Ducks, Geese and Writing

The Festival of Writing (#festivalwriting) happened at York University over the weekend of 9 -11 April 2010 and I was there. So were about four hundred other writers, literary agents, publishers and book doctors. I went there to learn from published authors, for a couple of one to one sessions with agents, to find out about the publishing industry and to meet people. I thought it might feel strange to be a student at University again, after a gap of thirty years, but it wasn’t. I’m sure that was because nearly everyone I met had a similar interest. They were friendly, good fun, hard working, hard drinking and entertaining. Student accommodation has improved immensely since my time and I did miss the old-fashioned squalor, degradation and misery but, then, I’m funny like that. The University grounds contain the largest plastic-bottomed lake in Europe and the noisiest, nosiest collection of ducks and geese.

The weekend was divided into keynote addresses, workshops, one-to-one meetings with agents and literary death matches. Best selling author Katie Fforde, a Stroudie, kicked off the event with a witty address built around her ten rules for writing success. Perhaps the most important one is to persevere; it took her eight years of hard writing to get published, which is not an unusually long time-scale.

Then there were workshops. I attended ones on creating a sense of place; the likelihood that Ebooks are the future of publishing; plotting; publishing and using the media to promote a book. These consolidated workshops and courses I’d done before and provided some valuable new insights. Claire Siemaszkiewicz’s Ebooks workshop was particularly insightful. In addition she brought some sample e-readers, which have come a long way since I first saw one. I was surprised that this workshop wasn’t better attended, though I suspect some were put off by Claire being an erotic fiction publisher. They missed out on a very informative session. Her surname should be borne in mind, if only for use in the new version of Scrabble.

I had one-on-one sessions with a literary agent and a talent scout. Though neither said (as I’d hoped in my more optimistic moments) that my novel was the best they’d ever read, they provided insightful criticisms that I think will enable me to get it right in the end. They certainly provided the impetus to rewrite the first chapter as soon as I got back.

On Saturday evening we enjoyed a gala dinner, followed by the Literary Death Match! In this a selection of established and unpublished authors read and performed pieces of their work in an effort to win over the audience and judges. This was great fun, with the unpublished writers holding their own rather well. The popular vote went to Adele Geras for her moving episode based on the sack of Troy but Mary Flood, unpublished as yet, won the judges’ vote. From the also reads, Veronica Henry’s erotic story was hilarious, as was Toby Frost’s bizarre fantasy (from an excellent book – which I am now reading The Wrath of the Lemming Men I also loved John Taylor’s moving and evocative piece.

Roger Ellory provided the Festival’s finale. His was a funny but revealing address. He referred to a poll that suggested that being a writer is the second most desired profession, after Premier League footballer. For those believing it to be a romantic and lucrative profession, he provided some thought provoking figures: 80% of books published in the UK sell fewer than 500 copies; the average published author can expect to make £7000 a year; only 2% of published books published can be classed as ‘best sellers. If you’re going into writing to make lots of money, then you may be disappointed. However, if you write because it is a passion then you have a chance of success. He, like Katie, stressed the importance of persistence.

When I got home I was exhausted and my head was still spinning. I’d learned a lot, been entertained and met some fabulous people. Looking back, there were other workshops that I would have liked to attend, had time permitted. Maybe another year.

Thanks to the Writers’ Workshop for hosting it.

This was my first experience of a writing conference/festival. The original version of this was first posted to my blog on, its original home, in 2010.

My thoughts on the festival now, in 2020, are that it was a worthwhile experience. I didn’t go back in the following years as overall, though quite fun to do, I though it quite expensive. It was the first time I was going around telling people I was a writer.
I didn’t make any long term or useful contacts, but I enjoyed many of the sessions and some of the lessons learnt then are still relevant – for instance that 80% of books sell less than 500 copies, ever; the average published author, or at least those published traditionally still don’t make much money (although many self-published authors are doing quite well and some extremely well).

First published on Wilkie’s blog on

Image – Depositphotos.