The Winchester Writers’ Festival 2019

Jaime Lock was the recipient of this year’s Monica Wood Scholarship. Here, she reflects on her first visit to the Winchester Writers’ Festival.




Having recently completed my undergraduate degree in English Literature with Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, the Winchester Writers’ Festival was the perfect first venture into the world of writing outside of university.


The Application

When I first heard about the Winchester Writers’ Festival and saw the exciting programme, packed with workshops and talks from a wide range of established writers and professionals, I knew it would be a brilliant experience for an aspiring writer. After speaking to a writer friend who had previously attended the festival, I was made aware of the Monica Wood Scholarship, a generous, fully-funded bursary including a three-day ticket to the festival and all food, accommodation and travel expenses covered. The Writers’ Festival offers a few different scholarships, but the Monica Wood Scholarship is awarded to a writer between the ages of 18-25, meaning that someone who maybe hasn’t had the resources or time to build a career yet and save enough money for a ticket can still attend the festival.



So, I plucked up the courage to apply. Having studied with many talented young writers throughout my degree, I didn’t think my application would be chosen. I wrote a short statement explaining how the festival would benefit me as an emerging writer, accompanied by a brief personal bio and a couple of pages of poetry, and clicked send. When an email popped up on my laptop screen a few weeks later from Sara Gangai, this year’s festival director, with the words ‘Congratulations!’ written in the first line, I was shocked. And really excited. Then in the midst of my biggest creative project at university, a themed poetry manuscript, knowing I had won the scholarship filled me with the motivation to make my writing the best it could be and my final semester at UEA really count.


Community Spirit

What was noticeable almost instantly when I arrived was the sense of community. Everyone was friendly and welcoming towards one another, sharing stories of past experiences of the festival and successes in book publications since attending previously. I met someone who had travelled from Malta, someone from Luxembourg, France, and even the US to attend a festival they clearly think is pretty great. People make lasting friendships; I witnessed a group of women who met at the festival one year and had been in touch regularly through email and were now reconnecting in person. It was a great place to meet other writers, discuss books, and share creative tips. I left with a couple of email addresses I will definitely be sending my poetry to for feedback.


Inspirational Workshops

On the Friday, I attended an all-day workshop with Nick Barlay on ‘Fictionalising True Stories’ where we discussed character, setting and looked at some novel extracts to look more closely at ways to structure our stories. Nick allowed plenty of time for people in the group to discuss their own works-in-progress, meaning I got to listen to lots of fantastic synopses of books I hope will appear on bookshop shelves in the future. The Saturday was divided into four hour-long talks, which I really enjoyed as I learnt so much in such a short space of time. The wide range available gave me the opportunity to sign up for things I’d never been to before, like Claire Fuller’s ‘Flash Fiction Now!’ workshop, which has given me loads of new ideas for writing prompts and warm-up exercises, and Paul Dodgson’s talk on Radio Drama has got me thinking about how I can better incorporate sound into my writing. As someone who adores and mostly writes poetry, when I saw Carrie Etter was doing an all-day poetry workshop on the Sunday, I knew it was going to be a highlight. I learnt so much about how to match my work with the right magazine for a better chance at a successful submission, invaluable industry information often not discussed in detail at undergraduate level at university. Carrie also asked us to bring in some of our own work to share with the group, which meant I got to read some brilliant writing by other workshop members. Reflecting on the festival as a whole, the workshop environment was extremely enthusiastic and supportive.


Katherine Rundell

I have to mention one other major highlight. The keynote speaker, Katherine Rundell, author of the 2017 Costa Book Award winning The Explorer, presented with so much infectious energy that many of us left the lecture hall feeling very inspired, awake (it was in fact quite an early presentation!), and raring to read more children’s literature.


What Jaime did next

Through going to so many varying events over the course of the Festival, I’ve come away with the confidence that my writing could take me in all sorts of different directions. Firstly, though, I’m going to perfect my poetry collection. And get submitting to magazines!




Why You Owe it to Yourself to Detox Your Writing Life

Kass Boucher is a poet and playwright who teaches Creative Writing at the University of Winchester. She won first prize in the Winchester Writer’s Festival poetry category in 2015 and 2016, and has also been shortlisted in the Four Corners International Poetry competition. Her poems have been published in, amongst others, Vortex, Bare Fiction and Mslexia magazine. She is Poetry Editor for The Colverstone Review.

It was a Wednesday evening, just after 9pm, sometime in 2001. I was in the car park of the local 6th form college when I spotted my then boyfriend’s Red Audi. I jumped into the passenger seat, beaming from ear to ear. ‘You’re happy about something,’ he said, as he started the engine. ‘Listen to this,’ I read from the piece of paper I was clutching as we pulled out of the car park, ‘Kass, for your first piece this is really good. It’s original and striking, and, although it’s introspective, it reaches out and you want to read on. It has a poetry and paints a picture; I really enjoyed it.’ He was looking in the rear view mirror, indicating right. ‘Well, what d’you think?’ I asked. He kept his eyes on the road ahead as he steered the corner. ‘A bit over the top isn’t it?’ he finally said. There was a brief silence before I conceded, ‘Yeah, it is a bit.’ I shoved the paper back in its envelope and we drove home in silence.

The previous year had been difficult; my mum had died suddenly in a road traffic accident in March 2000 and the strain of funeral arrangements, inquests, court cases, probate and countless forms requiring ‘name of deceased here’ had left me feeling depressed and very lonely. In desperate need of a distraction, I signed up to a creative writing course at the local college. The classes were run by a charismatic woman in her mid-forties, with long blonde hair and brightly painted nails. She was generous, encouraging and passionate about writing. It’s not surprising I was so drawn to her; she was the same age and possessed many of the same characteristics as my mum. Others in the (mainly female) group were also around the same age as my mum. It was the perfect, supportive environment in which to encourage my writing and, as my writing improved, so my confidence began to return. When I outgrew the classes I enrolled on a Creative Writing degree at university. When I graduated I began teaching and, eleven years later, I’m still sharing my passion for creative writing, always striving to offer the same encouragement to others that I was given at the start.

However, when your ambition is to write for publication, reality (i.e. rejection) will always bite and there are plentiful famous tales of the trail of polite (and not so polite) knock-backs that successful writers have left in their wake. For many of us, though, the biggest struggle is to keep writing in the face of the demands, the dismissals even, of others. It’s all too easy to allow negative influences into your writing life. That’s why it’s so important to surround yourself with people who will nurture you as a writer. As my partner, also a writer, once said to me; ‘Every writer needs another writer in their life.’ That is, someone who understands what it is to want to write, to feel the emotional pull of writing, but also the fear of rejection and censure.

It’s also, I would argue, vital to acknowledge the negative voices in your writing life; not just the inner critic (we all know what they can do) but the actual living, breathing toxins in human form that invade your writing space, be it physically, emotionally or mentally. Those who, for their own reasons, bring negativity and self-doubt to the door of your writing room. Be they fellow writers, or family members, you must protect your writing from their negative energy and save that valuable space for those voices that encourage, understand and nurture your writing dreams.

I’ve consciously chosen my supporters, my writing champions if you like, and I’d urge you to do the same. They offer constructive criticism, and yes, they tell me the truth, but they also understand what I’m trying to achieve. As one said to me, ‘I will support you in everything except bullshit.’ This should be music to the aspiring writer’s ears.

I also give myself permission to remove the negative influences from my writing life; the toxic critics whose motivations are probably honourable but offer me little in the way of inspiration and encouragement. This needn’t involve removing them from your life entirely; that may be too drastic, or impractical, for some! But you can redefine the parameters of that relationship in order to protect your writing life from harm.

Your writing champion needn’t be someone you see every day, or even at all, as long as you can channel their supporting voice and hear their words of encouragement ringing in your ears as you write. When things are at their most difficult or challenging, I often think back to my 18th birthday, when I came home from college to find a present from my mum in the front room; a word processor. Mum was at work but she’d left a typed note in the processor itself;

‘I know you love watching old movies, but maybe with this you can start writing some of your own.’

Even now, nearly twenty-five years later, I can hear her words cheering me on as clearly as I heard them back then. And so I write. Because I owe it to my mum, to my ever-supportive writing champions and, most importantly, to myself.