Sunday, 17 July 2016

National Writers' Conference

I had an excellent day out yesterday when I went to Birmingham for the National Writers' Conference organised by Writing West Midlands. I joined about 100 other delegates for speeches and panels and networking and mingling. I took reams and reams of notes and came home with my head buzzing with ideas - so many plans! I can't tell you everything that went on (some things we were told to keep secret!), but here is a brief taster.

Keynote speaker Rosie Goldsmith, award-winning journalist specialising in arts and current affairs (Front Row, Crossing Continents, etc), said 'read something in translation . . . become a literary activist . . .  keep the windows of your mind open.'

Take a listen to Trev & Simon's podcast
Writing for broadcast was a four-person panel: Helen Cross, Radio 4; William Gallagher, Writers Guild; writer, performer and producer Simon Hickson (remember Trev and Simon from Saturday morning TV? Yes, that Simon Hickson); and Clare Eden, producer. From this I learned that there's no money in podcasting for most people, and there's no point in submitting topical or anniversary-based dramas to the Beeb, because they will have it covered by commissions ages before the event.

In Taking the plunge - career change for writers novelists Kit de Waal and Nadim Safdar told us how they had given up their day jobs (she a lawyer, he a dentist) to focus full time on writing. What struck me about both of them was that despite their protestations to the contrary, they seem to have found the transition easy because they had a plump financial cushion beneath them. Not so the rest of us!

In complete contrast, the first thing novelist Paul McVeigh told us in A writer's career - keeping your options open, was 'Don't give up your day job.' This session alone justified the entrance fee for me. He was fabulous - lively, refreshing, charming, and a bit brutal. Did you know that the average advance for a first-time novel is £1,000? That's the average: most people get less. Take out the agent's commission and tax, and you can see you're not going to get fat on what's left. He did, however, have some tips on how to make the most of your time to boost your earnings - e.g. raising your profile now so you'll be ready when your (next) book comes out.

Final keynote speaker was children's author Bali Rai, who spoke passionately about the lack of diversity in the British publishing industry. Thought-provoking stuff, especially as I'm one of the white middle-class people he railed against.

All in all, a very good day. Next up in the region is the Birmingham Literature Festival, which runs 6-16 October. See you there?


  1. Sounds fabulous... and very tiring.

  2. Sounds like you had a fantastic time! I love writing conferences. I always feel so inspired afterward.