Saturday, 20 June 2015

It's nearly all over....Winchester Writers' Festival

My room for the weekend
I am recovering after a very grueling day at The Winchester Writers' Festival. This should have been the easier day but somehow it ended with me feeling washed out and a headache borne out of lack of sleep over the days, information overload and two one-to-ones. But don't misunderstand me - I am exhausted but happy!

I arrived on a beautiful warm sunny Thursday and dragged my suitcase from the station to Winchester University and checked in somewhere around 3pm. Anyone who has been to Winchester Uni will know when I say that the accommodation is up a steep hill and through various parts of the General Hospital! There was no shuttle bus for Thursday arrivals so it was a walking job. Tough. A student also here for the weekend was trailing her case up the hill so we joined forces, ended up in the wrong building and some kind lady told us where our accommodation was.

I have to say, though basic, I love my room. I have a desk by the window - bliss - and I brought a few home comforts - kettle, tea bags, treats! After unpacking I headed off down into the City and to my favourite cafe, Eighteen 71, and had a cream tea. Then I went for a short walk along the river Itchen and sat for half an hour listening to it flow past. Second bliss of the day!

There was no dinner laid on that night but I had some food with me, so no problem. I headed over to the pub opposite where 'Thursday arrivals' were apparently meeting for networking. When I arrived I couldn't see anyone with badges. Then I spotted them all outside. There were no seats left and I'm afraid that out of my comfort zone (entering a pub on my own) I did a runner! I later found out I wasn't the only one to do that.

Friday was the masterclass I had chosen 'Polishing and Perfecting Your Finished Work' with Lizzie Enfield. Thank goodness I made notes because already I'm having difficulty remembering what we did! We looked at structure and plot, frameworks, viewpoint, themes, getting feedback, literary consultants and the final edit. We did some exercises including writing a bio about us and our novel in 50 words and writing two or three 'book club' questions about our novel. I learned a lot from it, while also confirming that some of the things I'm doing are right.

There were plenty of breaks for coffee and time to look at the book fair and all day one-to-ones were running. My first one-to-one came just after lunch. I was seeing Liz Bonsor from the Blair Partnership. Sitting outside the room where all the agents were was like sitting in the waiting room at the dentist. You could feel the tension! I thought I'd clam up and not be able to speak but Liz put me at my ease and I was amazed that she liked my writing. She suggested a couple of things and said when I was ready to send it out to agents to include her agency. I was on cloud nine and floated out of there. That alone made my weekend.

After dinner, where I met another great bunch of people, I went off to hear Julian Stannard read from his latest poetry collection The Street of Perfect Love (which I bought from the book fair) and Carole Burns from her book The Missing Woman.

Today was another early start with a nine o'clock keynote speech from Sebastian Faulks who was brilliant, amusing and informative. He pitched his talk so well for us writers and fledgling writers. After that there were a series of talks to attend. My first one was 'Do I Need A Literary Agent' with David Headley. It was interesting to hear what an agent actually did and how his agency works with writers to get the best deal. I should say that all the talks lasted about an hour. My next choice was 'Why I Won't Read Past The First Page of Your Manuscript' with Scott Peck. He was so funny but very informative, though many I think felt quite despondent afterwards! He was honest. Simple things like keeping to guidelines to me are obvious, but not to some it seems. Why make things even more difficult for yourself? It's bad enough without ruling yourself out from the start.

After lunch I had my one-to-one with Julian Stannard. I was more nervous about this than I expected. I'd hardly considered my poetry at the time because I was so keyed up about my novel. At first I wasn't altogether sure I really agreed with what he said. At times I felt he was trying to make me write they way he does, but there were other aspects I understood. He was quite radical and I wondered why no one had said these things before. I found his one-to-one more stressful and more personal, yet I felt I was really getting something here if I allowed myself to 'get over myself'! My first thought was I need to write differently, I need to 'massacre my babies'! It was all quite daunting and I left feeling I been through some traumatic experience. In fact my next talk was his, entitled 'Cut. Cut, Cut'. He knew I was coming! Disappointingly there were only five of us. Three then left to go to one-to-ones and the other person booked the talk thinking it was on editing fiction. I was the only poet there! Talk about stressful. Even so, it was good to do. Leaving there I got to my final talk 'Means to an End' with Adrienne Dines' on how you get from start to finish in a novel. I was struggling and longed to just come back to my accommodation and sleep! It was a good session though, well worth attending.

I wasn't longlisted in the poetry competition and as I hadn't opted for the big festival meal I took the shuttle bus back to my room and went to bed to recover! Not that I slept. I needed to think a few things through and get ready for tomorrow.

The masterclass tomorrow is 'Novel Writing: Planning for Success' with Simon Hall but I need some serious sleep, My brain won't switch off at night! However, I am so glad  I took the plunge and came here. I've met some lovely people and had a chance to discuss writing with like minded people which is so good. The authors and agents giving talks are so supportive.

I am wondering if when I get home (I leave straight after the masterclass tomorrow) I will even feel like writing for a while! However, I have started a complete re-draft of the poem Julian gave me feedback on. It was hard to cut all those lines!

Here are a few pictures of my time here:

Cream tea at Eighteen 71

Winchester University

River Itchen, Winchester

View from my window

My accommodation

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