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.

Three Words of Advice: Research, Research, Research

Publishing veteran Scott Pack offers advice for authors planning to submit to agents and publishers. Don’t submit anything before you read this!


One of the top complaints from agents and publishers about the submissions they receive is lack of research: authors not doing some simple groundwork before submitting. Here are some things you can do to avoid being that person.

Trade press. Spend time getting to know the industry you are attempting to enter. If you are successful then you are effectively taking on a new job, a new career, even if only part-time, so do the same sort of research you would when going for a big job interview. Read The Bookseller magazine, the main UK trade publication, and over time you will learn who the up-and-coming agents, editors and publishers are, who represents or publishes whom, what books have sold for big advances. Understanding the mood of the industry, what appears to be working and what isn’t working, will prove helpful in your quest to become a published author yourself.

Agent and publisher websites. If an agent or publisher would welcome your submission then it will say as much on their website. If they are not going out of their way to tell you this then they probably don’t want to hear from you. Their website will also hopefully tell you about the authors they represent or publish, who their key staff are, etc. They don’t take too long to navigate and you can learn a lot from them.

Acknowledgements pages. When looking for ideas as to where to send your manuscript, the Thank Yous at the beginning or end of published books can be a good start. Most authors will thank their editors (sometimes tricky people to pin down online) and agents. An hour spent browsing through your own bookshelves and jotting down names will be an hour well spent.

Who represents the authors you admire? This is an extension of the previous point but is still worth making. If you consider Author X to be an influence on your work, why not try submitting to their agent? If the agent likes their work they might like yours too.

Hang out on Twitter. Lots of agents, publishing houses and editors are online these days and Twitter is a great way to, quite legitimately, hang out with them and find out what they have to say. Sure, they’ll spend lots of time plugging their books and cooing over cute photos of cats, but they will also offer insight into their work. Feel free to interact with them but don’t become a stalker. No one likes stalkers. Not even other stalkers. At my classes, when I ask for a show of hands from people who use Twitter, usually only about half of the attendees put their hands up. Now, there are lots of great reasons not to be on Twitter, and I would love to use it less myself, but it is undoubtedly a place where the people who might end up publishing your book are hanging out on a daily basis so if you are not there amongst them then you are probably at a disadvantage.

Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. This classic resource is well worth purchasing as it contains contact details for pretty much every agent and publishing imprint that matters as well as heaps of extra content and essays on all manner of issues relating to the book world. It is also a tax deductible expense, so that’s nice.

Workshops and festivals. Hardly a week goes by without some literary festival in Upper Throtting, or somewhere similar. Not only that, lots of them have workshops, opportunities to hear agents and publishing folk talk about the industry and other useful content over and above the usual authors droning on about their books. Better still, come to the Winchester Writers’ Festival where you can get hear from a range of agents, editors and publishing professionals and even book 1-2-1 meetings with some of them.

It is best to spend at least a few weeks doing this research, and I advise you to make a note of potential agents and publishers as you do so. You can then hone this down to a shortlist of perhaps 5 or 6, and they can form the first wave of your submissions.

For more useful advice on the submissions process, and many other aspects of publishing, you can sign up to Scott’s Friday course at the Winchester Writers’ Festival, A Writer’s Guide to the Publishing World (Booking Code FC02). Or if you can’t wait till then, you can always download his ebook, How to Perfect Your Submission.


Why You Should Flash Your Fiction

Claire Fuller is the author of three novels: Our Endless Numbered Days, Swimming Lessons, and Bitter Orange, as well as a lot of flash fiction. She will be running a flash fiction workshop at the Winchester Writers’ Festival on Saturday 15th June from 10.30 to 11.30

You can find her online at
on Instagram: @writerclairefuller
and Twitter: @ClaireFuller2

So, you don’t think flash fiction is for you? You’re working on a novel, a (long) short story, or a memoir. For you, writing is about expansion, exploration, length. You might like to think again.

There are so many ways that flash fiction can be useful even if your word count is usually in the thousands. Here are a few:

Flash fiction to limber up

Would you go in for a marathon without having run some shorter distances first? Would you do a dance class without having done some stretching? Flash fiction is a brilliant warm up exercise. If you ever find when you sit down to work on a longer piece, the first 500 words you write are poor, then writing some flash before you start work can help get rid of those clunky first paragraphs and make you ready to jump in afresh.

Flash fiction for inspiration

Perhaps you’ve been staring at the blank page for a long time. You want to start something but you’re not sure about any of the ideas you have floating around, and putting any one of them down feels like you’re committing yourself. Or maybe your well is dry – there are no ideas. Write some flash fiction for inspiration which can easily turn into something longer, wider, bigger.

Flash fiction for writer’s block

You’re in the middle of your novel – that saggy bit where you don’t know what happens next. But you know your characters, you know what they want. Open a new document, lift a couple of characters out from your work-in-progress and stick them in a new place or give them a new difficulty. They’re on a plane with turbulence – how do they react? They find a wedding ring on the road outside their house – what do they do with it? Writing a piece of flash fiction can help you move forward – even if you don’t put the scene in your novel.

Flash fiction for knowing your characters

Following on from the idea above – what if you know the location and roughly what happens in your novel, but you don’t know your character well enough. Open a new document lift her or him out and write a piece of flash about the day they started their first job, the first funeral they went to, their first kiss – whether these are in the past or the future. Get to know her or him a little better.

Flash fiction for freedom

A novel can sometimes feel very limiting. For years you’re tied into this forward progression (especially if your work is not experimental and is relatively linear and traditional in structure). Writing a piece of flash fiction can help you break out of that straight-jacket for an hour or two. You are allowed to be crazy, experimental, weird. Write your flash backwards, without any e’s, in dialect, in a stream of consciousness. No one will know.

Flash fiction for achievement I

Writing a novel can take years. It takes stamina and tenacity. It might be a long time before you get the satisfaction of writing ‘the end’. Writing pieces of flash fiction in between will help you feel that you have completed a whole project, and perhaps give you enough of a cold, quick shower, to soak in the bath for another three years.

Flash fiction for achievement II

Writing a novel can take years. Years before you can get any proper feedback on your work. Write and finish and polish a few pieces of flash fiction until they shine and send them off to some competitions. You might win; you might not, but the hope, the some-of-my-writing-is-out-there feeling is great. And if you do get listed or win, it’s a great motivator to keep going.

Flash fiction for editing

For me this is probably the most important reason to write flash fiction. Unlike in a novel, in flash every word carries some weight. Every single one must be selected for being the right one in the right order. The musicality and rhythm of the sentences will help you be sure you have the right words, and this comes from editing. Reading and revising, and switching and swapping, and editing and reading aloud and rereading until you are sure that every word is the right word. This is editing. This is a skill you can learn and then apply to your novel.

Gaining Access to the Publishing Industry

Novelist Richard T Kelly has also worked in senior  publishing roles, both as an editor of books and as a literary agent.  Here he offers a few tips from his experience for first-time writers looking to navigate the submission process and get into print.

The Citadel…

From outside, the publishing industry can resemble a closely guarded citadel; and the aspiring writer who seeks a home for their debut manuscript can be a bit like the countryman in Kafka’s famous parable who seeks admission to the Law. The gatekeeper he runs into presents him with umpteen obstacles, but the very first of these is that most maddening of rejections: ‘It is possible, but not at the moment.’

In the publishing business as I first came to know it, twenty years ago, unknown writers might still put a manuscript hopefully into an A4 envelope and post it to a publisher knowing it would sit in a ‘slush-pile’ of unsolicited submissions, which a keen editorial assistant might, at some idle moment, glean for treasure. (Legendarily, that’s how William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was discovered.)

Even then, though, literary agents were the key intermediaries for impressing a new writer unto a publisher. And soon the slush-pile ceased to be: assistants were too busy, and most big publishers decided to log only agented submissions. Thus the chief talent-spotting action now moved to agencies, and to a new type of slush-pile: the email inboxes of the agents, monitored closely by their assistants, who could perhaps be enticed to click and print a promising Word attachment.

So, these days if you’re trying your luck as a new writer you’ll be submitting to agents, hoping to persuade them you have a talent that could interest an acquiring editor. Much hard thinking, then, has to go into the question of what agents, as gatekeepers, look for in a submission.


Using your writer’s voice

I suspect most of them would say that, above all, it’s about ‘the voice’: a term so pervasive yet hard to define that it can sound like voodoo. ‘Voice’, for sure, is something distinctive in a writer’s style which you can hear as you read; a fluency that comes from assurance, underwritten by the writer not making any obvious mistakes.

Before the agent hears your voice, though, you must persuade them to listen – to read your pages. The standard etiquette is to write a careful covering email to attachments of a synopsis and sample chapters, asking if the agent might, on this evidence, be so kind as to look at the complete work? (It’s not impossible to interest an agent in a work-in-progress; but the evidence will have to be something very special.)

The covering email might feel like a formulaic chore; but it’s vital in making a good impression. Above all, be polite, making clear why you’ve asked this particular agent to read your work – so get their name right, and show that you know and admire the fine published authors they already represent. (Don’t cut-and-paste the same paragraphs you drafted along these lines for the other agents on your shopping list.)

Then, you need to say very succinctly why anyone should care about your book. This is because no-one asks us to write our first novels; but we have to believe somebody will want to read them. For that same reason, the first paragraphs and pages of your writing sample have to be as strong and engaging, as technically right and tight, as you can make them.


This could be your lucky day…

An agent likes to see – because it chimes with their own special way of thinking – some evidence that a writer understands whereabouts their work might sit in the shop-window of book publishing. You don’t have to be some massive showboat: some of the best writers I know are fairly retiring individuals. But no would-be debut novelist today gets to be Marcel Proust confined to his cork-lined room.

The other big lesson, wistful but vital, is this: put on your tin hat and get used to rejections pinging back at you. A lot of talented people come to the citadel and seek admission from the gatekeeper. As good as you are, you will need some luck: it could come down to the mood an agent is in at whatever time of day your manuscript lands before them. It might be that your book is exactly what they’ll want next year – only not this week. But you truly won’t know until you finish your manuscript and buy your ticket to the game. As a wise writer I know likes to say: ‘Every day, try your luck. You could be having a lucky day and you don’t know it.’

Photo credit Caroline O’Dwyer

Why YOU should go to the Winchester Writers’ Festival with Dai Henley

Dai self-published his first book B Positive! in 2010 which received excellent reviews. His passion for regularly visiting the Old Bailey visitors’ Gallery resulted in him self-publishing his first crime novel, Blazing Obsession, in 2014, which won several awards and received rave reviews. His equally acclaimed second book in the DCI Flood series, Reckless Obsession, was published in 2018 and he is currently working on the final novel in the trilogy which he hopes to launch in 2021. Dai is a great supporter of the Winchester Writers’ Festival having attended for the past thirteen years.


Whether you’re an accomplished writer or, as I was in 2006, a complete rookie, the annual Winchester Writers’ Festival is an A to Z guide to publishing. From honing your writing skills to learning how to steer your precious words to success. I’ve attended every Festival since starting out as a writer and discovered so much. From learning the difference between third person point of view and an omniscient narrator, to writing stunning synopses, composing compelling covering letters to agents and how to avoid the slush pile. All this and more from first-class tutors at the top of their game. Other seminars taught me how to write killer first paragraphs, create memorable characters and how to enhance emotional conflict. There was even a course on handling rejection, something everyone’s experienced, I’m sure.

But the Festival is so much more that attending seminars. Where else can you meet editors and publishers on a one-to-one basis to discuss your work? And who knows, maybe get a publishing deal. Despite the fact that critiques can occasionally seem brutal, constructive feedback from professionals is a vital link to enhancing your writing. I know a number of authors who have been signed up on the strength of their  submissions. At past Festivals, the organisers, ever mindful of the effects of a difficult review, have offered the opportunity to discuss the feedback with a counsellor.  A splendid idea!’


Another aspect of the Writers’ Festival is the competitions. Not only is it another chance to receive that all-important feedback but is also another potential launch pad. Winning one of these prestigious competitions has opened the door to publication for many entrants. The award has become a badge of honour and carries significant weight when included in covering letters to agents and publishers. There are no competitions in 2019 but I hope they will be re- introduced next year.

I don’t know anywhere else locally where you can rub shoulders with icons of the literary world. The speakers are top drawer. People like Carol Duffy, the Poet  Laureate, Terry Pratchett, Julian Fellows and Robert Goddard. I’m always inspired by them, not just from their keynote speech but, as a humble delegate, having the good fortune to meet many of them. Each one I’ve met has been generous in their support and encouragement.

The late, much-missed, Barbara Large, who initiated the festival over thirty years ago, once asked me to get a cup of tea for Carole Duffy as she was busy introducing her to other guests. When I returned with the cup, (milk and one sugar), Ms Duffy took time out to ask about my writing. I’m not a big fan of poetry but in that short time, I learnt that the creative input is much the same.

One year, I took a stand at the Festival to promote my first self-published crime novel, Blazing Obsession. Next to me, Terry Pratchett had a stand where people queuing to have their books signed stretched around the block. In between signings, he chatted to me about his experiences as an author and urged me to keep writing. I asked him how many books he’d sold. He said, ‘Oh, I think it’s up to around sixty-three million at the last count.’ I didn’t like to tell him that at this early stage of my writing career, I was pleased to have just topped five hundred!

Tips and Tricks from those in the know…

As a crime writer, I love Robert Goddard’s thrillers. I had a one-to-one session with him at one of the Festivals and became fascinated with his approach. He is the consummate planner. He told me that his outlines ran to 20-30,000 words. He knew, before commencing his first draft, precisely the content of the final page. He also told me that he’d tried to retire. It lasted three months. He said he could never relax – his head kept coming up with new ideas. I empathised with him completely.

Where else could I have received such a priceless education? It has given me a unique insight to realising the achievements of these literary five-star giants.

When I buy my diary at the beginning of each year, my first job is to ink in the third week in June, ‘Winchester Writers Festival.’ I consider myself fortunate to have such a superb resource on my doorstep.

Feeding the Beast with Nigel Da Silva

Nigel ‘LJ’ Da Silva, is a freelance scribbler for fun and profit. He grew up in Mooloolabah, Australia where eccentric pursuits like reading and writing were viewed with deep suspicion. As a Captain in the Australian army, he worked in Military Intelligence and would write a book about his experiences (if he thought anyone would believe them). He continues writing commercially as he lacks the skills or talents to get what many would consider a ‘real job’. 

Sated for a while, the beast lies, not asleep … for it never sleeps. Quiescent perhaps?

But not for long … it will soon awaken, its gaping maw hungering for more, always it wants more. Words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs … even entire chapters.

Back in the day, writers were stalked by an ancient terror, the typewriter. Yet it was ponderous and slow, digesting single sheets of cellulose ripped from the living tissue of trees.

But it evolved into something swifter and all but insatiable, this time consuming pixels and the writer’s very life force at a formidable pace. It became the computer.

Feeding the beast can be all consuming, so writing needs to become a habit.

When you’re trying to pen your first great novel or short story during those rare, in-between moments of your busy life, you need to develop a consistent writing habit.

I was once fortunate enough to meet one of my all time favourite authors, Terry Pratchett. Ever the gentleman, he took the time to talk to me about writing, but then he said something really annoying.

“I find writing really easy,” said Sir Terry. “I wrote my first novel, sent it to an agent and then it was published. Then I sat down and wrote my next book and the one after that.”

But for we mere mortals, writing can sometimes be an uphill battle. Those words that flowed like the effects of a bad dose of ‘Deli Belly’ suddenly become cramped in mental constipation.

Or, worse, you can’t be bothered to write. It seems too much effort. You’ll do some writing tomorrow maybe, or after the weekend.

Sometimes I pretend I have ‘writers block’ because it sounds much cooler than admitting I’m lazy and I’m finding writing really hard work.

Re-programme your brain

So can’t you just make writing an essential daily habit the same as any other in your life, like eating, showering, or exercising?

Yes, you can.

You can reprogram your brain just like a computer and install new habits.

Habits lurk in a part of the brain called the basal ganglia (I may have made that up), and they consist of three parts: a trigger; a routine; and a reward.

The trigger is the event that initiates the habit, like the alarm waking you up at the same time each morning, or finishing dinner.

The routine is the ‘core’ of the habit and describes what you do when you wake up: like make a cup of coffee or check your emails (that manuscript acceptance is bound to arrive today).

And the reward is the “what you get out of it” part. I find finishing a chapter deeply rewarding.

But how do you do that when there are so many competing priorities, so many distractions that are constantly vying for your attention and keeping you away from your writing space?

First make a list of your biggest distractions.

Do you like to binge watch TV series on Netflix? Is social media eating up your time? Is there a cat presently sitting on your keyboard? (Why do they do that?)

I find that enjoying a pint at my local under the highly suspect motive of ‘gathering some local colour’ a common distraction.

How to break bad habits and install good ones.

Write for ten minutes when you wake up.

Set your alarm fifteen minutes earlier than normal then write for ten minutes. Repeat this every day and, if you like the process, increase the time you write. Other times of day are acceptable too, as long as you stick with it.

You’re sitting at your desk. The beast gazing balefully at you with it’s single accusing eye. You’re trying to find the motivation to write for an hour or two.

So don’t write for an hour.

Write just twenty words instead.

If you can write twenty words, you can write fifty. If you write fifty, you can write a hundred. If you write … well, you get the idea.

If you tell yourself you’ll be at your desk in an hour, you’re briefing your subconscious to start preparing material.

Writing badly can be good (goodly?)

If writers block is staring you in the face, then describe its shape, colour and texture. I think writers block is when my imaginary friends are sulking and won’t talk to me.

So write something anyway.

Sometimes writing badly can eventually lead to something better; not writing leads to nothing at all.

I call writing badly ‘working out a framework’ or ‘alternative literature’; it’s a little lie I tell myself so I can feel good about my bad writing.

Remember, a professional writer is just an amateur writer who didn’t give up.


A Tribute to Barbara Large

Festival attendee Geoff Pridmore writes a fitting tribute to Barbara Large MBE, creator of the Winchester Writers’ Festival, who died on 4th March 2019.



Conference Director Barbara Large MBE of the University of Winchester with author Colin Dexter OBE at the Winchester Writers’ Conference 2008 (Photo credit: John Gilbey)

I can’t remember the first year that I attended the Writers’ Conference, in those days held at Southampton University but it must have been sometime in the ‘80s. I hadn’t been published at that point, but was a hopeful novice. The Conference was very big, with workshops in every imaginable discipline from poetry to Sci-Fi, writing for magazines, TV, radio, and much else besides. The big players were in attendance, with BBC Radio 4 and ITV giving workshops in script writing, and scriptwriters such as Vincent McInnerny, among many others, helped to encourage new, emerging talent. Writing for newspapers and magazines were popular workshops and, in my opinion, very important for any writer wanting to get published for the first time.

In the evening, the grand opening gala dinner saw the Mayor of Southampton arriving in full regalia, along with other great movers and shakers from the worlds of publishing, printing, TV, Radio, et al. It was a glamorous, Hollywood-style affair and across the tables people made friendships and connections. Dare I say, not everyone went home to their allocated billet when the festivities were over!

And at the centre of all these movers and shakers was a slightly built, dark-haired, softly-spoken Canadian lady who was the ‘engine’ behind the whole festival. She was the originator, the innovator, who’d brought all these incredible people together from across Southampton, from across Hampshire, from across the South of England, from across the UK and the world. Yes, this was a truly international event.

But she was far more than my ‘description’, in terms of what she achieved each year. She had that very rare ability to make each novice writer feel as if they were the most important person at the conference. How did she do it? I can’t truly answer that. Her eyes, her demeanour, would simply welcome each and every one of us. She took notice of who attended. Some people can do this quite naturally, others can’t, however well-meaning, however much they want and try to. You could never say of Barbara, ‘I don’t think she knew I was there’: she knew. She knew all of us.

I attended the Conference for many, many years. It was inevitable that, come the digital age, the festival format would be adopted by other institutions across the land and that’s been a great development for writers of all ages and stages. There will never be another ‘Southampton’, in respect of the scale and depth the conference was able to achieve in a pre-digital, analogue age, but both Sara Gangai and Judith Heneghan have kept Barbara’s flame alight and for that there are thousands and thousands of writers who will be eternally grateful. We may not always need to attend every year, but there is always something new to learn.

In salute to the inspirational Barbara Large! Thanks, Barbara! And thank you, too, Sara and Judith. Keep up the good work.

If you have a memory of Barbara that you would like to share, please email Sara Gangai ( Sara will be collecting all tributes to pass on to Barbara’s family. 

Mini-workshop: the character and poetry of ‘place’ in life-writing

Gail Anderson won first prize in both the memoir and poetry competitions at the 2018 Winchester Writers’ Festival. Her life-writing, poetry and short fiction have been widely published in anthologies and journals. She is Head of Communications at Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education, and spends most of her free time on her boat.


Hitchhiking to Paris. Teaching school in rural Africa. Witnessing the protest at Tiananmen Square. Memoir springs from experience – you were there, and you have a story to tell. So far so good.

But memoir needs to extend beyond the personal. You need to lend the reader your eyes and ears. Let them feel the experience alongside you.

For me, one of the best ways to do this is to make your memoir’s setting – its ‘place’ – into a full-blooded character in your piece. Develop the personality and poetry of your place – and you open doors to your readers.

First, profile your place

Every experience has a place, and every place has a personality. Teaching in rural Africa will be vastly different from teaching in suburban Minneapolis. Quite literally, place grounds experience.

Our very identities are linked with place. Saying I’m a Brummie, a Beijinger, a New Yorker is a form of shorthand for a host of characteristics and allegiances. Giving your memoir a strong sense of place taps into this human tendency for connection.

Start with one of the boatload of character profile templates online. Hair and eyes aside – what physical qualities and quirks does your place have? What is its age? Its colour? What are its political leanings? What sorts of people hang out with it? How is it ‘dressed’?

Places might be sleek, smug and athletic (The Balboa Yacht Club), or sad and careworn (Flint, Michigan). Your place might be missing limbs, through war or economic circumstance. It might have put on weight through suburban sprawl. What is it proud of, your place – and what is it trying to hide?

Bring on the senses

What does Tonga smell like? How does Paris sound? What does mid-afternoon along the Ganges feel like?

The senses are powerful engines to drive memoir.

Sensory detail in life-writing works double-time. It pulls your reader deeper into your scene, yes; but equally, the gathering of sensory detail in the prewriting phase can enrich your own memories as a writer. Recalling the smell of eucalyptus, for instance, might make me remember the dusty soil of that schoolyard in rural Africa, the hot handle of the water tap, the coolness of the shade under the schoolhouse eaves.

We’re lucky to live in a golden age for casual research. What was the name of that pink flower that grew along the Annapurna Trail in Nepal? What music was playing on the radio in Los Angeles in 1988? Not only is the answer online, chances are someone has photographed it, recorded it, described it in loving detail.

I’ve begun many memoirs with YouTube or Spotify playlists. Listening to music that connects me to place puts me in its ‘groove’. Venture beyond music – to old radio and TV broadcasts, spoken word, environmental sound.

Build your glossary of ‘place’

Using your character profile and each of the five senses – taste, smell, see, touch, hear – spend some time collecting words and phrases about your place. List both nouns and verbs – and be on the lookout for words that have colour, rhythm or evoke strong imagery.

Taste your place, its foods and spices, its sweets, savories and bitters. Cardamom. Sumac. Your atmosphere may have a taste as well. Dust. Smog. Sea spray. Smell botanical, personal, household and industrial scents alike. Purple sky-pilot. Hot tar. Bleach. Because of the way our brains are wired, scent is the most powerful sense for connecting us to memory and emotion. See colours and patterns that make up the canvas of your place. …the cars mostly 1970s Toyota Corollas… the high-tidemark garlanded with pink scallop shells… stone foundations of river-worn granite…

Think about touch being both tactile (the weight of the brick in your hand) and atmospheric. The first time my mother took me to Hawaii, she told me the air would be ‘soft’ – and she was right. Later, living in Minnesota in the winter, I knew ‘hard’ air – air so cold that the moisture inside my nose turned to crystals the moment I stepped outdoors. Let touch include intangibles. Tension. Joy. Sorrow. Anything that pervades might be considered as touch. And to hear your place, take your laptop or paper to a quiet space, close your eyes and ‘listen’ to your memory. Sleet. Car horns. Ships’ rigging. Cowbell. Ice cream truck. Free-write everything as it occurs, without stopping, for five minutes or for as long as it takes.

Add a dash of poetry

The power of poetry might be its ability to say two different things at once, with richness and economy.

By now you’ve jotted a glossary of words and phrases – and they’re pointing you towards some useful poetic devices, like personification, metaphor, and symbolism. Note the rhythm and sound of your words. Are the vowels short or long? Which words are plosive, which alliterative, which smoothly sibilant?

Your Tiananmen Square memoir wants short words with plosive consonants that mirror the sound of weaponry, the panic. Taut, rather than nervous. Bolted, instead of ran.

For a hippie setting, consider how your colour word ‘paisley’ might describe a convoluted street pattern, or a repetitive daily routine. If your location is a rapidly expanding city, its glossary might include words of motion and transition. Steeples rising, parks unfurling, freeway arteries pumping traffic in and out…

Experiment with lineation. Play around with word order and rhythm before putting it all back into paragraph form.

Place as partner

Close development of place invites narrative parallels. A granite city might reflect the unbending character of the woman who lives in it. The seasonal ebb and flow of a river may mirror the episodic memory you wish to relate. Let a compelling sense of place elevate your story beyond limited ‘me-moir’ and into the realm of meaningful memoir.

Or to paraphrase Henry Miller – let your place be our new way of seeing. 

Find Gail on twitter – @smallgreenberd

A Novelist’s Journey to Publication

Janet Hancock is a regular attendee at the Winchester Writers’ Festival where her work has been shortlisted in several competitions for both short and long fiction. She won the First Three Pages of a Novel competition at the Festival in 2011.

‘I’m going to be a writer one day,’ I used to think through my 20s and early 30s. I devoured the novels of Catherine Gaskin, Ann Bridge, Catherine Gavin, featuring ordinary late 19th/early 20th century people in different parts of the world on the cusp of history: war, revolution, social change, the big canvas; and Taylor Caldwell’s novels in 19th century America: captains of industry establishing dynasties. ‘I’m going to do that,’ I would tell myself. But life got in the way.

A winter of unemployment following redundancy drove me to put pen to paper. I enrolled with the London School of Journalism for a correspondence course on short stories. I learned about characterisation, dialogue, viewpoint, useful lessons for a writer of long as well as short fiction. By the end of the course I had started going out to work again full time. Writing became fitted into the occasional weekend, nothing disciplined. The short romances I’d written as part of the course and sent to women’s magazines all came back.

I wrote a Mills and Boon romance, not that I’d read any, not my sort of book, but I had a story I wanted to tell, semi-autobiographical, set in the Austrian Tyrol; surely a Mills and Boon would be easy for they were thin little books. Wrong. My writing was becoming more disciplined, though. My husband played golf on Mondays and Fridays and those became my writing times. The rest of the week was writing in my head, jotting things down: I always had a bit of paper with me. I joined the Romantic Novelists Association.

I read about a young Englishwoman caught in the 1917 revolution in Baku, then in Russia. She wouldn’t let me go. Who was she? How had she come to be there? I wanted to write about her. I had found my big canvas. I loved the research, characters forming, reaching out to me. When I started to write, in longhand, I felt like a fledgling soaring. I typed up the first draft, 800 pages, several storylines, multi-viewpoint, with little understanding of editing. The book was as long as it took to tell the story. The RNA New Writers’ Scheme taught me otherwise. I joined the Historical Novel Society and started reviewing for the Historical Novels Review, a good lesson in editing and concise writing.

I joined a writers’ group, and a postal group for critiquing each other’s work. I wrote a dozen short stories. My writing was becoming more literary. I left the RNA, realising I was not a romantic novelist in the genre sense, although is not all fiction romantic in the wider sense?

I went to the Annual Writers’ Conference in its Southampton days and when it moved to Winchester, loving the atmosphere, meeting other writers, absorbing all I could. I learned to write a synopsis, a query letter. Carolyn Caughy, Barbara Murphy, Lorna Fergusson, Madeleine Milburn are some of many memorable tutors. Barbara Large was a constant presence, competition entries and adjudications returned with her hand-written note of encouragement. A couple of months after my husband died, Barbara spent time with me and we kick-started another draft of the Russian book.

June Hampson, a Winchester tutor, said to me, ‘You ought to enter competitions.’ I’d already entered some at Winchester, so started scouring websites and columns of magazines like Mslexia. All but three of the short stories have been placed or shortlisted, one winning first prize, some published in anthologies or online. A draft of the Russian book won the First Three Pages of a Novel Competition at Winchester, was on the Mslexia novel longlist and the Yeovil Prize shortlist. These encouragements drove me on, determined to pursue publication.

The Russian book went through six drafts, three changes of title, 800 pages reduced to 330. There were gaps – sometimes years – between drafts, while I worked on short fiction, and researched and drafted two further novels. Every time I returned to the book with fresh eyes and insight, cutting away the dead wood although nothing is ever wasted and some is coming to life in another book. I joined a group which meets for a working weekend every January to concentrate on a chapter, and have received invaluable feedback on paragraph structure, characterisation, dialogue.

The final title of the Russian book is Beyond the Samovar, to be published by independent publishers The Conrad Press on 1st March. I have returned to work on another novel. It’s like meeting old friends.

Janet Hancock’s debut novel, Beyond the Samovar, is published on 1st March by independent publisher The Conrad Press.