I was excited to be travelling to the Winchester Writers’ Festival with two talented writer friends. It was the first time I’d been to this festival and I was really looking forward to the workshops, the talks and meeting the agents.
Given the horror stories I’d heard beforehand of writers rushing out of their sessions with an agent, reduced to tears, straight into the arms of an agony aunt specially employed to pick up the pieces, I was fascinated by what the whole experience would really be like.
The one-to-ones with literary agents are an exceptional opportunity to meet professionals who work in the industry at the cutting edge of the vocation we writers are trying to access. They are mostly young women, but with a number of older agents of both genders, all having been doing their job for a long time and on the lookout for a writer whose work is saleable, the agents were an active group of people who were clearly focused on business.
I met four agents and, in every case, they were complimentary and positive. The point is, though, that while praise is nice, all agents offered me ways I could make my novel and the package that goes with it more accessible and potentially successful. As writers, we aren’t in search of fans among our agents , we are looking for real ways to improve and to go forward.That is really the whole point of the festival. We know we’re good but how can we make our product better and how can it be moulded to fit the gap it will inevitably fill?
One agent suggested I change my novel title; another loved my title. This is excellent: it enables us as writers to be flexible and to learn quickly that the industry is subjective and that each agent has his or her own set of requirements which are simply different from those of another agent. As writers, we need to be resilient and able to change our work while holding on to and resolving what is essentially important to us in our own writing.
I had a great experience from four positive and clever agents, women who knew their stuff. They could not have been more helpful and they all managed to squeeze an incredible amount of information into a tight fifteen minutes slot. Given how many writers with different packages they must have met over two days, they must have been exhausted, yet I still came away from each one-to-one having been helped uniquely with my novel and I felt important.
I’m now clear about what I need to do to make my novel leap from the page and surge forward. I believe the one-to-ones are a key opportunity for all writers to achieve success more quickly and effectively. Also, the agents weren’t afraid to tel it like it is: other writers told me of positive experiences and of meetings where they were clearly told what needed to change. What can be more useful to an aspiring writer than that?
On the Saturday morning, we had a keynote speaker for the festival. As a creative person, I have a low boredom threshold. I have seen so many keynote speakers who haven’t done it for me. Recently I was at a university keynote speech, where the speaker chatted blandly to a beaming front row of friends while the rest of us yawned and stretched and looked at the ceiling.
However the keynote speaker, writer Meg Rosoff, was inspirational. She was able to put her finger exactly on the essence of good writing, striking a strong chord with most if not all writers in the room. I’ll now buy her books, even though she doesn’t write in my genre. I can learn from good writers like Meg- we all can.
I went to an interactive workshop on writing with author, Judy Waite. It was the last slot in the afternoon, when everyone was tired and thinking about going to the pub. Her session blew me away. I have been in education for years, on both sides of the desk, and I can recognise talent, dedication and passion. Her input was exceptional and I really benefited from the work she did. We read our stuff back and there was no doubt that her methods had made everyone think hard in terms of writing visual detail.
One interesting observation, though, is that the men in the group volunteered to read their ideas back first, and then a few hesitant women followed. Why do we do that? It is something I need to resolve personally. Do we fear criticism, are we too modest or, as women, do we simply let the men go first? Without doubt, the last reader, a woman, had the most interesting and clever writing style I’d heard that day. Why do we hang back? I will give that one some serious thought.
The weekend’s talks and workshops and meetings were great. As if that wasn’t enough, Winchester University is a fabulous place, both in terms of setting and for food and relaxation. I’m a vegan and therefore used to being given slug-filled lettuce and bland tomatoes at mealtimes when I go on such events, but the food was the best I’ve had in any higher education establishment and the service was so good. I was astonished by all the shiny happy people I met. Winchester is such a positive place
I spoke to an interesting and kind lady who talked to me about PhD opportunities at Winchester and I came away really excited. I met lovely people-new writers from Rome and Paris and Stoke-on-Trent. I ate out in the picturesque town and even sat in a pub which served superfood quinoa salad. Heaven!
We three travelling writers came away having been improved and delighted and inspired.
I couldn’t have had a better weekend.Thanks to all involved!