Monday, 2 July 2012

Beating The Odds with the Winchester Writers Conference

by Teri Terry

A week ago I was at the 32nd Winchester Writers Conference. I first attended in 2008 - it really was the encouragement of winning a prize in the Writing for Children 8-11 back then that set me on the path that landed me where I am now (as blogged last year, here). And Slated - just published by Orchard Books in May of this year - also won a prize at the WWC in 2010 (blogged here). I really wanted to spread the word about this conference, again - but what more can I say about it? Then I thought: how about we hear from some new voices? So here goes.

Lesley Moss

Like Cinderella, I left WWC before midnight struck - did anyone pick up my glass slipper?
Beverley Birch's masterclass was inspirational, I met lovely writer friends, had feedback from editors which was both encouraging and surprising - and then, back home sweeping up the cinders, I got a message about the competitions.
I'd been commended for Albert's Animated Animals (or How I Made My Magical Menagerie, By Albertin the Little Tiger Press 4-7 category, and Highly commended in the Greenhouse 8-12 for Matilda Curioso: Super Sleuth Matilda, trapped in Haunted Hazard House, must solve the Case Of The Mysterious Camera, or never get back to the future again. 
I forgot to say that Sara Gangai the administrator was exceptionally helpful - if you can mention that somewhere ..? 
(Teri - in blue from now on: there you go :O) 

Laura Louise Stewart 
I was at the conference and managed to get Highly Commended in two comps (writing for children age 12+ and Short Stories). Predictably, the moment when I saw my pseudonym on the board outside the theatre was a huge highlight! I had to walk back to check the board several times during the rest of the day and make sure..
But overall the best thing has to have been just meeting people. I was really nervous at first but loved starting to recognise people from the same talks and workshops and learning everyone was going through the same things: and that -
having problems with a particular character doesn't mean you are rubbish and should give up! 
Between the WavesHighly Commended in Writing for children,12+:
Wannabe surfer Eddie experiences an unexplained event at the beach but no-one else seems to notice. Whose memories can be relied on when everyone remembers things differently?
Feeling part of the same process as people (such as you!) with great books out was inspiring.
(aw, shucks...!)

Jo Franklin

I went to the Winchester conference to give moral support to a friend in need and ended up having a great 1:1 and winning two highly commended in the competitions. Result!
The message I got from the conference is ‘it’s tough out there, but if you work hard, don’t give up and have a thick skin, you can break through.’
Help! I’m an Alien! 8-11 Boys humour
Daniel feels such a misfit on Earth, he must be an alien. He needs to return to his home planet to find true happiness. But DIY cryogenics and joining the Russian space program go horribly wrong. When Daniel decides to 'phone home' and ask the aliens to come and get him, things get a whole lot worse. 
The Berringer Connection 11+ Teen angst in a messed up world 
Ant Berringer won’t let anyone close. No one touches her, not even Mum. But she’s going to have to trust someone if she is ever to find out who she is and the truth about the Berringer Connection.

Rebecca Colby
I wasn't in attendance at the conference but my story Fairy Godmother School won the Writing for Children competition for 4-7 year olds! 
PITCH: When Frenella magics up a basketball gown, bunny slippers and a spaceship, she discovers it doesn’t matter how a wish is granted, as long as a dream comes true.
FAVOURITE LINE: “I’ll be the only fairy there without grey hair.”
(Wow. How can you go wrong with bunny slippers AND a spaceship?)

Sally Poyton
Despite not being able to attend Winchester Writers Conference, I entered the beginnings of the YA novel, Journey to the Bone Factory, into the Writing For Children 12-plus competition. It was a lovely surprise to see it was highly commended, especially as I’ve hit the “writers low” – it’s been a great pick me up with the added advantage of not having a calorie count!
On the book: One girl’s quest to find her father takes her to the mysterious abandoned planet that is home to the Bone Factory and a convict so dangerous, that he’s been marooned on the furthermost reach of the galaxy.
Amber Hsu
Most surprised winner goes to….Amber Hsu, multi-talented SCBWI writer AND illustrator, and if that isn’t enough, also now out in public as a crime writer with a highly commended in the Writing Can Be Murder competition for her story, The Mourner.
(We won't hold this diverting your attention away from writing for children against you - I got an HC in Writing Can be Murder in 2009!)

Rachel Turner
I was there mentoring and helping to promote the MA Writing for Children. I managed to get a bit of time to join in the talks and workshops though and they were hugely helpful.
The thing that surprised me most was hearing the agents and editors giving a largely negative view of a first time author's chances in the publishing market these days. Reversely, the seminars on marketing yourself and self-publishing were very positive. I wonder if that's the way things are heading for the majority of new writers now?
Christina Vinall
For me it was a great Conference - as its quite big it was good to meet up with lovely supportive Scoobies. Had an inspiring one to one with Imogen Cooper. And learnt a lot out of the box from Lindsay Ashford's Murder mystery talk - and decided I'd be a bit too squeamish for serious crime fiction. Though it was interesting to discover Jane Austen had traces of arsenic in her hair - so may have been poisoned.

Rowena House
One simple but great exercise set by Stephanie Stansbie, editorial Director of Little Tiger Press, went as follows: Think up an opening sentence of no more than seven words (absolute max 10 if you must) with only one word longer than one syllable. Then read it out loud. Your sentence has to make the rest of the group gasp, giggle, say Yuk! etc. We got some real corkers. 
In all, the conference was a real shot in the arm. I came away with the following personal motto: 

Rejection is the mother of invention: it makes you hungry, it makes you sharp.
Jan Carr.
As always had a fabulous time at Winchester last weekend. Met loads of interesting new people and lovely people from last year and before including some scoobies, hurray! It was a treat to have a one to one with Beverley, she highlighted the importance of foreshadowing. A few people had already been kind about my WIP but said, ‘I don’t know where your story’s going.’ I didn’t completely understand what they meant until Beverley said that right at the start, there should some hint of what the story is about. When I re-read that sentence, it’s seems obvious but doing that without telling or explanation is not quite so easy.

Previous WWC success stories:
The Rescue Princesses series published by Nosy Crow in the UK won second prize in Writing for Children ages 4 - 7 in 2010.

Jeannie Waudby
I found the Winchester Writers' Conference brilliant for meeting people and recharging my writing batteries. A few years ago I had three one-to-ones on my book K Child there. I found the feedback very helpful in helping me know where to focus when I came to rewrite the book, and it also gave me a confidence boost. I have just signed K Child to Chicken House. 

Me: Teri Terry
Wow. Don't even know what to say: some combo of the WWC and SCBWI really set me on my way. I'm sure I wouldn't have got published now without both of them. I'll just put in my wonderful Orchard Books cover, and smile.

A final word:
I get what Rachel is saying about the air of negativity that can sometimes be felt in this industry, even at events like the WWC that have led to success for many. Though it would be worse, I think, if they made it sound easy to get published. It isn't, and never has been. And self-publishing ventures are going to come across as positive when they are promoted, as there are no bars to admittance. 
All I can say is that there have been SO MANY bits of great news in the SCBWI lately in traditional publishing for children, it has been a regular Success Fest
I know, sometimes, along the way it seems like you are hitting your head against a very thick brick wall: 
But put on a helmet, and keep going: you could be next to beat the odds.
Special note: 
Senior editor Imogen Cooper of Chicken House is going to be hosting the Golden Egg Academy, starting next winter - weekend writing courses for the 'nearly there'. Stay tuned for details.

News update:
The dates for the 33rd Winchester Writers Conference are 21 - 23 June, 2013


  1. It's fantastic to see so many Scoobies with prizes this year! Well done guys!

  2. Thanks so much, Teri, for pulling this together. Great to hear everyone's thoughts. Like you, I find Winchester has a lot going for it, so long as the bank balance can cope.

    1. yes, I know what you mean - it is a juggling act trying to fit in so many good events (this year I was helped by having won the WWC raffle the previous year, so had a free place - lucky me)

  3. Winchester Writers' Conference is such a boost, as is the SCBWI_BI weekend conference in November! There's such a buzz in the air when writers, illustrators, editors and agents all get together.

  4. Great post Teri! I didn't get to go to the writer's conference so it's great to be able to hear about everyone's work. (and about your own secret HC from the dark side!) congratulations to all! scbwi really does know how to rake in the prizes!!

    1. strangely enough - I think my YA stuff is darker than my adult crime novel

  5. Great post, Teri! Your story is really inspiring and it's wonderful to hear from all the others too. It was so lovely to meet up again and I'm looking forward to reading Slated. I hope the jet-lag has passed now! Lorna xx

    1. ...barely - and now I've got Eurostar lag. Is that possible? just a 1 hour time difference?

  6. Great, inspiring stuff. 'Rejection is the mother of invention'. Love that! Thanks for sharing :-)

  7. Well done to all the Scoobies! My Dougal Trump book (out in three days!) was a Winchester success, came second. And Jude Evans and Beverley Birch were wonderfully supportive. It's a great conference.

  8. Really interesting post, I did not know this awesome conference existed! I will be checking it out next time!

  9. Thanks for this lovely positive post, Teri. It was so interesting to read about other people's experiences at Winchester. I went for the first time because a SCBWI friend told me about the one-to-ones, and I remember how scary it was sitting in my room the night before trying to psych myself up to go out and meet all those writers, editors and agents. But it's like swimming in the British sea, hard to get in but great once you do it!

    1. oh definitely yes - I can still remember a one-to-one when I put my foot in my mouth (not once but several times). But each one is a learning curve

  10. Great to read this , very inspiring, just wish I was able to go - ah well - onwards and upwards! Can you really enter the competitions without going?

    1. you can. Though I seem to remember there is a slightly high fee to enter them

  11. Brilliant post - so encouraging! I shall definitely be keeping an eye on next year's programme. And the Golden Egg Academy sounds excellent: so many writing courses are for beginners, which is great, but it's hard to find stuff (apart from SCBWI) for people who are a bit further up that long, long road.

  12. I've never been to the Winchester conference - sounds amazing! Congrats to all!

  13. It's good to see so many people have enjoyed their experience of the conference. The amazing lady, Barbara Large is the creative force behind the Winchester Writers’ Conference, now attracting people from all over the world. Barbara works incredibly long hours to create a comprehensive programme of talks, workshops and one to ones, giving writers access to some of the best UK literary agents, commissioning editors, publishers and published authors and scriptwriters, in a friendly, supportive environment. Many people owe their writing success to her. Watch out for next year’s conference or the Pit-stop Refuelling weekends in October/March. Sorry if this sounds like an advert!!! Karin

  14. Oh, it sounds so good, Teri! Wish I could have gone - thanks for this.


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