Winchester Writer's Festival

Winchester Writer's Festival

I attended the Winchester Writer's Festival this weekend for the first time. It was the 39th and unlike Crimefest was mostly attended by unpublished authors. Most were novelists. I stayed in the University's accommodation, a small ensuite student room. The Uni is built into the hill and is modern. All the food was in a well lit dining hall.

On Thursday night, I met a few delegates in the pub and shared the stories we were going to pitch. On Friday morning, a bus took us down the hill from our flats to the main campus. We'd prechosen our courses and the first one for me was What is a Literary Agent delivered by Laura Williams. It was a full day course and filled in a lot of gaps about the publishing process. For instance, agents find their writers through events like Winchester and anthologies as well as through the slush pile. It can oftern by 50:50. She suggested only using agents with inhouse foreign rights departments. Co-agents can be used and oftern used for film and tv. The split is usually 50:50 between them and the agent. She recommended Blue Pencil and Cornerstone for editing services and the Association of Authors' Agents for finding agents. Her format for cover letters is 

  1. Grab attention
  2. Pitch your nove
  3. Short biography


My pitch needs to be stronger/longer and my bio shorter. Synopis is one page and may/may not include ending. We did debate this afterwards as a group. Most felt to include it.

I had two agent one-to-ones during the day. Both went well in terms of feedback, so plenty to use to improve a 'real' submission. After dinner, I went to see Rocketman at the Everyman. A great film which our Play Better Scrabble editor, Malcolm Croft, wrote the accompanying book.

On Saturday morning, we had a keynote addresss by Katherine Rundell, 'Why you should read children's books, even though you are so old and wise'. She was warm and funny. I had two more one-to-one meetings with agents. Again, these went well although both felt the the crime in my novel was too difficult for them and also the American market. After three other agents said the same thing last month, it seems likely that I will rewrite a new first book. I'll also take the time now to plan an arc of 3 books for the main characters. 

I took a fun class by Claire Fuller on Flash Ficton. We had to write a quick piece based on some word prompts as well as using a photograph. After that, we edited one by half. Here's my piece, Mammoth:

'For heaven's sake, don't put it there,' Jen said, hands on hips.

Theodore stopped, keeping his hands on its flanks but keeping his face as far from it as he could. 'Why not?' 

'It'll take up too much space.'

'It's a stuffed mammoth, I'm not sure that can be avoided.' 

'Well, it's blocking the fire exit.'

'Fine.' He wiggled it, aligning the wheels and pushed it across the wooden floor. 'What about here?'

Jen pursed her lips. 'A little to the left.' Theodore nudged it, keeping his eyes on Jen. 'Stop!'

Theodore wiped his hands on his jeans, 'Did these things have fleas?'

'Probably.' Theodore's shivered. Jen held out the plastic roll. 'Okay, take one end.' 

Jen walked backwards, unrolling the banner. Theodore climbed the ladder and attached his side. 'I've never done anything like this before.' 

'Me neither,' said Jen, looking up. 'Well, if we're arrested, it will be for a good cause.' 

Theodore's stomach churned as he carried the ladder across the stage. She handed him the loose end. 'You might as well do both.' 

Jen jumped off the stage as Theodore attached the banner. Once complete, he climbed down and folded the ladder. He'd never been so nervous.

Jen stood in the central aisle between the multiple rows of small plastic chairs. 'Looks good.'


Jen gave a thumbs up. 'Looks good, I said!'

Theodore put the ladder down and joined her, holding her hand as he read the banner: Free the mammoths: 28 in zoos and rising.

After lunch, I took Dell Galton's workshop on Writing Short Stories for Magazines. Although not something for me at the moment, it was good to find out what the state of play is. The rates of pay are fairly low and some magazines take all rights but you can make a reasonable living if you're fast and submit to a few. Her list of top magazine rejections:

  1. Not following submission guidelines
  2. Wrong topic. 
  3. Too predictable
  4. Overused theme
  5. Underdeveped characters
  6. Cliched
  7. Protagonist unchanged
  8. Insufficient plot
  9. Too much plot
  10. Similar to something else


A handy guide: A character has a problem which is resolved in an unexpected way and learns something. Plus try to be funny, use emotion and be unexpected. 

The final workshop of the day was Paul Dodgson's The Pictures are Better on the Radio. He was a really engaging speaker and had insight both as a writer and director. The usual route in is through BBC's Radio 4 Afternoon Play which is 44 minutes, about 7500 words, and follows the Archers. He played a clip from Ivan and the Dogs which has gone on to be a stage play. To get your play on, you need to have a relationship with a Producer. His tips:

  1. What is your story about in 1 line?
  2. Get a hook in early
  3. Give space. Can use (BEAT).
  4. Come in later, get out early
  5. Does line/scene further the character or the plot
  6. Show don't tell. 
  7. Think in sound
  8. Chekhov's Golden Rule
  9. Make dialogue sparkle
  10. Rewrite


You can easily record your own radio drama using a Zoom H4n digirecorder and a windshield. 

On the last day, I attended a full day workshop by Melissa Addey called The Entrepreneurial Author. It was mostly focussed on self-published authors but there were a great many tips for all authors. Some of them I've alread incorporated e.g. website, blogging but there are plenty more for me to incorporate. There's too much to record here succinctly so I'd suggest you catch her next talk.