Festival of Writing 2016 – Review of My First ‘Official’ Writer’s Event

A writer can learn a huge amount from events, books, online, mentors etc however at the end of the day you have to sit down and write, alot.

festival of writing-2016-paperwork


Festival of Writing 2016

Meet agents and publishers. Get advice from professional authors. Pitch your work direct to agents. And have fun!


  • Workshops – this annual festival has a solid schedule packed with 50 workshops to choose from. You know the type of thing, you choose which workshop you wish to attend from a choice of 5 or 6, depending on your writing genre, knowledge gap, learning need and curiosity. They varied from hands on craft skills ‘Self-Editing Your Novel, with Debi Alper’ and ‘Why aren’t you writing in sequences?’ with Jeremy Sheldon  to how to get your work out to readers in ‘From pipe dream to publication: ten ways to increase your book’s chance of success?’ with Kerry Fisher and ‘Should You Self-Publish? A Beginners Guide’ from David Gaughran. There was a small workshop at additional cost on the Friday afternoon but sadly I didn’t have the cash to stretch to cover this one as well.
  • 1-2-1s – in with the price was the option to take part in two ten minute 1-2-1 sessions with your choice of mentor / author / agent / publisher. I applied and successfully signed up for everything I’d requested. I plumped for an agent and an author/mentor as I am not quite ready to pursue publication. I had never met a literary agent so it seemed an ideal opportunity to meet one and the mentor could advise me on my current projects. It’s a dilemma which lecture you choose to attend and the added issue here is the two 1-2-1 sessions you book are held alongside the lectures. You need to nip in and out and miss some great content and continuity of topic. Hopefully the presentations will be posted on the Word Cloud where attendees can download later. Most lectures were in lecture halls etc. so on the day you could change your mind, I spoke to a few writers who decided to attend different talks once they’d got the idea of what they involved. The organisers worked hard to counteract the effects of an unexpected train network problem too, well done to all concerned.
  • Competitions – I noticed various competitions integral to the event that required submissions of work. I entered them all, from 500 words to 3000 word pieces for the mentors to read. This was certainly not with any confidence or expectations as my work is still in edit mode. I just prefer deadlines and any practice on following submission instructions is a free lesson to a writer. I didn’t win anything, I didn’t expect to but I’m certainly glad I entered as it proved I can work to deadlines and made me more interested in the works that did win. The Friday Night Live event is one of the competitions. It is a reading of short pieces by selected writers to gain feedback and publicity. I was told in previous years up to eight agents attended on stage to give feedback. This year it was one agent, one publisher and one mentor. I listened to the initial selections and winning pieces with a real curiosity, I wanted to know what the ‘profession’ consider good writing and what did agents like? There was some excellent work, I’m sure a few of the writers will be approached to submit to agents. They deserve credit for just having the bottle to stand up. I didn’t choose the winner, I preferred a piece that wasn’t in the top two (chosen by audience participation) I caught up with the writer later to let them know their work is appreciated and to link up on social media. I’m sure they’ll go on to bigger and better things.
  • Networking – the event was partially sold on the offer of meeting with 30 agents, alongside editors and authors. It did amuse me however that once you got there you’re reminded not to hound the agents or publishers to tout or sell your book. A bit of contrariness really, after all people have paid to be there. The event’s been sold on the basis you can meet them, you are going to sell your self and your work. Also I’m assuming the agents attend to find new authors so they would surely welcome any approach.
  • Industry updates – it was fascinating to hear various publishers explain the industry is far from in trouble when the stats show otherwise. However I’m reassured that they believe Waterstones will survive, my book store of choice. They also had a small stall with books for sale, which along with the book signings was well attended. Yes of course I bought a book! I wonder if I could be cheeky and ask Waterstones to give me my loyalty points eh?

Best bits:york-university-designer-seating

  • Meeting an agent – who asked to see my work! I was told by two agents to finish and submit my work, who knows what could follow. HOWEVER, this is no guarantee of anything other than an incentive for me to finish my work. A agent’s interest is amazing but just that, just an interest. (Deep breaths everyone!) OK I’m lying it’s MASSIVE!!
  • ‘Networking’ – that dreaded word. I enjoyed meeting other writers. I’ve made lots of new friends, acquaintances and professional relationships.
  • Isolation – the weekend holed up with a group of creatives and artists and books focuses your mind. It reassures you that whilst sitting at the desk and computer screen or notepad at home or in an office or coffee shop numerous others are doing the same around the globe. You are not alone!
  • The food – it was a bit like going for school dinners whilst queuing with a tray but certainly not in the meal content. It was excellent. festival of writing 2016 mealThe big Saturday evening meal was served a bit slow but worth the wait and it was a big room so the staff did well.
  • Reading list – I absorbed various names and book titles for my ever growing reading list, once the winter hits I’ll be knee deep in reading. My 1-2-1 inspired my to read Hunger Games trilogy, so I’m already madly sticking in post its as I read and study at the same time.
  • Advice – it’s ideal to pick up tips
    • ’Don’t write with your hand brake on’ (I definitely have been guilty of that one.)
    • ‘Be willing to kill many of your darlings, but know when to stick to your guns if it’s important to you.’
    • ‘Read your chosen genre and analyse how they construct the work, how many acts does author employ (not chapters), where is the hook, why do you turn the pages, word count, study it throughly.’
    • ‘Formulas do not harm your writing, they worked for Shakespeare!’
    • ‘Word Cloud’ – I met various members of their online group and I will soon be signing up. I now realise like every industry, or maybe even more so, writing is almost definitely one in which ‘who you know’ is hugely influencial and a door opener. You need to network to learn from others, hone your skills and increase your profile. I’m a recluse by nature, many writers are, online forums aren’t my favourite haunt but it’s accessible, free and I’m told is occupied by people just like me. You can apparently safely place small pieces of work on the forum for evaluation. If you are a writer why not consider it. Please let me know how you get on, I’ll maybe meet you in there. If not don’t forget you can find me on Twitter or Facebook.
    • Intimate – it’s a small but a well attended event. It had a friendly feel, the organisers call it a family. You can meet numerous other writers and, if you are brave or up front enough, agents and publishers. There is a whole industry built around writers and aspirational writers. I guess it flows from the ‘everyone has a book in them.’ Since committing to my writing as my new career, I researched various global events, paid training courses and/or excursions writers can attend, some more credible and reputable than others. I’m glad I attended this one.
    • Speakers
      • Cally Taylor aka CL Taylor was the highlight for me. I didn’t know who she was, I do now. She was really informative, reassuring and realistic. It is nice to know you don’t have to stick to one genre to succeed. I wish her further success, her hard work should reap more rewards.
      • Jo Cannon was also inspiring and grounded. “Jo attended the 2014 Festival of Writing, where she won the Friday Night Live competition…she went on to sign with Sue Armstrong of Conville and Walsh…” jo cannon - festival of writing 2016Her book is now on my reading list, it was a shame more people did not stay to hear her.
      • Jeremy Sheldon was speaking at two of my chosen talks. He was approachable and a highly effective speaker.

Worst bits:

  • Insiders – it did sometimes feel like I’d arrived at a new school a week late and everyone else knew everyone and everything, and I didn’t. It felt a bit ‘cliquey’ and for those who were shy it could seem daunting.
  • Big Publishing House bias – every now and again there was a slight hint of anti self-publishing snobbery, which was odd as numerous people there were self published. Bookouture seem refreshing,  I’d not heard of them before but they are a digital publisher on the up.
  • Negativity – it was disappointing to hear from people who had a negative experience during 1-2-1s. I had two meetings, one was positive, one not so much. I took it badly at first, until I reassured myself that everyone has an opinion so it’s up to you whether you agree with it, or not. Sadly a few people said they came away in tears not wanting to attend another. They had not been given anything positive to take away. Whilst I wholeheartedly agree writers need to be tough to survive I do think every piece of feedback, whether literary or in life in general, should be given in a positive way to enable the mentee to learn something and understand how to move forward. I hope those apparently shot down in flames will not fall by the wayside but will come back stronger.


  • I’d recommend it. Go early in your writing journey if you can afford it. It’s an eye opener and will help you focus on your future path. It has given me numerous ideas and shown me a path I hadn’t imagined.
  • I have little income (those who follow my blog know 37p UK is one of my recent monthly incomes) so I need to spend it well. I decided to invest in at least one annual event as part of my personal development. I’m unsure if I’d attend again, although some people have attended for over ten years. It isn’t cheap for me so next year my precious funds may be invested elsewhere. If money is no object for you, get it in your diary.
  • Whilst the lectures are a really good way to learn or remind yourself of the skills you need, you can get a lot of the information online or from books, some written by the speakers.
  • Immersing yourself in a creative environment is a nice treat we should all give to ourselves in return for our hard work.A writer can learn a huge amount from events, books, online, mentors etc however at the end of the day you have to sit down and write, alot.

A bit more info about venue etc:

  • When: 9th -11th Sept 2016
  • Where: York, UK
  • Location: York University – Easy accessibility to location, really easy to get a cheap bus from the rail station in York. The university complex is good for accessibility too.york-university-lake
  • Accommodation: Straight forward check in and key collection. Room clean and secure, comfy bed and coffee making, all you need for this type of event.
  • Price: From £185 – Online booking system worked well.
  • Source: This local festival came through to me as I subscribe to the Writer’s Workshop notifications. I’d recommend subscribing as they don’t swamp you with spam and it keeps you in the local loop.


  • Have an ‘open mike’ event at Saturday’s dinner. festival of writing 2016 dinner-menuIt was a bit of a let down, with focus seemingly on ‘Friday Night Live,’ those who arrived on Saturday missed out.
  • It would have been helpful to have a picture wall, or stalls, showing us who everyone was. Well, not everyone, but the speakers / agents / publishers etc. You see the type of thing at corporate events when you can approach the desk and chat with someone or collect their business card with contact details.
  • The mentor feedback was written on hard copy which I like. For various accessibility or practical reasons you may prefer it online. I would have liked an online copy but no big deal. I’ve scanned mine in to keep. I wish they hadn’t told me to print out the schedule as when I arrived I was given a pre- printed brochure. Wasted paper and expensive printer ink, not very eco friendly.
  • Ask a stationers to attend with a stall of notepads and pens and booky things.
  • Sell bottled water.

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Author: christieadamswriter.com

I’m a writer and creativity coach focused on sharing my love of travel, writing and books. I motivate, educate and widen horizons by blogging about my world of travel and words, writing books and encouraging others to find their voice.