Having had both my books, PURGATORY ROAD and THE BARROS PAWNS, kicked into some sort of shape by The Writer’s Workshop, I grabbed the opportunity to attend their FESTIVAL of WRITING in the city of York, UK in April of 2010. But that wasn’t just down the road; I flew from George to Johannesburg on 7th April 2010 and boarded the evening flight to London.
Landing at Heathrow in the morning, it was easy to grab the Avis shuttle to their depot not far away and hire a car, having done the same only a year before. Again, my friend Brian Nicholson in Reading had kindly agreed to give me a base to move from and a bed for the night. After a warm welcome and catch-up evening, I set off for York the next morning, Friday, with a cheeky bit of machinery on my dashboard called a Tom-tom, which seemed to spend most of its time telling me to turn around…
Approaching York from the west, I took a circular drive south to get to the University, where I booked in before 13h30 and parked as near to my student room as possible. It was tiny, but more than adequate. I attended a workshop with Harry Bingham, the creator of The Writer’s Workshop, and Helen Corner, whose Cornerstones Literary Consultancy goes from strength to strength.
Harry was/is a lithe dynamic man with a penetrating stare that seemed to read me at a glance. I introduced myself and showed him a copy of my two books. Later, in a workshop on publishing by an Orion publisher, when she got to the option of Self-Publishing, he bounded up to my seat in the auditorium to grab them and wave them at the audience.
“These are two of the best self-pub books I have yet seen!” he announced. My ego wriggled in pleased embarrassment.
The evening was a satisfactory dinner laced with wine and good craik with over four hundred authors and wannabes literally exchanging thoughts and impressions.
On Saturday 10th April, the Festival was formally opened with the keynote address by that best-selling romantic novelist, Katie Fforde who was a delight to listen to and laugh with. We then split up into our various chosen workshops, or one-on-one sessions.
Each attendee was supposed to have two sessions – ten minutes with an agent or publisher during which they had a chance to pitch and discuss their work. This opportunity was, to my mind, the main draw to the Festival, but was a failure for me personally. Others, more fortunate, gained a huge amount of insight into their work, having also submitted a sample a month prior to be analysed. In my case, my first one-on-one target didn’t arrive at all, and the other was a stand-in for somebody else who was ill. The stand-in was a timid lady who read a bit of my submission as we sat through the ten minutes allotted. Her remark that she didn’t like all the violence blew me away. Just what her own genre was, I don’t know. Maybe cooking?
However, despite that, it was worth the networking with, and camaraderie of, so many like-minded folk and in some cases to make a life-long friend, like Fergus Smith who has since published two great novels.
After a good buffet lunch, the afternoon kicked off with an address in the form of ‘Confessions from…’ featuring literary agent Simon Trewin and publisher Barry Cunningham – both of whom provided humorous insights into their chosen literary fields.
Of the workshops that I recall attending, ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ given by Jeremy Sheldon stands out, then I had to miss a couple when I left the university to dash into York to find a travel agent to book a ticket to Serbia from Manchester to visit my nephew, Stephen Earle, who has settled there.
Meeting so many writers, published and unpublished, all of whom have an absolute passion for their work, was the highlight of the Festival for me. All of us learning to hone our skills, prune our excesses, establish our targets and avoid the pitfalls of our ignorance.
I set up a table to sell my books from in a quiet corner after breakfast on Sunday, but Harry shoved me into the open where passers-by had to swerve to avoid it! Sometimes you just have to push to get noticed, I guess.
From another table, I bought a copy of R.J.Ellory’s ANNIVERSARY MAN, at the time his latest, which he signed.
Then it was time to set off for Manchester to overnight with my old friends, ; always a pleasure to see them.