerick challenge’ does the trick for us: my boys choose a subject, I write a limerick about it and they provide the illustrations (I’ll be posting another one soon).

6) While cooking tea.

When trying to parent and find time to write, guilt often steps in. Surely you should be spending every minute with your little ones? Well, cooking time is guilt-free time because everyone has to eat. Type between stages in the recipe or *whispers* put fishfingers and chips in the oven and have an uninterupted 15 minutes! But what are the kids doing while you’re cooking? Well…

7) While the kids are watching telly.

Thank heavens for Peppa Pig, Lego Star Wars and Curious George. Their input is worthy of an acknowledgement in my book I think!


Using these little bits of time has enabled me to write this month’s BritMums poetry and Prose Roundup this week and this post too of course. That might not seem much but it’s better than nothing!

When do you find time to write in the school holidays? I’d love to hear your tips!

Post Comment Love

ten things to do while you wait…

You’ve just worked your socks off getting your work fit for submission. You’ve written, re-written, edited, tweaked, crossed it all out and started again, decided you hated it, fallen in love with it, polished it until it gleamed and finally plucked up the courage to send it somewhere to be judged.

Now all you have to do is wait.


But what do you do while you wait? You could fling yourself into a new project… although now is probably not the best time since your head is still full of the old one. You definitely don’t want to return to the manuscript you’ve just submitted and decide where you’ve CLEARLY GONE WRONG WHAT WERE YOU DOING?! In fact, it’s best if you don’t even think about it. Right now, what you need is distraction. And what should you do to distract yourself? I’m glad you asked:

My Top Ten Distraction Tips:

1. Catch up with all the TV programmes that you’ve had to ignore recently while powering to the ‘writing finish line’. Season finales are particularly good at this point as the ante is upped in a very compulsive, gripping and distracting way.

2. After point 1. take to the internet to see if everyone else agreed with your thoughts on how the stories panned out and what the writers and actors feelings and intentions were. You’re not just looking up the bio of the hot main character, you’re researching narrative form. I’ve just finished watching Breaking Bad and True Blood and have since found out a lot about Aaron Paul and Alexander Skarsgard how to weave story arcs towards satisfying conclusions.

3. Tackle The Laundry Mountain Of Doom – you never know what you might find at the bottom of it! Remember that fab ‘handwash only’ top that you bought for that wedding three years ago? There it is! Wash it and wear it again! It’s like a shopping trip without the expense or the hassle.

4. Tinker with an old writing project. This doesn’t involve a huge jump into the unknown like a new project does but still keeps your creative muscles flexed. Hopefully you won’t encounter the issue I did when I realised I’d left my last manuscript in the middle of a word – and I quote: “After half an hour’s exploring all she had learned was that thi”. What had she learned? Anyone?

5. Socialise! The last few weeks of a writing project can be pretty intense. You find yourself retreating from the real world a bit, only doing the essentials (talking to the kids, grunting at your other half) and saving all your remaining time and energy for writing. NOW is the time to change your focus – phone your mum/dad/gran, go for coffee with friends and converse with people face to face instead of just (between sentences) on twitter. Let real people – not just your characters – have your attention.

6. Spend some time on the SEO of your blog. This is something that appeals to me only slightly more than dealing with toddler-related poosplosion but apparently it’s a useful thing to pay attention to as a blogger. I figured that trying to get my head round meta-tags and photo optimisation might be a good distraction from my recent submission and I was right. Ok, I admit after an hour of reading and researching I’d done nothing more ‘useful’ than uploading a widget that is so far yielding no results… but I’m sure, for anyone less rubbish at SEO stuff, this would be a valuable activity.

7. Read. Actually, this is my tip for any situation as what could be better than to lose yourself in a fictional world? (Just remember not to be intimidated by the author’s talent, chose to be inspired by it – that could be you!)

8. Go for a walk – while you were focussed on that last chapter it turned into spring out there! Even better, go on a grownup treasure hunt. Set yourself a list (either mental or actual) of things to look out for as you stroll along and that way you’ll focus on the world around you rather than what’s inside your head.

9. Learn how to draw Harry Potter well enough to please a seven-year-old boy, lego ninjas that pass muster with a five-year-old and perfect circles for a toddler. Simultaneously. It’s child-pleasing and skill-set-enhancing in one easy, distracting parcel. Result.

10. Blog about it. Or blog about something else. Ah blogging, the salve for all life’s issues…

There you go – and after a few weeks of such distracting activities you’ll probably be ready for the challenge of a new project. Then when feedback comes it will take you totally by surprise and you can be all: “Oh that manuscript! I’d almost forgotten about it! I’ve been doing something so much more fabulous than that old thing!” thus lessening the blow if you don’t get the feedback you’re after. Maybe.

On that note, I’ve got some writing to attend to.

Writing Bubble