I spent the weekend at West Dean college, taking part in the 4th Chichester Writing Festival. When I say "take part" I don't mean that I was on stage. Even if there was a programme with a panel of different authors it didn't feel like a stage - the whole room was a stage. The point of Chichester Writing Festival is that everyone who's there is welcome to take part in the discussions and debates. And everyone is a writer. It doesn't matter if you're a bestselling crime writer, a debut author or someone not yet published. As Lady Antonia Fraser said "I was a writer from the moment I learned to write."
The panel events were chaired by creative writing tutor Greg Mosse, and the evening events were chaired by his wife, the author Kate Mosse. I arrived back in Brighton last night with itchy fingers wanting to write, feeling inspired after hearing the stories of a dozen authors.
I learnt that Michael Morpurgo doesn't like to write - but he loves telling stories. I learnt that some agents are obsessed with characters and don't even bother to read the synopsis (Hannah Westland) and that some agents are more focused on plot (Lorella Belli). I learnt that Vicky Blunden from Myriad Editions works very closely with her authors during the editing process. I learnt that some authors need to rewrite a whole part (Ed Hillyer) whilst others only need to change a a paragraph (Isabel Ashdown). I learnt that Peter James spends a day a week with the police to gain material and inspiration for his novels. I learnt that Bidisha is fed up with talking about being published at 16. I learnt that some poets (Becky Swift) have no idea that their work is good.
For me the most interesting people were the ones from abroad: Bulgarian Nikolai Grozni (ex concert pianist and ex Buddhist monk) who tried to write a novel about his life, but turned it into an autobiographical memoir (writing in English (American) which is not his first language); Zornitsa Hristova - also Bulgarian - who translates English fiction into Bulgarian and Bulgarian fiction into English, and has developed a creative story game for children; and Jonina Leosdottir from Iceland who has written a coming-out trilogy for Young Adults partly set in Brighton, but not yet translated into English. Meeting these people gave me hope and courage to keep pursuing my career, writing in English.
Finally I learnt that most published writers are published because of a contact. Not always by knowing an agent or editor personally, but for example being married to a person who's already published or knowing someone who knows someone who knows someone ... The word networking came up several times over the weekend. Now I'm off to find the new contacts/possible friends I made on Facebook ...