Luck, perseverance and dandelion fairies…

Rebecca Tinnelly 1This month’s blog comes from Festival attendee Rebecca Tinnelly.

I am pretty lucky, certainly in writing terms. I have an agent (which still makes me grin like a fool whenever I write it) and I’m currently planning my second novel whilst my agent (queue grin) edits the first. Not bad, eh?

But, would I be in this position without the Winchester Writers’ Festival? Probably not.

Let me explain.

I first attended Winchester (as the cool kids call it) in 2015, shy, nervous and still recovering from the confidence-eradicating curse of post-natal depression and PTSD. But I was here, I had done it, written that book I always said I would write, carrying aloft the manuscript of my first novel. This was going to be it. I was going to find an agent who saw my potential and everyone was going to fall in love with this wonderful book I had written…

Queue the biggest shock of my life. Because nobody signed me, nobody even asked to read the entire manuscript and I learned that the publishing industry is damn hard to crack.

But what I got instead was so, so much better. I wasn’t given luck; I was given the foundations of a career. I discovered the groundings of good writing, teachers who were enthusiastic and wanted me to succeed, I made great friends and I learnt so much about the industry as a whole that my prospects sky rocketed.

I met Simon Hall, the teacher who became my mentor who thus became a good friend. I can’t recommend his writing course enough; it changed my perception of writing, gave me the confidence and the tools to write to my best ability. He’s still my first port of call on all writing problems and, if there are any places left on his course, do grab one with both hands. Just don’t panic too much if he throws chairs against the wall or breathes on your neck whilst your eyes are closed.

I digress.

This year I returned to Winchester for the second time. Same book, completely rewritten (for the twelfth time) and I possessed not just confidence but a sense of reality. I kept an open mind. I came to learn, to seek advice on improving my craft, I accepted any criticism offered with open arms, only wincing very slightly when it was negative. And guess what? It paid off. In bucket loads.

The woman who could barely leave her house three years before stood up before a crowd of people and read her own work (That’s me.)

Rebecca Tinnelly 2

Largely helped by Kate Firth’s incredible performance workshop and Simon Hall egging me on to get up there and bloody well do it. (And if you’re planning on reading at the open mic – do! I recommend memorising as much of your piece as possible, it really does help you connect with your audience.)

I didn’t technically find my agent at Winchester, but I definitely found her because of Winchester. After the festival I rewrote the manuscript again and sent it off to a select few of the agents I had wanted to see at the festival but hadn’t been matched with for one-to-one appointments.

Four agents asked to see the book.

The next day I caught one of those dandelion fairies, the kind that you hold in the palm of your hand and make a wish. I wished for Kate Burke.

Was it the dandelion fairy? Or was it, perhaps, the vast amount of knowledge and experience I gained from Winchester that helped me out? Because guess what… Kate Burke at Diane Banks Associates signed me up. And I haven’t stopped grinning since, because she is awesome.

As, of course, is the Winchester Writer’s Festival.

Rebecca Tinnelly is most interested in writing about the darker side of society and family life, no doubt fuelled by the stories she was told by her stepmother, a consultant pathologist. After seven years in sales and marketing, most recently selling coffins, she waved goodbye to the office and now spends her time writing psychological suspense and, when not writing, bakes the odd cake or two.


Twitter: @rebeccatinnelly


The rhythms of writing

This month’s guest post comes from writer and journalist Simon Hall. Simon has had seven novels published, as well as short stories, a play and even a pantomime. Simon also teaches writing, including at the Winchester Writers Festival, and mentors authors towards publication.

How many times have you been told you need to know your characters, plot and settings intimately to write about them convincingly?

But what about knowing yourself?

To be a successful writer you have to understand the writing rhythms within you, and find a way to build them into your life.

We’ve all heard about the divide between morning and evening people, larks and owls. And that’s a useful place to start.

When I first decided to start writing, around ten years ago, I had to change my life. I’ve always known I was a morning person and I needed to capitalise on that. It’s when my mind is fresh, clear and amenable to sparking with creativity.

I used to go to bed around 10.30, then get up (grumpily) with the alarm.

No longer. Now I’m usually in bed around nine, waking up soon after five, and quickly writing away.

And do you know what surprised me? Despite many initial misgivings, getting up at that time doesn’t feel like a chore. Because I wake with a mind full of ideas and enthusiasm, and can’t wait to get them all down on paper.

For me it’s worked wonderfully, and now I couldn’t imagine life any other way.

But your writing rhythm isn’t as straightforward as simply when you’re at the most creative.

Mind and body work best in tandem, and that takes managing.

As a writer, you can tire your brain with little physical effort. So here’s my next writing rhythms trick, to prod the sacred pairing back into synch.

I know I can only write for around three hours at a stretch before my mind is too jaded to produce anything I’d ever want anyone to see.

So about 8.30, I take myself out for a run.

I’m lucky in that I live on the river in Exeter, meaning a wonderful route is within easy reach.

But I’d recommend finding somewhere you like to unwind and get some exercise, because while your body is working…

…your mind is recharging itself. I find that give yourself an hour’s exercise, and voila!

Your creativity is rested and refreshed, your body is relaxed, and you can settle back down for some more writing.

And one more matter to mention on the rhythms of writing –

Give yourself a break!

I build in a day every week – usually a Sunday – when I don’t do any actual writing. I’m happy to carry a notepad and jot down any thoughts that come to me.

But I find a day off from actually typing away is powerful in recharging the writing energy. So come Monday morning, when you sit back down at the keyboard, you’re filled with the zest to start work again.

In the perfect rhythm you’ve come to discover about yourself, of course…

Our grateful thanks to Simon for contributing this post.


Your character’s shopping list


This morning I dropped by my local corner shop and bought: a tin of dog food, two first class stamps and a chicken samosa.

The man serving me smiled. ‘Peckish?’ he asked. I hope he was referring to the samosa.

Shopping lists, shopping receipts… the things we mean to buy and the things we end up buying are hugely suggestive. Who doesn’t cast their eye over someone else’s scribbled reminders for ‘carpet stain remover’ and ‘bananas – very ripe’ or a recent favourite, ‘eggs, bathroom unblocker, Pims’, dropped on the zebra crossing in the car park at the Winchester branch of Sainsburys?

It puts me in mind of a wonderful poem written by a writing-group friend recently. If I say it was, essentially, a shopping list, I am doing a disservice to its playfulness, its cadences and rhythms.

I am always on the look-out for interesting writing exercises to inspire attendees who visit the Festival’s Writing Room on Saturday 18th June. So, this year, come and find a shopping list, or a receipt, and create a character based on what you imagine they are doing and thinking as they chew their pencil or wander along the aisles. All the lists and receipts will be ‘found’ and genuine – nothing made up. So if you happen to come across an interesting list or find yourself buying some intriguing items and saving the itemised receipt, do send them to me at Winchester Writers’ Festival, Masters Lodge, University of Winchester, Sparkford Road, Winchester SO22 4NR.

Who knows what a fellow writer’s imagination will make of it!

This year the Writers’ Room will be set up in St Edburga room 303. If you are attending the Festival on Saturday 18th June, do drop by for a quiet place to write or have a go at one of the writing prompts you’ll find there.

Judith Heneghan


The job of the agent and how to submit

Hayes.Josephine.2016Josephine Hayes, Junior Agent at The Blair Partnership, discusses the job of the agent and how to stand out from the crowd with your submission.

I always knew I wanted to work in publishing, having been an avid reader and book-lover my entire life. My dream was to be an editor of riveting commercial adult fiction. After graduating from university with a fairly open-ended history degree and spending a year in the editorial department of a medical journal I got a job as an assistant in a literary agency and have never looked back.

Agents have very varied workloads. On any one day we may be reading and feeding back on a client’s new book idea, writing pitches for books to submit to publishers, negotiating terms of a client’s publishing agreement, checking royalty statements, attending book launches, and thinking about how to maximise client’s IP potential. A key task is to find brilliant new authors. This can be done proactively by researching current trends and interesting potential non-fiction project ideas. It’s very helpful for a non-fiction author to have some authority already, a profile and/or marketability to support a potential book.

A better-known, but more reactive, method is to scour the unsolicited submissions that are sent to the agency daily. Submissions go into what’s endearingly known as the “slush” pile. Making unsolicited submissions to agencies is what authors have most control over and it is well-worth getting your submission spot on in order to make it stand out from the crowd.

Write something every day, even if you don’t really want to. You can always revise it later.

With fiction the writing is the most important aspect – you need to take time to polish and hone your style, and to show the development of the story and the growth of the characters through action and dialogue, rather than simply telling the story.

Be different – as much as it is good to write about what you know, be unique with your subject matter and/or plot to stay ahead of what publishers think they are looking for.

It is useful to take note of the market by looking at bestseller lists to see what is popular. However, readers’ and publishers’ tastes change in the time it takes to publish a book (it can take up to two years between signing a publishing deal and the book being available to buy). Also, too much writing in one area leads to oversaturation of the market. As it is nearly impossible to guess what will be the genre-of-the-moment in 18-24 months, aim not to follow the trends, but break the moulds instead!

Do your research.

Read everything out there that is similar to the style you want to write in, the topic you are covering, and the age range you intend to write for. Read bestsellers generally to understand what makes people buy them.

Be open to feedback and suggestions.

 Before sending to an agency, ask someone objective – not a close friend or family member – to read your work and provide honest feedback. Also, ask yourself:

  • Is your book 100% ready? Does it have a clear beginning middle and end?
  • Whose story is it?
  • What is the issue or problem that needs to be overcome?
  • How do the character(s) overcome the issue?

Be selective.

Fully research the agencies you want to approach and make sure they represent your genre of writing. Also:

  • Research exactly who at the agency will be most interested in reading your submission and address it to them
  • Sell yourself as much as the story idea
  • Mention anything that you have had published before
  • Reveal all twists and turns of plot in a one-page synopsis
  • Make the sample of writing you send as strong and engaging as possible.

Be passionate.

The most important thing is to love what you do. When you eventually get that book deal your passion will shine out through your writing, your agent and your publisher.

Josephine Hayes, Junior Agent at The Blair Partnership


Dare to enter!

The Festival’s eleven writing competitions are now open for entries. It’s an exciting time for us in the office, wondering about the magic soon to land in our submissions box.  Every single entry represents the writer’s brave leap, sending new work out into the world to have it read, critiqued and judged.

If I had my way, the act of pressing ‘send’ would trigger a round of applause, along with champagne, flowers and a mini-break to somewhere warm and sunny. However, if the mere thought of submission brings you out in a cold sweat, here are a few nudges…

Hone your craft

Don’t save competitions for the ‘main event’, ie when your novel is finished, or when your screenplay is complete. Many writing competitions involve submitting shorter pieces – a poem, a short story or a themed piece.  They are like writing exercises – they stretch unfamiliar muscles and keep us in training. Use them as an opportunity to practise and hone your writing skills.

Step outside your comfort zone

Never tried flash fiction? How about writing crime?  Could you pitch a TV drama?  Competitions are a great way to experiment and try something new.  Invent. Play. Challenge yourself!

Gain vital feedback

Many (not all) of the Festival competitions offer the opportunity to gain written feedback on every submission. The adjudicators are highly experienced, and their feedback, while one person’s opinion, is considered, constructive, informed and impartial. Learn from it. Write better.  Every writer needs this!

Get noticed

What if you are shortlisted? What if you win? Yikes – now you have something to shout about.  Put it in your query letter or your writing CV.  Add it to your Twitter by-line.  Editors and agents take notice of competition success. Also bear in mind that many of the Festival competition prizes are designed to further your writing, either by providing consultations with agents and editors, or via courses and pitching events.

So go on, dare to leap and enter a competition. Who knows where it will lead you?


For full details of all eleven Festival Writing Competitions, including our brand new ‘Skylark Soaring Stories’ competition for writers of middle grade and YA fiction, sponsored and judged by Skylark Literary, see our Competitions page.

Report on the first Writing Workout

Winchester Writers’ Festival Writing Workout

On 14 November, 30 keen creative writers gathered at the University to flex their writing muscles at a day-long Writing Workout. Six sessions led by experienced tutors allowed participants to exercise their imagination and extend their skills, fuelled by plentiful supplies of coffee and cake. Each 45-minute session focused on a particular aspect such as developing character, investigating setting, creating drama, intensifying language and writing strong dialogue.

Writing Workout 2015

Writing Workout 2015

The day was suitable for beginners as well as more established writers, working in any form or genre. The tutors included University of Winchester lecturers and writers Judith Heneghan, Judy Waite and Dr Julian Stannard, along with guest Shelley Harris, author of Jubilee (shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize, a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime and a Richard and Judy Summer Book Club selection) and the recently published Vigilante.

Shelley Harris

Shelley Harris

Attendees responded to each session with commitment and enthusiasm. As one participant commented, ‘What I learned will be a great help in my writing and already I am looking at how I write in a different and more positive way.’ The Workout was fully booked, and Festival Director Judith Heneghan says ‘We’ll be planning similar days in the future.  It’s wonderful to be able to welcome writers to the University to experience what we do, gain inspiration and access techniques to sustain them through the often isolating experience of crafting new work.’

Who needs a writing workout?


Can it be three months already since the Writers’ Festival in June? I’ve moved house in the interim, waved my third child off to university and welcomed my first child home again while he hunts down a job. A degraded BT cable has left me without a landline in a village with no 3G, and the lack of connectivity has been ‘interesting’, to put it politely. Yet it has brought an unexpected benefit. Without access to email or Google or Twitter I’ve had more space to write.

Back in July, my aim was to write 50,000 words – the second half of a first draft of a novel. Wishful thinking, clearly, but I’ve managed a few chapters, and it would have been considerably less if I’d plugged in and logged on. My ‘golden time’ for writing comes between 7 and 9am every morning, while my mind is still fresh and I’ve not yet succumbed to the distractions of the day. Of course, by the time the teenagers have roused themselves I am haring around Hampshire in pursuit of a signal, but, for my ‘golden time’ at least, I’ve laid some words across a page.

Nevertheless, every writer has to push through the times when BT doesn’t – so very helpfully – remove the obstacles to creativity: when life gets in the way, or when we just don’t feel like writing and no idea seems fresh.

With this in mind, here at the Winchester Writers’ Festival we’ve devised a day in darkest November for writers to exercise their writing muscles. Do join us for our ‘Writing Workout’ on Saturday 14th November, 10am-4.30pm at the University of Winchester. The concept is simple: six sessions run by experienced tutors, each lasting 45 minutes, with plenty of coffee and tea in between.

Each session will centre on a guided writing exercise, using creative prompts and pathways to blow away the cobwebs, stimulate new ideas and lay those words across the page. You’ll be writing, no question, and it will be intense, but there will be a few minutes to share ideas at the end of each session.

For more information, and how to book, see our ‘news and events’ page or contact Sara Gangai on 01962 826367 or email The cost is £50. Bring your own lunch or eat in one of the campus cafes and don’t forget something to write with.

Oh, and we’ve even got WiFi. But don’t let that distract you…

Judith H

Creative Thinking

i_0__f_winchester%20membership%20provider_Judy_Waite_LThumbThis month’s guest post is by Judy Waite, award-winning author of over 40 titles ranging from picture books to Young Adult and crossover novels. She is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester and specialises in creative workshops for all ages, with a focus on immersive and interactive experiences.  Judy is bringing her one-hour workshop, ‘Lost Stories’, to this year’s Festival on Saturday 20 June.

I’ve had four ideas already today. Well, not so much ideas, but potential first lines for novels. I often think in that ‘first line’ way. If you speak to me (in real life) I may find myself catching part of your conversation. Or a detail about the way you move. What you’re wearing. Forgive me if I suddenly hurry away, rooting through my bottomless pit of a bag for pen and paper. It really was something you said.

These are my today ‘beginnings’:

I can’t leave my house … not anymore.

 In my head I heard a picture.

 Imagine moonshine, in a jar.

 The dogs were bizarre, and beautiful.

OK, maybe not punch-you-between-the-eyes genius, but with each one I can feel the story hanging off the end of it. Teetering. If I dived in off one of those first lines, I sort of know where I would swim.

But then … which one is it worth getting wet for?

I might prefer one to the other but is the preferred one commercial enough? Do I care about it being commercial? Surely, the best place to write from is from the heart. The soul. At least I get to enjoy it then. But then again, what’s the point in writing something no one else would want to read? It might take me two years, pouring words down a black hole. My heart and soul down there, a dusting of earth already covering them over.

Too many ideas can cause as many blocks as no ideas at all. The head buzzes with flies around the honey pot of imagination. In the end, sometimes, it’s easier to do nothing. A thousand stories left unwritten.

I know this isn’t just my dilemma – I hear it from all sorts of students, of all sorts of ages. ‘Which idea shall I choose?’

They want a magic answer. Of course they do. I want one too.

But even if there was to be that starry explosion of sudden certainty, the idea is only part of it. Some of the most trivial-sounding ideas can make an astonishing story if the ‘voice’ is right. Some dazzling possibilities sound great coming out the creator’s mouth, or as a punchy plot – but then somehow they die on the page. The language is too rich, or too sparse. It doesn’t build. It doesn’t go anywhere.

So let’s take the premise that to some extent, it doesn’t matter which of my four beginnings I choose, as long as I can work on them and take them somewhere else.

So I’ll choose one randomly. Dispense with the dilemma. I will lean on fate and faith. I write them on scraps of paper. Fold them up, juggle them like dice in my palm, then, eyes closed, I pick one out.

In my head, I heard a picture …

Not the one I wanted – in truth, probably the one that felt the least promising. But a little brainstorming is a wonderful thing.

An artist?              Psychic?                    Crime

SECRETS              Locked room              Castle              Deserted beach

Scraps of paper to the ready again, eyes closed. I give myself some rules and, as in all good fairy-tales, I’m allowed to choose three.

I pick out:     artist               SECRETS             Deserted beach

I do the same again with character. Boy  Girl  Man  Woman

I pick out: Boy

Still laying all my trust in fate and faith, and without a backward glance at the other options I scribble down a rough outline – where might I go with this? It comes through faster than I’d expected.

I have a boy – someone who has been in trouble a lot at school and who struggles with verbal communication, but is brilliant at art. Only he paints places from memory, and paints them perfectly, in every detail. One day a young woman goes for a walk along the beach and never comes back. Amidst the inevitable media clamour, my boy paints the beach, and adds in a detail which has never been discussed on the news. His step-father, with whom he has a fraught relationship, sees the painting and recognises it as the area that has been so recently in the news. He contacts the police, and explains about the detail. My boy isn’t great at communicating, and he is unable to explain where he himself was, at the time the woman disappeared.

Weird that lots of the other things are connecting too, but that’s imagination for you. Imagination is where the magic is. And now, with my faith in fate, I’m ready to go…

Of course, if you’re not a ‘first line’ magpie like me, there are plenty of other ways to experiment with this. Try working with random lines from existing novels. Snatches of conversation. Newspaper headlines. Even seemingly mundane notices and street signs can trigger a whole story. Danger. Do Not Enter. Beware Children.

But maybe these are worthy of a whole other blog – and a whole different story.




From block to flow

This week’s post comes from Bridget Holding, founder of Wild Words. Bridget is speaking at this year’s Festival on Saturday 20 June on the subject of ‘Tracking Down the Instinctual Writer’.

Bridget Holding

Bridget Holding

Writer’s block is the inability to produce new work. It comes in many shades, from abandoning a writing career because we’ve dried up, to just feeling that our writing doesn’t do what we want it to do.  Most writers suffer from some form of it at some point in their writing careers.

In fact, we are all naturally great writers. Human beings are born storytellers. We do it all the time. Our jokes fall out of our mouths neatly organised into the three-act structure. The stories we tell in the pub emerge fully formed, and engage our audiences without effort. So, how is it that somehow, when we choose to become ‘A WRITER’, and sit down in front of that blank page, we can get stuck, and lose touch with our innate ability to tell good stories?

The problem is that our thinking minds get in the way of the natural flow. They worry. They overanalyse. They replay fears over and over, magnifying them. The presence of fear leads us to distance from aspects of our experience. This is reflected on the page. Here, our inability to immerse ourselves in our writing, leads to the reader also feeling disconnected from our work.

Usually we address writer’s block by trying to isolate the problems on the page. We learn writing techniques. We then use our newfound knowledge to fix our writing at the second, third, or tenth draft stage. Sometimes it works.

However, this approach is a quick fix. It’s like putting a sticking plaster on a cut. The source of the problems has not been identified or dealt with. As a result, our writing does not improve sustainably.

I would suggest that using the cause of the problem- the thinking mind- to solve the problem, doesn’t make a great deal of sense. A more radical approach is needed. This approach begins with the body.

Image courtesy of Garth Bowden

Image courtesy of Garth Bowden

Our embodied experience is the starting point for freeing up block, and coming back to a ‘natural state’ of writing, one of flow, creativity and ease. Our workshops are called ‘Wild Words’ because, in the wild animal, the body and mind work as one unit. This enables the animal to thrive, and achieve its aims. This is what we must aim to do as writers. We can learn to make good contact with our senses, body sensations, and emotions, and allow them to inform our writing actions. We can retrain the thinking mind to support and contain, rather than taking over. Only then can we truly unwind creative block, and find creative flow.

When we work from an embodied place, fears ease. Our contact with all aspects of our experience is reflected in our ability to put aliveness and power on to the page, and the reader’s ability to make a connection with our narrator or characters.

Writing Prompt

Think for a moment about the word ‘block’. ‘Block’ is a metaphor that has its origins, (like most metaphors) in our embodied physical experience. How do you experience writer’s block in your body- as constriction, or tension, or hardness perhaps? Where in your body (if anywhere) do you feel it? Can you visualise it? If so, what does it look like?

Now, think about the word ‘flow’. Again, where do you experience flow in your body?  How would you describe the qualities of it? Can you visualise it? If so, what does it look like?

Move your attention precisely but gently between the place in your body where you feel block, and the one where you feel flow. Touch into one polarity, before shifting to the other. By pendulating back and forth between the block and the flow in this way you should notice the block gradually start to unwind, or ease.

Bridget Holding supports writers to ‘re-find their instinctual writer’ through her company Wild Words. She has a private psychotherapy practice in the South of France where she lives, as well as seeing clients via Skype. Contact:


Twitter for writers

This month’s post comes from Claire Fuller. Claire’s debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, is published by Fig Tree/Penguin on 26th February. She will be appearing with her editor, Juliet Annan, at the Festival on Saturday 21st June.

Claire Fuller Colour

I often come across online discussions about whether publishers are only interested in authors who have a social media presence. Will an editor only buy my book if I have x thousand followers on Instagram, or twice that on Twitter?

The short answer is that it doesn’t matter. Publishers buy books  they like (it’s a personal business) and ones they can sell (to their colleagues, and to readers). My own experience was that the number of Twitter followers I have was simply an added bonus when it came to Penguin considering whether to make an offer for my novel.

Probably because we’ve all got our laptops open and we’re all very easily distracted, the writing community on Twitter is enormous and also incredibly supportive, and I would encourage all writers, whether beginners or published to embrace Twitter. But join for yourself and not to catch the eye of a potential publisher.

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

I’m not going to give you a general Twitter overview (if you’re a beginner you can find one at, but I am going to give you some specific tips about using Twitter if you’re a writer.

1. If you haven’t joined yet, think carefully about your user name. I’m @ClaireFuller2, because ClaireFuller was already taken. But having the number two after my name isn’t ideal – it’s harder to find me and it sounds like I might always be second! @Claire_Fuller or even @ClaireFullerWriter would have been better. But it’s too late to change it now.

2. Engage, don’t sell (well, not too much). Twitter is about connecting with other people – having conversations. Comment and connect with other writers, retweet their tweets and congratulate them when something has gone well, and hopefully they’ll do the same for you. For every six (or so) of my tweets, five will be general chat, promoting other writers (retweeting their tweets), tweeting about relevant writing blog posts, or books I’m reading, and one might be about my own work.

3. Use and search for some writer hashtags (just type the word with the hashtag in front into the Twitter search field to see all tweets containing that hashtag). Here are just a few examples:

    • #FridayReads – what are you reading on a Friday?
    • #AskAgent – open Q&A sessions with literary agents. Watch and read, or ask a question.
    • #WritingContests – writing competitions
    • #1k1hr or #wordsprint or #wordrace – write at the same time as other writers around the world (good for getting a lot of words down in one go without editing)
    • #bookadayuk – a bookish list hosted by a different organisation each month
    • #myWANA – book and writing chat
    • #PitMad – when you’re ready to pitch your manuscript to agents you can do it on Twitter. For more information, including dates for 2015 see
    • And any number of genre hashtags including #suspense #YA #WomensFiction #Horror #UrbanFantasy

So, have I convinced you? I hope so. See you on Twitter soon.