Liking Minds at the Winchester Writers’ Festival

photo by Alex Carter

Photo by Alex Carter

A perk of doing my MA at the University of Winchester is that I had the opportunity to be a student host at this year’s Winchester Writers’ Festival. My duties were to look after two session leaders and in return I got to see the keynote and sit in on my speakers’ sessions, not to mention lunch, with tangerine and coffee pudding. Well, I did mention it, I had to; it was so good!

Beforehand I was terrified. Stupidly so. I thought I ought to prepare an elevator pitch to market myself effectively, even though my novel is less than half written. I forgot that people are human beings. I also forgot that these days I am barely ever intimidated.

The start of the day was wonderful, Sebastian Faulks was everything you want from a keynote. He was very warm, had fascinating anecdotes and said exciting things, like allowing your characters to contradict themselves. Check out @JennySavill1 ‘s #sebastianfaulks tweets for a great summary of his gems.

Jenny Savill from Andrew Nurnberg was my first speaker. She was, of course, lovely and encouraging, talking about there being a potential market for my clumsily explained story (I still haven’t nailed my elevator chatter). My second speaker was Paul Bryers, who had been one of my lecturers so I knew he wouldn’t be scary and it was brilliant to catch up with him. He was in high spirits, having just finished writing a novel the day before!

I don’t want to give away my speaker’s intellectual property because that would be unethical and if you get the chance to hear either of them talk, please do!

So just tiny tasters:

Jenny’s session was ‘Think you’re Ready to Submit to an Agent’. She gave lots of excellent tips on what to do before sending your manuscript off. I’ve made a checklist from what she said. A jewel for me was about starting action as late as possible. Very resonant!

Then lunch. And. That. Pudding.

Paul’s session was ‘Making a Drama Out of a Crisis’, looking at ways in to factually-based historical fiction. It was great to hear his film maker and novelist perspectives and I love that he says the story must come first; truth is flexible.

Both speakers answered all sorts of questions from attendees, honestly and expertly.

In between, I bumped into MA friends at various stages of their dissertations, some more frantic than me and others I’m incredibly jealous of (already editing!). I also saw other friends, some that I hadn’t seen for years, some that are becoming new writing buddies. And met new people. I love new people; they’re so unexplored. All of them with that shared passion; that drive to write.

Thanks to Judith Heneghan for this fantastic opportunity. Next year I’ve promised myself a fully paid-up ticket and I’ll be touting my completed novel. Dear readers, book yourselves on and I’ll see you there!

Kath Whiting
MA Creative & Critical Writing
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The Waiting Game

chairs against wall

On Meeting an Agent by Janey L Foster

So you know how it goes – festival folder clutched to your chest, like a shield, like a prized possession. And your lanyard flips and shines in the sun as you walk with purposeful steps to the first appointment. It’s quiet and you’re early but the space is good for the nerves. You nod to guides and helpers but you know where you’re going. Your shoes click the stairs as you throw out a knowing smile to a delegate coming back down. At the desk you announce yourself to the fluorescent pens and spreadsheets with your hope fuelled confidence that hides the butterflies under your dress.

And you wait.

And you wait with the others. The collection of faces from other towns with tales of train journeys, told to ease the minutes as they ticked.  You rearrange papers because just one more shuffle wouldn’t hurt, you swing your shoe on the tip of your toe letting the through draft cool your heel.

And you’re all there, waiting with your words, fine tuned and formatted; your stories about to lay bare.

You stop waiting.

You’re summoned in. In polite procession with brief eye contact and ‘good lucks’ you find your place, with a table in between you and the tension of a delivery room, you wait for the words from the agent’s mouth.

And you’re grateful for the handshake and the smile, the warmth of a human touch, as she does her job with enthusiasm and passion from the other side of the tracks. Her phrases tumble out and swirl around you, her thoughts and her notes and more smiles. You hear yourself go up a gear as your own words find their order and your characters sit on your shoulder, whispering into your ear. And for a number of moments there is just the connection, not minutes on a clock. And you want to hold the moment, let the world in your head burst through and dance in between you on the table, over her notes and up her sleeves. Miniature protagonists in all their time-lines and their glory, weaving and spinning golden threads around her till she’s bound and laced into the plot. And you listen, just outside yourself, to her suggestions and you talk and you laugh and you buzz.

Time breaks through and you wind up. Other sounds and people fade in and fill out the edges as your awareness seeps back into the room. The handshake again, the smile, the thanks

…and The Request: You get a second date.

You leave. You seem to move just above the carpet, You beam at the girls in yellow but can’t stop. You have to move, to almost run and the stairs turn to silk under your fast feet. You’re back out in brightness with her voice in echoed ripples in your head.

You want to grab your protagonist’s hand and dance until your feet crumble into the earth. You want to shout, you want to burst.

But you don’t. You walk with purposeful steps, you find a quiet place and you tap. You fill your Notes App with the words and her comments. You think and you plan and you beam.

Delegates come and go around you. Doors close, the chatter muffles and you find a bin for your coffee cup.

Your next appointment is due. You gather yourself back up, clutch your festival folder to your chest and head back. Lanyard fluttering in the stark sunlight up to familiar steps and the plastic seats and the wait.

It’s summer. You hold onto your protagonist’s hand – you have journeys ahead.

Ella Kahn & David Owen: 2015 Winchester Reading Series

Heneghan, Kahn, Owen, Stannard

Judith Heneghan, Ella Kahn, David Owen & Julian Stannard

Literary agent Ella Kahn (Diamond Kahn and Woods) and novelist David Owen (Winchester Creative Writing BA and MA graduate) gave a talk about the agent / author relationship and David’s debut novel, Panther, as part of the Winchester Reading Series at the University of Winchester on 20 January 2015.  They were interviewed by Charlotte Comley, a student on the the MA Writing for Children course and Litmus 2015 contributor.


What does a literary agent do?

We represent our authors and their writing around the world; we are the middle woman between author and publisher. We’ll edit manuscripts to get them into the best shape, then place our books in the hands of the most suitable editors for our writers and negotiate a competitive set of royalties and advance. We also help build our authors’ careers, steering them through the publishing industry. At Diamond Kahn and Woods, we have a very hands-on approach when dealing with clients.

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