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How to make the most of the Festival of Writing
Guest author and blogger Mari Griffith is a bestselling author of historical fiction. For fans of Philippa Gregory and Hilary Mantel, Mari’s debut novel Root of the Tudor Rose has been internationally acclaimed. Read her top tips on making the most of our annual Festival of Writing.
I’d kept trying various writers’ advisory groups, but nothing really opened any windows of understanding for me. I had a knowledge of writing after thirty eclectic years in broadcasting, churning out scripts for documentaries, concerts, children’s programmes, the Schools Broadcasting service, even on-air programme promotions. But a novel? That was something very different.
Then I came across some publicity for a writers’ weekend conference in York. Coming to my very first Festival of Writing, I found myself among like-minded people there for the same three reasons – to hone craft, to meet other writers and to relish the whole experience.
Motivating workshops and one-to-ones provided insights I needed to get me into good habits. I saw the sense of crafting my novel, of getting to know my characters. I learned about scene setting, plot development, pace, character arcs, convincing dialogue, evocative prose … suddenly, there was so much to think about. My 2B pencil was working overtime!
Home again, I realised the need to keep up the momentum. I junked my Prologue and twenty thousand words of my current draft and promptly enrolled on the Writers’ Workshop online course with Debi Alper and Emma Darwin. I never regretted it. They were unfailingly focussed, practical and pleasant in their teaching. Emma guided my footsteps as a writer of historical fiction and Debi offered flashes of pure inspiration. I’ll always be grateful for her thoughts on ‘psychic distance’!
My association with the Writers’ Workshop has been enormously beneficial. It has given me confidence in my work and the ability to be my own best critic. That’s important for a writer because it means that your book will be as good as you can possibly make it before you show it to anyone else. Anything that can be enhanced thereafter by editors or book doctors becomes a valuable bonus. Chances are that your work will eventually be good enough to publish, if you can find an agent – and you might manage to do that in York, too. It has been known!
Ultimately, everything depends on you, what you make of this golden opportunity. Having thought long and hard about it, I’ve drawn on my own experience to come up with six bullet points to help you make the best possible use of everything the Festival of Writing offers:
Pick the workshops that best suit your writing to find out how you can improve and market it.
Make notes: then write them up when you get home. Don’t trust to memory, otherwise you’ll never remember all the stuff you’re going to learn.
Target your Agents and Book Doctors with care: they tend to specialise. Someone who’s looking for Crime Fiction isn’t likely to help you much with quirky chick-lit.
Arm yourself with business cards, which give your basic contact details – you’ll be amazed how many you dish out.
Don’t be pushy – not everyone wants your opinion on Kafka.
And don’t be shy, either. If you spot a spare seat at the breakfast table next to a bunch of Book Doctors, just ask politely if you can join them. They’ll make room for you. Honestly!
These days, I’m a veteran delegate at the Festival. I keep coming back because there’s always something new to learn.
It’s fun, too, and that’s not just the craic in the bar of an evening. What’s also special is that since delegates, agents, book doctors and workshop leaders are all on campus for the whole weekend, you’re likely to enjoy useful conversations over lunch, while browsing in the book shop or even in the queue for the loo. I once shared a taxi from York station with Julie Cohen and had a fascinating chat. Another time, I chose Andrew Wille as my book doctor and he remains an encouraging friend to this day.
Now I’ve had two books published and my third is a work in progress. I’m delighted to say that I know how it feels to have written a bestselling book (marvellous, in case you were wondering!), and I have the satisfaction of knowing that people do read and enjoy what I write. That’s very special.
And the downside of all this? Well, there isn’t one. True, it’s not a cheap weekend, but it’s probably a lot cheaper than the membership fee at the local golf club.
And you need to weigh the cost against the result – which is invaluable.