I’m just back from a most exhilarating two-day conference, Scotswrite17, organised by a team from the Society of Authors in Scotland, led by Linda Strachan.
Where do I start? In my best Scots accent, ma heid’s burstin’!
There were keynote speakers, break-out sessions and one-to-one opportunities with commissioning editors and agents as well as Tai Chi, CPR training (in case it was all too much for anyone!) gin tasting and a ceilidh. Mix it all up with over 150 writers from all airts and pairts keen to share their experiences and you have an effervescent, bubbling cauldron that overflowed with opportunities, friendships and fun.
Obviously it was impossible to be at everything but I did my best! Joanne Harris opened the conference after dinner on the Friday with a talk on the magic in and of writing.
As a child she was shown a library and told that every writer of those books had ended up penniless. It didn’t stop her though despite feeling that she was an imposter and should get a proper job. As she said, If you suffer from imposter syndrome, that probably means you’re a writer.
Jane Johnson on Saturday morning electrified us with her life story. She had discovered that a story her mother had told her about one of her ancestors being taken by Barbary pirates and sold into the White Slave trade could well have been true. So off she went to Morocco (as you do) to research it for a book. While there, she met a man who fitted her mental picture of a Barbary Pirate. Reader, she married him – and brought him to the conference, where he enthusiastically joined in the ceilidh. Her advice obviously, was to follow whatever your passion is.
I had one-to-one sessions lined up with an agent and a commissioning editor out of the 8 I had a choice from. Dragon’s Den had nothing on this! Each of the 8 sat in a separate booth and we were given precisely 10 minutes to make our pitches when a bell rang and the next person took our place. Fortunately the CPR training was taking place next door in case of anyone collapsing from the strain of it all.
Jane Johnson, this time with her publishing hat on, led a break-out session where she covered what it is that makes an editor fall in love with a book. She read various examples of manuscripts that had grabbed her attention with unusual imagery, or keeping things up the writer’s proverbial sleeve ready to surprise the reader.
Emily Dodds and Mary Hoffman spoke about writing for children and young adults. Finding your own luck plays a part, Mary Hoffman in being sent to interview Richard Adams and giving him her manuscript, while Emily went on a course run by the Scottish Book Trust on writing for CBeebies. This led to her being asked to write for the TV programme, Nina and the Neurons.
Gin tasting followed (and much appreciated) and the fun continued after dinner with the ceilidh. To bed, tired but happy and yes, a cliche but brain dead otherwise.
On Sunday we began with a wide-awake and stimulating session from Joanna Penn talking about how to make your living (i.e. a six figure sum from writing). If only she could bottle her energy and sell it along with her books! And how does she do it? As she says, ‘it’s not about you, it’s about the customer.’ In other words, write what sells and what sells is genre fiction; romance, crime, thrillers etc.
Memo to self: get on with it and stop playing computer games, socialising and generally living.
After that, a session on mental health for writers chimed nicely with the Tai Chi, the gin tasting and an informal Fitbit discussion over lunch.
Memo to self: must get one as it jolts you into action if you’ve been sitting too long.
Sally Polson, commissioning editor at Floris Books, took us through the steps in producing a children’s book and what they were looking for. A very valuable session.
Memo to self: write, write and keep writing.
Finally, the last session was a group of speakers from the weekend all giving us their top tips for success. And if we all follow their advice, there will be a lot more very successful writers about.
Meeting lots of fellow writers from all round the world (Canada, Panama and Ghana were represented as well as many from England) was all part of the experience as well as sharing of ideas and tips and laughs and friendship. It was intense, and thought-provoking and very, very enjoyable. I hope they do it again because I’ll be there.