It was a bit like a first day at school. Everyone else was swanning around drinking coffee, chatting, seemingly comfortable in their surroundings. I was desperately trying to decipher buildings, room numbers, my personal timetable which could have been the Dead Sea Scrolls for all the sense that I could make of it.

The Winchester Writers’ Conference, now in its 33rd year, is a huge affair. Veterans of these affairs reckon that it is now the largest and most influential in Britain. I was very happy to be there despite my disorientation. So what were my impressions and what, if anything, did I take away from it?

Master classes and Workshops
These are the real nuts and bolts of the Conference. Hours of lectures, written exercises and group discussion on various aspects of writing. Now, I have never formally studied creative writing for a nano second. I was apprehensive that everything would be way over my head and that I’d end up wearing a dunce’s hat. But (apart from forgetting to bring a pen to a writers’ conference :-() that was far from the case.

‘How To Build Suspense’ and ‘A Practical Approach to Writing’ flew by and I found it all sinking in. It was all new to me and I found that I absorbed much more in this classroom situation than I ever do reading it in books and on blogs. How much better a writer could I be if I could put all of what was covered into practice. I’ve never thought about most of the stuff that was covered, I just sort of….write. Nevertheless I found that I was able to contribute as well – indeed everyone within the groups felt comfortable enough to join in which made for a great dynamic.

I confess, approaching 10.30pm on the Friday evening, one of the group started to ponder the difference between metaphor and symbolism, and my thoughts drifted more towards the Students’ Union bar which was going strong in the next building!Winchester Uni

One revelation. We were asked to imagine walking into a room and to describe it. BUT we were to told draw the room first. Huh?  So I went ahead and drew a picture. But then my pen fairly flew over the paper in response to the image. A simple example of unlocking creativity through the use of imagery, something I mean to practice.

On the Saturday I was listed to attend five talks, again on various subjects. I had no idea why I chose those particular topics. Which was just as well as, twice in a row, I plonked myself down in the wrong room. No matter, I made loads of notes on subjects that were all of relevance.

Plenary session
Inspirational talks from Julian Fellowes (actor and creator of the TV period drama Downton Abbey) and Lt. Ian Thornton who fought in Afghanistan and who has compiled the diaries of fellow soldiers including that of his brother John who was killed there. Thornton’s proud parents were there in the packed audience.

The reason why many people attend the conference. You get 15-minute slots with agents, publishers, commissioning editors etc. of your choice. If you are fortunate you might get a deal for your work. At the very least you’ll get feedback. I got some excellent advice and no little encouragement from my four sessions. But at least one over-hopeful delegate from my initial group was crushed by what she was told and never reappeared. Indeed they have Agony Aunts on standby with tea and sympathy.

I am not anti-social but I’m certainly anti-sociable. I steer clear of networking, parties, interaction with strangers etc. But here it was different – everybody was up for a chat, a coffee, an impromptu discussion. In most situations you’d scare a lone woman by sitting down beside her on a step with a coffee. At Winchester everyone sat down beside everyone else and it was a nice atmosphere.Winchester Uni 2

The city itself deserves a blog of its own (coming up) but already I’m looking forward to next year and the 34th Winchester Writers’ Conference. I thoroughly recommend it to fellow bloggers wherever you may be.