So, the Writers Conference at the University of Winchester is over for another year. I meet friends there on an annual basis and we can never believe (a) just how many years we've been attending and (b) that a whole year has rolled by since the last one.
This year's one went particularly well. My mini-course on Friday was totally enjoyable. I had a pretty large class of 22 but they were all lovely people and we had a happy positive, productive day together. When I set writing exercises I was so impressed by the quality of their offerings - and as an audience we found ourselves amused, chilled, thrilled by each other's stories, several of which, it seemed to me, had real potential. So thanks to the class for being people it was a joy to teach - and thanks also for the appreciative comments: it really matters to the teacher when there's positive feedback.
On Saturday I gave a lecture about how best to make the transition from short story writer to novelist - trying to squeeze that into an hour was the challenge!
The opening plenary Conference speech this year was given by Michael Morpurgo. He was an absolute joy - insightful, idealistic, acerbically critical of our educational system, anecdotal, wise and hilarious. I've been to see Philip Pullman several times in Oxford and there were similarities - not just that they're both excellent children's writers but that they have been teachers in the past. They both have a fantastic sense of timing and the ability to balance information and entertainment that a good teacher needs. They're both supremely confident and full of enthusiasm and verve.
The Conference as a whole was the usual frantic mix of beginner writers, experienced writers, speakers, agents, editors. Over the years I've seen its scope broaden enormously and the focus change: when I started, there was little emphasis on children's writing (it began to seem to me this year that everyone in the whole wide world wants to write a children's book!) and on the skills of editing and pitching your work - now these are given, quite rightly, enormous stress.
In addition, there are one-to-one appointments: fifteen minutes where you can pitch your work to an agent or editor (they're the ones with a haggard, persecuted look to them by the end of Saturday!). Your dream may come true: the agent may like your work, ask to see more, even take you on. At the Conference dinner on Saturday, the writer Lola Jaye, vibrantly full of enthusiasm and disarming verve, described how she was taken on by agent Judith Murdoch at the Conference - she is now published by HarperCollins and is as happy as a clam. Even if an agent or editor isn't blown away by your work, they will say why - and this is so helpful, if you are prepared to listen to advice and work on improving your writing. Most delegates are delighted to get any feedback - and indeed one of the major functions of the conference is to give writers a sense that they are not alone. There is camaraderie and mutual support available - along with a lot of laughs - and delegates value this very highly indeed.
As for me, I came home with a vile sore throat and spent Sunday afternoon and a fair chunk of yesterday lethargic and unable to engage with things - but now I have to rev up again, as my summer school here in Oxford will start on Saturday - and that also is very INTENSE!
Welcome, by the way, to any new readers who've come to Literascribe because of the Conference: I hope you enjoyed yourselves, I wish you luck with your writing - and I welcome comments on this blog!