My last post was about the ‘End of your Beginning’ but, before we move on to a different subject, I want to tell you a little about the Writers’ Gathering which formed part of our Spring Weekend here in Wigtown, Scotland’s Book Town.
Over the bank holiday weekend (Friday 3rd to Monday 6th May), we enjoyed a four day mini festival offering a whole range of activities including music, theatre, craft and several ‘booky’ events for both adults and children. Most of the activities were held in some of the town’s independent bookshops but the Writers’ Gathering and the Spring Fair (a second gathering; of producers of local food, drink, art and craft) were both held in the main hall of the county buildings. The county buildings (see photo, above) is an impressive building to be in, built in the eighteen sixties as the administrative centre for the area and once lived in by Ruskin, I’m told. Its French Gothic style is striking in this tiny place. The ceiling in the main hall is amazing.
It was raining a little on Friday but not too cold. I was hoping for sunshine, always great to have when people begin to do things outdoors again when winter is over. Registration was at 9.30 am, followed by two workshops going on at the same time. Half of us went to one and half of us went to the other and then we swapped over.
For me, the first workshop was ‘The Art of Self-editing, by Allan Guthrie, an award winning Scottish crime writer, who turned out to have a great sense of humour as well. It was no main feat to talk for two hours about self editing – I think he covered just about everything there is to cover. People were scribbling down notes but he did give us handouts as well.
While that was going on, a few of us popped out for brief one-to-one sessions we had pre-booked with writing professionals such as Helen Bleck, managing Editor of Canongate Books; Inga McVicar, a literary and marketing consultant at Full Paper Jacket and Debbie Williams, a specialist in writing for children.
My session was with Inga McVicar. I had some ideas that were quite different from anything I had previously published and wanted to know if she thought there was any ‘mileage’ in them and, if so, who I might approach. Her advice was invaluable. Even better, I didn’t have to take notes because she emailed me afterwards with a reminder of what we had discussed and some suggestions for further action.
Then there was a facilitated networking session (horror of horrors) which consisted of one circle of people moving inside another circle. The idea was that you got a few minutes to speak to the person opposite before they moved on and you were presented with another person.A bit like trying to giving a pitch to an agent many, many times over. It got very loud. Not my thing at all. I’d rather choose the people I want to speak to, in my own time.
I lived in a foreign country for a while, where I used to go to writing events and if you didn’t impress in the first few seconds, people began looking over your shoulder and then quickly moved on. It was a place where you were defined by what you did and if you didn’t do anything interesting, by what your husband did. Writing is what I do but it’s not who I am. What I have published is a record of the apprenticeship I have served and of (I hope) a slow and steady improvement over a number of years. It’s not about my worth as a person and not what I want to talk about immediately I meet another writer. “I’ve done this, what have you done?” As I said, not my thing. Having said that, there were lots of people clearly enjoying it. Maybe there’s a knack to it that I haven’t discovered.
I was relieved when it was over and we could enjoy lentil soup and a huge variety of sandwiches followed by coffee and biscuits. I can recommend beetroot sandwiches.
At 2pm we went along to our second workshop called ‘Everything I know About Writing in Two Hours”’ with Louise Welsh, a engaging person as well as Arvon Tutor, author of five novels and Writer in Residence at Glasgow University until the end of last year. We did do a little writing, using the senses, in her workshop but what I liked most was that she recommended books and quoted from them. Here is a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Art of Writing:
“There is nothing more disenchanting to man than to be shown the springs and mechanism of any art”
Food for thought there.
After the workshops, there was a question and answer session with Louise Welsh, so that workshop participants could ask her questions about her writing. She gave every question careful thought and an interesting reply. She sold the idea of her latest novel ‘The Girl on the Stairs’ so well that I can’t wait to read a copy. She had some copies for sale and was happy to sign them for us.
The signing at around 5pm marked the end of the day, so we filled in our evaluation forms and headed over to ‘Reading Lasses’, (see photo) a local bookshop and cafe/restaurant in Wigtown, for an informal drink. I ended up staying on there for a meal with two friends (a writer and an artist), and so enjoyed not only their company but the company of those at the table next to ours: Inga McVicar and Alison Bell of Belti Ltd, authors Louise Welsh and Zoe Strachan, our Literature Development Officer Carolyn Yates and the wonderful Scottish poet Rab Wilson, who stood up and read us a poem, and, to my amazement, SANG, another poem.
It was a memorable day, not for anything we wrote or discussed at workshops as much as for being able to touch the lives of others who also love reading and writing and to chat and laugh along with kindred spirits for a while.
Have you been to a writers’ event that was memorable for you – for whatever reason?