Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Cheltenham Literature Festival 2010

The past few months have brought with them a lull in my writing and hence also in this blog. After being unable to go days without scrabbling for my laptop, a form of writer's block descended upon me alongside nausea, exhaustion and some fairly intense mood swings.

Noone ever told me that writer's block was one of the symptoms of pregnancy.

So, to kick-start my writing and celebrate the onset of the second trimester, I bought tickets to the Cheltenham Literary Festival. I'd been a year or two ago and really enjoyed the workshop I went to but, as I was living in London at the time, I'd been limited to just the one. This year, being conveniently located just down the road in Cirencester, I booked myself into no less than five workshops.

I have to give the people who run that festival their dues. Everything was run like a well-oiled, yet personable, machine. My tickets (costing just £20 per workshop, which seems very cheap to me) arrived weeks in advance and were pinned happily on my noticeboard. As the day for the first workshop neared, I pulled them down and re-read through what I'd signed up for.

Writing Convincing Dialogue, with Jacob Ross.
Setting the Scene, with Helen Cross.
Writing a Good Plot, with Owen Sheers.
Writing Convincing Characters, with Trezza Azzorpardi.
Writing Romantic Fiction, with Katie Fforde.

The funny thing about writers leading workshops is that it's a stretch for most of them. People who are skilled at sitting in a room and composing beautiful or interesting sentences aren't necessarily going to be those who are the best at engaging with a room full of people. But, I have to say that I was really impressed with all of these writers and the care they took to give feedback and encourage the writing of others.

Of course, it's not so easy for us in the room, either. I must admit to a momentary envy that flickers when I see someone who has achieved success in writing, especially if they seem young. Irrational? Certainly. Writing may be competitive to get into but once you're through that first gate, it's hardly a blood sport. I suppose I'd be better off sabotaging the writing efforts of those trying to get representation...


A couple of presenters stood out for me. Coming out on top was Katie Fforde, who despite confessing to being quite a shy person naturally, led a funny, constructive and oh-so-encouraging workshop on the final day. Perhaps my favourite moment was when she said that writing takes perseverence and talent, and probably more of the former. None of us really know if we have talent until an agent takes an interest. Perseverence I can do.

Another notable workshop for me was Setting the Scene, with Helen Cross. It is perhaps unfair in one sense to highlight this workshop as we had the benefit of just eight attendees (compared with up to 30 at Katie Fforde's). This gave us all the opportunity to write and get feedback individually (many of the workshops had us writing in pairs or groups, which is a nightmare of negotiation and dissatisfaction in my view). Helen also won my affection forever by reading the first few pages of my as-yet-unsuccessful second novel and giving me some feedback. I'd given myself three chapters to get into the action, but she said I need to move even faster. Good to know, and something I'll be working on in the coming weeks.

One final end result of the festival has been my initiation of a new writers' group for people focussed on commercial fiction - ie, getting published, getting bought and getting read. Hopefully this will also contribute to keeping my fictional motor running and getting those fingers tapping over the next few months.