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
@kathdwhiting
MA Creative & Critical Writing
Also posted on http://kathwhiting.blogspot.co.uk/

Playing with the Grown-Ups

Last week we were divided into groups to workshop some pieces of creative writing. Great! For me, this has been one of the best parts of the Writing for Children course. Receiving support, comments, criticism and suggestions from other people, who are as excited about stories for children as I am, is so helpful. The Publishing Project module, however, mixes children’s writers with Critical & Creative Writers – the grown-ups! I was apprehensive, to say the least.

I needn’t have worried. Of the three C&C writers in our group, one was dramatising a fairy tale and one was writing about dragons. Only one person was writing straight adult literature and her language was so atmospheric it felt almost like another world to me. It made me realise that the thing I love most about stories – any stories – is their ability to whisk you away to another time and place. Even if the story were based in Hampshire during February 2015, it would be the Hampshire that lives in the author’s head, not the one I live in every day.

Kim Howard
MA Writing for Children

Drafting

We gathered around the table, fizzing with anticipation, three children’s writers and three critical & creative (or adult writers, as they called us). This evening we were to mix things up a bit. It was a workshop for first drafts. We each clutched multiple copies of work we each were apprehensive of. The conversation was stilted, we were relative strangers. Then came the inevitable,  ‘do you want to go first?’
 
‘Oh no.’
 
‘Okay, I’ll take it.’
No excuses, we were to read the work straight through with no explanation until the critique was given, then the author could explain whether it was part of  larger project, if it stood alone and their intentions in writing it.
 

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Creative Critters

Last night we workshopped drafts. I’m used to fairly robust criticism, harsh verging on heartless. I can take it from those I trust to tell me something’s good, bad or most horrifyingly ‘distinctly average’. However in this new group I felt incredibly nervous.

I used to only cover grammar and repetition when I fed back but in the last year I’ve got braver about critiquing character and even plot. I used to be more organic in approach but now I blast out my points as soon as I can, partly to get a dialogue going, partly out of nerves. I used to never ever make suggestions for additions but since our Screen Play module I will.

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