Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Winchester Report

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!


Karen said...

Sounds like a wonderfully productive weekend, and I hope your sore throat is better now :o)

Chris Wild said...

Hi Lorna,

I was lucky enough to be in your Friday mini-course. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and feel that I got a lot out of it. So thank you for that... just need to translate to actual writing... :)


Lorna F said...

Karen - Yes, the sore throat is improving, though by the end of next week it may well have relapsed! Hope to see you at the conference one day.

Chris - I'm so glad you enjoyed the course and thanks for taking the time to let me know. Good luck with your writing - and let me know how you get on.

Lane Mathias said...

What a wonderful weekend (apart from the bad throat). I would have loved to have been there. Your class was very lucky!

Did you see Michael Morpurgo's writing room in The Guardian? His desk was a bed, which is my kind of room:-)

Lorna F said...

Lane - thanks for the kind comment. It would be great to see you at the Conference next year! I'll see if I can track down the Michael Morpurgo room article - I have to say that if I tried to write in bed (more than the scribbled dozy ideas and phrases that come to me as I'm dropping off) I would just nod off all the time. I don't even manage to read in bed the way I used to - not since I had kids and started seeing bed as a place for catching up on blessed blessed sleep. :)

Fiona Mackenzie. Writer said...

It sounds an inspiring and I live so near Winchester.

Next year.

Please do have a large whiskey and lemon and get others to fetch and carry.

Lorna F said...

Hi, Fia - yes, it would be good to see you at Winchester next year. As predicted, the throat got better and is now worse again - and my voice has to see me through the next week of teaching. I'll start demanding that whisky and lemon in a querulous, plaintive tone ... :)

Denise said...

Hope the throat is holding up and ready for a week of action again! I'm glad you had a good set for this year's mini course. There were moments I would have happily sunk into a class of 22 since I was 1 of 4 and it left nowhere to hide...

Jean said...

The conference sounds wonderful. I hope your sore throat got better in time for the next lot of teaching. It must be awful trying to teach with a sore throat. I hope it all went well again.

Lorna F said...

Denise - yes, being one in a class of four is a bit daunting!

Jean - thanks for your good wishes - and I'm wishing you the best of luck with publication of your book.