Thursday, 3 July 2014

Network News: Winchester Writers’ Festival

We're lucky in the South to be so handy for the increasingly popular Winchester Writers’ Festival, now in its 34th year.

Charlotte Comley went along and collected some great festival tips. Can't wait until June next year to try these out? Our own SCBWI Conference, also at Winchester University, is in November. Over to Charlotte...


The Winchester Writers’ Festival consists of three days of inspiration, networking and learning for new and emerging writers working in all genres and for all audiences.
Delegates can choose from a wide range of day-long workshops and short talks.
Each year the Winchester Writers’ Festival offers around 800 individual one--to-one appointments for delegates wanting to speak to literary agents, commissioning editors and award-winning authors.
Last year unpublished writer Jenny McLachlan met literary agent Julia Churchill at the Festival.
This year Jenny McLachlan returned to launch her first YA novel, Flirty Dancing, published by Bloomsbury. This year too, the festival announced the inaugural Festival Scholarship Scheme, with 10 free places for writers aged 18-25.

It's fun, supportive, challenging and intense!
So how do you make the most of your visit?

  1. Come with an open mind, ready to learn
  2. Prepare for your one-to-ones to get the most out of each meeting
  3. Bring a notebook for jotting down all those new ideas and vital contacts!

Ben Illis

Ben Illis is the founder of The BIA, a specialist literary agency representing writers of Children’s, Young Adult and potential crossover fiction. Before becoming an agent, Ben was an editor, a writer, a photographer, a bookseller, a publisher and even an actor. Ben has been around.

Ben’s top tips:

  1. If you do get an offer from an agent, take a breath despite the excitement and ask yourself ‘could I work with this person?’ It is important to have an agent you like and TRUST.
  2. If you do get an offer from a publisher and you don’t yet have an agent, let any who are still considering know, as it may speed up their decision-making. If all else fails, make sure you get someone to check the paperwork you are signing and don’t be afraid to question anything that looks fishy (never part with the copyright, for example, a publisher should license your work, not buy it outright). A good resource to consult for further advice is the Society of Authors
  3. One of the most important qualities in any writer is PATIENCE. It takes TIME: Time to write the book. Time to let it macerate in a drawer ahead of starting on draft 2 or 3 or 17. Time to secure an agent. Time to get the edit just right ahead of submitting. Time to get feedback – good or bad – from editors. Time to get through acquisitions. It’s a long, long process. Writers need to be able to manage their nail-biting and nerves. My advice: once your WIP is in the machine, find a new project (and if writing for kids, make it different, but aimed at the same target age group) to crack on with while the wheels of publishing turn at their own, maddeningly slow, pace.


Sallyanne Sweeney grew up in Dublin and studied English at Trinity College before completing an MPhil in American Literature at Queens' College, Cambridge. After graduating she joined Watson, Little Ltd, becoming a Literary Agent in 2008 and a Director of the company in 2011. She joined Mulcahy Associates in August 2013 and is building her list of fiction and non-fiction authors for children and adults, as well as a small number of picture book illustrators.

Sallyanne’s top tips:

  1. Go to your one-to-ones with the aim of finding out all you can to improve your work. If the agent or editor likes it, then that’s a bonus – but shouldn’t be your sole aim of the meeting. Agents rarely sign people up on the spot as they usually will want to read the complete manuscript first. If they ask you to send that, you're on the right track – though do read over it before sending, and incorporate edits discussed at your meeting.
  2. It can be useful to come to your one-to-one appointment with a question prepared. Is there something about your work that’s been troubling you, or do you have general questions about the publishing/submitting process? Make the most of your time!
  3. If you meet an agent in the toilet or at the bar, don’t go straight for the pitch (or slip your manuscript underneath the toilet door, as apparently happened to one agent…). This can be off-putting in an agent’s limited downtime – better to be friendly and personable and follow up with a query after the festival.


Bethany Neal
Bethany Neal has just finished a BA in Creative Writing at Winchester University. She attended the festival as a student volunteer and was proud to help the delegates. She is looking forward to writing something that is not an assignment over the summer, probably something in the form of a script.


Bethany’s top tips:
  1. The world is better with a smile. The site can be disorientating with weird room numbering, but there are lots of helpers in yellow tee shirts happy to show you around.
  2. Carry water, and keep hydrated during the day.
  3.  It can be a very busy day, dashing from one appointment to another. But try to be relaxed, and zen like about it. Don’t forget that you have come here to enjoy yourself.

Christopher Joyce, John T O’Halloran, Helen Christmas and Jeremy Kerr from the CHINDI group.

CHINDI is a network of independent authors living in and around Chichester in W. Sussex. We share ideas, expertise and contacts to reach as many readers as possible in a cost effective manner.

CHINDI organises events to promote our books and encourage more independent authors to follow their dreams and get writing.

CHINDI’s top tips:

  1. Winchester Writers’ Festival is a great place for independent authors to network and get great ideas.
  2. Don’t come with the expectation to be selling loads of your book.
  3. Lunch isn’t included for the people on the exhibition stands, but you can pay extra in advance. Lunch is an excellent opportunity to mingle with others.


Kay Blank and Sophie Ward have been regular volunteers at the Writers’ Festival.

Kay has been coming to the Conference now Festival for 7 years, at first as a delegate and the last 4 years as a helper. She's volunteers on the one to ones desk..

Kay’s top tips:

  1. Be prepared. Know what it is you want from your 15 minutes. Keep on topic and don't waste your minutes.
  2. Try and leave your emotions at the door and get your business head on. That way you can be more detached from your work and see it more as a business proposal.
  3. This my third but No 1 tip. It is just someone's opinion. That's all. That one person is not the whole literary world. Focus on the good they said. Look at the bad too as it can be very valuable but then move on.


Thank you Charlotte for gathering these very useful tips for any writing conference. 
#scbwicon bookings will be opening soon!




Charlotte Comley creative writing group organiser and now self employed writer of educational resources. Her fiction has been published by Ether Books, Darwin Evolutions, Flash Flood, Chuffed Books, and 1000 words. Non fiction work has appeared in magazines such as The Green Parent, Take a Break, Woman's Weekly, The Motion Online and Grow It. Charlotte Comley was one of the writers and script editors of Express FM Conway Street, a radio soap airing three times a week for eighteen months. She came highly commended at The Winchester's Writing Conference competition for children's fiction.  In 2012 she read at The Umbrella Festival at The Groundlings Theatre, came third place at Alton's Book Festival The Pint Pot of Fire, at Wordsouth Havant and of course in the Portsmouth Book Fest 20 x 12. She was short listed for the You, Me and Everyone project in Portsmouth and has won various poetry prizes at poetry Cafes.


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