Sunday, 6 September 2015

York Writers Festival September 2015

I've just left the annual Festival of Writing (Friday to Sunday 4-6 September, held at York University), heading back to London then Paris, which is a shame as there are blue skies and sunshine here in York, better weather than in Paris for a change. As usual the Festival was packed with useful sessions and the chance to meet a range of agents representing a diversity of publishing genres from Literary to Crime to Scifi to Children's books. Interestingly there were several sessions on self-publishing, which I don't think were available when this popular annual event led by Writers Workshop first started.

It kicked off at 2pm on Friday afternoon with a collection of mini-workshops lasting four hours. I didn't attend these as I decided this year to have all my One-to-Ones on Friday afternoon. These are ten minute meetings with an agent of your choice and genre, where they have already read the first three thousand words / short synopsis / blurb of your novel. They give feedback on the writing and its marketability, and whether they think it is ready. If they really like it, they ask for the full manuscript and, well, who knows, maybe it ends up with a contract with the agent.

This type of feedback is priceless. Having said that, reading is a subjective experience even with agents and editors, so it is best to hear from at least two if not three agents / book doctors / editors (I did two agents and one editor). One of the things authors need is honest and industry-informed feedback, even if it not what they'd hope to hear, and this is where you get it. The feedback I got was tough, but clear, so I pondered it during the weekend and now have a good idea to fix the main issues. It just goes to show that even if you are already published, swapping genres (in my case from scifi to thriller) requires learning a new set of rules.

The first evening always features Friday Night Live, where seven hopefuls are selected to read out 500 words from their novels and are judged on their merits by a small selection of agents, and then the entire crowd gathered judge them via a 'clapometer' - as compere Craig Taylor said, well, it's not precise, but it is what it is. This year however there was a clear winner (who also won the best pitch competition), about how families deal with the return of soldiers from war zones who may be physically intact but psychologically scarred. It was strong stuff, but the other six were also compelling, my personal favourite a stream-of-consciousness piece concerning an air crash (okay, I'm biased - it's my day job).

Saturday and Sunday were then packed with workshops, panel sessions and plenaries on a whole host of writing topics, from 'how to write a sentence' to 'how to get an agent', with specialist sessions on genre science fiction (e.g. crime, scifi, etc.).

Without doubt what makes the Festival so attractive is the number of agents, editors and book doctors who are present and available if an author wishes to pitch to them. But the audience, full of authors, is also what makes the event special - it is a friendly and helpful crowd, and many people have been there before and are progressing with their novels, some of them published since they first attended the Festival. As well as catching up with friends and fellow writers, I talked to a lot of new people and asked them 'what are you writing?' and have already discovered some great future books I'll want to read as soon as they are published. Writers are not a famously outgoing breed, since writing is often a solitary and absorbing process, but it is very easy to engage with new people at this event.

In terms of the lectures my three favourites this year were James Law, who did pretty much a stand-up comedy lecture on advanced dialogue, with some very interesting and fresh ideas on how to sharpen dialogue; Julie Cohen who deconstructed Pixar story-telling and showed how it could be used to structure a novel and make it compelling; and David Gaughran who took the lid off self-publishing in a no-nonsense style, providing lots of free information on how to do it and do it better without getting ripped off.

The venue is tucked away in the countryside campus of York University, very green and studded with lakes and wildfowl, and we had brilliant sunshine on the last day. The food was generally very good, and there was endless coffee tea and biscuits.

So, what did I come away with personally? I'd taken a new novel there, a thriller I've recently finished (or thought so), but all three of my one-to-ones had issues with it, in particular the heist at the beginning that takes place in Penzance and involves robbing a police van. Feedback ranged from 'why Penzance - somewhere a little more international?' to the credibility of the heist and the fact that it wasn't that exciting by its very nature, to the fact that the strength of the novel at the moment is its underwater diving scenes, so why not start with one of those?'

I pondered the feedback for a full day, and then came up with an idea for a new version of the heist. I got quite excited by it and almost skipped the Saturday evening meal and its three competitions (best pitch, best blurb, best opening chapter) so I could work on it. But common sense prevailed and I had a great evening and got to bed at 2am (by no means the last to bed). But after I left the Festival at lunchtime today I immediately started a new version of the first chapter and its 'inciting event'. Now the heist involves using a drone to down a RAF helicopter, causing it to crash in the Thames and has the female protagonist steal the device underwater, all within spitting distance of the MI6 building... Well, it sounds a lot more exciting to me at any rate. So, a good call from my three one-to-ones.

Oh, and I sold a couple of books without really meaning to, honest...

Thanks everyone, and thanks Writers Workshop! See you next year..?


No comments:

Post a comment

© Barry Kirwan |
website by digitalplot