Monday, November 12, 2007

More on the Chichester Writing Festival

As I mentioned last week, I spent the past weekend at the Chichester Writing Festival. This was every bit as good as expected. There were some fascinating panel discussions, ranging from debates on the publishing industry to in-depth explorations of individual writers' creative processes (and perhaps the most hilarious discussion of cookery books imaginable...).

I had my own moment in the limelight when I outlined my own experiences with self-publication and being picked up by Macmillan New Writing. It was strange to go from working in utter obscurity to a situation where my own experiences were not only of interest, but in some cases inspirational, to others. If there is a lesson in all this, it's that persistence pays -- not just in the business of keeping writing, but in always looking for new ways to learn and improve. It's one thing (and very praiseworthy) to keep writing year after year, but without applying some kind of analytical process to what's coming out of the sausage machine, sustained improvement is unlikely. I certainly see it as more than coincidence that The Dog of the North was successful in finding a publisher immediately after I'd been on Greg Mosse's course at West Dean last year: there is always someone with something to teach you, and I was lucky enough to encounter Greg at the right time.

Gratifying as my own minor celebrity proved to be, the Festival was really about the views of writers with sustained records of success. There were enough different approaches to writing on display to dispel any notions of there being a "magic bullet" secret for success. All of these professional writers had evolved methods which worked for them, but those approaches had nothing in common beyond a willingness to put in the hours. As writers we all have to find out our own methods.

There was something of interest in all of the participants' views, and all were generous with their time and expertise. It's unfair to single out individuals, so I'll settle for commending William Broderick and Jason Goodwin because I've read and enjoyed their work as well as their panel contributions, and Rachel Holmes for writing the book I came away from the Festival most wanting to read (The Hottentot Venus, a biography of Saartjie Baartman). Particular thanks are due to Greg Mosse for marshalling proceedings with an unobtrusive and good-humoured efficiency, and Kate Mosse for continuing to show writers of all abilities how to deal with success with grace and humility (let's hope this particular piece of knowledge comes in useful...).

On top of that, I got to make some new friends. I'm looking forward to next year already.

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