Wilkie Martin - Some Background to Books and Writing

Monday, 19 April 2010

Ducks, Geese and Writing

The Festival of Writing (#festivalwriting) happened at York University over the weekend of 9 -11 April 2010 and I was there. So were about four hundred other writers, literary agents, publishers and book doctors. I think this was the first event of its kind in the UK but plans are underway for next year. I went there to learn from published authors, for a couple of one to one sessions with agents, to find out about the publishing industry and to meet people. I thought it might feel strange to be a student at University again, after a gap of thirty years, but it wasn't. I'm sure that was because nearly everyone I met had a similar interest. They were friendly, good fun, hard working, hard drinking and entertaining. Student accommodation has improved immensely since my time and I did miss the old squalor, degradation and misery but, then, I'm funny like that. The University grounds contain the largest plastic-bottomed lake in Europe and the noisiest, nosiest collection of ducks and geese.

The weekend was divided into keynote addresses, workshops, one-to-one meetings with agents and literary death matches. Best selling author Katie Fforde, a Stroudie, kicked off the event with a witty address built around her ten rules for writing success. Perhaps the most important one is to persevere; it took her eight years of hard writing to get published, which is not an unusually long time-scale.

Then there were workshops. I attended ones on creating a sense of place; the likelihood that Ebooks are the future of publishing; plotting; publishing and using the media to promote a book. These consolidated workshops and courses I'd done before and provided some valuable new insights. Claire Siemaszkiewicz's Ebooks workshop was particularly insightful. In addition she brought some sample e-readers, which have come a long way since I first saw one. I was surprised that this workshop wasn't better attended, though I suspect some were put off by Claire being an erotic fiction publisher. They missed out on a very informative session. Her surname should be borne in mind, if only for use in the new version of Scrabble.

I had one-on-one sessions with a literary agent and a talent scout. Though neither said (as I'd hoped in my more optimistic moments) that my novel was the best they'd ever read, they provided insightful criticisms that I think will enable me to get it right in the end. They certainly provided the impetus to rewrite the first chapter as soon as I got back.

On Saturday evening we enjoyed a gala dinner, followed by the Literary Death Match! In this a selection of established and unpublished authors read and performed pieces of their work in an effort to win over the audience and judges. This was great fun, with the unpublished writers holding their own rather well. The popular vote went to Adele Geras for her moving episode based on the sack of Troy but Mary Flood, unpublished as yet, won the judges' vote. From the also reads, Veronica Henry's erotic story was hilarious, as was Toby Frost's bizarre fantasy (from an excellent book - which I am now reading The Wrath of the Lemming Men http://bit.ly/9sa9HB). I also loved John Taylor's moving and evocative piece.

Roger Ellory provided the Festival's finale. His was a funny but revealing address. He referred to a poll that suggested that being a writer is the second most desired profession, after Premier League footballer. For those believing it to be a romantic and lucrative profession, he provided some thought provoking figures: 80% of books published in the UK sell fewer than 500 copies; the average published author can expect to make £7000 a year; only 2% of published books published can be classed as 'best sellers. If you're going into writing to make lots of money, then you may be disappointed. However, if you write because it is a passion then you have a chance of success. He, like Katie, stressed the importance of persistence.

When I got home I was exhausted and my head was still spinning. I'd learned a lot, been entertained and met some fabulous people. Looking back, there were other workshops that I would have liked to attend, had time permitted. Maybe next year.

Thanks to the Writers' Workshop for hosting it.

Workshop Notes

Workshop notes http://www.festivalofwriting.com/notes2010.html

Other blogs and comments on the festival:

WritersCircle – York Festival of Writing Report http://www.mywriterscircle.com/index.php?topic=27232.0

Butterfly in flames – Festival of Writing 2010, York http://www.butterflyinflames.net/Site/Butterfly%20in%20Flames%20Studio%20Blog/3D5E7F3C-345A-45EB-AA68-51D85E6F5D38.html

Matt Hoilton – There and back again.. or a Day at York http://matthiltonbooks.blogspot.com/2010/04/there-and-back-againor-day-at-york.html

Jane Lovering – Getting Snappy http://janelovering.blogspot.com/2010/04/getting-snappy.html

Verity Ferrel – York Festival of Writing April 2010 http://verityfarrell1.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/york-festival-of-writing-april-2010/

Miranda Dickinson - Gives Us another view of The York Festival of Writing

Davina Pearson - The festival of Writing – Wow http://www.davinapearson.com/component/content/article/1-blog/45-the-festival-of-writing-wow

The Word Cloud Event – Festival of Writing http://www.thewordcloud.org/events/profile/66

The Word Cloud Forum – Festival of Writing

Authonomy Hisghlights from Festival of Writing http://blog.authonomy.com/2010/04/highlights-from-festival-of-writing.html

The Elephant in the Writing Room – York Festival of Writing: how was it for you? http://theelephantinthewritingroom.blogspot.com/2010/04/york-festival-of-writing-how-was-it-for.html

Debbie Alper – York wrapped up http://debialper.blogspot.com/2010_04_01_archive.html

Julie Cohen – The Festival of Writing in York

Emma Darwin Ducks, dreams and cross-channel ferries: the York Festival of Writing http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2010/04/ducks-dreams-and-crosschannel-ferries-the-york-festival-of-writing.html

Sue Moorcroft Tell us about the York festival of Writing 2010 http://romanticnovelistsassociationblog.blogspot.com/2010/04/sue-moorcroft-tells-us-about-york.html

Penny Legg – The York festival of Writing

Linda Jones – A wonderful weekend at the York Festival of Writing http://www.gotyourhandsfull.com/2010/04/a-wonderful-weekend-at-the-york-festival-of-writing.html

Penny Grubb – First Festival of Writing http://pennygrubb.blogspot.com/2010/04/first-york-festival-of-writing.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

Strictly Writing – Diary of 2010 Festival of Writing

Liz Fenwick – the York Festival of Writing http://lizfenwick.blogspot.com/2010/04/york-festival-of-writing.html

Cath Bore – Crime Doesn’t Pay http://cathbore.wordpress.com/

Cath Bore – What Katie said to do next… http://cathbore.wordpress.com/

Davina Pearson – Revisions and Conferences http://www.davinapearson.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=44

Friday, 29 January 2010

All in the Same Boat - why I wrote a fairy tale

Authonomy.com announced a competition, run by Harper-Collins and Act on CO2, to write a short story or fairytale to help educate people about climate change and encouraging them to take responsibility and to make changes in their lives that reduce their carbon footprint. It felt right that I should attempt a fairy tale, especially as as friend of mine has been writing one (on a different subject) and as I received a copy of Grimm's fairy tales for Christmas. The language, imagery, blood-thirstiness and general insanity of the stories appealed. So I set out with a tale of Rat, Mouse and Gerbil adrift in a lifeboat. Rat's greed, arrogance, violence and thoughtlessness causes disaster. It was great fun to write an allegory and I hope the tale will appeal to adults and children and, most especially, the judges. I read it out at Writers in the Brewery and the response was promising.


  1. Authonomy.com is a website run by Harper-Collins for writers to load their books (partial or complete) and comment on the work of others, with a chance of the book being reviewed by Harper-Collins editors.
  2. The chapters (or entries) for Act on CO2 can be seen by looking at that book on their website (you do not have to be a member on authonomy.com to look).
  3. Writers in the Brewery is a monthly meeting at the Brewery Arts Centre in Cirencester where, in addition to there being a guest speaker, local writers have the chance to read their work.
PS. Authonomy.com is no longer active.