I knew it was going to be a good day at the Winchester Writers' Conference on Saturday, when I looked out of the window, very early, and saw a perfect rainbow over Winchester Cathedral.
I'd already been up to the University campus on Friday evening, where I met a few friends, found my books prominently displayed on the bookstall - I still have not got over the excitement of that - and attended the evening panel, when a range of conferences experts answered questions on all aspects of writing and publishing, and the audience pitched in with their own contributions.
I was back there early on Saturday, ready to give conference organiser Barbara Large a copy of Never Coming Home, to display on the platform during the first Plenary session. I found myself a seat at the front for the welcome speeches, including a few words from Michael Coleman, who might be described as a Winchester veteran. He found his niche writing children's fiction at the conference, following numerous rejections. His 79th book is now on its way to print.
Alan Titchmarsh was the keynote speaker this year, talking about 'How to Grow a Writer' (Plenty of compost in the wellies and a good place in a well lit green house.) We heard about the rejection letter for his first manuscript, writing in the evenings after finishing the day job, his nomination for the Bad Sex Award and his first experience of his characters running away with him. All familiar elements of a writer's life - except possibly for the Bad Sex. He's also able to be in two places at once. Listeners to Classic FM radio will understand that one. The last section of the Plenary was devoted to Winchester 'graduates' who have made it to publication during the year. Editor Beverley Birch introduced Hodder's Winchester discovery, Helen Dennis, whose Secret Breakers children's series, decoding fictional mysteries in real manuscripts, is set to run to seven books. Barbara Mutch's self published book was taken up by Headline as a result of her attendance at the Conference and will be going round the world, in numerous translations, as The House Maid's Daughter. Maria Faulkner's conference appointment with Working Partners got her a contract to write children's fiction. And then there was me. Barbara did me proud, holding up Never Coming Home, as promised, and I was able to thank her and her team for the part Winchester played in bringing the book to publication - including the validation of being a competition finalist and gaining valuable feedback from the judges.
Then it was off to the first of the hourly talks and seminars. Up and down an awful lot of steps and in and out of the main building to get from one end of campus to the other, as the terrace route was under scaffolding. Pity the staff who are having to clean the corridor carpets. At least it wasn't raining! I didn't hear all of Simon Hall's presentation on mixing crime reporting and crime writing, as I had a one-to-one, but I plan to hunt up his series featuring a TV detective.
One of the big features of Winchester are the one-to-ones - fifteen minute slots that offer the opportunity to pitch to editors and agents or talk to experienced authors. My appointment was with Sandra Cain from Wordshaker, to talk about marketing. Waiting for my appointment I compared notes with Robin Bell, who has published Finding Work After 40 and is now hoping to find a publisher for his crime thriller. The session with Sandra covered a lot in fifteen minutes. I am definitely going to have a go at a book trailer. (Now- who do I know who would do a voice over for me?) but I don't think I'm brave enough to attempt guerrilla marketing. Then it was coffee time, when I met two of the conference team who had spent the morning blowing up red, white and blue balloons. My session before lunch was with crime writer Lesley Horton, who writes police procedurals and who is a generous fund of information on writing crime - if you want to write procedurals I'd recommend one of the classes/courses she teaches. I'd studied with her before, at the Writers' Holiday weekends in Fishguard. We talked about post-mortems, crime scenes, being locked in the cells - all the fun stuff. Leslie is very big on authenticity - she's meticulous about the nuts and bolts, even if only a fraction of the information makes it into the books.
Lunch was next - and I'm saving the afternoon sessions for next week's blog.