Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Beach Hut Writing Academy Writers' Conference Day

Foggy platform - waiting for my local train into London
It was a six o'clock alarm that woke me yesterday, for I was off to Brighton to The Beach Hut Writing Academy one day conference. Armed with notebook and pen I set off in the fog to the station. As the near empty train from London sped into the countryside the fog looked magical. As we came into Brighton the sun shone and it didn't stop shining all day.

The venue for the conference was a Regency House (Angel House) on Brunswick Terrace, about twenty minutes walk from the station (the Hove end of Brighton). We were set over two floors and top floor apparently had a bridal suite! The house was beautiful, with views over the sea, but a little cramped at break times as people milled around the tables. However, the buffet lunch was wonderful and a veggie paradise for me. They even had soya milk for hot drinks. Bliss! At one point I escaped outside with my orange juice and sat on the steps in the sunshine - a few others had the same thoughts.

Angel House - venue for the day

The day began with a talk and presentation by Simon Toyne, author of a trilogy - Sanctus (the other Dan Brown!). He was informative, and a brilliant speaker. Everyone hung on his every word. I found him inspirational and down to earth as he gave us an insight to the business of writing and how to produce a great story. I learned a good deal from him, especially about 'tag lines', blurbs and selling your story to agents who then have to sell your idea on to a whole host of people in the publishing business.

Next came the options for a three quarters of an our workshop. I'd chosen the one on short story writing as one of my goals is to write more of them this year. Our expert was Bridget Whelen (author and creative writing tutor) whose blog I follow, and first learned about this great day, and Erinna Mettler, novelist and tutor. We had a go at coming up with ideas using a mind map (they never work for me but I tried!) and characterisation using a sheet with four animals. We wrote three positive traits and three negative ones for our chosen animal and then turned them into traits for a character. I quite enjoyed this one and I chose the wily fox! We were given guidance about short story competitions, length and what you can fit into that word count, how many characters to use. It was a short time to spend on such a big subject but the helpful advice would provide stuff to ponder on later.

After a break we settled down to a panel talk on Writing for a Living, writing together with Jo and and Emlyn Rees who have written as solo authors and together. It was a really interesting talk, learning their backgrounds, how they came to meet and work together, their books, both individual and as a partnership. Also interesting was the whole business world of writing, and this element struck me as the core feature of the conference. The word 'branding' came up so many times. It was an eye opener and made me think about what I write. As someone not yet settled on a genre the publishing world would not take me because they want more of the same. I shall need to decide at some point which genre I feel I can produce more than one book of. At present I'm thinking humorous, but I do like crime (though I know least about it). Lots of mull over here!

After the scrummy lunch with a chance to network (it was great to talk with others but I didn't exactly make any contacts) there was a talk about working with agents, led by agent Simon Trewin and Brighton domestic noir author, Julia Crouch. Another interesting talk. They posed questions for one another, including one on the pressure of the second novel. It was interesting to see the relationship between agent and author and what each does. Quite fascinating. Following this was another panel talking about the Perfect Pitch with David Headley (literary agent and book shop owner), Simon Trewin again and Sharon Bowers (partner in Miller Bowers Griffin from New York) and hosted by Kate Harrison (author). This talk covered things like pitch, synopsis and covering letter (ah the magic three!). I was heartened to hear that each person actually read the manuscripts themselves. While some big agents farm manuscripts out to 'readers', smaller agents and independent ones read themselves. That's not to say that 'readers' are not qualified - they are - but it was an insight to how the process works in different places.

My second option for workshop came after tea break. Much as I was tempted by option B (Finding Your Crime Voice) I chose the one on Crafting your book with the help of experts. Two of the experts were Dionne McCulloch and Alex Hammond from Cornerstones and Brighton author Laura Wilkinson. Cornerstones run mentoring programmes and help authors. It was very useful to see what you got for your money. I've often wondered about these programmes and this is as aspect I've considered, and still might one day. Very informative, leaving me much to mull over...again!

I think by the last session we were all getting a little restless. The panel talk was on getting into print. The experts here were Sarah Rayner (chair and author - and whose signed book I received in my goody bag - more on that soon!), Nick Yapp (who had self published as well gone through the traditional route) Vicky Blunden (senior Fiction editor from Myriad Editions - to whom I had just submitted my entry for the first drafts comp!!) and Catherine Quinn (fiction author). Now one of these people was a replacement for someone on the programme list but I missed which one - my mind was wandering to the train home at this point, but it was either someone else from Myriad or a different author! Sorry about that. Anyway, about half way through I felt we were covering the same ground and my mind was switching off, as well as feeling rather jaded by all the hoops one had to go through to get published. Mind overload. It was bound to happen.

I should say that throughout these sessions there was time for Q&A so it wasn't all one way. Everyone was so helpful with their time and I came away with much to think over and work with. At the end there was a raffle draw (didn't win, but hey there was...) and a goody bag with not only promotional material and chocolate but three books - a YA, a crime novel and women's fiction - all books written by members of Beach Hut Writing Academy, and I had a signed copy of Sarah Rayner's book. There was a small book stall running throughout the day and I bought Back to Creating Writing School by Bridget Whelan which had been on my 'list' for a while.

As well as the raffle and goody bags we were offered gin and tonic. The gin distillery is local one. I'm not a huge fan of alcohol but I tried it. However, I only drank half of mine - not quite my taste. I'm more a vodka person on the odd times I drink spirits.

My bought book and other papers
The goody bag

I headed home with a lot to carry and a lot on my mind. It was a brilliant day and full credit goes to the Beach Hut Writing Academy for putting this first ever conference together. Well done, I think you can count this as an overwhelming success. They are running more courses during the year. Do have a look at their website. I'd recommend them!

Old pier, Brighton (5.45pm when I left)

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