Last weekend I attended my first Winchester Writers Conference. Although the conference lasted three days I opted for the Saturday as the programme was best suited to my interest and purse.
The day got off to a great start with the plenary address by Julian Fellows and his wife, the beautiful Lady Emma. They were entertaining, intelligent and inspirational. Although he is best known for his recent success with ‘Downton Abbey’ Julian Fellows has an impressive resume in writing and acting. He is incredibly funny and must be wonderful to work with. Lady Emma is clearly ‘the woman behind the great man’, making her own valuable contribution to his work and her outfit had me scanning the fashion shops to copy.
The other guest speaker was a young man, Lt. Ian Thornton. He is a serving officer and moved his audience to tears with his tale of the loss of his brother in conflict four years ago. When his brother’s personal effects were returned to his family they included a diary detailing daily life on the front line. Collecting together more diaries of active personnel including some of his own, Lt Thornton has been involved in the publication of the book ‘Helmand’ about life on active duty. The proceeds go to a charity set up in his brother’s name.
This amazing introduction was followed by a series of self selected one hour seminars on different aspects of the business of writing and publication. My choices included Self Editing Before Submission, Avoiding the Pitfalls of Pitching, Strategies for Escaping the Slush Pile, Stand Out From the Crowd, and The Perfect Pitch. All speakers were experienced writers, agents or publishers. Alongside these talks each delegate was offered between 3 to 6 one-to-one 15 minute meetings with agents, publishers or writers. My own meeting with an editorial director of a major publishing house was a positive and valuable experience. She gave me detailed feedback on my first 30 pages with constructive criticism and advice for taking my novel forward. She found great potential in my work and that has inspired me and renewed my enthusiasm to keep going with it.
One message came through clearly. Do not send unfinished or unedited work out. Many pieces do not get past the first step because they are poorly presented.
In the evening the winners of the competitions were announced followed by a gala dinner with an after dinner speech by Jessica Fellows.
Would I recommend attending this or other similar conferences? Yes I would although I do think that consideration has to be given to the cost and benefit so I would suggest that this conference is more suited to the writer who is well advanced in his or her work.