Hello friends! Hope you are all safe and well and writing/reading is going well. What better way to do a long overdue update than with some good news? 😊 Last month, I spotted an opportunity on Twitter to enter the Lindsay Literary Agency Scholarship for a fully funded place at the Virtual Writers Weekend held between the 9th and 12th of July 2020. I sent off a submission with an extract of my current novel, a new YA fantasy in the tradition of Indian myths. To my absolute delight and honour, I won!
It was a really huge boost for me to know that the opening showed promise (thank you to the judges, Becky Bagnell of @LindsayLit, Kirsten Stansfield of Nosy Crow and @AsmaaIsse. The win and subsequent stint at the Writer’s Weekend gave me that final push over the finish line with the second draft of my MS so I thought I’d sum up my experiences in case any of you are considering attending a writing festival/weekend.
This year, the Winchester event was totally virtual. I found out I won about a couple of days before the event started and it required little to no adjustment to my schedule to attend. I am not sure it would have been possible for me to attend the 4 days in person so this was a real stroke of luck for me. Thanks to some incredibly hard work by the organisers, Sara and Dan Gangai (thank you!) it was very smoothly run and we even had a quick training session in using the platform beforehand which was a real help.
Huge choice of events: We were spoilt for choice with workshops and talks. I mean, take a look here. I found it very difficult to narrow down my choices. For me, there was a good balance between workshops devoted to perfecting the craft and ones on the submission and publishing side of the business, such as polishing pitches and cover letters for the querying process. I found all my sessions incredibly informative and, as the talks and workshops had opportunities for Q&A afterwards, I was able to clarify specific questions important to me. Many sessions were recorded and available to view online later.
One to ones with agents and industry whizzes: As part of my scholarship, I won a 1-2-1 with Becky Bagnell of @LindsayLit who specialises in children’s and YA books and so, I was pretty made up! I’m sure my fellow attendees would agree that access to tailored professional feedback is gold dust as far as transforming manuscripts from ‘maybe’s to representation-ready ventures is concerned. From the comments section on their website it looks like the weekend has already been instrumental in signings for representation and full MS requests.
Writing buddies: We all know how lonely writing can be. This festival was conducted entirely online but it was not short of opportunities to interact outside of scheduled talks and workshops. One of the most popular features was the ‘braindate’. This was a video platform for us to mingle with other writers and form groups to discuss specific topics. For instance, I created a group to explore setting up a YA critique circle. It was a fun way to network and make writing friends who I hope to stay in touch with.
Public speaking practice: Ahem! I have done a little bit of public speaking in my line of work (usually involving slightly dull renditions of clinical cases read off PowerPoint). What I am not used to is reading from my own precious work, trying to animate the words, the dialogue, to somehow convey the essence of what my imagination sees. Well, I am pleased to report that I had a bash at the Saturday night open mic. I not only enjoyed it but I got some encouraging feedback. As we all know, it is something that may (🤞) come with book promotions in future so I’m pretty pleased that I made my debut with such a lovely crowd and a friendly, supportive MC in Simon Hall.
All in all, this was an incredibly significant experience in my writing journey. If you are considering attending a writing festival here are some TOP TIPS: 1. I have a feeling that online events will become more common in future so if physically attending is an issue, watch out for the virtual ones available, much easier for people limited by travel, childcare (and pandemics). 2. Have a look at the programme and ask yourself whether it is tailored to your needs. There are huge amounts of writing resources online so look for content that you might not find elsewhere. For instance, I attended workshops specifically about using myths and legends in fantasy (with the author, Sarah Mussi) and writing YA (with the author Patricia Lawrence)- right up my street with the project I am working on now. 3.Research the agents and industry whizzes attending: See if you will have opportunities to have your work read by them, enter competitions or get feedback. Someone there could be exactly the right person to help you! 4. Keep an eye out on social media: Following event accounts, agencies and fellow writers online might help you find opportunities like scholarships, early bird or last minute discounts, and it may inform you about which festivals have had good feedback from attendees.
That’s all for now, friends. If you have any experiences with attending a writing festival in person or online, please feel free to comment below 😊