Lure 200 aspiring writers into a room, ply them with free coffee, arm them with a goody bag brimming with wordy goodness, deliver a good cop bad cop routine in your keynote speech so they don’t know whether to be excited or scared, then let them loose on an array of talks, panels and workshops that may just hold the key to that elusive publication contract. Spoiler alert: There is no magic key. But there’s no harm in imagining there is one. Imagination, after all, is the grammar of the writer.
Writers are a weird bunch. At heart we are essentially introverts, choosing to cloak ourselves in fonts as a means of communicating with the world. But we somehow manage to drag ourselves along to such events in the hope that our font fetish will reach a broader audience and we might just get paid for it as well.
Writing East Midlands know this and so they scheduled events that touched on the nuts and bolts of publication (agents, synopsis, development planning, self-publishing) specifics (alternative fiction, historical fiction, YA) performance (spoken word, playwriting workshops), community (Academic path, writing communities) and then more topical issues (Freedom to write post Charlie Hebdo, satire).
The Holy Grail of modern publication is finding an agent and to do this you need a good synopsis, which can take longer to write than the frigging book. How on earth are you meant to compress your beloved manuscript into one page of A4, or is it 2? First off, your agent needs to know exactly what happens in your book so the synopsis must include the ending. Nobody is going to steal your idea, so cut out the paranoia. If they like the genesis of your idea then they can begin to work on ways to strengthen your plot. This is a relationship and so it requires honesty and love.
Agents invest an incredible amount of time into getting their clients published for the simple reason that their reputation and mortgage depend on it. So work with them. They’re also after people with more than one book locked away in their noggin. They are looking for relationships, not one night stands. Likewise, don’t get it on with the first one to flutter their eyelids at you. Ask salient questions like: who else do you represent, what publishers do you think would be interested in my book, what percentage do you take on translation rights. I’d add to this, do you answer your phone or emails...
Community seems to be the buzz word at the moment in Nottingham, particularly in light of the emergence and development of networks such as the Festival of Words, the Nottingham Writers’ Studio and the UNESCO City of Literature bid. Writing East Midlands recognise that in order to create a community you need to listen as well as speak, and so a lot of the planning of events was informed from feedback from the previous conference. This resulted in Writer Surgeries, where writers got direct feedback on submitted work from published authors, as well as seminars and workshops that had to be booked in advance. Naturally places were limited and those that were unsuccessful learned a vital lesson in this ruthless industry: rejection.
Illustration: Cartoonist in Residence Brick
Community is increasingly becoming a virtual space and so there were blogging booths provided for those who couldn’t wait to share their ideas. Elsewhere a large screen in the foyer presented a Twitter timeline using the hashtag #wemconf2015. These are vital in maintain community long after the event has finished as you can check out websites of those who caught your eye or had something interesting to say.
Inevitably events such as this are going to split audiences. Some are positively revved up with energy and can’t wait to get home to work on the advice they’ve been given, others are more deflated after hearing some curt but rational advice. Therefore the introduction of Joel Stickley as Poet-in Residence and Brick as Cartoonist in Residence was a masterstroke, as together they were able to satirise the various anxieties faced by writers. Both of whom were in my favourite panel discussion of the day: Make Em Laugh: Using Humour and Satire in Your Writing.
Illustration: Cartoonist in Residence Brick
Alison McQueen chaired the event. Although better known on these shores as the winner of last year’s East Midlands Book Award, she started out as a comedy writer and is also the author of the wonderfully titled (and now retired) blog Test Crash Mummy. Joel Stickley became a performance poet after penning a poem mocking another performer and Brick is the closest thing we have to a living DH Lawrence, as he’s just bursting with rage. Political Cartoonist Brick “invested in an electric pencil sharpener in 1978” and “hasn’t looked back since”. He presciently described the function of his art as “instant communication of a complex subject in 4 seconds”. Regarding satire, Andrea Mann's golden rule was “you punch up, not down”.
The satire panel also included the funniest joke I’ve ever heard: “Mr. Schrödinger, we have some good and bad news regarding your cat.” But my quote of the day went to Alex Davis, editor and publisher of Boo Books: “I don’t lose any sleep wondering how my toaster works. I just enjoy the toast” and with that I’m off to curl up on the sofa with a good book.
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