On Saturday 18th May, I had the pleasure of attending the Newcastle Writing Conference, at Live Theatre. This is the second time I’ve been to this conference (I last attended three years ago), and I can honestly say that both have been very different and I’ve learned new things at each one.
The venue was exceedingly pleasant, providing multi-level space for the many different group sessions and one-to-one meetings held throughout the day. However, we all began our day in the fabulous and intimate auditorium.
The conference structure and sessions
After the welcome speech by Claire Malcolm, Chief executive of New writing North, and Michael Green, Professor of English and Creative Writing at Northumbria University, the Keynote speech was delivered by poet Tony Walsh, who described his journey to publication. The overall theme of the day was ‘working class writers’, and this is where Tony focused his energies. It was easy to see why he is so acclaimed. By the end of his speech, his poetry had filled me with goosebumps and reduced me to tears. What a fabulous, inspiring way to begin the day!
There were three main breakout sessions, and a choice for each one, so every writer could find something which suited their needs and level of expertise.
Session 1 gave us a choice of perfecting your elevator pitch, the mighty power of the small press, reflective writing, and what to do if and when you get a rejection. Because I am a real advocate of small, independent presses and magazines (online and in print), I plumped for this session. Both Debbie Taylor of Mslexia and Sophie O’Neill on Inpress were present to discuss how useful it is for authors, especially those starting out, to submit to the small presses. It forges a self-perpetuating cycle, one which gives exposure to authors and allows them to gain confidence in their own writing, and keeps alive the indie presses through subscriptions by readers, many of whom are also writers or publishers.
Session 2 had choices of ‘the novel inside you’, developing a professional profile, finding a peer support network, and a discussion about working class writers. I opted for the session on peer support networking which was facilitated by Sophie Hall-Luke, writer and founder of The Table writing community. For an introvert like me, this was really beneficial. While the session itself was structured to accommodate ideas for developing writers’ networks and this was useful in its own right, this close-knit tasking initiated conversations which led to like-minded writers finding one another.
Session 3, once again, had four options: pitching in practice, the writer’s plan, the novel inside you (a repeat of the earlier session), and how to edit your work. The notion of a writer’s plan really appealed to me, so I attended the session hosted by Carmen Marcus. In keeping with the overall theme of working class writers for New Writing North that particular week, it very much focused on how working class writers can create a plan for themselves, firstly by giving themselves permission to write and then by forging that time and remembering that it is a priority for the writer’s own wellbeing. I think the idea of giving oneself permission to devote time to writing is one which a lot of writers struggle with; often so many other things in life seem much more important than our desire to write. Being reminded that writing is important to us and giving ourselves the time and scope to do it is something many of us need. Carmen is creating The writer’s Plan on her blog, which you can find here.
The day ended with a discussion between Sara Collins, author of The Confessions of Frannie Langton and Stacey Halls, author of The Familiars, who talked about their journey to publication with their debut novels. It was a very candid and often amusing session, setting the tone for the feel-good factor I think we were all left with by the end of the day.
Why I recommend going to writers’ conferences
I love going to conferences about writing and publishing because, no matter what they are, I always learn something – and often a great deal – that I didn’t know and that I can consider and implement once I return home.
Attending conferences for writers isn’t all about the knowledge you gain from the sessions. Sometimes it’s also about the people you meet, and the alliances and friendships that are seeded at such events. I had the good fortune to meet some lovely writers, right from the moment I got off the train. Here I will mention the lovely Janet Dean Knight, author of The Peacemaker, whom I met outside the station and with whom I spent various parts of the day, and the equally lovely Matthew Smalley, author of The Song of the Butcher Bird, with whom I spent an interesting part of the afternoon discussing the intricacies of independent publishing. The reason I know who they are is because I have their postcards and leaflets. Tip: make sure you take some kind of business card or promotional material with you, or no one can email you after the conference is over.
If you are a writer at any stage of your development, I would encourage you to find an event and go along. You never know what you will learn or who you will meet, and chances are you will leave with a notebook brimming with ideas.