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.
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.
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.
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.
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!