the Festival of Writing in York

Filed under: about me, courses, writing

Saturday morning, after scrubbing my neck with vodka, I found myself on a train to York.

Now that’s an opening sentence, isn’t it? I mean, if you didn’t know the pathetic reason why I needed to scrub my neck? It gives you everything you need for the beginning of a story—the time, the place, the heroine, and a mystery.

I analyse this sentence in order to make it sound writerly. Because I was on my way to the Festival of Writing, which is a brand-new event starting this year. I was giving two workshops, one on Creating Character and one on Chick-Lit: More Than Shoes and Shopping. I was also doing some one-on-one consultations as a book doctor (I wonder what a book stethoscope looks like), and generally hanging out with other writers and industry professionals for a couple of days.

First, though, I got four hours to myself on the train. This is an incredibly rare event. I thought I’d do some work, but in fact I ended up mostly staring out the window, relaxing and letting my brain percolate in a leisurely manner over whatever it wanted to, and definitely nothing involving laundry, hoovering or what to cook for tea.

York was sunny, with daffodils nodding around the medieval walls, and my taxi driver assured me in broad Yorkshire that he wasn’t really a reader, in fact he’d only read four books, including the two he had to read for O-level. But he reckoned he could probably write a book as he had a sort of a gift with words. Such was my joy in the day that this only made me more cheerful, because it was clear that somehow I am so incredibly, unspeakably fortunate as to have the job that everyone wants.

I had a fantastic time. I missed Katie Fforde‘s opening speech (though I did get text message updates about it whilst I was on the train) but I did get to see her, and Sue Moorcroft, and also got to meet the fantastic Veronica Henry and Adele Geras. I met a very polite and charming young man who turned out to be Toby Frost, and I bought the first of his Space Captain Smith books to read on the train home. I had the great joy of discussing books with Barry Cunningham of Chicken House, I met agents Jane Judd and Oliver Munson. I made Helen Corner of Cornerstones squeal by showing her my shoes, and had the lovely experience of sitting next to Kate Allan as she signed copies of a book which I’d read in manuscript form. I thanked agent Lorella Belli for giving me one of the nicest rejections all those years ago. I got the real thrill of introducing an aspiring Mills & Boon author to two Mills & Boon editors. I had far too much to drink (as always) with my great mates Brigid Coady and Liz Fenwick, and I met so many friends, old and new.

But that’s name dropping—the most important part was meeting so many writers, published and unpublished, all of whom have an absolute passion for this job. The best moments of the weekend were probably the chance meetings, the word or two exchanged in a queue or at lunch or walking to and from somewhere where I just got to share the reality of being a writer, with another writer. Published, unpublished, veteran or just starting out, writer or publishing professional—everyone had that commonality, that they loved writing, and that they were there to take their careers to the next level, and also to help others to do so.

And that is what I came away with from York. The place was packed full of people who are very different from that cab driver. They all knew that you don’t become a writer through having “a sort of gift with words”. You need talent, sure. But more than that, you need passion. You need dedication. You need the brains to learn the skills and the humility to know when you have to improve them and the arrogance to know when you’re ready to share your words with the world. Mostly though, you need bloody, nerve-wracking, brain-straining and often body-wrecking hard work.

It’s worth it, though. Definitely.

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  1. As usual, you are totally spot on re the truth about being a writer.
    And I am SO jealous.
    It sounds like a great weekend of authorly fun with other people who share our passion. Nothing like it.
    And then there are the shoes. And wine.:-)

  2. Nina, it was great. Different from an RNA conference, as bigger and more varied, but very good.

    I haven’t properly blogged about the SHOES yet…

  3. I so hope( and work at it) to be in your shoes one day 🙂

  4. Well, I’m keeping these particular literal shoes to myself Lara, but in a metaphorical sense, I’m sure it will happen!

  5. Ah, shoes – just lovely things.

    Brilliant weekend on so many counts.

    You are so right about all you need – I’d just add good friends to see you through the low bits when you don’t think you can make that next level.

  6. Bless you. And thank you for getting my humour. And if I never, ever make it, if I ever weaken and give up. . .hit me with your shoes.

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