I spent the day at Cambridge Uni on Saturday, talking about writing at the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize Festival. It was a fab way to start the year and I think we all left feeling motivated to write or take the next stage in trying to get published. If you are a writer (or might be one day) here are a few of my thoughts on why it was a good use of time and money:
Our main base for the day, Lucy Cavendish College.
1. Booking a day to spend only talking and thinking about writing makes you DO it. You can’t do work/childcare/tasks instead. It’s obvious, I know, but for me months can go by before I make a start on a project!
2. Spending time somewhere new is good for the mind. Lucy Cavendish College is beautiful, with gardens and a gorgeous library. I hadn’t heard of it before (or the famous prize) before twitter, so thanks social media. The college is home to women students over 21 and while based there, they study subjects all over Cambridge. But they have a strong literary background hence the prize and festival. Check out their website for all the info. I found the students and teachers I spoke to very welcoming and enthusiastic.
3. A day spent with talented, successful writers is ace and inspiring. I went to talks by Sophie Hannah, Allison Pearson, Laura Marshall and Lesley Sanderson – they were open and generous with their advice and full of practical tips. They talked about going on courses, getting rejected, inspiration, how they found agents, writing the second book, bearing grudges, helping friends with their writing, how titles get changed etc. I left knowing that it wasn’t easy but it WAS possible.
Past short-listed and winners of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize – impressive, huh!
4. It can be very difficult to meet industry professionals; they are busy and have paid work to do. But on Saturday we heard from leading agents and editors about what they look for, common mistakes and practical matters. I loved the straight-talking and was impressed by their patience when asked about amazon for the fifth time.
Tips I remember: They want to buy books so do pitch. Your book needs to be as ready as possible. A proposal/cover letter needs to get to the point and focus on what your book IS (not if your pal likes it, its better than JK Rowling etc). An agent will get your book in the door and make you money (you prob won’t on your own). I had a 1-2-1 with Katy Loftus, Editorial Director at Penguin Viking, who gave me tons of ideas in our short time; I wish I’d had more novel to give her – what an opportunity!
5. I met lots of people in the same position as me: they had an idea for a novel, or had written a novel and wanted advice on what to do next. We chatted on the stairs, waiting in the coffee queue, by the coats, before sessions. People were friendly and interesting, and all our ideas were different. There is a lot of potential out there and it will be interesting to see what flies.
6. I went to a workshop by top agent Nelle Andrew about characterisation and left with tips about the many ways to create a character, and how they are key to how a book will stay with a reader. Good, practical advice.
It was an interesting and enjoyable day in itself; the college was beautiful and the people great to spend time with. But I also left feeling motivated to write. I have a deadline and a goal. And as Sophie Hannah said “Why not you?”.
Courses cost money but this one was good value for me, and they have ways to help you if cost is an issue (Cambridge is pretty well-off).
Anyone been on other courses they can recommend?